On placemaking, or a review of Melody Warnick’s This Is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick is no stranger to moving–or the itch that inspires it–, and considers herself pretty proficient at the practice. But then she and her family do move number 6 so her husband can take a tenure-track job at Virginia Tech. Faced with the reality of yet another new town, she longs to put down roots. This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Live is her attempt to figure out what it is, exactly, that makes a place feel like home.

ThisIsWhereYouBelong_CVF_110316.inddIn the book, Warnick talks to placemaking experts (as an aside, am I the only one that reads books like these and finds all these cool careers she didn’t know existed but sound really fun and interesting?) to find out ways to jumpstart feeling at home. She has chapters on volunteering, getting involved with local politics, making neighbors into friends, and even how simply walking somewhere creates a bond between you and where you live in a way that driving won’t. At the end of each chapter she includes a “Love Your City Checklist” with a variety of actionable ideas you can implement in your own community. There’s something for everyone there, and you don’t have to do them all–one of her main points is that just trying at all will be extremely helpful in establishing a sense of place.

I read the book with great interest since I’ve moved around a fair amount–it’s nothing compared to some people, but it’s enough to make the ‘where are you from’ question a slightly convoluted one. The book helped me understand why I felt at home in some places and so displaced in others.

If I think about why Germany and I didn’t mix, well, a large part of that was probably because I wasn’t doing any placemaking of my own. I walked a lot and took public transit, so scored high on that list, but my life there was pretty restricted to the university and my apartment. Mostly due to the language barrier (completely underestimated how long it would take me as a shy introvert to even try to talk German outside of language classes), but honestly also because I spent a good chunk of my time there battling clinical depression without realizing it. When I left Germany in 2013 for a fellowship in Utah, I had very little to show for my time there, and I kind of regret that.

I jumped at the chance to leave Germany, and moving to Utah felt like a breath of fresh air, albeit fresh air with a lot of culture shock. Utah was an interesting experiment, in that it was supposed to be a short-term home for me (the fellowship was nine months), so any placemaking I was doing in those early months had that in the back of my mind. Until I met L. and suddenly I was there for the long haul and had to step up my efforts.  Two things stand out for me there: I took a small seminar-type class at the university and met some other grad students, and I joined a fabulous friend’s fabulous book club. I distinctly remember meeting a friend one Saturday morning at a coffee place in my neighborhood, maybe a year and a half in, and thinking, ‘this is it, now I’m home.’ And that’s pretty much when L. got the California job offer and we made plans to move again. I thought moving with someone would be easier, and in some ways it was, but in some ways placemaking as a trailing spouse is especially hard. Or at least I found it so. I made L. promise we could stay here longer than two years, and I set about the task of building a new life, again.

I found myself nodding at a lot of what Warnick wrote, in the sense that she describes a lot of things I had done unconsciously in my attempt to settle in, like volunteering, or eating local, or just wandering around the neighborhood. I ended up signing up for a century that first spring, and I got to know so much of the peninsula while training (I’d go out on 40-60 mile rides every week). And because we only had one car and I didn’t have a job yet, I spent a lot of time walking to and from downtown, or the grocery store, or around the block with the dog. So I got to know my way around pretty quick. That, coupled with a new church where I quickly started volunteering, our commitment to trying out all the breakfast places in town, and finally landing a job of my own, meant I felt much more at home at the one-year mark than I had ever done in Germany and Utah.

The longest I’ve ever lived anywhere is the ten years we spent in California when I was a kid, so I can’t really fathom staying in one place for 15 or 20 or however many years and becoming a real local. But one of the things I appreciated about the book is that you don’t have to be–Warnick includes both long- and short-term strategies in her book, and implementing them will help you feel at home wherever you are, however long you stay there.

One last note: even if you’re not like me, you’re not a Mover, you’re a Stayer, there’s probably a lot you can learn from this book. You might instinctively being doing much of this already, but I bet there’s a tip or two in these pages that will make you love where you live, even more.


What I’m Into, August Edition


(Also known as, why this post is four weeks late.)

Little G. was born on August 12 and is absolutely perfect. Her arrival has shifted my priorities somewhat, so perhaps this post should be titled: “What I’m Also Into, August Edition.”


Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Mother’s Guide to the Meaning of Life. Don’t let the saccharine title fool you–this is not a sappy book. I’m six weeks into this parenting thing and so much of what she writes about is still beyond my understanding, but I can see glimmers of truths in what she writes, and glimpses of what is to come. Incidentally, this was my first Amy Krouse Rosenthal book, whom you may know from her beautiful and heartbreaking Modern Love column, published ten days before her death, and I will be back for more. Four stars.

Kevin Kwan’s Rich People ProblemsThis is book three of a series, and while 1 and 2 were entertaining enough (in a “how the other half lives” or more accurately “how the 0.1% lives” way), this felt like one book too many. Two stars.

Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back. I like Cabot’s books as long as I remember that they are romances, not literary fiction, and downgrade my expectations accordingly. Two to three stars.

Donna Andrew’s Gone GullI mention Donna Andrews about every other month–she’s my favorite cozy mystery writer and this new installment did not disappoint! Meg’s grandmother has opened up an arts center but is plagued by vandalism, and then murder. Meg has to solve the mystery before the center is forced to close! (Insert suspenseful music here..) Four stars.

Currently on my hold list at the library: Lucy Syke’s The Knockoff, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Roger Horowitz’ Kosher USA, Ken Jenning’s Because I Said So!, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and Katrine Marcal’s Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?. 

On the left: Baby’s first bookstore visit! She was two weeks old. On the right: our haul from that visit. L. and I have somewhat different taste in books. 

Shorter pieces:

On the rise of female powerlifters: I got into lifting before I got pregnant, and can’t wait to get back into it. It’s given me muscles, sure, and aesthetic effects, but mostly confidence. Like the article says, “‘When they’re able to lift a certain weight,” she explains, “then they start questioning, ‘Well, what else did I think I couldn’t do that I can actually do?'”

Plus, it’s really nice to be able to carry whatever I need in daily life. Functional fitness for the win!

On starting new projects (Emily Freeman). 

“If we’re going to bring forth creative work into the world, we have to be able to discern the difference between sacred waiting and scared waiting.” This. There is a difference between white-knuckling the status quo and being afraid of the future, and letting things take their time so new roots can unfold. I have done plenty of both over the past year, and while waiting for anything still doesn’t come naturally to me, there is fruit to be found in sacred waiting and I am learning to see it.


Happy ValleyThis documentary takes a look at the Penn State community after the sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and other officials came to light. What I took away from this documentary is how much we want people to be either good or bad, and most people aren’t–most people are equal parts innocent and guilty, good and bad, and communities generally have a very hard time dealing with that.

Little Evil. Adam Scott (Ben from Parks and Recreation) plays a man who unwittingly becomes the stepfather to the antichrist. I am not a horror fan, at all, but this is a horror-comedy. It’s both funny and lame–it was entertaining enough but not likely to make my list of ‘movies I’d recommend’ and I mainly watched it because I heart Ben and Leslie forever.

The Good Place. Eleanor dies and finds herself in heaven–by accident. Now she has to prove she belongs there. This series stars Kristen Bell and is produced by the same people who did Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Rec, so of course I loved it.

Bones. A slow healing process post-childbirth means a lot of time spent on the couch. Nursing a newborn also means a lot of time spent on the couch, and Bones, Booth, and the rest of the crew have been good company, especially late at night when I want something familiar to get me through yet another nursing or pumping session.


Jun’s KitchenThis youtube channel features a man cooking traditional Japanese dishes–but for his cats. It’s oddly captivating.

Marblelympics. Picture me reading on the couch, hearing cheering from the tv, glancing up to see a sporting event on the screen, glancing again to see that this is, in fact, a sporting event featuring marbles and professional grade commentary. Epic and amazing.

(You can thank L. for both of these. He has some interesting Youtube habits.)

Listening to:

Not much. I’ve been youtubing lullabies because I am deficient in that department and turns out singing to them does really quiet down fussing newborns. I have sung the ones I know approximately a million times so far and need to expand my repertoire for my own sanity. L. reports little miss also likes the Hamilton soundtrack, particularly “Dear Theodosia,” so perhaps I should just brush up on my historical rap skills…

What have you been reading, watching, and listening to? Anything I should add to my list?

What I’m Into, July Edition


Screenshot 2017-07-29 10.38.52

Apparently this month was a nice split between more serious books and cozy mysteries. You all have seen me mention Donna Andrews before–she is one of my favorite cozy mystery writers and her books are always a treat to re-read. Otherwise this month I read:

Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most by Marcus Borg. It’s part spiritual memoir, part easily accessible primer of sorts on progressive Christian theology, and an engaging read.

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. Sara Miles isn’t your average Episcopalian (or maybe she is, is there such a thing as an average Episcopalian, especially in San Francisco?) and in this book, she reflects on her experiences taking the Ash Wednesday services to the streets and giving ashes to anyone who wanted them. The book is a meditation on the limits of church buildings, the power of liturgy, and what happens when you broaden the confines of your community.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. I read Micha’s blog for years but put off reading the book because as a single grad student/non-mom of small kids, I didn’t think it would resonate. Well, now that I’m about to enter the cult of motherhood and am even debating staying home with the baby for a while (gasp), the themes resonate a lot more. Micha writes candidly about her struggle to feel like her life is “enough,” that she is enough, that God loves her whether she’s a missionary in Africa or a stay-at-home-mom in San Francisco. As someone who is always afraid she’s squandering her potential, I found myself nodding at a lot of what she wrote.


What do you do when you are too pregnant to exercise properly (the most I can manage are short walks, or on a really good day, a 20 minute swim) but miss it anyway? You watch sports documentaries on Netflix.

I have a weird fascination with Crossfit. Every once in a while I google boxes near me and debate whether I’d like it or not and should try out a class. And then I settle for reading about it and watching documentaries, like this one, Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness, that follows a series of athletes as they compete in the 2016 Reebok Games, but also offers a retrospective of sorts about the explosive growth of the sport in the last ten years. (If you liked this, there’s also an earlier one that documents the 2015 Games, also available on Netflix.)

I do not have a weird fascination with golf, but really enjoyed The Short Game too. This documentary follows world championship-hopefuls, but here’s the catch: these are kids. They’re all eight and under, and the documentary talks about their love for the sport, the pressures of being a child athlete, but also the opportunities being a golfer has given them.

We also went to see Spiderman: Homecoming while we were in Seattle on our babymoon, in a theater that had the nice luxury seats but was way overheated, and I was dying through most of it. Still, fun superhero movie. Hated that it technically didn’t pass the Bechdel test, loved that it had two WOC playing lead roles.



This is clearly the Americanist in me, but I loved this series. It tracks the rise of Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Utterly random and utterly delightful:

“In this new WBEZ podcast, Oprah Winfrey tells the behind-the-scenes story of her iconic TV talk show, along with producers, staffers, TV executives, and ratings rival Phil Donahue. The three-part series chronicles the show’s scrappy roots in Chicago, its rise to daytime dominance, and the powerful sway Winfrey came to have in American life.”


Tell me, what you have you been into this past month? 

two years ago

L. and I got engaged two years ago, in the rain, at Ikea. (It’s a whole story–ask me sometime and I’ll tell you.)


It wasn’t a storybook engagement, or probably even romantic to anyone but us, but for me, it was perfect. It was both its own thing that reflected us so completely and the complete opposite of my failed engagement years earlier. (I say failed, but I should probably say successful, in the sense that breaking that engagement was one of the best decisions I ever made.) When my ex asked me to marry him, there was no joyful anticipation, no surprise. I vividly remember thinking, ‘no, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this’ as he went down on one knee. But he did, and I said yes, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone asks you to marry him?

Don’t worry, I’ve learned a lot since then.

Saying yes to L. was a completely different experience, and it preluded an entirely different engagement period. I headed off to Europe for a couple months soon after that, and we spent a good chunk of the next year separated from each other by the Atlantic ocean, eight hours of time difference, and 5000+ miles. In some ways, I was saying goodbye to my old life as I was making plans for my new one. And sometimes (often), it’s hard to be so far away from friends and family and a culture that I love and miss dearly.

But meeting and marrying L. felt like coming home, and for that, I would happily travel thousands of miles more.

on self-care, resourcing, and giving yourself what you need (which isn’t what you want)

I read this post from Addie Zierman this week, in which she talks about the difference between ‘resourcing’ and ‘self-care.’ She’s talking in the context of the current political climate, but her conclusions put words to something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

She writes that where self-care makes her think of bubble baths and comfort food, indulgences and luxuries, resourcing is “plain and simple and unglamorous. It brings to mind grocery shopping and wood cutting and preparing food and pouring water.” Self-care for her means hiding in her house, introverting on the couch. Resourcing means going out into the world and doing something for others, something that gives her hope and keeps her grounded when things aren’t going well.

For sure, the distinction isn’t as cut and dry as the two terms would make it seem. And I suspect self-care in its classic form comes easier for introverts, most of us who have had to learn to set boundaries and take care of ourselves (ie, hide) in an extraverted world. But the article resonated with me because I struggle with self-care. Not because I don’t take enough time off (believe me, I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time reading cozy mysteries on the couch). But with the rare exception, I come away from those moments of ‘self-care’ feeling more frazzled than when I started.

As many of you know, I have a lot on my plate right now. Bubble baths are not the answer–at least not for me, and if only because I’d have to clean the tub first. It might be a minor difference in framing the concepts, but self-care feels like escapism to me, and resourcing means giving myself what it takes for me to be able to continue to show up tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Addie writes, “Resourcing is not so much about giving yourself what you want. It’s about honoring what you need and doing the work to provide it to yourself.”

When I’m stressed, bubble baths don’t cut it. But extra sleep does, and sitting at my desk before and after work to get these chapters done, and taking Josie out for a walk in the sunshine does too. Sadly, resourcing means a lot less binge-watching of NCIS or Parks and Recreation, which is my normal response to stress and, as L. can testify, one of my favorite non-productive hobbies.

But this concept also resonated with me because I am turning 30 at the beginning of next month. I have no qualms about leaving my twenties. My twenties were better than my teens (anything was better than that), but they contained some extraordinarily painful lessons and experiences, and I am happy to leave them behind. But still, turning thirty means indulging in some self-reflection, and as I look to the future, I see more slowing down, more intentional living and decision-making and taking my time, rather than my usual “full speed ahead and let the chips fall where they may” approach. (That approach got me L., so it’s not all bad. It’s just also given me a lot of anxiety and fear, which is less good.)

Concretely, this means that I deliberately don’t have a fully-thought out, month-by-month plan in place for after the PhD, no lists to make and boxes to check, but am going to see what happens and what feels good then. It isn’t what I want–what I want is to know what is going to happen (or what I want to happen) and set goals and do research and make things happen, preferably yesterday rather than tomorrow. But it is what I need.

Deciding I didn’t want to try for tenure sent me into a tail-spin of sorts, in which I frantically (and fruitlessly) tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life, if I wasn’t going to be a professor and sacrifice all on the altar of academia. And while I’m very happy we moved to California, I won’t pretend it hasn’t been hard to move here as a trailing spouse. It’s been a rewarding, but also a hard year, is what I’m saying, and the years before that weren’t that easy either.

So I’m going to defend in June, and then I’m going to breathe. I know, I’m shocked too. I was very resistant to the idea when someone (ahum, several people) challenged me on my tendency to want to do everything now, all at once. But I sat with it for a little while, and I realized I also felt relief at the idea that I could maybe just be, just exist without having to prove my worth to others (or, you know, myself, if I’m being totally honest here, because that’s really the only person I have to convince, and also the hardest).

I’ll let you know how it goes.


What I’m Into | November 2016

What I’m reading


This month’s theme seemed to be calling stories and anti-hagiographies. I picked up Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People at the book store and finished it in two days. Sara Miles (of Take This Bread, one of my favorite finds of 2016) shows up in the book, and that didn’t surprise me in the least–the books aren’t the same at all, but there’s an undercurrent of surprise (of all the people you would expect to become religious in such specific ways, these are not two of them) and that really appeals to me. I also read Pastrix, the first book Nadia wrote. Then Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood, in which Jana tries and fails at all kinds of spiritual practices (the epilogue made me cry and I also felt a lot better at all the ways I fail, so thank you, Jana).

Lastly, one of my tutoring students was working on Toni Morrison’s Beloved, prompting me to read it too. It’s so intense, but so worth the read. The central questions (at least the way I read it) are: is there such a thing as an ex-slave? Can you ever escape your past? And what does it mean to be beloved?

What I’m watching

Besides the usual suspects (NCIS, NCIS LA, Hawaii 5-0, Scorpion, Criminal Minds (what a way to write Hotch out of the series..sigh), Brooklyn Nine-Nine):

Dr Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Moana.

I liked all three of these movies. We caught an early viewing of Fantastic Beasts (10AM on a Saturday), and it was a great way to start the weekend. (My main complaint? Johnny Depp as Grindewald. The thing about evil is that it looks just like you and me–Grindewald didn’t need to be Johnny Depp-ed, in my opinion.) I went into Doctor Strange without any expectations, but turned out to really like the movie, although I rolled my eyes at all the Orientalism. And Moana was great. They did a much better job with the Polynesian aspects of her life than I honestly thought they would, and although there are certainly some valid critiques to be made, I really enjoyed it.

What I’m listening to

Slate’s Working podcast is doing a series of interviews with people whose jobs are going to become so much harder under a Trump administration. Last week, they talked to an abortion provider, and this week, an immigration lawyer working primarily with children. Both episodes are well worth the time spent.

What else I am doing with my life

Christmas, apparently! We got our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s a tiny tree, partially because we didn’t want a big one, and mostly because we have a smart car and the tree had to fit in the car, so a tiny tree it was! We decorated it that weekend, and so far, the animals have left it alone. (Let’s hope that stays that way.)

reflections on the election after a bad night’s sleep

I. I am a daughter of immigrants. I am an immigrant myself, and I know the beauty and the heartache that moving between countries and cultures gives you. My dad is the biggest defender of the American dream you will ever find, and for him America has been a land of opportunity, as it has also been for us. That is now over. My dad is grieving, and I am grieving. This is the not the world I want to raise children in. This is not the world I want for my students, or my friends, or my neighbors, or anyone in America who is LGBT, or Muslim, or Latino, or otherwise deemed a threat by people too ignorant to see how you are precisely what makes America better. You are loved, and we stand with you.

II. I am a white immigrant, and a European one. I am going to be fine. I have an accent, but it’s not a Spanish one, and thus nobody really cares, not even Trump. And yet I feel fear. I feel fear as a foreigner, as an outsider, as a woman who knows only too well that #yesallwomen. I have been different often enough to know what happens next.

III. A couple friends posted a verse from Exodus on their Facebook walls this morning:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. (Exodus 22:21-23)

I take strength in this old, old story of liberation from oppression, and freedom where there had been slavery. And it tells me what we do next. We pray, and then we fight.

But we have seen periods of darkness before — segregation, McCarthyism, the internment of the Japanese, the Civil War, slavery. The American story is fitful progress punctuated by frequent reversals, some of which appeared at the time like they would last forever. None of them did. … fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on. (Jonathan Chait)