Sunshine Blogger

Sunshine Blogger Award

Last night I went to bed really excited that my friend Katie nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger recognition! I love reading her blog Mama the Reader, and I’m so appreciative of her kind words. According to super-inspirational Katie, who was the first person I knew who created and maintained a blog (now 8 years!), here are the rules:

“choose a fellow blogger who inspires positivity and creativity in the online community. Then send them some questions and be sure to answer the ones sent to you. It’s a fun way to honor a fellow writer and to introduce readers to new spaces.” 

Here were Katie’s questions to me. Answering these was wonderfully reflective.

  • Why did you start blogging?

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to write until I became a 30-year old juggler—not just the normal life stuff. I was juggling the weight of a rip current I needed to reach for with all the things preventing me from it.  I knew there were all these kernels just dropping into my life, and I felt this innate pull to make something out of them. Also, I was truly shocked at how fast I was forgetting what happened a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. My best friend does what she does best and made me feel I could actually do it. Also, I knew if there was this imagined audience who held me accountable, I wouldn’t make too many more excuses. I sat with my laptop on a round glass dining room table and typed until the words Memory Box Mom seemed close enough to what I wanted to do.

  •         Why do you keep doing it? Why you keep coming back to it with so many other social media forms?

One of the first things I wrote on the blog was a reference to my birth experience with Layla. I admitted I wrote my experience without any creative merits in mind. I just had to confess that just 9 months of being a mom shook my life up in all kinds of ways. My favorite admission on that post was when I wrote casually, “I’m starting to understand now.” Having a place where I can hold myself accountable to that very idea is precisely why I keep coming back here. Well, that and the truly kind friends and followers who take the time to say something nice about something I’ve written that they’ve liked (what better encouragement is out there?). I want to continue this idea of “starting to understand.” This space is a curled index finger bending like a drifting underwater creature making me stop and watch.  It makes me write notes in my phone. It makes me sit on the blue chair in my office and turn on my computer.

Facebook is around long enough now that my students feel like it’s an outdated source. They call it the social media for moms. My friends (Katie, you remember this, right?) created an account for me once maybe 10 years ago, and I closed it a few weeks later. So I’ve really never been on Facebook, which is still the king of social media despite it being middle aged. I come back to my blog because it’s oddly a private space. It yield just enough support to encourage me, and it yields just enough control to keep my hands near the heat.

  •         How has blogging changed for you since you began? Has your site somehow taken a different shape than you expected?

Getting this recognition made my reader stats jump for a minute. Always exciting! Every time that happens, I feel two-fold. I want to jump up, and then I want to sort of hide under the table. And usually after that happens, I poke my head up and visit my site and read it with someone else’s perspective. I try to be merciful on myself when I have to fix a grammatical error and republish, or when I desperately want to clarify something. In fact, this post didn’t go through well the first time, I’ve spent some time holding my breath and fixing it up.

These questions had me thinking. I went my “This Mom” description and changed it a little to be more truthful. The writing–along with the writer–has changed. Reflecting on point A helps me with point D. That’s how blogging has changed for me and how the site has taken a different shape: My experiences are changing, and so am I.  Sometimes I just want to change the name of the site to Woman in her 30s or something like that!

Blogging also makes me want to change the word blogging. I still have associations with blogging that are commercial. Here’s what cream I use; buy it. Here’s what I do for my kids that you should, too; buy it. I know something more than you do; read it. Writers want to be read. Essays are the perhaps the product we are offering, but these essays we share with the public are birthed with slow-grown wisdom and are presented with some fragility–like a two palms carrying a bird’s nest, and that makes it impossible to associate it with the other type of blogging. The theatre is the same, but the play is different.

  •         Do you envision a certain audience when you write?

I hope that readers feel like we’re sitting on a soft couch drinking Persian tea in a mug with some quote like “trust thyself” or with some tribal Anthropologie swirl. Maybe when we walked into the cozy room with a tall willowy window, we took our boots off and we’ve revealed that our socks are mismatched. Maybe you’ve got a bare foot propped up under you, and we’re talking about your marriage. Either way, we’re reaching for the sugar cubes and laughing at ourselves with love in our hearts. This image of camaraderie is what precedes any other space for me.

  •         Do you have a favorite post of yours?

Gosh, this is hard. I asked for help on this one (thanks again, Andrea). I started this blog in March 2014, so Memory Lane is close to my heart.  I got some thicker skin and remember it was important to me to be as real as I could in the stressful making-life-work-moment with family photos. Last year’s Unrounded thoughts on the way things line up is moving closer to this woman in her 30s sweater I’ve grown into. The magic of an impractical adventure will always be up there in Chile I and Chile II. And I guess that brings me back to my current headspace. I also love anything to do with my cousin Parissa.

  •         What’s your best writing advice?

I have a beautiful wedding video that I cringe to watch sometimes. I see my 23-year old self posing for the video in some shots. I see myself knowing that the camera is on me, and I’m giving it what it wants. As cliché as this may sound since the word journey is used all the time, but the journey that writing has taken me on is the process: to reflect on when I was posing and to emerge first with the truth as much as I can. Writing preserves. Your fiction and non-fiction all carry your DNA and your observations. The way the light reflects in your living room and the way the stranger crunches on peanuts are equal sources of inspiration.

Write those observations down. When you’ve noticed something you know is something (the kernel?) but don’t know what yet, just write it down. It doesn’t have to be on an expensive leather journal. It can be something you buy from the check-out line at Tj Maxx. It’s that for me sometimes, but it’s mostly on the notepad on my phone.  Joan Didion writes her late husband told her “the ability to make a note when something came to mind was the difference between being able to write and not being able to write.”

A former student asked me recently about writing. She was interested in “how cathartic it must be to write.” My response was surprisingly pessimistic. I remember fantasizing about writing and thinking about how it feels. I told her, though, that the product of writing is usually worth the strain. Finding the time to write and fending off what Pastiloff calls your “inner asshole” are challenging. Blog writing (really, any writing) helps with those two things. The factors that prevented me from starting one earlier—what about privacy? who is even going to read it? there are so many other bloggers already; and how can I keep up with one in this busy life?—became the very reasons to start blogging. I began blogging so I wouldn’t forget memories I find significant. My purpose is somewhat the same now, but what blogging has done for me is that it’s allowed me to see how much I’ve changed. That’s not an easy process.

My best writing advice is to be okay with change. Find your solace with your own little audience. You’ll find your message while eking out the words, and that’s—for me, anyway—the cathartic part. Don’t not write.

  •         Describe your ideal day? Is writing part of the equation?

Thinking about this question had me going up and down for things that usually make me feel productive and peaceful in a day. I can’t say my ideal day is my most exciting day. If I piecemeal versions of a long summer day and a Sunday together, this is my ideal day:

It’s warm outside, and I’ve done something outside for my body because of it. The beds are made and the house is clean. The 7:30 pm amber light is coming through. I’m looking at the artwork the kids made after we bought supplies together to mark their vision. I look outside and see a small mess from where they made something out of mud and where I didn’t say no but said yes instead. I have quiet space to think about something, and then I write down this line that I’ve read that doesn’t really have to do with anything, but I know it’s going to apply somewhere. Allende says “Curry was invented in India, not Norway. It was in pursuit of spices that pirates, adventurers, traders, and conquistadors traveled to the East…” The mystery and effects of spices, their “secret properties” are similar to…. I trail off. I’m okay with that for now. An hour later, the kids are in bed and Kal is reading fiction (okay, this is getting fantasy now) in an actual book with paper. My friend calls and says, I’m picking you up in five minutes. I don’t ask where or how. I pull my hair back and slide on flip flops. I return home with an invigorated heart, and I love things a little deeper. I call Andrea and tell her all about it. She tells me to write it down, and I do. No one asks for a single thing more than my presence.

So my ideal day has clean floors, productivity, gratified children, some writing thoughts, a little spontaneity, then a little solitude.


I nominate Azita Houshiar because she is an accessible, humble, and influential media presence who shifts minds gently using food as unifying ingredient. Also, I nominate Danielle because she’s a young and interesting person who is recently finding her blog voice. She brought sunshine into my world through her leap of faith in herself recently, and I think these questions can help her as she figures out her blogging world.

If you’re interested, ladies, here are some questions for you:

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What inspires you to come back to the screen?
  3. How has your writing changed you?
  4. How do you think it affects other people?
  5. What advice would you give to yourself?
  6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a writing project or blog?
  7. Do you envision a certain audience when you write?
  8. Do you have a favorite post of yours?
  9. Describe your ideal day.
  10. What parts of your life or your interests do you hope you may explore through writing one day?

What if parenting had more to do with our own joy?

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen making soup for my mother in law who is in town. Age seems to have hit her hard these days, and she has a lot of ailments coming at her weakened body. Layla saw me using the hand blender and wanted to get on a stool and blend, too. Such started our moment in the kitchen, our hands hovering above a steamy pot. 

We’d just gotten back from soccer games in the healing Saturday sun, so our energy was invigorated. While in the kitchen, I decided additionally to make mulukhia stew, a traditional middle eastern dish that looks like a one-pot wonder but somehow–in the way of Persian or Arabic cooking– takes a silly-long time to make. While I fried pita chips, Layla wanted to bake pita triangles in the oven with a recipe she got from her class. The kitchen island exploded with olive oil, seasoning, bowls, aluminum foil, cutting boards, and measuring spoons.

As usual in the kitchen, I had some music playing. Humming  “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music to the kids is nothing new to them. I’ve dropped in these staple American nodes of my upbringing over the years. My friends joke that I haven’t seen any Star Wars anything, but I know a good bit of our 90s MTV allusions.  The kids always like when I get to the part “when the dog bites, when the bees sting…” I decided to play the soundtrack while we busied ourselves in the kitchen.

Somewhere between the foil and the oil, I looked up and laughed to myself. Here was I, this Persian-American (or is it American-Persian?) cooking her Palestinian mother-in-law’s recipe in my Georgian kitchen with my Arabic-Persian-American daughter who just asked for a set of Baby-Sitters Club books, singing along to an iconic American classic soundtrack from a time when my mom sprinkled a little bit of pop culture on me. So we set up our own new stew.

While the sun was up, I loved this idea. Despite all the multculturalisms and the swirl of how life works in my head, the sun set and the yellow of the day turned its trade. I started thinking about what’s been on my mind the last few months: do we want to give our kids a formulaic upbringing?

On some level, maybe the best outcome could be from the ones who can give kids a traditional, safe upbringing nestled in the suburbs with school events on the calendar that we all attend; little birthday parties and seasonal celebrations; high school sporting events and bigger houses. On another level, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this from a teacher’s stance and have almost been a part of this current, too. We moved up in homes and went to good high schools and carved out the most meaning of what we had. I suppose its from the vantage point of having lived some of this that makes me want to give the kids even more of some of that American life that wasn’t on the menu for me–more freedom, more school events, more sports, more options. But most importantly, something about this pattern feels, well, like a pattern. In the life so many of my peers are living now, it feels the options we earnestly give our children and the careers we try to build simultaneously make life a little harder than I thought it would.

Last year taught me to cancel more and keep more time. I’ve recognized that planning too much even for myself only creates anxiety; it only creates the feeling that there is no more time. I can’t throw away the calendar, but I can fill it up less. This year feels like it’s asking for more of that, too. I had a conversation with friends where I admitted to wondering what a year “off” felt like. One year with nothing but time, options for more spontaneity before time runs out and the kids’ lives get faster than ours. A year of “no extra” unless spontaneous. 

If I’m truly honest, I think I’m feeling this way more for myself as a parent. I wonder when people take their kids out of school for a year if this is less for the children and more for the parents. An opportunity to live differently and change up the formula.

When I sat atop two beautiful lagoons in Chile, I met a family from Scotland. The family of four was driving through South America. The mom and I talked, and she said she was home schooling the kids this year. As her girls circled around her leg, I found out that her kids were about the same age as my own. She told me that her youngest’s birthday was the following week. “Wow, what a cool way to spend your birthday!” I exclaimed. The mom, almost in a whisper, said that her girl is actually really upset about it. She wants to be at home with her friends and have a party with cupcakes. Despite the mountains in the background, all the little girl wanted was that bite of traditional; what the mom wanted for her and even for herself was something new. And perhaps behind all of this was a set of parents who just wanted to feel what life would be like if it was different for a little while, parents who maybe wanted to enjoy parenthood with their kids instead of finding time for parenthood in the midst of so much life minutia. But, alas, there is no right way, is there?

I don’t know of anyone in my life now who isn’t just doing his or her best to make real sense and meaning. In fact, we were discussing the kids yesterday because of some new challenges, and I brought up that tangential story about the family in Chile. When I was done, Kal said, “So do you want to pack up and do something like that?” I kind of looked away and told him the story is less about doing that and more about this realization that at this stage in the kids’ lives, we as parents have this power to do something different (just knowing we have it makes me wonder what we’ll do with it). In a few years, it won’t be as simple. And Inshallah a few years after that, it won’t be an option because their lives will be more theirs than it is ours. It’s a moment of recognition that my kids’ life is also an experience for us as parents now.

I can’t say I want to slow it all down.  Everything has its own time. I can say that I want to feel it differently. I want to look back and know that I felt, recognized, reflected, and changed parenthood for them and with them. I’m opening up this idea that there are only so many years where parents can have equal parts joy and equal parts effort.  Maybe, just maybe, part of the formula is weighing our own joy in parenting and our life experience just as much as we weigh what brings our kids joy in their life experience. Wouldn’t it be something to elevate–this idea that being a parent is just as relevant if not more than being a child. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they both weighed and counted the same. And wouldn’t it be even that much more interesting if they both eclipse.