Hello Homesickness


When Bryan and I moved to San Diego, California, this summer, the transition was strangely easy for me. I’d lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for 30 years, my whole life. I was ready for change, ready to escape my roots and experience something new. That desire coupled with the promises of urban, downtown living, beaches mere minutes away, a smorgasbord of incredible food, craft beer culture, June Gloom (which I love), and the beauty of Balboa Park equaled unbridled excitement for me—a new adventure. I was happy to leave my desert hometown in the dust. When we pulled our U-Haul truck out onto the I-10, I didn’t look back.

I’ve traveled back to Phoenix a few times since our initial move—for weddings, baby showers, quick trips to see family and friends—and I’ve always driven or flown back to California alight with the feeling that I’m returning home. And why shouldn’t I? I’m a California girl now. And San Diego is an exceptionally easy city to fall in love with and to call home.

But this last trip, this one was different.

Bryan had to travel back to Phoenix for work this past weekend/week, and I asked him to extend his trip so I could tag along, burn up existing vacation time, and we could visit with friends and family for the holidays. I was excited for five days of fun!

The first night, we met up with a small group of friends for authentic, beautiful Moroccan food at Couscous Express. This little establishment, on McDowell near the 51 entrance/exit ramps, is the most unassuming gem of a restaurant. The owner is friendly and welcoming, and all he wants to do is to feed you; it’s the most honest hospitality I’ve ever experienced. Together with friends, we ate lentil soup, garbanzo beans, tagine, and date shakes while French jazz music played in the background. And there wasn’t a quiet moment as we caught up, discussed the latent poignancy of Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series Master of None, talked through the algorithms of Pandora radio, geeked out, and shared the love. At the end of the meal, the owner of Couscous gave me a headdress traditionally worn by belly dancers and everyone at the table received argon oil soap. It was the perfect, eccentric end to a perfect, eccentric meal.

GameThe next morning, we went to church at City Square, which never feels like a religious gathering and instead feels like a family gathering. Immediately, we were pulled into hugs and asked how our lives are in California. Later, as our guest pastor drew a connection between joy and pain, the beauty and volatility of nature, and the happiness and sadness of the season, I teared up—both because her message was true and beautiful and because, surrounded by so many wonderful people, I was feeling that joy she was speaking of.

After church, we played Betrayal at the House on the Hill with the Kemp-Schlemmers, the family we were staying with. We dramatically read horrifying cards and joked about creepy kids and enjoyed chile-infused beer—ever mindful there was a traitor among us! (Play the game; it’s awesome.)

Mom and meThat night, we had an early Christmas dinner with my mom. She completely spoiled us with incredible food (including homemade crème brulee, which is my favorite dessert ever!) and truly thoughtful presents. It’s very apparent your boyfriend has become a part of the family when your mom buys you both socks, heat-building undershirts (for outdoor archery, of course), and Amazon gift cards to quell our ordering addictions. My mom got a little emotional when she opened the scarf I’d knit for her, and we helped her put her new wine lovers case on her phone. We took lots of pictures, and of course, like moms do, she sent leftovers home with us.

On Monday, I had to work from home. I dropped Bryan off at work, swung by one of my old coffee haunts, Lola, and ran into a good friend I haven’t seen in many, many months. Over mugs of coffee, we talked about writing, relationships, and impending adventures before I had to head back to the house and log on to my laptop.

Mid-morning, there was a knock on the door and an invitation to go downstairs and do mommy and me yoga with Summer and Josie. And I can’t even begin to describe how fantastic an experience it is to down dog with a two-year-old who smiles and giggles and always wants to hand you your water bottle (gotta stay hydrated, after all!).

That night, we invited basically all of our Phoenix-based friends out for a group dinner. Despite some crazy restaurant mix-ups, our friends showed up in droves. What we thought would be a group of 10-15 people quickly turned into a group of 20-25. We virtually took over NYPD Pizza. And it was overwhelming to see everyone come out to see us. I uploaded a collage of pictures to social media with the simplest hashtag: #joy—because that tiny word captures everything going on in that room.


On Tuesday, I surprised my ex-coworkers at Nationwide with an unannounced visit. And you should’ve seen the looks on their faces! Again, the hugs. Again, the inquiries about California. A few hopeful questions about whether I was back for good. “Just for vacation,” I said.

After the visit, I met up with my friend Rachel, who is basically my chosen older sister. We lunched the way we used to, discussing the Phoenix dance community, our goals and successes, and the goings on our favorite TV shows.

When Bryan got off work that night, we went to Cherryblossom Noodle Café, our go-to for Japanese food in Phoenix. We drank sake and green tea, and I had some killer Pad Thai.

We got home to find Brian watching The Voice on Hulu, so we sat down to watch and talk music and unwind for the night.

Yesterday afternoon, we arrived home in San Diego after a grueling and tiring car ride. We unpacked the car and went upstairs to find a very naughty dog on the furniture—and yes, she knows she’s not allowed there (bad, Biscuit!). We straightened up, fed the dogs, took them on a walk, and then Bryan went to Aikido as I settled in for a relaxing night at home.

I reheated my leftover Pad Thai, turned on Mad Men, cracked open a beer—and felt terribly, terribly alone. That’s when I realized that for the first time ever, I was homesick.

But not for Phoenix. Not the city itself or the desert or anything tied to a specific geographical place. I was homesick for the people who live in Phoenix. The people who are the very definition of community. The people who show up in overwhelming numbers when we say we’re going to be in town. The people who accept us as family, even when we’re gone for a long time. The people who open their homes and their hearts to us. The people that make Phoenix my home.

If you’re one of those people in Phoenix and I saw you this trip, know that you gave me the very best Christmas present this past weekend—you. I love you and I miss you. Always.


That Day My Church Marched in the Phoenix Pride Parade

Phoenix Pride

This year, I marched in my very first Phoenix Pride Parade–and I did it alongside my faith community, City Square Church. City Square asked me to write a reflection on my experience in the parade and here’s what came out:

The morning of April 12 was a morning of celebration. The City Square logo received a colorful Phoenix Pride Parade-worthy makeover and our t-shirts served as symbols of alliance and solidarity. Lisa and Everett Van Aller showed up with a wagon of supplies, City Square-stickered candy to hand out, and baby Elliott in tow – clearly the cutest member of our group. We broke bread and took communion in a Phoenix park-and-ride lot before joining the masses of feathers, leather, glitter, and happiness ready to walk – no, strut down 3rd Street.

Ben and Teneia Eichelberger saved the day, morphing a mic stand into a banner holder. Sam Richard served as our unofficial hype man, handing out candy, running the lines giving high fives, and “getting low” to the club music that poured out of the double-decker bus in front of us. We all made jokes about the possibility of getting lung cancer from the smog billowing out of said bus, but made those jokes while smiling and still committed to walk, our health be damned! I passed out blue feather boas and participated in a dance party or five on the sidelines of the Phoenix Pride Parade as we walked for equality and understanding.

But I dreaded the last quarter of a mile of the parade, that wide, slow turn onto Indian School, because that’s where anti-gay protesters were set up, shouting hurtful rhetoric through megaphones, boasting neon signs that proclaimed people would go to hell, simply for falling in love. The church-affiliated demonstrators quoted Leviticus between their hateful slurs, trying to make scripture stick to rainbow balloons and furry go-go boots. It all seemed so strange against the backdrop of even louder dance music, its volume strategic, trying to drown out the hate…

Read the rest on City Square’s blog!


Are you listening?

downtown Phoenix

Yesterday, two important things happened.

My boyfriend sat outside from 2:30 to 8:30 pm in a parking lot near 2nd Avenue and Fillmore to photograph the same scene of downtown Phoenix during different parts of the day for a work assignment. Think time lapse but with photography instead of video.

I took him dinner around 7ish, proclaiming that we could have any asphalt picnic. Except there were ants everywhere. And the asphalt was still pretty dang hot at that time.

Instead, my boyfriend backed up his car and I was able to sit in the “trunk” of the hatchback, eating cold noodles and sushi while my legs dangled over the pavement.

Here’s the important part. People walking by stopped and talked to us.

I met a man named Andy who’s been in Phoenix for nearly 38 years, mostly working construction. Since he’s used to working outside in the heat and has acclimated to such, he’s earned a nickname: Old Lizard. He showed me a tattoo of his namesake on his arm, a gecko that looks like it belongs in a Geico commercial, though I’m sure it may be older than the commercials. Andy’s Scotch-Irish, he served six years in prison (though I don’t know what for), and he has a daughter who works internationally who he’s incredibly proud of. He was also involved in the construction of such historic buildings as the Westward Ho (the renovation) and the Chinese Cultural Center.

Andy stopped by and talked to us three separate times, and my boyfriend said he’d been by to chat earlier in the day, too.

One of the last things he said to me? “I really like talking to people—especially younger people—but a lot of times, they won’t talk to you.”

Another man who stopped to talk to us asked if we were praying folk. My boyfriend and I both said “no,” mostly, I think, because we misunderstood the question. I thought he was asking if we were representatives of a church doing church-work on that sidewalk.

Regardless of our answer, he asked if we would pray with him for his mother who has recently undergone hip surgery. Now understanding the larger situation, I said I’d pray with him. We never actually got around to that part, but he did tell me proudly that his mother was a Spanish lady who’d had six boys and no girls. “A tough woman,” he said, and I had to agree. Before he left, I asked for his mother’s name—Helen Avalos—and I said I’d keep her in my prayers.

All of this interaction occurred in less than an hour, between bites of buckwheat noodles and miso.

After we packed up my boyfriend’s gear, we migrated to the community lot on Roosevelt Row for a candlelight vigil hosted by City Square Church to honor those who’ve been affected by the violence that’s erupted in our community this week. A little background is probably needed here.

CandleOn Wednesday night, a priest at Mother of Mercy Mission was shot and killed and another badly beaten in what police are suspecting was a burglary turned bloody.

While terrible and disheartening, this act of violence isn’t the only one that’s hit too close to home recently. A couple days ago, a drive-by shooting near McClintock High School left three injured and the school in lockdown mode.

And this is just a taste of the weekly turmoil in the greater Phoenix community―which is just a snapshot of what’s happening nationally.

How many school shootings have been reported since Sandy Hooks? It’s an obscene number. 74.

The candlelight vigil wasn’t just for the priests who were attacked on Wednesday: it was, for all of us, a time to realize that violence in our communities is a pervasive issue; a time to grieve for innocent bystanders; a time for us to make our concerns known and to try to find some sort of solution.

Now, my two stories don’t seem to have a tie, but if you look a little closer, they do.

In discussions at the candlelight vigil, one resounding call to action became apparent. Pay a little more attention to the humanity around you. Offer kindness. Show people that you care.

Andy―the “Old Lizard”—told me that often people ignore him. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to listen. And I imagine that’s because we’re afraid to connect with people that aren’t like us—who for some reason or another make us feel uncomfortable. We forget that everyone has a history and despite current circumstances, that history could be beautiful and meant to be shared. Every life holds some sort of purpose.

Perhaps we need to stop pretending to ignore the people around us―all of the people around us. Because you never know how much a conversation, a smile, a nod can mean to someone—perhaps someone who feels isolated and alone and who’s battling inner demons.

I’m not telling you to sit out on a curb late at night to converse with anyone who happens to walk by. I’m not saying this is an ultimate solution to a very large, very complex problem in our society. I’m not calling you a bad person for turning away or for feeling uncomfortable―that would be hypocritical.

But I am asking you to be more aware of those around you. Be aware of your impact, your ripple in the pond. Be aware of the power you possess for good. Because you never know. You never know.

Today, and hopefully tomorrow and the next day and the next, I challenge myself and others with this one simple question:

Are you listening?

Feels Like Home

Guitar and candles

If you’d have told me just a short year ago that today I’d be singing in a church band, I probably would have laughed at you. Last November, I was busy stripping down to my skivvies as a burlesque entertainer. You were likely to find me sleeping in on Sunday mornings, not singing in church.


Oh, how the tables have turned.

Now Sundays consist of caffeine (first thing’s first), a mic check or two, and songs that would make Johnny Cash smile—if he went to church—or smiled.

How did this happen?

Don’t worry; this isn’t a born again thing. If my back weren’t jacked right now, I’d still be teaching pole dancing classes—and singing in church—albeit separately. I still swear like a sailor and lie on occasion and have many impure thoughts. And most of the time, I’m pretty okay with that. I don’t think anything in my past was unclean or that I need to repent for it. It’s not like that.

And no, I didn’t have a crazy calling to faith. I’m navigating the waters of being part of a religious (I don’t like that word) community again rather slowly. I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in the big picture of things and what I do or don’t believe.

The whole church band thing happened because of community. Not necessarily a faith community—though we all attend and perform for City Square Church—but a community of genuinely good people.

Jonny Church Band—yeah, it was a joke that stuck—meets every Wednesday night for rehearsal. Brian Kemp-Schlemmer, co-founder of and co-pastor at City Square (with whom I’ve bonded over our mutual love of the musical Rent), cooks everyone dinner. It’s stick to your ribs kind of stuff. Comfort food—like curry and potato soup and polenta with red pepper coulis. Did I mention he bakes fresh bread?

I don’t think many families eat together anymore—because, you know, there are soccer games and dance classes and overtime since that work project needs to be done tomorrow—but we do. We have dinner together. We check in on each other’s weeks. There’s always laughter and joking. There are usually cast iron pots and beers in hand. That’s right, we drink at church functions.


After dinner, we get to work. But it’s really not so much work as it is a jam session. Sure, there are new songs to learn, harmonies to master, lyrics to memorize in preparation for Sunday, but it’s nice and low key. We experiment a lot. We trust each other. We make suggestions. And it just works.

It works because Jon Rodis has this cool, old time country kind of approach to the music. He’s stupidly talented and writes these songs that hearken back to an earlier time and yet still work in the context of today. My boyfriend lays the bass line. Jon Willey comes up with these killer beats not by reading music but by feeling music. The Coleman sisters scope out the harmonies and we sing like old school R&B girl group backup singers. And now we’ve got Nate on the keys, which adds this awesome new layer to what we do.

And I’m just happy to be there.

It feels like family. I know I can walk in there having a shitty day and leave feeling uplifted. There’s something really special and therapeutic about that. Really life-giving, as most folks at City Square would say.

So why am I singing in a church band these days?

It’s simple. It feels like home.