The Year Of Leigh, The Year Of Hattie, and Sarah MacLean's Brazen And The Beast


Birthday cake from my 36th birthday


One month from today, I'll turn 40. Five years after The Year Of Leigh began.

I realized I never wrote much about how that came to be or what it meant, other than a brief reference in this post about my decision to move to San Francisco, but it very much centered that year. I used #TheYearOfLeigh on Instagram. (Someone who's into weightlifting is also using the hashtag. Very much not me!) When I turned 36, friends convinced me to keep going and how can you not when they make you a Year Of Leigh cake? So I added #eternalyearofleigh into the arsenal.

But if I'm honest, it was almost a joke at that point.

For close to t 10 years I had believed the year I turned 35 would be an important one. I don't want to get into the how or the why or even what all I thought would happen because I'm still making sense of it. I don't think I was wrong or that I misunderstood. But let's just say my 35th year of life did not turn out the way I hoped.

When I turned 36 and the big things I hoped for hadn't happened...well, it rocked a few foundations of my life. I became resigned. This was as good as it was going to get. It wasn't a bad life, such as it was, but it hurt too much to keep hoping for what I wanted, only to never receive it. I decided to focus instead on what I needed in order to have a good enough life and try to orient my life in that direction.

I don't think I was wrong to do so. Those guidelines have served me well, even though I'm not there yet. 

At the same time, I'm sad for my 36 year old self. I knew then, even as I was grieving, that The Year Of Leigh was no small thing regardless of what did or didn't happen. But I couldn't honor or celebrate the other accomplishments at the time so I'd like to do that today.

The big thing, of course, is that I moved to San Francisco sight unseen. Never so much as visited California before I uprooted my life and moved from Nashville to the Bay. I still can't believe how it all came together. I still can't believe I did it! 

Whenever I doubt my badassery, I think about all of my big out of state moves this past decade but I especially think of San Francisco.

It started with paying attention to my intuition. Then a conversation with a friend who invited me to housesit for the summer. After I said yes to the adventure, a job interview fell into my lap. I moved with a job offer and got to work with some of the best coworkers I've ever had. I never found my own place but I lived with dear friends and their kiddos and my favorite cat Ezra and the best ocean view. (I miss those sunsets so much.)

I made wonderful new friends. I ate pho and soup dumplings on the regular. I bought breakfast sandwiches from my favorite bakery and ate while sitting on the beach. I reconnected with a few of my cousins who lived in the Bay Area.

The Year Of Leigh was about possibility and adventure and a fair amount of sass. It was an attitude and a promise.

I got to experience another side of myself: I'm someone who can start over in a big city. I was not prepared for how dense SF was but I adjusted and, in so many ways, I flourished. I hadn't used public transportation since my grad school days in Chicago but I figured out the buses and sometimes I'd get off early just to enjoy a walk through a different neighborhood. If you know how indoorsy I am, you know what a miracle that is. 

While I lived there, I decided to brush off the manuscript I'd finished a few years prior. I read it again and believed I still had something so I hired an editor. I lost close to 90 pages of revisions due to a computer fluke. (The words that came out of my mouth.) It took time to get back to it but last year A Storied Life made it's way into the world. And it all started with The Year Of Leigh.

2015 didn't turn out the way I imagined but who would I be if I hadn't taken the risk? I'm glad I'll never know.

And yet. It's nagged me, the year I view as a failure no matter how much good came out of it.

Then this past summer, I read Brazen And The Beast.


I was primed to love this book because of my own, albeit much less goal-oriented, Year Of Leigh. I was 100% here for The Year Of Hattie. Hers didn’t turn out quite the way she originally imagined either.

Hattie is 29 and she’s got things to do before she turns 30. Her plan covers business, fortune, home, future…and losing her virginity so she’ll be off the marriage market and maybe then her dad will start to seriously view her as in line for succeeding him at his business. Her plan does not involve finding an unconscious man tied up in her carriage when she’s supposed to be on her way to said virginity-losing. Best meet cute ever.

Whit grunts more than he speaks and his reputation as Beast precedes him. But Hattie isn’t afraid of him and she’s willing to do what it takes to keep her family safe and get the keys to her dad’s kingdom in the process. Whit was super swoon-worthy and I loved his awe of Hattie and her badassery. They are both forces to be reckoned with, albeit in different ways, making for quite the team.

When this wasn't making me smile with glee, it made me cry. Hattie is my favoritest and Whit must grunt forevermore.

This book was a gift. As I approach 40, I’m ready to bring back the spirit of The Year Of Leigh. Maybe I won’t find a Whit to call my own but I suspect I’ll find something that much better.

CW: sexism, past child abuse, violence, past attempted murder, bombing, fat-shaming (which is countered), panic attack


Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble




Beyond The Road Less Traveled By

When I decided to move to Nashville 5 years ago, I thought a lot about the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken. Two roads diverged in my Illinois life and I could have stayed the course. I chose to freefall and head South instead. I would never trade what I've learned in the years since.

I've made some great friends, gone to incredible shows, and become a healthier version of myself. I wrote a (still unpublished) novel. I see my best friend's family at least once a week. I learned it's possible to uproot your life and start again, just because.

I'd be lying, however, if I said my life in Nashville looked the way I had dreamed it would. I've been treading water the last couple of years, wondering if this was all there was, if this could be enough.


A couple of weeks after my nanny job ended last September, I sat in a room on a rainy day with some of my dearest friends and cried. I could not staunch the tears even if I tried.

I took the paper I'd written last year's goals on, then crumpled it in my hand unread. I didn't need to look at it to know I'd failed.

If it had been any other group of friends, I would have summoned an excuse to skip my turn. But when everyone's eyes turned toward me, I remembered they are my Someones. I let the tears slide down my face while I spoke in fits and starts about how I was truly doing.

It was not pretty. I could not dress my fears up. The future was blank, I told them. Not in that "the possibilities are endless" kind of way but one in which I had no plan B and no sense of direction, all while the rent and other bills need to be paid. My job search had remained fruitless. I had not figured out what I wanted to do with my life, which was the very goal I'd written down the year prior.

My friends saw me. They saw through what I said and didn't say. They asked me the best kind of questions, the ones that lead to a truth you didn't realize you believed, and they also spoke words over me that filled the aching spots inside. They loved me.

That was the darkness and even though I felt like I'd talked too much already, I began to share with them the light. Almost a decade before, I received an impression that 35 would be an important year for me and I could not help but wonder what 2015 would hold as a result.

One of my friends said this would be "the year of Leigh" and as the words left her mouth, a clap of thunder filled the house.


Since that weekend, my life has been a series of questions. When you're not sure what kind of job you want, job searching is an almost backward process. I've figured out what kinds of jobs don't interest me or that I wouldn't be good at. I've tried different jobs on for size. I've wondered which of these jobs would offer stability and consistency. No two days have looked the same.

Some days are flexible enough to include coffee with a friend or a slate of conquered errands. Some days mean working at one job, then working at another, and then another. Always, in the back of my mind, I wondered where it was leading and how long I could sustain myself this way.


The first glimmer might have arrived last September but certainly in January. There was no mistaking it, though I wasn't entirely sure what direction it would take me. Then there were impressions from two years ago and, of course, ten years ago. I would be remiss in thinking the particular set of circumstances that led me to move to Nashville weren't at work even now.

In January I knew something had to change but that blank slate remained blank. In February I contemplated moving out of state. I gathered up all the glimmers and started considering three distinct options, each of which made me laugh in astonishment. In March I decided not to renew my lease. I keenly felt something was coming down the pike and I needed to be ready for it. Each week the glimmers were refined by fire.

I asked for and received wise counsel. Mostly, I listened to that still small voice.

Then came April. The week before Easter, "house sitting" leaped into my mind.


It would take a miracle, I thought, but all the interesting jobs were in San Francisco. Three of my cousins and a few friends lived there but I'd never so much as visited.

I applied for a couple of dream jobs but nothing came to fruition.

And yet San Francisco kept coming up. It was relentless.


While I was back in my hometown for Easter, I went on a walk with my friend Megan. We were talking about how we make decisions and how our intuition plays a role.

"It's the jar lid click," she said. And that was it exactly.

You know when you're trying to close a jar and it's not quite aligned and you have to keep unscrewing it and trying until it fits the grooves correctly and snaps into place? For my friend and me, we think consciously and unconsciously about whatever decision we're making from a variety of angles and then one day, sometimes out of nowhere, it snaps into place and we know without any doubt what we're supposed to do. Jar lid click!

We can't rush it but we trust it will happen when it's supposed to.


The week after Easter I talked on the phone with one of my good friends from San Francisco. She already knew the things I'd been contemplating and I wanted to bring her up to speed.

I talked about how my virtual assistant work meant I could work anywhere and that maybe house sitting for July and August was the way to go because then I could cover my expenses while I looked for full-time or part-time work.

"You could house sit for us," she told me. My heart started to hammer as she filled me in on the details. I had no idea they had travel plans. I could test the literal and figurative California waters.

Could it be this easy?

Jar. Lid. Click.


When you take the road less traveled by, you get to see what lies beyond the fork and sometimes that means you wind up where you needed to go. Or sometimes you come to another fork in the road. You must decide, again, whether to stay the course or take the leap.

I'm taking the leap. I'll be moving to San Francisco at the end of June. I don't know if it will be a permanent move but I have no doubt it is the next right step. After months of considering what to do, there are so many stories and signs already that have confirmed this decision.

My spirit is lighter already. Though it will be hard to say goodbye to my Nashville friends, I am excited to see what San Francisco holds for me, no matter how big or small a role it will play in my life.

This is the time in my life to explore, try, leap. This is the time for adventure.

I'm heading around the bend.

Like A Pretend Mother

We are bathed in the halo of a nightlight. It's just enough to make out the features of his face and how close he is to sleep. He's been fed and nourished and now the cadence of the rocking chair lulls us both. His eyelids flutter but he hasn't quite given in.

His fingers feather over my cheek, my mouth, my chin before his arm drops down slack on my chest. Soon. His eyes shut and so do mine. I rest my head against the cushioned rocking chair and let my thoughts wander for a few minutes.

Who will this sweet boy grow up to be? I'm not in any rush to lay him down, though his big sister awaits bedtime across the hall.

This Monday night routine nourishes and feeds me, even as it summons the ache I know too well. He is not my son. She is not my daughter. I am their auntie. 

From the moment they were born, they became my niece-in-love and nephew-in-love and I cherish them more than words can say.

But as the years have passed, this question bubbles up more than I’d like. Will I ever have children of my own? Will I be a perpetual aunt instead of a mother?

I can nurture someone’s children- and love doing so- but it does not fill the void of a dream deferred.

The other week I took my niece-in-love to dance class. While she pirouetted, I sat in the hallway with her baby brother and tempted him to nap. It never ceases to amaze me the way my best friends trust me with their children. Most of my babysitting over the years has been of the date night variety but now that the kids are getting older, we’re branching out into new territory.

A territory that invites public commentary and questions.

People passed by with knowing smiles as I bopped and swayed him to sleep. I prayed no one would ask me how old he is. His auntie has never been good at numbers, much less the preference to measure a baby’s age by weeks instead of months. His mom knows exactly how old he is, I remind myself.

Still, I feel I’ve failed in some way, even when the question isn’t asked. A mother would know and I’m not a mother.

I look the part. There’s no reason why I couldn’t have kids, save for that pesky business of not finding a husband yet. While I know singles who have adopted or gone other routes, that’s not a choice I want to make.

I live in the tension between what I want and what my reality is and most days that’s fine. A fleeting thought may bring up questions- why? when? how?- but I’m used to the not knowing. I usually process it and move along with my day. Then there are days when those fleeting thoughts sting like arrows and more often than not, they come compliment of what someone else has assumed or said to me. Bless them.

The past 3 years I nannied for an amazing family. I adore the little girl I took care of. At the same time, it was bittersweet. So often people took in our brown hair and blue eyes and assumed she was mine. We have a special relationship and I hope it continues for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t her mom and didn’t covet that role for myself.

Sometimes we’d be out and about and someone would tell me I was a good mom. A pang resounded in my heart because I thought I would have had my first child a decade ago and it hasn’t happened. Because I felt like a pretend mother. Because I wish it was true. Because now I’m “advanced maternal age” and there are only so many years left before the dream becomes a fantasy. Because I wish I understood the references my friends, conference speakers, and even pastors make.

I look at the children in my life and have no doubt of my impact on their lives and this counts for so, so much. Even on the days when it calls up my own questions, doubts, and heartache.

I wouldn’t trade being Auntie Yee and Miss Leigh for anything. All I can do is be my best self, for me and for them. Now is for snuggling, reading stories, giggling, and playing with the children already here.

And if that’s all this life holds for me? Then I will do my best to call myself blessed and trust it is as it should be.


This post was originally published at A Deeper Family. 

A Love Letter to Myself

Twenty years ago I never could have imagined this place. A place of resting in who I am. Specifically a place of acknowledging and affirming my beauty.

I can scarcely believe it. Sometimes I remember my 14 year old self, crippled with self-hatred, and wonder how that's part of my story. But depression and suicidal ideation is a part of my story and while I haven't been in its grip for 20 years, the emotional scars have been harder to untangle. The depression lifted but there was no magic cure for my floundering self-esteem.

In my 20s I could see myself as cute but this took work. I could be a hot bridesmaid when the occasion called for it but special occasions were not enough to bolster my self-image in the day to day. I still remember the shock of recognizing my beauty one night a few years ago.

For the last year or so, I've looked in the mirror and honored what I see. A 34 year old woman with gray streaks in her hair belying the overall youthful impression she makes, expressive eyes containing hard-won wisdom and sass, a mouth which dispenses jokes as easily as heartfelt questions. I barely notice the imperfections that used to consume my gaze. All I see is beauty and I no longer have to work to see it. I embody it.

How far I've come.

I wanted to honor the hard and holy work I've done in arriving in this place. I wanted to celebrate my beauty and so I asked my good friend Jen to do a glamour shoot a few weeks back. In the early 90s I coveted a glamour shoot like nothing else but I'm glad my mom didn't cave to my demands back then. So much better to do this now when fashion has improved and hair stays at a normal height. So much better to do it now when I'm not chasing after compliments and approval.

I love the pictures Jen took of me but more than that I love myself. There are still ups and downs (hello, I'm an angsty Four, nice to meet you) but the overriding current is one of acceptance, affirmation, confidence. You can see it in my eyes and in my smile.

I love myself.




In the past year or so, I've figured out how to stop hiding. I'm not hiding behind my hair, my clothes, my insecurities. Some parts are easier than ever but whenever I'm tempted to waver, I remember this is the year of the bandit. I counter lies with truth. I'm trusting people like me as much as I like them. I'm being my fullest, healthiest, wackiest self. I'm continuing to do the work of healing and I take regular stock of how balanced I am, from emotions to activity level. There's room for improvement and there's so much I'm trying to figure out in this transition season.

The work isn't done yet. It might never be done but progress is worth celebrating.

On hard days, I'll think of these pictures and the words I've written here and I'll remember the lessons I've learned and how I feel right in this moment. I'll remember what I know deep down in my knower.

What I know is this: I'm loved. I'm empowered. I'm not hiding anymore.


 Photos by my talented friend Jen Johnson.

Are You Hiding?

Peek-a-booImage credit

"Are you hiding?"

My counselor let the question hang in the air for a moment. I turned it around, forehead wrinkled and looking toward the ceiling for insight.

In my quest to broaden community and build relationships, I've run up against my introversion and my insecurities. Despite a wide circle of friends accumulated over the course of the lifetime, including people I've known since grammar school, I am prone to worrying people won't like me or if they do like me, they don't understand me. All fears are alleviated when I'm in someone's presence but if I know next to no one at an event or months go by before the next coffee date, the fears creep back in. 

I may look forward to plans for weeks but the day of, I would feel something akin to panic and want to back out. This was supremely frustrating because community is incredibly important to me and I struggled to understand why it's sometimes hard for my actions to reflect my heart.

She continued, "sometimes we need to pay attention to what our guts are telling us. Canceling plans becomes self-care. But sometimes what you feel inside makes you want to hide and you need to push through anyway."

The internal lightbulb flicked on.

Was I hiding? Had I been hiding?

My counselor asked this question last summer and it has guided me ever since.

Being able to ask myself "am I hiding?" clarifies everything.

When I honestly reflect on this question, I can figure out what's behind the hesitancy. If it's been a busy week, maybe I do need to pass on plans and get my introvert on. But maybe I'm letting my fears speak more loudly than they should. Maybe I'm more worried about whether people will want to engage with me. Maybe I'm stressed over a personal situation and really don't want to talk about it- but I should. Maybe I'm nervous about spending time with a new friend: will they understand where I'm coming from or will they think I'm a big weirdo? (Probably both, which is actually pretty perfect.)

Most of the time when the angst arises, I push past it and end up enjoying myself. I'm almost always glad I went and that new connections were forged. This is how relationships are built: one interaction at a time. There is risk involved in relationships but because it's a priority for me, it's a risk I'm willing to take.

And when I feel like hiding? It might be a sign I need to take a risk that much more because 99% of my angst is all in my head. Not a reflection of reality. I will be angsty for the rest of my life but I'm not captive to it.

I don't have to hide anymore.