Category Archives: Coming Home

Closure & Contemplation

“The only way to find out if you’re in the right place
is to stand in the place.”
- Amy Poehler

During a brief respite from determining how I can force Amy P. to adopt me, I took a few minutes to watch this Smart Girls video of her speaking on courage. The above quote kept echoing in my head after I heard it for a few reasons.

Most obviously, I thought about our time in Virginia. Clayton and I had been so excited and optimistic to leave Florida. We’d talked about that leap for years, imagined it over and over, and finally had an opportunity. We were so ready. Never in a million years did we think that journey would circle right back to Florida two years later, at our own choosing.

nat shenandoahIn some ways, it felt like we’d failed. Scratch that, it felt like I’d failed. I was the one who couldn’t hack it less than a year in, I was the one looking for PA jobs in Florida (no one would even see me for an interview) after building up this dream of what life would look like anywhere but here. But Ames reminded me that we wouldn’t have known if that move was for us unless we actually packed up and moved. Turns out, Newport News did not hold the Noas’ glamorous, reinvented future. It did, however, hold a lot of military bases, terrible traffic and an insane job in a trauma hospital. (But weekend D.C. trips were pretty fantastic.)

nat clayton dc

So we moved on. I think about those years quite a bit, for better or worse. Maybe moving on didn’t necessarily have to mean moving back, but Clayton and I were both so desperate for relationships. Tampa had a whole vending machine of prepackaged, ready to consume friendships waiting for us. It would have been hard to take another risk in a new city at that point. Plus, I was pregnant and wanted my mommy.

When I think about where we’ll be five or ten years from now, though, I don’t know that Florida is sustainable. Crazily enough, I’m the one who will probably initiate another foray outside the Sunshine State. Clayton has the personality that accepts things as they are; I am the wanderer and questioner. He can’t sit still literally, but I can’t stay still figuratively. After only a few years being back, I cherish the family and friends that fill my life but still wonder what might be waiting. And, quite simply, we won’t know if there is another place for us until we’re standing in that place

Apart from an actual get-up-and-go battle cry, A.Poehls reiterated some thoughts I’ve been wrestling with about my work. Writing as a career in and of itself still thrills me. Factor in doing it from home, on my own schedule, and in between caring for kiddo(s), and it’s oh so tempting to ride this wave as far as it takes me without changing course.


But then some days, like today, I will catch a glimpse of what writing about things and people and places that truly inspire me would feel like. And I know with certainty I could do that. That’s about where the debilitating blackness of the Unknown begins to stretch out ahead. I have no idea what “writing about what I want” looks like. A book, a column, a blog that is actually maintained, a journal that never sees the light of day. Or a more creative day job that nurtures me professionally but prevents me from nurturing my family in the way I am used to.

So far, I have not felt a strong enough pull to make any effort to change my work load. I take what I am given by my current clients, weathering the hectic months along with the silent ones. Thankfully, my income has remained pretty steady and everything balances out by the end of the year. Except for taxes. God forsaken taxes.

Now that baby number that’s-it is coming along, I’ve been getting a different thrill thinking about what comes next. I am sure this was a crux, but it seemed a little pointless to dive into a new lifestyle, hobby or work situation knowing a baby was about to be on board. Could I have opened a new business or enrolled in a doctorate program in my second trimester? Sure. Would it have led to a mental breakdown ending in a murder-suicide primed for a Lifetime movie? Probably. All signs now point to the imminent end of childbearing, and I’ll be “free” to and (eek!) responsible for creating what life will look like raising babies instead of making ‘em.

It’s an exciting proposition to feel like anything is possible. I honestly feel that way, as cheesy and PSA-sounding as it is. I’m looking forward to training for all sorts of running PRs in the next decade, planning trips that require air travel and being able to take the necessary sedatives to follow through with them, visiting far away friends more regularly, and who knows what else. I was semi serious about the doctorate program. Always the scholar.

oh the places

My future second mommy Mama Amy offered an added reassurance that yes, all those plans may crash and burn—okay, not cool to use that analogy related to air travel; double my dose, please—but taking steps to stand in those places, no matter what the result, is courageous. Even more, it’s living.


Happy National Championship Day!

While not technically a holiday, this could very well end up my most favorite day of the year, and it’s only January 6th. That’s a big “could,” of course, and will depend on 60 precious minutes tonight and one smiley Heisman winner.

As I neared my high school graduation, I requested glossy brochures and pamphlets from schools all over the country, with an emphasis in the northeast. I looked at all of them and imagined the possibilities, feeling confident that I could garner an acceptance from at least one of those important sounding universities. I was valedictorian, after all. (I was getting close to not hitting my quota of mentioning that this month.)

nat statue

In the end, I applied to exactly one school: Florida State. I knew it didn’t have the academic reputation that made people’s eyebrows raise or the mileage between my hometown and my dorm room that I craved. But FSU was where I decided I wanted to be, and I’ve never regretted that choice.

I met some of my closest friends and experienced some of the most memorable times of my life during those five (don’t judge) years. I spotted an Anakin Skywalker lookalike my first year, and today I am married to those blue eyes and have a little girl with the same nose. I’ve stood through anxiety attacks and heart palpitations, crushing losses and miracle victories at Doak Campbell stadium. I’ve cursed those rolling hills in Tallahassee when I had to park farther than normal from a class. I’ve snuck my brother into too many games to count, once with my student I.D.

fsu group

So yeah, it’s only football. And that doesn’t float everyone’s boat like it does mine. But for a lot of us assembling our garnet and gold ensembles tonight, it’s so much more than football. I love FSU, weirdly and fanatically and probably more than I should. Despite the  boneheadedness of some of its athletes, the non-Ivy League academic requirements and the miniature size of my room at Kellum Hall, I bleed garnet and gold.

bobby b

fsu c n

For the people who I am so very lucky chose to attend FSU while I did. For the handful of girls that I got to live with and laugh with and dance with and watch Gilmore Girls with. For the guys that let me play basketball with them. For the servers that made a Friday double go by quicker. For the recreational athletes that introduced me to ultimate Frisbee. For friends that understood and encouraged my faith. For a teacher that took me on a date, and his teacher friend that still gave me an A even though I didn’t want a second date. For the English department that filled my shelves with paperbacks and helped me realize my grammar snobbery runs deep.

For all of this and more, I will be cheering–down to my core–for Florida State tonight.

nat grad


On Being Back

Last month was the year anniversary of our very first home purchase. Coincidentally, it also marked the first time my carpal tunnel eased up from all the paperwork we had to sign. Since our family became a trio, I am constantly looking back and comparing where we were a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, to where we are now.

It feels like we lived a lifetime in the past two years. Our time in Virginia seems hazy now, and we honestly don’t keep in touch with anyone we met except for Clayton’s former boss. And that’s only because Sean likes to continually remind Clayton that he has a standing job offer if we ever move back. (Which we will not, Sean.)

What I do remember about working and playing in Virginia is the wide openness of the future. We had never lived outside of Florida, and then all of a sudden, we’d done it. We had all of our sad, college-quality belongings in a tiny apartment with snow piling up right outside our door the first weekend we were there. At least at the beginning, we were hypnotized by the romantic ideas of adventure, escape and newness.


The short list of perks of Newport News included easy access to a whole smorgasbord of intriguing cities and small towns. What I miss about that life is deciding on a Thursday to go away that weekend. I miss planning trips simply because we stumbled on an incredible deal on Priceline. Of course we can still do that here, but there is little that is unknown to me about this place. I know Tampa like an old pair of shoes I can’t bring myself to throw away, the way the soles are worn in deepest under the ball of my foot, where the shoelaces are fraying. We go way back, and while sometimes that comfort is exactly what I love about living here, it’s also the piece that the eternal wanderer in me rebels against.


Something tugged at Clayton and me, both separately and together, that pulled us away from being safe and expected. That something has stirred at the base of my heart since I was 15 years old, and it still rustles when the scent of adventure wafts across my path. When friends without children plan vacations to Africa. When single girls mention kickball games and staying up way past Conan on a weeknight. When advocates introduce a cause that ignites my hunger to do something that matters. These are the adventures that I see just out of reach for a new mom, a housewife, a work-at-home part-timer.

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I can’t predict what this life will look like five years from now. Will we have one five-year-old or three kids under school-age? Actually, I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be the latter. Maybe I’ll have jetted over the ocean to soak in a Mediterranean sea or to sleep in a tent serving food to starving kids. Or maybe I’ll have joined up to fight a battle against some worldwide monstrous foe like sex trafficking. Or, most likely, I’ll be right here penning taglines during naptime and jetting to the park in the afternoon to elicit some seriously important giggles on a rusty swing.

What I am so, so grateful for today is that any of those scenarios makes me smile. And proud. I know there were some sacrifices we had to make to grow roots in Florida. The Noa’s will probably never make another trip to D.C., despite my love affair with its grayness set against its significance. I may never live within day trip distance of a mountain hike. And my relatives can show up at my door totally unannounced.


But here is home. Maybe not forever. But for our little family right now, this is where our heart is.    


2012 in Pictures

Do you know what I call a 2012 wrap up post before summer 2013? Victory.

Here are some highlights from the craziest year of my life, stolen from our unashamedly narcissistic Christmas card.

January: This little coffee bean was a’brewin’. We also moved back to Tampa from Newport News, Virginia. We shacked up with my parents for about two months.
sono 17 weeks1 (2)February: We escaped for a sweet Valentine’s date at the restaurant where we had our wedding reception. I chose to wear a shirt that would not fully button thanks to a blossoming Addie bump and also to stick it out with highlights that obviously passed their prime.

clay nat vday4

March: We bought a house! And were somehow so outrageously excited we ended up looking like crazed lunatics in every picture but this one. (See reject photo below.)
Normal happy:

Hide your loved ones happy:

April: Probably the slowest month for the Noa’s. Not a reference to Clayton’s finishing time in this race, I swear, as opposed to someone who only showed up to waddle pregnantly around the finishing line and snag free bagels. It was most certainly not a slow month for my brother and his gal, who got engaged! My notable contribution was a collection of blurry photos captured from the bowels of the nearby bush I was crouching under. Neither party is identifiable in the pictures I took, but it’s the thought and grass stains on maternity jeans that count. 

proposal 1

May: Miss Maya joined our family! We spent the next few weeks Dog Whispering it up. We love the little lady, but I still miss my Bryson.  
m picnic island

June: We shopped, assembled, washed, organized, prayed, napped and braced for what was just around the corner.

July:  Yeah. That happened. And then we didn’t sleep for two weeks.













August: Slightly more sleep. Falling so much more in love. Hard to believe her thighs were ever that proportional.
1 month cry

September: Back in the saddle. And by the saddle, I mean real clothes and makeup for one of the happiest days of the year and the answer to lots and lots of prayers—my brother got hitched and my pal became my sister.

noas alvarez's grandma

October:  A Halloween throwdown with an appearance by the Joker. I showed extreme restraint by only purchasing two costumes for my infant.
fam2November: A trip to the pumpkin patch and our first trip to see Clayton’s family. Our girl never looked at her car seat the same way after spending 16 hours in it. The unsuspecting traveler at pump 2 never looked at me the same way after I breastfed in the car at the gas station.
fam steps

December: Baby girl’s first Christmas! And the one and only Christmas where we spent less than $20 on presents for her.
Whew. This year we are going to keep the party rolling by going to bed at 9, banning any more babies and keeping Red Box in business. Happy [10 days into] 2013! 

In transition

If Clayton and I were to write a list of all the major transitions we’ve undergone, are undergoing, and will undergo in a span of nine months, you might run out and fill the Xanax prescription for us. Looking at it on paper seems terrifying, which is why I’ve avoided it.

When we told people our plans—move from Virginia to Florida, get a new job, move in with my parents, buy a house, have a baby, reconcile the major political parties, decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil—we watched as their eyes grew wider and wider as the answer to their innocent question “what’s new with you guys?” grew ever longer. It was pretty unusual for us to have anything new, much less so much new stuff that people forgot the beginning by the time we made it to the end. We also had a sincere suggestion to “go ahead and sign up for marriage counseling.”

But today, sitting down in the middle of all the upheaval on my parents’ sunny patio, I don’t feel that weight. A little indigestion from the growing nugget, sure, but not the pressure that I expected.

And this is precisely why we are here, in a cramped bedroom in the house that holds decades of my memories. Because this place is safe. This place is comfort and warmth and shelter from that list that feels like it’s growing every week. We are checking things off, we schedule what needs to be done, make appointments to meet serious-sounding professionals in their offices to sign stacks of papers, make handfuls of phone calls to grown-up companies to be put on hold for 14 minutes and sit in new waiting rooms anxious to hear the steady, rhythmic, enchanting pounding of our coffee bean’s heartbeat.

On top of those necessities, we laugh with my brother and his girlfriend. We wonder what gourmet meal my father is preparing each night. I go shopping with my mother and spend afternoons with my grandma. I cuddle my best friend’s new baby every week and see him changing in my arms and see her as a beautiful mother with my own eyes. We get invited to Super Bowl parties. We meet family for birthday dinners on a Monday night and my husband and I giggle at baby names before falling asleep.

We are living. We are awake with new possibilities arising from familiar faces and places. We are rejuvenated within the blankets of support and encouragement that we haven’t felt for two years.

So I will trip over boxes tiptoeing to bed. I will work from a couch or dining room table rather than an office. I will wait to decorate a nursery. And my husband will play musical cars every morning that he is blocked in on the driveway.

Because this life is filled with so much love.

And this life is every single thing I was hoping for.      

 fashion show9

fashion show8

nat max hospital3

clayton max edited

boys edited