I’m Not Afraid to Play (Or Fearless Creativity Forever)

This morning the dogs and I went on our old Hollywood Hills hike. It has been a long time since we set foot on those familiar trails, but it felt like time today. After our jaunt, we walked over to my favorite rock in the park. I’ve had many epiphanies while sitting in silence there, and it’s a comforting ritual.

While we sat listening to the rustling sounds of nature, a Native American man began singing tribal chants from a nearby hilltop. What his voice lacked in pure melodic beauty, he certainly made up for in fearlessness and passion, and that’s what drew me in.

Dogs on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Albus was super into the Native American singing. Woodley was super into her stick. #typical

I was a little lost in thought when our hiking buddy Bradley and his dog Romeo approached us.

“How are you?” I asked, finally looking over at them.

“Well, I’m not singing from a mountaintop this morning, but I’m alright,” he replied.

We both laughed for a moment before I said, “We probably should sing from mountaintops. I bet it would be good for us.”

“Probably,” Bradley said nodding in agreement.

We listened for a little longer before I let Albus off his leash so he could run around with Romeo. The boys took off after one another at breakneck speed, and we laughed again while we watched our pups run, punch, and play with joyous abandon. (Unaffected by it all, Woodley continued to covetously gnaw on her stick.)

After our friends went home, the dogs and I stayed longer to listen to the chanting. (Still, Woodley chewed.)

Stick Chewing Spaniel on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Get that stick, Woods. Just get it.

As the man sang, I thought about my late stepbrother, Noah. He had a deep and abiding love for Native American culture and attended many tribal gatherings over the years.

When we lose people we love, I think we look for signs they still exist somewhere else. We want to feel like they’re with us even though they’re not physically standing by our sides. I felt a little of that this morning as the man sang. I felt a little like Noah was out there somewhere, listening with me.

It felt nice.

I think it’s good to focus on those comforting feelings and not just the feelings of loss. Sometimes, though, I’m like Woodley and I get so intent on my stick (read: accomplishing goals/crossing items off my to-do list) that I fail to notice the joy around me. I get so wrapped up in perfection or what’s missing that I don’t see the good in my life. This sort of focus on lack makes me more fearful, less open, and less loving.

Losing Noah has somehow unlocked something in me that makes me want to shed the tyranny of fear. It makes me want to seek love.

It makes me want to dwell less on what I’ve lost and more on the joy that love brings instead.

I mean, just look at Noah and Grandpa:

Noah and Bumpa on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I want to dwell on the joy they brought while they were here. Also? I like to imagine them drag racing angels in some treelined corner of heaven ‘cuz that image makes me happy.

So anyway, what all of this has led me to believe is this: People really need to let go of fear and just love more, play more, and create more.

And by people, I mean adults.

As kids we loved more easily, played more freely, and we created without fear.

Like the playful pups and the man this morning with the less than perfect pitch, we were unfraid. We didn’t care if our art was bad. We made it anyway. Even if it was only a macaroni necklace for our mom, we proudly presented it like it was a Paloma Picasso. Somewhere along the way, though, we started to believe our art didn’t measure up. We started to believe WE didn’t measure up. We got fearful about our creations, about our feelings, about ourselves, and about life.

Everyone has their own story, but the underlying, unifying truth is that many of us lost our carefree creativity and our playfulness somewhere along the way. Maybe it happened at puberty when everything got tangled up and confusing — when all of our “creative” energy was directed at fighting the urge to make babies instead of art. Maybe it happened long before. It doesn’t matter when it happened. It doesn’t matter why. It just matters that we get it back.

So today I’m creating… without judgment, without fear… and with Legos.

See?

Legos and the Importance of Playing: Dogs Dishes and Decor

A large dog may have gone Godzilla on this situation once or twice today, but I’m not mad about it.

That’s my today: Legos. I’ll get to “I love you,” later.

May my creativity (and yours) come from a fearless place forevermore. And may my life (and yours) be lived lovingly and fearlessly… forevermore.

There’s no fear in love, folks.

None.

John Lennon said so… and so did that one Apostle guy.

#love

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Blast the Billy Ocean and Create (Or Carrot Cupcakes for Noah)

Guys, it’s time for my Billy Ocean Pandora station. I can’t wallow anymore. I’m no good to anyone — particularly myself — if I’m wallowing.

Sure it’s important to feel your feelings. And yeah we need to acknowledge loss and embrace the sadness, but we also have to pick ourselves up and do our damn dishes… get off our couches and dance in our kitchens.

Tuesday and Wednesday seriously sucked. I’m not going to lie. I cried. So much. I still made myself go to yoga, church, business meetings and whatnot. But between those things? I cried. So much, in fact, that I could hardly wear my contacts because I screwed up the ph of my eyes. So I decided to start Thursday by hiking with my long lost Suzie who is finally back from Iran. Determined to stay in a good place, I’m now blasting Billy Ocean and blogging.

See, Billy Ocean makes me smile — and Suzie inspired me to create. Because she’s brilliant, she pointed out the importance of creating instead of consuming. (Creating has transformative potential for our souls and stuff.) So I’m doing that. I’m creating… this blog post.

Ta da!

And in this blog post? I’m giving you the inspiration to create carrot cupcakes. I made them for Noah’s memorial because my mom couldn’t find cupcakes she liked anywhere in East Lansing.

People loved them and stuff.

Carrot cupcakes from Dogs Dishes and Decor #carrot #cupcakes #fall

Oh, and for further inspiration, here’s the Billy Ocean song that’s making me smile today.

Crank it up and bake yourself some carrot cupcakes. Put frosting all over the pain and then give it all away. And by “all” I mean the pain and the baked goods; there’s no sense in getting fat because bad things are happening.

Just saying…

Noah’s Carrot Cupcakes

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 C sugar
1 1/2 C vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 C crushed pineapple, drained
2 C finely grated carrots
1 C shredded coconut
1 C chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a mixing bowl. Set aside. Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture. Fold in the pineapple, carrots, coconut, and walnuts. Stir in the vanilla.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely and top them with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 C confectioners’ sugar (or to desired consistency)

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

The recipe makes about 24 cupcakes, so you’ll have a lot to give away.

Keep Swinging, Cupcake (Or I’m Coping)

I leave for Michigan in three days. During the seven days I’ll spend with my family we’ll say goodbye to my 31-year old stepbrother and celebrate my grandmother’s 87th.

I’m making cupcakes for both occasions. Carrot for Noah’s memorial. And lemon for my grandma’s birthday.

I have to admit it took me a long time to pick out the appropriate cupcake liners this morning. After basically swapping life stories with sweet Ben at Sur la Table, I selected these for Noah.

Fall cupcake liners from Sur la Table on Dogs Dishes and Decor

They seemed right somehow.

Then I did the thing I’ve been saying I’d do.

One way to cope with grief. Dogs Dishes and Decor

I went to the batting cages. By myself.

And I absolutely ripped about 60 softballs all over the Burbank Bat Cade. I can’t bring Noah back. I can’t ask for one more day so I’d have a chance to tell him I loved him. But I can keep swinging at life.

I can bake him cupcakes and hope he’s looking down from heaven smiling his big smile as he watches us eat them.

And maybe when I’m back? I’ll take up boxing…

‘cuz I’m gonna go one more round.

#love

Radio Silence Repeat (Or Another Loss Almost Knocks Me Down)

I have been absent for a month. I know. I know….

I have had some lovely adventures with people I adore. And I have so much happiness to share with you: About tailgates. And babies. And blue cheese potato salad.

But today?

I’m reeling. Again.

My stepbrother passed away on Sunday. And I’m bracing myself for another trip home with a black dress in my bag. The deaths in my mother’s family have been swift and vicious — and almost without warning.

Even so?

There is beauty in loss. There is hope. There is a silver lining. And I will share all of that in time. I promise.

But right now?

I give you this.

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Noah’s smile.

The world is so much dimmer now without it.

As I struggle to find my footing, as I look for inspiration and humor, I find comfort in unlikely places. Like signs on sidewalks…

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The author of Winnie the Pooh says things. Profound things.

And also in the obvious place I go when all else is lost (and even when it’s not)….

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

I’ve felt God’s presence in this grief, and he’s only starting to reveal himself… and his healing. More on that another time.

(I don’t mean to preach, by the way. We all have our ways of coping. I respect yours. This is mine.)

Birthday Party Playlist Part 2 (Or I Cry… Just a Little)

Guys, tomorrow is my birthday! And today I need to talk about the other people who inspired songs on my birthday party playlist.

There are so many people I love. Truly. And if I had my way they’d never go away. They’d all be here to toast the good times together. But since I’m not supreme dictator of the universe, it’s not the case. And that’s OK.

So, anyway here it goes:

Pharrell and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is for Gilbylocks. It’s for that Sunday morning dance party we had in the Bronson Canyon Parking lot. The one Benito filmed. It’s for our sunny convent breakfasts after CrossFit. It’s for laughing with me about a flaming pink teakettle. It’s for going on this gut wrenching, heart-opening journey with me – and for understanding why it’s the thing that just might change my life. It’s for those talks we had in the back of a SXSW cab. It’s for instigating the birthday backbend test to see if we’re old. It’s for carving my name into a tree in Calcutta. It’s for making me her kohona. I love you, Suzie. Come home from Sweden soon.

David Bowie’s China Girl is for Gillian. It’s for being with me at Cabo Cantina when we put it on the juke box that Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It’s for knowing — really knowing — what this business has been like for me. It’s for our inside joke about my illegitimate children. It’s for almost setting ourselves on fire the first time we tried to light a grill. It’s for being one of my very first dinner party partners back in the day. It’s for bonding with me over a love of Laura Palmer. It’s for letting me be Ziggy’s dog sitter. And it’s for always calling when she’s back from making big box office hits.

Bertie Higgins’ Key Largo is for Sarah. She and her husband may be the only other people on the planet who also have this song in their iTunes library. It’s for always listening to the boy drama. For working with me until midnight on stupid soap opera recaps. For making me get on the stage to sing a little Garth Brooks on her birthday. For her thoughtfulness. For her encouragement. And for her sunny spirit.

George Straight’s Easy Come, Easy Go is for Pewther. It’s for finding it in my iTunes library the last time he stayed with me. It’s for offering to come down when my dog died even though I didn’t let him. It’s for making me laugh — easily and often. For making cuddling easy. For making frozen pizza and reruns of The Office seem like a night at the symphony. For the times he’d stop me from being bossy by just saying, “Hold Me.” He wasn’t easy to let go.

2Pac’s Thugz Mansion is for Dana. It’s because it blew me away when I first learned the sweet, soft-spoken girl sitting in the cubicle next to me at ABC loved her some Pac. It’s for our Maha Yoga dates and our bagel Sundays. It’s for that wedding dress shopping adventure in Orange County. It’s for celebrating my 30th birthday and her wedding together at the Mandarin Oriental. It’s for telling me about the best Italian restaurant in the East Village. It’s for her loyalty. And her honesty. (BTW, Happy Anniversary, Dana and Alex!) #gangstarapforever

Nelly’s Country Grammar is for, well, Nelly P. It’s for batting 1,000 on birthday party attendance in our 20’s. It’s for pickle tacos at Malo. For making me laugh over IM at 4 am when we were pulling our hair out over the marketing plans for our theses. It’s for bringing a bag of candy to my first Easter Dinner. It’s for saying, “We almost wrote, ‘you ARE hot’ on the cake instead of ‘Happy Birthday’” that year I’d been Bill Callahaned myself. It’s for coining the term in the first place. It’s for all the cigarettes we smoked outside every club in Hollywood in our 20’s. For letting me cry on his patio when I called in sick to work over a broken heart. For being the cell phone number I still have memorized.

Baby Bash and T-Pain’s Cyclone is for Danielle. It’s for making it my song – and making me laugh for the reason she chose it. It’s for our laundry nights during slumber parties. It’s for her big, big heart – the one that no matter how broken it is never seems to be too full for someone else. It’s for the encouragement she has given me to follow my dreams and follow my heart. It’s for the hours we spent on the phone the night Melissa’s dad died. It’s for somehow knowing Melissa needed that rose on September 11th… the one she saved when she was sad. It’s for getting why I have to put bows and sparkles on everything too. It’s for sharing the pleasure and the pain of being alive. And it’s for loving pink as much as I do.

Lil Jon’s Get Low is also for Melissa. It’s because one song isn’t enough. It’s because we danced to it so many times on a couch in Santa Monica that afternoon in August. It’s not just about the people we’ve lost since we met. It’s about the family I have because of her. It’s about making Suzie and me go to SXSW in the first place. It’s about making me take the tags off the Ted Baker suit when I was agonizing over it. It’s about the strength she had to just cry in the middle of a bar on Abbot Kinney — and about what I’ve learned from her loss. It’s about the day we cried on the phone when I walked her through her dog’s final hours. It’s about loaning him to me in the first place when I’d lost mine. It’s about the way somehow we’ve made each other do the tough stuff even when we didn’t want to. It’s about our honesty over tacos on Lincoln Avenue and hauling trash into the Albertson’s dumpster. It’s about the battle not to be broken laptops but shiny MacBook pros instead. Chris Rock says, “We should all be ashamed of ourselves for liking this song….” but we’re not ashamed. At all.

And finally…

Flo Rida’s I Cry is for my Bumpa. I know it sounds weird to say Flo Rida reminds you of your Grandpa, but it’s because the song makes me happy. And every time I hear it, I start skipping — or dancing in my car. The first time I caught myself doing it, I started smiling through the tears that came streaming down my face. It’s because my spontaneous skipping in the Hollywood Hills brought me back to a night with my Bumpa in Detroit so many years ago. He was carrying a picnic basket as we walked through the streets near the Renaissance Center. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, he started skipping and singing, “We’re off to see the wizard,” and it was just infectious. His joy was contagious. And the world needs so much more of that. I’ve only started to scratch the surface when it comes to telling his story – of saying what he meant to me – but THAT might take a lifetime.

OK, I’m going to get into this mocha and bagel now because it’s my birthday week and I wanna.

Carbs on Dogs Dishes and Decor

My kitchen table is a mess. And Today? I don’t care.

Then I’m gonna dance in my kitchen, Bumpa style.

I might even make that face I make when I dance – the one that startles my aunt ‘cuz I do that thing with my mouth that he did when he danced.

#love

Birthday Party Playlist (Or Sorry for Partying)

A few weeks ago I was on a mission to appreciate my neighborhood. I was trying to make peace with living somewhere I wanted to escape so I started wandering the streets in search of inspiration. A few blocks from my place, I came across this carved into the sidewalk.

Hollywood sidewalk on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Today, it sort of seems fitting somehow.

See, my birthday is Saturday…. and today is the 10-year anniversary of Kristin Connor’s death.

I had only met Kristin a few months before we lost her, but time doesn’t always feel relevant in the face of loss. Kristin was our friend Angela’s best friend from high school. She he had recently relocated to LA from Michigan, and we welcomed her into our displaced Midwestern family immediately. There was just something about Kristin… I can’t really describe it. She was warm. She was real. And I liked her right away. Talking to her was easy, and it was almost as if I had known her for years.

Two days before my birthday, she was killed in a car accident.

The summer of 2003 was maybe the best and worst of my life for so many reasons. And my birthday party that year was a blowout never to be forgotten.

We were celebrating. We were mourning. And OMIGOD, we were annoying the neighbors.

That day we were coming together — and we were saying goodbye. It was my birthday party.  It was Angela’s going away party.

And maybe most of all?

It was Kristin Connor’s wake.

Partiers on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Part of the 17th Street Birthday Party Crew. Santa Monica, cira 2003.

So today as I think about the friend our family lost, I want to tell a whole bunch of Michigan kids how much they mean to me.

See, it struck me as I was perfecting the playlist for my upcoming birthday party that so many of the songs on it reminded me of members of my Michigan crew. Many of them will be at my (much more civilized) birthday this year. Many will not.

But either way?

I’m thankful for them and maybe I don’t really say it enough.

So, here it goes:

Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ is for Melissa. It reminds me of the days we were rolling through Hollywood in her dirty Volvo while painting our toenails on the dashboard. Melissa has been by my side for so many birthdays, so many movie premieres… and so many goodbyes. Together we’ve mourned her Beagle, my first Spaniel, our grandfathers, my grandmother, our mentor, my cousin, Kristin Connors, and her father. We’ve laughed through the tears and we’ve danced through the pain — sometimes at Barney’s Beanery and The Bungalow — where they don’t even have dance floors.

Lyke Li’s Little Bit is for Nicole. She put it on one of the many amazing mixes she has made me over the years. It’s for all the dinner parties we’ve thrown together. For breaking into my apartment to do my dishes after I sliced my thumb instead of an eggplant. For knowing how to make me feel so special on my birthday. For her generous heart — and her kind spirit.

Juvenile’s Back that Azz Up is for my panda, Sarah. It reminds me of our last summer in Ann Arbor. We used to open the sunroof of her Explorer and absolutely blast the song while driving past civilized restaurants on Main Street during dinner hour. This song is for standing by my side at my grandfather’s funeral. For asking me to be in her wedding. For helping me out of a pair of capris with a broken zipper in a TJ Maxx dressing room. For giving me perspective on what really matters. And for years of love, laughter, and loyalty.

Kesha’s Tik Tok is for Kelley. We put it on our Camarillo Road Trip Playlist and listened to it A LOT while we were stuck in gridlock and she was carsick beyond belief. It’s for the endless talk that first night we met in the Pi Phi basement — the talk that led to so many more. It’s for being my senior spring break travel partner. For skipping chapter to watch Monty Python with me. For asking me to be her only Michigan bridesmaid. And For standing by my side for 16 years… no matter what.

Lee Brice’s Friends We Won’t Forget is for Anna. It’s for sharing her story and really, really listening to mine. It’s for pushing me to do a few more push ups. For making me change my make up, my clothes, and my hair. For our dinner parties. For reminding me how much I love country music. And for just knowing when I need a hug.

Britney’s Toxic is for Ryan. It’s for all the good talks we had about our grandpas — and for taking care of me the day after I lost mine. For teaching me about birdies, eagles, and albatrosses. For legal services rendered. And for knowing I needed to hear a little Britney on a bad day at the office.

Westside Connection’s Lights Out  is for Josh. It brings me back to the days of our endless wandering through the aisles of Amoeba Records. The days when he’d drive across LA at midnight just to watch Diggstown with me. The days of batting cages and Brett Ratner’s driver incessantly interrupting our Indian dinners. It’s for always stepping up — even when it was risky.

Huey Lewis and the News’ Do You Believe in Love is for Michael and Jody. It’s for all the support, advice, and sous chef work over the years. It’s for making me believe everything works out for the best. For showing me what it’s like to be a really great team. For including me in the Cycle for Survival in memory of Jody’s mom. And for making me a part of their family every Christmas. I’m proud to share a birthday with their son Connor who will turn one on Saturday.

JT’s SexyBack is for Katy who also celebrates a birthday this Saturday and loves her a little JT. It’s for getting me out of my house while I was helplessly waiting for my grandpa to die. It’s for finding a new home for my dog. For making our birthday special every year. For listening. And for pushing me to do the tough stuff.

Yolanda Be Cool versus DCup’s We No Speak No Americano is for Manning who played it in the car after my birthday in the ‘bu — and before he really became my friend. It’s for introducing me to Anna… and making sure we hung out. It’s for making me like lamb, calling me out on the mayonnaise to yolk ratio in my deviled eggs, and for making me laugh while we were covered in gum. It’s for always showing up when and where he said he would. And it’s for making the tough talks somehow seem easy.

Soulja Boy’s Kiss Me Through the Phone is for Angela who lost the most on August 1. The song will forever remind me of her husband singing it to her in the streets of Hollywood. It’s for the great talks we’ve had about life, death, and design. It’s for being one of the few people on the planet who understands why I come so unraveled over college football. And it’s for introducing me to Kristin.

David Guetta’s Memories is for Kristin Connors herself. It just seems fitting.

And The Victors is for everyone.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not sorry for partying. I am a little sorry about all that Lil’ Jon we played, but I will never apologize for cutting loose with some of the best people I know. I can’t wait to do it again soon.

This One’s For You, Justin (Or How to Make a Kale, Banana, and Nut Smoothie)

I’ll never forget the day as long as I live: It was Monday, November 12, around 5 pm. I was listening to the haunting, 80s-esque, synth sounds of Class Actress, and I was elbow deep in my aquarium, scrubbing algae off of the sides. I heard my mother’s ringtone, but I let it go to voicemail. My hands were wet and it wasn’t a good time to talk.

Also?

I had a to-do list a mile long.

I was starting a producing job for the Academy Awards the next morning, and I was trying to get my personal life in order before going back to work.

My mother called again moments later, and I figured it was probably important.

In retrospect, I wish I had been kinder when I answered. My hands were still dripping with water, so I swiped my iPhone with my elbow and put her on speaker. “What?” I said, sort of annoyed.

“I have sad news,” her voice was faltering, and I could tell she was trying to hold it together. I wiped my hands on my legs and picked up the phone so I could hear her better. “It’s Justin,” she said. Then she lost it. Like, gasping for air — sobbing — lost it. If you know my mum, you know she doesn’t break easily, so I knew something was terribly wrong. Yet somehow it almost didn’t register when she told me my cousin had hanged himself that morning.

He was 25.

Justin was a vegan, a home brewer an organic gardener, and an avid cyclist. He was also an absolutely brilliant mathematician who had always struggled with the strict structure of school.

Earlier that morning I had received an e-mail from his mother asking me to pray for him. He had sent her an e-mail on Saturday saying that he wasn’t doing well in some of his college classes, and she was concerned about him. By the time I opened the e-mail and said a prayer for him, he was probably already gone.

After I hung up with my mother, I called my aunt. The police and a priest were still at her house. She asked me if I had gotten her e-mail. “I did. I said a prayer for him,” I told her, my own voice breaking. I barely managed to get out the words, “I love you,” before bursting into tears.

The rest of the evening was a blur. I cooked dinner. I continued to cross things off my to-do list. I called friends. It all felt hollow and unreal. I barely remember setting my clothes out for work. I think I may have pulled out old photo albums, but I really don’t remember.

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Even though Justin and I were separated by nine years and more than 1,200 miles, we spent a lot of time together as kids.

The next morning as I drove to work, my mother was simultaneously en route to my grandmother’s house to tell her that her only grandson was dead.

THAT I remember.

My aunt and mother had decided my grandmother needed to hear the news in person, so that fell to the only person still living in Michigan: my mother. Understandably, she was terrified to deliver the news.

“I’m praying for you. You can do this. I love you.” I texted, as I walked through the polished lobby of the ABC building, head held high. On the outside, I was perfectly put together. It was as if my bright smile and my professional ensemble hid my broken heart. I told no one at work what was going on. I put my head down and crossed tasks off of my to-do list.

Later that afternoon when I was trying to access a work document on Google Drive, I clicked on Google + instead. I never go on Google + and almost forgot I had an account until I accidentally clicked on it.

Staring right there at me from my news feed was this photo of Justin.

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The caption read, “Keep it real. Keep it vegan. Keep drinkin’ beer.”

It had been uploaded Sunday night. It was the last thing he posted before he died, and I’m grateful I accidentally stumbled upon what may be the closest thing my family has to a goodbye note. Justin loved kale and grew it in his garden, so it’s somehow fitting he’s holding it in this photo. His roommates later told my aunt and uncle he had made himself a late-night meal on Sunday when they were heading to bed. Some time between taking this photo and the next morning, he took his own life.

I haven’t had much closure since losing my cousin. Work got in the way. (Or rather, I let work get in the way.) I didn’t attend his memorial because I was working on the Oscars.

On January 10, on what would have been his 26th birthday, I was locked in a room at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 13 hours without access to my cell phone because it was the day the Oscar nominations were announced. Still I told no one about my loss; I put my head down and did my job. I was torn between feelings of relief for the distraction on his birthday and feelings of intense resentment that I couldn’t let my guard down and miss him even for a moment.

The week of the Oscars, My boss put me in charge of the massive “In Memoriam” gallery commemorating all of the filmmakers and stars who had died that year. It took all of my strength to hold it together as I put endless hours into a gallery paying tribute to strangers when I had hardly taken a moment to honor my own cousin. Still, I told no one at the office.

About a month later, I had a conversation with a close friend who was going to the beach to light a candle on the anniversary of her mother’s death. She has done it every year since losing her mother to cancer, and it struck me that I had done nothing personal to pay tribute to my cousin. Sure, I had contributed to Wheels 4 Life, the charity my aunt and uncle selected, but it didn’t feel like enough. I admitted to my friend that I felt guilty I hadn’t found my own way to honor my cousin.

Last night I had to absolutely drag myself to the grand opening of a new CorePower Yoga location. They were offering a free yoga class, but somehow that didn’t feel like motivation enough for me to drive a mere three miles to the studio. Yet something deep down was telling me to go, something stronger than a desire to take a free class. Something deep inside me kept telling me, “GO,” so I did. The class was great, and I even won a Manduka towel in the raffle.

But the best thing that happened was sort of unexpected… and it didn’t hit me right away.

During the reception after class, I tried a kale and cashew smoothie provided by a local vegan restaurant. I was surprised to discover that it was delicious. See, I’m crazy carnivorous and typically I steer clear of vegan fare, but this thing was actually awesome.

I’m on a bit of a Paleo/health kick right now, so I decided to make my own version of the smoothie today. It wasn’t until I looked over at this note from my aunt and uncle while my Cuisinart was macerating the kale that I realized I was making a smoothie my cousin and I could have shared.

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Food is at the center of our lives. Not only is it essential to our survival, but it can also be an expression of our emotions. We mourn with food. We celebrate with food. And today as I sipped my smoothie I somehow felt like I was closer to my cousin — like I was honoring him in a way.

As I enjoyed a vegan kale smoothie, I realized I had finally found my personal tribute to my cousin.

I haven’t seen his mother (or my own mother) since he passed away. They’re both coming to California next month for their sister’s birthday, and it will be the first time we’ve all been together since we lost Justin.

I decided today that I’m going to make these smoothies when they’re here, so we can all toast him together. We can raise a glass of kale to honor a cousin, a son, and a nephew — a beautiful soul who left us all too soon.

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Justin Russell Drawbert, this kale’s for you. Bottoms up.

If you want to make this simple, healthy snack for yourself, the recipe is below. Even though they’re vegan they’re actually Paleo diet-friendly since the ingredients are mostly alkaline and fairly low on the glycemic index. (More on the whole Paleo thing another time. I promise.)

Justin’s Kale Smoothie

1/3 C coconut water
1/8 C unsalted nuts (I used pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and almonds)
1 ripe banana
1 T agave nectar
2 C fresh kale

Add the coconut water, banana, and agave nectar to the blender and mix to combine. Add the nuts and blend until smooth. Add the kale and blend until you achieve a uniform consistency.

Enjoy!