On December 2nd, I marked a milestone birthday: thirty-five. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that this entry also signifies another milestone: my 100th post on Extra Dry Martini.

Bare Feet

Normally, I love birthdays (both my own and other people’s), but this one felt less celebratory and more like staring down the barrel of a gun. Thirty-five? Shouldn’t I have it all figured out by now? Shouldn’t I own a home, have a family, be navigating the ladder of success on my way toward building a lucrative career? Numbers don’t lie, and based on my age, there’s no denying that I am officially a grown up. So why aren’t I acting like one?

Though these (judgmental) thoughts danced across my brain, the truth is, when the day arrived, I was too exhausted to be as hard on myself as my inner critic demanded. I was fresh off the recent experience of seeing my beloved grandfather through hospice (which I documented here, here and here), and after spending the better part of a month camped out in a small town in rainy Washington state, I returned to Los Angeles only to be confronted with another piece of life-shaking news. While I’m not ready to share this latest development publicly (I will, probably in my next post), suffice it to say I find myself at a significant crossroads, with two very different paths to choose from. Whichever decision I make means big change, and the only way for me to know which road to follow is to look within my own heart and ask myself what I want.

Hotel Palms

The Friday after my birthday, I did what I often do when I’m feeling lost: I went to the ocean. I packed a journal, my birthday cards, a tattered copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s A Gift from the Sea, and drove south. Needing to decompress from an intensely emotional couple of months, I decided to spoil myself and reserved an oceanfront hotel room at the stunning Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach, CA.

I expected the resort to be luxurious, but the property exceeded my every expectation. Upon checking in, I was greeted by an expansive guest room appointed in crisp whites and soft sandy neutrals, a bottle of sparkling water chilling on ice, an artfully arranged fruit and cheese platter, and a handwritten note of welcome from the hotel staff. I opened the white shutter balcony doors to a breath-halting view of the sunset over the Pacific. I cracked open a bottle of birthday wine, collapsed onto the enormous King Size bed, and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing outside.

It took a full twenty-four hours for my tired brain to stop racing, and to allow my internal rhythms to slow down and mimic the pace of the ocean. I went for long walks along Pacific Coast Highway, enjoyed delicious meals, and savored the sight of the sun slipping below the horizon, streaking the topaz sky with tangerine fire.


On my last day in Laguna, I lounged in the afternoon sun and swam lazy laps in the warm saltwater pool. An hour before sunset, I made my way down to the beach. Running in and out of the surf, I laughed as the tide quickly receded then rushed back, swallowing my bare feet with a force as the not-quite-cold foamy white waves tickled my toes.

My whole life, the ocean has always held a certain mysterious allure. In the presence of its seemingly infinite expanse I am small, but not in a way that renders me insignificant. Instead, my tiny-ness thrills me, reminding me that my problems are a mere droplet compared to such a mighty sea. As the roar of the surf matches the drumbeat of my own heart, I know that I am part of the earth – all of it – and my connectedness to such great beauty makes me feel both awestruck and safe.

The first four years of my thirtieth decade brought challenges I never thought I’d face. Not this young, not this soon. These years have brought death and unimaginable heartbreak and a loneliness I feared I’d never find the bottom of. But they also brought strength, and resilience, and gratitude, and a deeper knowledge of love than I’ve ever known. I am often sad and fragile, but I am also wise, and tenacious, and alive.

Palms and Sea

A few days after my thirty-fifth birthday, I stared out at the Pacific, wondering how I could go on, now that the four people who had most shaped my life were no longer here. As I thought about them, images of other people appeared in my mind – both family and friends – who had stepped in to fill the void in the absence of those four. A cherished bunch who had laughed and cried with me, who had embraced me with kindness, who had counseled me through hardship, who had held me up when I feared I would collapse. And in that moment of quiet reflection, I knew unquestionably not only that I could go on, but that I would.

When I left Laguna, a piece of my heart stayed behind. I vowed to return after questions had been answered, decisions had been made, and challenges were met, head on. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in that well-worn book I carried along with me on my journey: “Patience – Faith – Openness, is what the sea has to teach. Simplicity – Solitude – Intermittency . . . But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find. This is only the beginning.”

Until next time, friends.


28 thoughts on “Thirty-five.

  1. Happy birthday! Ah, to be thirty-5 again! Lol! Life throws us many curve balls and our success can’t be measured on a bar graph or or failures determined by comparing ourselves to others!!

    Success is: our growth as a human being and our failure to do so marks too many people, yet the focus still remains on the acquisition on material things, which supposedly marks our milestones!

    Look back at how much you’ve accomplished! Look back at last year alone to see how much you’ve grown!

    I’ve been married and divorced twice, my first husband died and my second husband is in a Dementia care facility. I’ve owned a house and later a condo. I had money and lost everything in my second marriage… I’m now living with my daughter and grandkids. After we all move to a more urban area the plan for me is to get a job again and move out into my own place where I’ll be starting over.

    Thirty five is just a number! Even if you had acquired everything which says, “wow! You’re a successful adult!” There’s no guarantee that you’d be keeping it all for the rest of your life!

    The life skills you’re acquiring now will help you through the ups and the downs in the future!

    Life is a constant learning curve! You’re doing well!

  2. You have a lovely way of navigating universal struggles with an intimate prose. I think many will find comfort in familiar themes of doubt and passion, family and friendship, grief and celebration.

  3. You are such a talented writer. These passages are so true and touching and I appreciate your letting all of us readers come with you on your life journey. And those photos: Unreal. Gorgeous. I may have to go to Laguna Beach very soon.

  4. Dear Sarah,
    I have a few favorite words. One of them is “next”. Welcome to Next, the upcoming phase of your life’s journey.

    If I may, a book that has guided me often during times of transition is Transitions by William Bridges. I have read it many times, and will certainly read it again. Bridges has written several books on the topic. Transitions is his first, and my favorite. You may appreciate it.

    Pay special attention to Bridges’ advice about spending time in the “neutral zone” – that time between what was and what will be. Bridges suggests that if we don’t honor time in the neutral zone, we are inclined to simply repeat our past and fail to actually move to our future. The Tibetans call this time the bardo – the intermediate state. It is an important time and not to be rushed.

    Another book that helped me during a time of significant transition is When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. Reading her book led me to my current work which led me to your dad, your sisters and you. The heart knows… you said so yourself.

    35 is a great place and time to be in transition. Be and be well, Sarah.


  5. That “hey wait, I’m really an adult, and I’m not sure I always like it” birthday was 33 for me. But now I’m 48, and what I’ve learned is that you never have it all figured out. So just do the best you can with today and enjoy the day as much as you can, and let tomorrow sort itself out.

  6. Pingback: Thirty-five. | Crissy's Blog

  7. Happy belated birthday! This was an absolutely amazing read, I can feel what you are writing, I’ve read quite a few of your posts, and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to keep reading so much. I feel stuck myself and I’m only 22. I know, ‘I’m only young’ but I feel I have already wasted so much life. I never would have thought that I would be involving myself in anything like this, but I’m glad I found your blog and very keen to read, wright and find myself again. Thank you

  8. I just started my blog and this touched close to home. I, too, seem to be pulled a million places all the time, but I find when I need to restart, resfresh, regain my thoughts, energy, goals, life, I end up sitting by the ocean just listening to it, giving me all the answers!

  9. I’m going to turn 30 in 2016 and I don’t feel bad about it. I accept it as it goes, similar to you. Life is about big changes, and it is not a number that describes your personality. Take your own path, chose your own destiny. Deal with your failings, negative personal traits, imperfections, etc., and help others to overcome theirs. Always remember that you are a benefited citizen of the Occident, and there are many of those who have to struggle much more, even just to survive. Be kind, and don’t be judgmental. That’s my rulebook.

  10. Pingback: Thirty-five. – All the world

  11. Great post. I’m approaching my 30th birthday and mirror your sentiments about feeling like you should have things together. I enjoyed your perspective though of what you’ve gained from the bad things that have come about.

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