pancakes on plate
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream

Pancakes Are Sweeter When You Add Syrup

Every January, I celebrate the new year with a stack of homemade pancakes and round tables filled with friends. Blueberry, chocolate chip, even old-fashioned original pancakes—the baked scents reminds me life is good. The year is new. And I have people to share it with.

This year was different. There was only one person at my table.

Instead of celebrating within the walls of a welcoming church I’ve grown to love in Reno, I ate my pancakes on the back patio of well-worn restaurant joint in Southern California.

pancakes on plate

You see, last year on March 4th, Anthony and I moved from our Nevada home to pursue our dreams. I’d chosen “Dream” as my defining theme for 2013, and we reached the pinnacle rather unexpectedly early. In Los Angeles, I joined a creative team of exceptionally talented individuals in the bustling city, and Anthony began to write and revise his fantasy novels, the Shade of Silver trilogy.

What I didn’t know at last year’s start is that to “dream” is to accept change.

In Reno, we had grown deep roots. We had developed friendships, built careers. 

In Los Angeles, we were uprooted. Take a plant out of its pot, and place it on the dinner table. See how long it lasts. Plants need soil. They must have roots, or they will die.

I had been grieving the loss of my Reno roots for a while. But when we ordered pancakes on a Sunday morning, far from the church where we first experienced the New Year tradition, we memorialized. It was a good kind of remembering. We laughed, and we joked, and we reminisced. 

Then we looked across the metal bar that separated us from the sidewalk in this warm “winter” weather, and we knew: We need roots here.

Earlier that morning, at a different church located in Burbank, a pastor named Billy spoke from a slightly raised stage. “If you had a plant that wanted to bear fruit, but it never saw the sun, it wouldn’t grow any fruit.”

I’ve stayed away from the sun lately. It’s a poor effort to keep the thoughts at bay—in which I wonder about my decision to dream.

“Every good renovation starts with some demolition,” the pastor spoke, and for the first time in a long time, I listened. “God is not afraid of the toxic places in your life.”

This year, I want to remember where I’ve come from without wishing for the past. I need this plant to be pruned. I need mildewed leaves removed, and I want to see the sun. I want to make peace with this city, to find the soil and grow deep roots.

As Anthony and I talked about this, the waitress with dark hair and thick black eyeliner delivered our dishes. The golden pancakes on my plate were dashed with powdered sugar and a thick helping of whipped cream. Beside them, a tin cup of warm syrup waited.

Across the table, Anthony grinned at his berry-laden breakfast, and the waitress walked through the diner’s back doorway.

“Hey, Anthony,” I said and poured syrup on my pancakes. “Can we use your phone to take a picture?”

He agreed, held out his hand and aimed the camera. We both leaned in. Click.

A&A with pancakes

I won’t stand amid the demolition rubble any more.

This year, I’m choosing to rebuild.



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Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: What theme will you pursue this year? What’s one word you’d choose for 2014?

Words and photos: Ally Siwajian © 2014

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Ally in Reno snow
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream, Stunted World Changers

Birthing the Dream

Dreams are easy to talk about, but they’re more difficult to do.

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Like a seed in the ground, it needs nourishment—from multiple sources—to break free of the tough dirt and sprout above the earth. A dream needs roots, roots that reach deep and anchor it, no matter the storms. It needs a caretaker, a gardener—someone who will take proactive measures to ensure it doesn’t die, but rather buds, grows, and flourishes.

Deciding to Dream

Ally in Reno snow

Northern Nevada: in my element

In January, I chose “Dream” to be my theme for the year. I’d tossed around ideas like Move, Simplify, and Hope. But Dream was the most daunting. That would require work, and through it, all other ideas would be achieved.

So I decided to dream.

Pretty soon, life began to change. Anthony and I felt our time as residents of Reno, Nevada, would be ending soon. I’d been in that town for seven years. We were involved in volunteer activities, loved our church family and local friends, and even considered buying a house.

But something in the back of our minds—rather in the corners of our hearts—rustled. We prayed and prayed and prayed. And we felt it—we are going to leave Reno.

Succumbing to Fear

Anthony and I debated our initial inklings. I continued to write articles about everything from cocktails to curtain designs to bring in money for bills and keep my freelance writing clients. Anthony continued to come home from his biomedical lab work distraught and drained.

Walden's latteOne Sunday afternoon, we sat across the table from a good friend, Ronnie, in one of our favorite Reno spots, Walden’s Coffeehouse. We’re not moving, we told him. There’s just too much on the line. Anthony has a stable job with good benefits. I can just keep flying to Las Vegas on weekends for work. We like it here. We’ll be fine.

Eyes wide, Ronnie missed his mouth and caught his chin in the milky foam of his tea. He plunked the ceramic mug to the tabletop.

“What I’m hearing right now is just a lot of fear.” He paused, wiped the edge of his short beard, then continued. Wherever you go, he said, whether you stay in Reno or move someplace else, God exists and He’s with you.

Discerning Safety Versus Security

Good friends’ words have a way of sticking with you. It was the challenge we needed. Several Sundays later, confirmation came.

4x4 trip with friends

To follow your dreams, be in community. Here’s part of ours: Ronnie, Colby, Anthony, me, and Claire. Snowballs help too.

An artistic fellow and friend, Colby, spoke with us after church. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between safety and security,” he said. Sometimes we choose what’s safe over what we’re intended to do and who we’re designed to become. That sets us upon a trajectory in a certain direction. When you choose safety over security, where does that path lead you?

Anthony and I thought about these words long and hard. It was time to go big or go home, we decided. We’d been going home for far too long. We opted to stop playing it safe.

Dreams Rewritten and Realized

When we chose to dream and we knew it was time for that dream to be realized, we discovered dreams pursued are not easy. They often don’t resemble the dynamics you expected. The framework shifts. The details are rewritten. But the core remains the same.

Los Angeles downtown skyline

Welcome to the downtown LA city skyline.

We dreamt of a place where I could work for a magazine and be surrounded by people to encourage. We wanted an opportunity that also would extract Anthony from a job that was killing him, to instead be in a place that would let him claim his dreams of being a writer—a fantasy novelist, to be exact.

We have found that place. Through a zany series of events, we pit-stopped in my hometown Las Vegas for three weeks, then landed full-time in Los Angeles, California.

It’s different, and sometimes it’s difficult when I think of the people we left behind in Nevada. But as my friend Natalie Rose wrote to me: “Change is hard. God is good.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Pans and Pickpockets Challenge

marigold sprouting

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Then, like a seed in the ground, it will bud, grow, and flourish.

Our dreams are becoming reality. I’d like to encourage you to determine your dreams too.

Start by seeking God with your whole heart. Determine your natural talents, and weigh if your dream is supported by these skills. Become prepared: in your emotional state, your developed talents, and amid a supportive community.

Then, be willing to wait for the right moment when God tells you it’s time at last.

Because the right dream, friends, it’s worth waiting for.

Leave a Comment: Scroll down and leave me a comment below.  I’d like to hear your dream. 

Words: Ally Siwajian

Photos: Ally Siwajian; group photo by Claire Stephens  © 2013

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traditional church with book pages lining front walls
Connectivity, Stunted World Changers

Why Non-Christians Might Feel They Don’t Fit at Church

I am beginning to understand why non-Christians don’t feel comfortable at church.

Angelus Temple skylineChurch people are weird. They hug a lot. They sing a lot. They even have a lot of terms every church person seems to catch that don’t make sense in daily life: prayer request, praise report, clap offering, secular, and even non-Christian. But while these words can be disarming, it’s the stuff that happens in a church service that can make even less sense.

Since I moved to the greater Los Angeles area earlier this year, I’ve been looking for a new church to call “home.” In Reno, where I’d previously lived, I’d found a family in my church. But recently I had to start over.

And even as a Christian, I wasn’t sure how to feel about half the things I saw in churches I visited.

At one church, while people collected tithe (10 percent of your income, given back to God through His church for all He has given you), a young girl belted out lyrics in a solo with a literal spotlight. I blinked. Wait, was there a Beyoncé voice impression scheduled that I didn’t know about?

Then there’s the church with gluten-free communion crackers beside miniscule plastic cups of grape juice. That’s conscientious, I suppose. It just struck me as odd.contemporary church service

Then I saw countless banners, proclaiming the names of Jesus, the attributes of Jesus, the predictions for Jesus. All in jewel-toned primary colors with gold tassels and Brush Script style fonts.

One church had a literal wooden bridge outside for people to walk across as they chose to accept Jesus as the bridge between sinful people and a holy God.

One church had three tiers of balconies, a big screen to see the pastor preach in contemporary style, and stain glass windows as a reminder of its history.

One church had ripped pages of random books stapled to its walls, parchments to signify the story we’re all living.

Some churches have their own T-shirts, their own sunglasses, their coffee shops, and their bumper stickers. Some still use pews and hymnals and an only old-school piano. Some church people even meet outside on the lawns of public parks.

Gluten-Free communion crackersAmid these atmospheres—whether the air is clear or clouded with smoke from a backstage fog machine—are people. And church people can be weird.

I understand, to a small degree, why people who aren’t used to church don’t feel comfortable in our churches. I found my reasons, and I’m sure each person can add their own. I don’t presume to know them all.

Between the communion crackers, the jewel-tone banners, and a preacher’s words, we feel a bit lost.

It’s not familiar.

We don’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But church is filled with people.

Many times, I reminded myself that going to a church for the first time isn’t much different than going to a party or going to a first day of school. There’s the introvert who can’t muster the nerve to talk to his neighbor. There’s the know-it-all who forgets she can learn from others. Cliques still form when people find people with whom they connect.traditional church with book pages lining front walls

And if you don’t reach out to others, they likely won’t reach out to you. Sure, you might get lucky. An extrovert might find you on your first day. But you also might be alone for a while. I learned I had to make the effort even at church, and I couldn’t expect everyone to come to me.

Jesus promises to meet you where you are, and He never fails. People try their best to emulate Him, but sometimes we fail. So, please, be patient with us when you come through the church doors.

In the meantime, reach out. Get involved. Team up with someone you meet, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after the service, and ask questions.

Every church has its own customs. Every family has its own norm.

Like a family member, try your best to connect with others in the house. You may not see eye-to-eye on it all, but you’ll likely find the friendship (or as Christians might say, the “fellowship”) is worth coming together with people different than you.

Together you can discover what church is designed to be.

Photos (featuring churches visited) and words: Ally Siwajian

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trash can labeled landfill
Daily Life

You Know You’re a Renoite When…

Reno, Nevada, isn’t a place you move to; it’s a place you get stuck. At least that’s what I heard from a handful of locals while living in The Biggest Little City in the World. But as a seven-years-strong Renoite who recently relocated to The City of Angels (which is anything but), I can honestly say Reno is a place I’m proud to call a piece of home.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty strange things about Reno. But when you live there, you start to adopt these little habits that, well, you don’t realize aren’t akin to the rest of the West Coast.

A friend from Hillside in Reno once called the Northern Nevada city “The Poor Man’s Portland.” There may be some sense to that. All I can say is: The dream is alive.

A little list of how much of a Renoite I am, despite living in Los Angeles:

Salad in a jar

Yes, it’s a salad in a jar. (Top secret hint: Build your salad from wet to dry ingredients, and it’ll last for three days in the fridge.)

1. I brought my refillable water bottle to work on my first day … and my to-go tea cylinder. Well, it just so happens that So. Cal. break-rooms are ripe with buy-in-bulk bottles of H20. Noted!

2. I make layered lunch salads in mason jars. Wait, why do I do this? *reviews list of Renoite uses for the mason jar: daily coffee mug, candle holder, whiskey jar, flower pot, table centerpiece, spaghetti noodle storage….*

3. I like running … on dirt trails. What, we have to run on sidewalks? This cement will ruin my cankles.

4. I thought Reno’s 395 had rush hour traffic. *sniggers in corner* Oh, hi, I-5! Yes, I remember how fun it was to drive my moving van along your bumper-to-bumper lanes of traffic for two and a half hours. Then my car… and… yeah.

5. I lament L.A. freeway overpasses in need of a good power-washing from decades of smog grime, graffiti, and pigeon poop. To think, I was scoffing at Reno’s city beautification project just months ago. Though I do maintain that butterfly sculpture at the downtown ice rink looks vaguely reminiscent of female organs. Come on, Reno.

trash can labeled landfill

Thank you, chain store coffee shop.

6. I want to be casual friends with my barista. Now I just get confronted by a cold metal can with whether I’ll contribute to protecting the earth or promoting landfills.

7. Bicyclists in Reno wear head-to-toe spandex and aerodynamic helmets. In Los Angeles, they sport straw fedoras and carry enormous striped tote bags.

8. In Reno, I would drive home early to avoid death by iced-over roads at night. But living in Los Angeles, I was told to leave work early to dodge death by Dodgers fans in a traditional takeover of all downtown roads on Opening Day.

9. The great outdoors up north means wide-open space, scenic views, and plenty of solitude. In the big city, it’s a park with graffitied tree stumps. What, I ask, would one gain by tagging a stump?

Lake Tahoe in winter

You just can’t beat views like this. Thank you, Reno-Tahoe, for this moment.

10. I wave at people and ask, “How’s it going?” when we cross paths. I’m sure someone walking along will wave back someday. I mean, with L.A.’s constantly gorgeous weather and no sight of snow, who wouldn’t want to celebrate with me?

Anybody resonate with these? Leave me a comment with how you feel about Reno, L.A., or the differences between your hometown and your latest city. 

Photos and writing: Ally Siwajian © 2013

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desert road in winter
Connectivity, Daily Life, Stunted World Changers

Change is Hard. God is Good.

I used to worry when I heard the sound of a helicopter’s blades whirring and pumping somewhere above my neighborhood at night. It used to be rare—the sign of cops looking for someone who was making himself hard to find. Now that sound is normal.

So are the sounds of sirens. Of music blaring from passing cars. Of children’s feet hitting the pavement in the outdoor hallway beyond my apartments’ windows and of a young girl next door singing. Singing because she sounds beautiful—to her ears—and she hasn’t learned yet to care what other people might think.

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now.

How do I encapsulate the twists and turns of a road from Reno, Nevada, to Los Angeles? How can I capture the dreams Anthony and I shared—dreams that came true and yet somehow came so unexpectedly but expectantly.

desert road in winter

In March 2012, Anthony and I drove home from church one evening and sat slumped in our car’s seats in our Reno apartment’s dark parking lot. God has forgotten us, we thought. We bought the lie—that America sells.

We wanted simple: to be, to live and to love. But we had traded it for convenience. Somewhere between rent payments, electronic gadgets, a desire to dine at restaurants instead of cook at home, and a whole mess of being over-committed for all the right reasons to all the right things but to too much at the same time.  We had forgotten how to say ‘no.’ And we felt buried.

Let’s run away and move to Canada, we thought. I have enough extended family there that it just might work. We could live in Nanaimo. Write books. Stay in a little secluded cabin made of cedar wood. We could disappear, and we could be free.

But there’s this problem called relationship. People die of starvation from the human connection.

Dreams of that kind of freedom quickly became overrun with realities of isolation. While utter escape sounded appealing to a couple of introverts, we knew that pace couldn’t be sustained any healthier than our current state of rat-race numbness.

So we stayed.

The college version of myself would have scoffed. Don’t settle, I would have said. Just do something.

But sometimes “just do something” can be just as harmful. I might send myself spiraling as I force my way forward, on the wrong path, misstep, and fall flat on my face.

Sometimes we aren’t called to just do something. Sometimes we’re called to wait. Because when we wait by continuing the slow, steady walk of what we know how to do, we find clarity. Then when the clinging fog clears, you can see the rocks in the road and see the paths you should take.

I waited in Reno for one year. Then seven years from my initial entry point into that city, I knew: It was finally time to go. But when I went to leave, I realized I’d done it the right way for once. I’d planted roots. When we moved, we missed those we left behind. We’d have to start over, start fresh. But that’s okay.

Relationship with people and with God is what I seek in this life. If I don’t jump in—if I instead allow myself to be numb in the waiting seasons—then I’ll never know the joy of stepping into my purpose.

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Leave a Comment: What do you think about waiting? 

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Special thanks to Natalie Heifner who told me: “Change is hard. God is good.” and to Louie D. Locke for showing Anthony and me how to wait but wait well. 

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LA sidewalk and street
Daily Life

Welcome to California

On my birthday, only a few weeks ago, I ran along dirty sidewalks with a plastic bag of Subway sandwiches slapping against my side. Earlier that morning, I’d driven from my hometown Las Vegas to my new place of residence, Los Angeles. Anthony and I planned to sign a lease to a new apartment—one that cost more than we could ever fathom forking over in Nevada. But such is the big city life, even for an antiquated abode by the train tracks.

We’d arrived with thirty minutes until our appointment to receive the keys. So we parked our cars streetside, asked Siri for the closest place to find lunch, and started our walk. Let’s just say: Subway wasn’t as close as we thought. We purchased a couple sandwiches from the man behind the curtain—no, counter—with six minutes and a mile between us and our new apartment.

Now I like to run for fun on occasion. But I can safely say I can’t run half a mile, let alone a full mile, in six minutes. But Anthony apparently possesses Batmobile wheels in his shoes. With my consent, he jetted down the sidewalk to our appointment. 

As he sped ahead like a lion on the hunt, I ran along more like an orangutan. Stomping, panting, breathe, breathe, crosswalk—go!

“Hey!” A middle-aged man with gray hair and a disheveled rust-colored baseball cap shouted at me and stepped into my path mid-intersection. He shoved his hand forward to point behind me. “Be careful,” he said and jutted his chin in the direction he pointed.LA sidewalk and street

I stepped back from him and turned. A pile of filthy clothes lay on a patch of dirt where all the grass had died beside the sidewalk. A dented shopping cart filled with tied plastic bags sat nestled in leaf-ridden bushes. Pigeon poop littered the sidewalk, trash gathered in the gutter, and the nearby underpass boasted words I couldn’t read in bold, black graffiti.

“People live here,” the man said and shoved his hands into his pockets. I didn’t know what to say. I dodged out of his path as he passed.

I walked most of the way back to our apartment, where Anthony had met the landlord streetside.

“You okay?” Anthony said, his cheeks still ruddy from his run.

“Yeah.” I nodded. “We’re not in Reno anymore.”

Lively Mediterranean music emanated from an open window above us. Nearby a multigenerational family gathered on their patio, passing plates, speaking Armenian, and laughing loudly. The elderly landlord, in his plaid shirt and suit pants, surveyed us as we surveyed it all. He smiled, then shook my hand.

“Welcome,” he said, “to California.”

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