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

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.


Leave a Comment: What do you think about waiting? 


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. 

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.”

Ally and Anthony by rustic wooden wall
Connectivity, Daily Life

Why We Read Stories as We Live Them

Ally and Anthony by rustic wooden wallWe met about this time many years ago—Anthony and I—in a cold classroom in an antique brick building at the University of Nevada. I remember his laugh, full-bodied and genuine.

I often sat at a narrow desk in the classroom’s back corner, dressed in my black snowboarding jacket and flared jeans. My brown hair was styled in a punk-inspired pixie cut. I felt so empowered with short hair, as if I had to prove my femininity in other ways than long locks.

Anthony had longer hair then. It grazed the nape of his neck and flipped to the sides. But he was always clean-shaven, except for the tuft of chest hair that peeked above his Threadless T-shirts. His denim jeans shredded at the hems, and his shoes featured holes that revealed his gray-toed socks. He wore those “animal shoes” every day, even in winter.

We met in winter, in January. But I wouldn’t truly notice him until spring more than a full year later. In class, he was just the funny guy. He cracked jokes, quoted “South Park” with reckless abandon, and laughed without restraint. He also had a knack for having all the right answers, sometimes to an annoying degree. But the guy did his homework. I appreciated that fact.

That semester, we had both registered for a class that became the basis for our friendship. Although the course was billed as Twentieth Century British Literature, the course description made its field of study quite clear. This class focused exclusively on author J. R. R. Tolkien. Anthony and I independently chose this quest for our mutual adoration of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, five years later, I can think of no better starting point for our adventure.

In the pages of Tolkien’s book, we discovered tales of men and women who suffered hardship, endured grief, and received for their toils the greatest joys of all. In its pages, the word “hope” appeared in earnest. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, committed people do what they must for the good of others. In doing so, they find the good within themselves, even if they might misstep into darkness along the way.

Hope always exists, and good always wins. This story enlivens as a metaphor for our own world. But its symbolism changes, walking alongside our perceptions as we absorb each word.

Ally and Anthony hold book pages

We hold the pages between us, as two stories become one tale.

That’s the power of stories. No matter who you are, you can find yourself amid the pages. You relate. Not to the literal situations, but to the emotions characters feel as they survive those fictionalized moments that, in the moment, feel all too real.

We’ve been here before, we realize as we read.

Isn’t that why we read?

Now the stories of my books become my stories. We march in tandem as I flip each page, knowing and believing and understanding and feeling.

It’s that feeling that brought us here in the first place.

Had we not taken these steps to grasp the cover and peruse the pages, to so desire to immerse ourselves in the world and to take a chance on awaiting adventure, we may have never met at all.

“I’m glad you’re with me” for we were meant to go together.

Photograph credit: Jamison Frady of Quiet Art Photography © 2010   (Photos feature Ally and Anthony in January, two years after we met.)

Runner in Color Me Rad
Daily Life, Stunted World Changers

Fear and Forward Motion: Reflections on the Past Year

Last year, I wanted to learn to live again. This year, I want to learn to love life again.

I want to appreciate the little things I take for granted and to remember to find something extraordinary in each ordinary day. To awake in the morning with the sun shining through my window and to say, ‘That’s incredible.’

Runner in Color Me Rad

One of my 2012 highlights: Finishing the Color Me Rad Reno 5K with good friends and family! I totally took a pop of color to the face!

In 2012, life raced by. I challenged myself to find the balance between apathy and overworked. I considered why we couldn’t just learn to live simply. I berated the fact I couldn’t write more, do more, be more. I wondered why accomplishment, that elusive sensation, never stayed for long. And I wondered why fear never seemed to set foot away from my doorstep.

I learned a lot in 2012. I achieved personal goals, like becoming a vegetarian to support Mom through her health issues and lifestyle changes. Training for my first 5K, even though I couldn’t run for a quarter of a mile when I started. Meeting celebrities, like blogger Perez Hilton and The Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, and discovering a “work event” meant attending a CeeLo Green concert on a warm September evening.

I also fought fear … and likewise often succumbed to it. I thought about money issues and financial struggles much more than I’d like to admit. I worried about friendships and relationships and the changes that happen as people grow. I cared a lot about image, and I didn’t share as much as I may have liked on this blog for fear of crowds.

This past year was ripe with frustration at my own immobility. A lot of that boils down to how much I take for granted. I saw myself as stuck, merely existing, just there. Toward the latter half of the year, I realized as much. Sometimes it’s not your circumstances that need to change. It’s your perspective that needs to shift.

This year I want that focus. I want to choose forward motion over stagnancy, positive thinking over “realism,” and faith over fear. Remind me of that, friends.

Photo credit: Anthony and Ally Siwajian © 2013

Writing Tips & Thoughts

Calendar Cues: My Secret Weapon to Writing

It’s the deadline. That’s the answer.

I think about my articles while driving surface streets, standing in store aisles, lying in bed before I fall asleep, and in the morning as I brush my teeth. I create space in my schedule to consider my words. But for all that time spent thinking about an article, it’s the deadline that motivates me to sit at the keyboard and type.

I can do the research in advance and complete my interviews with sources. I can transcribe my notes and ponder the paragraphs I’ll pen. I am ready, prepared, poised on the precipice.

But to write, I need that sense of urgency, that impending doom which will befall me if I fail to produce a masterpiece in the next twelve hours.

When you’re on the wire like that, you only have two options: You can write or you can fail. I won’t let myself fail. So I write. I pour out my guts onto the page, powered by a mug of green tea and time’s ticking clock.

Then it’s on to the editing process. Change the lead.  Scrap that paragraph. Revise this section, move that quote here, and check for grammatical inaccuracies.

Now a title. Every piece needs a good title. This is not my strong suit. I usually try to grab a piece of a quote, emphasize a theme, and hope the editor likes it.

That’s the source of my writing power. If I didn’t have an editor to report to at the end of the month, I wouldn’t have any articles. I need her deadline.

I’d like to blame this tick on my time as a staff member at a Nevada newspaper, when we worked beyond midnight to blaring music to beat the clock. But I think it runs deeper than that. All those years in school left their mark. I need a due date for these homework assignments.

Without that calendar cue, I would rarely write.

Want to see my recent work for editors? Read these articles: “The Rumors are True: Perez Hilton presents TY KU Coconut Sake at Las Vegas Pool Party” (See page 88 of the magazine’s digital edition. Warning: celebrity in Speedo.) or “Label-Driven Tasting” (See page 42 to learn what one Olympian did after her sports career.) in The Tasting Panel.

What is your secret to writing? Share your ideas in the comments section below. 

once upon a time
Daily Life, What I Like

What I Like Right Now: I’m Hooked edition

Too often it’s easy to focus on the negative elements in life. So I figured that while the whole “Month of Thankfulness” may have ended with November, I can keep reminding myself of what I’m happy about in life. Sometimes it’ll be deep. But today, let’s keep it simple. I just want to let you in on what I like right now in my daily life! It’s the “pans,” if you will. 😉  Once Upon a Time Henry

(1) Once Upon a Time on Trapped between two worlds, the fairy tale characters of childhood stories struggle to survive in a world without magic–ours. With Rumpelstiltskin, Prince Charming, and the Evil Queen in Storybrooke, Maine, with Mulan, Captain Hook, and *spoiler alert* the Red Queen of Hearts in the Enchanted Forest, and with Sleeping Beauty’s Philip in the netherworld, all kinds of crazy has been going down in these clever plot twists. What can I say? I’m hooked.

(2) I’ve been a fan since 2009. (Yes, I jumped on the bandwagon a little late. Didn’t want my CDs to feel jealous.) Apparently, Spotify is the next best thing. I’m going to have to try it soon. But today I still like the variety of Pandora, where I can hear my favorites in a mix with new material. My current favorite playlists are based on “Hans Zimmer” and “‘Destroy’ by Worth Dying For.”

(3) Mustard Yellow Cardigan: Two months ago, I picked up a mustard yellow cardigan as my autumn wardrobe update. This sweater is transforming my world… and the photographers I work with for magazine pieces are probably sick of seeing me wear it! It just goes so well with everything: slacks and blouse, polka dot dress, even jeans and a printed T-shirt. I love it!

How about you? What music/TV shows/clothes/food/favorites/etc. are you into right now?

Photo by ABC’s Once Upon a Time