The 2021 Mother's Day Gift Guide

As I've become a mother, I've extended my celebration of Mother's Day from only my own mom to the women who love me in ways that make me a better mother myself. Including but not limited to, my grandmothers, in-laws, and incredible friends from the six cities I've lived in. 

If you have a hard time with Mother's Day, I feel for you. This gift guide was built with many kinds of moms and mother-types in mind. Including you, pal. Know that I'm celebrating alongside many of you and aching alongside others. It's a great time of year to treat yourself, too, by the way :)

Helpful hint: ask your mother/ mother person WHAT SHE WANTS. If she gives you a clear answer, stop reading.

Gifts you can't buy:
  • A day at home alone to get all the random tasks done, uninterrupted
  • A letter to her describing in great detail one of your happiest/funniest memories together
  • An act of service, something she hates doing. For my mom, it would be making her "to return" pile disappear. Perhaps you could wash her windows, make her a meal plan, or organize her garage.

Service gifts:
  • Scan a batch of especially important old photos. My archivist friend Whitney recommends the Epson FastFoto FF-680W. If your mom has negatives or slides, send them to theFINDlab and they'll email you .jpgs of all of them.
  • Get her car detailed. Look for a local detail company that will come to her driveway if you want to keep it a surprise.
  • Bake something homemade from an amazing cookbook (such as Dominique Ansel's or Cook's Illustrated Best Recipes). Deliver it on a pretty serving dish, along with the book. 

Under $100 gifts:

Splurge gifts/ group gifts:
  • The only digital camera she'll ever need, the Fuji X100V (I know, I know – who am I, recommending a digital camera... but even this film snob wants one for herself)
  • A course from Jennifer Finlayson-Fife on discovering her divine feminine 
  • A birth flower necklace, to remind her of her own mother
  • The most comfortable robe in the world (get a size smaller than she normally wears)

If you want to give her flowers: 
  • Consider ordering from a local florist, but don't put this one off! Order as soon as your local florist opens Mother's Day orders. To find a local florist, start with hashtags on Instagram, such as #losangelesflorist or #utahcountyflorist. 
  • Grace Rose Farm roses are the perfect no-brainer bouquet. Pretty packaging, incredible quality. 
  • A unique take on the flowers this year: bare root roses she can enjoy year after year
  • For in person celebrating, DIY an arrangement with Trader Joe's flowers in this glass vase or a unique textured vase 

And don't forget the card!

the handpicked newsletter: anatomy of a flower collage // 4/14/21

i'm very jazzed about my new newsletter, Handpicked! Alex Emails is off to college and Handpicked is here to stay. the point of the makeover is to make my weekly newsletters more enjoyable, easier to read, and easier to share. while Alex Emails was great fun and i'm super proud of it, i'm looking forward to sending newsletters with a little more of myself in them instead of just a list of interesting links. (don't worry, there will still be links.) 

if you've been reading Alex Emails, handpicked probably won't feel all that different, hopefully just better. nonetheless, i must make a hullabaloo about it. have a click ↴

three things that are super consistent about me: 1. i love making photos on film and 2. i love flowers. 3. i am an incessant sharer. as a college dropout and a young mom, i have found myself feeling a little lost at times throughout my 20s. as i speed walk into my 30s, i'm owning what i'm into – in this case, flowers, film, and sharing – and catapulting it out into the newslettersphere with fingers crossed that others out there will catch a bit of joy from it.

during the plague i found myself harkening back to my middle school passion of collaging. no longer am i cutting up teen vogue and seventeen magazines for the front sleeve of my binder, rather second-hand art books and design catalogs, to display nowhere. but my collaging hobby led me to this design, one of my favorite art projects to date.

each flower in this design was shot on film by me in the last few years and tenderly cut and glued digitally by a major photoshop novice (moi). 

if you're subscribed to Alex Emails, no need to re-subscribe. if you'd like to sign up for Handpicked, you can subscribe right here!

as it began to dawn // Easter 2021

it was my friend mary ann who first pointed out that the women went as soon as they possibly could to attend the body of their friend, their savior, Jesus Christ. 

because He was slain on a friday afternoon, shortly before sundown, and laid in a borrowed tomb, jewish burial customs were delayed. immediately following His death, the sabbath began. though a lifelong latter-day saint, mary ann studied the jewish faith diligently and pointed out that the faithful marys observed the sabbath completely, and waited to complete the chore of burial arrangements until "the end of the sabbath, as it began to be dawn, [and] came to see the sepulchre." 

i can just picture the marys and their sisters, waking up in the dark, filled with the heavy pain, even dread, that washes over a person in those first hours and days following the death of a loved one. i imagine them quietly dressing, quickly packing up their sweet embalming spices, meeting up along the road as the sun rose, and sprinting to His tomb. i imagine their shock when the immovable stone door was not where they knew it should be, and the fear of seeing a stranger sitting inside where He should have been. i imagine the mix of shock, faith, and adrenaline at the angel's announcement, "He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead."

i imagine the immense frustration of those women who followed the angel's instructions to go and tell the others, after having waited through the horrific scene of His death, the darkness of that friday night, and the anguish of the first sabbath without Him, to finally arrive at the sepulchre, and speak with an angel, only to return to the men and be met with cynicism, dismissal, and doubt. i think i'd scream.

i imagine mary, His beloved mary, at a complete loss, not understanding this strange angel. wanting nothing more than to just see Him and say goodbye. weeping at losing Him again. i imagine her disbelief at seeing Him standing before her. i imagine her disbelief melting away into complete confidence at the sound of His voice and the light of His eyes as He called her by her name. i imagine, i hope, someday to feel that same confidence when i return home to Him.

"As we leave the tombs of quarantine, a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize that we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. For me, the source of that healing is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society. It involves the ever-present offer for all to begin again. The weight of this work fills me with a terrifying fear, especially in light of all those who have done great evil in his name. Who is worthy of such a task? Like the women, the scope of it leaves me too often with a stunned silence."

— Esau McCaulley , 04/02/2021

blueberry buttermilk smoothie

Blueberry Buttermilk Smoothie

by Alex
March 2021


3/4 cup buttermilk
1 giant handful fresh spinach
1 capful turmeric (more if you can stand it)
1 capful powdered ginger (or 1 inch peeled, grated fresh ginger)
1/3 bag frozen wild blueberries from trader joes
1 glug maple syrup
(click "read further" under the photo for directions)

broken things

God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. 
— Vance Havner

what fighting an eating disorder sounds like

me: hi alex, how are you?

AS: i'm fine. but i'm also hungry so i can't really think straight and i keep snapping at my kids.

me: oh that's dumb. you should eat something. like that falafel salad you've been eating for lunch a lot lately?

AS: yes i like that salad a lot but i think i'll just sit here and drink my tea.

me: why?

AS: because i'm not going to eat for a while.

me: that's a bad idea.

AS: i know. i have this layer of my brain that wants to eat, and knows i need to eat, but i have this other layer who's very bossy and says, your stomach and thighs are fatter than we like. just don't eat for a while and then we'll look better and then you can eat again.

me: but you know that starving yourself won't actually help you lose weight, right?

AS: it might. you don't know.

me: okay but remember in therapy how you learned that self-destructive behavior like starving yourself is one of the worst things you can do to your body? you love your body!

AS: yes, usually. but i look so ugly in my clothes lately. i look pregnant. and we both know i'm not pregnant. i just look pregnant because i've been eating girl scout cookies and a lot of ice cream.

me: don't you remember that stuff that moved you so deeply that you read in The Body? about how our bodies are a a miraculous tangle of systems functioning at lightning speed with such specialty and improbability that your physical body is considered *magical* by most of the medical science community?

AS: what is your point

me: don't you remember how many times you've fallen in love with your body, stretch marks and all, because of all the amazing things it has done for you? all the places it's taken you? all the children it's built? 

AS: yes but

me: remember what you decided to do in therapy? N O U R I S H  yourself. that made a lot of sense to you.

AS: yeah but

me: do you want to model this type of self destruction for your daughters? do you want them to believe they don't deserve food when they start feeling chubby? 

AS: no. i 100% do not want that. i would never want them to starve themselves.

me: they're watching you.

me: you're hungry. you're a human being. your systems need nourishment.

me: eat some lunch.

AS: uggggggggggggghhhhggghhghhhgggghghghggggghhgghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ok.

ruth reichl on writing

like most writers, i hate writing. i'd rather clean toilets than write. i love having written, and i love – i mean you sit down at your desk, and half the time nothing good happens. but when something good happens when you're writing, it's a kind of magic that you find no other time. you disappear. you're sitting there and nothing happens and nothing happens, and you look at your watch, it's 5am, it's 5:30 am (why am i up, why am i not in bed?) and then, when you're lucky, something happens and the next thing you know, it's 7:30 and this time... you've vanished. and there's something on the paper that you can't even explain how it got there. and it's a wonderful feeling. it's like, for me, a kind of high that i don't get any other way, and that's why i find the time to do it.

– ruth reichl, garlic and sapphires, chapter 9

miscarrying: what i've learned so far 3/19/21

i had my fourth miscarriage 18 days ago. i am not ready to talk about it. but here i go.

Black Sand Peace Paddle // 2/21/21

The Manhattan Beach Pier is the place I go when the day is far from over and my parenting has run out. It gives my kids 928 feet to run far away from their cabin fever and me. 

We were there the morning the covid restrictions were lifted and the pier officially reopened last June. It's the first place I ever visited in Manhattan Beach. For some unimportant reason the pier is just the place I keep coming back to. For sanity, for interest, for photos, for fun. It's not sacred, but it's something to me.

When I read about the peace paddle I knew there was no way I could miss it. 

In response to a racist incident in the water a few weeks ago, two local surfers organized the Black Sand Peace Paddle at the Manhattan Beach Pier. They invited surfers from all over LA to come together in peace and love to share the ocean. Hate, they said, will not be tolerated. All humans welcome.

I got down to the sand at about 7:30am, after everyone was already out in the water. There was a spirit of bravery, hope, and strength. It was like worship. You couldn't miss it. I almost felt like I didn't belong because I've never had lived experience with racism like so many surfers that day have had. It felt like their moment. I felt lucky, in every sense of the word, to be there.