The Coffee Diaries: House Roots – Granada Hills, CA

Most of the coffee shops that I love are on the Westside of Los Angeles – Groundwork, Alfred’s, and Philz. 15 to 20 miles away, a taxing drive down the 405. While my neighborhood has plenty of Starbucks and Coffee Beans, I didn’t think there’d be any coffee shops around the corner that would excite, inspire, and calm me in the same way.

And then, I discovered House Roots Coffee, just a few miles away. I did not even need to leave the San Fernando Valley.

I first visited House Roots just hours before the New Year. My boyfriend and I sat in the corner on a wooden bench, cupping warm lattes in our hands, savoring those final moments of 2016. We enjoyed a murmured conversation in between sips, our drinks introducing deep, flavorful notes to our taste buds.

The shop was small and simple with bare walls except for the menu, crafted out of wooden panels. It had all of the essentials, nothing superfluous.

House Roots Coffee Sweet Latte
House Roots Coffee – Iced Sweet Latte
The baristas seemed to know everyone who walked through the door, greeting them like old friends. While many coffee shops have transformed into workspaces—laptops out, earbuds in—this cozy space served as a meeting place, a home base, a community center.

Before I drafted this blog post, I checked out their website, and I was blown away by their mission statement. Here’s the opening line:

“Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, we are a group of community members deeply passionate about people, coffee and the place we call home, our roots.”

They donate a portion of their profits to community programs, relief efforts, and overseas projects. Plus, they host live musical performances and art shows.

“House Roots Coffee is dedicated to these three core values: coffee, cause, and community.”

I’ve since returned, and I know I’ll be back soon. House Roots’ culture is unique and refreshing – not to mention, their coffee tastes incredible. If you ever find yourself in the Valley with a caffeine craving, stop by and join the community.

What I’ve Learned About Creativity + Fear

I am a writer.

I say this with confidence and certainty. Whether or not I am a good writer is up for debate—but I stand in my truth when I say that I am, in my mind and in my heart, a writer.

About a year has passed since I’ve completed a piece of fiction (or at least, a draft). This I say with shame and frustration. I have managed a few pages here, a sentence or two there. Just fragments.

Let me clarify. I have written: blog posts, letters, journal entries, product descriptions, marketing copy, technical documentation, and countless emails. While each style exercises my creativity and keeps me lithe, there’s something within me—a truth, a passion, an excitement— that these projects do not have access to in the same way that fiction does.

So, what’s stopping me? It’s not writer’s block, because that does not exist. I have plenty of ideas that I could run with.

Lately, I’ve been watching and listening to a lot of content by Marie Forleo (entrepreneur, writer, philanthropist, overall lady boss). On the way to work last week, I tuned into her interview with best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert. They focused on the vexed yet necessary relationship between fear and creativity.

In the midst of their discussion, Elizabeth laid out this big piece of TRUTH.

“People tell me about the projects that they want to be making and are not making […] When they come to me with their problems about creativity, […] I find that they always have some rational, reasonable, material real-world reason why they’re not doing it that they can lay out as an explanation. But when you scratch away at that, what’s there is always and only fear. […] Creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into a realm with an uncertain outcome, and fear hates that.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I fear rejection and criticism. I fear that my stories do not have enough value or meaning. I fear mediocrity. I fear that I will invest time and energy into a piece that will never get published.

The last one is major for me. Be it the desire for human connection or the need for validation, I get a thrill from sharing my work with others (once I gather the courage to do so). However, I’ve somehow convinced myself that sharing is equivalent to publishing, and that my platform must be public, whether that’s a blog or a paperback.

In another interview, Marie Forleo speaks with Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, who says:

“One of the early decisions I made was to not focus on getting published and to rather focus on my craft.” – Cheryl Strayed

Most of my fears hinge on what other people think of my writing, as well as what they will do with it. The pressure to publish does not help; in fact, it is paralyzing.

With the help of Elizabeth and Cheryl, I’ve realized that time spent on a story that I’ll never published is just as fruitful as time that I’d spend on a lit mag submission. Published words, though more visible, are not inherently more meaningful than the words that I scribble into my journal. Now is the time to reclaim my creativity and my passion and to redefine what gives my work value.

I’ll begin now by saying this:

My writing is important, because it is important to me.

A Sunday in Venice

James leaned into the counter and, over the buzzing and hissing of espresso machines and coffee shop chatter, said, “She’s going to get an iced Silken Soul Train, Philz Way.”

I would have never ordered such a sophisticated drink on my own–but this out-of-the-box coffee set the tone for the day. After nine post-grad months apart, James and I reunited for a Sunday of exploration and discovery on the west side. We began at Philz Coffee in sunny Santa Monica and then ventured to Abbot Kinney in Venice.

James and I had first met during our freshman year at a Halloween party, hosted by the creative writing club. We found ourselves in the same film and English classes quarter after quarter–and through Citizen Kane and Mrs. Dalloway, our friendship emerged. Four and a half years have passed, and he is still one of my dearest friends.

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We stopped by Erewhon, the damn prettiest grocery store that I’ve ever stepped foot in, before heading to The Butcher’s Daughter for lunch. “It’s straight out of Pinterest,” James told me. “You’ll love it.”

And I did. White brick, pale wood, and hanging plants…it was straight up mystical. We got a round of juices (tangy, acidic, fresh) to kick off the meal. I ate the Surfer’s Breakfast as we discussed our writing projects and budding careers–life after college.

Following lunch, we weaved our way around the CicLAvia Bike Festival to the Venice Canals, stopping by Pressed Juicery for vanilla froyo on the way. The conversation kept going, as it always does with James: effortless and genuine. I watched subtle ripples texture the marshy water that wrapped around the sidewalks and felt a glowing, warm energy at the realization that we were both happy and excited for the future.

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Calm. I felt calm. I was present, engaged, and content in those moments, as we strolled through the canals. Not panicked, stressed, or sleepless. Now that I am no longer a student, living and breathing deadlines and letter grades, I let myself enjoy the weekend. I allow myself to try out new coffee shops, take walks, and visit old friends.

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Before returning to the car and trekking back to the Valley, I stopped by Urbanic Paper Boutique to pick up a new journal, which I’ve been using to brainstorm ideas for this blog. I can’t wait to go on more adventures. Any recommendations? Tell me where I should go next in the comments below!

Should We Stop Using Exclamation Points at Work?

Dot your i’s and…cross out your exclamation points?

After clicking “send,” I reviewed my email one more time, line by line. One exclamation point…two… three? I cringed and exited out of the message before I could catch another. As I drafted the email, the exclamation points seemed necessary; without them, my sentences fell flat. I wanted to sound enthusiastic. Friendly, with a can-do attitude! But now, my words screamed with a spastic eagerness that embarrassed me.

I noted this tendency of mine to one of my mentors, who responded, “No more.” She promptly sent me a link to an article titled, “Why Men Don’t Use Exclamation Points (and Women Do).”

“Periods are the resting bitch face of punctuation,” the piece opens. The author, James S. Fell, continues, “No one gives a shit if a man is blunt and uses a simple period to end a sentence. But a woman must use exclamation points to express enthusiasm lest she be thought a bitch and get talked to by a supervisor about her ‘tone.’”

Upon reading this, I understood that my proclivity for exclamation points may stem from sexist double standards. Women are conditioned to appear friendly—we’re supposed to smile at strangers while prancing down the streets in a sun dress!—and that pressure filters into every character we type into a work email. However, even with that in mind, I wasn’t fully convinced that I needed to get rid of them.

Thus began my article hopping—from the Huffington Post to Business Insider—to see what other folks were saying about this. Some writers scold women (specifically) for their peppy punctuation, claiming that it undermines the authority of their voice. Satirists suggest that exclamation points have become necessary for basic politeness – a cultural shift that several critics lament. Others declare that “exclamation points are feminist as f**k.” Angelina Chapin asserts:

“Friendly emails are a sign of progress, not weakness, in our working lives. The many women who already use exclamation marks in business emails know you can both act like a feeling human on Gmail and have professional success.”

So, where do I stand in the midst of this debate?

I like to make other people feel valued and secure when they come in contact with me. That’s who I am. I should not have to intimidate others in order to gain their respect, nor should I have to mimic “traditionally masculine” language to establish my authority. However, I don’t have to overload my emails with exclamation points to show my compassion or agreeability, either. Words have power on their own, without the aid of a “!”

In the end, it’s all about moderation and context. While I sprinkle texts to my friends with festive punctuation like it’s parmesan cheese, I try to be especially mindful of my language in work correspondences. There’s a sweet spot in the middle that I’m working towards—a style and voice of leadership that is uniquely mine.

What’s Inspiring Me This Week

Some books, podcasts, places, and people feel like serotonin for the soul. Here are a few things that have been filling me with inspiration and happiness lately:

In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney


From the founder of Design*Sponge, In the Company of Women contains 359 glossy pages displaying stunning photography and textual portraits—all focused on awesome women who’ve built creative careers. You’ll want to pluck quotes from these interviews and read them to yourself every morning. It’s uplifting but raw, the kind of book that you want to have on your shelf at the ready, whenever you’re feeling a shred of doubt about your creative pursuits.

#GIRLBOSS Radio with Sophia Amoruso

Available for download anywhere apps are available

I listen to this podcast every morning on my way to work so that I walk into the office, ready to make my mark. Hosted by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and the author of #Girlboss, these episodes feature women who’ve bossed it up in their creative, cultural, and business ventures, from CEOs of major media companies to YouTube personalities. Sophia likes to say, “Don’t compare your hustle to their highlight reel” – and this podcast lives by that, giving these women a platform to tell their real stories, warts and all.

Spoken Word Poetry

I may not write or perform any of my own, but I am obsessed with spoken word. These artists view and experience the world in a very special way, with an awareness that many people do not take the time to cultivate. Each poem—from the sweet to the tumultuous— reminds me that life is itself a piece of art, both beautiful and ugly, that we must pay attention to.

Tell me: what’s been inspiring you lately? Any recommendations? Comment below!

The Coffee Diaries: Highlight Coffee

I love natural lighting—that happy, pure, bright glow.

The sun radiated through the large windows of Highlight Coffee, located on the corner of Broadway and South Glendale Avenue. Once I stepped inside, I was struck by the brightness, magnified by crisp white paint and pale wood furniture. I felt awake, and I hadn’t even taken a sip of their coffee yet.

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I’ve been to my fair share of (non-Starbucks) coffee shops, and I’ve gotten accustomed to pretentious baristas who high key judge me for not knowing what a Gibraltar is. As I approached the counter, I braced myself. But the baristas, nonchalant in their tone and movements, welcomed me with kind smiles.

A shop can have the cutest, most Instagram-worthy aesthetic, but if the baristas give me unwarranted attitude, that’s what I’ll remember most. These guys (whom I captured in latte-making action below) are integral to Highlight’s relaxed atmosphere.

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Creamy, fluffy, and topped with a darling floral design—that hint of espresso was just what I needed to jumpstart the day.

Coffeeshops always have a way of lifting my spirits. During chaotic and disheartening times like these, I cherish each and every thing that gives me joy. Like sipping a little cup of caffeine on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m grateful for these moments of peace and privilege, of simple happiness.

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The Coffee Diaries document my “coffeeventures” around Los Angeles and beyond. If you have any recommendations, please comment below! 

Thoughts On Healing



I woke up this morning and the world seemed a little darker.

Somehow, my feet touched the carpeted floor, and I was up and running, going forth with my day. But I wanted so badly to stay cocooned in my covers, head to the pillow—in Dreamland, where hate never wins.

There is so much at stake, more so for some folks than others. My heart aches for everyone who feels invisible, targeted, unsafe, or abandoned.  

I deliberately surround myself with people who embrace kindness, compassion, and justice. The aftermath of the election reminded me of this, as I read countless reflections via social channels, expressing not only sorrow, but a fervent determination to enact positive change. This helped. Connecting with my community has begun to restore my belief in the potential goodness of humankind.  

Now, I must discover more ways in which I can personally reconnect with hope and positivity in the midst of terror and uncertainty. I need to, to keep my dreamer spirit bright and alive. I need to, so that I may harness that energy to fight for what I believe in, each and every day.

I’m aware that I speak from a place of privilege. However, I refuse to succumb to fragility, guilt, and defensiveness; instead, I will focus on uplifting and supporting my friends who do not live with the same systemic advantages as I do.  

I’ve begun the healing process with writing, for it is my go-to for peace, clarity, and release. Writing keeps me engaged, breathing life back into my mind whenever I feel the urge to shut down. Each word that I put to the page reminds me that thought has power, and that expression is crucial.

Whether we march through the streets of downtown or paint or pen articles or simply talk to friends–

Expression is crucial.

On Being (“Too”) Sensitive

I am an emotional person.

I am romantic. I am sentimental. I am expressive.

I can cry at almost anything–from actual tragic films to sappy commercials. (Put twinkling piano music to a mother and her newborn, and I’m gone.) Though people like the lovely Mindy Kaling have made strong cases for the sci-fi quality of romantic comedies, a part of me still believes that love can be as sweet as Adam Sandler singing over an airplane loudspeaker to Drew Barrymore or as passionate as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet holding onto each other in the middle of the freezing ocean post-disaster.  


I save remnants of the past, like ticket stubs and letters, because throwing them away feels like erasing paragraphs of a memory. And I cannot resist the incessant urge to put the melodies of my heart strings into words. Why else would I be a writer, an artist, and a musician, if not to find some way to  articulate…all of this?

Thus, it is no surprise that some people regard me as sensitive.

Upon Googling “sensitive”–and please do excuse the cliché of providing literal dictionary definitions–I found two relevant meanings. The first (and the more preferable) is as follows:

(of a person or a person’s behavior) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.

Nice, right? I rather like that idea. The second, however…:

…easily offended or upset.


You see, I encounter the word “sensitive” in the form of the second definition far more often than the first. It arrives as an accusation, sour and salty.

“You’re too sensitive.”

Usually, people say this when I confess that something that they’ve said or done has hurt me. After hearing these three words again and again–you’re too sensitive–I’ve come to understand that to many people, transparent emotion equals excess. And when I think of excess, I think of overwhelming heaviness, unwanted pressure…These three words tell me that my emotions are a burden to others.

I cannot deny that there is such a thing as overreacting and that we all have to pick our battles. Sometimes, we really do express our emotions in an unhealthy way that may be harmful to others. I understand that we must build a somewhat tough skin to prevail through the rubbish that life throws our way. Regardless, I believe that it is problematic to shame someone for their emotional sensitivity.

Sociologists would probably say that I’m just a typical millennial in the age of trigger warnings and political correctness who needs to be “coddled.” But let’s take a closer look.

A: What you said really hurt me.

B: You’re just being too sensitive.

“You’re too sensitive” creates a boomerang effect. B transforms A’s feelings into a weapon, which they then shoot back: what you feel has nothing to do with me; there’s something wrong with you.

It’s a completely invalidating statement, as well as a transference of blame. I believe that people accuse others of being “too sensitive” to relinquish themselves of the immense responsibility that comes with hurting someone. We all like to think that we have good intentions, that we are doing the right thing. When we discover that we’ve taken a wrong turn at someone else’s expense…Well, that feels horrible. So we try to wipe our fingerprints off of their pain.

So, isn’t calling someone “too sensitive” also an emotional reaction?

Sensitive people are typically depicted as weaklings. The world, people say, is a cruel and scary place, and we must not take it so personally. But if we insist that insensitivity and disaffection are normal and inevitable, the world will always be a cruel and scary place, because the thought of being numb to pain, happiness, and everything in between, is indeed terrifying.

I’ve never been ashamed of being an emotional person. Yes, I feel deeply; and to me, that is a gift.  That energy rising, falling, simmering, and glowing within my chest reminds me that I am here, participating and reacting to everything around me–present. Alive.

Here’s What I’ve Learned About #Adulting (So Far)

After a month of floundering in the LinkedIn vortex, slaving over cover letters, and waiting for answers, I landed my first post-grad, real-world job as a copywriter for an online medical superstore.

Ah yes, to all of the skeptics out there who questioned my employability as an English major: I did it. 

Before I received this offer, I thought that I was “behind.” But as I walked into the office building’s gold-plated elevator on my first day, I realized how quickly it all happened. Childhood. Adolescence. College. My parents were right: life really does flash by. There’s no need to rush through it.

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From the kitchen at work. I’m happy to say that there are TWO coffee machines.
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On my second day at work, I went to a staff barbeque, at which the Vice President of the company made us burgers and hot dogs. I’m so pleased to say that the company I work for has a friendly, positive culture.

I’d say that I’m still getting acquainted with post-grad adulthood. There’s some things that will never feel right, like waking up at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. And I’m still figuring out how to contribute to social conversations with co-workers that mostly revolve around children. (Their children. Because they have children and spouses, being the procreating grown-ass adults that they are.) Admittedly, the eight-hour days that I spend in my cubicle writing product descriptions for scrub sets (allegedly, “fashionable and functional” must-haves) are not as romantic, adventurous, and creative as I’d like them to be.

However, there’s another #adulting concept that I’m beginning to recognize:

I am in the driver’s seat.

One, literally, because I’m driving [a car] now, a terrifying but liberating experience in itself. But also figuratively. It’s up to me where I take my life next–and it’s also up to me how I approach the situation that I am currently in.

Recently, I read #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and overall badass. Here’s a little quote that particularly resonated with me:

“Anything you do can be creative.” – Sophia Amoruso

Sure, writing ad copy and product descriptions are not the same as writing a short story, but who said that these processes can’t be creative? As a copywriter, I generate the words that draw potential customers to a piece of merchandise or to a sale. I must spark their interest and connect with them–and that requires creativity. If I tell myself that my job is dry, it will be dry. On the other hand, if I decide to take it as a creative challenge, then that’s exactly what it will be.

Here’s another #adulting concept that I’ve embraced:

Achieving [personal, self-defined] success is a step-by-step process.

Dreams don’t come true overnight–not for most of us, at least. Sophia Amoruso’s $280+ million company, Nasty Gal, began as an eBay store. Perhaps this job is my eBay store: the embryo of my career, one that will develop and flourish. I’m laying down the foundation, cultivating a skill set (and savings!) that will allow me to bring my goals into fruition.


I should celebrate my successes. All of them.

Throughout the month that I applied for jobs after graduation, I floated around in a constant state of searching and waiting. I had just graduated from an esteemed university with Latin and departmental honors–but I diminished that significant achievement by focusing all of my attention on the fact that I did not have a job. And then I got a job. Instead of reveling in that triumph, I thought, where will I go from here? 

I’ve decided to give myself more credit. Before looking ahead–because looking ahead is still important–I will allow myself to bask in the present moment. I will pat myself on the back and say, look at what you’ve accomplished. You did that. As I said earlier: life really is flashing by. I don’t want to miss a second of it.

#SelfLove Series: The Language of Confidence

I’m going to begin with a  Mean Girls reference.

Remember when Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) stands in front of the school’s population of young women in the gym and demands, “you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores”?


Mean Girls is a goldmine of fantastic points, but this one is particularly valuable to me, because it speaks to a major facet of self-love and confidence.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You get out what you put in.” So when you tell everyone that you “have no chance at getting the job” or that you’re “ugly” or that you’re “not good enough”–eventually, with enough repetition, they might start to believe it.

Or worse–you might start to believe it.

Too often, I’ve used self-deprecation to fish for compliments, for reassurance. I turn to my boyfriend, poke at bits of post-dinner pudge around my waist, and wait for him to tell me that I am beautiful. I whine to my friends that I’ll never get a job until they tell me that I will, in fact, get a job. But this sort of tactic makes me reliant on other people to determine who I am. It also–and Ms. Norbury would agree–gives license to these people to treat me as badly as I treat myself.

I’ve come to realize that the language that we use to describe ourselves and to speak to ourselves not only reflects our self-image, but shapes it.

We must not underestimate the power of our own words. I mean, have you ever read The Little Engine That Could? “I think I can; I think I can” took that train all the way up the darn hill. If we took that kind of initiative to be our own cheerleaders, who knows how far we could go?

via // Slightly creepy cinematic rendition of The Little Engine That Could. 


One of the things that I’ve learned while applying to jobs is that, in life, we must advocate for ourselves. Sometimes, we must speak up on our own behalf and make a case for why we are even “worth” other people’s time and energy. We must persuade people of our uniqueness and our strengths.  Other times, we must speak up for what we think is right, just, or else we’re just waiting for other people to change the world for us.

Though self-deprecation might get us a forced compliment here and there, and though complacency might feel safer, we can’t always depend on others to do the gritty work for us–to fuel our confidence, to motivate us, to make our decisions, or to transform our visions into realities.

Why should we wait for other people to give us the green light and tell us that we’re beautiful? Why should we wait for other people to tell us that we’re smart, talented, and promising? Sure, it’s much easier–it’s so much easier to go out into the world when we have people cheering for us on the sidelines. And yes, it’s beyond difficult to maintain this love for ourselves when mass media and mass ideologies tell us that we shouldn’t. But we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t believe in ourselves and our voices enough to take that first step. We have to give ourselves the green light; we must tell ourselves that we can, we will, and we are. By doing that, we can [re]claim the power that we’ve surrendered to others–be it the ubiquitous “media” or our family and friends–to decide who we are and who we want to be.

As with all things “confidence,” this is all much easier in theory than it is in practice. However, if our thoughts and beliefs are the foundation of our actions, then theory is a good place to start. So is language.

Now, I turn this to you. Think of five positive words that you’d use to describe yourself. Then, put them in a sentence–rather, a statement–that asserts who you are. This is mine:

JoAnna 1

This is my mantra. This is my truth.

My identity, my say.