5 things my brother has taught me {happy birthday, greg!!}

My little brother turns 25 today!!

me and gb kids

I got home yesterday afternoon, and I am so happy I get to be home to celebrate with my fam :) Last night, we had Gramps over for dinner and it was a lovely evening all around. Tonight we are going out for dinner at a restaurant {Greg’s choice!} and I just made a batch of peanut butter cup brownies for dessert.

greg and gramps

Even though he is younger than I am, my brother has always been my role model for living a fulfilling, fun, meaningful, and extraordinary life, rich with the things that truly matter. He is so giving, loving, wise, compassionate, and hilarious. He is my best friend. What a blessing it is to be his sister!

me and gb

My very first memory is the morning he was born 25 years ago today, when I was two and a half. I remember telling my mom, “Call Daddy! Call Daddy!” because my dad was at work and my mom wasn’t feeling very well. {Um, Ma, you were in labor! Haha.} Greg was born a couple weeks early so his birth came as a bit of a surprise. My family jokes that if my mom hadn’t called my dad to come home from work and take her to the hospital, I would have ended up delivering my brother in our living room — he was born that quickly!

Anyway, it makes perfect sense to me that my first memory is the morning Greg was born… because before then, I was just waiting for my best friend to come into the world <3

me and greg summer

In honor of the amazing impact my brother has had on my life, and on countless other lives, during his quarter-century on this Earth so far, I present to you…

5 things my brother has taught me:

1. Hard work is its own reward; savor the process. Greg is an incredibly hard worker. Just one example: he made it onto the USC track team as a walk-on, and impressed everyone so much with his diligent work ethic and enthusiasm day in, day out, that he ended up being Team Captain his senior year, and an Assistant Coach the year after he graduated. He would be the first to tell you that he was far from the most naturally talented runner on the team. His consistent hard work was what made him a strong runner.

Trojan_Invite_2011

But even more than his amazing work ethic, Greg inspires me by the joy he gets not from results, but from the process of working hard on something that matters to you. When I was sloughing through the muddy middle of my novel, he wrote me this in an email:

Creativity — and all of life — sometimes is like a fallow field that looks like things are slow on the surface, but in reality all that effort is building up richly for next big explosion of energy that everyone else sees and that you’ve known is a continuation of all the consistent hard work and dedication you pour into your craft every day. Keep taking it one step at a time and don’t let any sense of rush or worry take away from the excitement of all the progress you are making on these great gifts that you have already done such work creating to this point.

2. Seize life’s adventures fearlessly. I can be a fearful person, a worrier, a homebody. Greg inspires me to move past my tendency to fret or worry, and to cultivate my sense of adventure. He makes me think of the phrase carpe diem {“Seize the day!”} or of Thoreau’s advice to “suck the marrow out of life.” He has traveled to Mali and Ghana in Africa; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Vietnam; China; Europe; and numerous cities across the U.S. — and he brings back once-in-a-lifetime stories from all his travels. I want to travel with him to Africa one day!

greg camel

3. Find joy in little moments, every day. Greg is a goofball. He makes me laugh all the time. He is the type of person who seeks out joy and creates joy, in little moments, every single day — whether that means having an impromptu dance party, or telling a funny story, or wearing a silly outfit to a football tailgate, or simply taking the time to notice and appreciate a beautiful sunset.

greg dancing julie's wedding

Greg dancing at my cousin Julie’s wedding.

4. Invest in relationships and experiences, not material things. Greg has such a wide network of friends; he is always reaching out and connecting with people. He is a great listener. He always builds people up. We talk on the phone pretty much every night, and no matter how busy he is with schoolwork or final exams, he always makes time to talk to me. He lets the people in his life know that they are important to him.

me and greg little

5. The best gifts are those you give to others. Greg is selfless, always thinking of others ahead of himself — and he has shown me that the act of giving is a beautiful gift you can give yourself. In high school he started a nonprofit organization called Give Running that has donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to disadvantaged youth around the globe. He is passionate about The Girl Effect, blogging frequently about it for the Huffington Post. For Christmas this year, he made a donation to Embrace, an organization that helps serve “preemie” babies in third-world countries, in my honor. He is so thoughtful, kind, and authentically generous. He makes me want to be a better person. He inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself.

greg with chief

Happy birthday, Gregburn! You may be taller than I am, but you will always be my little brother. I love you unconditionally!

me and gb at deck

fabulous friday #43

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you’re having a great morning! I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time believing it is already Friday… not to mention already December 19th! Tomorrow is the lovely Dana‘s birthday, and then on Sunday I’m heading home to So.Cal to spend the holidays with my fam! And on Monday, my amazing brother Greg turns the big 2-5! Birthdays galore around here, I love it.

I’m super excited for all the joy and festivities and family and friend time this upcoming week brings! In the meantime…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Christmastime in San Francisco. Allyn and I went into the city for a date night, and it was absolutely magical. Union Square is lit-up so beautifully and we were lucky enough to score a table at Burger Bar that had a terrific view. After dinner we rode the glass elevators at the Westin St. Francis Hotel up to the 29th floor to look out at the entire city. Then we got hot chocolate to-go from a restaurant that was closing up. {The man was kind enough to give us the hot chocolate free of charge because he said he was just going to throw it away otherwise! How nice is that??} We sipped our hot chocolates as we held hands and watched the ice-skaters and listened to the holiday music. It was perfection.

union square

me and al xmas

westin xmas tree

union square xmas tree

2. Celebrity doppelgangers. I am fascinated by this! Perhaps because I’ve always had a hard time figuring out who my look-alike is. The person I’ve been told most often is Claire Danes, which I consider a huge compliment because I think she is wonderful. What do you think, do you see a resemblance? Could I be her much-less-glamorous kid sister?

me claire danes

I got onto this topic because when Allyn and I were watching the ice-skaters in Union Square, a woman said out of the blue that Allyn looked like a celebrity to her, but she couldn’t place who. I suggested Kevin Bacon, but she said it was someone else.

al and kevin bacon

We left before she figured it out, so I guess it will always remain a mystery!

3. My Grandpap’s choir Christmas performance last night. They work so hard practicing for months leading up to the holidays, and it shows! They go all out with costumes and presentation, and the cheerful holiday music always brings a smile to my face. Plus, I love watching my Grandpap when he sings — he always lights up with joy! It was fun that Allyn could make it, too.

grandpap choir concert.jpg

4. This quote from Heather Waxman {especially apppropriate and meaningful during this time of year!}

“Healthy boundaries aren’t about building walls around yourself. They’re about building doorways of love around your energy field. Boundaries are not meant to separate you from other people. They’re meant to build doorways for you to attract the right people into your life.”

5. Tonight Allyn and I are going to see a local production of A Christmas Carol. It is one of my favorite stories. Though I have read the book and have seen a number of movie versions {including the classic Disney cartoon version!} I have never seen a dramatic performance of A Christmas Carol, so I am really excited :)

Have a terrific weekend, friends! And don’t forget to…

leave sparkle

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Who is your celebrity doppelganger?

pumpkin spice apple crisp

So last week, I made this pumpkin spice apple crisp.

I made it because I had three mushy apples and a jar of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter to use up.

pumpkin butter

And oh my goodness… I’m so grateful for those mushy apples. Because this dessert is AMAZING!

This pumpkin spice apple crisp would be perfect to bring to a holiday gathering. It is a delightful combination of apples and pumpkin, two flavors that are bursting with holiday joy.

This crisp tastes like apple pie, only it is loads simpler to make! All you need are four ingredients {well, five, if you top your slice with whipped cream, which you certainly should!} And you don’t need to tell anyone, but for a dessert it’s even relatively healthy, thanks to all those apples and a relatively small amount of butter and sugar.

pumpkin spice apple crisp

{adapted slightly from this recipe}

- 3 large apples {I used fuji and jazz because that’s what we had going mushy in our fridge}
– 3/4 cup pumpkin butter
– 8 oz pumpkin quick bread mix {most packages are double this amount, so I used half of the mix for the crisp and then made pumpkin muffins with the remaining half of the mix… another alternative would be doubling this recipe and using the whole package of pumpkin bread mix}
– 3 tbsp butter
– whipped cream for serving {optional}

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Peel, core, and dice your apples and put into a bowl.

apples diced

3. Toss apple pieces with the pumpkin butter until they are coated. Pour into a shallow class dish or pie pan.

pumpkin butter apples

4. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with your hands into the pumpkin bread mix until well-combined. This should create a crumbly topping. {Note: your fingers will be messy!}

5. Pour the topping over the apple mixture and spread it into an even layer.

topping prebake

6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is golden brown and your house smells aaaamazing.

pumpkin spice apple crisp

7. Enjoy warm with whipped cream on top… or pumpkin ice cream! Yum, just thought of that, it would be delicious. Now I need to make this again so I can eat it with pumpkin ice cream :)

apple crisp slice

My Grandpap, an extreme lover of apple pie, told me that this was one of the best apple desserts he has ever eaten! We certainly gobbled this up in our household. Hope you do, too!

if you liked this recipe, you might also enjoy:
incredibly easy pumpkin spice cookies
apple cake with crumb topping and brown sugar glaze
gluten-free apple pie bites
chocolate pumpkin spice kiss cookies
pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting

a year of Wooden: week 45

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. Last week’s challenge was to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. The thing I disliked most about my daily schedule was realizing that I try to multi-task too much! A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable.

This week, I made a few small, simple changes. First, I went through my inbox and ruthlessly unsubscribed to mailers. I realized there were a lot of messages I’d get week after week and just delete them, or not have time to read them, so I took the time to go through and unsubscribe. My inbox immediately felt more manageable.

The second thing I did was try to change how I tackle email. I am a big procrastinator when it comes to my inbox. I’ll receive an email, open it to read it, but then put off replying. So the email sits there, sits there, sits there, with me maybe reading and it and putting it off once or twice more in that span of time, before I finally open it yet again and reply {while feeling bad that it took me that long to reply.} I know, as I type it all out here, it seems like an insanely inefficient system — I don’t really have an answer for WHY I would put off answering emails in this way, other than I didn’t always feel like answering them and it was always easier to just put it off “till later.”

The simple change I am doing now is this: I read an email, and reply to it right then, if at all possible. Occasionally I will need to wait to reply because I will need to do something or research something or write something in order to reply, but I am finding that 80% of the time I can reply right away. Then the email is gone from my inbox, takes up no more of my brain space, and suddenly checking email becomes way more efficient!

workstation

On a related note, I stopped having my email open constantly and instead try to check it only at certain points of the day. In this way, I am trying to turn email into a specific “task” I complete, rather than a constant drain on my time and attention.

I’m not saying my email habits have suddenly morphed into perfect stress-free productiveness, but I have noticed a definite change in the past week with these simple changes.

If any of you have tips on managing email effectively, I would love to hear them!

This week’s challenge is to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. For some people, happiness might be associated with feeling strong and capable. Others might associate it with feeling needed. Others might associate it with feeling connected to other people. Brainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

We’ll build on this in next week’s challenge!

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • What small change{s} did you make? What was the effect of these changes?

goals + recipes for the week of 12/14

Hi there, everyone! As soon as I hit “publish” on this blog post, I’m heading off to church bright and early… I’m Worship Associate today, so I have lots of little duties to perform to get ready for the first service at 9:30. Today the children’s choir is performing a special concert as part of the service, which I am very excited about! The kids are way too cute :)

It’s been a good weekend so far. Yesterday I taught my rambunctious group of kiddos; it was our final class! I’ll be starting up again with a new class in January, and I hope that some of them will come back and sign up for the new quarter. We shall see!

Allyn is in the midst of his final residency for the semester — he’s such a champ, powering through the long days with a smile on his face — and tonight his school is having a dance party in San Francisco. I went to the one held at the end of last semester and it was super fun! I’m looking forward to going tonight and celebrating the end of the semester. My sweetheart has worked incredibly hard the past four months and I’m really proud of him.

On the topic of working hard… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from the past couple weeks: 
write a new chapter of my memoir
finish holiday cards
– finish student evaluations
finish reading short story collection
– go to two yoga classes
connect with two friends
Woo hoo! It was a successful week around here! :)

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write a new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
– compile tutoring worksheets
– finish reading three New Yorkers from my stash
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
chocolate pb chip oat bars {vegan + gf} via the real-life rd
peppermint pattie brownies via Two Peas and Their Pod
chocolate-dipped toffee shortbread via Two Peas and Their Pod
green salad w/apples, cranberries & pepitas via Cookie + Kate
gingerbread muffins via The Pajama Chef
– my own white chocolate m&m pretzels

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

fabulous friday #42

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re having a good one!

It’s a typical Friday for me… this morning I headed to one of my fave yoga classes, now I’m getting some work done on the computer, and later this afternoon I’m tutoring a few great kiddos.

We have been getting LOTS of rain here the past couple days… they say it’s one of the biggest storms we’ve had here in five years! Fortunately we are all safe and sound here. If it’s stormy and bad-weathered where you are, please be safe!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. The Lucy Hale song “Mistletoe.” It’s been bopping around in my head off and on since I heard her sing it on the “CMA Country Christmas” TV program, and this week I finally went and ordered it on iTunes. Love it!

2. This interesting and thorough article Allyn sent me with tips for staying calm and managing stress {especially useful in this often-stressful holiday season}: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140805002649-50578967-how-successful-people-stay-calm

3. Speaking of the holidays, here are two socially impactful, beautiful gift ideas if you are doing some holiday shopping:

4. I’ve been craving veggies — carrots, celery, bell peppers, kale — even more than usual lately. For example: last night, I sliced up half a bell pepper as part of my dinner, and ended up going back to the fridge and polishing off the rest of the pepper later that night as a snack! I’ve never craved bell pepper before, but there you have it! I believe our bodies tell us what they need, so I’ve been riding the veg-tastic train all week. This is an interesting NPR article about how what you eat affects your mood: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/14/329529110/food-mood-connection-how-you-eat-can-amp-up-or-tamp-down-stress?

5. This quinoa veggie salad from Costco. Tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, lentils, beans, quinoa — healthy, light and filling. It’s made a great quick lunch on a couple days this week when time got away from me and I was a little rushed to get out the door.

quinoa salad

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I’m gonna leave you with this beautiful John Gardner quote my brother sent me:

greg quote

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

my perfectly decorated apartment

Last week, Kellyn from Urban Compass reached out to me asking if I would do a “Starter Stories” blog post about my first apartment. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, so I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote about the first apartment I lived in all by myself, when I moved from California to Indiana to attend graduate school.

This essay was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home and also appeared in the online literary magazine Faith, Hope & Fiction.

apartment front door

My Perfectly Decorated Apartment

“It’s perfect!” I told the landlord. “When can I sign the lease?”

It was a chilly April afternoon in the small college town of West Lafayette, Indiana. I had just been accepted to graduate school at Purdue University and, after three whirlwind days of sitting in on classes and meeting professors, I had decided that this was the program for me. West Lafayette would be my new home for the next three years. I was nervous, but also very excited.

Before catching my flight back to my California hometown, I drove around looking at apartments. The second place I visited was part of an old Victorian-style house that had been sectioned off into four separate apartments. As I drove through the shady tree-lined neighborhood, the stress and frantic pace of the last three days ebbed away into a calm tranquility. Yes, I thought. This feels right.

front porch

The apartment was charming. Bay windows, hardwood floors, a wide front porch. It was the ground floor unit, which meant the front door was the original front door of the house. How neat it would be, I thought, to walk through that beautiful front door every day! And the porch would be the perfect place to write or do homework when the weather is nice.

I signed the lease right then and there.

The rest of that spring into summer, whenever I felt nervous about packing up my life and moving halfway across the country, I would think of that apartment. I’d never had my very own place before, and it felt like a milestone on the path to adulthood. In college I’d not only shared an apartment with three other girls, I’d even shared a bedroom with a roommate because living costs were so expensive. Now, I’d finally have a place of my own that I could decorate however I wanted. I explored websites and daydreamed about curtains and dishes, rugs and duvets.

Moving day came. I crammed my car with clothing and books and drove for five days along Interstate 70, from the Southern California beaches into the heart of the Indiana cornfields. I walked up the stairs onto my new front porch, unlocked the giant glass-paned front door, and strolled around the empty rooms with a huge smile on my face. It was all mine! I was officially a grown-up, living on my own!

kitchen

I immediately threw myself into turning my empty apartment into a home. I scoured Craigslist, wandered the aisles of flea markets and used furniture shops, and dipped into my savings account to buy kitchen supplies and dishes. I was a giddy, energetic decorating fiend.

Before long my apartment looked like the apartment I had been dreaming about for months. Red accent pillows on the couch matched the red cushions on the kitchen chairs. Sunlight shone through the gauzy white curtains, warming up the rooms. Prints of my favorite Impressionist paintings hung on the walls. The bookshelves were filled with books I loved and photographs of my friends and family. I looked around and was filled with contentment. Yes, I thought. This is perfect.

photos

Except … something felt a little off. I had carefully decorated and cozied-up my apartment, but somehow it still didn’t feel like home. I would come back from class and sit on my comfortable couch, the pillows perfectly fluffed, the coffeetable free of dirty dishes, the TV remote exactly where I had left it—and loneliness would ebb through me in gigantic crashing waves. All my closest friends and family were thousands of miles away, and I ached with homesickness for them.

I tried to fill the emptiness with more decorating: a pretty embroidered tablecloth for the kitchen table, a bright rug for the bathroom, a congregation of houseplants under the Bay windows. But nothing quite worked. My apartment still didn’t feel like a real home to me.

bedroom

One evening in mid-October I was eating dinner alone at my kitchen table, feeling nostalgic as usual. How nice it was back then, I thought. Coming home to a lively apartment with three roommates. My new apartment was too small for more than one person. Maybe my mistake had been thinking I could live alone? I started thinking about the parties my roommates and I hosted in college, celebrating a holiday or someone’s birthday. Those were my favorite memories from that time in my life: all of my closest friends together in one place, laughing and telling stories and sharing food.

Suddenly, I had an idea: what if I threw a party here, in my new apartment?

living room

I sent out invitations for an autumn potluck to everyone in my program and spent the entire day before the party cleaning my already-clean apartment from top to bottom. I bought autumn-themed paper bowls and napkins and made two big pots of chili. I arranged pumpkin centerpieces for the kitchen table and coffee table. Everything looked perfect. But I was nervous. What if it was a disaster?

In some ways, maybe it was a disaster. Wine spilled on one of my new rugs and left a small stain. Someone dropped one of my new plates and it chipped. Dirt was tracked in on the floors, the pillows on my couch were smooshed, and my new embroidered tablecloth was littered with crumbs. It took days for me to find the TV remote, which someone had unaccountably placed on the very top bookshelf. When the party wound down to a close and the last guests had traipsed out the door into the night, my apartment was a total mess.

And I could not have been happier.

me in apartment

I used to believe that filling an empty apartment meant buying furniture and decorating the walls. But I learned that what really makes a place into a home is welcoming others inside it with you.

That night, my new apartment was filled with people and food and joy. The walls soaked up their stories and laughter so that even when they left and I was by myself again, I didn’t feel alone. I drifted to sleep with a smile on my face.

purdue friends

For the first time since I had moved in, I felt like I was home.

a year of Wooden: week 44

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. In that spirit, last week’s challenge was to keep an activity log for one or two or three days about how you spend your time — every minute of it! The goal of this was to create an honest assessment of how you spend your days — which is, in turn, how you spend your life.

The past few months, I’ve already started making a conscious schedule choice to get up around the same time most mornings and go to bed around the same time most nights. That has helped a lot with my daily routine, feeling refreshed, and waking up naturally without needing an alarm. I also do not “waste” time watching TV or surfing the Internet; I watch a handful of TV shows very intentionally and do little-to-no online shopping. So those were the “gold stars” of my schedule! :)

However, looking at my detailed daily run-down, I saw there in very clear letters something that I already knew about myself, but didn’t really want to face — I try to multi-task too much! Anyone else have this problem? I know productivity experts warn against multitasking, but for some reason I still chase that “busy busy busy” feeling. And what happens? I’m rushed and burned out and empty, feeling like I’ve gotten nothing done all day. A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable. Something needs to change!

Atos - Zero Email - Zen and Stress

This week’s challenge is to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. Maybe you feel rushed every morning getting ready for work, and a simple change of waking up ten minutes earlier or not hitting snooze will change the pace of your mornings entirely. Or perhaps you’re always saying you want to read more, but you tend to spend evenings watching TV just because it’s on — that could change if this week, you make a conscious choice to turn off the TV and read in bed for half an hour before falling asleep each night.

I’m eager to hear how this week goes for you! And remember, this isn’t about overhauling your entire schedule in one week. We’re all about the small, little-by-little, day-by-day changes here. Pick one small thing to change, do it every day, and see how you like it. We’ll check in again next week!  

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • How might you make a small change to create a different effect?

goals for the week of 12/7

Hi there, friends! Hope you’ve had a wonderful weekend! Mine has been very busy, but a good kind of busy. Friday night I got together with Dana for dinner at a delicious Korean restaurant called Mixed Grain.

Mixed Grains

We sat there eating, talking and laughing for close to three hours and ended up closing the place down! One bonus of staying so long was that the waitress came over and asked if we wanted free cupcakes {I think they would have gone to waste otherwise…} We of course said yes and they were absolutely delicious! Not to mention beautiful — check out this delicate rose made out of buttercream frosting:

rose cupcake

Yesterday morning, I had a long catch-up phone call with my friend Janet before I ran off to teach my four back-to-back classes of kiddos! After a couple weeks away due to the holiday, they were more energy-filled than ever. Some of them said they missed me, which was quite sweet. I missed them too, but I was also more than happy to collapse on my couch last night and relax while catching up on two of my favorite shows, Nashville & The Newsroom!

This morning, I was up bright and early to tutor a couple kiddos, and then I headed over to church, where I took part in the holiday crafts faire held from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. I sold and autographed copies of my books and everyone was very supportive, encouraging and enthusiastic. It made my heart so happy. I feel very grateful to be part of such a warm and welcoming congregation. I must admit, I was a little worried that it would seem like a long day {being from 10-3!} but the time flew by thanks to lots of delightful conversations and visiting with people.

After church I drove to my sweetheart’s apartment where we are now getting ready to make some veggie pasta for dinner. But before I go… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from the past couple weeks: 
– write a new chapter of my memoir {this totally fell by the wayside this week}
– finish holiday cards {almost done!}
– finish student evaluations {started, not finished}
publicize my Winter Writing Camp {it’s halfway filled already!}
– go to two yoga classes {I made it to three!}
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write a new chapter of my memoir
– finish holiday cards
– finish student evaluations
– finish reading short story collection
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

fabulous friday #41

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve done a fabulous friday post… feels good to be back into more of a regular blogging schedule, after the Thanksgiving craziness! :)

My day so far has been a great one… restorative morning yoga class, pumpkin spice chai latte at Starbucks, phone chat with my brother, a few errands checked off my list {including the Post Office, which was much less crowded than I was anticipating! Don’t you love when that happens?} This afternoon I have a couple tutoring appointments, and then tonight I’m getting together with my beautiful-inside-and-out friend Dana for dinner. I haven’t seen her in a month and I’m so excited to catch up!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Raaaaaaain! We have finally been getting some rain here in California, and it is so wonderful!

rainy days

We’re singing and dancing like Gene Kelly around here :) I love drizzly winter days when it feels so cozy to be snuggled up inside, sipping a mug of tea while cookies bake in the oven… which leads me to…

2. I made a holiday version of my pumpkin-spice chocolate kiss cookies! I used the same chocolate cake-mix cookie base, and then instead of a pumpkin spice Hershey’s kiss I topped them each with a candy-cane Hershey’s kiss. The classic peppermint + chocolate combo is a winner, plus they look so darn cute!

peppermint kiss cookies

3. While we’re on the subject of holiday treats, I picked up this black-and-white drizzle kettle corn as an impulse buy at Safeway, and it’s become my go-to dessert. For fellow sweet-and-salty lovers and chocoholics out there, this is right up your alley! I love that it’s made with non-GMO corn and has no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives; no high-fructose corn syrup; and zero cholesterol or trans fats. The grocery checker told me there is also a peanut butter & chocolate version that I am going to keep my eye out for.

holiday kettle corn

drizzle kettle corn

4. This quote from Whitney at sometimes.always.never reflecting on the past year — I feel very similar to the way 2014 unfolded for me:

“It was a year of small, beautiful changes that probably don’t look like a ton to an outsider, but that meant a lot to me. It was a year of personal growth and risks, reflection and change. It was a year of countless little moments that added up to a whole year that turned out to be really beautiful.”

5. I brought back the chocolate advent calendar this year! Greg and I used to get these every year as kids and I have such fond memories of opening them together each morning before school. A couple weeks ago, I spotted chocolate advent calendars when I was at Trader Joe’s, and I grabbed one. {Actually, two — I got one for Allyn, too!}

advent calendar

It brings a smile to my face every morning to see what shape of Christmas chocolate I will get that day. Sometimes it’s the little things, right?

And that’s all for now. Have a delightful weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Do you get a chocolate advent calendar?