news! + year of virtues, month two

Hi friends! Wow, 2016 has been off to quite a whirlwind start in my neck of the woods.

In January, I…

… moved to a new apartment with my sweetie that, looking back at January’s focus from Ben Franklin’s List of Virtues, is pretty much successfully put into order. {We put together our bookshelf this past Sunday and our new couch was delivered yesterday!} It is looking much more homey and moved-in around here. I hope to share photos with you soon giving a tour of our new place, but in the meantime here are a couple snapshots of our kitchen!

new kitchen

new kitchen 2

Author Gretchen Rubin {who hosts my favorite podcast, Happier, with her sister Elizabeth Craft} says that “outer order contributes to inner calm.” After spending January focused on getting my surroundings into order, I have to say that I do feel much calmer in all aspects of my life. I have noticed that I am better about being on time to various appointments. I have no trouble getting up early and, most often, my dominant feeling upon waking up is excitement to jump into my day. I no longer waste time looking for things. I no longer feel “scattered” because my things are scattered all around. There is a distinct pleasure, I have learned, in putting an object back in its place. Marie Kondo writes about this feeling beautifully in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As human beings we cannot control everything — we like to think we are in control, but life likes to remind us that indeed we are not — but we can at least control our surroundings. Perhaps that is why outer order contributes to inner calm: it helps us feel in control of at least some things. I know that when I begin the day with a clean kitchen and a clutter-free living room, I feel much more equipped to tackle my writing projects.

Also in January, I…

… cut 8+ inches off my hair. And I absolutely love my new hairstyle. I feel so much lighter and freer!

My dad wrote a column weaving together my haircut with some other beautiful stories. You can read it here. {Warning: have tissues handy!}

Hair after

The biggest & best thing that happened in January?

… my sweetheart popped the question, and I said YES! Easiest question I’ve ever been asked. I am so thrilled to spend my life with this amazing man who makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me feel so loved every day.

Al and I engaged

I’ll share our full proposal story with you guys later this week! :)

In February {what remains of February… how is it already the 10th??} I am going to focus on Franklin’s virtue of MODERATION. In the early stages of planning a wedding, this seems like an especially appropriate virtue to keep in mind. We want our wedding to be special and fun, but we also want to keep things in perspective: it is one day out of our lives. As a wedding blog I read put it: think of your wedding reception as a six-hour-long party. My sweetie and I have decided that we don’t want to break the bank for a party that will be over in the blink of an eye. Instead, we want to focus on what a wedding truly means: committing to spending your life joined with another person. That is where the real joy and excitement lies!

And, yes, planning a great big party to celebrate is fun… in moderation!

Questions for the morning:

  • What in your life do you wish to “get in order”?
  • Do you agree that “outer order contributes to inner calm”?
  • Any tips for planning a wedding? I’d love to hear them!!

donating my hair

Last Tuesday, I cut off 8+ inches of my hair.

I’ve been planning this for a while. I’ve wanted to donate my hair for a long time, but I would always chicken out, worried it would look bad. I’m a pretty low-risk, low-maintenance gal: my hair has pretty much always been medium-length. I usually let it air dry. I’ve never dyed it. My dad actually is the one who usually cuts my hair, just giving it a trim every six months or so when it begins to look split-end-y. So the idea of growing out my hair and then chopping most of it off — well {this sounds a little silly as I type it out now} but if I’m being honest, it felt SCARY to me.

Before this, the last haircut I got was in early January 2015. My dad gave me a little trim while I was home during the holidays, and then I headed off to Nashville to visit my girl Holly.

me and hol sunshine

Then I flew back to the Bay Area. And then, less than a week later, Celine passed away.

The first time I ever met Celine, she had super-short hair. We had both just moved into the dorms and she brought over popsicles to my room. I remember she was wearing a chic beret and had these dangly earrings, and I thought, This girl is waaaay too cool to want to be my friend! But, to my unending gratitude, she did want to be my friend. And I later learned that the reason her hair was so short was that she had donated it to Locks of Love.

Celebrating your 21st birthday... what a fun night that was!

When she died, I knew that I wanted to live my life more richly and deeply and bravely than ever before, in tribute to her. She was one of the most life-giving, affirming, energetic and brave people I have ever met. And one of the ways I immediately knew that I would be brave is that I would finally donate my hair to help those in need. I would finally live out my values and my heart-desires by not listening to those fearful inner voices worrying that “my hair might look bad short.” I would grow out my hair all year long, and on the anniversary of Celine’s death, I would chop off my “grief hair” in honor of my dear friend.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Hair after

I scheduled an appointment at a local salon that had great Yelp reviews, the Bobbie Freitas Salon. I made an appointment for mid-morning and then scheduled lunch with my dear friend Dana afterwards. {I knew she would tell me it looked GREAT no matter how the haircut turned out!} I was a little nervous leading up to the big day. I even had a couple anxiety dreams about it! But when the day came, I felt excited and ready. I wanted to do something special for Celine, and this felt perfect. I snapped a “Before” selfie and headed out!

Hair before

When I got to the salon, my hair stylist Anastasia immediately put me at ease. The atmosphere was quiet and homey; there was only one other customer there, and the layout of the salon made it feel spacious and private. I wasn’t planning to do so, but when Anastasia asked me why I was donating my hair, I ended up telling her all about Celine. She was quiet for a moment, and then she opened up to me that her best friend had also died in a car accident, seven years ago. “The first anniversary is the hardest,” she said. “It gets better, just hang in there.” I remember sinking back into the seat, letting myself relax into the understanding of this woman who suddenly did not feel like a stranger.

stars quote

The first thing Anastasia did, before even washing my hair, was to tie a rubber band around it and cut off the 8+ inches for my donation. {I ended up donating through Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths campaign.} Apparently you aren’t supposed to donate hair that is at all wet because it could get moldy during shipping. After she chopped it off and sealed it in a Ziplock bag, Anastasia took me over to the sink and washed and conditioned my newly shorn locks. Then she styled it, giving me face-framing layers before blowing it dry.

“Do you like it?” she asked, spinning my chair around so I could see my new haircut from all angles.

“I love it!” I said. It looked so much healthier, and I just felt freer and lighter — inside and out.

When I went up to pay, Anastasia smiled and said, “Oh, no. It’s on us.”

I was shocked. “At least let me tip you,” I said, trying to hand her some bills.

“No, no. It’s for your friend,” she said.

I wish I could express to you how I felt in that moment. Surprised, moved, completely overwhelmed — none of those words quite capture the flood of emotion that washed over me. It felt somehow like Celine was there with us. Like somehow she had brought me to this particular stylist at this particular salon at this particular moment.

“You’re going to make me cry,” I said, and then I was crying, barely able to choke out a “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

for celine

Here’s to you, dear Celine. I miss you and I love you, always and always and always. I can hear your voice in my head as I type this, telling me: “Oh my god, your hair! You look FABULOUS!”

a year of virtues: living like Ben Franklin

Back in college, I read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and I was struck by many things: namely, how organized this great man was — and how that was likely a necessity due to the many, many amazing things he was involved with, just one of which was the founding of our country!

Something else that has stayed with me all these years is Franklin’s list of virtues that he believed created a fulfilling life:

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues


1. TEMPERANCE: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2. SILENCE: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3. ORDER: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4. RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5. FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. SINCERITY: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. JUSTICE: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. MODERATION: Avoid extreams (sic); forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths (sic), or habitation.

11.TRANQUILLITY: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12. CHASTITY: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


I thought a fun project to chronicle this year on the blog is living by Benjamin Franklin’s virtues, focusing on one per month. {Except for chastity… I think Franklin makes a great point, but I don’t quite feel like chronicling that topic on this blog!} ;) Unlike previous years where I posted a new challenge each week, I’ll just be doing a recap post of these challenges each month. This is to keep things simple, and also because I want to stay on top of blogging as best I can, and posting a new challenge each week was sadly not feasible by the end of last year. I have been excited to pick up a lot of different freelance projects and teaching projects that excite me — but they also make my plate a little more full than it was before! Thanks for being patient, and for continuing to read, as I work to find my “blogging groove” in this exciting new chapter of my life.

Speaking of new chapters… this month, I am moving into a new apartment with my sweetheart!

me and Allyn France

We will be living in a relatively small, quiet town in the Bay Area in our very own one-bedroom place. I am very excited!

For the month of January, my focus will be ORDER. Piggybacking on last year’s simplicity challenge, I would love to start 2016 off with an organized, orderly home and work life, with each thing in its place and only the things that bring my life joy. I will let you know how it goes!

xoxo,
Dallas

gifts from 2015

Wow, it is hard to believe we are already here, the first day of 2016! For me, 2015 seemed to pass slowly and then all at once. January 26, 2015 will forever be a “before” and “after” day for me, splitting my life into two distinct periods: before I truly knew grief, and afterwards — now — living with the painful knowledge and awareness of what real loss feels like. After my dear friend Celine died, February and March felt like wading through life underwater; time was water-logged and everything felt strange. But slowly, gradually, throughout this year I have returned to myself — albeit, a slightly different version of myself. I guess that is what it means to grow older: to be shaped by life while trying to remain true to that authentic core of your being, of your spirit.

In many ways, grief stripped away all the nonessentials of my life this past year, leaving a deeper appreciation for what truly matters: the people I love and the experiences and memories I will cherish all the rest of my days, however many remaining days I am blessed with. To be sure, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I feel the full weight of gratitude to be here, witnessing the unfolding of a new year. It really is true that each day on this Earth is uncertain and precious; each hour we are given of this life is a miraculous gift. I feel that so much more deeply today than I did a year ago.

Here are some of my gifts from 2015:

I got to travel to Carmel with my sweetheart to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a charming Bed & Breakfast by the seaside.

I got to travel to L.A. to watch my brother Greg’s amazing panel at USC about “The Girl Effect.” So proud of him!

greg edmonth panel

I got to travel to Pittsburgh for a big family reunion and to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

with my girls

I got to reunite with many close friends, and meet many new friends, at Celine’s Celebration of Life — which was a beautiful and healing day; sad and yet also more joyous than I could have imagined.

celine celebration group

I got to celebrate both of my boys graduating with their M.B.A. degrees: my brother from USC and my sweetheart from Presidio Graduate School. They both blow me away with their smarts, hearts, and hard work. They are now making a meaningful difference in the world: Greg at CGI America focused on early childhood education, and Allyn in the fields of sustainability and education in the Bay Area.

me and al graduation

I got to celebrate my 28th birthday with so many people I love, who made me feel very loved.

birthday cake

I got to watch my dad be inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame for his career achievements and impact as a sports columnist. What an amazing day!

I got to travel to Europe with my sweetheart and his family for two weeks! We went to Paris, Barcelona, and the Provence region of France. It was a wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming trip!

sunflowers

I got to deliver my first-ever sermon! It was such an amazing experience and my mom and dear friends came to support me. I am already looking forward to hopefully giving another sermon at my church next summer!

The Magic Thread

I got to take my sweetheart on a surprise trip to Half Moon Bay for his birthday!

half moon bay me and al

I got to travel to Lake Tahoe for the first time and see my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” produced onstage! It was a dream-come-true!

me at emerald bay

I got to travel to Cleveland for the first time to visit my dear friend Holly, and travel to NYC to visit my brother — where we were seated at THE table from one of my favorite movies, Serendipity!

serendipity table!!!

And I got to soak up lots of time this holiday season with people who mean so much to me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Here’s to lots of breathtaking moments in 2016!

grief and the holidays

This has been a unique holiday season for me. It has been joyous in many ways: filled with love and laughter, delicious food and warm conversations.  More than any other year, I have savored and treasured my time with my family and dear friends.

But also, this has been the hardest holiday season for me, because I have been missing my friend Celine a lot. She used to come home to Los Angeles from Paris for the holidays, and we would “meet halfway” in Malibu for dinner. I keep catching myself thinking that I need to call her, that we need to schedule our yearly tradition. I can’t quite wrap my head around her being gone, even now, eleven months since her death.

me and celine bart station

The holidays are a complicated time. Everywhere around us, commercials and holiday tunes are telling us to be joyful, to be cheerful, that this is the most wonderful time of the year. I love the warmth and connection of the holiday season, and the messages of gratitude and love that abound during this time. {And that we should all try to continue throughout the year!} But I think it is oversimplifying and counterproductive to attempt to squeeze the holiday season into a one-size-fits-all box marked CHEER. I believe it is important to honor your feelings, all of them, by feeling them authentically. If you try to shove sadness aside or quash it, the sadness will only come back stronger. If instead you let yourself feel your sadness, breathe into it, and let it go, then you are acknowledging life’s complexity and recognizing sadness as what it is: the other side of the coin of happiness. They are both products of a beautiful thing: LOVE. And love, even in grief, is something to celebrate.

Maybe, like me, you are grieving a loved one who is no longer with us. Or maybe you are grieving a broken relationship, or a lost job, or a foreclosed home, or something else. As I have learned in grief group, grief is an interconnected web: when we lose something or someone important to us, we often feel renewed grief for past losses we have experienced. It can be painful. It can be overwhelming. But it can also be meaningful in its own way.

Here are some tips that have helped me this holiday season:

Take some quiet time for yourself. The holidays are a notoriously busy time. You have a plethora of things pulling at you, wanting your attention: presents to buy, holiday parties to attend, gatherings with relatives, baking and cooking to do, traditions to uphold, etc etc. When you are grieving, your internal well has run dry. So give yourself pockets of time amidst the craziness to fill yourself up. Curl up and read a book that nurtures your soul. Cook a simple, nourishing meal for yourself. Get a massage. Take a nap. Forgive yourself and be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t matter what you do to fill your well back up: just do something that makes you feel happy and at peace.

Connect with others who loved the person you are grieving. I always feel better after talking with my friend Holly. And this year, instead of sending my usual Christmas card to Celine, I sent one to her mom and brothers. I wrote about my favorite holiday memories of Celine, like how she taught us to string popcorn and cranberries to decorate our Christmas tree in college. If things are this difficult for me, I can’t even imagine what these weeks have been like for her family. My heart breaks just thinking about it. Writing them a note to let them know they are in my thoughts and prayers was a small gesture that brought me comfort, and I hope brought a little comfort to them, too.

all the ladies soph year

Write a letter to the person {or thing} you miss. In addition to sending a Christmas card to Celine’s family, I also wrote a card to my dear friend, just as I have done every year since we met in the college dorms. I told her what has been happening in my life, what I am excited about in the new year, and how much I miss her. Coach John Wooden used to write a letter to his late wife Nell every month after she passed, and stacked them on her pillow on their bed. I am keeping my letters to Celine in a special box on my bookshelf. Writing letters makes me feel connected to her. As my minister says in grief group: just because someone has died, does not mean our relationship with them has ended. Our relationship lives on, just in a different form.

Buy yourself a gift from the person you have lost. If they were still with you, what would they buy for you as a gift? Go buy that for yourself, wrap it up, and stick on a card from that person to you. Ever since Celine died, and especially in the past couple months, I have been feeling the urge to be more crafty. Celine was incredible at seeing the possibilities for treasure among what other people might throw away as trash. An amazing fashion designer, I also remember her making jewelry, belts, bags — she could take old pieces and make them new again. Inspired by Celine, this year I have bravely tried lots of new recipes {spaghetti squash! homemade granola! cilantro pesto!} and I have felt the urge to try crafting new pieces out of old scraps of things, like a braided rug I am sewing right now out of old T-shirt strips. I bought myself some Mod-Podge from Celine this Christmas because I want to try out some decoupage projects, and I know she would approve!

me and celine halloween

Share stories about the person {or thing} you have lost. There is so much joy in stories — they are how the past lives on in the present. However, the important thing to note about this is to be mindful about who you share your stories with. Our culture has interesting, often harmful, ways of reacting to grief — namely, expecting that people should be “over” their grief in a certain amount of time, when in reality grieving is a lifelong process. Some people might be uncomfortable with grief or not know how to react when you share a funny story about the person you miss — they might not understand how you can laugh about a person while still missing them. For me, I know that it is painful to talk about Celine with people who did not know her or know how important she was to me; I hate the feeling of her becoming a brief “cocktail party tidbit.” All it took was one experience of the other person blindly moving on to the artichoke dip while I stood there, breathless under a fresh wave of grief, for me to realize how important it is to guard my heart when it comes to Celine. Now, I only open myself up with people who make me feel safe and listened to.

Do something kind or fun or spontaneous in honor of the person you lost. Maybe this means an act of charity like volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating toys for kids in need. Or perhaps you could honor the person you are grieving by doing something zany they would do that feels out of your comfort zone: going rock-climbing or dyeing your hair or trying zumba for the first time. I am growing out my hair to donate to Locks of Love in honor of Celine, and every time I glance in the mirror and notice how long it is, I think of her and my heart fills.

me and celine

Honoring my true emotions has given this holiday season a new type of beauty for me: less shiny tinsel, and more authentic joy. Yes, I have learned that joy and grief are intertwined. My first real comprehension of loss has also meant that I understand gratitude much more deeply. Everything I hold dear is that much more precious.

fam at beach

Sending love and gratitude for all of you this holiday season, and beyond. I hope this post was helpful, and I would love to hear any of your tips in the comments section below. And I am always just an email away, if any of you are grieving and just need someone to listen. We are here for each other.

so thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, dear people! I hope all of you are spending time with those you love today.

“Give your most precious people your most precious gifts: love, time, effort, and attention.” — Greg Woodburn

me and greg

I am filled with gratitude for so many things.

For my family.

wedding reception family pic

For my sweetheart.

me and sweetie

For my friends, near and far, and for all the memories we’ve shared.

mustache bash

friends at booksigning

me and Dana

with xun and hai

For this adorable pooch with his goofy doggy smile.

murray

For delicious meals cooked and shared with those I love. For healthy food to eat that makes me feel energized and vibrant.

healthy food

For books that make me think and feel and imagine and learn.

eckhart tolle book

For beautiful art. Especially art created by my brother and my students.

art

For work that is meaningful to me, and makes me feel of worth. For students who are creative and brave and hard-working and make me proud to be a teacher.

student published

with writing campers at ceremony

For the opportunity to travel and go on adventures.

with allyn and allyson in paris

view of bridges from apt roof

allyns siblings

For sunsets and sunrises and the ocean and sunny days and rainy days and fields of sunflowers.

sunflowers

And I am thankful for you lovely people. Thank you for visiting my blog, reading my thoughts, commenting and sharing. Thank you for letting me into your life, and for letting me into yours. I am grateful for you every day!

Now, go hug those you love. And eat some pie. :)

pumpkin pie

 

traveling simply + the top 3 hospitality items I wish hotels would provide

Hello, friends! During this holiday season when many of us are traveling, Fairmont Hotels reached out to me about doing a post on the topic of favorite travel amenities. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, plus I am curious to hear your comments on the topic! Please play along in the comments section. :)

A big theme for me of late has been trying to simplify and streamline my life. This relates to travel, too! Back in college, I traveled around Europe for three weeks with two of my best friends, each of us bringing nothing more than a backpack as luggage. It was an amazing trip and serves as a reminder for me that you do not need to bring a lot of STUFF to make life-long memories you will treasure always!

backpack

Now my only real “must haves” when I travel are: my contacts/glasses; my favorite face-wash and sunscreen; cozy socks; portable snacks like granola bars and fruit; and a good book or two!

Fairmont Hotels also asked my ideas for the top three hospitality items I wish hotels would provide on the West Coast, such as the Claremont Hotel. Mine are a liiiiiiittle out there creative, but see if you agree — I think it would be SO awesome if hotels would provide these things:

Yoga mat

After a long car trip or plane ride, my body is aching to be stretched out. In the past I have tried to do some yoga moves in my hotel room, but it is never very peaceful or comfortable. Bringing my own yoga mat from home is inconvenient; it is bulky and takes up too much space. If a hotel chain provided yoga mats in their hotel rooms, it would definitely persuade me to stay there! Also, by doing so, hotels are sending the message that they care about their guests’ health and peace of mind. Travel can be stressful, especially when you are traveling for business purposes. When I am feeling stressed out, nothing centers me and calms me down like a quick yoga session.

Compost bin

The more I learn about composting our food waste, the more convinced I become of its importance. All of the hotels I have stayed at have little trash bins in the room, but what if one of these was a compost bin with a lid? If emptied every day, this would not smell at all, and it would make a big difference in the amount of waste sent to landfills! When I travel, I often bring healthy snacks such as apples and bananas; it always makes me sad to have to throw these in the garbage instead of composting them.

Why does composting matter? Food waste in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment {without oxygen} which produces the gas methane. When it enters our atmosphere, methane is a much more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. All of this can be solved by composting, because when food waste decomposes in a natural environment with oxygen, no methane is produced. Plus we produce compost to fertilize our future food products. It’s a win-win!

compost bin

photo credit: Sac compostable en place via photopin (license)

Recipe card

This idea was sparked by my recent visit to the Penzey’s Spices store in Cleveland. One of my favorite things about the store was the tear-off recipe cards scattered throughout the aisles. It was really fun to take home recipes from different parts of the world that featured various spices, many of which I had never before used. Trying out these recipes when I got home was a way to relive my trip a bit and also expand my repertoire in the kitchen. I think it would be neat if hotels adopted this idea and had recipe cards in the room that guests could take home with them. Perhaps hotels in different regions could feature recipes local to that region, or maybe all of the hotels could feature the same recipe and it would change each month or so. This would be a neat way to highlight local restaurants and chefs. The recipes could even be collected in a cookbook at some point that could be available for guests to purchase.

Questions of the day:

  • Your turn: what amenities would improve your stay at hotels?
  • Do you have any travel tips to share?

my trip to nyc

Happy Monday, everyone! Hard to believe we are flirting with mid-November already. Where does the time go?? I feel like an eye-blink ago was Halloween. Anyone else feel that way?

All this weekend, Paris has been on my heart. To me, Paris will always be Celine’s city, and as such it will always be a magical place. The Parisians I have met are wonderful, free-spirited, generous people. Although my heart breaks, along with so many hearts in the world, with the attacks that happened on Friday, I am choosing to give healing energy to thoughts of hope and love, instead of hatred and fear. We love you, Paris.

celine legacy

Before time gets too far along, I wanted to share with you a recap of my recent trip to the Big Apple to visit my brother. It was my fourth time to NYC, but my first time going as less of a tourist: not staying at a hotel, not seeing the big tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. My brother took me to places that were more off-the-beaten path, that I had never even heard about before, and I felt for the first time a glimpse of what it might be like to live as a true “New Yorker” as my brother is doing during this season of his life. {I am SO proud of him — he has embraced the city and his job and new friends and is simply doing fabulously!}

me and gb reunited

I was so happy to be reunited with my brother! That first night I arrived late {after navigating the bus/subway system from LaGuardia airport… I had to be brave and ask people for help, and everyone was kind and patient, even when I got my huge suitcase stuck in the subway turnstile… all in all, I was quite proud of myself, and quite relieved to make it to Manhattan safely!} Greg and I walked to the Seaport area across the street from his apartment and had a wonderful dinner at the Italian restaurant Il Brigante. I had the eggplant parm. Delicious!

The next morning, we walked to Chinatown so my brother could get his biweekly buzz haircut — he has found a place that does it for $4! Chinatown was so neat to experience because it really did feel like being in a different country, with all the signs in Chinese and people speaking Chinese and little stands along the sidewalk selling hot food and tea. I have been to Chinatown in San Francisco before, but NYC’s Chinatown felt even more immersive to me!

My brother lives in a great apartment in the financial district and his roof has an amazing view! We went up there to take in the sights. Postcard-worthy!

view of city from apt roof

view of bridges from apt roof

me and greg roof

We met up with my dear friend Ben for literary-themed cocktails at the rooftop bar The Library. Ben had been wanting to take me to this bar ever since he discovered it, because of my profound love of books, so it was extra-special to be able to go there with him!

rooftop cocktails library bar

After drinks and a quick dinner, we went to see the Broadway play Hand to God, a dark comedy featuring a hand-puppet that had me laughing… and thinking. The actors were superb!

hand to god play

On our way home from the play, we stopped by Schmackarys for some cookies! I could not decide what to get, so Greg indulged my sweet tooth and we got a box of half-a-dozen to share over the weekend. My favorite was the s’mores. YUM.

schmackarys cookies nyc

The next day, Greg took me to The High Line Park — it used to be a railway, and has great views of the city. It is a neat feeling to be walking through trees in the middle of Manhattan! Greg and I also got a kick out of watching various kids and adults of all ages approach a water fountain/sculpture near where we sat for a break during our walk. After The High Line, we explored Chelsea Market and the lakeshore. It was chilly but beautiful!

chelsea water

We grabbed dinner at The Meatball Shop, a popular restaurant chain in the city, serving all sorts of both veggieballs and meatballs. I love how NYC has such specific and diverse food options!

Thee next day, I met up with Greg after he finished work — I got a tour of his awesome office and got to meet some of his super-nice coworkers! — we headed out for dinner and a VERY special dessert stop. Longtime blog readers may recall my intense love for a certain romantic comedy circa early-2000s? I saw this movie for the first time in theaters when I was in high school, and have watched it pretty much every year since then. It is my “comfort food” movie… what can I say, I just love it! You can guess what it is based on the photo below:

Serendipity!

Yep… Greg took me to SERENDIPITY! As you can tell from the above photo, I was pretty dang excited! And since it was a Monday night, we didn’t even have to wait very long for a table. Greg ordered a classic frozen hot chocolate and I went for the salted caramel frozen hot chocolate. Delicious!

frozen hot chocolate

The true magic of the night came when our waiter approached us holding an iPhone. “You are sitting at a very special table,” he said, thrusting the phone at us to show a picture from IMDB… of my two favorite characters sitting at the VERY SAME TABLE. Ahhhh! It was definitely a serendipitous moment! Greg told the waiter, “Oh, you don’t have to tell her about the movie, she knows exactly what table this is.” Haha! The waiter was kind enough to take our picture and Greg made an image for me with us and John & Sara {from the movie!}

serendipity table!!!

On Tuesday morning, I took the train from Grand Central Station to Wassic to meet up with my dear friends Janet and Lauren for lunch. These two lovelies drove two and three hours respectively to have lunch with me! It was so wonderful to see them. We do not get to see each other all that often, but when we do, everything falls back into place and it is like we just saw each other. I feel very grateful to have such special friends! We went to Harney & Sons tea shop for lunch and oh my gosh, you guys, good thing I was flying back on a plane because otherwise I would have been tempted to buy alllll the tea.

janjan laur

When I got back to the city, I had some time before Greg got off work so I made a quick stop by Central Park. It wasn’t much time to explore, but just walking around one small square at the edge of the park was lovely. Such an incredible, beautiful green space in the center of the city!

central park

All too soon, it was Wednesday morning, and time for me to get on board a plane back home to SFO {but not before taking a silly selfie with my brother!} I miss him very much, but I am so proud of him and I love our adventures together. Already looking forward to the next one! :)

me and greg silly

if you enjoyed this post, you might also want to check out these:
family vacation to Mexico
highlights of my trip to Cleveland
weekend in Half Moon Bay
weekend in South Lake Tahoe
T.Swift concert in Nashville

my trip to cleveland

Happy weekend, friends! As promised, I wanted to give you a recap of my wonderful trip to Cleveland, OH to visit my dear friend Holly. Cleveland gets some flack in pop culture, but I don’t know why — I thought it was a beautiful, vibrant city with lots to do! If any of you find yourselves in Cleveland, here are some fun things we did that were absolutely lovely.

Cleveland park

Our first morning, Holly took me to the West Side Market, which was an enormous indoor market with a farmer’s market and tons of stalls selling all varieties of food! We spent quite some time wandering around, “window-shopping” and browsing all the delicious options.

Westside market

We ended up splitting a Shepherd’s Pie and a Turkey-Swiss Cornish Pasty, plus a pumpkin cheesecake cupcake for dessert! YUM.

cupcake pumpkin cheesecake

There is quite a vibrant Irish culture in Cleveland, which was evident from the food… I snapped a photo of this cake for my dad, who loves Guinness! I am going to look up a recipe for this cake and try to make it myself one of these days! :)

guinness cake

Holly and I also spent some time browsing Penzey’s Spices, located just across the street from the West Side Market, which was my first time ever being to a Penzey’s. It smelled divine in there! I also loved picking up all the free recipes on notecards around the store. I picked up a jar of Dried Jalepeno Peppers for my sweetie, who loves everything spicy! {I, however, am quite the opposite!}

We lucked out with gorgeous weather during my visit to Cleveland. Crisp autumn perfection. Holly took me to Lake Erie, which was so much bigger than I had pictured! It reminded me of the ocean, with the waves lapping the shoreline.

lake erie

lake erie shoreline

holly lake erie

Throughout Cleveland the trees were lit up with bright oranges, reds and yellows. I could not stop taking pictures! It was obscenely beautiful.

fall colors cleveland

beautiful autumn tree

During my trip, Holly took me to these restaurants, which I loved:

I always have such a wonderful time with Holly, and it is always hard to leave. I am already looking forward to our next visit!

me and holly cleveland

my halloween weekend recap!

Hi, friends! Can you believe it is already November? I have some travel recaps coming your way soon, but first I wanted to share my Halloween with you guys because it was a great one!

allyn allyson me and pumpkins

On Friday, Allyn cooked us a delicious dinner of salmon & veggies, and then we carved pumpkins! You may remember Harold and Maude from our trip to the pumpkin patch at Half Moon Bay in early October. I was so relieved they lasted so long without growing moldy, and were in great shape for us to carve the day before Halloween. Yay!

harold and maude

We used stencils to make a gremlin {Allyn} and a mummy {me}… I thought they turned out pretty great!

mummy and gremlin

On Saturday, Allyn had a work event during the day and I had a meeting for church and some errands to run. In the afternoon, I assembled the last of my costume by making a wreath out of fake flowers I bought on sale at Michaels {apparently these flowers are part of their autumn line, which is now on super sale because that store is alllll about the holidays currently!} I had never made a flower crown before, but I used this tutorial and once I got the hang of it, the crown came together pretty easily. Here are the steps I did:

how to make a simple flower crown 

  1. Wrap floral wire around your head to measure the fit. Make sure you don’t make it *too* tight because you will be adding flowers, so it will get a little thicker. I used two strands of floral wire to make it a little sturdier.
  2. Snip the flowers you would like to use and arrange them on your crown in a pattern. Important note: make sure you leave enough stem on the flowers. I would recommend a couple inches, to make sure you are able to attach them securely to the wire.
  3. Use floral tape to tightly wrap around the stem of the first flower, continuing for a few inches down the wire of the crown to really stabilize the attachment. To me, this step was the key. At first, I did not use nearly enough floral tape and my flowers kept falling off. When I started using more floral tape and continuing down a couple inches past the flower’s stem, the entire crown felt much more secure.
  4. Continue until you make your way around the entire crown. Ta da! Your very own flower crown {that can double as a wreath if you hang it on the door, as I plan to do next autumn!}

forest gump and jenny

Can you tell who Allyn and I dressed up as for Halloween? Forest Gump and Jenny!

We met up with Allyn’s sweet sister Allyson and her friend Henry, who both dressed as Pirates, and drove into San Francisco for dinner and a Halloween show! Dinner was Chipotle because they were having a special deal where anyone who dressed up in costume got any menu item for just $3! I went with the vegetarian burrito bowl. SO GOOD.

Halloween chipotle

Then we drove to Fort Mason by the marina to go to the BATS Improv Halloween Musical Show! I just happened to come across info about this annual show when I did an Internet search last month for fun Bay Area Halloween events. It ended up being an absolutely wonderful way to spend Halloween night! The cast were very talented and quite hilarious. They made up an entire two-act musical show on the spot based on the audience’s suggestion of a title: “Infection!”

improv halloween comedy show

Allyn’s eyes are closed because Forest Gump is tired from all that running…

All in all, it was a truly fantastic Halloween!

On Sunday, there was an incredibly moving All Souls Service at my church. I have been missing Celine a lot lately, and the beautiful service and words of joy in the midst of grief were exactly what I needed on this day. I lit a candle for Celine and walked down the aisle to place it on the communal altar. I felt understood and lifted up by the supportive members of my church community, and for that I am very grateful.

I miss Celine every day, but every day I also smile thinking of a memory we shared, or simply remembering her genuine laughter.

candle for Celine

Later on Sunday afternoon, Allyn and I took BART into San Francisco to see the production of one of my all-time favorite musicals, “Once”! You guys, I adore this show. It makes me feel connected to the world around me and it reminds me why I love creating art: to give hope to others and celebrate the beauty of ordinary life.

once play sf

“Once” is an adaptation of the independent movie that came out a few years ago and won the Academy Award for Best Song. I love the movie, the songs, the storyline, and the musical does not disappoint! This was actually my third time seeing this show: I saw it originally on Broadway in New York City, and then a couple summers ago with my parents in Los Angeles. It was really special to be able to share the experience with Allyn this time!

before seeing once

Aaaaand, that’s a wrap! This week so far has been busy getting caught up after my travels to visit Holly in Cleveland and Greg in NYC. Hoping to pop back in soon with a recap of my trip! Until then, hope you are having a lovely week and adapting to the time change. I am slooooowly getting used to it getting dark so early. As one of my adorable tutoring kids said when I arrived at 5:30 yesterday for our lesson: “Miss Dallas, why are you here at midnight?!?” Haha. It IS strange for the sky to be dark as midnight at 5:30 p.m. but I am trying to embrace the winter for all the gifts it brings. I do love this time of year! What about you?