holiday minimalism challenge

Hi guys! I hope your week is off to a marvelous start! Our little apartment is officially beginning to look like the holidays. We strung up some colorful lights, hung a wreath on the door, and even got this adorable mini Christmas tree! It’s a potted pine, so we’re planning to keep it out on our balcony after the holidays are over. It’s leaning over a little bit and we can’t seem to figure out a way to make it straight… but I think that just adds to its Charlie Brown charm, don’t you? 😉

our-first-xmas-tree

This holiday season, I’m trying out a new challenge for myself. During the span of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am aiming to get rid of one item every day. {For those of you counting, that would be 31 items in total!} During this infamously busy time of year, my minimalism challenge is making me feel energized. In a season of more-more-more, it is a way of centering and reminding myself what truly matters. It is a way for me to practice gratitude for the abundance in my life. It is a way for me to physically clear out some clutter and make some space in my life.

Plus, I love the idea of someone else being able to benefit from something I no longer use, need or want. That is why I am donating all of these items, rather than throwing anything away. However, you could also use this type of challenge to recycle paper clutter, or even to clean out your pantry/fridge!

Here is my donation tally right now:
-5 books
-1 journal
-1 ornament
-2 shirts
-1 candle
Total so far: 10 items {approximately 1/3 of the way there!}

I will keep you posted on my progress!

An Intentional Holiday Season

Allyn and I are making minimalism a cornerstone of our holiday season in other ways, too. How? By trying to make intentional decisions. I think it is a fun challenge to make do and be creative with what we already have, instead of immediately running out to buy more stuff.

Christmas Ornaments

Since this is our first Christmas together, Allyn and I did not have too many ornaments to decorate our tree. {Part of why we opted for a small tree this year!} We like to buy a Christmas ornament as a souvenir on trips we take, so we had beautiful ornaments from our summer trip to Hawaii, our honeymoon to Yosemite, and our recent Thanksgiving trip to New Orleans. We also had an ornament I bought a long time ago on a trip to Belgium, and two ornaments I ordered as Christmas gifts to myself last year: a photo ornament of me and my sweetie, and one of me, Holly and Céline from college. {Hanging this ornament on the tree made me feel a little teary. Love you and miss you, Céline!}

celine-ornament

Still, that left us with a lot of bare tree! Rather than going out and buying ornaments that were not meaningful to us, I looked around at what we had to see if I could make any. I found a few paper gift tags we had saved from Christmas gifts we received last year, of adorable elves. They made great ornaments! I also found some miniature foam surfboards that had been used as place cards at a wedding we attended — all I had to do was attach ornament hooks and up onto the tree they went. I love these as ornaments because they bring to mind my beachy hometown. We strung some Mardi Gras beads from our New Orleans trip around the tree, along with some pretty ribbon. Also, I had a couple pendant necklaces lingering in my jewelry box with broken chains that I’ve been meaning to get fixed one day. All I had to do was loop a bit of ribbon or an ornament hook through the pendants, and they morphed into lovely ornaments.

Wrapping Gifts

We are using up paper, ribbon, gift bags and tissue paper we already have {a lot of it saved from gifts we have previously received} rather than buying more wrapping supplies. It makes me happy to think of these supplies getting a “second life” rather than just being tossed into our trash can. Yes, some of the wrapping paper is a bit wrinkled, and not all of it is really holiday-themed, but in my opinion that doesn’t matter. I still think our hodge-podge gifts look pretty!

wrapped gifts recycled paper

Gifting Consumables + Experiences

We are also making an effort to gift consumables this year, such as homemade baked goods, granola, and spiced nuts. {Here is a favorite spiced nut recipe that I recently made — so yum!} One thing I love about gifting homemade consumables is that you can reuse glass jars or other containers to “wrap” them in: looks nice, costs you nothing, and is eco-friendly. Win-win-win! I personally love receiving homemade gifts because they seem extra special and filled with love. When I bake something with the intention of giving it to someone else, the entire process becomes one of intentional joy and warmth. I pour loving thoughts about the person into whatever I am making for them. It is a wonderful gratitude practice!

glass containers

Gifting experiences is another fantastic way to celebrate the holidays minimalist-style. Instead of spending our time at the mall shopping sales, Allyn and I are making an effort to spend as much time celebrating with the people we love. For example, for Christmas we are giving my grandparents a gift to the theater: we bought them tickets to see “A Christmas Carol” with us in a few weeks, an annual local performance that my Grandpap has always wanted to see but has never gotten around to before. The gift is extra-special because we get to enjoy it with them. I can’t wait!

Questions of the day:

  • How are you being intentional and slowing down this holiday season?
  • What are your favorite holiday traditions?

a welcoming table

Who do I want to be?

This is a question I ask myself often. It is all too easy to want to live with certain values — to want to be generous, inviting, warm, forgiving — but it can be more difficult to actually act on these values in our daily lives. For example, my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was five, is someone I remember as being very generous. She was kind, gracious, and taught us to help others. I still remember the extravagant Christmases she loved hosting at her big house: warm, magical, filled with laughter.

dal-and-auden

Me and grandma Auden, circa 1990

However, there is one story about her that always makes me sad. One year my father, a young newspaper columnist, had to work on Thanksgiving, as did his friend Chris. Chris’s family lived in Texas, and when my dad learned he was planning to spend the evening alone, he invited Chris over for Thanksgiving dinner. My grandmother was upset about this. She wanted a small, quiet Thanksgiving, just the family, and made excuses for why it would be a big hassle to include anyone else.

My grandmother was a wonderful person. But I think, on that particular Thanksgiving day, she hid inside what felt familiar and comforting to her. By doing so, she was making her own life smaller. She was choosing scarcity instead of abundance.

When I heard this story as a little girl, I knew that I wanted to make a different choice. I wanted to choose abundance and inclusivity. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that sometimes this choice can be messy and confusing and chaotic. Sometimes you don’t have enough chairs or your plates don’t match or you run out of food. Still, I vow — and continually renew this vow with myself — to always choose a welcoming table. And life is so much richer because of it.

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

My parents have modeled this choice throughout my life. I did not grow up in the biggest house, but my parents’ home has always been open to everyone. At holidays, they drag out another table and some extra chairs from the garage to fit more people into our celebration. Last-minute guests are not a source of stress, but of joy.

Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving was when my brother was in business school, and he called home to let my parents know that he had invited his entire cohort to our house. I have never been more proud to be my mother’s daughter than when she smiled a genuine smile and said, “Wonderful! Of course they are all welcome!” Many of his classmates were international students who had nowhere else to go for the holiday, and who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. Our traditions were rejuvenated with new life as we explained our rituals and shared our meal with them, and learned about their own homes and cultures.

woodsgiving

I’ll be honest: after helping my mom cook for two days leading up to that Thanksgiving, I don’t think I have ever been more tired in my life {including the day of my wedding!} But it was well worth it. I will cherish the memory of that welcoming table for the rest of my life.

Who do I want to be?

Who do we want to be?

As novelist Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in a recent blog post: “Ask yourself again and again who you want to be, and believe that you can be it.”

During the entire year, and especially during the holiday season, may our hearts and our homes be a place of welcome.

my valentine’s weekend


Hello, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful Presidents’ Day! In honor of our past presidents, here is a link I came across with some truly inspiring quotes: 50 Greatest Presidential Quotes of All Time.

I also hope you had a love-filled {all kinds of love, from friendship to pet-love to romantic love} Valentine’s Day! My minister gave an insightful sermon about the many forms of love in our lives that we should celebrate, rather than only focusing on romantic love. I could not agree more! She also touched upon The 5 Love Languages, a subject I find quite fascinating. You can watch her sermon on YouTube here.

My Valentine’s Day was not just limited to a day, but encompassed the whole weekend! Here are some snapshots:

My sweetie and I ordered Blue Apron for the first time, and received our first delivery on Friday night. We had heard many good things about this meal/cooking service and thought we would try it out for ourselves! We ended up making all three meals in three straight days, for dinner on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night. I was blown away by how easy it was, and how absolutely delicious all the meals turned out! Each night Allyn and I would look at each other across the dinner table in disbelief: We just made this?! Really?! I also feel like the recipes taught us some new cooking tips that we can use in lots of future recipes of our own! We are definitely Blue Apron converts now. 🙂

Friday night's dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Friday night’s dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Saturday morning, I woke up with the urge to bake. So I whipped up these easy + healthy apple oatmeal muffins, along with a note: MUFFINS FOR MY STUDMUFFIN. I came across this idea on Pinterest {the wedding-planning frenzy has begun!} and thought it was too cute, so I couldn’t resist doing it for my studmuffin. 😉

apple oatmeal muffins

After enjoying a couple muffins for breakfast warm from the oven, I headed out for a quick tutoring session, and when I returned home my sweetie surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers!

Valentine flowers

I spent most of the rest of the day obsessively reading THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN… have any of you guys read this book? Allyn’s sister loaned it to me and I started it on Friday night, and could.not.put.it.down alllll weekend… I finished it on Sunday afternoon! Very suspenseful and full of twists and turns.

girl on train book

Saturday night we made another Blue Apron meal and I had to continue our Valentine’s tradition of red velvet crinkle cookies! YUM. These are so festive and super easy to make {besides the batter turning your hands bright red!} 😉

red velvet crinkle cookies

On Sunday, Allyn came with me to church to announce our engagement news during the “joys and sorrows” part of the service. It was so wonderful to share our happiness with the congregation! Everyone was so warm and joyful, and it warmed my heart.

We stopped by my grandparents’ after church to say hi, and I was delighted when my aunts and cousins surprised us and came by for lunch, too! We hadn’t seen them for a while and it was so fun to chat and share stories. Grandma busted out some of the wedding photo albums from when my aunts got married, and there was much laughter while looking through them. {’80s fashion out in full force!} My grandma then disappeared for a little while into her bedroom and emerged holding her own wedding dress from 60+ years ago! It was a goosebumps-inducing sight. The dress’s beautiful lace is still preserved quite well. It was quite a special moment!

My grandparents also surprised me with “engagement flowers”… our apartment is now bursting with flowers and I love it!

20160214_141039

When we got home, Allyn and I got some work done for a little bit, and then he asked, “Do you want to go mini-golfing?” There is a very cute course less than a mile from our new apartment, where Allyn and his family have gone many times. It was a beautiful evening so we walked over to Golfland and played 18 holes. There were many families and couples out and the atmosphere reminded me of summertime. I played pretty well, but Allyn absolutely rocked it. He got THREE hole-in-ones! How is that even possible?! Needless to say, he beat me handily.

IMG_1392

mini golf

When we got home our stomachs were growling, so we made our final Blue Apron meal of the batch: seared chicken with mashed potatoes and maple-glazed carrots. It was both of our favorite one from the bunch {and all of them were delicious!}

20160214_191043

valentines dinner

It was the perfect ending to a truly lovely weekend!

Questions of the day:

  • What was the highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?
  • What is your Love Language?

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.

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 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?

halloween fun + weekend highlights

Hi, friends! How was your weekend? Mine was a whirlwind filled with fun, faith, fulfilling work, and even some new friends!

For Halloween, Allyn and I dressed up as Sebastian the crab and Ariel the Little Mermaid. I had a great time putting together my costume and I was happy with how it turned out! And Allyn rocked his crab hat 🙂

little mermaid costume

allyn crab

me and allyn halloween

We went out to dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant in downtown Walnut Creek… I ordered the pineapple fried rice and was floored when the waiter delivered this giant mound of rice inside half of a carved-out pineapple!

pineapple fried rice

In addition to the wowing presentation, the food was delicious — they used chunks of fresh pineapple in their fried rice instead of canned or frozen, and it made a huge difference. Yum! Also, the portion was so large that Allyn and I could have easily split it, but we took the leftovers home for lunch the next day.

After dinner we went to see the murder-mystery play Deathtrap, which was definitely filled with suspense and many twists and turns! Especially for someone like me who has a hard time stomaching horror movies, a murder mystery play was the perfect way to celebrate Halloween night!

Saturday I slept in and did a bit of pleasure reading before heading out to teach four classes. It’s always a long day, but the kids were well-behaved and one student even brought me a drawing he made! How adorable is this? Totally made my day!

nice teacher drawing

On Sunday I tutored in the early morning, then went to the special Dia de los Muertos service at my church. It was an incredibly moving and joyous celebration, and I especially loved this quote the minister shared: “Our relationships are our most prized possessions.” That is SO true, and at times easy to forget. The service made me reflect: am I building my life around the things that matter the most to me? How can I nurture my relationships even more?

After church I went to a Starbucks and enjoyed my first gingerbread chai latte of the season! It felt luxurious to relax and read a good book in the sunshine for a couple hours. Then, Allyn got home from hiking in Muir Woods as preparation for his upcoming humanitarian trip to Kenya {they are going to hike Mt. Kenya when they first arrive!} so I headed over to his place to get ready for a dinner party we were attending/helping host at his mom’s beautiful home.

The dinner party was a fundraiser and celebration of the work being done by the nonprofit organization Asante Africa. During the intimate cocktail hour and dinner party, we got to chat with the CEO/Founder, many Board Members and volunteers, and the guest of honor, Gathii, who was visiting the United States for the first time ever! He lives in Kenya and runs the Asante Africa programs there, and his observations about American life, Halloween and the Giants’ win were cracking us up. All in all, I was really inspired by their work. They are champions of education, particularly girls education, through scholarship programs, business and entrepreneurship curriculum, and a “pay it forward” movement encouraging students to give back to their local communities.

Everyone was very friendly and passionate about the work they do, and I even made a new friend — a young woman named Stephanie who is a teacher in the area and went to college at UC Santa Barbara {where coincidentally my parents met back in the day!} The Year of Wooden October challenge may be over, but I am pleased to say that the friend-making continues! 🙂 Sometimes just being aware of potential friends and being friendly is all it takes to make a new connection.

Now I’m trying to get back into the work groove, while also being gentle with myself and listening to my body’s cravings for rest. Oh! And on my way home this morning, I finally got my flu shot! I was nervous, but it barely even hurt.

flu shot

Hope you had a terrific weekend and that you’re having a wonderful day — and getting adjusted to the time change!

Questions of the day:

  • What was a highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you do anything fun for Halloween?
  • Have you gotten a flu shot?

favorite halloween costumes

Happy Thursday, everyone! Hope you’re having a wonderful morning! My day today is pretty similar to yesterday: work on my novel this morning, do some editing work, and then teach this afternoon/evening. I don’t know about you, but for me this week is flying by!

Since we’re already halfway through October, I thought it would be fun to do a post about Halloween costumes! This year, Allyn and I are planning to dress up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. We’re not even sure what our Halloween plans are yet, but even if we’re just dressed up to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, I’m still excited!

We found this crab hat for Allyn on Amazon. Paired with a red shirt, he’s set!

Though Allyn was joking that he should get this King Crab costume… if only it wasn’t so expensive! Too bad, haha.

I was excited to come across these inexpensive mermaid leggings. They’re comfortable, not too thin, and cute enough to maybe even wear again underneath a skirt for a unique going-out look.

I’m planning to pair them with a tankini top, and then I just need to find a red wig and I’ll be set!

Here are some of my favorite costumes from past Halloweens:

Last year I dressed up as Minnie Mouse, which is a super easy costume if you have a polka-dot dress. All you need to do is don some mouse ears and draw a nose on with eyeliner pencil. I didn’t have any Disneyland Mouse Ears, so I made some of my own by pinning a red bow to a pair of mouse ears I bought from one of those Halloween outlet stores.

minnie mouse

Another easy costume is a pirate. I did this one Halloween when I was in grad school. Wear a striped shirt, a vest, and a pirate hat, and you’re golden! If you want to jazz it up you can add a hooked hand, a sword, or a stuffed animal parrot on your shoulder!

Halloween costume

In college, my roommates and I had fun coming up with linked costumes. One year, my friend Jess was a pirate and I wore a gold dress and was her pirate’s treasure! I think this would be a really cute couples costume 🙂

college halloween 2

The group photo of us below is a little far away, but I couldn’t resist sharing it because of the kids’ crazy expressions in the foreground! This was when we took my friend Celine’s little brother trick-or-treating.

college halloween

Ha! Those kids are seriously hyped up on candy.

Another easy costume is a cowboy or cowgirl. When I was in college and studied abroad in England for a semester, there were themed dances nearly every week — and the British students got REALLY into dressing up! It was a blast. Whenever I didn’t know what to dress up as, a cowgirl was a super easy option. Just throw on some comfortable jeans, a plaid shirt, a cowboy hat, and boots! Here’s a photo circa 2007 of me dressed as a cowgirl with my friend Jamie dressed as a {very convincing!} vampire.

cowboy and dracula

When I was growing up, my favorite costumes were homemade. I have a fond memory of spending lots of time with my dad painting cardboard wings rainbow colors one year when I dressed up as a butterfly. Another year I went as a sunflower {are you surprised? lol} and made a sunflower out of yellow poster board. I cut out a circle in the middle and stuck my face through it, so the petals encircled me and my face was the center, and then I wore green leggings and a green shirt. I remember getting lots of compliments on that costume when I went trick-or-treating!

If you have costumes lying around that you’re not planning to wear again, especially children’s costumes, consider donating them to Goodwill for others to wear. Also, here is a neat nonprofit I recently heard about that donates costumes to kids in need: Ween Dream.

Questions of the morning:

  • Are you dressing up for Halloween this year?
  • What are your favorite costumes from past Halloweens?
  • If you have kids, what are they dressing up as?

why I lied to you on friday

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope your day is off to a lovely start. I’ve been nursing a big mug of huckleberry tea all morning… this is the stuff I got on my trip to Seattle and I only have one tea bag left in the box! So I am savoring it.

huckleberry tea

I’ll be back with this week’s year of Wooden post tomorrow, but for today I wanted to pop in with a quick weekend recap because it was a pretty fantastic one around here!

So, remember when I said that I was heading into San Francisco on Friday night for a dinner date with my sweetie to celebrate his birthday?

I lied.

Well, half-lied. Because it wasn’t really a dinner date for just the two of us. It was a reservation for 30 people! I had to keep it quiet here on the blog, because Allyn reads my blog {hi, honey!} and he had no idea… I was throwing him a surprise party!

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our "nice, quiet, date night just the two of us..."

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our “nice, quiet date night just the two of us…”

I’d thrown a couple surprise parties with my roommates in college, but this was my first time ever throwing one by myself, AND it was my first time organizing such a big event! I learned a lot and had a blast. I kept thinking of Coach Wooden’s saying, “The journey is better than the inn.” I definitely enjoyed the month-long “journey” of planning this big surprise! 🙂

Allyn’s friends and family were so helpful — I could not have done it without them. Different people from different areas of his life helped me get the word out and invite his various social circles. I originally made the reservation at the restaurant about a month in advance, and as time went on I had to keep calling them back and increasing the amount of people in my reservation, because the RSVPs were rolling in! One of the best things about planning a surprise party for someone you care about is connecting with all the other people who care about that person, too!

Some things I learned about planning a surprise party:

  • If you’re going to have it at a restaurant, Yelp is your friend! I wanted to find a venue that was not too expensive, was close to public transportation, and was accommodating for big groups. After a bit of searching, I settled on Unicorn Pan-Asian Cuisine, which ended up being perfect.
  • Make your reservation as early as possible! I also think it’s better to over-estimate your attendance and then call back as the date approaches and lower your reservation number. I did it opposite, but I was lucky that they had the space for me to keep increasing my reservation!
  • I’d also recommend checking out the venue in person ahead of time, if possible. It was really helpful for me to be able to picture the restaurant when I was planning the party and describing to guests where they should go when they arrived.
  • Ask the restaurant if they are able to do individual separate checks for a large group. In our case, they were only able to do three separate checks {one for each table} so I asked everyone to bring cash if possible to help making splitting the bill easy. Some people also recommended the VenMo app, which sounds really neat, but we didn’t need to use it — everyone brought cash and it all worked out fine.
  • Delegate! People love a surprise and they love to help. An unexpected benefit of planning this party for my sweetheart was that I grew closer to his friends and family as we engaged in deception together, haha.
  • Have guests arrive 15-20 minutes earlier than the guest of honor does. That way, you have some wiggle room if people are running late. Also, it gives some time for guests to mingle and get to know each other — something I could tell everyone was really happy about.
  • I gave Allyn’s stepmom a big poster card that she had everyone sign while waiting for me and Allyn to arrive. It gave people something to do, plus it is a meaningful memento for Allyn to have from the party, to remind him of all the people who care about him.
  • Keep things as simple as possible! Especially where alibis are concerned. Allyn knew where we were going, when we were going, and how we were getting there. He knew that we were going to dinner to celebrate his birthday. The only thing he didn’t know was that there would be 30 other people there to celebrate with us!

One thing I didn’t take into consideration is my sweetheart’s early bird tendencies! It’s something I love and admire about him — he is always punctual {often early} and hates to keep people waiting. So I should have guessed that he would want to leave for the BART station early to make it into the city for our 7:20 reservation! He said, “If we’re early we’ll just catch an earlier train.” I tried to hide the panic on my face and said, “Then we’ll be too early for our reservation!” Then I camped out in the bathroom for a while to “get ready” 🙂

Other stalling tactics if you’re trying to delay the guest of honor:

  • change your outfit
  • “accidentally” spill something on them so they have to change their outfit
  • go to the bathroom one more time
  • decide to wear a different pair of shoes instead
  • “forget” something and have to go back inside to get it
  • get gas on the way there
  • get “lost” or go the wrong way

Fortunately, none of these stalling tactics are really out of character for me, so Allyn was not suspicious when we left later than he suggested. We ended up hopping on the 6:50 train into the city just like I had planned, which got us into the city at 7:15. Walking to the restaurant, I felt so excited it was hard not to skip! When we got there, I dragged him past the bar area at the front, because I knew everyone was waiting a little further back into the restaurant. My legs were shaking. Everyone jumped up and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

I will forever cherish the memory of that moment. The look on my sweetheart’s face was absolutely priceless. He said later, “I wasn’t surprised…. I was stunned.” He just stood there for a few moments, looking around at all the people from his life — his parents, sister, childhood friends, grad school friends, roommate, mentor — and he kept repeating, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” I could tell he was blown away. It was absolutely wonderful!

The rest of the night flew by. I had so much fun talking and mingling with all these terrific people from my sweetheart’s life. We ended up closing the restaurant down! It was a perfect night.

us and laurel

justin and fawn

allyson and her dad

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

Happy birthday, Allyn! I love you so much.

Questions of the morning:

  • Have you ever thrown a surprise party?
  • Has anyone every thrown a surprise party for you?
  • What was the highlight of your weekend?

goals + recipes for the week of 4/27

Hi friends! Happy Sunday! It feels like it’s been for.ev.er since I’ve done a goals post — I skipped last week because of Easter and my trip to Mendocino! Speaking of Easter, we never really chatted about that — how was your Easter? Mine was one of my favorite Easters ever. I spent most of the day volunteering with Allyn at a church in San Francisco, serving lunch to the homeless. The big dining room was set up like a sit-down restaurant and as volunteers our instructions were to treat clients like they were dining at a 5-star restaurant. It warmed my heart to see the bright smiles and proud postures of the clients leaving the church after the meal. I believe that the world would be a much better place if we simply treated everyone with dignity and respect. I definitely want to volunteer there again next Easter!

For Easter dinner, I missed my parents and brother, but I had a wonderful time visiting with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. As always when we all get together, there was much laughter and storytelling. My aunt Annie hosted us all for a delicious meal of eggplant parmesan and grilled chicken, and this amazing cake whipped up by our family friend Diana. I got the recipe from her and will definitely be sharing it with you soon!

easter me and arianna

easter dessert

I finally feel like I’ve settled into my new weekend routine: waking up early on Saturday to teach four classes as part of my new job working for Communication Academy, crashing into bed exhausted but happy, and waking up on Sunday morning to head to church. {Which I’ll be doing as soon as I hit “publish” on this blog post!} Today after church I’m looking forward to getting together with my friend Michelle, who I haven’t seen for a couple weeks. And then, just like that, the weekend will already be winding down!

Before I head out… it’s time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from two weeks ago:
– write 12 pages
prepare for teaching & tutoring this week
– send out three query letters
– read up to page 250 of The Kitchen God’s Wife
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with three friends

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 12 pages
– finalize travel plans for the summer
– send out three query letters
– read up to page 350 of The Kitchen God’s Wife
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with three friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
– chocolate banana pb smoothie via Jill @reini days
zin-zen chicken via Sarah @The Pajama Chef {originally from Rachel Ray}
– nutzo date bites via Danica @It’s Progression
– spaghetti squash w/avocado kale pesto via Whitney @sometimes.always.never
cucumber noodles w/peanut sauce via Two Peas & Their Pod

Questions of the day:

  • What was a highlight of your weekend?
  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over lately?

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