my dad, the “streaker”

This is my dad:

He is a proud and accomplished “streaker.” And no, I don’t mean running naked through the streets. He has a streak of running at least 3.1 miles every single day for the past 13 years and 8 months, which is even officially certified by the United States Running Streak Association. In fact, today he is celebrating the milestone of 5,000 days in his running streak!

Think about that. 5,000 days. It is quite remarkable. Is there anything in your life that you have done, or can even imagine doing, for 5,000 days straight?

I am so proud of my dad. I am also super inspired by him. He has taught me so much simply by example. Here are five things I have learned from his day-by-day running streak:

1. Streamline your decisions. When possible, just make the decision once and be done with it.

My dad doesn’t make the decision every single day to go for a run. He has already decided that he will run every day. The only decision left to make is when to go for a run — and, actually, he has streamlined this decision, too, because he runs at around the same time every afternoon. Dad tells me that this is infinitely easier than if he was weighing the choice every day about whether to go for a run or not. Becoming a “streaker” may seem like the most difficult undertaking, but Dad claims it is actually easier to run every single day than to run every other day, or five days a week. Why? Because he has already chosen to run every day. Being a streaker takes the guesswork or decision-making out of it. Of course, there are days he doesn’t feel like running. But he already decided that he will run. So he laces up his shoes and gets out there.

I am applying this principle to my writing and yoga practices. I try to work on my novel and do a simple yoga routine every morning when I get up, just as part of my daily routine. No longer am I trying to decide if I “feel” like writing or moving my body. I just do it, no questions asked. And it has become an infinitely easier and less fraught process! I am always happier after I’ve written, and never do I regret my yoga time.

2. Don’t worry about what others think of you, especially when you are pursuing what you love.

Epictetus once said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish.” There are certainly people out there who don’t understand why my dad runs every day. There are times he has been thought foolish. One specific memory that comes to mind is when Dad flew to England to visit me when I was studying abroad back in college. His flight left very early in the morning, and based on the time difference, he only had a small window of time to get his run in that day when he arrived late at night. So, Dad laced up his running shoes and went for an 11pm run through the narrow cobblestone streets. Some young Brits out partying thought he was crazy and shouted at him, “Bloody Yank, what are you out running for?” Dad loves to tell this story with a chuckle. He doesn’t mind when others don’t understand his passion for running. What matters is that he knows how important his running streak is, for him personally. What matters is that he runs for his own satisfaction and joy.

3. You can do hard things.

Dad runs when it is cold and rainy and when it is blazing hot. He runs on Christmas and on his birthday and every holiday there is. He runs when he has a cold or the flu or a sinus infection or sore muscles. He gets up early and runs before long trips, and once he ran loops around the airport. He runs on vacation. He runs when he is tired. He runs when he is sad and when he is excited and when he is bored. He runs when it is hard. If you had told Dad when he first started his streak that he would run for the next 5,000 days straight, it might have seemed overwhelming. But he has plugged along, slowly adding to his streak total day by day by day, week by month by year. He has shown me that we are all capable of more than we could ever imagine.

4. You never know how many people you are inspiring.

Every day, my dad runs loops around a local park. Running on grass is easier on his joints and muscles than running on roads and sidewalks, and I can imagine there is a meditative quality to running loops around the same park each day, and watching the scenery change slightly with the seasons. He runs so much that he has created his own path in the grass that has become trampled down by his thousands of footsteps. Now, other people use his path in the grass for their daily walks. Children bike through the park on their way home from school and wave to him — they call him “The Path Man.” A little boy came up to him recently and said they look for him every day on their drive home from school past the park. They call him ORM — “Our Running Man.” A few years ago, when news broke about the Boston Marathon bombings, strangers came up to him at the park with relief on their faces — they had been worried he was in Boston, running the marathon.

My dad didn’t begin his streak to inspire others. He doesn’t run every day to inspire others. He runs for himself. And yet, simply by doing what he loves and doing it with passion, he inspires countless people with his dedication and effort. He has taught me that you never know who is watching you and learning from you. When you light up yourself, your light spreads to others around you. When you light up yourself, you inspire others to light up themselves, too.

5. Celebrate the milestones, and also savor the everyday moments.

Today is a big day for Dad. After his afternoon run, he is getting together with friends at one of his favorite local breweries to celebrate the magic of 5,000. It is a day to look back and be proud of what he has accomplished.

But, you know what? Tomorrow is another day to be proud of. And so is the next day. And the next. I know that tomorrow, Dad will lace up his shoes and savor the everyday magic of day 5,001. Because every run — like every day — is its own unique gift. As my brother Greg likes to say, “Each day is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Dad truly embodies the maxim to make each day a masterpiece, and I could not be prouder to be his daughter.

Congratulations, Daddy! I love you!

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.

when your brimming cup of tea spills all over the table

You guys, I had one of those rough days yesterday. We’ve all had them. Those days when, for some mysterious reason, Criticism and Rejection and Disappointment decide to band together and visit you, one right after the other right after the other, all within the same span of 24 hours, like annoying uninvited guests who crash the perfectly lovely party you had planned.

Now, I want to say right off the bat that I know I am really lucky. My bad day did not include me, or anyone I love, becoming hurt or sick or injured. It did not include any car accidents or broken gadgets or lost items. The worst it contained in that regard was a cup of spilled tea, which I will get to in a moment.

But still, at the end of the day, I was left feeling a little bit beaten-up. A little bit discouraged. A little bit heartsick. And I want to share this with you because sometimes the Internet can be so shiny. We read these beautiful blogs with gorgeous photos and happy news and goals and milestones and that is all well and good. I love reading these inspiring blogs — they give me hope and motivate me. However, no one’s life is a highlight reel. I believe there is beauty and worth in the messiness, too. I want to show you my messiness as well as my happy dances.

fallen tree

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue my dreams of writing and teaching for more than a decade now. At this point, I have learned to expect rejection. When I send out a short story or query an editor about an article idea, I prep myself for disappointment as soon as I press the “send” button. Rejection is the price of admission to creativity, as one of my favorite writers says. Every “no” you receive is one step closer to a “yes.” I believe in that, deeply. So rejections don’t normally bother me too much, even when they come in a string one right after the other.

But lately, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Inspired by the amazing Whitney at sometimes.always.never, I have given myself a goal of taking one small risk every single day. Applying for programs and opportunities that I might have otherwise talked myself out of. Putting myself out there, reaching out to people I admire, sending that email, submitting that idea for a speaking gig, because, I ask myself … what do you have to lose? Nothing. 

Let me tell you, friends, that is a terrific space to be living and creating in. I have felt very inspired the past month since I started doing this. I am feeling more empowered in my creativity. I am filled with more optimism and ideas. While sometimes I am still anxious to take these little risks, as a whole I am finding myself embracing the unknown more than I would have thought possible. My life has felt full-to-the-brim with opportunity.

But something that I wasn’t anticipating was what it would feel like when these new little risks ended in rejection. For some reason, the disappointment feels more acute. I haven’t braced myself for it in the same way I prepare myself for rejections of my writing pieces. Maybe my skin hasn’t had time to grow thick enough yet, in this new space I am occupying, outside of my comfort zone.

So yesterday, when I received two perfunctory rejections to neat opportunities I had excitedly thrown my hat in the ring for, in addition to a rejection of one of my short stories from a literary journal… it stung. It really stung. I felt that pit of disappointment yawn open in my stomach. That awful feeling of not being good enough hovered around the outskirts of my consciousness like a dark cloud threatening rain. I think we all have that feeling sometimes. You can be a confident, strong, empowered person, and still have those moments when you doubt yourself.

What I’ve found works best for me is not to give those doubts any extra power by tapping into anger or jealousy. I repeat to myself, over and over in my head, that I am worthy and I am enough, exactly as I am. That I don’t need any accolades or rewards to make myself matter. And, after the initial sting has calmed down a little, I reach down into that place of compassion and generosity inside myself. I try to open it wider, like a valve being loosened. And yes, when I push myself to try, I truly can feel others’ joy. I can feel joy for the people who did receive the opportunities that I was rejected from, because they worked very hard and are incredibly deserving. Just as I know that one day in the future — as has happened in the past — I will be on the receiving end of an acceptance letter. There will be other people who receive rejection letters. I would want them to be happy for me. This is what it means to me to practice abundance, not scarcity. To celebrate the joys for each other.

water-redwoods

Yesterday, I was teaching a private writing lesson for two of my favorite students. Everything was going wonderfully — they were super into the lesson, writing their creative stories with abandon, pencils flying across their lined notebook paper. We have our weekly lessons at the kitchen table and their mother always sweetly pours me a cup of tea to enjoy. On this day, mine was filled to the brim. It was sitting on the kitchen table, cooling down. One of my students had a question, and as I reached over to take a look at her paper, my arm bumped the mug of tea … and it spilled all over the table. I mean, ALL over the table, my friends. I leaped up and grabbed the mug, but the damage had already been done. My students’ papers were soaked through.

I felt mortified. I felt ashamed. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt stupid. I felt SO bad for spilling that tea!

But my students taught me something. They are only nine and eleven years old, but they possess so much grace.

“I’m so sorry, you guys!” I said. “I can’t believe I just did that!”

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” they said. And I could sense it immediately — they weren’t upset. They grabbed some paper towels and rags from the laundry room, and together we cleaned up the mess. I blotted their papers with towels and set them on the counter to dry. They weren’t ruined after all, just wet. Once they dried, they would be fine.

However I was still annoyed with myself, feeling aggravated and to-blame for the disruption. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I said again.

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” said the nine-year-old boy, a seriousness in his voice that I rarely hear. (Usually he is full of laughter and playfulness.) “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he spilled an entire bowl of soup on his lap.

“Plus, now it smells nice in here — like green tea!” his sister chimed in.

Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes. I want to treat myself with as much forgiveness and gentleness and understanding as those two wonderful kids showed me. When, metaphorically, my brimming mug of piping hot tea spills all over the table — when I feel disappointed, or criticized, or rejected, or frustrated — I want to respond the way they did. With calm. With love. With a shrug of the shoulders. With the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.

Together, we dried off the table. We got out fresh sheets of lined paper. They kept writing.

20160130_150838

So, do you know what I’m doing today? I’m picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting over again. I’m still pushing myself to take those small daily risks. I’m still going after those opportunities that seem out of my reach, out of my comfort zone. I’m still trying my best to learn and grow and push myself every single day, even when it is painful. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Because it is still worth it, always.

Oh! And in case you’re wondering, I did learn another lesson from that mug of spilled tea. As I sit here at my desk, I’m drinking my green tea out of a travel mug. With the lid on. 😉

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

*

When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

*

Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

*

When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

*

Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

Guest Post: The Surprising Benefits of Reality Television

Hi everyone! Oh my goodness, T-minus two weeks until my wedding day and I am a jumble of excitement, nerves, gratitude, stress… mostly excitement! 🙂

I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to post nearly as much as I would like this summer. Wedding-planning combined with teaching summer camps, tutoring my regular clients, travel plans and trying to squeeze in some writing projects has kept me busy “on all burners” as a friend of mine says. Anyway, I want to thank you for your patience during this super busy season of my life! I have a few posts in the pipeline that I am working on finishing up for you sometime soon. In the meantime, one of my blog readers reached out with an idea for a guest post, and I am delighted to present it to you today!

I must admit, when I first read the title of this post, I wasn’t sure I would agree with the writer’s views… I am not much of a TV watcher myself, and I think of “reality TV” squarely in the “guilty pleasures” realm! However, after reading it, my views have broadened. I think this guest blogger makes excellent points and definitely leaves you with some food for thought. Enjoy!

reality tv

The Surprising Benefits of Reality Television

Looking across the television channels, from lifestyle and cooking to educational, reality shows are clearly monopolizing the televised entertainment landscape. Despite the wide range of subcategories, the genre is often regarded as trash TV, offering very little to educate or improve our daily lives and leading most people to focus on the negative aspects of reality television. Contrary to popular belief, plenty of good can come from a daily dose of this guilty pleasure, more than you would think.

On the surface, the only apparent positive effect of reality television is its power to help you unwind from a busy day. One of the keys to letting yourself relax, according to Psych Central, is by figuring out what works best for you, and while MasterChef may not have the same meditative effects as simple breathing exercises or a yoga workout, reality TV gives a sense of escape that allows us to disconnect from our daily stresses. For a moment, the only thing that you focus on is whether or not your favorite contestant is going to make it through to the next round.

But there’s more to game shows and other reality series than just its relaxation benefits. Positive influences have actually stemmed from this TV category. One of the finer examples that prove that TV can be very useful to viewers includes the show Hoarders, as How Stuff Works say that it has increased public awareness on a behavior that many don’t realize is a mental health issue. These documented cases of real people and real problems has made us socially aware and accepting of others, and even supplied us with the tools to make changes in our own lives and help others in need.

On the less serious side of things, talent contests such as The X Factor, which is now at the peak of its popularity with The X Factor Games and other related ventures, expose us to a world of unique and extraordinary abilities that inspire us to explore our own faculties, as well as support the contestants that hope to make a better life for themselves and their families. Weight loss competitions supply us with the guidance to lead a healthier lifestyle without the risks of extreme dieting. Segments that highlight teen pregnancy have encouraged the public to be more cautious with reproductive health, as Benefits of explains that teen pregnancy rates have declined since the premiere of shows like Teen Mom.

They say that television is only good in small doses, but it all depends on the content. Reality TV as a whole may not have the same educational caliber as the likes of National Geographic, though the average Joe and Jane stories are circumstances that we can all relate to, motivating us to become the best version of ourselves.

Questions to think about:

  • Do you watch any reality television? If so, what shows are your favorites?
  • Do you feel motivated by reality TV shows?

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!”

because I didn’t hit “snooze”

I almost hit “snooze” this morning.

I’ve confessed in this space before that I used to have a problem with hitting snooze. But, thanks to some reflection as part of my year of living simply, I realized that I didn’t like how snooze made me feel. I didn’t really get any extra quality sleep, and I just felt bad about myself when I finally did get out of bed… like I was already “behind” on my day. So I vowed to give up on snooze, and get out of bed when my alarm first goes off in the morning. I usually feel a little groggy when I first wake up, but by the time I’ve washed my face, put my contacts in, and downed two glasses of water, I am wide awake and ready to go!

me glasses

However, old habits can be hard to break. Even when you have some great momentum going, it can be so easy to slip right back into old patterns. Because old patterns are comfortable. They tend to feel good in the moment, even if you know they don’t make you feel your best in the long run.

This morning, I almost hit snooze. My alarm went off and I just wanted to snuggle down into the covers for five more minutes. {Which would likely lead to five more minutes… and five more minutes… and five more minutes…} However, I intentionally set my alarm for as late a time as possible for me to get out of bed and still make it to yoga class without feeling rushed. So, hitting snooze would have meant a snowball decision: five or ten or fifteen extra minutes of half-sleep, and no chance of getting to yoga on time.

In that moment, I didn’t want to go to yoga class.

But I knew that Future Me would *wish* I had gone to that yoga class.

So I threw off the covers, got out of bed, and turned off my alarm. I changed into my yoga clothes that I had laid out on my bedside chair the night before. I drank my two glasses of cold water, ate a banana, and drank some green tea.

tea saying

And I felt awake. And energized. And jazzed for my day.

In fact, I had gotten ready so quickly that I still had about twenty minutes until I needed to leave the house. I remembered a delightful podcast I listened to last week, Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette, where she talked about her realignment to how she views time, particularly small pockets of time — ten minutes, twenty minutes — that she used to think were “not enough time” to get anything worthwhile done, so she would waste them away by surfing the Internet or scrolling through her phone. But ten or twenty minutes ARE enough — for taking a walk, for reading a chapter of a book, for meditating. Inspired by that thought, I used my extra pre-yoga twenty minutes to do some journaling, and it was enough time to get down some great ideas for my novel and for future blog posts. I felt excited to come back later and write more!

I left early enough for yoga class not to feel rushed. Instead of listening to the radio during my five-minute drive, I let silence envelop the car and just listened to my breathing. To my thoughts.

Yoga class was lovely, both relaxing and invigorating. Sometimes I feel shy when I sit down on my mat before class starts, but today I mustered the effort to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice. I was reminded of the ways that little bits of small talk and smiles with strangers make us feel connected to the wider world around us. While I think of myself as a natural introvert — I recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of people I am close to — I still need to feel this connection with the broader world in order to feel my happiest.

If I had hit snooze, I would have been late to yoga class, and would have missed out on this breath of connection. Or, I might have hit snooze a couple times, and decided not to go to class at all.

peaceful ocean

My body felt so good after yoga class that I wanted to keep the momentum going. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up some organic veggies and frozen fruit and spinach, and I came home and made myself a fresh green smoothie. It was delicious. Instead of ducking my head behind my computer monitor, I chatted with my grandparents in the kitchen while I drank my smoothie. I didn’t feel at all like I was “behind schedule.” I felt overflowing, like there was time enough for everything I needed to do and wanted to do. Certainly there was ten minutes to drink my green smoothie and talk with my loved ones.

And then I washed the blender and my smoothie mug, made a fresh cup of green tea, and came to sit at my computer to type up this blog post. It is 11:00 a.m. and I am just now checking my email, and the world didn’t end. Nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a couple hours.

I feel energized and excited about my plans for the rest of the day. I feel eager to work on my novel, jazzed about my sessions with students later, and connected to the world and to myself. I feel balanced and capable. Most of all, I feel grateful for the gift of this beautiful day and this precious life.

And I feel grateful that I didn’t press “snooze.”

“The Magic Thread”

Last weekend at church, I had a truly amazing day. During the summer when our ministers are on sabbatical, Worship Associates get to lead the services. It was my honor and pleasure to lead the service this past Sunday. The entire congregation was so welcoming, loving and supportive. I am still “walking on air” after the experience! I wanted to share my sermon with you — but first, I need to share the story my sermon is based upon.

The Magic Thread

“The Magic Thread” is a fable about a boy named Peter who is not very different from you or me. Peter finds it very hard to enjoy whatever he is doing at the moment. He always wants to move on to the next thing in his life. Have you ever felt that way? Summer is too hot—he can’t wait for the autumn to arrive. Winter is too cold—he counts the days until springtime. School is okay, but none of his best friends are in his class, so he wants it to be the next year already. Then, his friends are in his class, but his teacher is very strict and assigns a lot of homework. He is always convinced that his life will be better next week, next month, next season, next year.

One day, Peter is walking home from school through the forest and he meets an old woman, who offers him a shining golden ball of magic thread. She explains, “This is the thread of your life, my boy. If you want time to pass more quickly, all you need to do is pull the thread a tiny bit, and an hour will pass like a second.”

However, she also gives him a warning: “Listen carefully: once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again. You can only move forward in time, never back.”

Peter joyfully takes the ball of magic thread. All his troubles are over! How easy life will be now, that he can skip forward past all the times of hardship and trouble. School is too boring, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and finds himself out of school and working at his first job. He meets a girl and falls in love. He can’t wait to marry her, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and—poof!—it’s their wedding day. When he feels sick, what do you think he does? He pulls the magic thread to feel better again. What about when he has troubles at work? Yep, you guessed it! He pulls the magic thread to move on to a new project, a better job, a corner office, a bigger promotion. But, as soon as one problem is solved, it seems another always appears in its place.

Before Peter knows it, he is an old man, and his wife is an old woman. Their daughters are grown and have left the house and moved on to their own careers and families. Peter goes for a walk in the forest, and meets the magical old woman once again. She smiles and asks him, “So Peter. Did you have a good life?”

“I’m not sure,” Peter admits. “Your magic ball of thread is a wonderful thing. I have never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it has all passed so quickly. I have had no time to take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the bad. Now there is so little time left.”

The old woman smiles wisely and says she can grant him one final wish. “Choose,” she says. “Would you like to continue living with the magic thread, or would you like to live again as if for the first time, without it?”

Can you guess what choice Peter makes? Yep, he gave the magic thread back to the old woman and chose to live his life again, through each and every moment—the good and the bad, the wonderful and the boring. He woke up the next morning as a young boy again in his bed, and he was the happiest person in the world as he walked down the stairs into a perfectly ordinary day.

Below is a video taken of my sermon, or click here to watch it directly on YouTube. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

life is like a wine tasting

sunstone winery

Yesterday, we took a “family staycation day” and drove up to the San Ynez Valley to explore the beautiful vineyards. It was a gorgeous day and we ended up doing a wine tasting at Sunstone Winery, which was absolutely delightful. It was my first time doing a wine tasting at a winery, and got me thinking about the ways that life is like a wine tasting:

1. Each taste is unique and lovely in its own way, and should be enjoyed for what it is. For example, if you expect a pinot grigio to be a merlot, you are going to be disappointed. But if you pay attention to the distinct flavors of the pinot grigio, you are able to appreciate it for what it is. In the same way, each season of life has different flavors — pros and cons, perks and disappointments. Try to appreciate the season of life you are in for all the gifts it has to offer, instead of wishing for a different season. You will get there soon enough, and there will likely be things you miss about your life here and now!

me and mom winery

2. Each pour is meant to be savored, not rushed through. So often, it can feel like we are rushing through life: counting down hours in a workday, scrolling through email constantly on our smartphones, yearning for the weekend or for our next vacation. Even meals are often hurried affairs, something we rush through rather than enjoy, or mindlessly eat in front of the TV — have you ever finished eating something and realized you barely even tasted a single bite? In a wine tasting, each taste is sipped slowly and savored. Can you imagine what life would be like if we treated every meal with such respect? Not to mention, if we tried to savor each moment of our day as if it were a sip of expensive wine?

greg and pops winery

3. The joy of the experience doesn’t come from the wine itself — it comes from the people you share it with. If I had gone wine-tasting by myself yesterday, I would have had an okay time, but I would not have had anyone to share the experience with. Much of the fun of trying out the different wines was sipping them out on the verandah together, talking and laughing and telling stories and discussing our opinions on the different wines. That was where the joy truly came from. Our family visit to the vineyards wasn’t even really about the wine tasting at all — it was about spending time together, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing a fun experience with those we love.

me and gb winery

Now I’m off to soak up more family time before we take my little bro to the airport tomorrow for his new job in NYC! So proud of him! (And I’m going to miss him a TON.)

Hope you are soaking up every beautiful moment of this lovely day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing! ❤

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad