why surprise dates are my new favorite thing

Back in the spring, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts–Happier With Gretchen Rubin & Elizabeth Craft–and one of their tips was to plan “surprise dates” with your significant other. I immediately loved this idea. I get a huge kick out of surprises, both planning them for others  and being surprised myself. Also, Allyn and I had a long list of “someday” date ideas–activities and restaurants and places that would be “fun for a date someday”–and, while we have always gone on a lot of fun dates together, I thought having a clear structure would be motivation to tackle even more of the creative things on our list. One thing I highly agree with Gretchen Rubin about is that more often than not, when something can be done anytime, it is not done at all.

I proposed the “surprise date” idea to Allyn, and he was game to give it a try. {One of the countless amazing things about my husband is that he is always open to trying new things, whether that is a new recipe I have invented or some activity I hear about on a podcast. I love you, honey!}

We decided to alternate months planning surprises dates for each other, and set parameters to keep things from getting too crazy–the last thing we wanted was for these surprise dates to seem stressful or like a huge event. {To be honest, I think Allyn was probably trying to reign me in because he knows I tend to get a little too enthusiastic or go a tad overboard sometimes. See: planning a huge surprise party for his birthday at a restaurant with all of his family and friends, when we had only been dating for six months. What can I say? I love birthdays and I love surprises and I love him!}

Now, five months into our surprise date experiment, Allyn and I both agree that it is one of our favorite traditions, and definitely something we hope to continue throughout our marriage. It is such a kick to plan the dates for each other and, on the receiving end, the dates just have an extra bit of special magic because they are surprises. It reminds me of when we first started dating. Surprise dates are an easy way to keep the romance alive!

And they don’t even have to be that original. For our very first surprise date, which I planned, we went out to dinner and a movie. But it was more special than our average dinner-and-a-movie date because I found a new-to-us restaurant to try out, and also took Allyn to a cool boutique candy shop to get movie treats before heading to the theater. {No lie: the way to my man’s heart is sour gummy candy.}

Here are some other surprise dates we’ve gone on together:

  • Lunch at a cute little Mexican restaurant and a walk along the Hayward Shoreline, which is quite a lovely hidden gem.

  • Lunch and beignets at a New Orleans-themed restaurant, then a matinee showing of the musical Monsoon Wedding.
  • Fireworks night at an Oakland A’s game.

  • An afternoon at the Exploratorium, a super cool science museum in San Francisco, plus a drive to Twin Peaks to take in the incredible views of the city.

  • Dessert at a French bakery that Holly introduced me to during her recent visit {she and her boyfriend discovered it when they were out here for our wedding!} followed by an indoor rock-climbing class.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this idea with you guys in case any of you find it intriguing! Let me know if you try it out yourselves, or if you do something similar. What are some of the most fun dates you’ve been on? Anything we should add to our list of dates to try in the San Francisco Bay Area?

what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever. Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. 😉

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

Céline, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

a thank-you note to the universe

Dear Universe,

You really outdid yourself with my thirtieth birthday. It was one of the most special days weeks {I mean seriously, whose birthday celebration lasts multiple weeks??} of my life. It was filled with reminders of all the people who have made every day of my past thirty years on this planet such an incredible gift. I just wanted to write a little note to say thank you.

Thank you for my parents, who created me and raised me to be kind, curious, and confident in myself, to strive for my dreams and appreciate the present, to dive forward and dig in with both hands. They turned the story of my rocky premature birth into a story of strength and determination. Every single day of my entire life I have felt loved, because of them. I was so grateful to be able to celebrate my birthday, and my dad’s birthday two days before mine, with my family in my hometown over Memorial Day weekend. We ate so much delicious food and went mini-golfing and watched movies and relaxed together on the couch and took Mr. Murbur for long walks, and it was simply perfect.

Thank you for my brother, who has been my “twin” since the day he was born when I was two and a half. It is such a blessing to have someone in my life, for as long as I can remember, who shares my history and inside jokes and who just “gets” me. He may be my younger brother, but he is my role model. He is so wise, and I learn so much from him. It was such a gift that he flew out from NYC to be there for Memorial Day weekend, and he even ran the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon and totally kicked butt! It was his first-ever marathon, and he did it in 2 hours 52 minutes and creamed the Boston Qualifier time! I am unbelievably proud of him. Thank you, universe, for the gift of being able to cheer him on for the last mile of the race and hug him at the finish line. He inspires me all over!

Thank you for my amazing husband, who drove down to Ventura by himself on Saturday morning {with my flexible work schedule, I was able to fly down a few days earlier to squeeze in more family time} and was his sweet, thoughtful and generous self all weekend, even though he was probably exhausted from a long workweek and a long solo travel day. He fits in with my fam so naturally and I love seeing them share inside jokes and long conversations. He also was amazingly helpful to my mom–she has officially crowned him “Best Son-in-Law Ever”–washing off chairs and running to the grocery store and setting up tables for our big party on Sunday. {More about that later.} And, if all that wasn’t enough, he also made me the most wonderful personal birthday gift I could imagine, and he threw a party for me up in the Bay Area the weekend after my birthday, so I could celebrate with all my friends and family up here. He spent months planning it and even baked funfetti cupcakes with homemade cream-cheese frosting for the event! Universe, you were so generous to introduce me to this man three and a half years ago. He’s made me smile every day since. #luckiestgirl

{mini-golfing!}

Thank you for the gorgeous weather all weekend–especially on Sunday, when my parents threw a big party to celebrate my birthday, my dad’s birthday, and my brother’s epic marathon! My mom worked her booty off prepping for the party, as always without a hint of complaint. She gives to others with such joy. So many people from my childhood came by–old family friends, former teachers, my cousins and aunts and uncles, plus newer friends too! It was a whirlwind of chatting and visiting, eating and drinking and laughing. I love being able to introduce various people I adore to each other!

Thank you for bringing Erica into my life in seventh grade; she has been one of my best friends ever since. She has always loved me and accepted me for exactly who I am, which is such a gift in a friend. I was so happy to get to see her twice while I was home: for one of our marathon catch-up coffee dates, at our favorite spot Simone’s, and at the party on Sunday, where her parents came along too! It was wonderful to see them again, and they got to meet Allyn for the first time. It always warms my heart to see my hubby bond with my friends. Anyway, universe, I’m just so grateful for this girl!

Thank you for the dozens of sweet cards and thoughtful messages and phone calls I received from friends near and far on my birthday. From notes on Facebook to text messages to sunflower bouquets to birthday packages in the mail, I felt like the most loved lady on the planet. Now I have cards displayed all around our apartment that give me the warm fuzzies as I go through my day. I am so fortunate that my path has crossed with the paths of so many incredible people in the past 30 years!

Universe, thank you for blessing us with more gorgeous weather last Saturday for my second birthday party—a picnic at the Lake Chabot regional park, just down the street from our apartment. Allyn reserved our picnic area back in January, and it was absolutely perfect: up on a little hill, tucked away, our own private spot to BBQ and hang out with friends.

Thank you for my wonderful in-laws, who came early and schlepped coolers and grilling trays and drinks and food and camping chairs and propane up the hill, who helped us get the tablecloths and decorations all set up, who were grill masters and made sure everyone had enough to eat. Allyn’s mom saved the day by bringing along some metal tongs—Allyn and I realized when we started unloading things for the grill that, despite months of careful planning and triple-checking to-do lists, we had completely forgotten to bring any sort of implements to turn meat and veggies on the grill, like maybe a spatula?? Haha! After a few moments of panic, Barbara realized she had metal tongs, which she brought along to serve the delicious ribs she had made for everyone. Problem solved!

Thank you for all of our dear friends and family who took time out of their busy lives to come celebrate with me. It is so rare for all of us to be together in one place—it felt a bit like my wedding all over again, in the best way! Hours flew by in what felt like a blink. It was such a treat to spend time just relaxing, eating, sharing stories, laughing, piñata-ing, throwing around the football, and soaking up the sunlight together.

Finally, universe {coming around full-circle} thank you once again for my parents, who totally surprised me by driving 6+ hours to come to my picnic party! Allyn was the only one who knew their plan, and he was a master secret-keeper. I was completely blown away! I will always treasure the memory of seeing them walking up the hill to the party, a huge smile breaking across my face as I realized… “Hey, that’s my parents!!” I couldn’t believe they would travel all that way to celebrate my birthday all over again. {Actually, I could believe it. My parents are such generous people who always make me feel so special!} I absolutely loved having them there, getting to introduce them to my friends and showing them around the park where I love to go for walks during the week. Plus, we got to hang out with them for dinner that night and lunch the next day, before they hit the road to head back home. Even though I wish we lived just down the street from each other, I’m so grateful that we’re only a car ride away.

Universe, I can’t imagine a better 30th birthday. Thank you for my health, my people, and for all the love in my life. As everyone sang me “Happy Birthday” over funfetti cupcakes with divine homemade frosting, I looked around at all the smiling faces and my heart felt full-to-the-brim with pure gratitude. How beautiful this life is. How lucky I am to live it. I am savoring these moments as deeply as I can, even while I am so excited to see what my next trip around the sun brings!

Love,
Dallas

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and “freewrite” your thoughts on the following prompts:

  • Write your own letter to the universe. What are you grateful for?
  • Have you ever been surprised or been thrown a surprise party? Or, have you ever surprised someone else? Write about the experience.
  • What is one of your favorite birthday memories?

how far will your ripples go?

Last night, I went with my friend Marjie to UC Berkeley to see the Scottish Ballet’s stunning performance of Tennessee Williams’ famous play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It was my first time going to a professional ballet performance—my only previous ballet experience was attending community performances of “The Nutcracker.” I always enjoyed “The Nutcracker” and was always impressed by the talent of the ballerinas. Still, I was not expecting to feel so emotionally moved and enraptured as I watched the performance last night.

The dancers conveyed so much with their bodies and expressions; I forgot they were not speaking in words. Because they were speaking in movement. Even without dialogue, they were able to capture the aching hope and despair of Williams’ play, and bring his story to life in a new way. What’s more, this performance imagined and fleshed out a vivid backstory for Blanche’s character, inspired by the original title Tennessee Williams considered for the play: “The Moth.” The ballet closed with a vulnerable portrayal of Blanche as a moth, struggling to get close to the light. Illuminated in a spotlight centerstage, one of her hands fluttered skyward like a moth’s delicate wings. A hush descended over the audience and some people even gasped, viscerally moved by the image, and then the curtain fell to thunderous applause.

I wish Tennessee Williams could have been there to see this interpretation of his play as a ballet. I think he would have been pleased to see his story brought to life in this new way, filled with the tension and drama of music and dance.

I have felt a connection to Tennessee Williams ever since last Thanksgiving, when my family and I traveled to New Orleans and tracked down the apartment that he had lived in during his New Orleans days at the end of his life. Serendipitously, while we were outside, taking photos and reading the small plaque affixed to the front wall, a man who lived there just happened to be returning home. He introduced himself as Brobson and invited us inside for a drink; he had lived there for many years and had known Tennessee Williams. He kindly welcomed us inside and shared many stories, even taking us around to the backyard to see the pool where Tennessee used to relax in the afternoons. {My dad wrote a terrific two-part column about our visit with Brobson, which you can read here on his website.}

Before that day, Tennessee Williams had been larger-than-life to me; a name in a list of Great Writers I Admire; a photo on a Wikipedia page. But seeing where he had lived and meeting someone who had known him turned him into a real person. There were surely days he struggled to write, as I sometimes do. Days when he doubted himself. Days when he wanted to give up. “A Streetcar Named Desire” was once merely a glimmer of an idea on the edge of his consciousness. Thankfully, he wrote the idea down, and he kept writing until the play was finished. Even when it was hard. Even when there were a million other things he could have been doing, or would have rather been doing. Even when he wondered if the words he was painstakingly stacking up, one after the next after the next, would amount to anything at all.

Tennessee Williams had no way of knowing how much his plays would impact people and how far the ripples of his creativity would extend. He had no way of knowing that on a Thursday evening in Berkeley thirty-seven years after his death, hundreds of people would be moved to tears from a new portrayal of the characters he had dreamed up.

None of us know how far our own ripples will go. The gifts we create. The lives we touch. The kind words we share. All of these are stones dropped into water. What was once still is now in motion.

You have no idea how your daily actions might inspire others. What you do and make today might affect someone tomorrow, or next week, or ten years from now. Others in the future might learn from you and build upon what you have done, creating something of their own that is entirely new and wonderful, something else that will launch more ripples out into the world.

Back when I was in elementary school, I wrote and self-published a small book of stories and poems. Nearly two decades later, I received an email from a composer named Alex Marthaler at Carnegie Mellon University. He was creating a song-cycle around the theme of childhood and adulthood, and he had somehow discovered my little book. Would it be okay if he used some of my poems as lyrics for the songs he wanted to compose?

Yes! I quickly responded. Yes, that would be amazing!

Would I be willing to write a few companion poems, responding to the themes of the poems I had written as a child, now from an adult perspective?

Yes, yes! What a fun project!

And it was an extremely fun project, unlike anything else I had done before or since. I looked at the poems my child-self had written with fresh eyes and new appreciation, and I wrote new poems that were in conversation with them. It was like talking to the girl I had once been, and listening to her replies. She helped me remember why I first fell in love with writing to begin with. The magic of setting your thoughts down onto paper, and then releasing those words into the universe. Like launching hundreds of miniature paper airplanes into the sky.

I sent him the new poems, and a few months later, Alex sent me the recordings of the songs. Listening to them, I was blown away with wonder. Who would have imagined that a few little poems I wrote in pencil on lined notebook paper at my kitchen table when I was nine years old, would one day be turned into beautiful songs performed at Carnegie Mellon?

{Me in fifth grade with copies of my first little self-published book}

I love this quote from Brene Brown:

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.”

How will you share your soul with the world? What ripples will come from what you share? One thing I do know is that our world will be so much richer for it.

P.S. You can listen to Alex’s song rendition of my fifth-grade poem “Peanut Butter Surprise” below, and if you’d like a copy of my first little book, it’s available here. And here is a free download of my childhood poems with their adult counterparts, in case you’d like to read them.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open up a new document on your computer. Here are some questions to get your “free-write” going today:

  • What is a creative project you are currently struggling with or feeling discouraged about? What small step can you take right now to make it feel easier or lighter?
  • Is there a project in your heart that you are afraid to share? What might happen if you released it into the world, in all of its imperfect and messy beauty?
  • What ripples can you create today?
  • Write about a ripple that someone else created that has touched you or impacted your life.

my slobbery, comforting shadow

Hi friends! Just wanted to let you know that my essay “My Slobbery, Comforting Shadow” — about how our beloved family dog Murray helped me during a difficult time of my life — was recently published on the website Sweatpants and Coffee. You can read it here.

“Welcome home, honey,” my mom said, ushering me inside the front door of my childhood house. My dad followed close behind with my suitcases. As soon as we stepped through the door, we were greeted by a wriggling 82-pound bundle of brown-furred energy: our family dog, a boxer named Murray. I hadn’t seen him in five months, not since I had been home for Christmas. He yelped and barked with joy, leaping up to kiss my face, then running around the living room—his own version of welcoming me home.

“It’s good to be back,” I said, petting Murray’s head. He slobbered all over my hand, but I didn’t mind.

“I’m going to make you a sandwich,” my mom said, heading into the kitchen. “I can tell you haven’t been eating enough.”

I didn’t argue—I hadn’t really been eating or sleeping much the past month and a half, not since my engagement had quite suddenly but irrevocably unraveled….

Read the rest of the piece here: http://sweatpantsandcoffee.com/personal-essays-slobbery-comforting-shadow/ 

amber rubarth house concert in seattle

When I wrote a letter on this blog to Amber Rubarth back in May, I didn’t expect that she would ever read it. I hoped my words might somehow reach her – I wanted her to know how much her music meant to me – but, even if she never read my letter, I still felt writing it meant something. Even if the words were just for myself, I wanted to reflect on how I had carried her songs within me for years, how they had impacted my life and had been my companions and helped me grow into someone braver and stronger and more assured in myself, more rooted in my being. It was a small gesture, but it felt hugely good.

me and amber rubarth 2

Even though I wrote that letter for myself, when I published it here on the blog, something amazing happened.

The positive response was overwhelming. People shared with me their own thoughts about how music has made a difference in their lives. The post was shared widely throughout the Facebook and Twitter communities. And, within a few days, my words made their way to Amber herself.

I got goosebumps when I logged onto Facebook one afternoon to find a notification that I had been tagged in a post by Amber Rubarth:

Ah my heart!!! Just read this beautiful post from Dallas Woodburn who came to my show last week in San Francisco. My heart is fluttering with gratitude. Thank you Dallas for your beautiful words and gorgeous soul. Wow. So moving. You are a beautiful writer.

It was the opposite of that frustrated feeling I experienced after our brief interaction post-concert, the one that spurred me to write the post in the first place. Now I felt buoyant and peaceful and more connected to the community around me. I had been able to express what had previously felt inexpressible. I had let someone know that their work was important to me. I was happy and grateful that my words had rippled outward and found their recipient. It seemed like a small miracle.

But the ripples did not end there. I received messages from both of Amber’s parents, letting me know how much my words meant to them. Amber and I became email pals, and she even tweeted congratulations on my wedding day!

screenshot_2016-09-05-08-57-39

And I received an email from a man named Bill.

Hi Dallas,

Long-story-short… My wife and I have been hosting a house concert series in the living room of our house here in Seattle for the past eleven years. Amber Rubarth played our series back in 2013. She’s eager to return and we recently talked about this coming October. Before contacting Amber I did some poking around online to see what Amber was up to and came across your blog post. Wow! It had me and several  friends I shared it with in tears. This type of feedback provides the fuel for touring musicians to continue doing what they do. So here’s the deal… If Amber plays here, I’d like to invite you and a guest to come to the show. And I’d pay for the airline tickets for you both to fly to Seattle. I know, this sounds like a scam. Believe me, it isn’t. As soon as I read your blog I knew what I wanted to do. My brain and stomach (intuition) were aligned with each other and agreed this was the right thing to do. Hope to hear back from you and get your thoughts.

I was absolutely blown away when I read this email. To receive such warm and thoughtful generosity from a complete stranger! Immediately, I replied to Bill with an enthusiastic: Absolutely, I would love to come!!

We hammered out the details over the next few months, and then suddenly it was the end of October, and our trip up to Seattle had arrived! Allyn wasn’t able to attend because he had a previously scheduled commitment for that weekend, but my dad was kind enough to fly up from L.A. to join me for the trip. It was my first time seeing him post-wedding it was SO great to get some time just to ourselves, to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather in Seattle and spent the day exploring Pike’s Place Market, walking around downtown, and eating delicious seafood. My favorite was the clam chowder we ate overlooking the water!

 me and dad chowder seattle

We also visited the amazing Chihuly Museum, which I dubbed “Dr. Seuss books come to life”… the delicate, vibrant, larger-than-life blown-glass sculptures were extraordinary to behold! Tickets were a liiiittle pricey, but worth it. We were both really happy we went there.

chihuly museum

Walking back to our hotel, we stopped at a Starbucks {because, when in Seattle, right?} to escape the brief drizzle and enjoy our hot drinks. And then it was time for the concert! After stopping at a neat local brewery for dinner, we took an Uber to the quaint historical Captiol Hill neighborhood where Bill and his wife Micki live.

It was a funny situation because, although Bill and I had emailed back and forth quite a bit, I had no idea what he looked like. When Dad and I stepped inside the beautiful house filled with people {who mostly all knew each other from previous house concerts there} I was unsure what to do! A white-haired man came up to us in the entryway and I asked, “Bill?” He laughed and said, “No, I’m Jim — but Bill’s making cider in the kitchen. C’mon!” And he led the way back through the house.

Bill knew what I looked like from this blog, and as soon as he saw me, he beamed. He and Micki were both so friendly and welcoming to me and my dad. We enjoyed chatting with them in the kitchen before the concert began, and Bill introduced me to some of his friends who had read my piece here on the blog. It was so special to meet them in person!

As soon as Amber came out “on stage” my heart leapt — I was so excited that my dad would get to hear her music live! I knew he would fall in love with her beautiful songs, and he did. I had never before attended a house concert, and I was captivated by the intimate vibe of the night. It was a mix of a casual concert and a Q&A, with the audience jumping in with questions and song requests.

amber rubarth house concert

Partway through the concert, Amber asked, “Is Dallas here?” I waved my hands so she could spot me in the crowd. Amber then sweetly told everyone about my blog post and the story of how I ended up being at the concert that night. Then she wished me and Allyn congratulations on our recent wedding day and played her “Song to Thank The Stars” for us — out of all her songs, it is my favorite and the one that reminds me the most of Allyn.

I was nearly in tears, it was such a special moment.

After the concert, which flew by way too fast, we got to visit with Amber in the kitchen. It was wonderful to get some time to chat with her about her music, the creative process, my wedding, her upcoming tour and new album, and our families. She is one of the most genuinely kind, warm and authentic people I have ever met. Oh! And she recently starred in a new movie that will be released in 2017! It is called “September 12th” and also stars musician Joe Purdy. I can’t wait to see it!

me and amber 2

{A little blurry, but the best photo of the bunch!}

The trip to Seattle was one of the coolest experiences of my life! What a testament to the generosity and connection of people — former strangers, now friends — and the beauty and love present in our world. I feel so very grateful for this experience! Thank you Bill and Micki from the bottom of my heart. And thank you, of course, to my new friend Amber Rubarth!

You can pre-order Amber’s gorgeous new album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard, at her website: http://www.amberrubarth.com/

fabulous friday #52

Hi friends, and happy Friday! Hope you’re up to something fun! I’m heading into the city as soon as I hit “publish” on this blog post to have lunch with my hubby {I still get a little giggly calling Allyn my husband :)} and then I’m going to have an afternoon “writing retreat” at a coffeeshop. I’m excited to delve into this new novel I’m working on, and also to get in some distraction-free commenting time on the wonderful batch of poems and stories I received from my creative writing students this past week. {News since I last posted an update on here: I’m teaching a weekly creative writing class for high school students in San Jose, and I’m LOVING it!} Speaking of things I’m loving…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. One Teen Story! I love this little magazine for so many reasons. The issues come out every month, and each issue is a new story geared for teen audiences {but wise and wonderfully written — I think adults will love them, too!} Some of them are even written by teens, including “A Eulogy for Pretzel” and “Sunrise” in this batch below. I often slip a couple issues into my bag when I am taking public transport somewhere, so I can read without having to lug around a bulky book — I can fit these even into my small purse. I also like to use issues as “prizes” to motivate my writing students.

one teen story

2. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios — I nabbed these when I spotted them at the grocery store because I adore pretty much anything pumpkin spice. I have been eating them for breakfast or as a snack all week long, and I also made these delicious cereal bars from Eating Bird Food.

3. Last weekend, for Allyn’s birthday, I planned a birthday surprise outing for him. I absolutely love birthdays and I had so much fun planning out a fun adventure for us. We went to the pumpkin patch where we were able to conquer a corn maze for the second year in a row and picked out some stellar pumpkins for only $4 each! I have named them Fred & Ginger.

Allyn pumpkin patch

Then we went out to dinner at this neat restaurant called Old City Hall Restaurant that used to actually be the town City Hall — there is so much history in the building, and where the bathrooms are used to be the jail cells! They still have the iron gates and it was definitely the coolest bathroom I have ever seen. I would have taken a picture for you guys but I had left my purse/phone at the table!

I did however take lots of photos of our final stop of the surprise-filled day: the Lumination experience at Gilroy Gardens! This was so cool, you guys! If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend it. It is like the Rose Parade meets Christmas lights meets the Chinese lantern festival. We spent a couple hours walking all over the gardens and taking in all the amazing light sculptures. One of my favorites was a ginormous dragon that was entirely built out of china dishes–cups, bowls, plates, etc! It was incredible to behold.

dragon lumination

dragon china plates

4. Something about autumn always makes me bust out my James Taylor albums, especially October Road, and I love his new one Before This World as well. Lately I’ve also been rocking out to this Ben Rector song… impossible to be in a grumpy or tired mood when this song comes on, am I right??

5. I don’t usually get political in this space, but this election feels too perilous not to speak out against hatred, violence, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and a terrifying frenzy of fear. Too much is at stake to stay silent. In these times of uncertainty, I have been particularly inspired by this movement, #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote, started by writers Julianna Baggott and David Scott, who reached out to fellow writers, family, and friends, who reached out to more folks and word spread quickly. The response has been overwhelming — some pieces are heartbreaking and moving, others inspiring, others simply stunning. The line-up of writers include two Pulitzer-prizewinners, New York Times bestselling novelists, a National Book Award-winner, critically acclaimed poets, as well as social workers, teachers, even a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Special Forces. DedicateYourNoTrumpVote.com is looking for people from various walks of life, a diverse range of experience and points of view. Submit your own piece, or just read the words of others and consider what you want your vote to stand for — what legacy you want to leave to your future children and grandchildren.

Questions for the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?

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!}

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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?

weekend getaway to half moon bay

This past weekend, I took my sweetheart on a surprise weekend getaway to Half Moon Bay for his birthday! We had such a wonderful, relaxing time. I had never been to Half Moon Bay but have wanted to go ever since I moved up to the Bay Area and heard the town’s name… it sounds so magical to me! And it ended up being even lovelier than I imagined. It is only a short drive outside of San Francisco, but it feels worlds away. Half Moon Bay is a quiet, sleepy little beach town and I kept telling Allyn, “I feel like we are so far from home even though we only drove like an hour to get here!” Even the drive was pretty, with ocean views along Coastal Highway 1 and some very neat sections where the road was lined with huge, beautiful trees.

I booked a cute apartment for us on Air B&B and I want to give a quick shout-out to Paul, Meg and Poppy as fantastic hosts who totally went above and beyond! If you ever visit Half Moon Bay, I would definitely recommend staying with them. When we arrived, there were fresh flowers waiting on the kitchen table, as well as delicious homemade brownies and milk! How sweet is that? They also left tea and coffee for us to brew each morning, which was so nice. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the weekend was the slow mornings with my sweetie, sharing breakfast in the sunny kitchen.

brownies half moon bay

I was a little excited about the brownies 🙂

Here is the outside of the cute one-bedroom apartment we stayed in:

half moon bay residence

Happy happy!

me half moon bay residence

On Saturday morning, Allyn and I drove the short distance to the Half Moon Bay State Beach.

al half moon bay beach sign

What a nice guy, carrying my purse for me!

The weather was gorgeous and sunny, and we spent some time walking along the beach trails, soaking up the sunshine, and watching the waves. The ocean is so soothing! I could sit in the sand and watch the waves break along the shore for hours.

half moon bay beach

half moon bay me and al

The wind started to pick up in the early afternoon, and our stomachs started grumbling, so we left the beach and stopped at a cute restaurant, The Flying Fish Bar & Grill, for lunch. I neglected to snap photos of our food, but Allyn had a delicious-looking wrap with fried prawns, and I had a mahi fish taco and a cup of clam chowder. It hit the spot!

Then we headed out to the pumpkin patch! Half Moon Bay is known for pumpkins {they actually have a huge pumpkin festival every year!} and before the trip I had read terrific reviews of Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, so we headed there. We were not disappointed! It was a pumpkin patch paradise.

arata's pumpkin farm

pumpkins at pumpkin farm

Arata’s Pumpkin Farm has tons of pumpkins {crazy wide variety!}, a petting zoo, a haunted house, a farmer’s market, and activities for kiddos… but the highlight is the huge labyrinth made out of hay bales. Look at this thing!

the labyrinth

When you first enter, a giant sculpture of a Minotaur is there to greet you. Allyn was not intimidated in the least!

al and the minotaur

When we first entered the maze, I felt pretty confident. But we quickly discovered that making our way to the exit was going to be a more difficult task than either of us anticipated. Dead-ends abounded!

dead end labyrinth

It was so easy to get lost and to forget which routes you had tried before. I joked to Allyn that we should have brought bread crumbs to leave so we could trace our path! We kept taking routes that circled us back to the beginning, where the Minotaur seemed to be laughing at us. Finally, we took a different path that ushered us into the back half of the maze, and from then on it was just a matter of trying out the various routes until we got one that worked.

I was so happy when we saw the exit beckoning us! Success! We did it!

success the labyrinth

I think every couple should make their way through an intricate maze together, because it sure illuminates how you work together and deal with frustration! I was happy that Allyn and I took turns leading, listened to each other, and laughed at ourselves the whole time. I have a ton of fun with this guy, even when wandering through stacked-up bales of hay. And that’s sayin’ something! 🙂

For dinner on Saturday night we split a Margherita pizza at a wonderful Italian restaurant, It’s Italia, that was a happening spot in downtown Half Moon Bay! We did not make reservations ahead of time and the place was CROWDED, so we nabbed a spot at the bar. It ended up being a fun, cozy place to sit — as Allyn said, it sort of felt like we were part of a large dinner party –and the wait staff could not have been more helpful or attentive. I’d definitely go back!

Sunday morning we slept in, packed up our stuff to be out by noon check-out, hit the beach one last time, and hit the road! It was a delightful weekend away that left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

See you next time, Half Moon Bay!

half moon bay beach 2

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fabulous friday #48

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have some fun things on the agenda today and are enjoying the lovely spring weather!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My friends and family and all the love they bring into my life every single day. Losing Celine not only made me reflect on all the ways I am so grateful for her and how fortunate I feel that I got to be her friend — the loss has also made me more deeply appreciate all the people I love. This week specifically I am grateful for: phone calls from my parents and Greg; a Skype date with my friend Chidelia, who lives in China; a phone call with Ben {who actually met up with Greg when he was visiting NYC for a few days}; a phone call with Janet before she left for an amazing writing residency in Scotland; texts and emails with Holly; a dinner date with my sweetheart; and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Dana.

st pattys with dana

2. Later daylight hours thanks to Daylight Savings Time. There’s something about this time of year that always gives me so much energy and hopefulness. It feels like the start of new beginnings. I can feel the long summer days on the horizon. I love driving home from my tutoring appointments in the daylight and being able to watch the sunset out the window as I make dinner.

3. I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday, and it went great! I’ve been having some pain in both of my legs, and wasn’t sure what was wrong, so I went to an orthopedist who recommended PT. The physical therapist was so knowledgable, helpful, and optimistic about my recovery, which made me feel SO good! She watched me walk {apparently I have a collapsed arch, which might be at the root of my problems} and gave me some exercises to do at home with this resistance band.

physical therapy

She also gave me a deep tissue massage to loosen up the tight, painful area on both my legs, and taught me how to do an ice massage afterwards. I’m also going to order orthodics for my shoes, which I’m hopeful will help.

Have any of you done PT before? My parents both have, and it really helped both of their issues {my mom’s knee and my dad’s shoulder.} I walked away from my first appointment feeling VERY impressed, and looking forward to my appointment next week! Thanks for all of your kind words and good thoughts. 🙂

4. Last week, when I was smack in the middle of a pretty nasty head cold, Allyn cooked me dinner and rented this movie I’ve been wanting to see, titled What If? It stars Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and Zoe Kazan who you may have seen in Ruby Sparks … I just love her. Anyway, the movie was one of my favorites I’ve seen in quite a while. Cute, funny, sweet, the right amount of quirky. I’d highly recommend it for your next date night rental!

5. One of my goals for 2015 is to work on setting healthy boundaries, something I’ve never been all that great at. I thought this article by Lissa Rankin was on point: http://lissarankin.com/can-you-navigate-love-with-healthy-boundaries. For me, saying no and setting boundaries is much easier said than done, but I’m working on it!

BONUS: If you’re looking for a great veggie dinner recipe, I made these butternut squash & black bean enchiladas the other night for Allyn and I, and we both loved them. They were also inexpensive, easy to throw together, and you can make them in advance and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to bake & serve.

enchiladas

Apologies for the bad lighting in this pic… but trust me, they were delicious!

BONUS #2: Major CONGRATS to my cousin Julie who matched at UCLA to become an OB/Gyn! So proud of her {and excited she’ll be moving back to California!!}

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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