daffodils

The first time I remember noticing daffodils popping up in the springtime was my junior year of college. This might sound crazy to some of you—that I was into my second decade on this planet before I paid those bright yellow flowers any mind. But I grew up in a Southern California beach town and went to college in Los Angeles. We had warm weather and sunshine the whole year round. I don’t remember nature changing much with the seasons. Maybe the hills grew a little browner in the summer, a little greener in the spring. But palm trees don’t shed their fronds in the autumn, and I don’t remember any daffodils.

My junior year of college, during the spring semester, everything changed. My world expanded. I studied abroad in England in a small university town called Norwich. It was a truly magical season of my life, though of course I didn’t know that at the beginning. The truth? I was terrified. I was so homesick that I couldn’t even think about my homesickness because I was worried it would paralyze me. Instead, I told myself over and over again how excited I was. I stoked my excitement like it was the first sparks of a fire.

I had decided to study abroad because I loved the idea of living in England and traveling around a foreign country, and I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Waaay out of my comfort zone. You see, I was the child who never made it through a sleepover without calling my parents to come pick me up. I was the high school senior who didn’t even apply to any colleges outside of California because I couldn’t imagine not being a short drive away from my hometown. I guess you might say that, for me, studying abroad was a sink-or-swim decision. I had a feeling I would always regret it if I didn’t study abroad. So I went to the info meeting. I filled out all the paperwork. I put down my deposit for a dorm room and registered for classes at the University of East Anglia. It didn’t seem quite real until the early morning, a week after New Year’s, when my parents drove me to LAX and I hugged them goodbye. Of course, I cried. It all felt surreal. But, I told myself, this was what I wanted.

When I arrived, it was early January and the sun sank at 4pm. I had never been so far from home. It was pre-smartphone days, though we did have Skype, so I could talk to my parents and my brother. But it was a twelve-hour time difference and it felt, for the first time in my life, like I was trying to navigate this world—this life—on my own. I arrived by bus with nothing more than one large suitcase and the tightly grasped knowledge, deep within me, that I could do this. This was an opportunity to be my best self, right from the get-go. No one here had any preconceptions about me. Which was lonely—but also liberating.

That first day when I arrived, I remember buying a frozen dinner from the on-campus grocery store. {Soon, I would learn that the better shops and restaurants and real grocery stores were in town, a short bus ride away.} I remember staring out the kitchen windows at the inky darkness as I microwaved the frozen chicken curry in my quiet dorm kitchen. That first day, jet-lagged, I ate dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon. My first friend, a British student in my dorm named Stevie, teased me for eating dinner at an old-person’s time. But he sat with me and gave me the low-down on campus life and answered my questions. I was immediately grateful for his friendliness, and for the other students in my dorm—or, my “flat” as the British kids called dorms—who trickled in over the rest of the weekend, returning to school from winter break. They were gregarious and fun and welcomed me beyond my wildest dreams. By the end of the first week, I felt like I had found “my people.”

The campus really was beautiful, and pretty much the exact opposite of my urban Los Angeles experience. My dorm-room window looked out onto a wide expanse of wild grass and a large pond surrounded by a dirt path, and a marshy area farther on that you could explore for hours. It reminded me of Wuthering Heights. It was exactly what I had dreamed England to be like. What I hadn’t expected were the wild bunny rabbits, hopping around everywhere. And I hadn’t expected the daffodils.

My first couple months in England were cold and rainy. I had brought along a big tan downy jacket that I affectionately dubbed “Poufy Coat” or “Poufy” for short. One weekend, it snowed, and everyone ran outside and spun around in the falling flakes, sticking out our tongues and laughing. Snow wasn’t very common—not like later, when I would live in Indiana—so I wasn’t the only one who was excited. By Monday morning, all the snow had melted.

Shortly after that snow, the daffodils began popping up. I remember looking out my bedroom window and seeing the grass studded with yellow. Walking to class, I’d smile at clutches of daffodils, nodding along the sidewalk like little surprise gifts. They seemed like special messengers, sent to remind us: Spring is coming. Spring is on its way. Don’t worry—this 4pm darkness isn’t going to last forever.

And before long, before we knew it, spring did come. The days grew longer, warmer. It was the longest semester of my life because so much was new, but it also passed by in an eye-blink. Soon, we found ourselves on the cusp of summer. We studied for final exams sprawled out in the sunshine on the grassy lawn. We picnicked on blankets and ate ice cream cones. We ordered another round of drinks at the pub, sitting outside to savor the late rays of sunlight. And then, suddenly—even though we’d been moving towards it all semester long—school was out for the summer. I hugged my friends goodbye, promising to always stay in touch. I packed up my large suitcase and took the bus into town for the last time, where I caught a train and then the Tube to the London airport. I flew back home, feeling like not quite a different person than I had been when I left six months prior—but not quite the same person, either. I felt… like me, only bigger. Braver. More whole somehow.

I think of my days in England often. I especially think of them during this time of year, when the daffodils spring up. Where I live now, in Northern California, we have a greater change of seasons than we did in Southern California. Here, I occasionally glimpse a row of cheerful daffodils.

Daffodils give me hope, and not just because of what they symbolize. Yes, they remind me spring is coming. Yes, they remind me that the darkness won’t always last. But even more than that, they make me think of change. Of what we are planting within us now, that will emerge to fruition much later.

We plant daffodils in the fall. They nestle there in the soil for months, under the cold and rain and snow. And then, just when maybe we’ve forgotten about them, or have started to worry they won’t come up after all—just then, they pop their green tips above the surface of the soil. They grow upwards towards the tentative sunlight. They open their yellow faces to smile at us.

A lot of seeds—or maybe you’d call them bulbs—were planted within me during my semester abroad in England. I planted daffodils during that semester that wouldn’t break through the soil until years later. I planted daffodils that I never knew I would depend upon until, years later, I wept to see them. Bulbs of courage, of open-heartedness, of faith. Of plunging forward into something new even though it was scary and even though I didn’t feel quite ready. Of embracing the unknown. Of surprising myself. Of pushing past my comfort zone, into the glorious blank slate of a new adventure.

I’m still planting daffodil bulbs. Each day, I plant something new, digging into the soil of my life with equal parts grit and faith, believing that one day in the future—maybe when I least expect it—a new sprig of green will burst up into my life and bloom.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open up a new document on your computer and free-write whatever comes to mind when you think of these questions.

  • What daffodils are you planting in your life right now?
  • What is an experience you have plunged into, even though you felt nervous or scared?
  • When have you stretched outside your comfort zone?
  • Write about a time you surprised yourself.

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!

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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/

Aloha! from The Big Island & Chobani Flips GIVEAWAY!

Hawaii pool view

Aloha, friends!! I am typing this from a beautiful, breezy outdoor patio overlooking the pool at our vacation place in Hawaii… it is my first time to ever visit Hawaii, and I have been utterly blown away! Allyn’s grandfather has rental property on The Big Island, and when it worked out for Allyn and I to join his family for a short vacation in paradise, we jumped at the chance. June was a total workaholic month for me — between teaching summer camps for kids and keeping up my usual tutoring work, celebrating the release of Dancing With The Pen II, taking on some weekend literature classes for high school students, planning my ninth annual Summer Writing Camp, spearheading a screening of the Minimalism documentary in my hometown {seats still available if anyone is interested!} and preparing to marry the love of my life in less than two months… life has been quite a whirlwind!

Which is all to say, this vacation has come at the perfect time. Sun, sand, snorkeling… sunset dinners, hikes, lazy mornings… lots of relaxation and interesting conversation with people I love… it has been the “recharge” I needed!

me and al jungle selfie

An unanticipated perk of this trip is that it introduced me to Chobani Flips, a new product from my favorite yogurt company! The past month or so, I have been trying to eat yogurt every day to help keep my gut happy with probiotics, and I am a big fan of Chobani because they use real ingredients, natural sweeteners, and are always non-GMO. They also have such a wide range of flavors and taste so rich and creamy — I love having yogurt for dessert!

When we arrived at our vacation home, the fridge was stocked with some products that the previous renters had bought and left behind… one of our previous renters must have been a BIG Chobani Flips fan, because there were five containers stacked there, waiting for me to pounce on them! 🙂 I have been having them for breakfast AND dessert. My favorite flavor is the Almond Coco Loco: a delectable blend of tangy coconut, mini chocolate chips, and nutty almond pieces.

Serendipitously, Chobani just reached out to me with a neat flow chart quiz that you can answer to determine what flavor combo will be up your alley. And, because I love Flips so much, I decided to sponsor a giveaway to give one of you a $10 grocery store gift card so you can try out Chobani Flips for free! {Note: this giveaway is NOT sponsored by Chobani, it is sponsored by me, and all opinions are my own.} To enter, leave a comment on this blog post letting me know your favorite flavor or what you would most like to try. You can also follow DaybyDayMasterpiece on Facebook, Twitter, and/or subscribe to the blog for entries into the giveaway!

chobani_flowchart_x2_v09

Chobani_myflavor_card_sweetnspicy_v03 Chobani_myflavor_card_sweetnsalty_v03 Chobani_myflavor_card_sweet_v03

Enter below! Good luck! 🙂 The giveaway closes on Saturday, July 23rd.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

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

backpack

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

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

Yoga mat

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

Compost bin

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

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

compost bin

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

Recipe card

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

Questions of the day:

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

my trip to nyc

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

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

celine legacy

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

me and gb reunited

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

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

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

view of city from apt roof

view of bridges from apt roof

me and greg roof

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

rooftop cocktails library bar

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

hand to god play

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

schmackarys cookies nyc

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

chelsea water

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

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

Serendipity!

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

frozen hot chocolate

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

serendipity table!!!

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

janjan laur

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

central park

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

me and greg silly

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

my trip to cleveland

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

Cleveland park

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

Westside market

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

cupcake pumpkin cheesecake

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

guinness cake

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

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

lake erie

lake erie shoreline

holly lake erie

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

fall colors cleveland

beautiful autumn tree

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

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

me and holly cleveland

weekend getaway to south lake tahoe

Hello, friends! This week’s year of living simply post will be comin’ at ya tomorrow, but this morning I wanted to bring you a special recap post of my weekend in South Lake Tahoe! It was my first time there and ever since I moved to the Bay Area, people have been telling me and telling me that I needed to go. I knew it was a gorgeous place, but let me tell you — it was even more gorgeous than I was expecting!

Plus, it was the perfect time of year to go: the weather was cool in the evenings but warm during the day; the area was peaceful and not too crowded with summer or winter tourists; and the few trees in the area that were not evergreens were changing colors into beautiful yellows and oranges. And the lake absolutely shimmered, such a pure and vibrant blue.

lake tahoe

Boats on the lake!

tahoe boats

I took walks along the shoreline each day I was there. I could not get enough of this view!

lake tahoe 2

The whole reason I was invited to South Lake Tahoe was because of the inaugural WordWave Literary Festival; I was honored to win first place for drama in the playwriting competition, and the organizers of the festival put me up at the Camp Richardson Resort for three nights so I could attend rehearsals and the performance on Saturday! What an incredible experience it was to see the talented actors and director bring my words to life onstage. I can’t even adequately describe it, you guys. I just felt — still feel — filled with light and gratitude. And magic. Yes, it was an utterly magical experience.

Here is a photo of the beautiful Valhalla Boathouse Theater… it used to be an old boathouse but was renovated and turned into a theater. It is one of the coolest performance spaces I have ever seen!

valhalla theater

Backing up for a bit, on Friday night the WordWave Festival officially began with a Steampunk Ball in the woods! Do you guys know much about steampunk? I was not very well-versed in the trend but WOW, the costumes people wore were out of this world. It was explained to me as a Victorian style meets modern technology/gadgets/gears/etc. Like the Robert Downey Jr. style Sherlock Holmes. I did not have a steampunk costume but enjoyed mingling at the ball, admiring the decorations and chatting with people. I took this photo for you guys of this steampunk octopus sculpture!

steampunk octopus

On Saturday morning, I went to a relaxing gentle yoga class, walked along the water, and attended an amazing keynote speech by Pam Houston, who has long been a favorite writer of mine. {Her latest story collection, Contents May Have Shifted, is in my top five books I have read this year.} Pam talked about how being an artist is most of all about noticing things and being present to the world around you. I could not agree more! And she spoke about how telling our stories and sharing our voices is desperately important, especially to celebrate our wondrous and one-of-a-kind and precious Earth. She inspired me to use my voice to spread messages and tell stories that are deeply important to me.

contents may have shifted

Early Saturday afternoon, Allyn arrived! {He had to work Thursday and Friday.} He actually took Amtrak up so that we would only have one car and could drive back together on Sunday. Neither of us had much experience with Amtrak, but he said it was great! He took a train from Oakland to Sacramento and a bus from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe. The whole journey took about 4.5 hours, not much longer than it would have taken to drive, and both the train and the bus had wi-fi so he was able to get some work done during the journey and also just relax and enjoy the scenery. {It is a very pretty drive for the last hour or so!} I was relieved that he was on time and had such a pleasant trip. And it was sooooo nice to drive back together instead of taking separate cars on the way home!

tahoe trees

I picked Allyn up from the bus station at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, and we grabbed some sandwiches at a cute little deli and then headed to Fallen Leaf Lake, which one of the actors in my play had recommended as a gorgeous place to hike. We ate our sandwiches along the trail and explored the area for a couple hours. It was so pretty! Tall trees, a gurgling creek, and well-maintained hiking trails.

me and al tahoe

When we reached Fallen Leaf Lake, I could see why the actors were raving about it! This picture does not come close to capturing its peaceful beauty.

fallen leaf lake

Mid-afternoon, we headed back to our room, showered, and got fancied up for dinner — and for my play debut!

ready for my play!

Allyn took me out to a celebratory dinner at The Beacon Restaurant, which Dana had recommended as one of her favorite Tahoe spots! We made a reservation in advance, so we were able to snag a table out on the patio looking onto the lake as the sun began to set. It was perfect!

beacon restaurant

Oh you guys. I was a giddy bundle of nerves before the performance! But my play went wonderfully. {All three plays went wonderfully!} It was a full house and the audience was terrific, very engaged in the performances. They gasped during the surprises and laughed at the humorous lines and during the dramatic moments, you could hear a pin drop. I was so proud of the actors and grateful for the way they treated my work with such respect and enthusiasm. They brought their own artistic vision to my script and, by bringing the characters and their relationships to life, made it even better than simply my words on the page.

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

On Sunday, before heading home, I wanted to check out Emerald Bay, which was another “must see” spot many people told me about. Allyn and I started to drive towards Emerald Bay around 11:15 am, but the Tahoe Marathon was still going on so the road was closed until noon! We solved the problem by driving back into town and picking up some lunch to-go at a Mexican place that was recommended highly on Yelp, Jalepeno’s Taqueria. We both went with breakfast burritos, and also picked up a chocolate croissant at a bakery next-door, Don’s Cakes by the Lake. By then, it was late enough for us to drive back and get through to Emerald Bay. We ate our lunch while gazing out at this spectacular view:

emerald bay

Apparently, it is one of the most photographed spots in all of California! I can certainly see why. I could have stared out at that peaceful view for hours.

me at emerald bay

Eventually, it was time to hit the road so we would make it back home in time for dinner. It was an easy drive with just a few spots of traffic — bopping along to music and chatting with my sweetie made time pass quickly. I already am looking forward to visiting Lake Tahoe again!

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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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8 reasons you haven’t heard from me in a month and a half

Hello, friends! Gosh, I cannot believe it is already the end of July. I did not intend to take such a long blogging hiatus… it was one of those things that just kind of *happened* the way that life happens sometimes! Here’s what I’ve been up to this summer {and why you haven’t heard from me in a while…}

1. I went on a trip to Europe! It was absolutely beautiful, and restful, and adventurous, and sad, and healing, and exactly what I needed. This trip was born about a year ago, when I was invited along for a weeklong trip to the south of France with Allyn’s family. Allyn and I decided to extend our trip a little bit and spend some time in Paris to see my friend Celine. We booked our tickets back in December. I could not wait to see Celine again in her favorite city, and to introduce Allyn to her, and for us all to spend time together.

When Celine died, I wasn’t sure if I could still bear to go to Paris without her there. But I knew that she would want me to go — she would have been furious if I canceled that part of the trip! And so I went. And later I will write a whole post about all the things I learned there, but suffice to say it was very hard, and missing her was a whole-body ache, and I felt and saw her everywhere — and there was something very comforting in that underneath all the pain.

sunflowers

In addition to Paris and the south of France, we also spent a few days in Barcelona with Allyn’s brother Colin and Colin’s girlfriend Charlotte, which was lovely. One of the treasures of the trip was getting to spend so much time with Allyn’s siblings — they are such fun, thoughtful, easy-to-be-around people, and I am grateful to have them as friends.

allyns siblings

me and Allyn France

2. I got an eye infection. Immediately upon returning home from our trip. The doc thinks I must have picked something up on the train/metro/plane/airport/etc. So many germs while traveling! Anyway, this derailed me for a bit, with doctors appointments and antibiotics and hot eye compresses. Fun! But it is all better now, thankfully. And now I am much more appreciative of my un-itchy eyes!

3. I’m teaching summer camps for Communication Academy. In the summer, instead of weekly classes, we teach week-long camps for kids and teens. I teach public speaking, journalism, and academic writing. I love teaching the camps because the class becomes very close during the week, spending so much time together, and you see a lot of growth in the students. It’s very inspiring! However, my workdays are longer than during the school year — more of a traditional 9-5 as opposed to three hours in the afternoons — and it can be hard to fit in writing/emailing/blogging time.

4. My role at church is expanding. In addition to serving as a Worship Associate this summer, I am giving my own sermon and leading the service on August 16. I’ve also taken on a leadership position as co-facilitator of a Young Adult Community Circle. All of this is enriching, important work for my soul, and is challenging me to grow in new ways!

5. Janet came to visit for a few days. Allyn and his family took us out on a boat ride around the San Francisco Bay!

me and janet

6. Holly and I met up in Chicago to see our girl Taylor Swift in concert! It was an amazing show, even though we were sitting in the_very_last_row! Spending time with Holly fills my heart up so much. I wish we lived closer, but I am beyond grateful for every moment I get to spend with this lovely lady!

me and Holly

tswift concert 1989

7. Some terrific developments have been happening for me professionally these past couple weeks… I landed a new copywriting gig, won second place in a national writing contest, and have exciting news regarding my novel that I will share with you at a later date, once I am no longer afraid of jinxing things! 😉 I also wrote a few short essays about writing that you might be interested in:

8. Now I am back in my hometown, soaking up time with my fam and my brother before he leaves for his new job in NYC on Friday! I am also teaching my writing camp this weekend and next weekend. Yesterday I gave a book talk and signing at a local bookstore, Mrs. Figs’ Bookworm, and was so surprised and grateful at how many people came out to support me! I have such wonderful friends. So, so lucky!

friends at booksigning

book signing sign

And now you’re pretty much caught up! I hope the summer has been treating you wonderfully, too. I hope you are getting time to relax and recharge your batteries. Is there anything you need to take a brief hiatus from? If you feel like you are juggling lots of plates — is there one you can set down, even for a short while?

I missed blogging and I missed checking in with all of you, and after my time away I am feeling rejuvenated and eager to be back! Thank you for reading and being part of my little corner of the internet.

P.S. Murray sends you a big kiss! TGIF & happy weekend!

murray kiss

fabulous friday #27 {washington d.c. recap edition!}

Happy Friday, everyone! After a few whirlwind weeks of travel, I’m now back home in Ventura soaking up time with my parents, Gramps, Erica, and Mr. Mur-dog.

I’m also preparing to teach the first weekend of my Summer Writing Camp tomorrow! I’ve got a lot on the to-do list today, but before I get going I wanted to take a few minutes to recap my trip to Washington D.C. to visit my brother for a long weekend. So this week’s Fabulous Friday post is going to be a recap!

Here’s 5 things I loved about washinginton, d.c.:

1. Spending time {and taking selfies!} with my brother. I always love getting together with this crazy kid! He makes me laugh like pretty much no one else on the planet.

selfie with greg

selfie on metro

2. Strolling along the Washington Mall and seeing the Capitol and all the monuments.

me with capitol

greg and horse

3. Going to the Ford’s Theater museum. As a huge Abraham Lincoln fan, it was really sad — but also sacred — to see the place he died.

honest abe

house lincoln died

ford's theater

ford's theater box

4. The Native American Smithsonian Museum. Beautiful and thought-provoking.

smithsonian

native american banner

native american museum

native american statue

5. Going to the Sara Bareilles concert! Greg surprised me with tickets. It was a phenomenal show, and the venue was so much fun! We picnicked before on the grassy lawn. It was a wonderful night!

sara bareilles concert

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Questions of the morning:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What’s on your agenda for the weekend?
  • Have you taken any fun trips this summer?