a letter to the tree they cut down outside our apartment window

Dear Tree,

I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself before. I’m Dallas, and I live in this apartment with my husband Allyn, and I have loved you since the first day we moved in one year and two months ago. In fact, you were one of the first things I noticed about the apartment when we were looking at potential places to live around the city. I fell in love with your tall, thick-leaved, beautiful branches, stretching over the apartment balcony in a protective way. Your limbs waved slightly in the breeze — friendly, as if you were saying hello.

Over the next fourteen months, you gave us so much without ever asking for anything in return. During the extremely hot summer, you provided welcome shade from the harsh midday sun. Your pretty branches gave us some privacy from the neighbors all around us, making our apartment feel more secluded. When we dined al fresco on our little balcony, your lush leaves reminded me of the time we traveled to Spain and ate outdoors, and our home-cooked meal felt a tad bit fancier. My writing desk is situated right beside the window that looked out at you, and when I was feeling stuck I would gaze out at your greenery. You made me feel calm and inspired. If that wasn’t enough, birds perched on your branches and serenaded us. What more could we ask for in a companion, dear tree?

I wish I had told you all of this sooner. Sure, I appreciated you, but it was in the absent-minded way you appreciate things you take for granted. Things you think will be around forever.

{you provided such a lovely backdrop for our save-the-date photo}

A few weeks ago, the building manager knocked on our door and gave us the news. It was so unexpected. He said that you were old, and that with all of the storms lately you had become a danger. Trees fall over onto houses and apartments and sometimes they do damage and sometimes they hurt people. He said you were impeding on the apartment below us and next to us. He said you had to come down and that was that. There was nothing we could do. We don’t own the property — we are just renters — and so we don’t own you.

When the men came to cut you down, I couldn’t watch. I felt sick and sad and I kept thinking of this Jack Johnson song with lyrics about a tree that burns down. I promise, tree, that one day, Allyn and I will have a house of our own and we will plant lots of your brothers and sisters in our yard. Until then, I want you to know that I donated to The Nature Conservancy to plant a tree in honor of you.

We miss you, dear tree. We miss you a lot. We miss your shade and your beauty. We miss your quiet presence. We miss your wisdom that reminded us of the world that was here before we came onto the scene, and the world that will be here after we leave, and that maybe our problems aren’t so big after all, and maybe our lives are a little more precious than we make them out to be in the day-to-day tasks and busyness. When I think of you, tree, I think of how you were once a small seedling, and then a sapling, and how you just kept growing and growing and growing towards the sunlight. I want to be like you. I want to have your patience and your fortitude, your generosity and your grace.

Your final lesson to me was to focus even more of my energy on appreciating the lovely little details in my life. I loved you while you were alive, but I wish I had been even more present to your presence. I wish I had thanked you every day and marveled every day at the magic of having you in our lives, sheltering our little apartment and sharing your shade with us. You have reminded me of the fleeting nature of this life, and because of you I am hugging the things I love a little tighter, a little closer, a little fiercer. Because of you, I notice and appreciate all the other trees I come across {even though none of them are quite as beautiful as you} and because of you, I am saying prayers of gratitude for all the everyday riches in my imperfect, messy life.

Love,
Dallas

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to a tree that has been meaningful in your life.
  • Write a letter to a different object {natural or man-made} or a place that has mattered to you.
  • What is something small in your life that you can appreciate and be grateful for, right this very moment?

ordinary / extraordinary

I.

It is the morning of my high school graduation. I have just woken up and am still lying in bed in my pajamas. I slept in late, and my dog Gar is snoozing at the foot of my bed. My yellow graduation gown hangs on the back of my door, waiting and ready. My brother is at school—the last day of school before summer—but I don’t have to be on campus until the afternoon ceremony. My mom and dad both come into my room and sit on my bed with me. Mom has made breakfast, and soon I will go downstairs and eat scrambled eggs and toast. But, for now—for a few more minutes, at least—I stay in bed. I talk with Mom about last-minute plans for my graduation party this evening. I talk with Dad about the speech I’m giving at the graduation ceremony. The doorbell rings and Gar leaps off my bed, barking. Mom runs downstairs to see who it is, then calls up that I’ve received congratulations flowers from my aunt and uncle. In my stomach I feel a buzzing energy, an excited anticipation, for the day ahead. A day that feels like so much more than just a single day. It holds the weight of all the years leading up to this point, and also the promise of all the years to come. I am on the cusp of adulthood; in a few short months, I will unpack my suitcase into a Los Angeles dorm room and begin a new chapter of my life.

But, for now, I am a girl in her pajamas, in her childhood bedroom, chatting with her parents. It is an extraordinary day, but at the same time, I hold the comforting normalcy of it close to my heart. Somehow, this quiet ordinary time before the excitement of the day unfolds feels like the most special gift of all.

II.

It is four years later: the morning of my college graduation. I wake up in a crowded apartment after hardly sleeping the night before. I was too filled with emotion to sleep. I can’t believe this day is actually here. How did college pass by so quickly?

When I emerge from my bedroom, my roommates are already busy in the kitchen, making coffee and pouring cereal for breakfast. I share this two-bedroom apartment with three of my best friends, and all of us have graduation guests staying here, so our apartment is at max capacity, with people crashing on the couch and sprawled out in sleeping bags on the floor. It feels like a big sleepover, or like the morning after one of our parties—except that everyone is wide-eyed and chipper.

My roommates and I run in and out of each other’s bedrooms and bathrooms, slipping into our graduation dresses, asking for second and third and fourth opinions on shoes and makeup. Time is slipping away—soon, we will need to head out the door and walk the five blocks to campus for the ceremony. But not before we take one final roommate photo. We clump together in the kitchen, before we put our black graduation gowns on over our dresses, and one of our boyfriends snaps the photo. I feel like I am a balloon, floating up above the scene—like this day is too big for me to hold. It feels as if all the adventures and mistakes and laughter and victories and drama and love of the past four years is condensed into this moment, the four of us crowded into our cramped kitchen with our arms slung around each other and our cheeks round with smiles, posing like we’ve posed for countless other photos together.

Soon, we will break apart and scramble to collect our purses and pull our graduation gowns over our dresses. We will help each other zip up our gowns and pin our caps to our hair and then we will walk, arms linked, through a swamped campus to hear Governor Schwarzenegger give our commencement address, and then we will head to our separate satellite ceremonies and celebrate with our own families and loved ones. But, for now, I bask in this ordinary moment, in our ordinary messy apartment—what I think of as the last ordinary moment of our college years together. Here, now, we are not yet college graduates. We are simply four roommates dressed up in pretty dresses who love each other very much.

III.

It is the morning of my bachelorette party, three days before my wedding. In many ways, these morning hours are the final slice of calm before the manic energy of the weekend washes over us. Today, Friday, Allyn and I are heading off to our separate bachelor/bachelorette parties. Tomorrow is the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. And Sunday is the wedding. Everything seems so real all of a sudden, so close. I feel like I am getting onto a roller coaster—all I will be able to do the next three days is hang on and enjoy the ride.

One of my best friends, Erica, takes an early morning flight to SFO for my bachelorette party. She catches the train to my city and I pick her up at the station. The parking lot is filled with commuters, heading into a routine day of work. I feel similar to how I used to feel as a child, when my parents would surprise my brother and me with a trip to Disneyland on an otherwise normal school day. I remember looking out the car window in wonder as we drove the three hours to Anaheim, amazed that the people in the cars around us were oblivious to the magic that was unfolding in my day.

Erica emerges from the station carrying a duffel bag, and I leap out of the car and wave to her. We hug hello maybe a little longer and tighter than normal. All of a sudden, I’m a volcano of words, telling her all about the frantic craziness of the past couple weeks and warning her how much of a disaster my apartment is. In my fantasies about this weekend, I was so incredibly calm and on top of wedding-related things that my apartment was perfectly clean and straightened up. Erica hasn’t seen my apartment yet, and I wanted her to see it at its best. But that was pure fantasy, unrealistic—and unnecessary. Erica has been my friend since seventh grade, and she doesn’t need my fantasy self. My real self is enough for her.

me and erica at her place

So, even though this is not how I imagined it, this feels like the right way for things to unfold: the two of us walking into my messy apartment, stepping over the wedding gifts and favors and decorations that have taken over every spare inch of floor space. I’ve baked muffins for the bachelorette party and they are cooling on the counter, still too hot to pack up into tupperware, and the bags of flour and sugar are out, and the batter-smeared bowl is unwashed in the sink.

Yesterday Erica injured her achilles tendon at the gym, and I move some papers off the couch so she can lay down, putting her foot up and nursing her sore achilles with a bag of iced peas. She exclaims encouragement and we laugh about old memories as I scurry around the apartment, gathering up various bags and items I’ll need over the next few days. Tonight we’re all staying at Dana’s for the bachelorette party, and tomorrow night I’m staying with my parents and brother in their hotel room. I’m not planning to come back to the apartment before the wedding.

Soon, it will be time to leave so we’re not late for the bachelorette festivities. Soon, Erica will climb off the couch and return the bag of peas to the freezer. Soon, I will pack the muffins into tupperware and she will help me carry my bags and veil and wedding dress down to my car.

But, for now, I savor this private little bubble of time with one of my best friends — one of the people who knows me best in the world — who makes me feel calm and centered simply with her presence. For a moment, I feel transported back to our seventh-grade selves. We are still those girls who sat in the grass on the quad eating our brown-bag lunches. We are still those girls, passing notes in class with stick-figure drawings of our dreams. We are still those girls, laughing about our misadventures, and cheering each other on as new adventures approach on the horizon.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” without editing or censoring yourself. Here are some questions you can use as guidance:

  • Write about an ordinary moment from your life that has stuck in your memory.
  • Out of your everyday life, what moments do you treasure the most?
  • Where do you find your “calm in the storm”?

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/ 

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

Hi there. It’s me—well, you, from the future. Thirteen years in the future, to be exact. I just wanted to pop in and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I know you’re having a hard time right now. Two of your best friends have quite suddenly ditched you, and you’re feeling unmoored and wondering how everything could have unraveled so quickly. It wasn’t one big fight, but a lot of little things that drew the three of you apart—or, rather, that separated you from the two of them. I know that right now you feel confused and hurt and angry. School used to be filled with laughter and inside jokes, and now suddenly the social logistics of each day is a puzzle without an answer key. Where to sit at lunch? Who to talk to at cross-country practice? You’ve cried more over the loss of these two friends than you’ve ever cried over a boy. I know you are tempted to just turn your back and write them off forever. I know it’s hard to see this now, but listen to me: they’re not bad people. They do care about you, and your friendship with them was real. All those memories you shared together are not fake. It was good, until it wasn’t. High school is messy and confusing and full of changes, and the three of you are in different places, wanting different things. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you have no interest in going to parties and drinking—no matter if that means you aren’t “cool.” Even though this is painful, it is better for you to let go of your friendship with them now, rather than stick around and feel bad about yourself all the time, or turn into someone you don’t want to be.

Listen to me: in six years, you will go to the wedding of one of these friends, and all the angst and hurt you are writing about in your journal right now? It will all seem like a long time ago, I promise. It will seem like a novel you read about someone else. The other friend will get married around the same time you do {yes, you are in fact going to get married—I’ll get to that in a minute} and you will genuinely wish her well. You will wish both of these girls the utmost happiness.

I know you are feeling supremely uncool and unsure of yourself. Your self-confidence has taken a beating, and you feel so awkward all the time. But let me tell you something important, something true: you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be concerned about what the other kids at school think of you. {Besides, the other kids at school aren’t thinking bad things about you—that’s all in your head. The other kids, even the popular crowd, respect your straight-lacedness. Just wait and see what nice things they write in your senior yearbook.} Take a deep breath and lean into the parts of yourself that feel the most true and real and YOU. Those are the best parts of yourself. Those are the parts to cultivate, to nourish, to nurture. When you find sprouts of self-consciousness and comparison and shame? Yank those roots out of your soil. Don’t waste any time watering those weeds.

Want to know a secret? Want to know the silver lining to this painful period of time? When these two friends ditch you, it will open up your life for other friends to come in. You will become closer with people who love and accept you exactly as you are. Remember how close you and Erica were in middle school? Reach out to her again now. She is kind and steady and she truly cares about you. She is a lifelong friend. One day, she will be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Be grateful for her and soak up these everyday moments with her. Stay home from a school dance and have an old-fashioned sleepover with her instead. You never have much fun at those school dances, even though you try. You go because you feel like you’re supposed to go. But I’m giving you permission, right now, to stop doing things because of the opinions of other people. If you want to stay in on a Friday night and eat popcorn and watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Erica, do it. Do it with no regrets.

I want you to know that you are enough exactly as you are. Mom and Dad know what they are talking about. When they tell you that you are beautiful and kind and strong and worthy, when they tell you that you have no idea how loved you are, when they tell you that one day in the not-too-distant future you will indeed meet a boy who appreciates you for exactly the person you are—listen to them. They are right.

Sixteen-year-old Dallas, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. Your nose is not too big. Your hair is not frizzy. You are not—repeat after me—you are not the least bit overweight, and you never need to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for eating two or three of Mom’s chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  She makes the best cookies, doesn’t she? Thirteen years from now, her cookies will still be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And okay, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. You’ve probably skimmed the rest of this letter, eager to get to this part. The part about getting married one day. Right now, I know it feels like you’re never going to meet a boy who like-likes you, much less loves you. Right now, you haven’t even had your first kiss. All of your ideas about love are based on Sarah Dessen books, your weekly TV obsession The O.C., and your favorite rom-com Serendipity. Here’s what I want to tell you about love: it’s bigger and better, more complex and yet more simple, more consuming and yet more ordinary, than you imagine it to be. Love is going to break you apart and put you back together again, stronger and braver and more content in your own individual, lovely wholeness. Love is going to take you by surprise and take your breath away.

Right now you alternate between despair that you are never ever going to get your first kiss, and a desire to plan out every detail of your one-day, future relationship. But, dear one, love isn’t something you can map out. It’s not a short story you can revise and revise again. It’s not a physics problem you can solve. It will sweep into your heart without warning, announcing itself to you boldly, and even though you might feel a little bit scared or unready, you will not be able to ignore it. When love is right, it will continue to grow and grow inside of you, and you won’t have to make excuses for it, and you won’t have to twist yourself to fit into what doesn’t fit. The right love will become a part of you, like your breath, in and out, in and out, and like your breath it will give you life in little moments every single day, with you hardly even realizing it. Right now you think that love means grand gestures and passionate kissing in the rain, but real love is in the ordinary, everyday moments that connect you to another person. When you feel seen and understood and accepted and cared for, little by little, day by day. If you really want an example of the love that is waiting for you in the future, look at Mom and Dad. You will get married on their wedding anniversary, and they are the best blueprint out there for a beautiful, sturdy, lasting love.

To be honest, 16-year-old Dallas, your first kiss won’t come for another couple of years, and it isn’t going to be all that spectacular. But your first kiss with the guy who will become your
husband? Woah. It will be worth the wait, worth all the mess and tears and lonely nights and uncertainty it took to find him. Here’s what I can tell you about your husband: he is amazingly kind, and generous, and thoughtful, and compassionate. He makes you laugh every day, and he is a wonderful listener, and he supports you with all of his heart. He is so handsome, and he tells you that you are beautiful, and he loves every detail about you. {For the record, he thinks you have a great nose.} He is better than any of the loves you imagined for yourself before you met him. He is better than you could have dreamed.

I know, despite your heartbreak and pain, you do realize how fortunate you are, and you’re grateful for what you have right now. You’re grateful for your parents, and for Greg, and for Erica, and for your teachers and your Gramps and your books and your writing. Lean into that gratitude. Lean into those things that fill you up. Savor them. As Mr. Enfield, the drama teacher, will tell you next year before the curtain rises on the final production of the play you wrote {get excited—it’s going to be an awesome experience!}, life is ephemeral. It is always changing, and even those things that feel permanent about your life right now are fleeting. So soak it in, every day. Even the hard days. Be confident in the person you are now and the person you are becoming. Don’t get lost in self-doubt or worry. You have no idea how much you are going to grow, and stretch, and shine, and love, and explore, and how big and wide and incredible the world is. You have no idea of the wonders waiting in your future, in this life you are building. Trust in me, your 29-year-old-self. And trust in yourself, as you are here, now, at sixteen. Everything you need is already there, inside of you.

Love,
Your Future Self

p.s. Give Gar as many scratches and loves and doggy biscuits as you can. He’s a really great dog, isn’t he?

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self. What advice would you give?
  • Write a letter from your sixteen-year-old self to your self today. What would that previous version of yourself want you to remember?
  • Sign up for The Letter Project to write a letter to a real girl or woman who could use a little extra encouragement. Your words can make a real difference in someone’s life!

when is the train going to come?

When I was in college, I studied abroad in England for a semester, and the school calendar included a whole glorious month off for spring break. Two of my best friends and I took the opportunity to backpack around Europe together, bopping around from Portugal to Spain to France to Germany. We traveled mostly by train, which was awesome. As someone born and raised in California, my experience with train travel was extremely limited; in Los Angeles at that time, our public transportation system was pretty much just buses that never ran on time. {The L.A. metro system has been wonderfully expanded since then, and now in the Bay Area I often take the BART train.} But back then it was a marvelously new experience for me to travel by train, much less travel from country to country that way! I loved gazing out the window as the changing landscapes rolled by.

Mostly, the trains were very impressively on time. But there was one day in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was about mid-way through our trip, mid-way through the day. We were grungy and tired and hungry, and our train was delayed. We were told it would be at least a couple hours. So we left the station and explored the little village a bit. It was a Sunday and most of the stores were closed. We ended up buying snacks from a mini-mart shop and eating them back at the station. We sat there on the train platform, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We stood up. We paced around. We looked down the long, empty tracks.

Logically, I knew the train would eventually come. But emotionally? It felt, in that moment, like the train was never going to come.

 *

In the years since, I’ve come to think of waiting on that half-empty platform for that delayed-and-delayed-again train as a metaphor for life.

Yes, there are many things you can control. You can work hard. You can maintain a fierce curiosity about the world. You can consistently gain knowledge in your field. You can believe in yourself and in your abilities. You can set goals and take little steps, every day, to move forward towards your dreams.

But there is also a lot that you can’t control: luck, serendipity, chance. Timing and fate. The whimsies and opinions and subjectivities of other people.

You can buy your train ticket and stand on the platform, gazing down the track, ready and waiting. But you can’t control when the train is going to come.

More than fifteen years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I wrote a personal essay titled “The Role of a Lifetime.” It was about my second-grade teacher who cast me in the lead role of our class play, even though I was painfully shy. How her confidence in me sparked a self-confidence that I still carry to this day. Mostly, I wrote the piece as a tribute to a phenomenal teacher who truly went above and beyond for her students.

I was proud of that essay. I worked hard on it. I edited and rewrote it, asked for feedback and rewrote it again. I submitted it to a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology about teachers. But it was rejected.

A couple years later, I saw a call for submissions for another Chicken Soup anthology about teachers. Excited, I submitted the essay again. Again, it was not chosen for publication.

I was disappointed. I read the essay again with fresh eyes. I still liked it. I was still proud of it.

Over the years, I submitted that essay many other times to many other publication opportunities and contests. In return, I received nothing but rejection letters.

Last year—more than fifteen years after I wrote the essay—I saw a call for submissions for the upcoming Chicken Soup anthology Inspiration for Teachers. “What do you have to lose?” I thought. And I submitted my essay again.

Guess what? This time, after all this time, my essay was accepted. “The Role of a Lifetime” is going to be published later this year. My story about an amazing teacher is going to be shared. This particular train finally pulled into the station. I’m so glad I didn’t give up and leave the platform too soon.

*

Lately I’ve been listening to the most recent Blind Pilot album on repeat. One of my favorite songs is called “Don’t Doubt” and here are my favorite lyrics:

Don’t you doubt
Everybody’s seen some winter
Don’t you just take the dark way out

I think “the dark way out” means making excuses for yourself. Stacking up your reasons to quit and building those reasons into a prison around yourself. Letting yourself think that just because you sometimes doubt yourself, it means that you should give into those doubts. No. It just means that you’re human and you’re not an emotionless robot. But strength equals fighting against your moments of doubt with hope and grit and persistence. Remember — everybody’s seen some winter.

For the past three weeks, my sweetheart has been waiting on a phone call. At first, he felt very confident that the call was going to come. But as the days slipped by, he grew less and less certain. Eventually, he began using humor to deal with the situation—every day, he would joke with me about the various reasons he might not have received the phone call yet. Throughout the day, we would pretend to cheer on this person, as if picking up the phone was a physical task that required Herculean effort. I could tell that Allyn was doing all he could to fight off his doubts and to keep his faith in the potential of the situation.

And then, quite suddenly, the phone call did come. And it was exactly the outcome he had been waiting for, hoping for, and working towards for a very long time.

I know this might sound cliched, but it’s true—the success meant more to him because of the winding, difficult path it took to get there. The questions and doubts make the answers, when they finally come, that much richer.

I love this blog post Alex Franzen wrote about making excuses and making progress. She writes: “You can make excuses or you can make yourself proud. You can make excuses or you can make progress. You can make excuses or you can make art. Every day, it’s your choice.”

*

So what do you do? What do I do? What can any of us do?

You hold onto that patience and you nurture that faith inside of you. You keep working hard. You keep taking little daily steps towards your goals. You keep learning. You keep believing in yourself and believing in that train. Stare off down those tracks. Because it’s coming. It’s coming, and you want to be ready when it does.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • What is a doubt that you are currently holding in your heart? What would it feel like to let this doubt go?
  • Write about a time when you felt like “the train was never going to come.” What ended up happening? Looking back, what would you tell yourself in that situation?
  • What is an excuse you are making to yourself right now? How can you move past that excuse and take the first action step towards something you desire?

fred

One of my fondest friendship memories is from one of the hardest periods of my life. It was my final semester of grad school and I had broken up with my fiancé two weeks before. I was waiting outside the public library near campus, feeling alone and numb, watching for a familiar red car. Suddenly, there it was, turning the corner and pulling up to the curb. The woman driving was my beautiful friend Holly, with her dark curly hair and tan skin and colorful sunglasses. She smiled and waved, reaching over to open the passenger door. I grabbed my backpack and slid into the car. I couldn’t quite believe she was here, my dear sweet friend who I think of as my sister. She hugged me close and my numbness dissolved into hiccupy sobs.

“Oh, baby girl,” she said. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

“I’m just so happy to see you,” I choked out. Which was the truth. Yes, I was crying with sadness, but mostly I was crying with gratitude and relief that Holly had driven all the way from Nashville to Indiana to spend the weekend with me. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” she replied.

We drove to the apartment I was subletting until graduation. {I had moved out of the apartment I’d shared with my ex.} Holly set down her duffel bag and, without a word, we flung ourselves across my bed, lying on our backs and gazing up at the cottage-cheese ceiling. Holly and I lived together in college, and whenever we see each other it feels like we are living together again. She knows what brand of crackers and yogurt and cereal I buy at the grocery store; we use the same type of hair products; we both listen to Taylor Swift when we get ready in the morning. When other people visit, I often feel like I should plan out an itinerary of Fun Things To Do so they won’t get bored, but visits with Holly tend to include everyday activities like errands and coffeeshop work sessions and doing each other’s dishes. With Holly, it is not uncommon for us to put on a movie, pause it to talk about something, and never finish watching the movie because we’re still talking two hours later. Her friendship is like a comfortable pair of well-worn jeans that I can slip into and be exactly myself.

“Someone wants to say hi,” Holly said, rummaging in her duffel bag. She pulled out a small stuffed animal, a monkey with a well-loved fuzzy body and a wise stitched smile.

“Fred!” I exclaimed, hugging him to my chest. Back in college, Holly’s mom sent her Fred in a care package. Ever since then, Fred has been lent out to me in emergency situations, like when I broke up with my college boyfriend and wanted something to hold as I tried to fall asleep. After college graduation, whenever Holly and I visited each other, Fred was a part of our visits: Holly would bring him on trips, and when I visited her I would fall asleep holding his soft squishable body. For my birthday card one year, Holly took a picture of Fred wearing a birthday hat.

I smiled at Holly. “I can’t believe you brought him!”

“He insisted,” Holly said. “You’re his girl.”

{Fred and me circa blurry cell phone camera, 2013}

It was amazing how happy and comforted I felt holding Fred in my lap. He made me feel connected to earlier versions of myself. I thought of my college self, devastated over the breakup with my college boyfriend. I thought of all the other heartbreaks I’d been through along the way: the dates that never called again, the budding relationships that fizzled out, the guys who wanted too much too fast, the guys I liked but didn’t love. With every heartbreak, I always held out hope that it would be worth it in the long run; that the temporary pain and disappointment were actually stepping stones leading to the eventual joy and fulfillment of finding the person who was right for me. I realized that I owed it not just to my current self, but also to my past selves to keep looking, to keep hoping. Never to settle.

“One day,” Holly said, as if reading my thoughts, “Aunt Holly is going to tell your kids about how their mom was engaged once before she met their dad, and it’s going to be this mysterious tidbit about their mom’s life before she became their mom. And I’m going to tell them how brave their mom was for listening to her gut and her heart, and how it’s so good she did because then she met their dad.”

I squeezed her hand. “You really think so? I’m going to meet him one day?”

“I know so,” Holly said. “And you’re going to be so happy, and you’re going to have absolutely zero doubts, and you’re going to call me up and say, ‘Oh Holly, THIS is what it’s supposed to feel like!’ ” {Side note: When Allyn and I got engaged, I called Holly and that is exactly what I said.}

Over the years, Holly and I have often joked that we live “parallel lives” — it seems that things tend to happen to us simultaneously, whether big things like a new job or small things like a bad haircut. The same week I broke up with my fiancé, she ended things with her boyfriend at the time. We were both in deep pain, but there was also joy buried in there too because at least in the midst of such pain we got to be together. We spent the entire weekend talking and crying and processing and laughing and speculating and crying some more. We went out for dinner and ciders at an Irish pub. We went to the movies. We went to the grocery store because Holly wanted to make sure I had enough food, that I was eating enough. We went to the mall and each found perfect dresses: me, a white lace dress to wear to my thesis reading; Holly, a flouncy gold dress to wear to her school’s formal dance.

Then, all too soon, it was Sunday. Time for Holly to hit the road back to Nashville. We always do goodbyes quickly to keep from crying too much. Holly hoisted her duffel bag onto her shoulder… but she left Fred sitting on my pillow.

“Don’t forget Fred!” I said, grabbing him for her.

“I want you to keep him,” Holly said. “Just for these next few weeks, until I come back for your thesis reading.”

“Are you sure?” It was all I could say at the moment. I felt overwhelmed.

“Yep,” Holly said. “Fred wants to be here with you right now. I wish I could stay with you, but since I can’t, he is staying in my place.”

“Are you sure you’ll be able to come back for my thesis reading? It’s so much driving — I didn’t realize you were coming both weekends — I thought you were just coming this weekend instead —”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Holly said, pulling me in for a hug. I buried my face into her curly hair and let myself cry a little, wondering how it was possible that my heart could feel so broken and yet also so full.

{Holly and me at my thesis reading}

The other day, one of my students was writing a piece about a beloved stuffed animal they had received as a baby, and it made me think about Fred. About how, sometimes, an object can add up to more than its individual parts. Because Fred is not just stuffing and fabric and thread. He is more than that. He is imbued with the memories of my friendship with Holly.

His name has always suited him. He just seems like a Fred. Maybe because — as it struck me the other day — if you take FRED and add IN all the memories and laughter and tears and time you spend together, it adds up to FRIEND. FRED + IN = FRIEND.

When I think of Fred, I think of all the joys Holly and I have celebrated together, and also all the storms we have supported each other through. All the ways that Holly has been there for me and all the ways she has made me feel understood and loved. All of our meandering and silly and heartfelt conversations that Fred has been privy to. Fred, like Holly — and like all beloved stuffed animals and beloved friends — is an outstanding listener. He is patient, and he never judges. He is soft and warm, but he is also tough and durable: made to last. If I were to pick a symbol of true friendship, it wouldn’t be joined hands or friendship bracelets or hearts drawn in the sand. It would be a well-worn, well-loved, stuffed animal monkey with a wise stitched smile named Fred.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” without any self-editing or judgment. Just see what flows out of you. Feel free to use one or more of the following questions as inspiration.

  • Write about a time that a friend was there for you when you needed them the most.
  • Do you have any memories that hold both sadness and joy? Write about them.
  • Describe a beloved stuffed animal and the memories and values they hold for you.
  • What is most important to you in a friend?

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.

on online dating, “meet cutes” & magic

Last week, one of my favorite writers Hannah Brencher published a wonderful blog post about online dating titled “Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Met (Or Meet) Online.” I loved her words against the stigma some still feel about meeting online. My heart especially felt drawn to this final graph:

It doesn’t matter where we meet. We are silly and insane if we get caught up in the “how we met” story that we forget the rest of the details. What will matter in 5 years from now is how we thought to build one another. How we thought to lay our hearts on the line. How we showed up. How we emboldened each other.

Hannah’s words got me thinking about my own dating experiences, both in person and online. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about online dating before I ended up taking the plunge and signing up for an account. It was a few weeks into 2014 and I was feeling ready for new beginnings. On a walk with a friend, we started talking about dating and how hard it was to meet a romantic partner “out in the real world.” My friend was a middle-school teacher at the time and I was living with my grandparents, writing for most of the day and teaching in the afternoons. The grocery-store “meet cutes” I had envisioned were not coming to fruition. I had met some new people at church, but no one close to my age.

“Here’s an idea,” my friend proposed. “We both sign up for online dating accounts. Best case, we meet awesome guys. Worst case, we go on some horrible dates and we get to laugh about them together.”

“It’s a deal!” I agreed. It was the extra little push I needed.

That night, I went home and created a profile on OkCupid. A couple days later, I was browsing the site and saw the photo of a cute guy with a nice smile… and a parrot on his shoulder? Curious, I clicked on his profile to read more. Through the way he described himself and his life, I felt like I got a good sense of him. He seemed like a genuine, kind and funny guy. Someone I wanted to know better. So I sent him a message.

In our first weeks and months of dating, when Allyn and I would introduce each other to various people in our lives and they would ask how we met, I was always impressed with the matter-of-fact way he would say, “We met online.” He wouldn’t beat around the bush. He wouldn’t evade the question. There was no shame in his voice. No hint of the questioning inflection I sometimes heard in my own voice – “We met online?” – as if asking for approval from the listener. Allyn was proud that we met online. It was part of our story, so that meant it was something to embrace, not hide.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of meeting online. I think it was more that it seemed somehow less romantic, less special, to meet online than to meet in some other way, going about our daily lives. In the movies and in books and TV shows, people tend to meet not online, but in line — at the post office, at the drugstore, at the bank. They meet sitting next to each other on public transportation and running in the park. And in bars. But I didn’t want to meet a guy in a bar. {And I would never have met Allyn in a bar, because he doesn’t drink.}

I once asked Allyn if, had our carts bumped into each other in a grocery store, would he have started up a conversation. This was after we had been together a while, after we had said, “I love you” and after I had learned that parrot-on-his-shoulder photo was from a trip he took with his mom to Honduras. I knew that the very first time Allyn saw me, he thought I was beautiful. I felt sure that his answer would be, “Yes, Dallas Woodburn. If I had seen you pushing your cart through the produce section at the grocery store, I would have deliberately made my way over to those organic carrots and thought of some way to strike up a conversation with you.”

But no. Allyn was certain he would NOT have asked me out in a grocery store aisle. Even if he thought I was beautiful. Even if he wanted to go on a date with me. “That’s not my style,” he explained. “I would have been too shy to just walk up to a complete stranger and ask her out.”

Even if that stranger was me?

Yes. Even if that stranger was me, his future wife, in her tennis shoes and loose-fitting jeans, casually browsing the organic vegetable display. Me, a contender for least-intimidating woman on the planet.

To be fair, if our carts had bumped against each other at the grocery store, I probably would have been too nervous to ask for Allyn’s number. I would have assumed he had a girlfriend, or I would have made some other excuse to myself and then I would have kept on daydreaming about some other meet-cute straight out of the movies.

In the past, before going online, I did date guys who I met in cute or unusual ways. I met a guy on a plane once, when I was flying to Indianapolis from LAX to return to grad school after spending the holidays at home. We talked for a little while and he asked for my number as everyone stood up around us, jostling for their luggage from the overhead bins. We went on one date, but it was awkward and not a good match. Sometimes you can just tell these things right away.

I met my first serious boyfriend, a college student from the Bay Area, when we were both studying abroad in England. {And through him, I would later meet my dear friend Dana — something I will eternally be grateful to him for!} The night we met, I remember looking across the table at his goofy smile, and there was something familiar about him — it felt to me like a moment out of a movie, like we were somehow guaranteed to meet and fall in love. And perhaps that idea obscured a lot of things that were wrong about us, and all the ways we were not the right fit for each other, until eventually — like some couples in some movies do — we reached an ending that also felt inevitable in its truth.

The thing about online dating is, I know you aren’t meeting someone in front of a painting at an art gallery or in line for a sandwich during the lunch rush, but I still think there’s a component of magic — of, dare I say, fate? — at play in your meeting each other. Because there are a lot of people on online dating sites. And there are a lot of online dating sites out there. What if I had signed up for OkCupid in February or March instead of January, and Allyn wasn’t on the site anymore? What if he had met someone else or given up and decided to take a break from dating? What if I hadn’t decided to browse profiles that night, and I had never come across his cute smile?

Even though we met online, there are still a million ways we could have missed each other. We could have — as far as statistics go, we should have — but we didn’t. We found each other. I think there is magic in that.

Plus, a first date will always be a first date, whether you met online or at the dog park or through mutual friends. There will always be those first-date butterflies and nervousness, the tentative hug hello, the polite questions and the relief when you share that first genuine laugh together. I vividly remember walking down the street towards Allyn on our first date. It was evening, drizzling rain, and the streetlights and shop lights were reflecting on the sidewalk in a lovely way. Allyn and I were meeting at an ice cream shop, and halfway down the block I glimpsed a man standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone. I was pretty sure it was the ice cream shop, and I was pretty sure the man was Allyn. I remember staring at him for a few moments, wondering who he would turn out to be. Then I looked away before he noticed me, glancing in the storefronts and shop windows for the rest of the block until I reached him. I remember the buzzing of my nerves, and the warmth of his smile when we said hello for the first time in person. There was no lightning bolt. There were no fireworks blazing through the sky. There was just him, and me, and the rain, and our smiles, and the magic of two open hearts getting to know each other, a little at a time.

If our “meet-cute” story was written in a book or a movie or a TV show, here’s how it would go:

One night in late January 2014, sunflowergirl87 was browsing OkCupid when she came across a photo of a handsome guy with a bird on his shoulder, OaktownA’sFan, who the dating-site algorithim declared was a 92% match. She decided to reach out with a message.

Hi! I was really drawn to your profile — you seem like such a genuine, adventurous, glass-half-full person, and I just wanted to reach out and say hello….

OaktownA’sFan read this sincere, heart-on-her-sleeve message and immediately knew this girl had not been online dating for long, because she sounded way too optimistic and friendly. “I better swoop her up fast,” he thought.

Hi there! Thank you for such a sweet and thoughtful message. I would love to meet up for coffee or tea sometime!

They messaged back and forth a little bit — about Dallas’s writing, Allyn’s sustainable business MBA program, dogs, random acts of kindness — before OaktownA’sFan {my name is Allyn, pronounced Alan} asked sunflowergirl87 {my name is Dallas, like the city} out for ice cream at Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor in Walnut Creek.

Their first date, on February 1, was a rainy evening — not the best weather for ice cream, but neither of them minded. Allyn ordered the adventurous flavor with cayenne pepper in it. Dallas ordered something chocolate. Allyn was so attentive asking Dallas questions that she talked and talked and talked and her ice cream all melted. They walked down the street to Starbucks to talk longer because neither felt ready to say goodbye yet. The next day, Allyn asked Dallas out on a second date.

Soon after that, they both disabled their OkCupid accounts.

One final reason I’m grateful that Allyn and I met online is that we were ready to meet each other. Both of us signed up for online dating because we were at places in our lives where we knew what we were looking for. We knew what we wanted; we knew what was important to us and what was not. We were happy with ourselves and happy in our lives. Yes, both of us wanted a partner to share things with — but our happiness wasn’t dependent on each other. I think that was really important, and I think it’s a big reason why our relationship has felt so effortless and right from the very beginning. We were both ready for the big love that we created together — and that we are still creating, each day.

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about dating. What are some of your dating experiences? What have been your best dates? What about your worst dates?
  • Have you ever been hindered by ideas of how you “should” meet someone? Have you ever held onto a relationship that wasn’t right for too long?
  • If you are currently dating: what are you looking for in a partner? What is important to you?
  • If you are with someone: what is your “how we met” story and where do you feel the magic in it?

7 things I would tell my wedding-planning self

It’s been a little more than six months since our wedding, and feel like I am finally coming up for air on the other side. Maybe it’s that I’m finally finished ordering prints for our wedding album. Or maybe it’s that I just needed a bit of time to process everything before I could reflect on it all. We got married in September, and after returning from our honeymoon I promptly started a new teaching job AND my editing work for college app season cranked up three notches. Then it was the busy pace of the holidays: our first holiday season as a married couple, balancing two families. The past couple months I’ve been focusing on my word for the year — FOUNDATION — establishing routines and care practices that I hope will nourish me throughout 2017 and beyond.

And now, as I sit here with my steaming mug of tea and a refreshed mind, I feel called to revisit my wedding-planning journey and reflect.

I know this might sound like a cliche, but our wedding truly was the best day of my life. I’m so grateful for all the time and effort we put into planning our special day. During the process, reading blogs and articles with advice was enormously helpful. I hope my thoughts might be helpful to others! So, without further ado…

Here are 7 things I would tell my past self, in the midst of wedding-planning craziness:

1. Savor the anticipation and the beautiful messiness.

In the last few weeks before our wedding, life was a whirlwind of tasks, questions, and to-do lists. I would wake up in the middle of the night to scribble notes to myself that were only sometimes legible in the morning: song for recessional? cupcake labels? check with minister about kiss timing. My brain was flooded with details and planning and more details. I felt constantly abuzz with nervous energy, my stomach a flurry of butterflies.

At the same time, I had never felt more ready for anything in my life.

I could not wait to marry my sweetheart and officially join our lives together. Yet, I would remind myself to savor this precious anticipatory time, too. I would stand in the middle of our one-bedroom apartment, crammed with wedding gifts and decorations and half-completed craft projects, and smile a pure, giddy, little-kid smile. There is joy to be found here, now, in this glorious mess and in this perfectly imperfect moment. There is something delicate and beautiful in the final days before you hold hands and leap together into the unknown.

2. Stay true to your vision and your vibe as a couple.

Allyn and I are a pretty relaxed couple. We wanted our wedding to feel down-to-earth, homey, and full of love. At the same time, we also wanted to have a “big wedding” with all of our friends and family enjoying a sit-down meal and dancing together. Within the first few weeks of getting engaged and talking about ideas, we had a solid vision for what we wanted. And, looking back at the end, the wedding we actually experienced was very true to that vision!

However, the thing about planning a wedding is that everyone wants to hear what your plans are… and everyone has their own opinions on those plans. Throughout the process, different people {who all loved us and meant well} offered their own ideas, advice and concerns about our plans. Perhaps the best example was our decision not to hire a DJ and instead play dance music from a playlist we created ourselves. Not only were we aiming to save money by not hiring a DJ, we also liked the idea of being able to control the songs that were played during the reception. Some people — people who love us and wanted our wedding to be great — were skeptical of this idea. I can’t even tell you how many times my grandma said that no one would be dancing and that we needed a DJ to “keep the party going.”

Allyn and I listened to these concerns, but we ultimately stayed true to our desires for our wedding. And it all turned out perfectly! I loved every single song that played; I loved the memories that sprung up with various songs; I loved that we had someone who knew us {our friend Justin} as our MC instead of a random DJ who said the same cheesy lines at every wedding. Moreover, guests were raving about the dance playlist. The dance floor was hoppin’ the entire night, right up until we had to leave. I’m so glad we stayed true to our vision and our vibe as a couple, in this aspect and all aspects of our wedding.

3. Be creative.

We wanted our wedding to reflect our personalities and our story as a couple. Allyn and I didn’t have a huge wedding budget, so I took it as a fun challenge to make as many of our decorations as possible. Often, I repurposed items, like making a garland out of wedding and bridal shower cards we had received, and hand-drying rose petals from a bouquet I’d received. We tried to keep things simple and streamlined whenever possible: for example, we planted mini succulents in 4oz mason jars that tripled as place cards for our guests, extra greenery for the tables, and wedding favors. {Six months later, the succulents are thriving — we still receive photos from friends and family of their now-huge succulents!} We also scored some great like-new items on Craigslist for our cocktail hour decorations, gift table and centerpieces. Instead of having table numbers, we named each table a place that we had traveled to together, and decorated the tables with framed photos of us at that place.

I really loved the idea of having a “photo booth area” with props that guests could use to take photos, but renting a professional photo booth was out of our price range. So we thought outside the box and created our own diy photo booth. We rented a pipe-and-drape to create a background, gathered together fun props, and made a sign with instructions for guests. It was such a fun part of the reception, and I’m so glad that we didn’t give up on the idea when professional photo booths were prohibitively expensive for us.

During and after our wedding, so many people commented that our wedding just felt like “Allyn and Dallas.” That, to me, was the best compliment!

4. Don’t get trapped in the prison of perfection.

In these days of Pinterest and Instagram and a million wedding websites, inspiration and advice abound. Which, on the one hand, is a gift. Want to diy your own centerpieces? Google it and you’ll be golden! But, on the other hand, this avalanche of information can totally distract you from what really matters. It is so easy to get caught up in the gorgeous photos and glamorous decor shots. It is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of wanting every.single.tiny.aspect of your wedding to be “perfect.” It is so easy to fixate on the details of the day that, in the grand scheme, aren’t really that important.

What is important is that you are pledging to travel through life, in the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, with another person. That promise is where the beauty and the magic of the day resides. All the other stuff is just icing on the cake.

5. Ask for help.

I love being the helper. I love feeling strong and independent, capable of doing things on my own. Sometimes I can be a bit of a control queen. Typically, I would much rather just do something myself than ask someone else to do it for me. I never want to be a bother or put someone else out.

Maybe you’re like me. If so, this piece of advice is really important for you to hear. Repeat after me: ASK. FOR. HELP.

Others want to help you. Sometimes they just don’t know what you need or how to begin. It is up to YOU to reach out and tell them how they can help you.

A funny thing happened in the week leading up to my wedding. As the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side of the family, this was the first wedding we had celebrated in a long time, and it became a family reunion of sorts. I was thrilled that many of my second cousins and relatives traveled out to California to attend. But this also meant that, in some ways, the event seemed bigger than me and Allyn — it sort of took on a life of its own. Relatives were flying in from all over the place and staying with family in the area. Everyone’s plates were full.

My mom came up a few days early to help me with last-minute things while Allyn was at work. Since Allyn and I live in a small apartment, she was staying with my aunt about 45 minutes away. The first day she arrived, I drove out there to pick her up and bring her back to my apartment, and then at the end of the day I drove her back there and had dinner with everyone before driving home. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have minded, and it was nice to have some quiet car time with my mom — but, you guys, I was STRESSED. I felt like time was spiraling away from me and I still had a ton of stuff I needed to do. And a 45-minute drive each way adds up when you’re doing it four times a day!

I remember crumpling at the kitchen table when I arrived back home to our wedding-overloaded apartment, crying to Allyn about how I felt so exhausted and I had to get up early in the morning to pick up my mom the next morning, and I still had so much to do to get ready for our wedding. “Why don’t you call your mom and see if she can borrow a car?” he asked. “Or if someone could drop her off? That would save you a lot of driving time.”

His words made a ton of sense — but at first, I hesitated. I didn’t want to seem like a demanding “Bridezilla.” It felt hard to ask for help, to admit that I was stressed out and overwhelmed. I didn’t want to cause a hassle for anyone. But, eventually I wiped my tears and called my mom, and admitted to her how I was feeling. She was completely understanding and apologized for not realizing how much driving it was for me. It wasn’t that she, or any of my other relatives, had intended to put any extra burden on my shoulders in the days leading up to my wedding, when I was already firing on all cylinders. It was simply that they hadn’t thought about it. Once I asked for help, they were easily able to make arrangements. My grandpap, who was already driving in the direction of my apartment the next morning to pick up my cousin from the airport, simply dropped my mom off on the way. Which allowed me to sleep in a little bit, face the day more calmly, and saved me an hour and a half of driving through morning traffic.

Don’t expect people to read your mind or magically know what you need. Tell them. Ask them. I promise, you will all be happier!

6. Soak in that walk down the aisle.

My entire life, whenever I thought about getting married, I would think about walking down the aisle to my future husband, and my heart would swell with emotion. In the months leading up to our wedding, that might have been the moment I thought about most. I would get goosebumps imagining walking towards Allyn, stepping with a brimming heart into our future together.

Walking down the aisle, my arm slipped through my dad’s arm, is a memory I will cherish forever. But not just for the reason I was expecting.

Before the moment came, I hadn’t fully put things together in my mind. I hadn’t realized that yes, I would be walking towards Allyn. But before I reached him at the end of that aisle, I would be walking past all of my friends and family members who had played such important roles in my life up to this point — who had, in essence, made me the person I am today.

Walking slowly down that aisle with my dad was a surreal experience. I felt as if I were seeing a montage of my life. There was my best friend from kindergarten, smiling at me, standing beside my close friend from college and my dear friend who I met studying abroad in England. There was my mom’s best friend, who I think of as an honorary aunt, crying next to Allyn’s aunt and uncle who flew down from Washington to attend. There were my friends from church; my grandparents; my aunts and uncles and cousins; Allyn’s relatives and friends from grad school. Everyone in our lives, smooshed together in one room, cheering us on and giving blessings to our union. I teared up as I walked down the aisle, and I tear up now thinking about it.

And then, at the end of the aisle: the person I love more than anything, standing there, beaming.

Can you imagine anything better?

7. Remember the purpose behind it all.

All of the decisions and options that come with wedding-planning can feel a tad bit very overwhelming. Before getting engaged myself, I had no idea how much goes into planning a wedding! {Side note: I am definitely going to appreciate weddings and big parties much more now, noticing ALL the details and remembering that someone out there had to plan for every little thing at the event.}

Throughout the process, I would sometimes be overwhelmed with tears of stress and a spinning-with-details mind. The one thing guaranteed to calm me down would be reminding myself the whole point of planning a wedding: getting to marry an amazing man who loves me and who I love with all my heart! With that thought, my tears of stress would transform to tears of gratitude. And, looking back now, I can tell you that those are the moments I treasure the most from our special day: when Allyn and I said our vows, slipped rings onto each other’s fingers, and promised to be partners in this journey, now and forever.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! What would you tell your wedding-planning self?

my dad, the “streaker”

This is my dad:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. You can do hard things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations, Daddy! I love you!