valentine’s day in six parts

I. Seventh grade.

I stand in a circle with my friends at snack break, laughing about some silly joke that no one else but us would find funny. I’m wearing my favorite red sweater and my white pedal-pushers. I scan the grassy quad, looking for The Boy I Have a Crush On, but I don’t see him anywhere. I’m hoping maybe he will give me a Valentine today. Maybe he will send me a Candy Graham. Maybe… maybe… My wishes don’t go much farther than that. Candy Grahams and smiles across the quad. To my seventh-grade self, holding hands seems the epitome of romance.

The Candy Grahams are school-sponsored Valentines. All week long, you could go to the ASB room during lunch and pay a quarter for a small square of paper, where you could write a note that will be taped to a Caramel Apple Pop and delivered during fifth period on Valentine’s Day. I bought Candy Grahams for my best friends, but I did not buy one for The Boy I Have a Crush On.

During fifth period, my heart thrums as the Candy Grahams are passed out. I receive one. When I see Erica’s familiar handwriting, my heart sinks just a little.

I receive Valentines from my parents and my Gramps. But all I can think about is the Valentine I didn’t receive. I wonder if a boy will ever ever ever want me to be his Valentine. The future seems so far away.

II. Ninth grade.

I make a Valentine’s card for The Boy I Have a Crush On {who is different from The Boy I Had a Crush On in seventh grade… um, hello, that was a lifetime ago.} Unlike in middle school, my high-school self actually talks to this boy. We are… friends? Sort of. We walk together from fourth period to lunch every day. I am hopeful that he will give me a Valentine. I decide to make him a Valentine so I will have something to give him, if he gives me one first.

During our walk from the classroom to the lunch tables, my heart pounds in my chest. I finger the Valentine in my jeans pocket. I’m wearing my favorite red tank-top and white cardigan. It is Valentine’s Day, but the magic fizzles out the closer we get to the lunch tables. As each minute ticks by, it is morphing into just a regular day. Then he says, “Bye,” heading off to join his friends, and I realize he is not going to give me a Valentine.

Erica tries to talk me out of it, but later I slip the Valentine into his locker anyway. I mean, I already made it. Why let it go to waste?

I receive Valentines from my parents and my Gramps. There is even a bouquet of cheerful sunflowers from my dad. But all I can think about is The Boy I Have a Crush On, and the Valentine I didn’t receive from him.

III. Freshman year of college.

High school seems so long ago. I am a brand-new woman. I have held hands with a boy in a darkened room while we all watched a movie. I have gone out on a date and kissed a boy. I have told a boy, plainly and clearly, my feelings for him. For the first time in my life, The Boy I Have a Crush On just might like-like me back.

This year, I receive a Valentine. It is a very sweet homemade card, accompanied by flowers and the board game Scrabble. Only it is not from The Boy I Have a Crush On. It is from A Boy I Like as Just a Friend. I have told him many times that my romantic feelings just aren’t there, but he continues his unabashed pursuit, and I am beginning to feel unsettled in addition to the sadness and guilt I already feel for hurting his feelings.

I realize that it is not only about being wanted. It is about being wanted by the person you want, too.

I put the flowers in a vase on my dresser, hoping The Boy I Have a Crush On will see them. Hoping he still might come by my room, before Valentine’s Day is over, and ask me to be his.

But, as the streetlights blink on outside the window, as evening steadily shifts into night, he does not come by my room. He does not see my flowers. On my bulletin board, I have pinned up Valentine’s cards from my mom and my dad and my brother, from Erica and Holly and Celine. Yet all I can think about is the Valentine he didn’t give me.

IV. Junior year of college.

Norwich, England. I’m studying abroad for a semester and I am in love for the first time ever. All those other Boys I Had Crushes On seem so insignificant compared to this overwhelming feeling. This is my first Valentine’s Day with a real Boyfriend. I could not be more excited. I take the bus into town and buy a giant card at Pound Land {like the Dollar Store in the U.S.} and some new tights to go with the dress I had already picked out weeks ago. Instead of chocolates, I buy my Boyfriend a case of Red Bull because it is his favorite drink.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, while he is in class, I sneak into his room and leave the card and Red Bull on his desk. A few hours later, he calls me, his voice filled with surprise at my gift. He thanks me for it, even though he says his flatmates are giving him a hard time. He always seems slightly embarrassed, around his flatmates, to be with me.

“I’ll come by at 6,” he says. “I’m taking you out to dinner. It’s a surprise.”

I am a little kid on Christmas Eve. I feel like I’ve finally found the person who loves me back, who appreciates me for who I am. Who wants to be my Valentine and wants everyone to know it. That evening, Boyfriend comes over and gives me a daffodil he picked from the fields. We ride the bus into town together. He still won’t tell me where we’re going for dinner. Walking together down the cobblestone streets, he pauses in front of a Pizza Hut. I laugh, certain he is joking.

He holds the door open. “After you, my lady.”

Heart sinking, I realize he is not joking. In the next thought, I chastise myself for being judgmental. He is taking me out to dinner! On Valentine’s Day! I should be grateful. It doesn’t matter where we go for dinner; what matters is that we are together.

Over slices of pepperoni and cheese, he confesses that he waited until the last minute to make dinner reservations and all the other restaurants in town were booked up. We laugh about it, but all I can think about is The Girl He Had a Crush On back home, the girl he told me about last week, the girl with the pretty smile and contagious laughter who occasionally sends him letters. I feel certain that, if he was celebrating Valentine’s Day with her, he wouldn’t have waited until the last minute to make dinner reservations. He would have treated the occasion as something special. He would have felt so lucky just to be out on a date with her. I feel certain that the reason we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day at a Pizza Hut is because I’m somehow not good enough.

This is the first time I’ve had this feeling, with him. It will not be the last.

V. Four years ago.

Valentine’s Day is a Saturday, and I have dinner plans with My New Boyfriend. We have only been dating for two weeks–can I even call him my boyfriend yet?– but it feels like it has been longer than that. This thing between us is bright and shiny and new, full of sparkling possibility. Yet, my feelings for him are already growing serious. He feels familiar and yet also different than any other Boy who has come before.

My New Boyfriend asks if he can make me dinner for Valentine’s Day. I tell him that would be delightful. Never before has a man other than my father made me dinner.

I am living with my grandparents, who are apprehensive about My New Boyfriend {who they have not yet met} because he is In His Thirties! {I am twenty-six. In their eyes, I am still approximately sixteen.} So I ask My New Boyfriend if he would mind picking me up for our date, saying hello to Grandma and Grandpap. I know that, as soon as they meet him, they will love him. My New Boyfriend says of course, even though this means he will have to drive forty minutes each way four separate times: to pick me up and take me to his apartment for dinner, then to drive me home and go back to his apartment at the end of the evening.

I wear a lacy pink dress and bake red velvet crinkle cookies. I write him a Valentine’s card, where I try to hold back and keep myself from gushing too much. If I have learned one thing from the Valentine’s Days in my past, it is to keep my expectations low.

My New Boyfriend picks me up, right on time, looking so handsome in a collared shirt and sweater. He has a box of toffees for my grandma, who is immediately smitten. Grandpap claps him on the back and offers him a drink. We chit-chat in the living room for a few minutes before I’m able to extricate us away from the conversation and out the front door.

Instead of taking me to his apartment, where I’ve been a couple times before, My New Boyfriend drives me to his mother’s house, which is quite possibly the most gorgeous home I have ever seen. He explains that his mother is spending the night with his sister a few towns over, and she offered up her beautiful kitchen for him to use to cook tonight’s meal. He has made a salad and roasted asparagus and salmon. It smells amazing.

Walking into the dining room to light the candles, my breath catches. He has set the table with the fancy china and silverware. At my place setting waits a box of chocolates and a card. Inside the card, he has made a word search for me–all of the words are terms and inside-jokes from our two-week courtship: my favorite yin yoga class, my dog Murray’s name, the place of our first date: Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor.

My eyes fill with tears. I feel like I’m in a movie or a novel. I realize that I don’t have to hold myself back with this man. I don’t have to be afraid of being disappointed. He is the Valentine my seventh-grade self dreamed of: choosing me, putting in effort for me, trying to make me feel special. When he looks at me, his eyes light up. When I look at him, my heart breaks wide open.

Until now, I always thought this kind of thing happened for Other Girls in Other Lives. But now, it is happening for me.

Later, when he kisses me goodnight, all I can think about is how I hope he always wants to be my Valentine.

VI. Today.

My Husband is not making me a candlelit dinner this Valentine’s Day. It is a Wednesday, and we both won’t get home from work till after 7. Sometimes fancy homemade candlelit dinners simply aren’t practical if you have to get up for work the next morning and you want to get to bed at a decent hour. Instead, we are planning to go out to a new Thai restaurant we’ve been meaning to try.

We will exchange cards and hugs and kisses. I will remind My Husband of the crossword puzzle he made for me, our first Valentine’s Day. “Can you believe, we’d only been together for two weeks!” we’ll marvel.

“Can you believe, you drove all the way there and back, there and back, to pick me up and take me home?”

“Yeeesh. I must have really liked you,” he’ll say with a wink.

When I was in seventh grade, and ninth grade, and college, and all the years in between, I was so focused on the romantic aspect of Valentine’s Day. I dove full-force into the hearts and flowers and chocolates, the parade and performance of the day. It was almost like Valentine’s Day was a milestone when I felt pressured to prove to others — to myself? — that I was loved. And again and again, the day fell flat. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough love in my life. It was because I was focused in the wrong tiny sliver of the pie.

Even before I met My Husband, even when I was poking an unwanted Valentine through the slit of a locker or forcing a smile as I chewed my way through a slice of lukewarm pizza, those Valentine’s Days were not wasted. I think of that girl I was, so fully ensconced in love. I think of her and I want to tell her,

Take a step back, baby girl. Look around you. Look at your family and your friends. These are the people you are going to have with you down the road. You don’t have to be so scared. You don’t have to try to force things. The kind of love you dream about is going to come into your life soon enough. Trust in it. Trust in yourself. And don’t forget to be so grateful for all the other love around you. Don’t take those Valentines for granted.

Maybe it’s easy for me to say all of this now that I’ve found My Husband. I remember those lonely wrung-out days vividly–days when I was still searching, hoping to meet him in every busy café or grocery store aisle I wandered down. I remember feeling so anxious and unmoored, worried that I might never find my person. Wondering if I would ever have the easy comfort of a sure-and-solid Valentine love, like a worn-in pair of jeans–the comfort I feel today.

Maybe it’s because of My Husband that I’m able, now, to slough off the fear that used to eclipse the love within this holiday for me. Now, I can fully appreciate Valentine’s Day–not for its pomp and circumstance, but for its richness and depth. I love seeing the shy smiles on my students’ faces when I give them cards and candy. I love the rainbow crayon homemade Valentines they give me in return. I love bringing cookies to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce and bringing chocolates to our 97-year-old Great Aunt Flo, seeing the pure surprised delight on their faces. I love mailing cards to my friends scattered around the country. I love reading and rereading the Valentines from my mom and my dad and my brother, displaying them on our kitchen table where I can see them throughout the day. I love buying myself flowers, if I want to, not needing to prove anything to anyone but simply because they are pretty and would brighten up the apartment.

This Valentine’s Day, I have everything my past self used to long for. The irony is that now, looking back, I realize that I had it all along.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear reader. Please tell someone you love them. And please know that you are loved and you are enough, exactly as you are.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • What is your favorite Valentine’s memory?
  • Make a list of all the love in your life–people, animals, places, activities, it all counts!
  • Write a love letter to yourself, describing in detail all the things you love about your amazing self.

a year of living simply: week 11

Hello, friends! Hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. Allyn and I went into the city to a friend’s house for a brunch celebration. It was cold and rainy here yesterday morning, so we were all smiles! {We need rain badly here in California… every drop feels like a blessing!}

me and al easter

We put together an Easter basket that we brought with us to brunch. It was fun to fill the colorful plastic eggs with jelly beans and chocolates, and I enjoyed reading the cute little sayings on them: You’re a Grade A! Chicks Rule. You Crack Me Up. It was a hit at brunch, especially with the little kiddos.

easter basket

Backing up to Saturday, Allyn and I went out to dinner and saw a play in Walnut Creek. The play was called “Mirandolina!” and had been translated into English from Italian. It was a lighthearted romantic comedy and though I went into the play with high expectations {every play we have seen at this theater has been wonderful} this one exceeded my expectations!

mirandolina play

There were multiple laugh-out-loud moments, the cast was superb and had great chemistry, the set and costumes were excellent… plus this theater sells little tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream at intermission, so that is an added bonus. Overall, it was a really fun date night! I love seeing live theater and I’m so glad that Allyn enjoys going to plays with me.

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. Magazines tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” while in the meantime, the huge stack of them stresses me out. This week I took a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, and ended up unsubscribing to three of them. {Though I am keeping The New Yorker!} I am donating a bunch of New Yorkers to the high school library where Allyn’s sister Allyson is librarian… they don’t have much of a budget to spend on magazine subscriptions, so rely on donations. I’m sure many other school libraries are in the same boat, so if you have magazines to donate, you might check with your local schools!


This week’s challenge is to say no to something. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time saying the simple word, “No.” I’m worried about disappointing people or letting people down, so I’ve adopted this bad habit of “hedging” — even if I know that I absolutely do not want to do something or do not have time to commit to something, I have a hard time declining outright. Instead, I say, “Maybe” and then end up worrying about it for a while before finally getting up the nerve to opt out, or just doing it even though I don’t want to do it because I can’t bring myself to “let down” the other person. It’s so silly! Especially writing it out here, I can see how ridiculous my process is.

The older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. It is a valuable gift that passes by so quickly, and we cannot afford to waste our time doing things that are not meaningful for us simply because we’re afraid of that moment of discomfort that comes with saying, “No.” Sure, there will always be things we have to do that perhaps we aren’t thrilled about {dentist appointments, DMV renewals, household chores} but when it comes to actively committing to an activity or task, I want to be more aware of what I’m adding to my plate. I want to guard my time, so I can use it to invest in the people and projects that are most dear to my heart and most important to me.

Questions for the morning:

  • Did you get rid of any magazines this week?
  • What do you have a hard time saying no to?

fabulous friday #29

Happy Friday, friends! What wonderful things are you up to today?

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Catching up on my stack of old issues of The New Yorker that pile up at my parents’ house when I’m gone. My dad always reads them and saves them for me, because I especially love reading the fiction. My recent favorite: “Here’s the Story” by David Gilbert. The ending definitely sucker-punched me, in the best way! This is one of those stories that I want to press into the hands of everyone I meet and tell them, “Read this. You’ve got to read this.” Does anyone else ever feel that way when you read something amazing?

new yorker issue

2. My parents and I went to the Food Truck Tuesdays event that happens here in Ventura on the first Tuesday of every month. It was a blast! I was impressed by the wide range of cuisine offered by the many different food trucks. My dad opted for the lobster tacos, Mom got a classic burger, and I got sushi rolls topped with an Indian-inspired butter pork-and-peppers sauce. Yum!

food trucks

parents at food truck tuesday

3. I made turkey enchiladas for dinner last night. They were a big hit!

turkey enchiladas

4.  Thanks to Whitney for sharing this powerful sermon on love and commitment. I thought the message was absolutely beautiful, and very true {except for the part towards the end where he says it was “too late” to back out of the wedding… I think that if you have doubts in your gut about marrying a certain person, those doubts are there for a reason and you need to listen to them carefully! Which is entirely different from being afraid of commitment in general.}

5. The fro-yo place down the block from my parents’ house has the best selection of toppings… so many choices! I was cracking up at all their sour candy options. My sweetheart loves sour candy, even on ice cream. I need to bring him here!

fro yo toppings

What are your plans for this lovely August weekend? I think my parents and I are headed to the outdoor concert series Rock The Collection tomorrow evening. It’s always a lot of fun, plus it’s freeeeee — can’t beat that! 🙂

rock the collection

me and mom summer

Questions of the morning:

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

easy + inexpensive valentine’s day cards

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner — more specifically, next week! How does the time fly by so quickly?

I have always loved Valentine’s Day because I love an excuse to make a big deal about my friends and family. I love to show them that I care. Quite simply, I LOVE love! 🙂 And Valentine’s Day is the perfect reminder to appreciate those special people in your life and let them know how much they mean to you.

Over the next week, I’ll be doing a series of “Countdown to Valentine’s Day” posts with lots of ideas on how your can make your Valentine’s Day a masterpiece–whether you’re single, dating, engaged, married, or somewhere in between!

valentines week

When I was browsing the Valentine’s Day section at the grocery store a couple days ago, I looked through the adorable sets of cards available for kids to bring to their classmates and friends. I remember as a kid picking out cards with my favorite Disney princesses {I was a Belle girl all the way!} or Power Rangers {anyone else like the Yellow Ranger the best?} or, one year, Blue’s Clues. {I might have had a little crush on Steve.}

But gone are the days of simple paper fold-over cards. I had a great time surveying the shiny foil cards, the stickers, the sequins … but the price tags, whew! Those Valentines can get a little pricey, especially when you factor in candy and multiple children to buy card sets for!

That very same day, my blogging buddy Andrea over at Simple Organized Living ran a post called Two SO-Simple DIY Valentine’s Day Cards. I especially loved her idea about using Swedish fish {one of our Jude‘s fave candies} and a handmade card that reads, “I’m glad you’re in my school.” Seriously, how cute are these?

Another idea:

  • Purchase a pack of stickers featuring your child’s favorite cartoon or action figure. {You can find a great selection for a couple bucks at Toys R Us, Target, and most pharmacies or grocery stores in the card aisle.}
  • Pick up a pack of blank index cards.
  • Write out different Valentine’s messages onto the cards with bright markers.
  • Let your child decorate the cards with stickers.

This not only saves you money on cards, it also becomes a fun craft activity for your child. What better way to encourage empathy and compassion for others than writing kind words on Valentines?

You could also do a twist on cards by making them edible:

  • Bake a batch of cookies or cupcakes.
  • Frost them.
  • Before the icing hardens, press down one or two candy “Sweethearts” into the icing.
  • Your child gets to choose who gets what Sweetheart message.

cupcakes with candy hearts

What are some of your favorite Valentine’s Day memories? Do you have any inexpensive, handmade card ideas?

Till soon!

holiday white chocolate pretzels

How is your week going? Mine is flying by. It’s the last week of school before I head home to California for the holidays, and I am a mix of productive “aaack-so-much-to-get-done!” and lazy “it’s-December-and-I-just-want-to-bake-cookies-and-watch-Love-Actually.” Tonight I channeled both of these inclinations and baked festive white chocolate pretzel goodies to give to some of my friends and colleagues as Christmas gifts.

holiday masterpiece

I came across this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Peanut Butter Fingers, and I tweaked it slightly because I couldn’t find the white chocolate wafer candies that Julie’s recipe called for. I just used plain chocolate and they turned out great!


Here’s all that you need:

  • pretzels
  • green and red M&Ms
  • small chocolate pieces {I broke apart these Andes peppermint white chocolate pieces}



1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. If desired, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Spread a layer of pretzels over the cookie sheet.

3. Break chocolate apart into small pieces and place one piece in the center of each pretzel.


4. Bake for 3-4 minutes, until chocolate begins to melt.

5. Gently press a red or green M&M, writing-side down, into the chocolate.


6. Transfer pretzels to a plate and allow to cool.

7. When chocolate has hardened, store the pretzel treats in a tin or air-tight container.


I packed mine up in these cute tins I found at Target in the dollar section:


This is such an easy and inexpensive holiday baking recipe. These white chocolate pretzels are a special, home-made treat that your friends and loved ones will gobble up! {Or make a big batch for yourself — I won’t tell!} 🙂

Have a wonderful day,


-Time spent: 20 mins
-Cost: $6.00

*This post is linked up at I’m an Organizing Junkie as part of Menu-Plan Monday!


Here are the other posts in my “Make Your Holiday Season a Masterpiece” series:
homemade festive decorative chain
little oases of rest in a hectic, busy season


rice krispies treats with m&ms

Last weekend I went to a welcome-back potluck for my Master’s program and I volunteered to bring dessert. {I always volunteer to bring dessert — any excuse to bake!} I racked my brain for something to make. Cookies? Cupcakes? Lemon bars? But with a busy weekend to-do list of errands and course planning, I was a little pressed for time. I thought back to picnics and potlucks of my childhood, when my mom would often bring Rice Krispies treats — they used to be one of my favorite desserts. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a Rice Krispies treat. A craving hit and it was immediately decided: I would try my hand at making some for the potluck!

Lucky for me, this recipe could not be simpler. It’s the perfect, inexpensive crowd-pleaser for any gathering — especially in the summer, when you don’t want to heat up your kitchen by turning on the oven. This would also be a fun recipe to make with kitchen-helper kiddos!

Looking for a dessert to bring to a Labor Day picnic? Try whipping up some of these!

rice krispies treats with m&ms

-1 package mini-marshmallows
-1/3 cup butter
-1 large bag mini m&ms
-6 cups rice krispies

1. Grease a 9 x 13 pan with butter and set aside. Melt the rest of the butter in a big pot on the stove. When butter is halfway melted, add the marshmallows.

2. Stir until the marshmallow is completely melted and smooth.

3. Turn off the burner. Add the rice krispies two cups at a time, stirring thoroughly until the mixture is combined.

4. Add a heaping cupful of the mini m&ms. {Feel free to use whatever kind of m&ms you want; I like the minis because they are so dang cute!}

5. Press the rice krispies mixture into the greased 9×13 pan. Pour the remainder of the m&m bag onto the top of the rice krispies and press down with a spatula.

6. Let cool for 15-20 minutes {or as long as you can stand it} before slicing into squares and serving.

Have a delightful weekend, everyone! I’ll be soaking up these last rays of summer before autumn sweeps in …



Time spent: 15 mins
Cost: $6.00 {with about half a box of rice krispies left over for breakfast this week!}