a thank-you note to the universe

Dear Universe,

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

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

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

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

{mini-golfing!}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Dallas

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

This year, I’m ringing in a new decade! Yep—I’m joining my hubby in the 30’s club!

As when I turned 27, my birthday wish for this year is to create a “kindness chain” … I’ve spent the past few weeks doing 30 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 30th birthday. My birthday wish is for you to join me in an act of kindness. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

1. Bake goodies for a neighbor. One of our neighbors helped us Allyn carry a heavy desk up the stairs to our second-floor apartment when I was clearly struggling to hold up my end. He was just walking by and kindly came to our rescue! So I baked him some muffins with a thank-you note. I also gave some dried lavender in a small glass vase to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce, who admired a vase of dried lavender in our apartment a few weeks ago.

thank you note

2. Donate stamps for The Letter Project. This organization was started by my blogging friend Whitney, and I love her mission to provide letters filled with comfort, hope and encouragement to women and girls. I have previously written letters for girls through The Letter Project, but I wanted to do a little bit more, so I donated some stamps too! Whitney works tirelessly to bring joy to others, and her efforts and genuine spirit inspire me so much.

3. Donate to a classroom on DonorsChoose in honor of all the teachers in my life. I chose this project to help bring a creative writing space to students in a Head Start program in Louisville, Kentucky. {Bonus: all donations are currently being doubled for this project!} This donation is also in honor of my brother Greg, who is a huge champion of Early Childhood Education and play-based learning, and who inspires me daily with his amazing work empowering administrators, educators and students through the nonprofit organization Right to Play.

4. Leave a kind note in a public place. I stuck this post-it note on the bathroom mirror at the airport!

5. Donate craft materials to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I learned about this really neat reuse center from my sweetheart, who has become a waste management expert due to all his environmental work. This organization welcomes donations of everything from used toilet paper rolls to old buttons to fabric, electronics, media and more! Everything at their center is available for teachers to come take to use in their classrooms, for free. It is a wonderful concept, and I was happy to go through our apartment and my grandma’s house and get some materials together to donate, including two fake plants! Allyn was sweet enough to drop the donation off for me when he went to the area to donate blood.

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

6. Pay for someone else’s coffee. While visiting my hometown for my birthday weekend, I met up with my friend Erica for coffee at our favorite local spot, Simone’s. I gave the barista an extra $5 to pay forward to someone else’s coffee that day. I hope it gave a stranger a nice surprise!

{The two of us at Simone’s during a visit years ago!}

7. Reach out to a friend. I sent messages to a few friends I haven’t been in touch with in a while, and got wonderful responses in return!

8. Write a note of appreciation. I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite bloggers, Alex Franzen, telling her how much her joyful spirit and empowering words mean to me. I also shared a video that Allyn took of me giving a talk as a Worship Associate, when I shared her words and a story from her blog. She wrote back to my email right away, and was so touched that she shared the video with all of her subscribers. I have long been a fan of Alex’s; now I feel like I made a new friend!

9. Pick up litter. When I walked my favorite loop around my parents’ neighborhood, I brought a plastic bag along with me and picked up any litter I saw. I was surprised how much I gathered in just twenty minutes!

10. Write glowing reviews of my doctorsI am so lucky to have wonderful doctors who truly make me feel cared about and safe. I wrote reviews of them on Yelp so that when prospective patients are searching for doctors, they will know that these people are amazing!

11. Deliver flowers to a nursing home. This is actually something I like to do every year on my birthday, in honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May—we used to always celebrate our birthdays together. This year, I bought a beautifully blooming orchid and delivered it to the Ventura Townhouse, where Jewell used to live. The woman working the front desk was delighted and surprised. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Plant trees. I donated to The Canopy Project through The Earth Day Network. Every dollar you donate equals a new tree planted! Earth Day Network works on the ground with organizations worldwide that strengthen communities through tree planting. Using sapling and seed distribution, urban forestry, agroforestry, and tree care training, this amazing and vital organization has empowered rural and urban people alike to conserve, repair, and restore tree cover to their lands. I donated $30 to plant 30 trees for my 30th birthday!

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. Every time I went shopping, I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

14. Donate books and magazines to the library. I donated about half a dozen issues of The New Yorker magazine, some crossword puzzle books, and two novels to my local library.

15. Support indie musicians. I donated to two PledgeMusic campaigns for independent musicians I greatly admire, Amber Rubarth & Blind Pilot… their latest albums are such a treat that bring me so much joy every day! I listen to them on repeat. Amber’s album is “Wildflowers in the Graveyard” and Blind Pilot’s is “And Then Like Lions.”

me and amber rubarth 2

16. Review my favorite podcasts on iTunes. I wrote glowing reviews of two of my favorite go-to podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo.

17. Buy a meal for a stranger. One time, when I was a little girl, my family was out at a restaurant for dinner, talking and laughing. We were having a great time, but as the evening progressed, my brother and I were getting a little antsy and ready to head home. I remember we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the check. Finally, our waiter came over and told us that someone at another table had paid for our meal because we seemed like such a nice family having a wonderful time together. It was such a gift — what a lovely surprise, and a memory that will always stay with me. So, every so often, when I am out at a restaurant and see a family or a couple or a member of our military, I try to “pay it forward” by secretly paying for their meal, the way that stranger did for my family two decades ago.

18. Give empowering notes and “inspiration gemstones” to my students. Since we are at the end of the school year, I thought it would be a fun time to give my students little notes of appreciation and pride over all their hard work and growth this year! I typically give them writing-related gifts like pencils and mini notebooks, but I wanted to do something different this time and ordered these cool gemstones on Etsy. I wrote them notes saying, You are a gem! and explained that these are lucky gemstones that will bring them inspiration when they are feeling writer’s block. My students seemed to really like them!

19. Scatter “lucky pennies” on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

20. Leave quarters on the laundry machine. I left a note and surprised one of our neighbors with a free load of laundry!

21. Let someone go ahead of me in line. At the grocery store, after I unloaded my full cart onto the conveyer belt, a woman came up behind me in line with just a small basket of items, so I let her go ahead. She was very grateful.

22. Donate clothes to charity. I went through my closet and found a dress and two shirts that are in great condition but that I never wear. Allyn also gave me some clothing that he wanted to donate, so I dropped everything off at Goodwill.

23. Take Murray for a walk and let him stop and sniff to his heart’s content. Love you so much, bubsy! Even though you can be a slow, stop-and-sniff walker!

24. Donate to a food pantry. A couple months ago, Allyn and I spent a morning volunteering at our county food bank. The manager told us that one of the most-requested items is peanut butter, since it lasts for so long and is filled with protein, and kids love it. So I went to the grocery store and bought four jars of peanut butter, and donated them to the bin for the food bank.

25. Donate my old pair of sneakers. I love these bright pink shoes! They were with me on my trip to Europe, all over town, and through countless workouts. They still have a lot of life in them, even though I have a new pair of sneaks now. So I did a bit of research and found a local donation center at Fleet Feet Sports. I hope they bring someone else joy and comfort!

26. Surprise someone with a visit. I took a book to my writing buddy Lari when I was home visiting my parents over Memorial Day weekend. Lari and I write each other letters throughout the year, but it is always so nice to visit in person. She has some health issues, so she isn’t able to get out of the house very much. We had a lovely time chatting and sipping on Starbucks iced lattes on her couch!

27. Thank our maintenance man. We are so lucky to have the best handyman at our apartment complex. Jose is friendly and fastidious—when we have a problem, he always wants to fix it for us in a hurry! Whether it is a squeaky door, a broken cabinet, or carpenter bees on our deck, he is our guy! I left a note for him in the front office, and also wrote a note to his supervisor about how wonderful he is.

28. Give money and a note to a street performer. At our local train station, there is nearly always a man playing the saxophone. It always brightens my day, but typically I am rushing past, anxious to make the train on time. This time, I made sure to head to the train station early so I could listen to him for a little bit. Then I dropped some money, along with a note, into his open saxophone case.

29. Answer a survey. Whenever I go to the post office, they always point out the survey at the bottom of the receipt, but I’m always too busy or forget to make the effort to go online and fill it out. This time, I went home and did the survey, giving our local post office rave reviews because they are awesome.

30. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. This is always one of my favorite things to do when I want to brighten my own day! I buy a balloon at the grocery store register and ask the checker if they will give it to a child who comes through the line. I love to think of the wonder on a little girl or little boy’s face to be surprised with a balloon for no reason!

 

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness! You have truly made my 30th birthday a masterpiece. Here’s to a sparkling new decade!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

* If you liked this post, you might want to check out the archives of my year of kindness challenge!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about kindness.

  • What is an act of kindness you have done or would like to do for others?
  • Write about a time someone surprised you with an act of kindness.
  • What is a memory that warms your heart, perhaps even many years later?
  • What is your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?

thoughts on turning 30

Hi, everyone! Hard to believe, but this is my very last blog post of my twenties. My birthday is on Monday, and I schedule blog posts for Tuesdays and Fridays. So the next time you hear from me, I’ll officially be in my thirties! A brand new decade. I feel ready.

I used to expect that I would feel some anxiety about turning 30. Society makes such a big deal about it, and 30 somehow seems so much older than, say, 28. There’s also the fact that part of me still feels sixteen sometimes, and it is strange for your actual age to progress farther and farther beyond an age you remember being so vividly. At some point, I’ve crossed over from “girl” to “young woman” to, simply, “woman.” How did that happen?

{My sixteenth birthday, with goofy Gar}

But, on the other hand, there are lots of ways that I can tell I have grown. I remember my first semester teaching undergrads at Purdue, just a year out of college myself, and I felt very much in the same demographic check-box as my students. But it does not feel that way now. When Allyn and I visited my cousin Arianna in college last October, I couldn’t get over how young the undergrads seemed. Had we been that young, too? Looking at them and listening to Arianna’s dorm room stories, I felt the same way I feel when my students talk about middle-school PE class: I remember that time in my life and that version of myself so clearly, and yet it feels like I am peering at her through a pane of glass or reading about her in a book. I am not that same Dallas anymore. I have morphed and expanded and grown and learned a lot since then.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am not dreading turning 30 is that my whole perspective on aging shifted forever when Celine died so tragically and brutally young. Now, every birthday feels like such a privilege, such a stroke of luck, such a thing to celebrate. I no longer take birthdays for granted, in a way that was not as true before we lost Celine. I would give up chocolate for the rest of my life if Celine got to turn 30 and 40 and 50 and 60 and get all gray-haired and wrinkly.

{Celebrating her 21st birthday… what a fun night that was!}

So I am utterly stoked that I get to turn 30! What a blessing it is to enter this new chapter of life.

In truth every day is a new beginning; as my brother wisely says, “Every single day is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” But there is something about birthdays, and particularly about turning over a new leaf of a sparkling new decade here on this planet, that feels exhilarating and shiny.  Yes, my twenties were wonderful in many ways: I lived with three of my best friends, studied abroad in England for six months, graduated college. I moved back home for a year and got to live with my parents again, but in a different way: inhabiting the house as three adults more than two adults and a child. That was such a precious year, to simply be together and soak up time with them, even though I was anxious about my future and what would happen next… and then something did happen, I got into graduate school, and I moved to Indiana and got my MFA in Fiction and learned so much and lived on my own for the first time in my life. I learned to cook and I learned to trudge through the snow and I learned how strong I was. I fell in love and fell to pieces. I went on blind dates and terrible dates and online dates and magical dates. I wrote three novels and one short-story collection and I got a literary agent. I moved to the Bay Area and lived with my grandparents, and they became two of my best friends, and I learned that life is too short but it is also long and will surprise you sometimes in the best way. I fell in love again and knew that this was what I had been searching for, waiting for, dreaming about, always. And, reader, I married him.

So my twenties were glorious, yes. But they were also lonely and painful and searching in many ways. Now, from where I stand on the cusp of thirty, life feels sturdier under my feet. I feel sturdier in myself. I know who I am and what I want and where I am going. Not only can I successfully blow-dry my hair and flip a pancake without making a big mess, I realized the other day that I truly feel happy in my career for the first time in a long time. I feel like I am doing the writing I am supposed to be doing, and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. No longer am I sweating through criticism in workshops, feeling like I’m not “literary” or “tortured” enough. I am proud of my writing and I no longer feel the need to “prove myself” to anyone else. As novelist Elizabeth Berg once told me: First, please yourself. I finally understand what she meant. I genuinely feel excited to wake up each day and get to work on things, and there are never enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

For my tenth birthday, my parents surprised me with a gift I had been begging for and dreaming about: a boxer puppy. Gar would light up my life and expand my world, making me laugh with his goofy antics, sleeping at the foot of my bed most nights, and curling up beside my computer as I wrote stories late into the night. At ten, I would publish my first collection of short stories and poems, and my dream of making a career as a writer would officially be born. I felt like the luckiest girl in the whole world.

For my twentieth birthday, I was home from college for the summer and my family and I flew kites at the park. Gar was no longer in our lives, only in our memories and photographs, and we had a new exuberant boxer puppy on our hands: Mr. Murray. After turning twenty, I would spend a summer abroad at Cambridge and later would study abroad for a whole semester in England, where I turned 21 and it wasn’t even that big of a deal because the drinking age was 18 there. I remember celebrating with Chinese take-out and ice cream, surrounded by my British flatmates, feeling impossibly lucky and impossibly grown-up.

{My roommates threw me a surprise 21st birthday party 8 months before my actual birthday, before we all went abroad. I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised! It was such a fun party, and so thoughtful of them.}

For my thirtieth birthday, I will be in my favorite place I’ve ever been: my childhood home, with my parents, and my brother, and my husband, and a gray-faced Murray snoring on the couch. I no longer feel impossibly grown-up—there is still so much I have yet to learn. But I don’t feel impossibly young, either. There are some things I have learned. There are some things I know for certain. One of them is how lucky I am. No matter how old I get, I hope I always remember that.

Cheers to 30! I’m all in.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use these questions as jumping-off points:

  • What are some of the highlights from the decades of your life?
  • What lessons have you learned in the past 10 years?
  • How do you approach birthdays and getting older? What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate?

fabulous friday #52

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

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

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

one teen story

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

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

Allyn pumpkin patch

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

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

dragon lumination

dragon china plates

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

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

Questions for the day:

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

fabulous friday #51: recap edition!

Hi friends, and happy Friday! Sorry for the radio silence around here the past week or so… it’s been an especially busy time, filled with lots of emotion! I thought I would make today’s Fabulous Friday post a recap version of all the neat things I’ve been grateful to experience and celebrate recently.

Happy weekend! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Memorial Day weekend was Céline’s Celebration of Life, which was basically a big party honoring her memory and celebrating the amazing, one-of-a-kind, treasure of a person she was.

celine celebration of life

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how I would be feeling, and while the evening was bittersweet and there were certainly tears shed, it was an overwhelmingly loving and beautiful experience. It was a gift to be with my friends from college, and to spend time talking to and connecting with other people who knew and loved Céline from all different facets of her life. The party was themed “Around the World” and I dressed up as Ireland — an excuse to wear my gold dress from college that I always associate with Céline and our college parties.

celine celebration group

me and holly

I think Céline would have really loved it. I miss her every day.

2. My 28th birthday yielded all sorts of sweet surprises. One of my students wrote me this lovely card, and another gave me a piece of her own artwork — a stunning painting of birch trees! She is nine. NINE. I am in awe.

rosalie card

birch trees painting

And my darling Dana surprised me with these gorgeous sunny tulips! They make me smile every time I walk past. Thank you, Dana! ❤

bday tulips

bday tulips 2

3. For my birthday, Allyn surprised me with a cooking class in San Francisco at Sur La Table! It was my first time ever taking a cooking class and it was so much fun. Normally the class would hold up to 16 people, but we lucked out that we were the only two people who showed up — it ended up being a “private” class just for us! I think we got to do a lot more “hands-on” cooking ourselves than we would have if it had been a full class. And when the instructor found out it was my birthday, she brought me a cupcake with a candle in it and everyone sang me “Happy Birthday.” So thoughtful!

cooking class

We learned to make grilled pizzas with homemade dough and toppings. That’s right, pizza cooked on a grill pan over your stovetop! It was much easier than I expected and turned out amazing. My favorite part was the thick, chewy crust. We made a classic margarita pizza; a Greek-influenced bell pepper and chorizo-topped pizza; and a pizza topped with seasoned lamb and mint pesto. They were all fabulous!

pizzas

Allyn had a fun time too and we are definitely hoping to take more cooking classes together in the future. Such a unique and cute date!

sur la table date

4. The evening of my birthday, my extended family gathered at my Aunt Annie’s house for dinner. It was wonderful to get to spend time with them all. As always, there was lots of laughter and storytelling around the table. And my grandma baked and decorated my birthday cake herself! Have you ever seen a more adorable cake?

birthday cake

ally and gparents

me with my aunts

me and seeeees

allyn with poodles

5. On May 30, Allyn graduated with his MBA! He has worked so hard the past two years on his degree and I could not be more proud of him. If graduating were not enough, he was also honored as the Outstanding Student of the Year, chosen by faculty and fellow students. Congrats, sweetheart!!

allyn graduating

20150530_163011

me and al graduation

Questions for the evening:

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

a year of living simply: week 16

Hi, everyone! Hope your Tuesday is off to a terrific start! I’m soaking up time with my fam and crossing my fingers we get some rain here in California this week.

It’s time for this week’s simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to look ahead on the calendar and prepare for upcoming holidays and celebrations: Father’s Day, graduations, birthdays. I bought and wrapped presents for my brother’s graduation, my sweetheart’s graduation, my dad’s birthday {coming up at the end of the month} and Father’s Day. I also bought some cards, though I still have to write in them. I noticed that the whole process of shopping for gifts seemed much more enjoyable when I was doing it with plenty of time in advance.

clothes for goodwill

This week’s challenge is to clean out your closet! At the very least, try to get rid of one item. Make an honest assessment. If you haven’t worn something in the last six or eight months, are you really likely to wear it tomorrow or next week? Why not give the item to someone who might love it, and make room in your closet for only pieces that you truly LOVE? {One of my goals of this year of simplicity is to only keep pieces that I absolutely love and feel fantastic in!}

I think we all tend to overestimate the amount of clothing we need. Wouldn’t life be simpler if we had fewer options to choose from when we stand in front of our closets each morning? I was super inspired by the way Jen Hatmaker only dressed with seven pieces of closing for an entire month as part of her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. And blogger Courtney Carver has written about how much she loves having a small capsule wardrobe — learn more at Project 333.   

Questions for the day:

  • What did you get a jump on this past week?
  • What is one item you can get rid of from your closet?

my brother’s graduation!

My brother Greg graduated with his MBA from the University of Southern California this past weekend! I am so incredibly proud of him, and it was a blessing to be able to celebrate with him and my family. Here are some photos I snapped from the weekend…

greg with parents graduation

MBA graduation

Greg got the Arete Award from USC for his academic performance, community service and leadership! So proud of all his hard work!

me and greg graduation

It wouldn’t have been a USC celebration without the marching band!

greg and classmates

I am so proud of my brother and I had a blast celebrating him and his classmates. Congrats, Greg! I love you!

Question of the morning:

  • Are you attending any graduations this year?

a year of living simply: week 15

Hi, friends! Hope your week is off to a great start. I’m off to a morning PT session and some tutoring appointments before I head home to pack my suitcase because… tomorrow I’m leaving on a jetplane for Los Angeles for my amazing brother’s MBA graduation! I’m so darn proud of him. This evening, before I go, I’m meeting up with Dana at one of our favorite local places. So glad I get to see her before I leave!

So that’s what my day is looking like. Backing up a bit, how was your Mother’s Day weekend? I was bummed I was not able to be with my mom in person {though we are going to have a belated celebration this upcoming week when my brother and I are both home!} but I did get to talk to her on the phone. Suffice to say, I am beyond grateful that I am gifted with this amazing woman as my mother. I could go on for hours and hours about how kind, caring, supportive, funny, generous, and all-around wonderful she is. I love you, Mom!

Mom and Me

I did get to spend time with Allyn’s delightful mother Barbara on Mother’s Day. She is a firecracker, with so many hilarious and fun stories to share. She is also extremely enthusiastic and encouraging of my writing, which means so much to me. Plus she raised a pretty dang stupendous son who I love very much! 😉 She has welcomed me into the family with open arms. I was lucky to be invited to join Allyn, his mom and sister on their Mother’s Day tradition of going to the horse races! It was my first time ever going to the racetrack and it was a blast. The horses are gorgeous and I loved watching them run. We bet $2 on each race and I ended up winning a couple, so I walked out of there with $1.26 more than I walked in with! Woo hoo! Enough to pay for the $1 hot dog I ate for lunch, haha.

races mothers day
horseraces mothers day

Allyn and I left the races a little early so I could head home to cook Mother’s Day dinner for my grandparents and extended family! I am the oldest grandchild and, as you know, not yet a mother, and I was thinking that if I didn’t volunteer to cook, one of my aunts or my grandma would likely end up hosting a Mother’s Day get-together for our family. I wanted them to be able to relax on their special day, so I stepped up to cook the meal. I made a chicken & bell peppers pasta dish and snickerdoodle cookies for dessert.

chicken and peppers

snickerdoodles

mothers day

Everything turned out great, and it was so lovely for us all to spend time together. It made me especially happy to see my grandma so happy. She was all dressed up in this pretty new blouse my mom got her for Mother’s Day!

Doesn't she look beautiful?

Now it’s time for this week’s simplicity…

year of living simply

Our last challenge was to journal about your beliefs — about yourself, your life, your relationships, your world — and reflect on what you wrote. Is something you believe about yourself holding you back? Is anything an old, worn-out belief that is no longer serving you? How about letting go of it?

In addition to my limiting belief of myself as someone who has trouble saying, “No” — that, after a conversation with my sweetheart and some reflection, I realized may not be true about me anymore — I also examined my idea of myself as “not a morning person.” I love the feeling of waking up early with the whole day in front of me, but I have always thought of myself as more naturally a night owl… I’m going to experiment with going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, and see how I like it!

morning quote

This week’s challenge was inspired by Mother’s Day. It is such a wonderful and important holiday — with the intention of celebrating mothers and mother figures in our lives and thanking them for all they do and have done for us — but I think the true purpose of the day can easily get lost in hurry and stress. Everything is so busy that it is common to wait until the last minute, and then suddenly the day is upon us! We rush around getting cards and flowers and gifts, not focused on the meaning behind them as much as simply having SOMETHING to give.

But what if we approached things a little differently? Specifically, what if we gave ourselves more TIME? When you have a lot of time to do something, it is infinitely less stressful. You don’t even need to spend more time doing the actual thing; simply having more time before the deadline minimizes stress. Looking ahead on the calendar, many of us have graduations to attend in June, plus June 21 is Father’s Day. Your challenge for this week is to prepare for one or more of those upcoming events: brainstorm thoughtful gift ideas, buy cards, plan activities to celebrate. You could even write the cards and wrap the gifts in advance so you are all ready to go! If you have any birthdays coming up in the next couple months, you could plan for those, too. Also, remember you don’t always need to buy material gifts for people — a donation to a favorite charity or a day spent with you doing something fun are meaningful gifts that don’t add any STUFF to a person’s life! 
Greg and me

At Greg’s undergraduate graduation, three years ago!

Questions for the day:

  • What limiting belief did you let go of?
  • What is one thing coming up that you can get a jump on starting today?

highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture

gator

20140706_140656

After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.

Woodsgiving

Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.

a year of Wooden: week 36 {happy birthday, coach!}

Hi there, everyone! Today is a very special day in our Year of Wooden challenge because today would have been Coach’s 104th birthday! Happy birthday, Coach Wooden!

My dad is doing a really neat thing today in honor and celebration of Coach’s birthday — he is donating one copy of his book WOODEN & ME to disadvantaged youth for every book bought today through either his website or Amazon! His goal is to give away 100 copies today! Be sure to shoot me an email if you order a copy because I would love to send you a personal note of thanks. {If you’re interested in reading a review of WOODEN & ME, here’s a great one Sarah wrote on her blog The Pajama Chef.}

Now, onto this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}

Our October challenge is a reprise of our February challenge, from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Make friendship a fine art. For October, we’re focusing on nurturing new friendships.

Last week’s challenge was to get together one-on-one with a friend you normally only see in a group type of situation. I was really grateful to get together for dinner with Allyn’s sister Allyson after I taught in Fremont this past Thursday. Not only is she a warm, friendly person, she is also extremely intelligent and knowledgable and I always learn a ton from her. In group situations the two of us often gravitate towards each other — we both are passionate about books, reading, writing and teaching — and on Thursday it was terrific to spend some time just the two of us, chat chat chatting away. We went to a fabulous Thai restaurant and two hours flew by before we finally realized it was probably time to head home! Since I’ll be teaching in Fremont through December, I’m hoping we can make dinner or coffee happen again sometime soon.

A bunch of us celebrating Allyson's birthday back in April.

A bunch of us celebrating Allyson’s birthday back in April.

Also, yesterday I was able to get together with my church acquaintance Amy for coffee. {I had reached out to her on Facebook as part of week 34’s challenge.} It was lovely to get to know her better and I really felt like we clicked.

This week’s challenge is to reach out to a friend of a friend you have always wanted to get to know better, and invite him or her to do something fun.

Before I head out for the day, in honor of Coach’s birthday I wanted to share a poem he wrote that ties in perfectly to our theme for this month:

On Friendship

At times when I am feeling low,
I hear from a friend and then
My worries start to go away
And I am on the mend
No matter what the doctors say –
And their studies never end
The best cure of all, when spirits fall,
Is a kind word from a friend.

Question for the day:

  • What new friend will you reach out to this week?