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?

taming the excuse-monster in my mind

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently moved to a new apartment. Habits researcher and author Gretchen Rubin writes, in her book Better than Before, that an excellent time to adopt new habits is when undergoing a shift or change in your life: a break-up, a new relationship, a new job, a home renovation, etc. Moving to a new place, it turns out, is actually the #1 time to successfully adopt new habits! So I leaped upon the opportunity to try cementing some new healthy habits that I had been wanting to fully integrate into my life.

{Image source}

One of these habits is going to bed earlier, so I can wake up earlier feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Another is to focus on simplicity; I did a huge purge of clutter and papers before I moved, and I want to keep these nonessentials from slowly re-accumulating in my life, as they so often do. Also, I now begin every morning with two big glasses of water and a green smoothie. I try to write at least a couple hundred words on my creative work-in-progress each morning before I even check my email or work on projects for other people. And I am trying to set in stone a regular routine of going to the gym.

I belonged to a gym close by where I used to live, and I would go there fairly regularly, but it was never something I especially looked forward to. I could never figure out why. It was a nice gym, with lots of classes available and fancy amenities. I realize now that I did not fully feel comfortable there; the atmosphere was a bit competitive and intense, and I prefer my gym time to be low-key and low-stress. This new gym I joined by my new apartment is much less fancy, but much more my vibe: like me, the people who go there seem friendly, a little rag-tag, and much more interested in exercising for good health than for looks.

One of my favorite classes is a Monday morning gentle yoga class. The instructor is funny and upbeat, and the class always flies by and is the perfect way to ease into my week.

Lots of other people must think so, too, because the class is pretty much always filled to capacity. Classes work on a first-come, first-serve basis; when you arrive at the gym, you can ask for a pass to get into the class, and if they have any more available the person working the front desk will hand a pass to you. If not, you’re out of luck!

{Photo cred: tricsr4kidz, Flickr Creative Commons}

One week, I was a little late getting out of bed and, even thought I arrived to the gym ten minutes before class was scheduled to begin, they were all out of passes. Rats! I thought, but it was not a big deal. I stashed my yoga mat in the locker room and worked out on the elliptical machine instead.

When I was leaving, about twenty minutes before the class was scheduled to end, another woman was standing by the front desk holding a yoga mat of her own. She spotted my yoga mat and summoned me over. “Were you kicked out of the class, too?” she asked.

“Well, I wasn’t kicked out… there just wasn’t enough room when I arrived.”

This woman shook her head angrily. “It’s not fair! They should have two classes! I got here at the time the class was supposed to start, and I wasn’t able to get into the class! They kicked me out! It’s not fair!” She was like a toddler having a tantrum, blaming everyone else but herself for her predicament.

The manager behind the front desk met my eyes with a helpless expression. I realized this other yogi had probably been angrily complaining to her for the past half hour. And now she was trying to get me to gang up on the manager about the completely fair gym policy.

“It was my fault,” I said, shrugging. “I should have gotten here earlier. But I still had a great workout anyway!” And then I smiled at the manager and headed out the door. I could still hear the other woman sputtering.

This woman, with her countless loud excuses, reminded me of someone familiar: myself, at times. Especially when it comes to my BIG goals. Which, for me, pretty much all center around writing. The truth is, as much as I want to spend my days writing up a storm, on a minute-by-minute level it often feels like writing is the last thing I want to be doing. Because writing is so often difficult! It requires so much thinking and feeling, so much honesty and bravery, and so much willingness to fail, to deal with uncertainty, to feel like you have utterly no idea if what you are creating is going to ever come together at all.

Usually, I find it is especially difficult to begin. To climb back into whatever I am working on. To bridge the gap between the shining potential of the idea in my head and the stark lines of words marching imperfectly across the page. And the act of beginning is often when my excuse-laden self pops up and brightly says:


Oh, you can’t possibly write today! Look how beautiful and sunny it is outside! You don’t want to waste a day like this. Go make a picnic! Go for a hike! Now, now, now!


Oh, look how rainy and dreary it is outside. Why don’t you curl up with that new novel you’ve been wanting to read? Reading a couple chapters will be good for inspiration. Go on, just for a bit. … Oh, why not read for a bit longer? Reading is important for writing, after all.


Oh no, you woke up late! You’re completely behind schedule! No time to write today!


Oh, you woke up early! Aren’t you feeling a little groggy still? Why not get a jump on some other projects, and you can come back to your creative writing once your cup of Earl Grey has kicked in?


Shouldn’t you clean the bathroom? Wash the dishes? Put in a load of laundry? Vacuum the carpet? Your desk is looking quite messy — probably best to organize it first, before you start writing.


Don’t you have a little headache? Your back is feeling kind of sore? Maybe you’re getting sick. You should go back to bed. You should rest. Is that a pain in your gut? Maybe you should eat something. Drink something. Go put on the tea kettle. Go make a sandwich.


Oh, and you should definitely check your email and your cell phone! Can’t miss any messages! It could be something important!


Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I’ve grown to recognize the sabotaging excuse-monster in my head for what she is: afraid. She doesn’t want to sit in the discomfort. She doesn’t want to risk failure. And so she tries to veer me off course. And, on those days (thankfully, becoming rarer and rarer) when I give in and I don’t get the writing done, and I feel guilty and angry for not writing, she always pops up on those days, too. She is filled with those same excuses for why I did not put time into my most meaningful work. She always wants to blame everything else in the world but my own decisions. She is like the other woman who did not get a pass for yoga class.

She has taught me: only by taking responsibility for my own actions, can I change them. Only by recognizing when I am making excuses can I put the brakes on the excuse-train. And only by truthfully assessing my old habits can I build new, better habits.

In a recent podcast with Arch Street Press, Dr. Douglass Jackson, founder of Project C.U.R.E., says, “Figure out what gets you so excited that it gets you up out of bed, puts your feet on the floor, and you just can’t wait to get back to it.”

Writing has always been that something to me. Now, my habits are reflecting this, too.

Ever since that week when I was too late to get a pass, I arrive to yoga class half an hour early. That early, I always am able to get a pass. I walk into the yoga room and lay out my mat on the smooth wooden floor. I have my pick of places in the room. And then I go ride the exercise bike or run on the elliptical machine until it is time for class to begin. Instead of feeling guilty and upset, I feel empowered.

I think that is one of the best ways to feel in our creative lives and our work lives and our personal lives and our whole lives: empowered.

And the best part of all? It is in our power, every single day, to create that feeling for ourselves.

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?

my piece is on thought catalog!

Hi everyone! Just poppin’ in this morning to share some exciting news with you: I wrote a piece that is up on Thought Catalog! My short essay is about my high school drama class, life’s transience, firsts and lasts. You can read it here.

If you enjoy it, I’d be super grateful if you share it on Facebook, pass it along to your friends, and/or comment at the bottom!

thought catalog essay

Have a masterpiece day!

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!
-Dallas

marvelous monday: back to school

Hi everyone! Today is my first day of school for the new semester. I always get a little nervous on my first day meeting a new group of students. My dad always says that’s good because it means I care — and boy, do I care! I SO want my students to have a positive and productive semester and come away from my class feeling like they learned something {hopefully many things} that will help them now and in the future!

This semester, I am excited to be teaching two classes: a freshman composition course and a business writing course that is geared for upperclassmen. While I’ve taught freshman composition the past four semesters, this year is slightly different because I am teaching a themed “Learning Community” course; the students in my course are also taking an Introduction to Entrepreneurship course together this semester, and I am working with the professor of that course to coordinate our assignments. I’m really excited about it! In addition to writing I have a background in entrepreneurship, and some of my favorite courses in my undergrad days were in the entrepreneurship department. {I was lucky to have really amazing professors who continue to be my mentors and cheerleaders today!} I want my students to have the same positive, inspiring, energizing experience that I did. We’re going to be doing projects like marketing proposals, interviewing experts in their dream field, and elevator pitches — I can’t wait! It is my first semester ever teaching business writing, and I am planning to have an entrepreneurial bent to that course as well.

I can feel an electricity in the air on the first day of school. It’s like the entire campus is abuzz! Too soon, the energy fades as we all get swamped with due dates and schoolwork and grading and mile-long to-do lists. But this year, I am going to try to keep that electric enthusiasm going all semester long. I remember missing school dearly in my “gap year” after I graduated college and before I began my Master’s program. The next time I feel bogged down or overwhelmed with a huge stack of papers to grade, I promise to remind myself of how grateful I am to be here, teaching and learning and doing what I love.

You don’t need to be going back to school to bask in that back-to-school energy! Fall is in the air. It’s the season of getting organized, getting a jump on that project you’ve been putting off, and getting into your groove. There are so many resources and opportunites all around us, so many connections to be made and ideas to be shared. How will you make these last four months of 2012 a masterpiece?

Have a marvelous week!
-Dallas