what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever.¬†Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. ūüėČ

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

C√©line, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

it’s okay to feel sad sometimes

Last week, for whatever reason, I found myself in a bit of a funk.

I typically wake up feeling excited to face the day, raring to go on my projects. I typically feel focused and motivated about my daily tasks. I typically look at the clock and can’t believe how late it’s gotten. Where did the day go? Is it time to start dinner already?

But last week, I was dragging. Last week, I felt stuck. I felt lonely and restless and, most of all… sad.

And I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. Everything was the same as it had always been.

It makes me feel vulnerable to write these words to you right now. It scares me a bit, to admit to feeling sad. Especially because I know that I have so very much to be grateful for. I used to feel guilty anytime feelings of sadness crept in. Like I wasn’t allowed to ever feel anything less than joyful and blessed. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant and cheerful, always. I wanted to comfort other people and never need comfort myself. I liked to think of myself as a giver, not someone who needed to cheering up.

But I realized that pretending to never feel sad is simply another way of building a wall around myself, pretending to be something I’m not, refusing to let people truly see me. I was trying to be “perfect” instead of trying to live wholeheartedly and authentically. I can be grateful for all the bounty and beauty in my life, and still have hard days and still feel down sometimes. I can hold both gratitude and sadness in my heart at the same time. And, I realized that never wanting to need anyone else is just another way of never wanting to be vulnerable. I like being able to give comfort to others. I need to trust that others like being able to give comfort to me sometimes.

Last week, I cried more than I’ve cried in the last six months put together. It seemed anything could set off the tears. Listening to a podcast about an empty-nest couple, the bittersweet pride in their voices as they talked about their youngest child heading off to college. Thinking about Mr. Murray, sleeping on the rug by the front door, and wishing that I lived in the same town as my parents, that I could walk right in and surprise him with a ginormous hug. That commercial with the ostrich who learns to fly, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” playing in the background. It was like I walked around with this constant lump in my throat, just waiting to see what would cause the tears to spill forth.

It was so weird. It was so not the version of myself I have come to believe in over the past three decades. I have never been a crier.

One afternoon my brother called to say hi—a routine thing for us—and after a few minutes of talking, I started crying. Like, ugly crying, the kind when you can’t fully catch your breath, and you stay quiet on the line because you know as soon as you try to talk your voice will break again.

My brother was so great, as he always is. He sat on a bench outside the bar where he was meeting some friends for happy hour, and he patiently stayed on the line and talked to me for a little while until I was ready to hang up. He didn’t sound alarmed by my weepiness. He didn’t rattle off a list of things I should do to feel better. He didn’t tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t be feeling the way I was feeling—all the reasons I should only feel joyful in my wonderful life. Instead, he told me that it was okay to feel sad sometimes. He told me to let myself feel what I was feeling. He reminded me that, even though I was feeling genuine sadness in that moment, that the sadness wasn’t going to last forever. That I would begin to feel better soon. And, in the meantime, he told me how much he loved me. He said that multiple times, and each time he said it I began to cry again—but out of gratitude and love for him more than sadness. When we hung up the phone, I still felt sad, but I felt so much better than I had before he called me.

My wish for everyone reading this is that you have a friend in your life like I have my brother. Someone who knows you, at times, better than you know yourself. Someone who isn’t afraid of your ugly crying. Someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it.

{This photo was taken shortly after another time I cried with Greg, when I was visiting him in NYC. It was shortly after Celine died and I was hit with a huge wave of missing her.}

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t tend to get angry or annoyed or frustrated very easily. I don’t yell or snap at people very often. When I get tired, I don’t get crabby. I get sad.

Growing up, when I would feel weepy, my mom would say gently, “Dallas, honey. Go to sleep. You’re tired. You’ll feel so much better when you wake up.”

She was pretty much always right. I would feel better after a nice nap.

So that’s what I still do, if it’s a possibility, when I notice myself feeling “off.” I take a nap, or I sleep in late, or I go to bed early. And I do usually feel a bit better when I open my eyes again. Like the gray film over the world has been swept away. The light seems a little clearer, a little more sparkly.

Other things that made me feel a bit better last week: reading for pleasure; drinking tea and eating dark chocolate; texting with family and friends and Allyn; doing some yoga; going for a walk outside; working on my novel and surprising myself with the story; watching silly videos online; going to the dentist {I was worried I had a cavity, but I didn’t!}

This week, I’m back to feeling much more like myself. The waves of sadness I felt last week seem almost like a strange dream. But I know they’ll be back at some point, because that sadness is a part of me just as happiness is. My varied emotions are all puzzle pieces that fit together into the beautiful, complex mess of being human. As Brooke Castillo reminds us in many of her podcasts, life is about contrast. We wouldn’t have light without darkness. We wouldn’t have happiness without sadness.

In order to embrace my deepest, truest self, I have to be brave enough to acknowledge all of my emotions, not just the ones that make me feel strong and comfortable. I’m learning that embracing my sadness does not give it power over me, as I once thought it would. Just the opposite: only by opening up about feeling down—to myself as well as to others—am I able to move through the discomfort, and, eventually, to move past it.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • When was the last time you felt sad, or angry, or frustrated, or “off” in some way? Was there a certain reason, or was it harder to pin down?
  • What helps you feel better when you’re feeling down?
  • What advice would you give a friend who calls you feeling upset? What might happen if you shared those same gentle words and generous spirit with your own self and your own heart?
  • What is an emotion that makes you uncomfortable? How might you take small baby steps to embrace this emotion in your life?

amber rubarth house concert in seattle

When I wrote a letter on this blog to Amber Rubarth back in May, I didn‚Äôt expect that she would ever read it. I hoped my words might somehow reach her ‚Äď I wanted her to know how much her music meant to me ‚Äď but, even if she never read my letter, I still felt writing it meant something. Even if the words were just for myself, I wanted to reflect on how I had carried her songs within me for years, how they had impacted my life and had been my companions and helped me grow into someone braver and stronger and more assured in myself, more rooted in my being. It was a small gesture, but it felt hugely good.

me and amber rubarth 2

Even though I wrote that letter for myself, when I published it here on the blog, something amazing happened.

The positive response was overwhelming. People shared with me their own thoughts about how music has made a difference in their lives. The post was shared widely throughout the Facebook and Twitter communities. And, within a few days, my words made their way to Amber herself.

I got goosebumps when I logged onto Facebook one afternoon to find a notification that I had been tagged in a post by Amber Rubarth:

Ah my heart!!! Just read this beautiful post from Dallas Woodburn who came to my show last week in San Francisco. My heart is fluttering with gratitude. Thank you Dallas for your beautiful words and gorgeous soul. Wow. So moving. You are a beautiful writer.

It was the opposite of that frustrated feeling I experienced after our brief interaction post-concert, the one that spurred me to write the post in the first place. Now I felt buoyant and peaceful and more connected to the community around me. I had been able to express what had previously felt inexpressible. I had let someone know that their work was important to me. I was happy and grateful that my words had rippled outward and found their recipient. It seemed like a small miracle.

But the ripples did not end there. I received messages from both of Amber’s parents, letting me know how much my words meant to them. Amber and I became email pals, and she even tweeted congratulations on my wedding day!

screenshot_2016-09-05-08-57-39

And I received an email from a man named Bill.

Hi Dallas,

Long-story-short… My wife and I have been hosting a house concert series in the living room of our house here in Seattle for the past eleven years. Amber Rubarth played our series back in 2013. She’s eager to return and we recently talked about this coming October. Before contacting Amber I did some poking around online to see what Amber was up to and came across your blog post. Wow! It had me and several ¬†friends I shared it with in tears. This type of feedback provides the fuel for touring musicians to continue doing what they do. So here’s the deal… If Amber plays here, I’d like to invite you and a guest¬†to come to the show. And I’d pay for the airline tickets for you both to fly to Seattle. I know, this sounds like a scam. Believe me, it isn’t. As soon as I read your blog I knew what I wanted to do. My brain and stomach (intuition) were aligned with each other and agreed this was the right thing to do.¬†Hope to hear back from you and get your thoughts.

I was absolutely blown away when I read this email. To receive such warm and thoughtful generosity from a complete stranger! Immediately, I replied to Bill with an enthusiastic: Absolutely, I would love to come!!

We hammered out the details over the next few months, and then suddenly it was the end of October, and our trip up to Seattle¬†had arrived! Allyn wasn’t able to attend because he had a previously scheduled commitment for that weekend, but my dad was kind enough to fly up from L.A. to join me for the trip. It was my first time seeing him post-wedding it was SO great to get some time just to ourselves, to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather in Seattle and spent the day exploring Pike’s Place Market, walking around downtown, and eating delicious seafood. My favorite was the clam chowder we ate overlooking the water!

 me and dad chowder seattle

We also visited the amazing Chihuly Museum, which I dubbed “Dr. Seuss books come to life”… the delicate, vibrant, larger-than-life blown-glass sculptures were extraordinary to behold! Tickets were a liiiittle pricey, but worth it. We were both really happy we went there.

chihuly museum

Walking back to our hotel, we stopped at a Starbucks {because, when in Seattle, right?} to escape the brief drizzle and enjoy our hot drinks. And then it was time for the concert! After stopping at a neat local brewery for dinner, we took an Uber to the quaint historical Captiol Hill neighborhood where Bill and his wife Micki live.

It was a funny situation because, although Bill and I had emailed back and forth quite a bit, I had no idea what he looked like. When Dad and I stepped inside the beautiful house filled with people {who mostly all knew each other from previous house concerts there} I was unsure what to do! A white-haired man came up to us in the entryway and I asked, “Bill?” He laughed and said, “No, I’m Jim — but Bill’s making cider¬†in the kitchen. C’mon!” And he led the way back through the house.

Bill knew what I looked like from this blog, and as soon as he saw me, he beamed. He and Micki were both so friendly and welcoming to me and my dad. We enjoyed chatting with them in the kitchen before the concert began, and Bill introduced me to some of his friends who had read my piece here on the blog. It was so special to meet them in person!

As soon as Amber came out “on stage” my heart leapt — I was so excited that my dad would get to hear her music live! I knew he would fall in love with her beautiful songs, and he did. I had never before attended a house concert, and I was captivated by the intimate vibe of the night. It was a mix of a casual concert and a Q&A, with the audience jumping in with questions and song requests.

amber rubarth house concert

Partway through the concert, Amber asked, “Is Dallas here?” I waved my hands so she could spot me in the crowd. Amber then sweetly told everyone about my blog post and the story of how I ended up being at the concert that night. Then she wished me and Allyn congratulations on our recent wedding day and played her “Song to Thank The Stars” for us — out of all her songs, it is my favorite and the one that reminds me the most of Allyn.

I was nearly in tears, it was such a special moment.

After the concert, which flew by way too fast, we got to visit with Amber in the kitchen. It was wonderful to get some time to chat with her about her music, the creative process, my wedding, her upcoming tour and new album, and our families. She is one of the most genuinely kind, warm and authentic people I have ever met. Oh! And she recently starred in a new movie that will be released in 2017! It is called “September 12th” and also stars musician Joe Purdy. I can’t wait to see it!

me and amber 2

{A little blurry, but the best photo of the bunch!}

The trip to Seattle was one of the coolest experiences of my life! What a testament to the generosity and connection of people — former strangers, now friends — and the beauty and love present in our world. I feel so very grateful for this experience! Thank you Bill and Micki from the bottom of my heart. And thank you, of course, to my new friend Amber Rubarth!

You can pre-order Amber’s gorgeous new album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard, at her website:¬†http://www.amberrubarth.com/

goals + recipes for the week of 3/22

Hi, everyone! Hope your weekend is winding up great.

I had a busy day at church serving as Worship Associate with a special guest minister, Jason Shelton, who just so happens to be a minister at Holly’s church in Nashville! I actually saw him leading the choir when I went to a church service with Holly during my last visit. It was such a nice coincidence to have him visiting my church and it made me feel closer to Holly in a small way. I miss her a lot!

Jason Shelton is a super talented composer and musician, and there was lots of¬†fantastic music during both services today. The theme of today’s worship was “music, change, the old and the new” and I maaaaay have written my Call to Worship about Taylor Swift. I was a little nervous about it, but the writing came straight from my heart and felt so appropriate to the theme. Happily, I discovered there are other T.Swift fans in the congregation {including a very sweet group of seventy-year-old women who came up to me afterwards} and everyone applauded at the end of my Call to Worship! #mychurchrocks

with allyson pirates

Backing up to Saturday, we celebrated Allyn’s sister Allyson’s birthday last night with a pirate-themed murder-mystery party! My guess about the murderer was completely off, as was most everyone else’s, but Allyson used her excellent sleuthing skills and solved the case. I could tell she really enjoyed her party, which made me happy because she is such an amazing person. I hope the party was a small way to show her¬†how very loved she is! Also, check out the red beard on Allyn {aka Captain Redbeard}… it totally stole the show, haha.

allyn redbeard

Now… time for¬†goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last time:
–¬†copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
–¬†participate in The Minimalist Challenge
connect with two friends
finish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish final read-through¬†of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend {this got pushed to the back-burner with other projects, but I really want to finish it this week!}
– do yoga two times & PT exercises daily
– connect with two friends
– finish reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
green goddess hummus via Cookie + Kate
spring panzanella salad via Two Peas and Their Pod
orange chicken tofu via Detoxinista & The Pajama Chef
easy chickpea salad via Food Friends
bunny bait via The Pajama Chef
Рmy own potato, sausage & veggie bake

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?

MPM-Spring
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken¬†and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and¬†filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many¬†questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying¬†late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn‚Äôt just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, ‚ÄúAn arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.‚ÄĚ I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.

goals + recipes for the week of 3/1

Hi there, friends! Wow, it’s been a whirlwind weekend over here! How about you? It’s been nice to decompress and relax a little this evening after being go-go-go on Friday and Saturday. This morning I had a wonderful, restorative time at church, and chatted with people for quite a while after the service. When I came home, I called a couple friends to catch up while I was lounging in bed. It was lovely!

Then I chopped up bunch of veggies that were on their last legs in the fridge — celery, carrots, onion, bell pepper, snap peas — and threw them together in a pot of soup for dinner, which I ate with my grandma in front of the TV as we watched “Nashville”… my grandma is so funny¬†watching that show, she thinks most of the male characters look alike and is perpetually getting their storylines confused. Such a cutie-pie!

Backing up to Saturday… I was out the door at 10:45 to tutor two of my mentees before driving to the public library to teach four back-to-back classes of kiddos. Other than some of my kindergarteners being scared of the thunder outside {we got some rain this weekend, woo hoo!} it was a pretty uneventful day of teaching. The quote of the day came from one of my eight-year-old students, rocking a shiny plastic dollar-sign ring: “Chuck E. Cheese’s is so HARSH, Miss Dallas. It’s so hard to win tickets!” #secondgradeproblems

After teaching, I drove to my sweetheart’s place and we carpooled¬†to Plank to meet up with Dana and Brad for a double-date! We had such a fun time: chatted over great food, played arcade games {skeeball is my fave!} and of course we couldn’t leave without taking photos in the photo booth:

us at plank photo booth

All in all, it’s been a really wonderful weekend. I hope yours has too! And now… moving onto goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last¬†week:
–¬†write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
mail in passport application
connect with two friends
Рfinish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
–¬†copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
–¬†participate in The Minimalist Challenge
– connect with two friends
Рfinish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
butternut tabbouleh via Cookie + Kate
baked pb apple oatmeal via Two Peas and Their Pod
grain-free classic chocolate-chip cookies¬†via¬†Detoxinista & It’s Progression
spiced pumpkin cornbread¬†via¬†Daily Garnish & It’s Progression
potato rosemary knots via The Pajama Chef
– my own springtime veggie pasta bake

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

goals + recipes for the week of 2/22

Hi there, friends! What did you think of the Oscars? I really need to get out to the movies more because out of all the Oscar nominees for Best Film, I had only seen one. I really want to see Boyhood, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Birdman!

We went over to my Aunt Annie and Uncle Arn’s house to watch the Oscars and eat a delicious homemade pasta dinner. I need to get the recipe for my Uncle Arn’s tomato sauce so I can share it with you guys! He is Italian and makes a darn good pasta sauce.

I’ve been missing Celine a lot today. Trying to be gentle with myself. The grief ebbs and flows. I was talking with my brother earlier, trying to analyze my feelings — how maybe it’s starting to feel real that she’s truly gone; maybe I’m coming out of my denial of her death; maybe my sadness felt¬†overwhelming¬†because of all the beautiful gowns at the Oscars, my dear Celine who loved fashion so much.

me and celine

Greg just listened, and then he said, “Or maybe you’re just missing your friend.”

Yeah. I think that’s it. I’m just missing my friend. A lot.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last¬†week:
–¬†send out queries to agents
–¬†compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends
finish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

few thousand words about love

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
–¬†write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
Рmail in passport application
– connect with two friends
Рfinish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
southwestern kale power salad via Cookie + Kate
white chickpea chili via Two Peas and Their Pod
flourless almond butter chocolate chip cookies via Two Peas and Their Pod
easy chocolate raspberry energy bites via PB Fingers
banana cake with cinnamon glaze via The Pajama Chef
Рmy own strawberry coconut chocolate-chip cookies

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

valentine’s day recap! + goals + recipes for the week of 2/15

Hello, everyone! Hope you are having a masterpiece day. It feels like springtime here in the Bay Area, sunny and warm. The trees are already bursting into bloom and daffodils are popping up everywhere. I love it!

You know what else I love? Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a great one! Mine was simply delightful. I did some morning baking {perhaps my best batch ever of red velvet crinkle cookies!} and then spent most of the day hanging out with adorable kiddos, teaching classes for Communication Academy. One of my kindergarten students made me a valentine and when her mom came to pick her up after class, she started crying because she didn’t want to leave! Nothing makes a girl feel loved quite like a 6-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum because she has to say goodbye to you. ūüôā

After my last class ended at 5:45, I jumped into my car and drove to Oakland for a Valentine’s night date with my sweetheart. The drive was absolutely gorgeous — the sun was setting over the water, and the twinkling lights of the city made a stunning silhouette against the pink and red clouds. It felt like a valentine from Celine. ‚̧

me and Al Valentines

Allyn and I walked a couple blocks from his apartment to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. Have you guys had Ethiopian food before? Before Saturday, the last time I did¬†was back in grad school. I think the food is delicious, and it’s a fun dining experience, eating “family style” with your hands. Another bonus was that, on a night that can get pretty crazy to eat out at a restaurant, this was a quieter, off-the-beaten path place. It was lovely!

Allyn Ethiopian food

Ethiopian food

Then we went back to Allyn’s place to exchange gifts and watch Jerry Maguire {which I had never seen!} Allyn got me a box of chocolates and a beautiful purse from his travels in Kenya. Not only is the purse gorgeous from a fashion sense, it also supports a great cause. The purse was made through an organization called Amani — which means “higher peace” in Swahili — and is a sewing and reconciliation program for marginalized women in Africa. Women gain experience in sewing, bookkeeping, procurement, quality control, management and design; products sold enable women a chance to earn a consistent income. You can learn more at www.amaniafrica.com.

Valentines collage

All in all, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day! ‚̧

On Sunday morning, Allyn and I headed to church bright and early because I was serving as Worship Associate for the 9:30 service. The topic was Salvation and I spoke about Celine. I was really nervous beforehand, but it felt good to talk about her and I was able to get through it without breaking down into tears. Afterward, so many people in the congregation came up to give me hugs. I’m slowly learning to lean on people in my grief and I feel grateful to be part of such a caring community.

Today has been spent writing, editing, reading, looking through old photos with my grandma {she and my Grandpap are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in June and she’s already starting to prepare!} and baking. Lately I just can’t get enough of baking, so I’m embracing it and trying out new recipes! Right now I’m noshing on these zucchini muffins made with coconut flour, plus I added in some peanut butter, shredded coconut and chocolate chips.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last¬†week:
Рwrite 10 new pages {halfway there, wrote 5 new pages}
–¬†compile tutoring worksheets
finish reading The Un-Americans
–¬†schedule doctor’s appointment
– begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
–¬†send out queries to agents
–¬†compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– begin process to renew passport
– connect with two friends
Рfinish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
thai pineapple fried rice via Cookie + Kate
5-ingredient spinach parmesan pasta via Two Peas and Their Pod
slow-cooker minestrone soup via Two Peas and Their Pod
vegetable beef barley soup via Swanson Vitamins website
falafel, tzatziki & greek lemon rice via The Pajama Chef
– my own cilantro-lime quinoa with chicken

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?
  • How was your Valentine’s Day?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

fabulous friday #12

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! I hope each and every one of you feels loved today. If you’re still looking for inexpensive + creative ideas to make those around you feel loved, here’s a post I did a couple weeks ago on the topic!

valentines week

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Valentine’s Day cards & texts. My sweet parents both sent me cards, and I’ve received so many thoughtful messages from friends today. I feel very loved!

valentines cards

2. New Girl. My brother and I are both hooked on this show — it’s sort of become “our” show! Even when we’re apart, we watch it and laugh about it together. I’m a few episodes behind, but I just watched the “Birthday” episode last night and I was laughing so much, I nearly fell out of bed.

Greg sent me this photo of Schmidt and it made me bust out laughing. Even without context, I think it’s still funny! Why is he holding a giant bowl of grapes??

crying Schmidt

3. My church community. This is my first time really being involved with a spiritual community, and it is such a joyous and comforting feeling. One of my church friends had an operation yesterday, and I drove her to and from the doctor and stayed with her for the afternoon. I was blown away by how many people from church called or texted to check in on her, including our minister. And our young adult group has organized a whole schedule of people to drop by and check on her and bring her meals while she is recuperating. It warms my heart and makes me feel very grateful to have found such a supportive and genuinely caring community.

4. This moving blog post by Single Dad Laughing. I could not agree more. Every dad — every parent — should read this. And reading it made me realize, more than ever, how lucky I am to have won the Dad Lottery. {And the Mom Lottery, too!}

mom & dad anniversary

{And happy Valentine’s Day, lovebirds!}

5. The song “Pompeii” by Bastille. Whenever this song comes on the radio, I turn it waaaay up and start rocking out! I love it.

Now I’m off to bake a batch of red velvet crinkle cookies to deliver to the nursing home … Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Sending lots of love your way today and every day ‚̧

red velvet cookies

Questions of the day:

  • Are you doing anything to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
  • What are you loving right now?
  • Any fun plans for the weekend?

fabulous friday #11

It’s TGIF! You know what that means…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Independent bookstores. I could spend hours wandering through a bookstore, and have a special place in my heart for cute little independent ones. My new favorite: Rakestraw Books in Danville. Look at this framed quote they have on the wall {so true!}

book quote

And this book made me laugh out loud. Poor pups!

dog book

2. Walks with Dana. Exercise always flies by with this girl because we talk and talk about anything and everything. {Don’t you love friends like that? I’m so blessed in my friendships!} This past weekend she took me on a beautiful path by her house, and we saw chickens and this super-cool birdhouse display.

birdhouses

chicken

3. My amazingly supportive hometown community and incredibly kind friend {and fellow writer} Ken McAlpine, who interviewed me for Our Ventura TV a few weeks ago … the interview is now available to watch! Here’s the link:¬†http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/2737/

4. This Broccoli Slaw & Kale w/Chicken Salad from Trader Joe’s. I know I already gave a shout-out to TJ’s in last week’s fabulous friday post, but this salad deserves its own spotlight. You guys. I could eat this salad for days on end and not get sick of it. {Actually, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this week… LOVE it!}

broccoli salad

salad

5. My friend Shane’s blog, Day by Yoga, that chronicles his experience as a budding yogi. Shane is an “old soul” … super wise, super inspiring, super down-to-earth. His blog posts always brighten my day!

Questions of the morning:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • Any fun plans for the weekend?
  • What is your favorite Trader Joe’s find?