ordinary / extraordinary

I.

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

me and erica at her place

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Your Future Self

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

Your turn {if you want}:

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

a welcoming table

Who do I want to be?

This is a question I ask myself often. It is all too easy to want to live with certain values — to want to be generous, inviting, warm, forgiving — but it can be more difficult to actually act on these values in our daily lives. For example, my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was five, is someone I remember as being very generous. She was kind, gracious, and taught us to help others. I still remember the extravagant Christmases she loved hosting at her big house: warm, magical, filled with laughter.

dal-and-auden

Me and grandma Auden, circa 1990

However, there is one story about her that always makes me sad. One year my father, a young newspaper columnist, had to work on Thanksgiving, as did his friend Chris. Chris’s family lived in Texas, and when my dad learned he was planning to spend the evening alone, he invited Chris over for Thanksgiving dinner. My grandmother was upset about this. She wanted a small, quiet Thanksgiving, just the family, and made excuses for why it would be a big hassle to include anyone else.

My grandmother was a wonderful person. But I think, on that particular Thanksgiving day, she hid inside what felt familiar and comforting to her. By doing so, she was making her own life smaller. She was choosing scarcity instead of abundance.

When I heard this story as a little girl, I knew that I wanted to make a different choice. I wanted to choose abundance and inclusivity. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that sometimes this choice can be messy and confusing and chaotic. Sometimes you don’t have enough chairs or your plates don’t match or you run out of food. Still, I vow — and continually renew this vow with myself — to always choose a welcoming table. And life is so much richer because of it.

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

My parents have modeled this choice throughout my life. I did not grow up in the biggest house, but my parents’ home has always been open to everyone. At holidays, they drag out another table and some extra chairs from the garage to fit more people into our celebration. Last-minute guests are not a source of stress, but of joy.

Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving was when my brother was in business school, and he called home to let my parents know that he had invited his entire cohort to our house. I have never been more proud to be my mother’s daughter than when she smiled a genuine smile and said, “Wonderful! Of course they are all welcome!” Many of his classmates were international students who had nowhere else to go for the holiday, and who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. Our traditions were rejuvenated with new life as we explained our rituals and shared our meal with them, and learned about their own homes and cultures.

woodsgiving

I’ll be honest: after helping my mom cook for two days leading up to that Thanksgiving, I don’t think I have ever been more tired in my life {including the day of my wedding!} But it was well worth it. I will cherish the memory of that welcoming table for the rest of my life.

Who do I want to be?

Who do we want to be?

As novelist Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in a recent blog post: “Ask yourself again and again who you want to be, and believe that you can be it.”

During the entire year, and especially during the holiday season, may our hearts and our homes be a place of welcome.

abundance + gratitude

Hello, my long-lost friends! It has officially been one month and one day since I married the love of my life. I can’t believe how time has flown! I am working on a humongous recap wedding post chock-full of photos for y’all. Here is a sneak-peek photo. 🙂

dal-and-al-just-married

In the meantime I wanted to pop in and talk about something that has been on my heart and mind a lot lately: the concept of abundance.

If you had talked to six-months-ago me or one-year-ago me about money, “abundance” would not have been a word on the tip of my tongue. I used to worry about money. Since childhood, I have always been a “saver” more than a “spender” — but I have also followed my passion to a nontraditional career with financial ebbs and flows. When we got engaged and began planning our wedding, everything seemed more expensive than I had anticipated and I remember thinking, “How are we going to afford this??” When we talked about the future, about having children and maybe buying a house one day, inwardly I started doing tabulations and felt myself panic a little. Not to mention the unplanned emergencies, the curveballs that life throws at everyone sooner or later.

When you’re in a mindset like this, it can seem like the only solution is to clench your fists and dig in. To count your nickels and dimes, scowl at every donation request you receive, and feel even the most necessary of expenses gnawing away at you. To worry yourself into a consciousness of scarcity. 

My parents generously offered to shoulder the financial burden of our wedding, and my gratitude was immense and boundless. But instead of seeing this as the pure blessing it was, I felt guilty with every plan we made — because even the simple wedding we wanted came with many expenses, many moving parts and things to consider. Even though my parents had told us, plainly and clearly, how thrilled they were to be able to help us in this way, I for some reason felt like I was letting them down by using the gift they had given us.

Everything changed when I remembered a story my father told me and my brother when we were kids. It is a story about two brothers who were also great friends. One brother’s passion in life led him to a career with a lot of money. The other brother’s passion led him to an equally worthy career, but one that was not compensated as highly. Both brothers eventually got married and had children of their own. The first brother lived in a beautiful, large home. The second brother had dreams of buying a home for his family, too. Eventually, he worked up his courage and asked his brother for a loan.

“No,” the first brother said. “I won’t loan you the money.”

The second brother felt surprised and hurt—but only for a moment. Because then his brother said, “I won’t loan you the money, but I would be overjoyed to give you the money.”

The second brother gratefully accepted the first brother’s generous gift, and both brothers felt richer in spirit because of it.

I think my father shared this story because he wanted to teach us that money gives us the most joy not when it is hoarded or spent thoughtlessly, but rather when we intentionally use our money as a means of helping those we care about. When I thought about the gift my parents were giving me and Allyn in this new light, everything shifted. And this shift carried over into not just the wedding, but into other parts of my life, too. I began to see the resources in my life not as limited, but instead as abundant. And I began to use gratitude every day to cultivate these feelings of abundance even more.

Thinking back on my life so far, one of my most treasured experiences was when my brother accepted a small financial gift from me to help him with his business school expenses. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of his degree, but it gave me such joy to feel like I was investing in him and his future. As author Gretchen Rubin writes in her “Secrets of Adulthood,” sometimes we can be generous by taking. Accepting that money was a gift that my brother gave to me.

me and greg graduation

Furthermore, “money” doesn’t have to literally mean money. It can be any type of resource — time, energy, relationships, activities. Sometimes we feel the urge to hoard these resources all to ourselves, to focus on all that we do not have and to worry that we will never have enough. But when we shift our perspective to thinking about how we can share what we have with others, it is amazing how what once felt like “not enough” can suddenly feel like an abundance of riches.

So I’ve got a question for you today, dear readers. Where do you notice and appreciate abundance in your own life — right here, right now? Small details matter just as much as the big things. Write down your list. Read it to yourself a few times today, breathing in deeply with a smile on your face.

It’s amazing how rich this can make you feel.

fall colors cleveland

 

Here are some things on my “abundance list” as I sit here at my desk on this sunshiney Wednesday afternoon:

:: abundant in love {never more true than on our wedding day… I am still basking in all the love we felt in that room!}

:: abundant in friendship

:: abundant in community

:: abundant in ideas {driving around in silence has really boosted my creative thinking… it is crazy how many more ideas I get now that I intentionally cleared away a bit of noise}

:: abundant in nourishing food {including these amazing pumpkin gingerbread muffins that I cannot get enough of… I’ve eaten three of these babies in the past five hours and I feel great about it because not only are they autumn in delicious muffin form, they are also ridiculously healthy}

:: abundant in inspiration {there are so many good people in this world, working to do so many good things!}

:: abundant in time*

 

* Okay, I’m still working on this one… maybe this one should more accurately read “MORE abundant in time than I used to feel”… while I still have a million projects I want to tackle and books I want to write and things I want to do in this one wild and precious life I have been blessed with, lately I’ve been feeling less crazy-frantic-rushed than I was feeling, say, a month ago. {This might be because I am no longer planning a wedding!} But I think it is also because I have really been thinking about how I want to structure my days and what it is truly important for me to make time for… and what it might be best to gently let go of. The important things include working on my novel for an hour every morning first thing; doing yoga for even just fifteen minutes every day; and breathing quietly/meditating for five minutes every day. Purposefully setting aside time to do these things makes me feel like more minutes have magically sprouted into my life as the day progresses.

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you feel abundant in your life?
  • What do you feel most grateful for in this season of your life?
  • Where in your life would you like to cultivate more abundance?

goals + meal plan for the week of 5/1

Hi there, everyone! Happy Monday! My little windowsill plants are starting to sprout… I am waaaay too excited about these little seedlings!

sprouting plants

Highlights of this past week included going to a very inspiring fair of student environmental projects at Allyson’s high school; going out to dinner in San Francisco with Allyn’s dad and stepmom; and seeing a local production of this very cute and funny play, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! {Though I told my sweetie of course that title does not ring true to the two of us! Haha.}

love you you're perfect show

We also finished watching a terrific TV series we have been enjoying on DVD {a Christmas gift from Allyn’s brother Colin} called Slings & Arrows… any fans of literature, theater, Shakespeare, or quirky dramedies with interesting characters, I would highly recommend it! Also, in the first season, a young Rachel McAdams stars… she’s perhaps my favorite actress. Love her!

My favorite new recipe I made this past week was a shrimp & veggie pasta dish from a cookbook that Holly gave me, Healthy Cookbook for Two. It turned out great! Light and perfect for the warm weather we’ve been having.

shrimp pea pasta

Tonight, we are heading into San Francisco for a special event at the Museum of Modern Art! I have not been there before and am so excited. Plus, it’s a fun excuse to get a little gussied up. 😉 {Very exciting for a writer who spends a lot of time in yoga pants and pj’s!}

Time for goals… please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher {…almost there!}
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events {made headway on venues!}
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists {reached out to some people, but have not nailed anything down yet…}

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events
– complete and submit new short story
– complete second Presidio interview
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Monday: Curried butternut squash, chickpeas & spinach {subbing butternut squash for sweet potatoes}
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Out to dinner
Thursday: Pizza and salad
Friday: Slow-cooker minestrone
Saturday: Taco salad
Sunday: Leftovers!

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!

goals + meal plan for the week of 4/24

Hi there, everyone! I know today is Monday, but it has felt like Sunday all day to me… I have a few tutoring clients on Saturday, so Sunday + Monday have become my “weekend” of sorts. Today was filled with typical Sunday-ish tasks: laundry, grocery store, dishes, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. I also was very excited to go back to my favorite yoga class this morning, after a few weeks away. And I finally planted a little windowsill herb garden I have been wanting to do for a while. We’ve got little pots of basil, rosemary, and garlic chives. They look so hopeful lined up in the sunshine! Last but not least, meal-planning happened today. {One day late, better than nothing!} My trusty crock-pot has been cooking dinner all afternoon. It smells good! After this post goes live, my sweetie and I are going to dig in.

crock pot dinner

I noticed last week that doing this goals + meal plan post really helped me feel motivated and organized throughout the week. When I would feel overwhelmed or unfocused, I would refer back to my goals post and it helped me re-energize. Sometimes I tend to want to do ALL.THE.THINGS at once, so goals posts are helpful because I can only set so many intentions for each week… it’s a reminder for me not to get too far ahead of myself, and to just worry about the piece of the puzzle that is in front of me in the moment.

Highlights of this past week were the Zyzzyva reading on Thursday evening in San Francisco! I have loved and admired this literary magazine for years, so seeing my work published in their pages is a surreal and amazing feeling, and getting to meet the editors and other contributors in person was such a treat. Allyn came with me and made me feel like a superstar, taking pictures of me in front of the building and during my reading. Afterwards we went to Burger Bar for dinner. It was a very lovely, special date night!

zyzzyva reading

Wedding-planning wise, this past week we were on a ROLL and I really hope to continue the momentum… in addition to making huge strides on our registry {something that I am so grateful for, but also find very overwhelming because I feel the need to research every item extensively before we put it on our registry} we also designed and ordered our wedding invitations and thank-you notes, made lots of headway on reception decorations, and decided on a bakery for our dessert. Things are coming together, slowly but surely! Also, on a random side-note: this is the first week where our wedding is truly starting to feel near. I know that time is going to fly and it is going to be here so quickly! I am trying my best to savor every step of the process. 🙂

Now, you’re all caught up on my life! Time for goals… please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
finish lay-out of Dancing With The Pen II
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– send out AWP thank-yous
– complete Presidio Q&A article {the person I’m interviewing had to push back our interview to this week}
– complete registry for bridal shower {this was huge!! AND we got our wedding invitations ordered, too!}

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists

meal plan week of 4-24-16

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Monday: Crock-pot thai peanut chicken and rice
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Soup and corn muffins
Thursday: Dinner in Fremont with Allyson
Friday: Mustard roasted fish {from what I read in a magazine article, this is one of T.Swift’s favorite recipes!}
Saturday: Shrimp & fresh pea fettucine
Sunday: Leftovers!

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!

goals + meal plan for the week of 4/17

Hi there, everyone! Happy Sunday! As I was sipping my tea this morning and checking my email, I started thinking about my goals and plans for the week ahead… and I had the urge to bring back my Sunday goal posts here on the blog! I always find it inspiring when other people share their goals and action plans, especially on a bite-sized, small-step basis. Plus, sharing my goals on here helps keep me accountable — and helps me recognize when perhaps I am setting a goal that is related to my “fantasy self” and not to my real-life actual self. {For example, when a goal keeps showing up week after week and I never seem to find the time or motivation to complete it… a definite sign that maybe it’s actually not that important in my life!}

I’ve noticed these goal posts tend to fall away when I get swamped with outside commitments or extra work projects. But I am going to make a real effort to continue them consistently, even as life promises to get extra busy in the next few months with travel, birthday celebrations, teaching summer camps, and wedding planning! I have found that setting aside 15-20 minutes on Sunday to intentionally set goals and map out a meal plan for the week makes me feel more charged and excited going into the week. It keeps me more focused and less stressed. So here goes! Please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish lay-out of Dancing With The Pen II
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– send out AWP thank-yous
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– complete registry for bridal shower

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Sunday: Dinner at Allyn’s mom’s
Monday: Sausage, potato and veggie bake
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Tortellini & salad
Thursday: Dinner out in the city {I have a reading event for Zyzzyva magazine!}
Friday: Spaghetti squash burrito bowls {substituting acorn squash because it was on sale!}
Saturday: Crock-pot thai peanut chicken and rice

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!

why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT of time and mental space, because then I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment. 
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed in our house. 🙂
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus, nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

gifts from 2015

Wow, it is hard to believe we are already here, the first day of 2016! For me, 2015 seemed to pass slowly and then all at once. January 26, 2015 will forever be a “before” and “after” day for me, splitting my life into two distinct periods: before I truly knew grief, and afterwards — now — living with the painful knowledge and awareness of what real loss feels like. After my dear friend Celine died, February and March felt like wading through life underwater; time was water-logged and everything felt strange. But slowly, gradually, throughout this year I have returned to myself — albeit, a slightly different version of myself. I guess that is what it means to grow older: to be shaped by life while trying to remain true to that authentic core of your being, of your spirit.

In many ways, grief stripped away all the nonessentials of my life this past year, leaving a deeper appreciation for what truly matters: the people I love and the experiences and memories I will cherish all the rest of my days, however many remaining days I am blessed with. To be sure, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I feel the full weight of gratitude to be here, witnessing the unfolding of a new year. It really is true that each day on this Earth is uncertain and precious; each hour we are given of this life is a miraculous gift. I feel that so much more deeply today than I did a year ago.

Here are some of my gifts from 2015:

I got to travel to Carmel with my sweetheart to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a charming Bed & Breakfast by the seaside.

I got to travel to L.A. to watch my brother Greg’s amazing panel at USC about “The Girl Effect.” So proud of him!

greg edmonth panel

I got to travel to Pittsburgh for a big family reunion and to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

with my girls

I got to reunite with many close friends, and meet many new friends, at Celine’s Celebration of Life — which was a beautiful and healing day; sad and yet also more joyous than I could have imagined.

celine celebration group

I got to celebrate both of my boys graduating with their M.B.A. degrees: my brother from USC and my sweetheart from Presidio Graduate School. They both blow me away with their smarts, hearts, and hard work. They are now making a meaningful difference in the world: Greg at CGI America focused on early childhood education, and Allyn in the fields of sustainability and education in the Bay Area.

me and al graduation

I got to celebrate my 28th birthday with so many people I love, who made me feel very loved.

birthday cake

I got to watch my dad be inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame for his career achievements and impact as a sports columnist. What an amazing day!

I got to travel to Europe with my sweetheart and his family for two weeks! We went to Paris, Barcelona, and the Provence region of France. It was a wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming trip!

sunflowers

I got to deliver my first-ever sermon! It was such an amazing experience and my mom and dear friends came to support me. I am already looking forward to hopefully giving another sermon at my church next summer!

The Magic Thread

I got to take my sweetheart on a surprise trip to Half Moon Bay for his birthday!

half moon bay me and al

I got to travel to Lake Tahoe for the first time and see my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” produced onstage! It was a dream-come-true!

me at emerald bay

I got to travel to Cleveland for the first time to visit my dear friend Holly, and travel to NYC to visit my brother — where we were seated at THE table from one of my favorite movies, Serendipity!

serendipity table!!!

And I got to soak up lots of time this holiday season with people who mean so much to me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Here’s to lots of breathtaking moments in 2016!

life is like a wine tasting

sunstone winery

Yesterday, we took a “family staycation day” and drove up to the San Ynez Valley to explore the beautiful vineyards. It was a gorgeous day and we ended up doing a wine tasting at Sunstone Winery, which was absolutely delightful. It was my first time doing a wine tasting at a winery, and got me thinking about the ways that life is like a wine tasting:

1. Each taste is unique and lovely in its own way, and should be enjoyed for what it is. For example, if you expect a pinot grigio to be a merlot, you are going to be disappointed. But if you pay attention to the distinct flavors of the pinot grigio, you are able to appreciate it for what it is. In the same way, each season of life has different flavors — pros and cons, perks and disappointments. Try to appreciate the season of life you are in for all the gifts it has to offer, instead of wishing for a different season. You will get there soon enough, and there will likely be things you miss about your life here and now!

me and mom winery

2. Each pour is meant to be savored, not rushed through. So often, it can feel like we are rushing through life: counting down hours in a workday, scrolling through email constantly on our smartphones, yearning for the weekend or for our next vacation. Even meals are often hurried affairs, something we rush through rather than enjoy, or mindlessly eat in front of the TV — have you ever finished eating something and realized you barely even tasted a single bite? In a wine tasting, each taste is sipped slowly and savored. Can you imagine what life would be like if we treated every meal with such respect? Not to mention, if we tried to savor each moment of our day as if it were a sip of expensive wine?

greg and pops winery

3. The joy of the experience doesn’t come from the wine itself — it comes from the people you share it with. If I had gone wine-tasting by myself yesterday, I would have had an okay time, but I would not have had anyone to share the experience with. Much of the fun of trying out the different wines was sipping them out on the verandah together, talking and laughing and telling stories and discussing our opinions on the different wines. That was where the joy truly came from. Our family visit to the vineyards wasn’t even really about the wine tasting at all — it was about spending time together, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing a fun experience with those we love.

me and gb winery

Now I’m off to soak up more family time before we take my little bro to the airport tomorrow for his new job in NYC! So proud of him! (And I’m going to miss him a TON.)

Hope you are soaking up every beautiful moment of this lovely day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing! ❤