for mikey

There were a few years in my life before I met my friend Mikey, but I don’t remember them. In my memory, Mikey was always there, just as my brother Greg was always there. Greg was born when I was two and a half years old, and I met Mikey around the same time, when I began going to daycare at Jeannie’s house. Jeannie was a warm grandmotherly woman with big glasses and bright lipstick, who made us oatmeal in the mornings and shooed us outside on sunny days to ride around the backyard pavement on tricycles. In the autumn, Jeannie had a scarecrow decoration that for some reason terrified me, so she took it down and put it away in the back of the hall closet. That was the type of person she was. The only thing I remember ever being upset at her about was that she would insist I wasn’t allowed to marry my brother Greg. At four years old, I was convinced that I was going to marry him one day, only Jeannie said I couldn’t. My mom finally told her, “Jeannie, don’t worry about it. If she still wants to marry her brother when she’s sixteen, then we’ll have a problem.”

Mikey and his younger sister Morgan also went to daycare at Jeannie’s, and we became fast friends. Mikey is three months older than I am, and as a kid he had a bowl haircut, round cheeks, and an ever-present grin. Jeannie watched other kids, too—there were maybe six or eight of us in total—but Mikey and I were a unit. We went to preschool together, too, and spent many mornings playing “house” together in the play kitchen. I might have thought I would one day marry Greg, but Mikey was my pretend-husband. When it came time to enroll in kindergarten, I couldn’t imagine being separated from him. My parents somehow finagled permission to enroll me at Poinsettia Elementary, even though we didn’t live in the district, because that’s where my best friend Mikey was going to school.

The timeline is unclear to me, but around this time, Jeannie got sick. Her cancer had come back. I don’t remember how the grown-ups broke the news to us that Jeannie was gone. I just remember we didn’t go to Jeannie’s anymore. It was around the same time as our transition to kindergarten and full days of school. It was like Jeannie was a magical person—a magical genie—and when we outgrew her, she disappeared. I like to think of her magically reappearing in the lives of some other little boys and girls, greeting them with a lipsticked kiss and a big hug. My memories of that early time in my life are hazy, but they are suffused with a feeling of comfort, safety and love.

Elementary school presented new problems: namely, other little boys our age. Mikey and I still played together at recess, but now I had competition. And it was hard to compete with these boys. I was a shy, soft little kid, and the boys had a secret code language of humor and teasing that I didn’t understand. I remember, in first grade, playing on the basketball court with Mikey and his new best friend Alan, who I was supremely jealous of. Mikey would throw Alan’s basketball down the grass hill so he had to run after it and then trudge back up to the court. The boys seemed to think this was hilarious. I didn’t think it was very nice.

In elementary school, Mikey and I started to grow apart. I made friends with girls in our class, and before long I had BFF necklaces with Kelly, and play dates where we would make up stories with our American girl dolls and paint our nails. By fourth grade, Mikey and I weren’t inviting each other to our birthday parties anymore. We were still friends, but it was different now. It was harder, somehow.

Middle school made things even harder, even more awkward. Boys and girls were not really friends at my middle school. There were big groups of boys and big groups of girls, and sometimes they would collide in giggly flirtation and then bounce away from each other again. Many of my friends from elementary school were in the district for a different middle school across town, so the transition had been a rough one—almost like starting over. Mikey and I did go to the same middle school, and it was nice to know he was still with me. Our joined past seemed almost like another life—like a secret that only we knew. We were in many of the same classes, and his presence was comforting to me, even though we didn’t interact much. Eventually I met Erica, and became part of her friendship group.

High school was much of the same. We ran in separate circles. I remember our sophomore year, Mikey—who was going by Michael or Mike now—had a crush on one of my friends, who treated him scornfully. That was the first inkling in my gut that maybe she and I weren’t going to be friends for much longer. And we weren’t. Junior year, that friendship exploded in a painful flurry. I felt so betrayed, so lost and alone. I remember navigating through the crowds of students to the quad at lunch, passing by the picnic table where Mikey and his friends always sat. Part of me yearned to just walk over and plop down beside him. That’s what my preschool self would have done. She wouldn’t have been able to imagine a time when Mikey and I weren’t a unit. Even though it had been years since we’d had an actual conversation, I sensed that I still would have been welcome there. But things were too complicated now. So I didn’t say anything to Mikey. I walked right on past.

Senior year is when Mikey and I found our way back to our friendship. We were in the same physics class, and were paired up together for many labs. He was still goofy, still nice, still unabashedly himself. This grown-up version of my old friend loved historical reenactments and World War Two. He played classical music on the piano and watched foreign films. He read more widely than anyone else I knew at our school. I was surprised, but also not surprised, when I began to think of him as one of “my people” again. Then, a few of us formed a study group and we’d meet up on weekends to cram for tests together, and sometimes we’d have movie nights at Mikey’s house. He and I slipped back into our friendship like it was a well-worn jacket that we had set down for a moment and forgotten, like it had been waiting patiently for us all this time. I imagined Jeannie looking down at us, smiling, nodding her head in approval.

Soon, it was as if Mikey and I had never had that break in our friendship at all—as if we had always remained close. When we talk about our friendship now, when we introduce each other to someone else, it is always as if we became best friends at the age of three and remained that way throughout school. In a deep, quiet way, maybe that is true. I think I always knew that Mikey was someone I could count on if I needed him. I hope he knew that about me, too. He is one of the few people in my life who has always accepted me exactly as I am. Around him, I have always felt comfortable being nothing other than myself. I have always felt like enough. Even during the challenges of high school, when my self-esteem was sometimes like a gas gauge on Empty, when I felt achingly different from everyone else, when I worried about what people thought about me—I never worried about what Mikey thought about me. I could just relax around him and be myself.

As senior year sped by, we hung out all the time. Mikey swept me into his friendship group; I called them “the boys.” We would crowd onto the sofa and watch movies at his house; old movies I never would have watched on my own, like Dr. Strangelove. Mikey played songs from Phantom of the Opera on the piano. We went together to Alan’s baseball games and cheered him on from the bleachers. One Sunday, I was stranded in a parking lot when my car wouldn’t start, and my parents were away somewhere. My brother couldn’t drive yet. It was Mikey I called, Mikey who came to rescue me without hesitation. He came to the school play I wrote, bringing along the rest of “the boys” with him, applauding loudly from the front row. He came to my reading and book signing when I published my collection of short stories 3 a.m., talking with me beforehand about normal things—he could probably tell I was nervous. We went to Prom in the same big group of friends. In my yearbook, he wrote, This isn’t really goodbye. Don’t worry—I will always be with you!

{high school graduation, with two of our favorite teachers from elementary school}

During college, we talked on the phone sometimes, and he came to visit occasionally. He and Celine bonded over their mutual Lebanese heritage. Years later, he would travel to Paris with his family, and Celine was living there, and they hung out together and Skyped me from her apartment. I remember the strange joy bubbling up inside me as I laughed with them via a computer screen about some random story. How small and precious and wondrous the world seemed—my oldest friend, and my dear college friend, calling me together from halfway around the world. I wasn’t there physically, but I felt like I was. When Celine died, Mikey was one of the few people in my life who I felt not only understood my grief, but shared in it. He was grieving her, too. It comforted me that the two of them had shared their own adventures. That she still lives on in Mikey’s memories, too.

Celine and Mikey were the same in their blind faith and unfettered support of my writing. They both made me feel like I had nothing at all to prove; like all of the things I was hoping for and dreaming for and striving for already existed in the future, moments just waiting for me to reach them. I didn’t have to worry at all. I didn’t have to doubt myself. I could take a deep breath and just relax, and take pleasure in my writing. Mikey still makes me feel this way. He has always been my fan.

Whenever I have a book event anywhere near Ventura, Mikey is there. He always gives a little shrug, like it is no big deal, like, Of course I’m here. Why wouldn’t I be? Whenever I see his familiar stride loping through the audience, I feel a little less nervous, a little more calm. Deep breath. Mikey’s here. Over all these years, his pride in me has helped me feel more proud of myself.

I vividly remember the first time I met Luana, who was then Mikey’s new girlfriend. I was home for a visit, and the three of us went out for ice cream. I loved her immediately—she is warm, and funny, and welcoming—the kind of person who makes you feel right at ease. Within fifteen minutes of meeting her, I felt as if I had known her for a long time. Luana is a fiery, vibrant, beautiful woman from Brazil, and she draws Mikey out of his shell. I remember the way he looked at her like he couldn’t quite believe she was there sitting next to him, stealing bites of his ice cream. I remember the way they teased each other, and how she made him laugh, and how he seemed a little more open, a little less guarded, a little more himself than I had ever seen him before. At least, I hadn’t seen him this way for a very long time. Perhaps Luana helped him find his way back to that little round-cheeked, goofy-grinned boy I had known at Jeannie’s. Mikey has seemed… freer, ever since he met her.

Please, I remember hoping that night as I drove home. Please don’t break his heart.

She didn’t break his heart. She filled it. They got married a couple weeks ago, on October 6, and my eyes brimmed with tears when they read their beautiful and heartfelt vows to each other. I’ve never seen Mikey as happy as he was that day. They were both radiant. Witnessing their marriage, I felt like I was a balloon swelling with happiness because my dear sweet friend found this incredible woman who loves him so deeply. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole weekend.

Traveling back up to the Bay Area after Mikey and Luana’s wedding, I thought a lot about friendship, and how grateful and lucky I feel that Mikey and I held onto ours. After all, it takes work to keep a friendship going, even when you have a lifetime of history together. But the work is always worth it. More than worth it. Mikey’s sturdy and unwavering friendship has taught me the power of the little things, that are actually the big things. The power of showing up, and keeping promises, and supporting each other without reservation. The power of loving your friends for the people they were and the people they are still becoming. When I look at Mikey, I can see the little kid he was reflected in the man he is now. I can also see the little girl I was, reflected in the way I am around him—a little sillier, a little lighter, a little more playful than I am in my grown-up life. Friendships let us hold onto these past versions of ourselves, incorporating them into our present. Old friends, good friends, true friends—they are depositories, helping us hold our memories closer and keep our dreams alive.

One of my favorite photos of me and Mikey is this one. We are five years old, side by side, squinting into the sun. It looks almost as if we are trying to glimpse a future we can’t see. We don’t know what is coming next. But we do know we’ll have each other. We know our friendship will last.

Your turn:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “freewrite” about one of more of these questions:

  • Write about one of your oldest, dearest friends. What are your favorite memories from your years together?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities of a true friend?
  • Have you ever grown apart from a friend, and then reconnected? Write about that experience. Or, is there a friend you would like to reconnect with?

30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

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

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

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

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

thank you note

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

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

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

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

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jewell

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

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

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

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

me and amber rubarth 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

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 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.

on listening

When it happens, I can always feel it physically: an internal shifting, a sense of shutting down. At a cocktail party, when someone asks me about myself, then glances around the room as I begin to answer. When I’m having lunch with a friend who keeps checking Facebook at the table. During a phone conversation, when I finish a story and the pause on the other end of the line is a tad too long and the person’s voice sounds like they are returning from somewhere else far away.

In all of these moments, I know that I am speaking, but am not being heard. The other person is not listening to me at all. And I always feel myself shrink. I quickly summarize whatever story I was telling. I curtail my remarks. Any chance at opening up to this person and being vulnerable in this moment is gone.

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All of us can remember times when we have felt not listened to. And, to be fair, all of us have been that distracted person as well, experiencing the vertigo that comes when a conversation ends and you realize you have zero recollection of what was just said.

But also, I hope every one of us can remember a time when we felt wholly listened to. Because of this, we felt connected, cared for, understood. As Ed Cunningham said, “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”

And not only friends — sometimes acquaintances, or even strangers, are the listeners we need the most. When my dear friend Céline died, I was fortunate to have many friends and family members who lovingly and generously listened to me. I particularly remember crying on the phone with my parents and brother the morning we learned the news, and also the way Greg held my hand and listened during the weekend of Céline’s funeral and celebration of life. Allyn unfortunately never got to meet Céline, but his smile when he listens to my stories about her makes it seem as if he knew her. The same is true for my friend Dana, who met me for lunch on the anniversary of her death. And I don’t know what I would do without my long conversations with Holly as we continue to navigate through grief together.

And also, when I think of listening, I think of an acquaintance I have named Cynthia who is a hospital chaplain and volunteers through my church’s grief group. When Céline passed away, Cynthia invited me to coffee. I remember driving to the coffeeshop, feeling numb, thinking that I didn’t have much to say. Yet when I sat down with Cynthia, and she asked, “How are you doing?” with so much concern in her voice, all of these words and emotions came spilling out of me. I was trying to “be strong” in front of all the people I loved in my life, who knew me and worried about me, to show them that I was doing okay. With Cynthia, I didn’t have to prove anything. In the wake of my life’s biggest loss, that experience of being deeply listened to by a near-stranger meant so much.

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In one of my favorite songs — “Quiet” by Jason Mraz — the lyrics of the chorus go like this:

I will hold your hand

And watch the world spin madly round

This life we’re in

Everything goes quiet

When it’s you I’m with

These words make me think of sanctuary. Often, in everyday life — and especially when it feels like the world is spinning madly around us — what we yearn for is simply someone to hold our hand and sit quietly beside us. Listening creates sanctuary for each other.

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Karl Menniger says, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” Let us be brave enough to listen — to create, unfold, expand. To be there for each other. To offer grace and understanding. To listen, really listen, truly and deeply and gratefully. Because when show up in this way for each other, we are also showing up for ourselves. In strengthening these authentic relationships, we are strengthening the best part of ourselves. In learning to listen to others, we practice listening to those quiet, wise voices within us.

Questions of the day:

  • When was the last time you felt deeply listened to?
  • Who can you give a listening ear to this week?

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!

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!

my trip to nyc

Happy Monday, everyone! Hard to believe we are flirting with mid-November already. Where does the time go?? I feel like an eye-blink ago was Halloween. Anyone else feel that way?

All this weekend, Paris has been on my heart. To me, Paris will always be Celine’s city, and as such it will always be a magical place. The Parisians I have met are wonderful, free-spirited, generous people. Although my heart breaks, along with so many hearts in the world, with the attacks that happened on Friday, I am choosing to give healing energy to thoughts of hope and love, instead of hatred and fear. We love you, Paris.

celine legacy

Before time gets too far along, I wanted to share with you a recap of my recent trip to the Big Apple to visit my brother. It was my fourth time to NYC, but my first time going as less of a tourist: not staying at a hotel, not seeing the big tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. My brother took me to places that were more off-the-beaten path, that I had never even heard about before, and I felt for the first time a glimpse of what it might be like to live as a true “New Yorker” as my brother is doing during this season of his life. {I am SO proud of him — he has embraced the city and his job and new friends and is simply doing fabulously!}

me and gb reunited

I was so happy to be reunited with my brother! That first night I arrived late {after navigating the bus/subway system from LaGuardia airport… I had to be brave and ask people for help, and everyone was kind and patient, even when I got my huge suitcase stuck in the subway turnstile… all in all, I was quite proud of myself, and quite relieved to make it to Manhattan safely!} Greg and I walked to the Seaport area across the street from his apartment and had a wonderful dinner at the Italian restaurant Il Brigante. I had the eggplant parm. Delicious!

The next morning, we walked to Chinatown so my brother could get his biweekly buzz haircut — he has found a place that does it for $4! Chinatown was so neat to experience because it really did feel like being in a different country, with all the signs in Chinese and people speaking Chinese and little stands along the sidewalk selling hot food and tea. I have been to Chinatown in San Francisco before, but NYC’s Chinatown felt even more immersive to me!

My brother lives in a great apartment in the financial district and his roof has an amazing view! We went up there to take in the sights. Postcard-worthy!

view of city from apt roof

view of bridges from apt roof

me and greg roof

We met up with my dear friend Ben for literary-themed cocktails at the rooftop bar The Library. Ben had been wanting to take me to this bar ever since he discovered it, because of my profound love of books, so it was extra-special to be able to go there with him!

rooftop cocktails library bar

After drinks and a quick dinner, we went to see the Broadway play Hand to God, a dark comedy featuring a hand-puppet that had me laughing… and thinking. The actors were superb!

hand to god play

On our way home from the play, we stopped by Schmackarys for some cookies! I could not decide what to get, so Greg indulged my sweet tooth and we got a box of half-a-dozen to share over the weekend. My favorite was the s’mores. YUM.

schmackarys cookies nyc

The next day, Greg took me to The High Line Park — it used to be a railway, and has great views of the city. It is a neat feeling to be walking through trees in the middle of Manhattan! Greg and I also got a kick out of watching various kids and adults of all ages approach a water fountain/sculpture near where we sat for a break during our walk. After The High Line, we explored Chelsea Market and the lakeshore. It was chilly but beautiful!

chelsea water

We grabbed dinner at The Meatball Shop, a popular restaurant chain in the city, serving all sorts of both veggieballs and meatballs. I love how NYC has such specific and diverse food options!

Thee next day, I met up with Greg after he finished work — I got a tour of his awesome office and got to meet some of his super-nice coworkers! — we headed out for dinner and a VERY special dessert stop. Longtime blog readers may recall my intense love for a certain romantic comedy circa early-2000s? I saw this movie for the first time in theaters when I was in high school, and have watched it pretty much every year since then. It is my “comfort food” movie… what can I say, I just love it! You can guess what it is based on the photo below:

Serendipity!

Yep… Greg took me to SERENDIPITY! As you can tell from the above photo, I was pretty dang excited! And since it was a Monday night, we didn’t even have to wait very long for a table. Greg ordered a classic frozen hot chocolate and I went for the salted caramel frozen hot chocolate. Delicious!

frozen hot chocolate

The true magic of the night came when our waiter approached us holding an iPhone. “You are sitting at a very special table,” he said, thrusting the phone at us to show a picture from IMDB… of my two favorite characters sitting at the VERY SAME TABLE. Ahhhh! It was definitely a serendipitous moment! Greg told the waiter, “Oh, you don’t have to tell her about the movie, she knows exactly what table this is.” Haha! The waiter was kind enough to take our picture and Greg made an image for me with us and John & Sara {from the movie!}

serendipity table!!!

On Tuesday morning, I took the train from Grand Central Station to Wassic to meet up with my dear friends Janet and Lauren for lunch. These two lovelies drove two and three hours respectively to have lunch with me! It was so wonderful to see them. We do not get to see each other all that often, but when we do, everything falls back into place and it is like we just saw each other. I feel very grateful to have such special friends! We went to Harney & Sons tea shop for lunch and oh my gosh, you guys, good thing I was flying back on a plane because otherwise I would have been tempted to buy alllll the tea.

janjan laur

When I got back to the city, I had some time before Greg got off work so I made a quick stop by Central Park. It wasn’t much time to explore, but just walking around one small square at the edge of the park was lovely. Such an incredible, beautiful green space in the center of the city!

central park

All too soon, it was Wednesday morning, and time for me to get on board a plane back home to SFO {but not before taking a silly selfie with my brother!} I miss him very much, but I am so proud of him and I love our adventures together. Already looking forward to the next one! 🙂

me and greg silly

if you enjoyed this post, you might also want to check out these:
family vacation to Mexico
highlights of my trip to Cleveland
weekend in Half Moon Bay
weekend in South Lake Tahoe
T.Swift concert in Nashville