dinner parties + new apartments

When Allyn and I decided to move into together, it was an exciting time in our lives. It was also a stressful time because of apartment-hunting. Housing in the Bay Area is notoriously expensive, and trying to find a nice apartment in a safe neighborhood that was also within our price range, while also fairly convenient for our varied work commutes, was a challenge. Housing is also very high in demand, so there was the sense that if you liked a place but weren’t sure about it, and waffled on your decision for too long, someone else would come along and snatch it up before you even turned in your application.

After a few weekends of open-houses and apartment-hunting, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “All I want is a kitchen and a bathroom and a living room and a bedroom, and I’m sold.” I felt myself buying into that mentality of scarcity, of panic, of not-enough-to-go-around. Fortunately, Allyn was by my side, level-headed as always, bringing me back to a place of abundance. Logically, I knew that we would not be apartment-hunting forever. I knew that eventually we would find a place that was the right fit for us. But I daydreamed of baking muffins in a kitchen of my own, and filling the bookshelves with our shared book collection, and eating dinner together every night at our own dining table. I would look around at couples who lived together and think, “Do you realize how lucky you are? I can’t wait to be like you!”

It wasn’t too long before we did find an apartment we loved, and we turned in our application and signed the lease and before I knew it, it was moving day and then we were unpacking and running to Target for various items we hadn’t realized we needed until we needed them, like a plunger and oven mitts and surge protectors. Life spun onward. Soon, having dinner together every night became routine. Our bookshelf became crammed with books and mementos of our shared life together. I baked muffins in our kitchen feeling grumbly about all the dishes I had to wash, rather than feeling awash with gratitude to have my own kitchen that I had dreamed about.

{our apartment in the early days}

The other day, I arrived home from visiting my brother in NYC. It was late: past midnight, and I was still on east-coast time. I unlocked the door and stumbled in with my suitcase, flicking on the light. Home. I was home. Instead of looking around our apartment and seeing various chores I needed to do—vacuum the carpet and put away those dishes and mail those packages and and and… this time, I just saw the messy, comforting jumble of everyday life. My everyday life, and Allyn’s everyday life. Intertwined.

And I remembered all the hours I had spent, before we had this apartment, dreaming of it. How I had yearned for it and hoped for it and felt like it would never come. And then it did come, and in the daily hustle and bustle I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. Because the reality is more complicated and messy than it was in my daydreams, and because I’m already looking onward to the next thing on the horizon. There is something else that I am yearning for and hoping for now. It’s so easy to forget all the things I do have, all the landmarks I have reached, that I was once gazing longingly at from the opposite shore.

Like, I remember being a middle-schooler reading Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, dreaming what seemed like an impossible dream of one day publishing a story of my own in Chicken Soup. These days, I publish stories in Chicken Soup frequently, and I forget to feel as excited as my middle-school self would want me to feel. She would celebrate every single acceptance.

I remember when being accepted to college was my Ultimate Dream; then being accepted to an MFA program was my Ultimate Dream; then signing with a literary agent was my Ultimate Dream. Now, my Ultimate Dream is publishing a novel. I try to remind myself to have patience and faith—just as I would remind my past selves of this, as I applied to college and grad school and queried literary agents. Don’t be so worried, I would go back and tell myself. It’s going to happen. And after it happens, it won’t even be something you think about all the time, it will just be another part of you, and you will have moved on to new dreams and goals. 

I think this is a beautiful part of life: how it is ever-changing, never static. We should keep growing and striving and dreaming throughout our lives. But I think it is also important to look back at how far we have come. To appreciate what we have, that once seemed so impossible. To give ourselves perspective and remind ourselves to be so thrillingly grateful.

In my wedding vows to Allyn, I told him how I spent a long time searching for him, and how I remember those lonely years vividly. Back then, I promised myself that when I finally did meet the man I was meant to be with, I would savor and appreciate him every day, and never take him for granted. These are hard vows to live up to, because life tilts into the familiar, and the familiar can so easily fade into the background… but every day, when I look at Allyn, I make a point to remind myself, just briefly, of what it was like when I was searching for him everywhere. When I worried that I would never find him. And this remembering makes me feel a strong rush of gratitude and joy for him, like falling in love all over again. How lucky I am, that I get to reach across the dinner table and squeeze his hand. Remembering where I’ve been makes the everyday now glitter with a touch of the miraculous.

A couple weekends ago, Allyn and I hosted our first real dinner party. We had entertained guests before, but our apartment is so small that we are limited to only two or three people at a time. Our chance for a bigger dinner party came when his mom went out of town, and we were cat-sitting in her beautiful home with a full dining table that seated eight. So, we invited three of our couple friends over for dinner. Two of them have children, who came along too. It was a full table!

In the days leading up to the event, I felt excited and nervous—planning the menu, shopping for groceries, then going back to the store at the last minute to pick up more food, worried we wouldn’t have enough. {Perhaps that is my grandma in me. Because we did. We had more than enough, and plenty of leftovers.} I made enchiladas, my mom’s recipe that has become one of my favorites. As I was chopping the onion and bell pepper and stirring the ground turkey and rolling up the tortillas, I thought about when I was in college. Back then, I would occasionally make enchiladas for my roommates and our other friends, everyone who wanted to stop by, an apartment full of people crammed on the couch and sprawled out on the floor, drinking homemade margaritas and watching the game. In college, we’d serve the enchiladas on our multicolored cheap plastic plates and eat them using our bent silverware with the plastic handles. My roommates and I would drool over Crate and Barrel, dreaming of the future when we’d have fancier dishes and would feel like real grown-ups.

Thankfully I did know, back then, that there was beauty in where we were. I loved that chapter of our lives as we lived it. I knew those days were fleeting. I’m so glad I savored them. Although, I never would have guessed that a future me, with beautiful dishes from Anthropologie and linen napkins in napkin rings, would still not quite feel like a grown-up. I never would have guessed that a part of me would feel a little nostalgic for those cheap plastic plates and bent silverware, as I stood in the middle of the gorgeous kitchen in my mother-in-law’s house, serving enchiladas onto china plates for our friends at our first real dinner party.

The dinner party was lively and chaotic and wonderful. We put tarps down so the kiddos wouldn’t make a mess on the carpet, and strapped their booster seats to the chairs so they could join us right at the table. We ate and laughed and talked and reminisced. The kids ate a gazillion slices of watermelon, juice dribbling down their chins. We celebrated a birthday, blew out the candles, and their adorable smiling faces were soon covered with chocolate frosting. It was perfect.

Later that night, after everyone had left and Allyn and I were stretched out, exhausted, on the couch, I thought about how there will likely—hopefully—be a time in our lives in the not-too-distant future when toddlers running around the house will be an everyday occurrence; a time in our lives when we will be able to fit more than four people at our very own dinner table; a time in our lives when hosting a dinner party will perhaps not be such an extraordinary event.

But I hope, when that time comes, that I can remember the magic of this dinner party, and how special it felt to host a meal that brought our friends together, and how joyful it was to hear toddler giggles at the table.

I hope I can always remember how precious this moment in time is, even as I look ahead to the bright and beautiful future.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a document on your computer and do some free-writing, using these questions to get you going:

  • What is a goal or dream you used to have, that you accomplished and now seems normal? What advice might you give a previous version of yourself?
  • What is a goal or dream you are currently striving or wishing for? What advice might a future version of yourself give you now?
  • Write about the last time you moved to a new house or apartment.
  • Write about the last time you hosted a gathering or dinner party.

 

when is the train going to come?

When I was in college, I studied abroad in England for a semester, and the school calendar included a whole glorious month off for spring break. Two of my best friends and I took the opportunity to backpack around Europe together, bopping around from Portugal to Spain to France to Germany. We traveled mostly by train, which was awesome. As someone born and raised in California, my experience with train travel was extremely limited; in Los Angeles at that time, our public transportation system was pretty much just buses that never ran on time. {The L.A. metro system has been wonderfully expanded since then, and now in the Bay Area I often take the BART train.} But back then it was a marvelously new experience for me to travel by train, much less travel from country to country that way! I loved gazing out the window as the changing landscapes rolled by.

Mostly, the trains were very impressively on time. But there was one day in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was about mid-way through our trip, mid-way through the day. We were grungy and tired and hungry, and our train was delayed. We were told it would be at least a couple hours. So we left the station and explored the little village a bit. It was a Sunday and most of the stores were closed. We ended up buying snacks from a mini-mart shop and eating them back at the station. We sat there on the train platform, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We stood up. We paced around. We looked down the long, empty tracks.

Logically, I knew the train would eventually come. But emotionally? It felt, in that moment, like the train was never going to come.

 *

In the years since, I’ve come to think of waiting on that half-empty platform for that delayed-and-delayed-again train as a metaphor for life.

Yes, there are many things you can control. You can work hard. You can maintain a fierce curiosity about the world. You can consistently gain knowledge in your field. You can believe in yourself and in your abilities. You can set goals and take little steps, every day, to move forward towards your dreams.

But there is also a lot that you can’t control: luck, serendipity, chance. Timing and fate. The whimsies and opinions and subjectivities of other people.

You can buy your train ticket and stand on the platform, gazing down the track, ready and waiting. But you can’t control when the train is going to come.

More than fifteen years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I wrote a personal essay titled “The Role of a Lifetime.” It was about my second-grade teacher who cast me in the lead role of our class play, even though I was painfully shy. How her confidence in me sparked a self-confidence that I still carry to this day. Mostly, I wrote the piece as a tribute to a phenomenal teacher who truly went above and beyond for her students.

I was proud of that essay. I worked hard on it. I edited and rewrote it, asked for feedback and rewrote it again. I submitted it to a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology about teachers. But it was rejected.

A couple years later, I saw a call for submissions for another Chicken Soup anthology about teachers. Excited, I submitted the essay again. Again, it was not chosen for publication.

I was disappointed. I read the essay again with fresh eyes. I still liked it. I was still proud of it.

Over the years, I submitted that essay many other times to many other publication opportunities and contests. In return, I received nothing but rejection letters.

Last year—more than fifteen years after I wrote the essay—I saw a call for submissions for the upcoming Chicken Soup anthology Inspiration for Teachers. “What do you have to lose?” I thought. And I submitted my essay again.

Guess what? This time, after all this time, my essay was accepted. “The Role of a Lifetime” is going to be published later this year. My story about an amazing teacher is going to be shared. This particular train finally pulled into the station. I’m so glad I didn’t give up and leave the platform too soon.

*

Lately I’ve been listening to the most recent Blind Pilot album on repeat. One of my favorite songs is called “Don’t Doubt” and here are my favorite lyrics:

Don’t you doubt
Everybody’s seen some winter
Don’t you just take the dark way out

I think “the dark way out” means making excuses for yourself. Stacking up your reasons to quit and building those reasons into a prison around yourself. Letting yourself think that just because you sometimes doubt yourself, it means that you should give into those doubts. No. It just means that you’re human and you’re not an emotionless robot. But strength equals fighting against your moments of doubt with hope and grit and persistence. Remember — everybody’s seen some winter.

For the past three weeks, my sweetheart has been waiting on a phone call. At first, he felt very confident that the call was going to come. But as the days slipped by, he grew less and less certain. Eventually, he began using humor to deal with the situation—every day, he would joke with me about the various reasons he might not have received the phone call yet. Throughout the day, we would pretend to cheer on this person, as if picking up the phone was a physical task that required Herculean effort. I could tell that Allyn was doing all he could to fight off his doubts and to keep his faith in the potential of the situation.

And then, quite suddenly, the phone call did come. And it was exactly the outcome he had been waiting for, hoping for, and working towards for a very long time.

I know this might sound cliched, but it’s true—the success meant more to him because of the winding, difficult path it took to get there. The questions and doubts make the answers, when they finally come, that much richer.

I love this blog post Alex Franzen wrote about making excuses and making progress. She writes: “You can make excuses or you can make yourself proud. You can make excuses or you can make progress. You can make excuses or you can make art. Every day, it’s your choice.”

*

So what do you do? What do I do? What can any of us do?

You hold onto that patience and you nurture that faith inside of you. You keep working hard. You keep taking little daily steps towards your goals. You keep learning. You keep believing in yourself and believing in that train. Stare off down those tracks. Because it’s coming. It’s coming, and you want to be ready when it does.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • What is a doubt that you are currently holding in your heart? What would it feel like to let this doubt go?
  • Write about a time when you felt like “the train was never going to come.” What ended up happening? Looking back, what would you tell yourself in that situation?
  • What is an excuse you are making to yourself right now? How can you move past that excuse and take the first action step towards something you desire?

what’s your word for the year?

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It is a brisk, clear day here in Northern California… a little break from all the rain we’ve been getting! I’ll take the rain anytime — a welcome respite from the drought we’ve been under the past several years — but it is nice to have a string of sunny days in the forecast.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday, Susan Hyatt’s weekly GO podcast, and it struck a deep chord with me. Susan’s no-nonsense words never fail to light a fire in my belly, and this episode was no exception. She was talking about setting an intention for your year that is just a single word or a short, memorable phrase. Examples might be: steady, rise, slow, patience, shine.

I love this idea because it feels both manageable and highly motivational. While I am a sucker for setting goals and taking baby steps, sometimes — especially at the beginning of the year — having a long list of goals can seem overwhelming. Setting a one-word intention is simple. It is a touchstone you can come back to, again and again, as you move through your day and week and month. Instead of a long list of goals, a one-word intention is more of a habit or a mindset: something that all of your other goals flow out from. The center of the pinwheel; the eye of the storm.

When I look back on 2016, I think a word for my year would have been CHANGE. From my personal life to the larger world, there was so much change and upheaval in 2016. For me personally, that change was wonderful and celebrated — moving in with Allyn, getting engaged, getting married. But even happy change can be stressful, and now as I take stock of where I hope 2017 leads, I find myself wanting to slow down and settle in a bit, getting comfortable in the routines of this new chapter in my life.

me-and-al-holding-hands-married

So, my word for 2017 is FOUNDATION. {Which always puts this song by Kate Nash in my head… but I digress.}

I want to work on getting the foundation of my life in order. For me, that is broken down into four main areas: my health; my relationships; my writing; my home environment.

Health

For health, when I think of foundation, I think of building a solid exercise routine and working more plants into my diet. I already take yoga class every Monday; now, I am striving to do yoga every day, even if just fifteen minutes. I am also hoping to start a routine with my hubby where we got to the gym twice a week before he heads off to work. I think this would be a really great practice for us to undertake together, and I know that doing it together will be really good for my motivation!

I also am experimenting with quitting sugar. I have been curious about this for a long time and have been wanting to try it out, but have been too afraid to take the leap. In 2017, I am bravely giving it a go. After all, I can always go back to sugar! But I want to see how my body and brain feels without it.

Relationships

My relationships are the most important thing in my life and they bring me so much happiness. I want to continue to nurture old friendships and establish new ones. In 2017, I am making time to visit my family and friends who are far away. I am also making more time for phone calls and emails to stay in touch. And, I am reaching out to fledgling friendships to help nurture these new relationships and create stronger bonds. As far as my marriage goes {hee hee, it still gives me butterflies to type those words!} Allyn and I are making time every Sunday for our “check in” with each other about how we are doing, what is on our hearts, what we might be struggling with, and what we are grateful for.

rehearsal dinner

Writing

This is a big one for me! I just returned home from a marvelous writing conference, the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway sponsored by Murphy Writing, and I feel rejuvenated and bursting with ideas for a new huge project I am embarking upon. This book scares me, but I think that just means I need to lean into it more — it scares me because it is pushing me to grow, because it feels braver and bigger than anything else I have tried to write before. Instead of worrying about how many pages I want to write each day or what writing projects I aim to complete by the end of this year, FOUNDATION reminds me to focus on the process of writing. If I make writing a part of my daily routine, then the pages will get written. I will move forward on the projects I want to complete. All I need to do is put my energy in the daily process and show up every day. That is why I am committing to spending the first hour or so of each day working on my own writing projects, whatever they may be.

Home

I have this image in my mind of what I would love my home to look like: clean, comfortable, simple, organized. I feel like I am on the road to getting there, but I am not there yet. A part of me was resigned to never quite getting there. But then I thought, “No — this is your life. You deserve to create an environment that makes you feel wholly calm and at peace. You don’t have to settle for your slightly-messy tendencies.” I was also thinking about what wonderful writer and life coach Maggie Reyes once told me: “My home is my sanctuary.” My apartment is my sanctuary as it is right this very minute, but I want to help it become even more so. To do that, my intention of “foundation” motivates me to finally go through those old papers and receipts, donate the rest of those clothes and items I do not need or want, and incorporate a more regular cleaning routine so chores do not feel so overwhelming.

bookshelves

Above my desk, I have made a sign that has my word on it. FOUNDATION. Every time I see it, I feel inspired and centered.

What will your word be for 2017? I would love to hear in the comments!

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!

taming the excuse-monster in my mind

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

{Image source}

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

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

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

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

{Photo cred: tricsr4kidz, Flickr Creative Commons}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

fabulous friday #50

Aaaaaand just like that, it’s the weekend! It is a warm one around here and we are all trying to stay cool, and also soaking up some gorgeous sunshine outdoors. I get to meet up with this pretty lady in a few hours for dinner.

me and dana sideboard

So excited to catch up with her! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My favorite dessert of late: organic vanilla greek yogurt + fruit {raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are my faves!} + mini chocolate chips.

yogurt dessert

2. My wonderful minister gave me a copy of this little book, which takes its title from a beautiful Robert Frost Poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

nothing gold can stay

I’ve been reading through the short essays in this book when I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep at night, and it has been a source of comfort.

3. Last weekend I drove to Marcus Books in Oakland to attend a talk by Tavis Smiley about his new book chronicling his 20+ year friendship with Maya Angelou, My Journey With Maya. Tavis’s talk was filled with humor, wisdom, and his trademark insight. He is one of my role models! And I am savoring this book. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy — I think it would make the perfect Mother’s Day or graduation gift!

my journey with maya

I also loved these beautiful murals on the outside walls of Marcus Books:

marcus books

marcus books 2

4. My friend Jess sent me this lovely ring and a nice card in the mail, out of the blue! It was really sweet and made my day. It’s an infinity ring, symbolizing the everlasting bonds of friendship. She sent them to our friendship group from college, as a way of honoring Celine.

infinity ring

5. This *free* April reflection worksheet courtesy of Nicole at Life Less BS. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to April and hello to May! Nicole never fails to make me feel inspired and ready to tackle my goals and BIG dreams for my life.

Questions for the evening:

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

goals + recipes for the week of 3/22

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

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

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

with allyson pirates

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

allyn redbeard

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

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

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

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

Questions of the day:

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

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