what james taylor means to me

I.

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

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

{source}

III.

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

 

V.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

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

Almost anything.

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

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

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

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

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

 

VII.

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

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

VIII.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

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!

a tour of our apartment

Hello, friends, and happy Monday! Hope your day is off to a marvelous start. I am heading off soon to my favorite yoga class, but before I go I wanted to share with you some belated photos of the new apartment I moved into a couple months ago with my sweetie! We have finally gotten everything unpacked and all of our artwork hung up on the walls.

{Real talk: I snapped some photos right before we had Allyn’s mom and sister over for dinner, so this is a bit more tidy than it typically is! But we are trying to keep things relatively neat & clutter-free!}

If you were coming over for a visit, here is where you’d begin…

outside of our apartment

… you’d pull up to the outside of our apartment complex and park in one of the tree-shaded spots. Then we’d come out¬†to greet you and lead you inside!

When you walk into our apartment, there is a short little hallway with a coatrack my sweetheart so handily installed, a hall closet and a linen closet, and our little bathroom. Over to your right is our kitchen…

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

… which leads directly into our dining area/big living room, plus my workspace off in the corner by the window.

bookshelves

One thing both Allyn and I really liked about this apartment from the first moment we saw it is the open layout. It is so nice to be able to prep dinner in the kitchen while still talking and visiting with people out in the living room area. And I think the openness makes our little one-bedroom apartment seem a bit bigger, too!

Here’s a close-up of the bookshelf we ordered off Wayfair and put together ourselves {so relieved it seems to be holding up all right!}


Our living room area leads out to a big balcony {which currently holds not much except for a few empty pots waiting for plants and Allyn’s bike.} When the weather gets warmer and spring fully arrives, I’m excited to get planting a little herb garden out there and maybe setting up an outdoor table and chairs for some al fresco dining!

The only room we have left to show you on our tour of our new apartment is the bedroom… as you can see, I snapped this photo when my sweetheart was working {his desk is there in the corner}… hi, honey!

our bedroom

The thing I love most about our apartment is that it feels like us. It is not the fanciest or biggest place, but it is homey and cozy and filled with reminders of the people we love, and our love for each other. Speaking of which, I haven’t even shared one of my favorite decor items…

LOVE sign

… our LOVE sign! Haha, I know it is corny, but I just love this sign so much. I found it on sale at Michael’s after Christmas and scooped it up, and then my sweetheart kindly installed this floating shelf so it can be displayed in all its lit-up glory. It always makes me smile!

And I would be remiss saying goodbye without letting our beautiful new fern plant say hello. His name is San Fern-ando and he was a housewarming gift from Allyn’s sister, Allyson. Did you know that Boston ferns are wonderful natural air purifiers? Plus they are so cheerful and green and easy to care for. We love ours!

San Fernando

That’s it for now! Thanks for stopping by our place. ūüôā

Questions for the day:

  • What makes a house a “home” to you?
  • What are your favorite things about your home?
  • Do you have any apartment-living tips? Please share!

traveling simply + the top 3 hospitality items I wish hotels would provide

Hello, friends! During this holiday season when many of us are traveling, Fairmont Hotels reached out to me about doing a post on the topic of favorite travel amenities. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, plus I¬†am curious¬†to hear your comments on the topic! Please play along in the comments section. ūüôā

A big theme for me of late has been trying to simplify and streamline my life. This relates to travel, too! Back in college, I traveled around Europe for three weeks with two of my best friends, each of us bringing nothing more than a backpack as luggage. It was an amazing trip and serves as a reminder for me that you do not need to bring a lot of STUFF to make life-long memories you will treasure always!

backpack

Now my only real “must haves” when I travel are: my contacts/glasses; my favorite face-wash and sunscreen; cozy socks; portable snacks like granola bars and fruit;¬†and a good book or two!

Fairmont Hotels also asked my ideas for the top three hospitality items I wish hotels would provide on the West Coast, such as the Claremont Hotel. Mine are a liiiiiiittle out there creative, but see if you agree — I think it would be SO awesome if hotels would provide these things:

Yoga mat

After a long car trip or plane ride, my body is aching to be stretched out. In the past I¬†have¬†tried to do some yoga moves in my hotel room, but it is never very peaceful or comfortable. Bringing my own yoga mat from home is inconvenient; it is¬†bulky and takes up too much space. If a hotel chain provided yoga mats in their hotel rooms, it would definitely persuade me to stay there! Also, by doing so, hotels are sending the message that they care about their guests’ health and peace of mind. Travel can be stressful, especially when you are traveling for business purposes. When I am feeling stressed out, nothing centers me and calms me down like a quick yoga session.

Compost bin

The more I learn about composting our food waste, the more convinced I become of its importance. All of the hotels I have stayed at have little trash bins in the room, but what if one of these was a compost bin with a lid? If emptied every day, this would not smell at all, and it would make a big difference in the amount of waste sent to landfills! When I travel, I often bring healthy snacks such as apples and bananas; it always makes me sad to have to throw these in the garbage instead of composting them.

Why does composting matter? Food waste in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment {without oxygen} which produces the gas methane. When it enters our atmosphere, methane is a much more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. All of this can be solved by composting, because when food waste decomposes in a natural environment with oxygen, no methane is produced.¬†Plus we¬†produce compost to fertilize our future food products. It’s a win-win!

compost bin

photo credit: Sac compostable en place via photopin (license)

Recipe card

This idea was sparked by my recent visit to the Penzey’s Spices store in Cleveland. One of my favorite things about the store was the tear-off recipe cards scattered throughout the aisles. It was really fun to take home recipes from different parts of the world that featured various spices, many of which I had never before used. Trying out these recipes when I got home was a way to¬†relive my trip a bit and also¬†expand my repertoire in the kitchen. I think it would be neat if hotels adopted this idea and had recipe cards in the room that guests could take home with them. Perhaps hotels in different regions could feature recipes local to that region, or maybe all of the hotels could feature the same recipe and it would change each month or so. This would be a neat way to highlight local restaurants and chefs. The recipes¬†could even be collected in a cookbook at some point that could be available for guests to purchase.

Questions of the day:

  • Your turn: what amenities would improve your stay at hotels?
  • Do you have any travel tips to share?

Questions for Deeper Conversations: Home

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have something fun planned for tonight + this weekend! This afternoon I have some tutoring and work on the agenda, and then I’m meeting up with Allyn and some friends in the city for dinner and a movie! Should be fun. Tomorrow I have a full day of tutoring, an evening meeting at church, and a picnic dinner date with my sweetheart. And then Sunday I’m leading another session of our Young Adults Community Circle at church!

I had a few people ask me what topics and questions we are covering in the group, since I wrote about how the community circle is intended to spur deeper, more meaningful and authentic conversations than you might traditionally have with people you are just meeting. I thought I would share these questions with you here on the blog, in case they spur some deeper conversations of your own — with longtime friends, new acquaintances, family members, loved ones, or even perhaps just with yourself! These are great questions to journal about as well. ūüôā

sunset at home

Community Circle Questions : Week 1

Theme: Home

  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • Where are you currently living? Does it feel like home? Why or why not?
  • Who are you currently living with? What do you love¬†about your living situation? What do you struggle with?
  • What thoughts do you hold in your heart about your childhood home? Do you return there often?
  • Where have you lived that has felt like home?
  • What dreams do you have for a future home?

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

-Maya Angelou

a year of living simply: week 10

Hello, friends! It’s been way too long since I’ve checked in with you guys. I took an unintentional blogging break when I traveled down south to visit my brother and my parents for a long weekend. My brother organized this fantastic¬†event about girls education for USC’s “EdMonth” and I did not want to miss it! Thanks to an inexpensive flight on Southwest, I was able to rearrange my tutoring schedule and travel to L.A. to attend. Greg¬†is passionate about women’s rights and his enthusiasm shined throughout the evening! He recruited amazingly impressive and eloquent panelists to talk about “The Girl Effect: From Why to How.” It was such an inspiring event and I am SO proud of him for putting it all together!

greg edmonth panel

greg edmonth panel

I took advantage of being down in Southern California to visit my parents in Ventura before I headed back to the Bay. It’s always so relaxing and happy to spend time with my parents. On Sunday we went to a talk by Garth Stein, author of the wonderful book The Art of Racing in the Rain. I am fascinated to hear other writers talk about their process, and Mr. Stein was as insightful as he was humorous! I also ate way too many strawberries {Mom bought an entire flat from a local farm}, visited with Gramps, and played many rounds of fetch with crazy-eyed Mr. Mur-dog. Soaking up time with my family always makes my soul feel refreshed.

me and greg

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge¬†was¬†to get rid of some paper clutter in your life. I cleared out my box of old receipts and also organized my tutoring folder, which had become a mess of worksheets and assignments. Now I have everything organized based on age/grade level. Moving forward, my challenge will be to take a little time each week to do inventory and KEEP the folder organized. I am¬†motivated to do so, because I feel much more prepared going into each tutoring session — I know that I will be able to find what I am looking for to engage my students!

This week’s challenge is related to paper clutter… time to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. They tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” {Sound familiar to anyone else?} This week I’m going to take a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, decide which ones I don’t need to renew any longer, and donate all the magazines I honestly don’t plan on reading.

Do you have magazines to get rid of, too? Don’t just toss ’em — donate ’em! I’ve donated magazines in the past, and libraries have¬†always been grateful to receive them. You could also consider donating magazines to nursing homes, hospitals, or community centers.

Before I go, an update:¬†I have become a podcast junkie! I especially love This American Life, RadioLab, and Invisibilia. In the past few weeks I’ve learned about:

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites?
  • What paper clutter did you get rid of?
  • Do you subscribe to magazines?
20150326_203634

My new teaching mantra!

a year of living simply: week 3

Hi everyone! Apologies for my delay in posting… I was out of town visiting my friend Holly in Nashville! We had an amazing time, as we always do when we’re together. I just love this girl so dang much!

me and hol sunshine

Most of yesterday was spent trying to get my life back in order after being away for nearly 3 weeks {visiting my parents in Ventura before my trip to Nashville}… unpacking, laundry-doing, and prepping for the various teaching & tutoring sessions I have this week! Aaaaand perhaps spending some quality time with my sweetheart, who has returned safely from his adventure in Kenya, hooray! I’m so grateful that he had a fantastic trip, and that he is home safe and sound.

allyn kenya with kids

Now… onto this week’s simplicity challenge! Over the course of the year, we’ll be focusing on various meanings of simplicity: in our possessions, routines, spending habits, projects, relationships, food choices, and more. We’ll rid ourselves of¬†clutter — physical, mental, emotional. We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Last week, the challenge¬†was¬†to ruthlessly unsubscribe to unnecessary emails. I first went through and unsubscribed to the various spam/promotional email lists I’m on that I haven’t bothered to unsubscribe from even though I never open them and am wholly uninterested. That was the easy part.

The harder part for me was unsubscribing from lists that I am genuinely interested in, but simply don’t have time to read. I realized that I have remained subscribed to these emails because I blindly hoped that some mystical future version of me would one day find the time to conscientiously read through them — even though I know¬†that isn’t true, and even though the slow trickle of them piling up and piling up in my inbox stresses me out. I think this relates to the “Fear of Missing Out” phenomenon that is so prevalent in our social-media culture. I think I was worried that if I deleted an email newsletter that I was interested in reading without actually going through and reading it, I would “miss out” on something important. But no, what I was really doing was to open these emails and scroll through, skimming them mindlessly.

So, this week I ruthlessly unsubscribed, choosing to remain subscribed to only those email lists I fully, genuinely¬†*love* to read, the ones that consistently add value to my life. I told myself that if I missed any one of them, I could always resubscribe. But, not surprisingly, I don’t miss any of them. It might sound silly, but the simple act of unsubscribing and taking back a portion of my inbox has made me feel freer and more at peace. Email isn’t as big as a chore as it once was. And that’s a step in the right direction!

workstation

This week reminded me of the whole point of minimalism: clearing away all the stuff that isn’t important makes room for what truly IS¬†important to you.

This week, let’s continue our digital de-cluttering: go through and organize your photos, deleting any unnecessary duplicates or “bad” ones. My photos on my computer are a jumbled mess of random folders, and my photos on my phone are a disaster zone — I never delete any! This week, I want to get these all straightened out.¬†The beginning of the year is the perfect time to organize your photos, so you’ll have a system ready to go for all the photos you’ll take in 2015! ūüôā

I’ll leave you with this insightful post from The Minimalists that I thoroughly enjoyed: “Thomas Jefferson’s 10 Rules for a Good Life”

Questions of the morning:

  • What emails did you unsubscribe from this week? Was it easy, or more difficult than you envisioned?
  • What digital clutter do you struggle with?

goals + recipes for the week of 1/11

Hi there, everyone!¬†It’s been a lazy Sunday around here… which is nice, because things are going to pick up pretty soon when I go back to work/teaching/tutoring/church duties! Lazy Sundays at home with my parents remind me of lazy Sundays growing up — such a cozy feeling! Especially because it’s been gray and drizzling here all weekend. Hooray for rain! We can always use more rain here in California.

I just wanted to pop in and say hello ūüôā Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday, too! This evening, Gramps is coming over for dinner, and right now Mom and I are watching the red carpet coverage at the Golden Globes. I hardly ever watch these awards shows, so it feels like a treat.

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:

Рwrite a new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
–¬†compile tutoring worksheets
Рfinish reading Anna Karenina
–¬†go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
roasted cauliflower & freekeh with garlic tahini sauce via Cookie + Kate
power salad w/lemon chia seed dressing via Two Peas and Their Pod
loaded baked potato gnocchi via Two Peas and Their Pod
butternut ribbon goat cheese pesto pizza via Cookie + Kate
slow-cooker minestrone soup via The Pajama Chef
– my own honey-lime chicken enchiladas

Questions of the day:

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

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

fabulous friday #44

Happy Friday, everyone!¬†It’s been a while since I’ve done a fabulous friday post around here… excited to get back to it!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Being home and soaking up time with my sweet family. Greg heads back to USC tomorrow {for his final semester of business school… craziness!} and we are going out to dinner as a family tonight. We’re going to try out an Indian restaurant downtown that Greg has been eying for awhile. I haven’t had Indian food for a looooong time, and I’m looking forward to some quality time with three of my very favorite people!

Irish pub fam

murray

{And Murray knows he is my favorite pup!}

2. My sweetheart made it safely to Kenya, and he and his group successfully summited Mt. Kenya! They only have sporadic Internet access, so I haven’t been able to communicate with him very much, but one of his group-mates posted this photo on Facebook of them all at the peak of Mt. Kenya. {There he is, second from the right!} I’m really proud of him, and excited to hear about all his adventures when he returns home in about a week!

mt kenya

3. Allison Williams. We watched her interview with Jon Stewart last night and I was completely charmed. I only knew her from the Peter Pan Live special, but now I’m seeing her everywhere — including on the cover of the Glamour magazine!

glamour allison williams

I loved what she said about the importance of knowing yourself before looking to others for outside validation:

“I’ve just figured out who I am. I am now rarely confronted with a feeling, physical or emotional, that I can’t place. … Part of getting to know yourself better means that all the relationships in your life improve: friendships, family, fiance, all of it.”

Also, while watching the Jon Stewart interview last night, my dad said, “Hey Dal, she kind of looks like you!” Maybe I’ve finally found my celebrity doppelganger?

4.¬†Alexandra Franzen included a link to this amazing singer-songwriter, James Bay, in her latest newsletter. I can’t get enough of his soulful voice and lyrics!

5.¬†This past Wednesday, I went to the book launch party for Jennifer Niven’s new YA release, All The Bright Places. It is a really wonderful book — like The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower — and Jennifer could not be nicer or more gracious. It was so exciting to meet her!

all the bright places

BONUS: I have some writing-related news to share with you!

  • My YA romance ebook, “How I Became a Coffee Addict,” is available for FREE through January 10th on Amazon! Grab your copy here.
  • My short story “Receiptless” was recently published in the literary journal The Literati Review; you can read it online here. Hope you enjoy! ūüôā

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

my perfectly decorated apartment

Last week, Kellyn from Compass reached out to me asking if I would do a “Starter Stories” blog post¬†about my first apartment. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, so I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote about the first apartment I lived in all by myself, when I moved from California to Indiana to attend graduate school.

This essay was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home and also appeared in the online literary magazine Faith, Hope & Fiction.

apartment front door

My Perfectly Decorated Apartment

“It‚Äôs perfect!” I told the landlord. ‚ÄúWhen can I sign the lease?‚ÄĚ

It was a chilly April afternoon in the small college town of West Lafayette, Indiana. I had just been accepted to graduate school at Purdue University and, after three whirlwind days of sitting in on classes and meeting professors, I had decided that this was the program for me. West Lafayette would be my new home for the next three years. I was nervous, but also very excited.

Before catching my flight back to my California hometown, I drove around looking at apartments. The second place I visited was part of an old Victorian-style house that had been sectioned off into four separate apartments. As I drove through the shady tree-lined neighborhood, the stress and frantic pace of the last three days ebbed away into a calm tranquility. Yes, I thought. This feels right.

front porch

The apartment was charming. Bay windows, hardwood floors, a wide front porch. It was the ground floor unit, which meant the front door was the original front door of the house. How neat it would be, I thought, to walk through that beautiful front door every day! And the porch would be the perfect place to write or do homework when the weather is nice.

I signed the lease right then and there.

The rest of that spring into summer, whenever I felt nervous about packing up my life and moving halfway across the country, I would think of that apartment. I’d never had my very own place before, and it felt like a milestone on the path to adulthood. In college I’d not only shared an apartment with three other girls, I’d even shared a bedroom with a roommate because living costs were so expensive. Now, I’d finally have a place of my own that I could decorate however I wanted. I explored websites and daydreamed about curtains and dishes, rugs and duvets.

Moving day came. I crammed my car with clothing and books and drove for five days along Interstate 70, from the Southern California beaches into the heart of the Indiana cornfields. I walked up the stairs onto my new front porch, unlocked the giant glass-paned front door, and strolled around the empty rooms with a huge smile on my face. It was all mine! I was officially a grown-up, living on my own!

kitchen

I immediately threw myself into turning my empty apartment into a home. I scoured Craigslist, wandered the aisles of flea markets and used furniture shops, and dipped into my savings account to buy kitchen supplies and dishes. I was a giddy, energetic decorating fiend.

Before long my apartment looked like the apartment I had been dreaming about for months. Red accent pillows on the couch matched the red cushions on the kitchen chairs. Sunlight shone through the gauzy white curtains, warming up the rooms. Prints of my favorite Impressionist paintings hung on the walls. The bookshelves were filled with books I loved and photographs of my friends and family. I looked around and was filled with contentment. Yes, I thought. This is perfect.

photos

Except ‚Ķ something felt a little off. I had carefully decorated and cozied-up my apartment, but somehow it still didn‚Äôt feel like home. I would come back from class and sit on my comfortable couch, the pillows perfectly fluffed, the coffeetable free of dirty dishes, the TV remote exactly where I had left it‚ÄĒand loneliness would ebb through me in gigantic crashing waves. All my closest friends and family were thousands of miles away, and I ached with homesickness for them.

I tried to fill the emptiness with more decorating: a pretty embroidered tablecloth for the kitchen table, a bright rug for the bathroom, a congregation of houseplants under the Bay windows. But nothing quite worked. My apartment still didn’t feel like a real home to me.

bedroom

One evening in mid-October I was eating dinner alone at my kitchen table, feeling nostalgic as usual. How nice it was back then, I thought. Coming home to a lively apartment with three roommates. My new apartment was too small for more than one person. Maybe my mistake had been thinking I could live alone? I started thinking about the parties my roommates and I hosted in college, celebrating a holiday or someone’s birthday. Those were my favorite memories from that time in my life: all of my closest friends together in one place, laughing and telling stories and sharing food.

Suddenly, I had an idea: what if I threw a party here, in my new apartment?

living room

I sent out invitations for an autumn potluck to everyone in my program and spent the entire day before the party cleaning my already-clean apartment from top to bottom. I bought autumn-themed paper bowls and napkins and made two big pots of chili. I arranged pumpkin centerpieces for the kitchen table and coffee table. Everything looked perfect. But I was nervous. What if it was a disaster?

In some ways, maybe it was a disaster. Wine spilled on one of my new rugs and left a small stain. Someone dropped one of my new plates and it chipped. Dirt was tracked in on the floors, the pillows on my couch were smooshed, and my new embroidered tablecloth was littered with crumbs. It took days for me to find the TV remote, which someone had unaccountably placed on the very top bookshelf. When the party wound down to a close and the last guests had traipsed out the door into the night, my apartment was a total mess.

And I could not have been happier.

me in apartment

I used to believe that filling an empty apartment meant buying furniture and decorating the walls. But I learned that what really makes a place into a home is welcoming others inside it with you.

That night, my new apartment was filled with people and food and joy. The walls soaked up their stories and laughter so that even when they left and I was by myself again, I didn’t feel alone. I drifted to sleep with a smile on my face.

purdue friends

For the first time since I had moved in, I felt like I was home.