find someone who is kind

My grandma likes to tell a story about the first time she met my dad. At this point, my parents had been dating for almost two years and were engaged to be married in a matter of months. Shortly after my mom went off to college, my grandpap got transferred from California to Delaware for his job. Rather than being a few hours’ drive away, my grandparents were now living across the country. They knew about my dad, of course. Grandpap had met him once when he was out in California for work and visited UCSB. But my grandma had never met my dad when my mom called with the big news that she was engaged.

Grandma had never met my dad… but she discovered that she did know his parents. In an incredible small-world coincidence, all four of my grandparents attended the same small college of Wittenburg in Springfield, Ohio right after WWII. Grandma, Grandpap, and Grandma Auden were all in the same class; Gramps was a few years older. They were in different fraternities and sororities, but they were acquaintances who had some close friends in common. Then they graduated, got married, lost touch, and had children. Both families separately moved from Ohio to Southern California in the early 1970’s. My parents grew up just a couple hours away from each other, in Ventura and Northridge. Then my parents each chose to attend UCSB, and met each other at a party around Christmastime through mutual friends.

My grandma was comforted to realize that the man her daughter had fallen in love with was Jim & Audrey’s son. When the two sets of parents were reunited before the wedding, Auden pulled Grandma aside and said, “Don’t worry, Mary Lou. He is very kind.”

Kind is definitely one of the first words I would use to describe my father. He is gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, and loving. This past Easter, when I was visiting my parents and had to get my blood drawn {which is always an ordeal for me with my tiny veins} he sat beside me and held my hand. He slips cards into my purse just as he used to slip notes into my lunchbox. He and my mom have shown me that kindness is a source of strength.

So it is perhaps not a surprise that when I was looking for the person I would share my life with, the first word at the top of my list was kind. I wanted to find a partner who was kind, gentle, and compassionate. Who made me feel understood and loved, even when I didn’t understand or love myself. Who would be a beacon of comfort in a world that can, at times, be a very harsh place.

{photo credit Allyson McAuley}

When I came across Allyn’s photo on an online dating website, I was immediately drawn to his kind smile. I felt that quiet kindness emanating through his spirit on our first date, when he looked at me with his smiling eyes and listened attentively to all my stories. Kindness was the first quality that drew me to him. And, years later, it remains the quality of his that I am most grateful for.

I don’t think kindness gets much attention in the language we use to discuss romance. We talk about mystery and intrigue; sex appeal and beauty; passion and attraction. And all of those things are important. But I do think that, as a society, we focus too much on the “flashier” traits that are on the surface. Those traits that lessen over time as you build a life together, as you grow older together, as you let each other in on the secret intricacies and intimacies of your true selves. Allyn is less of a mystery to me now than when we met, and I am surely less of a mystery to him. Instead of meeting up for a dinner date all gussied up, he sees me when I am sick and when I am tired and when I have just woken up in the morning with crusty eyes and messy hair. When that whirlwind of initial romance ebbs into a steady partnership, and that newness melts away into the familiar, what you’re left with is the bedrock of your connection with each other.

To me, it is most important that it be a foundation built on kindness.

I am witness to my husband’s kindness every single day. When he comes up behind me and gives me a hug for no reason. When he opens the car door for me or insists on carrying in most of the groceries. When he traps the spider and carries it outside rather than killing it. The way he sends thank-you notes and mails birthday cards. The sweet way he hugs my grandma whenever we see her. I hear the kindness in his voice on the phone — not just when he talks to me, but also when he’s on the phone with his mom or his sister. When we go visit his great-aunt Flo and take her grocery shopping, and Allyn holds her purse so she won’t lose it, gently guiding the cart through the aisles to find her oranges and graham crackers and milk. I feel the warmth of his kindness every time he holds my hand when we walk down the street, or pauses to say hello to a neighbor, or picks up a piece of litter that had blown out of someone’s trash can.

I am so proud of his kindness. So proud to be married to him.

 

When Allyn and I first moved in together, I was concerned about keeping our “spark” alive. I didn’t want us to descend into roommates, losing any semblance of mystery or romance. I refrained from doing certain grooming tasks like plucking my eyebrows or trimming my fingernails around him. We never left the door open while peeing. When we dressed up to go on date nights, I would get dressed by myself in our bedroom so I could open the door and make my entrance. {I still like to do this — it’s just more fun that way!}

We made it through almost our first two years of living together, and the first year and a half of our marriage, before we broke these rules. Or, should I say, transcended them. When I underwent emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy, suddenly I needed my husband in a way I never had before. I woke up in the hospital bed after my surgery, and I glimpsed a new layer of love in Allyn’s eyes. He kept telling me, “All that matters is that you’re okay.” That evening, before I was able to go home, the nurses wanted me to use the restroom. I felt too unsteady to walk across the hall by myself, plus I was attached to an IV pole with cumbersome wires. So Allyn held my hand and helped me slowly shuffle into the restroom. He held my arms and helped me sit down on the toilet. He stood right there as I peed. I realized I was breaking that cardinal rule I had set when we moved in together. I had believed that peeing in front of each other would be the furthest thing from romance. But, in that cold hospital bathroom, as my husband bent down to help me pull my panties back up, I felt more connected to him than I ever had before. It was a beautifully romantic moment in an ocean of grief.

In the following days and weeks, my husband’s steady kindness became my well of comfort. He helped me out of bed in the middle of the night to take my pills, then gently helped me lie back down into bed. He dried my legs off after I showered because I wasn’t supposed to bend down yet. He brought me saltine crackers and popsicles and refilled my water glass. He stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was and how amazed he was by my strength. In those days and weeks of healing, I felt stripped down to my barest self. And my husband gazed with awe at that raw, vulnerable part of me and said, “I have never loved you more than I do right now.”

It was not the stuff of romance novels. It was not the scenes I dreamed about on those lonely nights when I was single, imagining my future husband. But since going through that trying and intimate experience together, our attraction to each other has only grown and deepened. Allyn’s kindness makes me fall more and more in love with him every day.

 

I still close the bathroom door when I pluck my eyebrows and trim my nails and pee. I still hope that I retain a bit of mysterious intrigue in my husband’s eyes. But, one of the sweetest moments of our nightly routine comes right before we turn out the bedroom light, when Allyn says, “Ready for me to do your eyes?” I have dry eyes, so my doctor recommended putting in these nighttime eye drops. It is more like an eye gel, much harder than putting in normal eye drops, and I am terribly unsuccessful at doing it to myself. After witnessing me poking myself in the eye and squeezing eye gel onto the bridge of my nose, Allyn said, “Would you like me to help you with that?” So now, every night, I hold open my eyelids while he carefully puts the gel into each of my eyes.

My sweet, thoughtful, kind husband. I feel so lucky to have him. I am so glad I picked him, and he picked me.

Every night, I blink my wet eyes, put the tube of eye drops back down on my bedside table, and turn onto my side. Allyn flips off the light and kisses me goodnight. His hand finds mine under the covers as we drift off to sleep together.

To me, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • What traits are most important to you in a partner? Why?
  • Write about a time someone has shown you kindness. What happened? What did it mean to you?
  • Write about an experience when you were forced to be vulnerable around someone else. What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Think about some of the most romantic experiences in your life. Would they be considered conventionally romantic? Did any of them surprise you?

on toughness, empathy + being gentle with yourself

When I was in high school, I played on the basketball team for two years. I’ve loved basketball since I was a little girl playing for youth teams, where the coaches would sometimes bring boom-boxes to blast music during warm-ups. In elementary school I spent many recesses playing H-O-R-S-E and pick-up games with the boys. At home, we had a basketball hoop in our driveway and I found a sense of calm in the hours I spent after my homework was done, practicing my shot, my dribbling, my lay-ups, until the daylight faded away to dusk and it was time to come in for dinner. Track and cross-country are close contenders, but basketball might still be my favorite sport. I love the team camaraderie. I love the fast-paced energy of the game. I love elegance of shooting, that clean feeling when you release the ball from your hand and just know it’s going in, and then the joy of that SWISH through the net.

My freshman year of high school, I was so excited when I made the Frosh-Soph girls basketball team. Immediately, I felt welcomed and my confidence blossomed. The sophomore girls on the team were so friendly and they took me into their fold. We worked hard in practice, but the ultimate goal was to have fun. I played center or power forward, so I never dribbled the ball much. But I remember one game in particular when, for whatever reason, the defender wasn’t guarding me until I reached the half-court line. So Coach told me to dribble the ball up the court each play, and I did it successfully. I was nervous at first, because I never thought I could be a point guard! But after that game, I felt like I could do anything. Like I didn’t have to box myself into a specific role. And, the more confident I felt in myself, the better I played.

Then, mid-way through the season, the Varsity coach decided to move a girl on the JV team up to Varsity, and to move me up to the JV team. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I felt honored to be chosen, but it was a difficult situation to move into a new team partway through the season. I was the new girl at the bottom of the totem pole, playing with girls older than me and better than me who already had built their own team dynamics—on and off the court. On the Frosh-Soph team I had started every game, but now on the JV squad I sat on the bench and felt lucky to play a couple minutes. My confidence tanked, but I still tried my best to be positive and work hard.

The biggest obstacle was my new coach. A nice man off the court, during practices and games he would yell constantly. I have never been inspired by yelling. The coach constantly berated me for not being “tough” enough, and it seemed like nothing I did could convince him otherwise. No amount of showing up early for “optional” practices, busting my butt during block-out drills, or hustling up and down the court changed his option of me—that I was a nice, “soft” girl who needed to “toughen up.” It is true that I have never been an ultra-competitive person. To me, playing basketball was as much a contest against myself—to continue working hard and improving my own game—as it was a contest against the other team. I didn’t have that desire to crush my opponents, and if we lost, I shook it off pretty easily. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tough.

As I entered my sophomore year, I hoped for more stature and confidence on the JV team. Yet, the situation was pretty much unchanged from the season before. During each game, I sat on the bench, my knees jiggling. I yearned to play, but I was also filled with nerves—I worried about making a mistake and being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench again. I tried to remain confident in myself and my abilities, but it was hard.

One game will be forever etched into my memory. This was the turning point when I knew that I would not go out for the team again the following year. I just couldn’t handle the emotional toil anymore. It wasn’t worth it.

This particular game wasn’t an especially important one. It wasn’t a playoff game, nor was it a game against the rival high school across town. Personally, it was an important game to me because our family friend, my Uncle Wayne, was in town and he was planning to attend the game with my parents. I looked up to Uncle Wayne very much {I still do!} and wanted to impress him. I hoped that I would get some playing time to show my best effort.

It was a close game. In the second quarter, Coach put me in. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes. It’s possible I scored a basket or two. It’s possible I made some passes. Someone on my team fouled a player on the opposing team in the act of shooting, so we all lined up for free-throws. Since the other team was shooting, my team got to line up on the innermost spots. The player shot the first free-throw. I bent my knees, elbows out, preparing to box out for the rebound if the second free-throw was a miss.

It was. I successfully boxed out my player. But another player—a guard from the other team, who had not been boxed-out—swept in and grabbed the rebound.

Immediately, my coach was screaming. He called a time-out and we all hustled for the bench. I was not prepared for what happened next.

Coach had yelled at me before. Not just me—he yelled at all the players. He had pulled me out of the game before. He had expressed displeasure and disappointment. But it was nothing like this. Loudly, leaning right in my face, he screamed at me for not getting the rebound. He screamed that it was all my fault that we were losing. He screamed that I was “killing” the team, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I wasn’t tough enough.

I was completely caught off guard because I had boxed out my player. I didn’t expect that I had done something wrong. I didn’t think I had made a mistake. But even if I had—even if I had purposefully dribbled the wrong way down the court and deliberately scored two points for the other team—his verbal outrage would have been completely out of bounds. I realize that now. A grown man yelling in red-faced rage at a sixteen-year-old girl is never okay. Especially in front of her peers and her community.

I would learn later that it took every ounce of self-control for my father not to run down from the bleachers and yank me away from that screaming man. He didn’t want to embarrass me or cause any more of a scene. And he knew how much I loved basketball. He didn’t want to jeopardize that for me. But he—and my mom, and my brother, and Uncle Wayne—were appalled. He tried to catch my eye, so he could thump his chest with his fist in our signal for “I love you. You’re doing great.” But I wouldn’t look at him.

The reason why I wouldn’t look at my dad, or my mom or brother or Uncle Wayne, or anyone in the bleachers, was because I was ashamed. Already, as I took my place at the end of the bench and avoided my teammates’ eyes, I was internalizing my coach’s words. He was in a position of power and he was telling me that I was a loser, and in that moment I believed him. I believed that everyone in the bleachers, including my parents, saw things the way he did. Everyone thought that I was “killing” the team. Everyone thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Everyone thought I wasn’t tough. Red-hot shame coursed through my veins that I had messed up enough to deserve such a torrential smack-down.

It never crossed my mind that perhaps I didn’t deserve it. That perhaps Coach, not me, was in the wrong. That perhaps everyone sitting on the bleachers was horrified not by my playing, but by his out-of-control outrage.

Later, my parents would comfort me and I would feel better, coming to believe that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Later, they would schedule a meeting with my coach and talk with him about the incident, although he would never apologize. Later, I would decide to end my basketball career and focus on cross-country and track, and later still I would become involved with my high school’s drama department, which was a life-changing experience in the best way. Although I still loved the game of basketball, I did not miss the self-doubt and negativity that came from playing on that team.

These days, I only think of my old coach very occasionally, when I make a mistake and catch the way I’m talking to myself. Not usually, but sometimes, the words that I say to myself could be coming directly out of the screaming mouth of my old coach.

I can’t believe you just did that! What were you thinking? You ruined everything! You’re so stupid! It’s all your fault!

Whenever I catch myself doing this {like that time I spilled green tea all over the table} I feel a punch in my gut. I try to immediately silence that critical voice in my head by taking a few deep breaths. Then I ask myself,

How would you talk to your best friend or one of your students if they were in this situation?

The answer: I most certainly would not yell or berate them. I would treat them with gentleness, compassion, and understanding. I would offer words of encouragement and support. I would tell them that everything was going to be okay. I would build them up by reminding them of their past successes.

My self deserves that same courtesy and love.

Unfortunately, it is likely that every single person reading this has been yelled at before. Perhaps you were yelled at by a parent, or a teacher, or a coach, or a boss. Or perhaps you yell at yourself when you do something wrong. These experiences bury themselves inside us. They can last for a long time, their reverberations rippling outward to the present. {Recent studies have shown the damaging effects that yelling and shouting can have on children and teens—possibly as detrimental as physical hitting.} A friend told me recently that, as a child, he always felt much more at ease when he was over at a friend’s house and their dad was at work. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the reason: his own dad was a frequent yeller who frightened him, and so he was frightened and nervous of his friends’ dads, too. He associated all men with yelling.

It is up to each one of us to break the cycle. Not only in our behavior towards others, but also in the way we treat ourselves.

I do not want to be an angry basketball coach screaming at my self. Instead, I want to be like the coach of my Frosh-Soph team, who made me feel confident enough to be point guard for a game even though I had never played that position before. Who never would have yelled at me, even if I had failed—and, with that knowledge, helped give me the confidence to succeed. I want to talk to myself the way that my dad and mom and brother and Uncle Wayne talked to me that fateful day, taking in the shadows of my shame and erasing them with light. I want to talk to myself the way that Allyn talks to me, centering me with his calm support and love no matter what happens.

After all, that little voice inside my head is powerful. It is the only voice that I hear all day, every day. It never, ever needs to yell to be heard. A gentle, compassionate whisper will do just fine.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open up your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a time when someone yelled at you. What was your response? How can you find peace with this memory and move forward?
  • Write down a list of self-talk phrases you often direct at yourself. Are they positive or negative? How can you be more kind and gentle to yourself? Look at your negative words. What are some loving phrases you could replace them with?
  • Who in your life makes you feel loved and supported? What does this person say to you? Write down these words of affirmation. Can you say them to yourself?

30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

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

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

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

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

thank you note

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

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

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

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

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jewell

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

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

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

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

me and amber rubarth 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

a year of Wooden: week 30

Hi, everyone! Hope you had a lovely Labor Day weekend! Dana is visiting and we spent a gorgeous day soaking up the sunshine in Santa Barbara. I love having this beautiful inside-and-out person for a friend!

me and dana sb

Now it’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge… and we’re into a new month, which means a new topic!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry.

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. Now, back-to-school time seems the perfect season to return to this idea of learning, curiosity, and growth through reading. I want to include a special focus on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry. He could recite many poems by heart and even wrote poetry himself. So, for the month of September, we are going to delve into poetry.

But before moving forward, let’s wrap up August’s focus on balance. Last week’s challenge was to try to do one activity from each of your categories every day. My main categories are:

  • Family & friends
  • Work
  • Writing
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

Here are some activities I did this past week: spent quality time with my grandparents {my grandma is healing very well from her hip operation!} and extended family, as well as my parents, sweetheart, and Dana; put in a solid 12-15 hours of editing work; revised 80+ pages of my work-in-progress; submitted pieces to three journals; watched a fun movie and read some of my favorite blogs; wrote in my gratitude journal and meditated; and did lots and lots of walking in the sunshine!

I still want to get back into my yoga routine, which has been difficult with all the traveling I’ve been doing lately. Does anyone have good beginner yoga YouTube videos to recommend, since I haven’t been able to make it to my favorite classes in-person?

It can be overwhelming {not to mention impossible} trying to “have it all” and “do it all”… so last week’s challenge was important for me. I shifted my mind-set away from trying to cram 1,001 things into each day and instead focused on making time for two or three of my key categories every day. Just as I had hoped, over the course of the week I did feel much more balanced and peaceful — and happy! I’m definitely planning to continue this routine.

To kick of the month of September, for this week’s challenge, I am going to read Selected Poems of Robert Frost.

Selected Poems Robert Frost

You can also read many of Robert Frost’s poems online here. Next week, I’ll share my favorite poem from the collection, and I’d love to hear yours as well!

Questions for the day:

  • How did your month of balance go? Did you learn anything about yourself?
  • Who are some of your favorite poets?

P.S. A special birthday shout-out to Holly, who turned 27 yesterday!

me and hol brunch

I love you so much, my dear friend!

a year of Wooden: week 29

Happy Monday, friends! It’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.

Coach Wooden said, “The two most important words in the English language are LOVE and BALANCE.” In July, we focused on the first of those: cultivating and nurturing more love in our lives. Now, in August, we are working to create better balance in our lives.

balance quote

Last week’s challenge was to look at the inventory of the key components that make up each of your categories and think about how these activities might come together in a balanced way to create your “perfect ordinary day.” My main categories are:

  • Family & friends
  • Work
  • Writing
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

My “perfect ordinary day” would be a stress-free morning spent waking up slowly with meditation, gratitude journaling, and a hot mug of tea; three or four hours of diligent writing on my creative work-in-progress; an afternoon spent blogging, working on editing projects, and teaching; nourishment throughout the day from healthy, nutritious meals; yoga class or a nice walk; time spent with family and friends; and reading for half an hour before bed from a great book.

For this week’s challenge, try to do one activity from each of your categories every day. See what it feels like. Be flexible and give yourself grace. For example, if I’m having an especially busy day, maybe I can’t make it to yoga class but I am able to do a fifteen-minute core circuit routine before bed. Maybe you can’t meet up with a friend in person, but you can connect with them over email or text message to let them know you are thinking of them.

Remember: balance does not happen overnight, and it means cultivating a routine of mindfulness. The goal is to focus on making time for each of your key categories — each day might not be perfectly balanced, but over the course of the week you should feel balanced between all of your categories. Let me know how it goes!

Questions for the day:

  • What does a “perfect ordinary day” look like for you?
  • What activities do you want to make time for in your life this week?

a year of Wooden: week 28

Hi everyone! It’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.

Coach Wooden said, “The two most important words in the English language are LOVE and BALANCE.” In July, we focused on the first of those: cultivating and nurturing more love in our lives. Now, in August, we are working to create better balance in our lives.

balance quote

Last week’s challenge was to identify the four or five key areas of your life. Here are mine:

  • Family & friends
  • Work
  • Writing
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

I differentiated “work” from “writing” because I do a variety of tasks as part of my job other than writing, but I feel the need to write every day in order to feel happy and productive. If I only do other work-related projects, such as teaching and blogging and publicity stuff — but no writing — then it doesn’t feel like a wholly fulfilling day to me. So “writing” is important enough to me to be its own separate category.

For me, “mental health” includes the things that I need to de-stress and center myself: meditation, reading for pleasure, volunteering. “Physical health” encompasses exercise {yoga, walks, core exercises} and also eating healthfully {and carving out the time to cook healthful meals!}

Source: http://www.pinterest.com/explore/inspiration-quotes/

Source: pinterest

For this week’s challenge, look at the inventory of the key components that make up each of your categories. Now, spend a little while daydreaming about how these activities might come together in a balanced way to create your perfect ordinary day. I want to make the distinction between “perfect day” and “perfect ordinary day” because I think to a lot of us, a “perfect day” would be comprised of vacation-type activities. This is certainly lovely and fun to think about, but probably isn’t sustainable over the long-term.

Instead, for this challenge, I want you to think about how you can make your ordinary, everyday days be the best possible masterpiece days they can be. And that means putting together a roadmap of balanced activities from each of the core important areas of your life!

Questions for the day:

  • What are the key areas/categories in your life?
  • What does a “perfect ordinary day” look like for you?

a year of Wooden: week 27

Hi everyone! I’m coming at you with this week’s year of Wooden challenge… and we’re into August, which means a new monthly focus!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.

Coach Wooden said, “The two most important words in the English language are LOVE and BALANCE.” In July, we focused on the first of those: cultivating and nurturing more love in our lives. Now, in August, we’ll strive to create better balance in our lives.

Last week’s challenge was to go beyond just saying, “I love you” and SHOW someone your love. The aim was to do seven loving gestures for the week, one every day. I made a phone call to check in on a friend, lavished compliments and praise on my students, sent a card to my brother, helped my grandparents entertain guests, mailed a care package, treated my mom to fro-yo, and tried to up my share of household chores. Lots of little gestures, but they brought smiles to the faces of those I love, and made me feel more loved and happy in turn.

balance quote

To kick off our new month’s focus on balance, this week’s challenge is to identify the four or five key areas of your life. These should be broad categories, like “Family/Friends”, “Work”, “Hobbies” and “Exercise.” Next, jot down a few things describing each one. For example, under my “Exercise” category I would write down “yoga, walks, core strength” while under “Hobbies” I might identify “knitting, baking, blogging, reading.” In this way, you’re taking an inventory of the key components that make up your life and happiness. For the rest of month, we’ll work on getting them in balance!

Questions for the day:

  • What was your over-all experience in the month of July with our focus on love? Does your life feel more full and rich with love than it did before?
  • What are the key areas/categories in your life?

a year of Wooden: week 26

Hi everyone! Time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.

Coach Wooden said, “The two most important words in the English language are LOVE and BALANCE.” This month, we’ll be focusing on the first of those: cultivating and nurturing more love in our lives. Next month, we’ll strive to create better balance in our lives.

Last week’s challenge was to write a love letter to yourself. Surprisingly, this was actually quite a bit harder for me than it was to write a love letter to someone else. At first I felt uncomfortable. I think I am a fairly confident person, and yet it seemed silly to be spending time writing down things I love about myself. Why is that? Did any of you have a similar experience?

I think many of us are trained to focus on our flaws and weaknesses, to always try to improve ourselves, that we don’t spend nearly enough time acknowledging our strengths. By the end of my love letter to myself, I had tears in my eyes. I felt so grateful to be alive and to be ME. I wrote my letter in my journal, and now I plan to go back and read it every so often, anytime I am feeling down about myself.

This week’s challenge is to go beyond just saying, “I love you” and SHOW someone your love. This doesn’t have to be a romantic gesture; doing your roommate’s dishes, helping your little brother with his homework, bringing a coworker coffee, giving your spouse a back rub — anything kind and thoughtful shows the people in your life that you appreciate them. Aim to do seven loving gestures this week, one every day. Let me know how it goes!

Questions for the day:

  • What was you experience writing a love letter to yourself?
  • When was the last time someone made you feel really appreciated?

27 acts of kindness for my 27th birthday

Last week, I shared that my birthday wish for this year was to create a “kindness chain” … I spent the week doing 27 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 27th birthday. It was my favorite birthday celebration ever! And even though my birthday has officially come and gone, it’s not too late to join in on the kindness chain. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

here they are…

my 27 acts of kindness:

1. Leave a complimentary note in a public place. I left these notes in the bathroom at Starbucks.

bathroom notes

2. Pay for someone else’s coffee drink. I bought a $5 gift card at Starbucks and asked the barista to use it to pay for someone else’s drink later that day. I asked if he would use it for someone who seemed stressed out, or someone who was particularly friendly or nice to him. “That’s really cool!” he said, giving me a big smile.

starbucks card

3. Give a meal to a homeless person. Last Friday night Dana and I went out to a delicious pizza place in Berkeley called Jupiter and we split a wood-fire pizza topped with a variety of cheeses, garlic, potatoes and bacon. At the end of our meal we had a few slices remaining and I took them to go. On the way to my car, I gave the boxed up leftovers to a very grateful and sweet homeless man, who offered to share them with me but it was late and I told him I needed to be on my way. “Bless you!” he called after me. I would have taken a picture of him, but it was dark. You’ll have to use your imagination and picture him smiling.

4. Write a kind note. I wrote cards to a number of friends + family members this week to say hi and let them know I’m grateful to have them in my life!

kind notes

5. Pay for someone else’s meal. I bought a $20 gift card at Panera and then handed it back to the cashier and asked if she would use it to pay for the meal of a family that came in. She looked surprised and said, “Oh my goodness, really?” I explained that it is my birthday. She said, “It’s YOUR birthday and you’re giving this to someone else?” Yep, that’s the idea! 🙂

Panera surprise

6. Put money into strangers’ parking meters. I left a handful of quarters on top of this parking garage payment machine.

parking garage payment

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

8. Write a note of appreciation to a co-worker. I wrote a note to one of my co-workers at Communications Academy who did a terrific job subbing for me when I was out of town for Julie’s wedding.

9. Pick up litter. Over the week I collected a pretty big bag of trash, simply by picking up litter on the ground I saw in my daily life!

litter

10. Bring snacks to yoga class. When I think back to my 26th birthday, it’s crazy to realize that I hadn’t ever taken a yoga class at that point. Yoga has become one of my favorite rituals — definitely one of the best habits I’ve picked up in the past year. I absolutely love my biweekly Hatha yoga class. I’ve become friends with my fellow yogis, who always brighten my day with their warmth and positivity. This week I brought some energy bars to class to say thank you!

yoga snacks 20140529_092909

11. Visit residents in a nursing home. In honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May — we used to always celebrate our birthdays together — I brought some homemade cookies and kind notes to a local nursing home. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Give a treat to a toll-booth worker or gatekeeper. I gave cookies to the man who works the security gate at my neighborhood. He was surprised and excited — I guess it had been a long day working, and he was hungry! Chocolate-chip cookies always do the trick.

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. I went shopping two times this past week, and each time I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

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

15. Send a thank-you note. I sent a couple thank you notes this week … and now I have a many more to send to thank my friends and family for their generous, thoughtful birthday gifts yesterday! 🙂

thank you notes

16. Write a 5-star review on Amazon. I wrote 5-star reviews for three books I’ve enjoyed lately: The Bigness of The World by Lori Ostlund; Beautiful Soon Enough by Margo Berdeshevsky; and 20-Something, 20-Everything by Christine Hassler.

17. Compliment a salesperson to his or her supervisor. I had a really wonderful and helpful woman ring me up at CVS, and afterwards I thanked her and asked how I could pass along my compliments about her to the higher-ups. She wrote down the info on the bottom of my receipt, and as soon as I got home I sent in feedback. Debra, you are fantastic!

receipt cvs

18. Bring treats for my students. I brought chocolate-chip cookies to my Communications Academy classes, and oh man were the kids excited!

cookies

19. Scatter lucky pennies on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood, where I sometimes go to write and read under the trees. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

lucky pennies

20. Bring treats to the hospital staff. My Gramps and two uncles are surgeons, and my cousin Julie is currently in medical school {so proud of you, Julie!} so I know personally the dedication, selflessness and generous care that doctors and nurses give their patients. I brought half a dozen muffins and scones to the emergency room at the local hospital as a small gesture of thanks.

hospital treats 20140530_122639 20140530_124457

21. Let someone go ahead of you in line. At the A’s game on Monday, I let a number of people go ahead of me in the {always long!} line for the women’s restroom; a couple mothers with children were especially grateful.

me and al a's game

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

clothes for goodwill

23. Pay the toll for the car behind you in line. When Allyn and I drove into San Francisco to go to the California Academy of Sciences for my birthday {so much fun!} we paid the toll for the car behind us in line. The tollbooth worker was at first confused, then surprised, then pleased by the gesture. It was especially sweet of Allyn to indulge me in this act of kindness because he has a Fastrak beeper and we had to go through the slower line to pay cash for another car’s toll.

24. Give a note and a chocolate bar to the mailman. Our mailman is very friendly and nice, always taking extra care to bring packages to the door if it is raining, and always waving hello when we see him on the street. I left a chocolate bar and thank-you note in the mailbox as a surprise for him.

thank you for mailman

mailman note

25. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. When I was waiting in line at the grocery store, these pretty balloons at the checkout stand caught my eye. I thought about how excited I was to get balloons as a child, which gave me an idea: I bought one of the balloons, then handed it back to the checker and asked her to give it to a child who passed through her line sometime that day. She was excited and delighted to do so.

grocery store balloon

26. Leave a really big tip. I gave an especially big tip to the friendly barista at one of my favorite independent coffee shops, who recommended a delicious tropical green tea to me.

27. Give someone flowers. I bought a bouquet of carnations at the grocery store, and then removed the rubber bands and separated the bouquet into individual flowers. When I went to the bank to get a roll of pennies to scatter at the playground, I gave the flowers to the bank teller and asked if she would pass out flowers to customers. As I left, I heard the man in line behind me ask in a surprised voice, “Did she just give you flowers?” I hope she gave him one! 🙂

20140530_132211

birthday carnations

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness this week! You have made this birthday my most special yet, and this is definitely a birthday tradition I hope to continue for many years to come!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

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

my birthday wish + giveaway

Hi, friends, and happy Thursday! My 27th birthday is a week from today, and during the next week I’m planning to celebrate by doing 27 random acts of kindness! I’m really excited about it and will be sharing highlights and photos from all the acts of kindness next week, so stay tuned.

my birthday wish

In the meantime, I’d love to invite you to join in on the kindness! Just like last year, I’d love if you would create a random acts of kindness chain with me. To participate all you have to do is perform an act of kindness in the next week, and then leave a comment below sharing what you did.

On Friday, May 30, I’ll randomly select one winner from all the comments to receive a personally autographed copy of my collection of short stories, 3 a.m.

3 a.m. book cover

I’m so excited to hear about all the love and kindness you spread in the world this week! Looking for ideas of random acts of kindness? Here are 52 of them!

Questions of the day:

  • Have you ever participated in a kindness chain before?
  • What are your favorite ways to celebrate your birthday?