fun-filled “staycation” weekend

My brother found a cheap flight from NYC to the Bay Area and came to visit us for a long weekend! He was our first houseguest, and we loved sharing our little apartment with him. I went grocery shopping on Friday evening to stock up on favorite items for our houseguest and Allyn was very thorough about checking the comfort of the air mattress.

My brother said that the timing of the trip could not have been more perfect for him because last week incredibly busy, both at work and in his personal life — he is moving to a new apartment, AND his workplace moved to a new office, AND he had a big work event this past Friday. He said it was really nice to fly out to California and relax for a couple days! I told him that it felt like a vacation for us to have him here — a “staycation,” if you will. Allyn and I had so much fun showing him around our town and taking him to our favorite places. Allyn joked that we’ll need to wrack our brains to come up with things to do next time he visits, because we did everything there is to do in our little town!

Saturday

Saturday morning we slept in a bit and I made smoothies and pancakes for breakfast. Then we headed over to the Lake Chabot recreational park down the street and went for a walk around the lake. We also showed Greg the picnic area we reserved for my 30th birthday party in a few months! Allyn is super on top of party planning, which is good, because apparently picnic spots get booked up six months in advance. We were lucky to nab one for the first weekend in June.

After 45 minutes or so, we headed back home and got all cleaned up to head over to a “gender reveal” party for dear friends of ours who are expecting a baby in August. We could not be more excited for them — they’re going to be such great parents! Greg met them during our wedding festivities and actually got together with them in the fall when they were out visiting NYC, so he has become friends with them too. The timing worked out perfectly that he was in town to come along to their party! It was my first time attending a gender reveal party and the concept was so much fun. They asked guests to wear either blue or pink to the party, depending on what gender you thought the baby was going to be. Then, towards the end of the party, the parents-to-be cut open a cake to reveal either blue or pink. We all wore blue, even though Allyn thought it was going to be a girl {he just didn’t have anything pink to wear.} For some reason, I had this overwhelming feeling that they were having a boy. I felt pretty dang confident. And I was right! It’s exciting to imagine them welcoming a baby boy in just a few months.

The party was a blast — lots of Allyn’s friends from high school were there. I love these people but we don’t get to see them as often as we would like, due to everyone’s busy schedules. In fact, we hadn’t seen most of the gang since our wedding six months ago! It was great to chat and catch up with everyone over delicious “soul food”: fried chicken, black-eyed peas and rice, mac and cheese, cornbread, greens. There was enough food and cake to feed an army, and the hosts insisted that all the guests take home leftovers. We left the party around 5:30 and, while we had originally planned on taking Greg to a local Thai restaurant that night for dinner, none of us were feeling like eating again anytime soon. Sleepiness hit, along with a rainstorm, and nothing sounded better than changing into pajamas and cozying up on the couch to watch a movie. So that is exactly what we did! We picked up the movie “Arrival” from Redbox on the way home, which we had all been wanting to see. I was worried the movie might be a bit too scary for me {I am such a horror movie wimp} but it wasn’t scary at all, just suspenseful. The story was told in an interesting way that kept you guessing, all the way up to the enigmatic ending. It was definitely a good movie to watch with other people, so you can all discuss it afterwards.

Sunday

Early in the morning I had a couple student writing appointments scheduled, so after a shower and a quick breakfast of two defrosted muffins from the freezer, I slipped out while the boys were still sleeping. When I returned home a couple hours later, Allyn was making breakfast and Greg had just returned from a run. I joined them for breakfast #2, and soon we all headed out the door for an afternoon of fun!

Our first stop was the local bowling alley where we made it just in time to take advantage of their “before noon” weekend discount. When bowling, my goal is always to break 100. I got the closest I could come without actually meeting my goal: 99! I bowled more 9’s that game than I ever have in my life. Allyn and Greg both broke 100, Greg edging out Allyn with a spare in the final frame to win the game, 114 to 108. It was a close match! The bowling alley was hoppin’ — lots of families and little kids with bumper lanes — and it was fun to be part of the festive atmosphere.

After bowling we walked a few minutes to this cool shop called Aran’s Art Studio that Allyn and I had passed by many times and had always wanted to check out. In addition to teaching classes and hosting birthday parties, they also have a large selection of pottery that you can drop in anytime and select to paint with your own designs. When you’re done, you leave the pottery and they glaze and fire it, then call you to come pick it up when it’s ready {usually within a week, according to the helpful receptionist.} It sounded like fun, so we each chose a piece to paint. I used to love painting when I was a girl, and I’d forgotten how soothing it can be. About an hour later, we left the painting studio feeling relaxed and also energized by our creations. I can’t wait to see what they look like glazed and fired! Greg sweetly picked out a vase he painted for me, so I get to keep his piece, too!

We had just enough time to squeeze in lunch at one of our favorite local restaurants, Don Jose’s, before I had to head off to teach my weekly Creative Writing class. While I was gone, the boys went to the movie theater down the street to see the movie “Logan” {which I was grateful for because I really did not want to see it — too violent for my taste!} They really liked it but confirmed that yes, it was much too gory for me. It made it easier for me to be away knowing that they were seeing a movie I definitely did not want to see!

When I arrived home from teaching around 7pm, Allyn and Greg were putting the finishing touches on a Blue Apron meal they cooked for dinner! Tangelo-glazed salmon with apple farro and an extra side of green beans. {The meals we order from Blue Apron are portioned for two people, so I bought an extra fillet of salmon and some green beans at the grocery store to round out the meal and make it enough food for three!} The meal was aaaaamazing and we all toasted the chefs!

After dinner, we played a few rounds of a supremely fun card game called “Guillotine” that Allyn’s sister introduced us to a while ago. It is a simple premise, so the game is easy to learn, but it uses a combination of logic, strategy and luck that really keeps your interest. Usually my go-to activity after dinner is to relax on the couch with a TV show or movie, but having Greg here reminded me how much I love playing board games and card games, too!

During the game we enjoyed some leftover cake from the party on Saturday. Allyn made his typical sugar feast of an ice cream dish! He cracks me up. I tease him that he has the sugar tooth of an eight-year-old!

Monday

Greg and I have a tradition of going out for breakfast or brunch together. So on his last morning in town, Allyn and I took him to a gem of a breakfast place down the street, called Doug’s Place. It’s been in town since 1978 and has the homey atmosphere and huge portions of a local staple. Allyn ordered the “light” breakfast {which would be a normal-sized breakfast at any other restaurant: two eggs, bacon and toast} and Greg and I split a ginormous veggie omelet and French toast. I loved both items, but the French toast was the winner in my book!

Allyn didn’t have to work, and the rain was kindly holding off, so after breakfast we headed over to the mini-golf course. On a gray-skied Monday morning, we had the place to ourselves! It felt like we were kids playing hooky from school. The course is a lot of fun with some very creative hole designs. Greg got a hole-in-one!

For lunch, Greg said he was in the mood for “a fast-casual Mediterranean place” and, thanks to Yelp’s help, I was able to find a great spot called Shish Grill that was on the way to our afternoon activities. The boys ordered chicken shawarma and I got a falafel sandwich. The restaurant was busy with a lunch crowd but we were very impressed by the service and the food! After lunch, we stopped by my grandparents’ house as a surprise. Grandma is out of town visiting her sister, but Grandpap was home and he was so excited to see his grandson. The look on his face when Greg popped out from around the corner was priceless! We had a really nice time visiting with him.

Next up, we dropped off Greg at the gorgeous Lafayette Reservoir for a run while Allyn and I went to our tax appointment. Taxes are never very fun, but our appointment was less painful than I was anticipating, and I was excited about our first time filing as a married couple! #relationshipmilestones

The timing worked out perfectly and we swung around to the Lafayette Reservoir just as Greg was finishing his cool-down. I wish we lived closer to the reservoir because it is such a peaceful place to walk around. Fun fact: Allyn and I went to the Lafayette Reservoir for our second date, and it was the location of our first kiss!

We headed back home and Greg showered and packed up his stuff while Allyn and I made another Blue Apron meal for dinner. This recipe was chicken yakiniku with bok choy, sesame-marinated carrots and garlic rice, and it was another winner. Yakiniku, according to Blue Apron, is “a type of barbecue sauce that combines the sweet notes of teriyaki with the savory depth of sesame.” We all thought it was delicious and not too spicy! To ensure the meal would be enough for three people, I simply added some additional veggies and the boys also polished off leftover corn muffins from Saturday’s party.

After dinner we had just enough time for a rematch of “Guillotine.” Then, all too soon, it was time to drive Greg to the airport to catch his flight home. His visit went by so fast, but it also felt so full in the best way. I can’t wait until he visits again!

Questions of the day:

  • What are your favorite places in your hometown to take guests when they visit?
  • Have you ever had a “staycation” before?
  • What is your favorite card/board game or favorite movie you’ve seen recently?

fabulous friday #49

Hi, friends, and happy weekend! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This movie: Hank & Asha. My brother sent me a link to it after he watched it on AmazonPrime, and I watched it earlier this week. I was hooked from the first five minutes! It’s a beautiful, unconventional love story told solely through video messages the two characters send to each other. I would definitely recommend checking it out!

2. On the topic of entertainment, I’ve found a new TV show that I’m working my way through… Manhattan Love Story! Does anyone else watch this one? It’s a new show in its first season and I’ve been watching it from the beginning on Hulu. I was missing my love-story sitcom ever since “A to Z” bit the dust {you’ll always have a place in my heart, Andrew + Zelda!} and Manhattan Love Story fills this void perfectly. Fingers crossed this one sticks around!

3. I’ve tried out some new recipes that turned out pretty well this week: an Italian chicken-and-peppers quinoa bowl that I’ll share with you soon; a veggie butternut squash chili {similar to this recipe but with squash subbed for the ground turkey and black beans subbed for the kidney beans, and quinoa added}; and a raspberry-apple cobbler, similar to this one but using raspberries and raspberry preserves instead of pumpkin butter. It was delicious served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top!

raspberry crumble

4. Thanks to The Literary Nest for including my story “The Man Who Lives In My Shower” in their debut issue! This story originally appeared in Zahir: a journal of speculative fiction back in 2010, and it’s wonderful to see it get some renewed attention. You can read it here.

5. This quote I rediscovered today through Timehop:

“Always remember that striving and struggling precede success, even in the dictionary.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Questions for the evening:

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

fabulous friday #48

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have some fun things on the agenda today and are enjoying the lovely spring weather!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My friends and family and all the love they bring into my life every single day. Losing Celine not only made me reflect on all the ways I am so grateful for her and how fortunate I feel that I got to be her friend — the loss has also made me more deeply appreciate all the people I love. This week specifically I am grateful for: phone calls from my parents and Greg; a Skype date with my friend Chidelia, who lives in China; a phone call with Ben {who actually met up with Greg when he was visiting NYC for a few days}; a phone call with Janet before she left for an amazing writing residency in Scotland; texts and emails with Holly; a dinner date with my sweetheart; and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Dana.

st pattys with dana

2. Later daylight hours thanks to Daylight Savings Time. There’s something about this time of year that always gives me so much energy and hopefulness. It feels like the start of new beginnings. I can feel the long summer days on the horizon. I love driving home from my tutoring appointments in the daylight and being able to watch the sunset out the window as I make dinner.

3. I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday, and it went great! I’ve been having some pain in both of my legs, and wasn’t sure what was wrong, so I went to an orthopedist who recommended PT. The physical therapist was so knowledgable, helpful, and optimistic about my recovery, which made me feel SO good! She watched me walk {apparently I have a collapsed arch, which might be at the root of my problems} and gave me some exercises to do at home with this resistance band.

physical therapy

She also gave me a deep tissue massage to loosen up the tight, painful area on both my legs, and taught me how to do an ice massage afterwards. I’m also going to order orthodics for my shoes, which I’m hopeful will help.

Have any of you done PT before? My parents both have, and it really helped both of their issues {my mom’s knee and my dad’s shoulder.} I walked away from my first appointment feeling VERY impressed, and looking forward to my appointment next week! Thanks for all of your kind words and good thoughts. 🙂

4. Last week, when I was smack in the middle of a pretty nasty head cold, Allyn cooked me dinner and rented this movie I’ve been wanting to see, titled What If? It stars Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and Zoe Kazan who you may have seen in Ruby Sparks … I just love her. Anyway, the movie was one of my favorites I’ve seen in quite a while. Cute, funny, sweet, the right amount of quirky. I’d highly recommend it for your next date night rental!

5. One of my goals for 2015 is to work on setting healthy boundaries, something I’ve never been all that great at. I thought this article by Lissa Rankin was on point: http://lissarankin.com/can-you-navigate-love-with-healthy-boundaries. For me, saying no and setting boundaries is much easier said than done, but I’m working on it!

BONUS: If you’re looking for a great veggie dinner recipe, I made these butternut squash & black bean enchiladas the other night for Allyn and I, and we both loved them. They were also inexpensive, easy to throw together, and you can make them in advance and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to bake & serve.

enchiladas

Apologies for the bad lighting in this pic… but trust me, they were delicious!

BONUS #2: Major CONGRATS to my cousin Julie who matched at UCLA to become an OB/Gyn! So proud of her {and excited she’ll be moving back to California!!}

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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

new haircut! & other random tidbits

Hello, friends! Just poppin’ in to say hello. How is your day going?

It’s been a busy morning around here… my favorite kind of busy, productive weekday morning. I woke up early and, after a bowl of oatmeal with sliced apple and walnuts, I headed over to Starbucks for a pumpkin chai latte and a couple hours of writing. This afternoon, I’ve got some tutoring and editing projects on the agenda.

starbucks work sesh

Here are some odds & ends on my mind today…

I got a haircut! Crazy how something as simple as trimming a couple inches off my hair can make me feel so rejuvenated.

new haircut

I’m so happy The Good Wife is back! The first episode of the season was a real nail-biter and I am already on pins-and-needles for next week! The Good Wife is one of the only shows I watch on a regular basis. My parents, grandparents, and aunt Annie watch it, too, so it’s fun discussing each new episode every Monday morning. Do you have any shows like that?

On Sunday night Allyn watched my favorite romantic movie, Serendipity, with me! There’s something about autumn that always makes me crave this movie. As I told Allyn: “My love for Serendpity will never die.” I also love the beautiful instrumental theme song of the movie, January Rain by David Gray.

Serendipity

Yesterday Grandma and I watched the movie Iris on TV about the life of British writer Iris Murdoch. I thought it was heartbreaking but really well done, and now I’m inspired to read Irish Murdoch’s books — I think I might start with her classic The Sea, The Sea.

Speaking of books and writers… I tweeted to JoJo Moyes about how much I loved her book One Plus One, and she tweeted me back! September must be the month for celebrity encounters… remember last year when I ran into Casey James at Starbucks?

jojo moyes tweet

I made a batch of my favorite pb cup brownies {I gave most to Allyn but kept a couple for myself, too!} and I’ll probably polish off the last one tonight. Treats like this just make the week feel more special.

pb cup brownies

Questions of the day:

  • What are your favorite TV shows?
  • Has someone you admire every replied to a tweet you sent? Or have you ever had a celebrity encounter?
  • What treats make your ordinary days more special?

a year of Wooden: week 4

Happy Monday, friends! I’m enjoying a special day today with my cousins Makena & Bianca, who are off school for a teacher inservice day. We baked delicious apple cinnamon muffins this morning, and this afternoon we’re going to the movie theaters to see “Frozen.”

bianca makena

Last night we had a lovely family birthday celebration for my cousin Arianna. I really liked this new tradition we started while eating dinner: everyone went around the table and said one word they would use to describe Arianna. It was such a sweet & heartfelt way to celebrate her!

arianna bday

This year I am doing “a year of Wooden” following the teachings of Coach John Wooden, and in particular his 7-Point Creed.

a year of wooden

I’m beginning the year with the Creed’s first item:

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.

This past week I read Coach Wooden’s children’s book, Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. Even though I’m not a child anymore, I still deeply enjoy this book. I think sometimes grown-ups — more than anyone! — need to be reminded that true success isn’t money or material possessions or the amount of Instagram followers you have. True success trying your best, day by day, little by little, and being authentic to your own unique self. This charming picture book is perfect for the child in all of us.

To summarize this month’s challenge of “drinking deeply from good books” we read:
Wooden & Me: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach & Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”
Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off The Court
Inch & Miles: The Journey to Success

Since Coach Wooden was also a devoted Christian, I’m also going to work on reading more of the Bible this year. I’m participating in #SheReadsTruth, an online community of women that sends out a daily email with a Bible verse and contemplation questions.

Next week, moving into February, we’ll move on to the second monthly challenge in this year of learning from Coach Wooden!

Questions of the day:

  • What are your final thoughts on the books we read this month?
  • What is your personal idea of “true success”?
  • Do you have any fun birthday traditions in your family?

fabulous friday #9

Happy Friday, friends!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Caramel turtle brownies. I made these a couple nights ago, improvising a little on the recipe directions by placing a Rolo caramel candy in the center of each one. {I was inspired by my peanut butter cup brownies!} They turned out delicious, though quite caramel-y… my grandparents teased me about having to drink lots of hot coffee while eating these babies in order to get the caramel off their teeth! So you have been warned.

caramel brownies

2. Artsy movie theaters. This week, I had my first experience going to a movie theater where they serve dinner and drinks during the movie. It was so neat! I felt way classy sipping on my glass of wine, reclining in my comfy movie theater seat. We saw “Nebraska” and I would highly recommend it — one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. It is a brilliantly told story about flawed, relatable characters who are recognizable and human, just doing the best they can for each other. I laughed, I cried and I was sad when it was over!

3. The Plain White T’s. I was really into the Plain White T’s back in college {ahh, the “Hey There Delilah” days …} but I’d sort of forgotten about their music these past couple years. However I love their new song “The Giving Tree” and this week I’ve been listening to a bunch of their stuff, old and new, on youtube. Here’s one of my faves of the moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYg3g6LX0DE

4. Long phone chats with friends. My far-flung friends and I have gotten into the habit of scheduling “phone dates” at least once a month, and I’m so glad that we do. It helps me stay close to wonderful friends and keep up-to-date on their lives even when we don’t get to see each other in person very often. I also love that my brother makes time to talk to me on the phone, pretty much every day. We have so many inside jokes and nobody else on the planet makes me laugh like he does!

me and gb goofy

5. My beautiful cousin Arianna is turning Sweet Sixteen on Sunday! I’m so excited to celebrate with her all weekend long. Happy birthday, sweetheart!

me and arianna

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving on this fine Friday?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

fabulous friday #6

Hooray, it’s the first Friday of 2014! What fun things do you have on the agenda?

Here’s what I’m loving right now:

1. I love music and I love senior citizens, so a friend recommended I watch the documentary film Young at Heart about a senior citizens choir group that performs rock songs. I watched it with my brother and I can’t remember the last time I saw such an amazingly inspirational movie. I even cried, and movies hardly ever make me cry. Here’s a sneak peak: watch their beautiful rendition of the Coldplay classic “Fix You.”

young at heart

2. Starbucks salted caramel hot chocolate. Pour in some Kahlua and you’ve really got it made!

starbucks cocoa

3. Sara Bareilles’ gorgeously bittersweet song “Manhattan.” I especially love the live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05GZ6G2FZLM

4. Jon Stewart’s heartfelt send-off to John Oliver, who is getting his own show on HBO and so is leaving The Daily Show after 7 years. I got teary-eyed at the end, I’ll admit!

5. Board game night with my family. We played Sorry! and it was a close race … in the end, Greg stealthily snuck up from dead last place to a thrilling comeback victory! I, on the other hand, went from leading the pack to ending the game in fourth-and-last place. I blame my red checker piece! {At some point in childhood we lost one of the red pieces so the checker became a substitute.} Mr. Mur-dog wanted in on the fun and was sassy, as usual.

fam board game

close game

red checker piece

sassy murray

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for this first weekend of 2014?

my valentine’s day plans

valentines week

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My lunch today is leftover tilapia, veggies, and — to make things a little special! — a couple of red velvet crinkle cookies. I made them yesterday to deliver to the nursing home along with valentines for my Week 6 Year of Kindness Challenge, and they are just the way I like cookies to be: dense, chewy, soft in the middle and crispy around the edges. YUM!

red velvet cookies

After I finish teaching, I have plans for dinner and then a late show of the new Nicholas Sparks movie Safe Haven. I’m so excited!

safe haven

I came across this Valentine’s poster idea from Julie at PB Fingers and I wanted to show you this morning in case anyone is looking for a last-minute gift idea for their sweetie! This one is inexpensive, easy, and pretty dang adorable.

Here’s what you do: leave a trail of Hershey’s kisses from the doorway through the house to the bedroom. Then have a sign waiting like this one, surrounded by more Hershey’s kisses:

valentine sign

Isn’t that such a cute idea?

I’m going to sign off now and get going on my day! I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with a ton of love, laughter, and of course chocolate! 🙂 What are you doing to celebrate today?

xoxo,
Dallas

other valentine’s posts you might enjoy:
– easy + inexpensive valentine’s day cards
– an adorable owl craft project
my favorite romantic movies
– 6 simple sweets to make your sweetie for valentine’s day
– hand-crafted valentine’s day decor

saturday upsides: a cozy night in

saturdayupsidesbutton

Monday is the beginning of a new semester at Purdue, and I’m gearing up to teach my two courses: First-Year Composition and Business Writing. Being back in Indiana means returning to below-freezing temps and snow on the ground, in addition to transitioning from festive vacation mode back to the everyday stresses and obligations of my normal life. Yesterday was filled with meetings and course prep, and {as often happens when I travel} I feel my body fighting off a little bug that I probably picked up on the airplane coming back from California. I’ve been downing green tea, Airborne, and plenty of water, which is seeming to help! Fingers crossed I fight it off and am feeling rested and energized come Monday.

My Saturday Upside is that I am reminded again and again that so much of happiness is based on not what happens to you, but what you make of it. {Or, as Coach Wooden so eloquently phrased it: “Things turn out for the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”}

Instead of feeling stressed or nervous for the start of the new semester, I’m choosing to feel excited and hopeful that it will be a great one!

Instead of dreading a long day of meetings, I chose to focus my mental energy on how great it would be to see my friends and colleagues again after a few weeks away. And it was!

Instead of feeling bummed about fighting off a cold, it’s been a great reminder at the start of this new year to slow down and spend time taking care of my body.

I had the perfect cozy night in last night: an easy homemade chicken-and-quinoa recipe I’m eager to share with you soon, M&M brownies for dessert, and snuggling up on the couch with a Redbox rental. I’m looking forward to a laid-back, restful weekend!

What are your plans for the weekend? I’d love to hear your Saturday Upsides!

🙂 Dallas