dinner parties + new apartments

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

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

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

{our apartment in the early days}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

 

why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT of time and mental space, because then I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment. 
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed in our house. 🙂
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus, nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

because I didn’t hit “snooze”

I almost hit “snooze” this morning.

I’ve confessed in this space before that I used to have a problem with hitting snooze. But, thanks to some reflection as part of my year of living simply, I realized that I didn’t like how snooze made me feel. I didn’t really get any extra quality sleep, and I just felt bad about myself when I finally did get out of bed… like I was already “behind” on my day. So I vowed to give up on snooze, and get out of bed when my alarm first goes off in the morning. I usually feel a little groggy when I first wake up, but by the time I’ve washed my face, put my contacts in, and downed two glasses of water, I am wide awake and ready to go!

me glasses

However, old habits can be hard to break. Even when you have some great momentum going, it can be so easy to slip right back into old patterns. Because old patterns are comfortable. They tend to feel good in the moment, even if you know they don’t make you feel your best in the long run.

This morning, I almost hit snooze. My alarm went off and I just wanted to snuggle down into the covers for five more minutes. {Which would likely lead to five more minutes… and five more minutes… and five more minutes…} However, I intentionally set my alarm for as late a time as possible for me to get out of bed and still make it to yoga class without feeling rushed. So, hitting snooze would have meant a snowball decision: five or ten or fifteen extra minutes of half-sleep, and no chance of getting to yoga on time.

In that moment, I didn’t want to go to yoga class.

But I knew that Future Me would *wish* I had gone to that yoga class.

So I threw off the covers, got out of bed, and turned off my alarm. I changed into my yoga clothes that I had laid out on my bedside chair the night before. I drank my two glasses of cold water, ate a banana, and drank some green tea.

tea saying

And I felt awake. And energized. And jazzed for my day.

In fact, I had gotten ready so quickly that I still had about twenty minutes until I needed to leave the house. I remembered a delightful podcast I listened to last week, Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette, where she talked about her realignment to how she views time, particularly small pockets of time — ten minutes, twenty minutes — that she used to think were “not enough time” to get anything worthwhile done, so she would waste them away by surfing the Internet or scrolling through her phone. But ten or twenty minutes ARE enough — for taking a walk, for reading a chapter of a book, for meditating. Inspired by that thought, I used my extra pre-yoga twenty minutes to do some journaling, and it was enough time to get down some great ideas for my novel and for future blog posts. I felt excited to come back later and write more!

I left early enough for yoga class not to feel rushed. Instead of listening to the radio during my five-minute drive, I let silence envelop the car and just listened to my breathing. To my thoughts.

Yoga class was lovely, both relaxing and invigorating. Sometimes I feel shy when I sit down on my mat before class starts, but today I mustered the effort to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice. I was reminded of the ways that little bits of small talk and smiles with strangers make us feel connected to the wider world around us. While I think of myself as a natural introvert — I recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of people I am close to — I still need to feel this connection with the broader world in order to feel my happiest.

If I had hit snooze, I would have been late to yoga class, and would have missed out on this breath of connection. Or, I might have hit snooze a couple times, and decided not to go to class at all.

peaceful ocean

My body felt so good after yoga class that I wanted to keep the momentum going. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up some organic veggies and frozen fruit and spinach, and I came home and made myself a fresh green smoothie. It was delicious. Instead of ducking my head behind my computer monitor, I chatted with my grandparents in the kitchen while I drank my smoothie. I didn’t feel at all like I was “behind schedule.” I felt overflowing, like there was time enough for everything I needed to do and wanted to do. Certainly there was ten minutes to drink my green smoothie and talk with my loved ones.

And then I washed the blender and my smoothie mug, made a fresh cup of green tea, and came to sit at my computer to type up this blog post. It is 11:00 a.m. and I am just now checking my email, and the world didn’t end. Nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a couple hours.

I feel energized and excited about my plans for the rest of the day. I feel eager to work on my novel, jazzed about my sessions with students later, and connected to the world and to myself. I feel balanced and capable. Most of all, I feel grateful for the gift of this beautiful day and this precious life.

And I feel grateful that I didn’t press “snooze.”

a year of living simply: week 20 + my dad’s new book!

Happy Tuesday, friends! Hope your morning is off to a wonderful start!

Before I get into this week’s year of living simply challenge, I want to share with you guys some exciting news: my dad is publishing a new book! Titled Strawberries in Wintertime, it is a collection of essays on life, love, and laughter and has already been compared to Robert Fulghum’s heartwarming classic All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. Topics include hellos and goodbyes; celebrating “lasts” as well as “firsts”; old, new and rekindled friendships; childhood and fatherhood (and motherhood, too); wedding anniversaries and graduations; the magic of a jar filled with marbles and the beauty of a messy garage. Strawberries in Wintertime is scheduled for release on December 1st, right in time for the holidays. Books make terrific gifts! My dad is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to take pre-orders {and he offers some really cool perks as well, like a Skype “Meet the Author” and the opportunity to have your name in print as a sponsor of the book!}… BUT the campaign ends THIS MONDAY, October 5, and this is your only chance to order an exclusive signed First Edition of the book. So don’t delay! It’s hard to beat a signed, personalized new release hard copy book from a national award-winning writer for just $25!

strawberries in wintertime

If you order a copy, let me know and I’ll put your name in a drawing to win a copy of my collection of short stories, 3 a.m.!

Moving along to our year of living simply challenge

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to find a creative way to repurpose or reuse something, instead of throwing it out or recycling it. I tried making granola for the first time {went with this recipe for oatmeal raisin cookie granola, minus the blackstrap molasses and with Justin’s Honey PB because my store didn’t carry the Cinnamon Swirl PB listed in the recipe}…

oatmeal cookie granola

I wanted to make a special treat for my sweetheart because he recently started a new job doing fantastic work and I could not be prouder of him. He is also biking to and from work each day, which means early mornings and the need for a hearty breakfast! So I decided to surprise him with some homemade granola. I upcycled these two metal tea Harney & Sons tea tins to store the granola and keep it nice and fresh.

granola tins

granola tins

Decorated with some twine and handwritten labels, they turned out pretty dang cute!

granola tins with labels

 

This week’s challenge is to wrangle together any gift cards you have lying around, and use at least one of them up! I don’t know about you, but I have at least half a dozen gift cards to various restaurants taking up space in my wallet and glove compartment, some with only a few dollars left on them… but still, a few dollars are a few dollars! It’s time to make a plan and use them up! You could also sell your unused gift cards at websites like Cardpool.

Questions for the day:

  • What did you upcycle this past week?
  • Do you have a tendency to let gift cards sit around unredeemed?

a year of living simply: week 19

Hi there, everyone! I feel like it’s been a year and a half since I wrote to y’all, because this past weekend up till now was a DOOZY in my little corner of the universe. Flashback to the weekend before last, I went to the doctor for a mild infection and was put on an antibiotic, which I took twice a day. Everything seemed fine. Friday night, I still had three days left of my ten-day prescription. Allyn and I made plans to meet up with Dana and Brad for a fun evening of mini-golf. {I had purchased a Groupon for a foursome round of golf at a fun local Halloween-themed place, Ghost Golf.} I felt kind of sluggish all day and in the afternoon decided to pop over to the gym for a quick elliptical/exercise bike sesh. Maybe I just need a little perk-me-up, I thought.

As soon as I got home from the gym and showered, I knew I had made the wrong call. Now in addition to tired, I felt feverish and achey. But I didn’t want to call off our plans to meet Dana and Brad at the last minute, so I drove to Ghost Golf. When I arrived, Allyn felt my forehead and immediately confirmed that yes, I felt warm. The four of us went ahead with our round of golf and I had a great time despite feeling under-the-weather. {And I even lucked into a hole-in-one! That never happens to me!} Dana and Brad were sweet enough to let me bow out of our plans for after-golf ice cream, rain-checking for another date.

ghost golf

IMG953605

I went to bed Friday night thinking I was coming down with a virus. I hoped beyond hope I would wake up in the morning feeling better, because we had made plans months ago to attend the Renaissance Faire on Saturday to celebrate Allyn’s mom’s birthday. I had never been to a Renaissance Faire and was SO looking forward to going with Allyn’s family! We all had pirate costumes and everything. But I tossed and turned all night, feeling feverish and chilled, and in the morning I felt exhausted. I knew there was no way I could go along to the Faire. I ended up sleeping until after noon, but when I woke up I noticed I had a rash all over me. That was when I called my dad…

… and thank goodness I did! It hadn’t even occurred to me that something could be going on with the antibiotic I was taking, because I’d already been taking it for a week by that point! But Dad said, “I once had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. I think you should go to the doctor and get it checked out.”

Thankfully there is an Urgent Care clinic nearby my house that is open on weekends. I made an appointment and skedaddled over there as soon as they could take me. A doctor examined me and quickly confirmed that, yes, I am indeed allergic to the antibiotic Sulfa. Good to know!! She told me to immediately stop taking it, and that I should begin to feel better soon, though it could take up to a week for it to get out of my system. I was relieved to know what the problem was.

On Sunday, my rash got much worse. I have always had sensitive skin and have gotten a few all-body rashes before, but this one was by far the worst. It has been a long time since I have been so sick. Allyn came over and brought me popsicles and Benadryl, but the rash seemed to be getting worse, not better. So Sunday afternoon he took me back to Urgent Care. Another doctor took one look at me and said, “Oh honey, Benadryl isn’t gonna help that.” I pretty much looked like a bright red lobster! {I told Allyn that I am his lobster. Haha.}

So I got a steroid injection and a prescription of steroid pills to calm down my poor freaked-out skin. Today is the first day I don’t feel itchy! Yay! Traces of the rash are still visible, but it is much better. And I finally am beginning to feel back to my normal energy levels and normal self. I feel so grateful for “normal”!!

What I learned through this whole ordeal:

  • Allergies to antibiotics can kick in after 7-1o days, not just when you first start taking a medicine! In fact, the doctor said I could have possibly taken the whole round of this antibiotic and been fine, but then had to take it at some point in the future and been hit with an allergic reaction within the first couple of days. If you are taking a new medication and start to feel “off” or get a rash, go to your doctor!
  • Listen to your body. I am so glad I went to Urgent Care over the weekend instead of waiting until Monday to go to the doctor. If I had continued taking my antibiotic, or if I had not been able to get the steroid medicine when I did, I would have been SO much more miserable and sick than I already was.
  • Plans can be cancelled and postponed and remade. Your health is most important. I had so been looking forward to the weekend because I had all these fun plans: Ghost Golf, dessert out, the Renaissance Faire, fancy dinner with Allyn’s fam at the Country Club, church community circle, double-date in the city with another couple from Allyn’s grad program… and everything except for Ghost Golf was left on the “cutting room floor” so to speak. I missed out on everything I had been so excited about! But, we were able to reschedule the most important things, and now I am able to look forward to them again. There will be another Renaissance Faire next year. I hate to think what could have happened if I had tried to push my body to do all.the.things this weekend. I think I would have simply collapsed!
  • Love is in the details. I had been looking forward to enjoying a weekend of fun activities with my sweetheart. Instead, I was feeling sick on Friday, we were apart all day Saturday, and Sunday I looked like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. No matter. Allyn came over to simply sit by my side on the couch, watching golf with my grandpa and chatting with my grandma. He held my hand and kissed my forehead. He told me it was going to be okay. He refilled my water glass, brought me dry Cheerios and saltine crackers, and still looked at me as if I was beautiful, even though I was covered in a gross rash. He drove me to the Urgent Care and sat with me while they gave me a steroid injection because he knows how much I hate shots. He came with me to pick up my new prescription. In a lot of ways, I feel even closer to him after this weekend than I would have after our planned weekend of sharing all those fun activities together.

Which is all to say… I am so so so happy to be on the mend!

Moving on to our year of living simply challenge

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to examine your nighttime routine. I have been trying to get to bed earlier because I have been waking up earlier, which has been a challenge for my natural night-owl self. I’ll often find myself trying to fit in “one more thing” before I wind down for bed… and then looking at the clock and an hour has passed and I’m already past my “goal time” of falling asleep.

I’ve been trying to work on creating a relaxing nighttime routine that I will look forward to. For me, this means at least an hour before I want to fall asleep, I change into my comfy PJs and get all ready for bed: wash my face, swap out my contacts and put on my glasses, etc. Then I brew a cup of warm tea like chamomile or fall spice, look over my to-do list for the next day one more time, and climb into bed. I like to call my family to say goodnight, and then I give myself thirty minutes to an hour of reading in bed. It feels luxurious and is the perfect way for my book-loving heart to wind down after a busy day. I sometimes will watch TV, but only if I have a special show I want to watch — not just to watch mindlessly. I find that reading calms me for sleep much more than watching TV does.

When it’s time to fall asleep, I keep my phone on silent and plugged in across the room, turned face-down so that I can’t see the little blinky blue light if I get a message or an email. I also like to keep my room cool, so sometimes I sleep with the window open. This time of year, nothing says comfy to me like feeling a cool night breeze from the window and snuggling down under the covers!

This week, with my illness/allergic reaction, falling asleep was much more difficult due to my itchy rash! I found that sitting up and turning on the light and reading when I was having trouble sleeping, as opposed to tossing and turning in frustration, calmed me down and got me feeling drowsy again much more quickly. One night, I actually got a lot of great ideas for my new novel-in-progress, so I’m glad I sat up and turned on the light and wrote them down! I guess a little insomnia can sometimes be a useful thing. 😉

All in all, I’m learning to wind down for the evening much earlier than I used to. Note to self: dusk doesn’t mean you’re going to be up for six more hours; sunset isn’t a signal to see how much more you can cram into the day!

dusk in key west

Dusk settling in Key West {photo from my trip there in 2013}

This week’s challenge is a simple one: find a creative way to repurpose or reuse something, instead of throwing it out or recycling it. Perhaps that means washing out that jelly jar and using it to store/organize some of your bathroom supplies. Or using that old tea tin as a planter for a windowsill herb garden. You could even wrap an empty oatmeal container in some pretty paper and use it as a gift box for homemade baked goodies! There are numerous “upcycling” ideas all over Pinterest and the Internet… just type in what you have and add “upcycle ideas” and you’ll get plenty! I look forward to hearing what you do — feel free to share in the comments!

Questions for the day:

  • What did you learn from examining your nighttime routine? Did you make any changes?
  • Have you ever been allergic to an antibiotic or other kind of medicine or food that you didn’t know about until it happened?
  • Do you have any upcycling success stories or tips to share?

a year of living simply: week 18

Hi, friends! How is your week going so far? Mine is off to a good start! I picked my sweetie up from the airport on Sunday after his “boys weekend” in San Diego with his high school buddies. I must admit, I was relieved to see him walk down the stairs to baggage claim with no cast on his arm or crutches! {Those crazy guys do a pretty intense Olympiad of sports competitions!} It was nice visiting with him Sunday night and yesterday morning before I left for tutoring commitments. This morning, I had an excellent PT session, met with my lovely friend Trish from church, ran a few errands, stopped by the gym to lift weights, and am meeting up with my dear Dana for dinner tonight after a tutoring sesh with a new client. All in all, a pretty great day!

me and dana my bday

LOVE. HER.

It’s finally cooled down a little here in California, and yesterday was the first day that sort of felt like the beginning of autumn… overcast skies and a hint of chill in the air. I’ll take it! I love the autumn.

Please send your thoughts and prayers to the victims of the horrendous wildfires sweeping across Northern California. My heart breaks watching the news footage. Sending all good wishes that the fire is under control ASAP — and that we might get some precious, precious rain to help the efforts of the firefighters!

Moving on to our year of living simply challenge

{And if you want to catch up or refresh your memory on the previous posts in the series, click on over here for the entire list.}

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to examine your morning routine, and perhaps try making some changes to see if you like what happens. During the summer, I dabbled with getting up earlier in the morning {which meant going to bed earlier, as well!} to feel like I “get a jump on my day” and have some quiet time before the rest of the world awakens. I have always been a natural night owl, but I love the peace and calm of the early morning. I found that I really liked this earlier time schedule, and in general have kept my rising time earlier than it used to be: around 7 a.m. as opposed to 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. Of course, some mornings if I wake up feeling particularly tired {and I have room in my schedule} I let myself sleep in a little later. It’s important to listen to your body!

One thing I worked on this week was to stop pressing “snooze” and just GET UP. Sometime in the last couple of years, I got in the bad habit of pressing snooze multiple times each morning, and — though addictive in the moment when “just five more minutes” seemed like a dream come true — I didn’t like the tone it set for my day. I associate the “snooze” button with negative consequences: not having enough time, rushing out the door, feeling “behind” when the day has just started. Plus, I want to energetically leap into each day, excited about the projects and activities I have on the calendar.

So, this week I put a moratorium on the “snooze.” And, I learned that even when I felt a little groggy when I first turned off my alarm, once I got out of bed, washed my face, drank a glass of water, and put my contacts in, I felt energized and ready to face the day. I think I will always be one of those people who wakes up feeling a little groggy; that’s just me. It doesn’t mean I need “five more minutes” of sleep. The grogginess usually melts away within a couple minutes of getting up, before I’ve even taken my first sip of tea!

tazo pumpkin spice chai tea

When I thought about my ideal morning, I realized that I wanted a little more calm, quiet, “me” time before leaping into my day. Reading in bed for twenty minutes with my mug of tea first thing in the morning feels indulgent, like I’m on vacation — but, really, why can’t I do this every morning? Why does my routine have to be eating my bowl of oatmeal in front of my email inbox? It doesn’t. In fact, it shouldn’t. When I have a bit of quiet time to journal and read in bed first thing in the morning, I feel more centered and focused to dive into the day’s tasks.

I want to try expanding on this a little further and maybe doing ten minutes of yoga and/or meditation in the morning, as well, before I venture out into the world.

picnic view

I love misty Bay Area mornings like this.

This week’s challenge is to examine your nighttime routine. What are your habits at night, before you go to bed?

  • What time do you go to bed? Is it generally the same time every night, or is it scattered?
  • When do you start “winding down” before bed?
  • What are your “winding down” activities? Do you read? Watch T.V.? Play games on your smartphone?
  • Do you stay up later than you intend, or do you usually get to bed about the time you planned to?
  • How is your sleep quality? Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Do you wake up a lot during the night?
  • What is something that makes you feel relaxed? Is there a way you could fit that into your nighttime routine? What would that look like?
These questions are not meant to judge. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of them. They are simply questions for you to reflect upon as you think about your nightly routine and what changes you might potentially make to improve, simplify, or streamline it.  

Questions for the day:

  • What did you learn from examining your morning routine? Did you make any changes?
  • What is your nightly routine? What do you like about it? What {if anything} do you wish to change?

a year of living simply: week 17

Hi, everyone! Hope you had a fun, relaxing Labor Day weekend. Mine was a nice mix of working on projects, taking long walks in the sunshine, lounging with a good book, and Netflixing “Orange is the New Black” {I’m a tad late to the party and just started watching… but I can see what all the buzz is about; that show is addicting!}

It’s hard to believe it is already September. The summer flew by! Yet also, it felt long, in a good way. My summer was filled with so many experiences and big events — graduations, travel, teaching, celebrations — that looking back at the beginning of the summer seems like a long time ago. I was talking to Allyn the other day about how July 4th seems like an eternity ago, since a lot has happened in my life since then: I traveled to Chicago to meet up with Holly {+ T.Swift in concert!}; went home to have a few weeks with my family; taught my Eighth Annual Summer Writing Camp; my brother moved to NYC and started his new job; I taught two weeks of Communication Academy camps; I gave my first-ever sermon at church and launched a Young Adults Community Circle; I house-sat/dog-sat for my aunt’s family for a week; I stepped out of my comfort zone and did Improv for the first time… and, I signed with an amazing literary agent {my dream agent!} to represent my novel to publishers. All in all, it’s been a very busy and very exciting couple of months!

This photo encapsulates my summer... exhilarating, wind-swept, filled with sunshine and smiling as I just let myself go with it!

This photo encapsulates my summer: exhilarating, wind-swept, filled with sunshine and new adventures… squinting and smiling as I just let myself go with it!

However, unfortunately, my year of living simply posts went on an unintentional summer hiatus. The entire blog went on a bit of a summer hiatus. At first, I was stressed about it. I felt guilty for not posting. I made lists and tried to figure out when I could wedge in the time.

But then I realized: that was exactly the opposite of what my year of living simply is intended to be.

It’s not about shoe-horning more and more stuff — even meaningful stuff you enjoy — onto your daily to-do list.

It’s about letting yourself do less.

It’s not about rushing around and cramming every minute of your day with stuff.

It’s about letting go. Giving your days margins. Giving yourself grace.

summer grace

So, I gave myself margins and grace. During a crazy-busy season of my life, I let some things lay dormant. Including this blog. Including this year of living simply challenge.

In many ways, I feel like that in itself was my simplicity challenge this summer. Having the faith and the patience to let go, to set it down, and know that the time would come when I could pick it back up again.

And so. Here we are. Summer is drawing to a close, and autumn is upon us. I feel the whirlwind settling a little. I feel that anticipatory energy I always love in the autumn. The start of a brand-new school year {even though I am no longer in school, I still feel the energy!} A blank slate. A row of freshly sharpened pencils. Brand-new notebooks. A new schedule of classes with different teachers and people. {Literally or metaphorically!} Possibility, sparkling everywhere you look.

And I think it’s the perfect time to bring back my year of living simply challenge. I feel rejuvenated and ready to get back on schedule. Ready to refocus on simplifying my life and reflecting on what matters to me. I hope you’ll join me!

{And if you want to catch up or refresh your memory on the previous sixteen posts in the series, click on over here for the entire list.}

year of living simply

In honor of the back-to-school time of year, this week’s challenge is to examine your morning routine. What are your habits in the morning?

  • When your alarm goes off, do you push snooze, or do you leap out of bed?
  • Do you scramble around feeling rushed?
  • Do you never know what to wear, or wear the same outfits over and over?
  • Do you forget things at home?
  • Do you never have enough time?
  • Do you wake up feeling tired, or are you energized for the day?
These questions are not meant to judge. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of them. They are simply questions for you to reflect upon as you think about your morning routine and what changes you might potentially make to improve, simplify, or streamline it.  
morning

Questions for the day:

  • How can you give yourself margins and grace in your ife today?
  • What is your morning routine? What do you like about it? What {if anything} do you wish to change?

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! 🙂

Questions of the day:

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

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing 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
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture

gator

20140706_140656

After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.

Woodsgiving

Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.