the magic of finishing what you started

Hi everyone! It feels good to be back in this space. I did not intend to miss my post on Tuesday—I was so busy writing something else, that I did not have time to write a blog post here. But what happened on Tuesday spawned the idea for today’s post, so in a way everything is connected.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember that I’ve been working on a new novel. In fact, a key cornerstone of my word of the year—FOUNDATION—has been vowing to make time each day for writing projects that nourish me: this year, my goal was to finish my new novel manuscript. Back in January, the Word document on my computer contained nothing more than a title, a handful of scenes, and a burgeoning sense of great possibility.

The idea for this novel was birthed last summer when I took a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii for the first time. I fell in love with the island and soaked up many new experiences, like snorkeling with manta rays and hiking waterfalls. When I returned home from my trip, I jotted down a few ideas for a novel that took place in Hawaii. But then, as life tends to do, it got busy. That was an especially hectic time in my life. I got married and honeymooned. I developed and began teaching a weekly creative writing class for high school students. I helped students brainstorm and edit their college essays—my workload in the fall always tends to pick up for that reason. Allyn and I navigated our first holiday season as a married couple, balancing time with our two families.

The novel idea sat on my computer in a Word document, twiddling its thumbs.

In January, I felt burned out and exhausted. I had been so consumed with my work as a writing teacher and editor and coach, helping other people bring their beautiful words to life, that I had neglected to carve out and guard time for my own creative spirit—and, thus, I felt depleted. I decided that 2017 would be different. I read a lot of articles on setting boundaries, recommitted to work-life balance, and made a promise to myself that my mornings would be for writing. My own writing. I knew that I would be a happier and better teacher for others when I was making sure to give time to myself.

In January, I attended a wonderful writing conference to work on a separate novel idea. I still do like that idea, and I might return to it in the future. But my characters in Hawaii would not leave me alone. This idea kept pushing its way to the forefront of my mind, like a rude child who refused to be ignored.

Does that ever happen to you, with ideas? One thing I have learned is that ideas may behave like children, but you do not have to treat them as such. You do not have to teach them to be patient and wait their turn. If you have an idea that keeps “cutting in line” so to speak, begging for your attention, poking and prodding you all day and refusing to leave the back of your mind—you must pay attention. That is the idea you should pursue. No matter if other, less vibrant or less exciting ideas have been lingering around the corners of your mind for a long time. Life is short, and we will not have time for all of our brilliant ideas. We need to give time to the ones that make us come alive.

So it was with my novel idea. When I returned from the writers conference at the end of January, I kept slogging away for a week or so on the other novel that I had been working on. But my brain kept drifting to Hawaii. Eventually, I gave in. Reluctant {and feeling slightly guilty} to give up the other one, I told myself that I would work on BOTH projects simultaneously. Perhaps some writers can do that. But I have a hard time holding together two expansive, spilling-over, messy novels in my head at the same time. Perhaps some writers birth neater, tidier novels than I do. Mine are always a chaotic overflow. Trying to keep on top of two volcanoes at once was not sustainable.

And so, before too long, I was working solely on my insistent novel idea. My subconscious was living in Hawaii. I was fully invested. I was excited. Actually, more than excited—I was obsessed with my idea.

I think that is a good rule of thumb about whether you should pursue an idea. Are you obsessed with it?

I began riding along the path I had chosen. Nearly always, I begin new fiction projects by thinking about the characters. Their voices came out onto the page in quick bursts, but I still did not know them very well. I still had many questions. This was the fourth novel manuscript I was embarking upon, and the beginning—while exhilarating—is always the scariest part for me. I have some writer friends who love the beginning of a new project. They find energy from the huge wide-open landscape of blank pages before them. For me, those blank pages cause anxiety. At the beginning of a novel, I feel like I am diving into a huge body of water, tentatively beginning to swim to the other shore. At this point, I cannot even glimpse the other shore that I am heading towards. There is only mist and water as far as I can see. Who knows what I will find underneath the surface. There is no other way to go but forward, and so I start to swim. I start to write. Stroke by stroke, keystroke by keystroke. I know that if I put in the work, eventually, I will reach the other side.

This novel progressed much more quickly, and more joyfully, than my previous three novel manuscripts. Some might say it is because I am “getting the hang of” writing a novel, although in my experience every novel is different. I don’t think writing a novel is a formula you ever truly “get down.” Each novel is a whole new animal, a whole new experience—and, for me at least, that is part of the fun!

This one went so much faster—six months from start to finish, as opposed to a year spent meandering around trying to find a storyline and write the very rough draft of my thesis in grad school, and two-plus years drafting my other novels. It was also a much more enjoyable and less angsty process. I believe this is for two reasons. One, I have wholeheartedly embraced the advice that novelist Elizabeth Berg gave me many years ago at a writing conference: “First, please yourself.” Unlike grad school when I was writing a novel to impress my thesis committee, or in college when I was writing a novel hoping to become A Famous Author, now I write simply to please myself. I follow my own internal compass—especially during the drafting phase. Of course, I still hope to eventually get published and please readers. And I know that my writing is far from perfect and that editors, now that I have completed the first draft, are invaluable gifts. But I believe it stifles the creative process to think about any of those things when you are birthing your story.

The second reason this novel was different from any I had written before is that I truly committed to my schedule of writing time. For the past six months, I have been immersed in the story, thinking about it all the time both consciously and subconsciously, because I wrote at least a couple hundred words five days a week. “Work on novel” was the most important thing on my daily To Do List. I treated my creative work with respect. And my idea responded generously. There were parts of the novel that were more difficult to write than others—I always feel stuck in the “muddy middle”—but I never struggled with writer’s block. I always had a sense of where I was going, and new ideas and connections were sparked constantly. Our creative brains are so incredible, once we give them our time and attention and let them do their thing.

Which brings us to Tuesday. I was getting very close to finishing the first draft of my novel. I had written the ending already, and just had a few scenes I needed to finish up. It felt like a puzzle with only two or three patches of blank space left to fill in.

I woke up on Tuesday morning with a searingly clear thought: “Today is the day. Today I am going to finish my novel.”

I don’t know why the thought struck or where it came from. I don’t know why it felt so necessary to finish that day as opposed to later in the week or next week. But it did. I felt like my creative subconscious had sent me a mission.

I didn’t have any teaching appointments scheduled that day. I had emails and grading to do, but that could wait until later. I made myself a mug of tea, sat down at my computer, and dove in.

I wish I could fully describe to you the magic of that day. It felt like getting a “second wind” and sprinting the last mile of a marathon. It was like when you are reading a book you love, and you speed through the final pages because you are so excited to find out what happens. I knew what was going to happen—I was writing it, after all—but at the same time there was still this miraculous sense of discovery. My characters fully came alive. They leapt off the page. By noon, I had written more than 3,000 words. I had to break for lunch because my hand was sore from typing.

I could have stopped there. I knew I could always come back to the novel the next day. I could finish later. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t stay away. I dove back in and kept typing.

I finished at 4:43pm. I texted my family and sweetie and shared the news. My final word count for that day was close to 5,000 words, or about twenty pages double-spaced. I don’t think I’ve ever written that much in a single day. If you had asked me on Monday, I probably would have told you there was no way I could do that.

{My sweetie left a note for me on our kitchen bulletin board.}

It’s funny. I spent the whole day sitting by myself in front of a computer. But I didn’t feel alone at all. I felt like I spent the whole day in Hawaii with these two people I had come to know so well over the past six months. That final sprint to the finish felt like a last hurrah with them. It was perfect.

It was 4:45 pm. I sat down on the couch. I felt so many things. I felt sad to say goodbye to my characters. I felt exhilarated and exhausted. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace that I had made good on my promise, to my characters and to myself. I had finished telling their story. I had stayed with them until the end.

There is such profound magic in finishing what we begin. In staying true to our promises. In following through with our ideas. No matter what eventually happens with this novel—no matter whether it eventually gets published and sells thousands of copies, or never leaves the hard drive of my own computer—I gave a huge gift to myself when I typed THE END on page 256 on Tuesday. I felt such extreme satisfaction and pride in myself. I had said I would do it. And I did it.

When we finish what we start, we build confidence in ourselves. That confidence keeps growing and growing. We begin pushing ourselves further. We wonder what else we might be able to start and finish. The limits of our world expand and, eventually, fall away. Our pride and confidence and imagination become limitless.

I still have a lot of work and editing to do on my Hawaii novel. But I’m already excited to start a new novel manuscript. I can’t wait to see what my creative spirit comes up with next!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • What is a project you have started but petered out on? How would it feel to actually finish? What are some steps you could take to work your way back into this project?
  • Write about a time you finished something you had been working on for a while. What did you do to celebrate? What did it feel like to finally finish?
  • Set a timer for five minutes and jot down a list of every creative idea that flits into your mind. These could be future projects, hobbies, things you want to pursue in your personal life, trips you want to take. Write them down. Which ones jump out at you? Which ones light you up with sparks?

year of virtues, month three: silence

Hello, friends, and Happy Friday! Hope you had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day yesterday! I donned a lime-green shirt, made some deep green spinach-banana muffins {recipe coming soon; promise you can’t taste the spinach one bit!}, joined my grandparents for a homemade dinner of corned beef and cabbage, and then met up with my dear Dana for our third St. Patty’s celebration in a row! It’s become a new tradition for us and I love it. Her house is always all decorated for the holiday, we put on four-leaf-clover headbands, she makes delicious Irish coffees, and we chat away! Time with her always flies by and before I knew it, I was glancing at my clock and it was 9:45, and time for me to head home! Do you have any little traditions with friends that totally brightens up your year?

Photo from our St. Patty's date last year!

Our first St. Patty’s date!

 

st pattys with dana

Last year!

 

me and dana st patricks yr 3

This year {with our leprechaun friend}

This month, my focus on Ben Franklin’s List of Virtues is on silence. He writes: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” I am choosing to interpret “trifling conversation” to mean gossip, complaining, shallow arguments, etc. I do not consider myself much of a gossip, and strive to be an optimistic and empowering presence for myself and others, but I have noticed that sometimes it can be easy to try to connect with other people through mindless complaining, venting, or gossiping. I think conversation has an extremely valuable place in our lives, but truly nurturing and fulfilling conversation comes with deep reflection, listening, and thinking. We have all experienced the difference between speaking to express something true and important, versus jabbering away mindlessly just to hear ourselves talk. This month, I am making a conscious effort to be mindful of the way conversation ebbs and flows in my day-to-day life… and to choose silence more often.

Another way I am choosing silence is to focus on quieting down the chattering voices inside my head. My yoga teachers call this the “monkey mind.” I am spending just five minutes a day in quiet meditation/reflection/contemplation, simply trying to focus on my breathing and clear my mind of all the clutter. I have already noticed that this has made me feel more at ease as I go about my day, and helps me stay more present and worry less about what might happen in the future. Even good things we are looking forward to in the future can still be a source of stress or worry, as I am learning while planning my wedding! Sometimes the best thing to do is breathe and let go.

I am also experimenting with driving around in silence, rather than listening to music or podcasts during my commute. You all know how much I love podcasts, but I wanted to see what it would be like to purposefully add more quiet time to my day. And, you guys — a magical thing has happened! I look forward to my commute time more than ever now. It has become my time to daydream, to drift, and has become a super powerful time for connecting to the characters in the new novel I am working on. In the quiet, I can hear their voices speaking to each other, giving me dialogue and ideas for new scenes and development. It almost feels like I am able to hear the story straight from their mouths, and now all I have to do is write it down. This might sound crazy to some people, but as a writer this is one of the most magical experiences — when your characters come to life, and become companions you think about and converse with throughout your day. I believe this silent time has been absolutely crucial for this magic to happen.

The final way I have embraced silence is by listening to my heart about what I would like to share publicly, and what I would like to keep to myself. I have been a little silent on this blog of late, because I have been doing some deep reflecting about this subject — what I want this space to look like, what I am craving to lean into more, what I want to connect with you about… and what I want to keep private. I have a post all written and ready to go about how my sweetheart proposed to me, but over the past few weeks something in my heart has kept me from pulling the trigger and clicking that PUBLISH button. I can’t quite describe it, but I think there is something about the memory of that experience that feels too precious for me to share publicly, at least right now. It is something I want to keep between my sweetheart and me. And that is okay. I am hoping you all will understand.

I would, however, like to share this song with all of you, a song that has very special meaning to Allyn and me, that is perfectly fitting on this topic of silence. I think Ben Franklin would approve! 🙂

Here’s hoping you are having a fabulous Friday and that your weekend is filled with all the good things your heart is yearning for… and maybe just a little bit of quiet time all to yourself.

xoxo,
Dallas

Questions of the day:

  • How do you find quiet moments in your busy life?
  • What are your favorite ways to reflect and slow down?

fabulous friday #39

Happy Halloween, everyone!!

lit up pumpkins

What fun things do you have planned for today + tonight? Allyn & I are dressing up as Sebastian the crab & The Little Mermaid and we’re going out for dinner in Walnut Creek, then out to see the murder-mystery play Deathtrap. I’ll show you a picture of us dressed up in our costumes in Sunday’s blog post, but for now here’s a sneak peak at my wig that came in the mail yesterday! This is actually my first Halloween ever wearing a wig, so I am probably more excited than is normal, haha. {And yes, I’m dressed in my yoga clothes, getting ready to head out soon!}

mermaid wig

Also, I want to back up and wish my sweet Mama a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! It was her birthday yesterday but it was such a crazy day that I didn’t get around to doing a blog post. {But don’t worry, I did call her yesterday and send her a card & present!} My dad sent these beautiful roses to her office… they are USC colors, since Mom is a huge USC fan! Go Trojans!

mom usc roses

Also, because I think this photo is way too adorable not to share, here is a pic of my mom when she was a little girl that is hanging in the hallway of my grandparents’ house. I can totally see the woman I know in her little-girl eyes and face. What a cutie-pie!

mom little girl

Mom, thank you for being my role model and inspiring me every day with your loving heart, genuine kindness, generosity and grace, quiet strength, and beautiful soul. I love you so much. I count my blessings every day that I won the lottery ticket to get you for a mother. It is a true privilege and a gift to be your daughter! ❤

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. So remember last week when I finished writing my novel? And remember a few weeks ago when I went to the Orchard nursery with Dana to revel in all the pumpkins and autumn decorations, and I spotted these beautiful hand-painted sunflower tiles and mentioned wanting to someday get one for my own kitchen?

sunflower tiles

Wellllll, guess what my sweetheart did? He surprised me with a gift to celebrate finishing my novel that I’ve been working on for the past three years.

sunflower tile

Not to mention, I hadn’t even said anything about the sunflower tiles to him. He just read it here in my post and remembered, and last weekend he drove to the nursery to pick it out and surprise me. I was pretty much speechless when I opened it. Allyn, your thoughtfulness, love and support blow me away! Thank you so much for celebrating with me! Now, every time I look at this gorgeous sunflower tile hanging in my kitchen, not only will I smile because I love sunflowers and it is soooo pretty — I will light up inside with such a warm memory. 🙂

2. T-Swift’s new CD. OMG you guys. I am crushing hardcore on this CD. I am in puppy love. I am obsessed. I can’t stop listening to it. SO GOOD! I didn’t even mind when I had major traffic driving home from teaching last night, because it meant more time to bop around in my car dancing to these songs. Is it weird that Holly and I are already giddy with excitement about going to see her in concert when she tours for this CD? Because we are.

t swift 1989 cd

If the music itself weren’t amazing enough, check out her Halloween costume. One of the lyrics to her new song “Blank Space” is “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”… the caption to her Halloween costume says, “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a PEGACORN.” {unicorn + pegasus = a possible daydream?} She is so goofy! I love it.

taylor swift Halloween costume

3. These wise words from Heather Waxman… the first time I read them, I felt like she was talking directly to me. As someone who is not often loud and does not prefer to be the center of attention, I love her message that quiet strength and quiet confidence are equally true and beautiful:

Sometimes, we think that we have to be loud and obviously the center of attention in order be confident. But that’s not really it at all. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman carrying herself with soft strength. Quiet and ease. Grace and a smidge of grit.  That’s just so beautiful. She doesn’t feel like she has to prove anything. She doesn’t care if she’s the primary focus of the conversation or sitting and listening as a few people spearhead the conversation. Because she just is. She’s just being. 

4. This week I finished knitting a scarf to donate to the wonderful nonprofit organization Knit With Love that donates knitted and crocheted items to people in need, whether they are impoverished, homeless or struggling with illness.

knit with love

Here is their mission statement: “We believe that the gift of a hand-made item can provide physical warmth to people who may have little else, and can also be a tangible showing of love and support that will serve as an encouragement in this difficult time. Every item is donated to a person who greatly appreciates the hand-made gift. As of June 2014, we have donated over 5,000 knit items to people in 37 countries.” WOW, right? Amazing!

It makes me happy to think of someone wearing this colorful scarf I made and feeling loved!

scarf

5. Finishing with a bang: The Giants winning the World Series on Wednesday!! It feels like the whole Bay Area is celebrating! Everywhere you go, people are wearing Giants’ gear and Giants flags are waving from cars and houses everywhere. I’m enjoying the special feeling of camaraderie with everyone, even strangers in line at the grocery store 🙂 Dana was so cute, waving her Giants rally rag from back when they won the World Series in 2010!

dana giants win

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone!!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #38

Happy Friday! You know what this means, right? One week till Halloween!! Do you have any ghoul-tastic plans yet? {Haha, someone is obviously a liiittle too hyped up on caffeine right now… sorry!} Earl Grey before yoga + post-yoga endorphins + pumpkin chai latte from Starbucks after yoga = this version of me you are hearing from right now 🙂

Moving right along… this weekend, Allyn and I are going pumpkin-patching {don’t know if that’s actually a verb, but it is now} and I’m planning to hit up a craft store for a couple last-minute touches for my Halloween costume. If you’re looking for an easy, fun Halloween costume but don’t have any ideas, feel free to check out this post with some costumes that have worked well for me in the past!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This beautiful autumn bouquet from ProFlowers that arrived on my doorstep a couple days ago from my incredibly sweet and thoughtful dad! He sent them just because he was thinking of me and wanted to send some sunshine my way. How amazing is that? I am the luckiest daughter on the planet. I miss you, Daddy!

autumn flowers from dad

2. My favorite dessert of late: peanut butter toast topped with mini chocolate chips!

pb toast

3. Every time this song comes on the radio I do a little happy dance: “Riptide” by Vance Joy.

4. This heart-wrenchingly beautiful and wise short essay my brother wrote for HuffPost called The Girl Effect and My Grandmother. Read it, and believe me — you’ll be glad you did! Here’s a teaser:

“The agony of these missing parts applies not only to our deceased loved ones — it applies to when we allow fear to dampen courage; ignorance to imprison knowledge; and hatred to overwhelm love.”

5. My grandma’s soup. Her chicken tortilla soup just might be my favorite, but she also makes a mean split pea and curried lentil + barley. I’ll try to get the recipes for those latter two up on here soon!

grandma tortilla soup.jpg

Oh yeah, and one more thing that might explain why I’m feeling so dang happy and excited … I FINISHED MY NOVEL!!!

finished novel doc

Happy weekend, friends! Sending lots of love & joy your way! Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere. It means a lot to me 🙂

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #37

Happy Friday! I’m off to my favorite morning yoga class, then hoping to get a good writing session in at Starbucks before lunch, and then this afternoon I’m tutoring some really sweet kiddos. The rest of the evening will be spent hanging out with my grandparents and resting up for my crazy day tomorrow!

My Saturday = a full day of teaching + an evening reading in San Francisco for Arroyo Literary Review as part of the awesome Litquake events going on throughout the city + meeting up with Allyn and his MBA classmates for a “dare-e-oke night” fundraiser for their humanitarian trip to Kenya. {Any good karaoke song suggestions??}

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This wise message on my green tea bag this morning, which reminds me of the namaste principle in yoga class:

tea message

2. The new NBC romantic comedy sitcom A to Z. You guys, it’s only been three episodes but this show is already something I look forward to in my week! If I were to write a TV show, I have a feeling it would be something like this. The show centers around Andrew and Zelda {get it? A to Z!} and chronicles their relationship from when they first meet. The episodes are organized by letter, for example the first one was “A for Acquaintances.” It’s a really clever and funny show, and I love the characters! I even got Allyn to watch an episode with me the other night, and he laughed out loud a couple times. My brother texted me after watching the first episode: Oh sweet Jesus this is a Dallas show! Haha. What can I say? I love love!

3. The pumpkin-pie fail that happened in my kitchen this week. I’m not exactly grateful for this disaster of a pie — something happened and it never really set, but the top layer sort of burned and peeled off the pie! Has that ever happened to anyone else? I followed my favorite recipe the same as I always do, but obviously something went wrong. The only thing I can think of is that I made it in a different oven than I usually do {I made it for Allyn at his place}… but other than that, I’m clueless! I need to make another one soon to make up for this pie.

gross pumpkin pie

However, the thing I LOVED about this pie was my sweetheart’s reaction. It was my first time ever making him a pie, and it smelled so good baking in the oven, filling the kitchen with spice and autumn. Anticipation was high! But then I took it out of the oven, and there was a huge air bubble on the top — the pie was like a dome, and as it cooled the dome deflated. It reminded me of that scene in Christmas Vacation when they cut into the delicious-looking turkey and it immediately shrivels up. Anyway, I knew right away that something was not right with this pie. I peeled off the top burnt layer and the insides were this mushy texture. So disappointing!

I’ll be honest: I was upset. And embarrassed. And confused. I was about ready to pitch this pie out the window! But Allyn just hugged me and said, “It’ll be fine! It’s still gonna taste delicious!” And when the pie cooled, over my protests, he cut himself a big slice and finished every bite.

We spent the rest of the night laughing about this pie. Now it’s actually a funny memory, and yet another reminder of why I feel so grateful and happy to be with this man.

4. This quote and beautiful photo from Courtney Carver at Be More With Less:

5. For my birthday, my friends Allyson & Henry got me a subscription to a superb and innovative literary magazine, McSweeney’s. Yesterday my first issue arrived! This issue is designed as a bunch of small pamphlets so it’s easy to just grab a story and slip it into my purse when I’m on the go. I’m so excited to dig into it this weekend!

mcsweeneys

mcsweeneys

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #36

Happy Friday, friends! I can’t believe it’s the start of another weekend again already. Although, Saturdays are actually my heaviest load teaching-wise — four classes back-to-back-to-back-to-back! — so Fridays for me are spent prepping and gearing up for a whirlwind of energetic kiddos! My “weekends” actually fall on Mondays and Tuesdays right now {those are the only two days when I don’t have any teaching or tutoring commitments.} However, even though teaching can be exhausting, I love it and I love my students. Plus, Allyn is taking me out to dinner & a comedy show tomorrow night, so I’ll be looking forward to that all day!

How is your day going so far? Mine is flying by! I slept in a little later than I intended this morning {guess my body needed it! I’m all about following Robyn’s advice and listening to your body, which means sleeping in if you are able to when your body craves more rest} … so I downed a quick smoothie breakfast of banana + pineapple + mango + bluebs + spinach while getting ready this morning. Then I scurried off for two private tutoring sessions. The students are out of school today for a teacher workday, so I was able to schedule my tutoring sessions for the morning instead of the afternoon as I usually do. Sometimes the kids get {understandably} a little tired or cranky in the afternoon when I see them after they’ve already had a long day of school, so this morning they seemed extra-energetic and ready to write! {By the way, if you’re a parent or teacher or looking for some fun writing activities to do with kids, check out this post I wrote for Parent Grapevine with some tried-and-true ideas I use frequently!}

On my way home, I popped by Safeway in an attempt to get my flu shot, but after waiting in a long line I was informed they no longer take my insurance, so I have to go to Walgreens or Rite-Aid instead. It was a little frustrating, but I also am petrified of getting shots so I will admit a part of me was relieved to put it off for a little longer 🙂

Now I’m back home, hoping to get some productive writing done this afternoon. Before I get down to work, time for Fabulous Friday!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Honeycrisp apples! They’re baaaaack! As my cousin Makena said in amazement when we split one the other day, “These things taste like CANDY.” Yeah they do! My favorite snack of the moment is a sliced honeycrisp apple, half topped with pb and the other half topped with Justin’s maple almond butter. I could eat this allll daaaaay.

honeycrisp apples

2. On Wednesday night, I gave a reading in San Jose at the Flash Fiction Forum event. It was so much fun! Such a warm, engaged and welcoming crowd. I always get nervous before giving a reading, but my nerves melted away as soon as I looked out at the crowd and saw all the interested expressions and smiling faces. I wore what I refer to as my New Orleans dress, because I got it for my trip to visit Allyn in New Orleans this past summer.

nola dress

Another thing I love about attending public readings is meeting other writers! I was excited to get a signed copy of fellow reader Kevin Sharp‘s YA novel After Dakota… I’ve only finished the first couple chapters, but I’m already hooked!

after dakota book

3. When kitchen fails actually turn into something yummy. Earlier this week, I was intending to make butterscotch chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, but when the oven timer sounded I was greeted with these monstrous things… much bigger and thicker than your ordinary cookie! After trying one, I realized they are not cookies, they are scones! So I’ve been enjoying them for breakfast. They’re delicious plain, with nutbutter, or with jam. I’ll be sharing the recipe soon, after I test it out again!

scones

4. This is a stunning blog post — beautifully written, heart-rending, brought me to tears: http://witandwhimsy.onsugar.com/Watching-Dad-Watch-Flames-6584225

5. When I was at the grocery store, I was not able to get my flu shot, but I WAS able to score some pumpkin baking ingredients on sale! I wanted to load my basket down with cans and cans and cans of pumpkin, but I restrained myself. Can’t wait to bake a pumpkin pie and to try out some of the fantastic pumpkin recipes on Two Peas & Their Podpumpkin snickerdoodles, perhaps?

pumpkin

And, that’s a wrap! In addition to dinner with Allyn tomorrow night, this weekend I’m also looking forward to family time, helping out with the church service on Sunday, a much-anticipated long-overdue catch-up date with Dana, and cozying up under a blanket with some tea and a good book.

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #35

Aaaaaand just like that, it’s Friday again! These past few days have absolutely flown by for me. I’m loving the new students I’m teaching {plus four new classes start tomorrow!} but it’s always a balance at the beginning of a new semester, re-learning to juggle teaching with my tutoring and editing work AND trying my darndest to finish up the novel I’m working on! But I’m savoring the process. As Coach Wooden would say, “The journey is better than the inn.”

Hope you all are having a great morning. I’m off to one of my favorite yoga classes, then popping to Starbucks for a pumpkin chai latte & some productive work time. But before I go…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Holly gave me this water bottle a couple years ago for my birthday, and I absolutely love it! Every time I use it, the photos of us make me smile 🙂 It makes gym sessions a lot more fun when I see her beautiful friendly face every time I take a water break!

holly water bottle

2. Bolthouse Farms yogurt dressings. I love how they have a creamy yet light texture and are very flavorful. I’ve previously loved Bolthouse Farms yogurt ranch dressing, and this week I decided to try this cilantro-avocado flavor — it’s my new favorite! Avocado creaminess with a little kick. I can just use a small amount of this salad dressing and it goes a long way. Love it!

cilantro avocado

3. These words of wisdom from Money-Saving-Mom founder Crystal Paine in this interview:

Remember what’s going to matter in 25 years. Wrap your life and energy around those things.

4. Look who’s featured in the church newsletter this week! Woot woot!

church newsletter

5. Tonight Allyn and I are going out to dinner in San Francisco to celebrate his birthday! It’s gonna be a blast. I made a reservation at a rave-reviewed restaurant on Yelp, and I’m taking the opportunity to get a little “gussied up,” as my grandma would say. Last night I had fun trying on various outfits and I think I’ve settled on this one. {Please ignore my messy room in the background!}

al's bday dinner outfit

Happy Friday, everyone! Have a wonderful weekend!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #34

Happy Friday, friends! My morning started off with a relaxing, restorative yoga class… and it’s been a little stressful from then on. My cell phone is having battery issues and I’ve been on the phone with tech support all day trying to get the issues worked out. It’s amazing how much our lives are tied to our phones — I use mine not just to get in touch with people, but also as my GPS navigation system and to check my email when I’m out and about, etc. Really hope I get this solved soon!

But at the same time, I’m reminding myself to breathe and be grateful for this “first world problem”… so many people have much bigger issues and problems to worry about. I’m lucky to even have a cell phone in the first place!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This “Green Goodness” juice that is on sale at Safeway this week … two bottles for $5, score! I grabbed some for a post-yoga snack this morning. The first time I got this drink, I misread the label as “Green GODDESS” and that’s always how I think of it in my head. So much good-for-you green stuff in this bottle, you’ll feel like a goddess after drinking it! 🙂

green goodness

2. Like a complete knucklehead, I forgot my retainer at home in Ventura when I came back up north last weekend. Well, my sweet parents didn’t even tease me or make me feel bad for being so forgetful — they just wrapped it securely in bubble wrap, slid it into an envelope, and 2-day-mailed it to me. This probably sounds silly, but I was ridiculously happy to be reunited with my retainer — I could feel my teeth shifting without it and it was stressing me out! I didn’t go through three years of braces — plus headgear — for nothing! Any other retainer-wearers out there?

3. This quote from Mother Teresa {which came to me thanks to the always-enlightening Heather Waxman}:

4. My grandma got this ginormous container of peanut-butter filled pretzels at Costco. This is dangerous, my friends. Dangerous.

pretzels

5. I got to see Dana for dinner last night at one of our fave spots, Chow. I got a cup of their fall vegetable minestrone soup and a spinach/apple/walnut salad. Yum! Great food and great company! I feel very grateful to have such thoughtful, wonderful friends in my life who build me up and make me feel so loved. In fact, Dana just now texted me: “I wanted to tell you that I loved your shirt and your bag yesterday, but I forgot to tell you! Super cute.” Sweet texts like that completely brighten my day! Thanks, Dana! ❤

me and dana sideboard

Now, I’m off to tutor a couple of adorable kiddos, and then we’re having a family dinner tonight because my Uncle Frankie is visiting! Happy Friday, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #33

Happy Friday, friends! This morning started off bright and early with a bowl of fresh fruit & vanilla greek yogurt — my favorite breakfast right now!

yogurt and banana

Before I move on, just a little reminder: tomorrow is the last day to grab a copy of my ebook “Lost and Found” for FREE! I’d love for you to read it! Here’s the link: 

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Last night I got to see Erica for dinner — I always love getting to catch up with this lovely lady! We went to a terrific Italian restaurant called Giannfranco’s Trattoria and split two of the chef specials of the night: ricotta cheese & sausage ravioli and veggie risotto with cream sauce. YUM! Neither of us had any room left for dessert, but the selection looked so delectable that we decided next time, we’ll just split a salad and then have dessert! Or maybe just skip the salad altogether 😉

2. Oh my goodness, YOU GUYS. THIS BOOK. My mom leant it to me and I finished it within two days. It’s called One Plus One and it’s by JoJo Moyes, the author of another book I loved, Me Before You. This is one of those books that makes you feel better about the world. I smiled, cried, and felt like I became close friends with the characters — I was sad to say goodbye to them all at the end.

jojo moyes one plus one

3. Speaking of crying… this video made me cry. It’s only three minutes, but I guarantee it will stick with you: Compassionate Homeless Man Shares Meal With Stranger When Others Wouldn’t.

4. Homemade applesauce! I made it for the first time based on this recipe from Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean, and it turned out really well! It was much easier than I thought applesauce would be to make… all I did was peel and chop some apples, dump them into the crock pot with a bit of water and loads of cinnamon, cook on low for four hours, and then mash it all up with a potato masher. I was happy to use up some apples that were getting wrinkly and turn them into a really great, healthy snack!

homemade applesauce

5. These super-cool upcycled wallets, bags and totes made from former street banners by the company Upcycle it Now. They’re being offered as perks in a neat IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign that my sweetie Allyn & some of his classmates are holding to raise money for a humanitarian trip they are taking to Kenya with the nonprofit organization Zawadisha. You can snag one of these upcycled goodies by making a donation to the campaign through the end of September.

upcycled wallets

mens wallets

I’ll sign off with this from Murray: “Have a wonderful weekend!”

murray paws

Questions of the morning:

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

fabulous friday #32

Happy Friday! We have a busy weekend in store around here — an end-of-summer pool party, a book-signing event for my dad’s book Wooden & Me, cheering on my Trojans, plus the usual errands and weekend catch-up activities!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My parents come home from Ireland today! I didn’t want to mention anything on here while they were gone, but I’ve been house-sitting/Murray-sitting for the past two weeks while they took a special anniversary vacation. From our brief email exchanges and Google Hangout chats, it sounds like they had an incredible trip and I can’t wait to hear all about their adventures and see their photos… and, of course, give them ginormous Welcome Home hugs!

lovebirds guinness

2. Early morning walks with Mr. Mur-dog! He is so excited about his walks, it warms my heart. His jaunty stroll down the sidewalk is so cute!

me and murray walk

I’m also loving my new running/walking shoes!

walking shoes

3. Big salads — I’ve been craving lots of veggies lately and these have been my go-tos for lunch and dinner lately. I’ve been throwing in some black beans and chickpeas for extra fiber and protein. Yum!

big salad

4. This fascinating article: “11 Things Humans Do that Dogs Hate.” I’ve definitely been guilty of a few of these {i.e. #2}… sorry, Mr. Mur! Now I know!

5. Just ordered this book on Amazon — HEADS YOU LOSE — and I’m really excited to delve into it this weekend! It’s a really neat twist on the murder mystery genre.

When collaborators Lutz and Hayward (former romantic partners) start to disagree about how the story should unfold, the body count rises, victims and suspects alike develop surprising characteristics, and sibling rivalry reaches homicidal intensity. Think “Adaptation” crossed with “Weeds.” Will the authors solve the mystery without killing each other first?

heads you lose

Questions of the morning:

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