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.

 

highlights of 2016

Hello, hello, my long-lost friends! I feel like the universe is laughing at me, because pretty much as soon as I hit the “publish” button on my last post {oh, you know, the one about how I was aiming to have a minimal, simple holiday season}… alllll of the craziness descended! Isn’t that just the way life works sometimes? I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to my month of extreme overwhelm, including work stuff and my first holiday season as a married woman {!!!}… but, suffice to say, one of my top goals for this next year is to establish a more sustainable work-life balance and to strengthen my boundary-setting muscles!

I can’t believe we are already here, in the first days of 2017. When I think back to my life at this time last year, it is unbelievable how much has changed. What a year it has been! 2016 has been a year of contradicting emotions for me: perhaps the best-ever year in my personal life, but a very rough year as far as our nation and the larger world are concerned. Here’s hoping that 2017 is filled with greater love, deeper connections, and a broad, fierce effort to fight injustice and hatred wherever they rear their ugly heads.

One of my favorite rituals at the end of each year is to look back on my best memories from each month. Here are my highlights of 2016…

January

My sweetie and I moved into an apartment together! It was so exciting to take this big step in our relationship, and to begin building a home together. I love our cozy apartment! If you missed it, here is a little tour.

bookshelves

I also chopped off eight inches of my hair to donate in honor of my dear friend Celine. It was the perfect way to remember her on the one-year anniversary of her death.

for celine

On the last weekend in January, Allyn took me on a surprise getaway to the beautiful Russian River valley celebrate our two-year dating anniversary… and he got down on one knee! Getting engaged to the love of my life was the absolute best way to kick off 2016!

me and al redwoods

February

We drove down to Ventura to celebrate with my family, and began to start planning our wedding! We set the date for September 4th, which is my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Al and I engaged

Also in February… my mom flew up to help me go wedding dress shopping and meet with vendors, and I said “yes” to the dress!

wedding-dress-try-on

March

I flew home to Ventura to celebrate Easter with my parents, and then attended the AWP writers conference in Los Angeles. It was absolutely wonderful to meet up with old friends from undergrad and grad school! And I always find writers conferences so motivating and energizing for my own work. Often, as a writer, you spend a great deal of time in solitude, so it is important to engage with the writing community whenever you are able!

April

Greg was in Berkeley for a work conference, so my parents and I met up with him in San Francisco for a brief little family vacation! It was so fun to spend some time in the city with my fam. We climbed Coit Tower, wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf, sipped famous Irish coffees and ate delicious Italian food.

fam-sf-trip

May

Allyn took me out to dinner in San Francisco and to a concert of one of my favorite-ever musicians, Amber Rubarth — the next day, I wrote her a letter about what her music has meant to me over the years, and to my surprise and joy, she responded!

me and amber rubarth 2

Memorial Day weekend, Allyn and I drove down to Ventura to celebrate my dad’s birthday and my 29th birthday {my long-awaited “golden” birthday!} with lots of cake, delicious home-cooked meals, and a family mini-golf outing! {Allyn got not one, but TWO hole-in-ones! His reign as Mini-Golf Champion continues…}

fam-golf-outing

June

I published the second “Dancing With The Pen” anthology of stories, essays and poetry by young writers! This was a true labor of love and I am so proud of all of these amazing young writers who I feel truly blessed to work with. Such an inspiration!

dancing-with-the-pen-kiddos

dancing-in-my-possession

Also in June, my wonderful mother-in-law threw me a beautiful bridal shower… I felt utterly “showered” with love!

me with aunts

me with sunflower plate

In June, I also began teaching extracurricular high school literature and writing classes through an organization in San Jose, which is something I really enjoy! I have been doing individual private teaching the past several years, but I missed the dynamics of classroom teaching from my grad-school days at Purdue.

July

I took my first-ever trip to Hawaii! It was so fun and relaxing to spend a week soaking up the sun on the Big Island with Allyn’s fam. I also checked off a couple “bucket list” activities like swimming with manta rays and learning to snorkel! It was extra special getting to see the Mauna Kea resort where my grandparents spent so many wonderful vacations together.

shave-ice

From Hawaii, I flew to Southern California to teach two weekends of Summer Writing Camp — one of my favorite teaching gigs each year. The kids have such amazing creative energy, and I love getting to witness their joy and unfettered enthusiasm for writing.

In Ventura, I also hosted a screening of the documentary film Minimalism and was elated when it SOLD OUT. This was an example for me of diving into a new challenge, working hard, and building a success! If I hadn’t taken the risk of volunteering to host the screening, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience our community coming together in such an inspiring way.

minimalism-screening

Speaking of community… one final highlight of July was the surprise bridal shower that my aunt Kymmie threw for me in Ventura! I was utterly shocked and it was absolutely wonderful to get to celebrate with my hometown friends and family who hadn’t been able to make it up north for my other bridal shower. {I know, what a blessed lady I am to have not one, but two amazingly generous showers!} We played some fun and hilarious games, ate scrumptious food, and I felt so filled with laughter and love.

August

I taught summer camps in writing, reading, and public speaking. We attended a beautiful wedding of family friends in the quaint beach town of Bolinas. And the rest of August was a blur of our own wedding preparations!

at-katie-carlos-wedding

September

Besides the day my brother was born, September 4, 2016 was the absolute best day of my life. Allyn and I got married! Celebrating our union with so many of our dear family and friends was incredible. Even months later, I can’t begin to put it into words.

me-and-al-xmas-card

We honeymooned in Yosemite, which was magical and relaxing and everything a honeymoon should be!

me al yosemite

honeymoon dessert

After we returned from our honeymoon in paradise, I began teaching a Creative Writing class for high schoolers every week in San Jose. It has been a great way to flex my teaching muscles, and my students grew so much over the course of the semester!

October

We went to a darling pumpkin patch where we conquered another corn maze, and attended the neat Lumination festival of lights in Gilroy.

Allyn pumpkin patch

dragon lumination

October was also filled with lots of fun travels! We spent a weekend visiting my cousin Arianna at Chico State, where she is a freshman.

visiting-arianna-chico

My dad joined me for a weekend getaway up to Seattle, courtesy of the amazingly generous Bill and Micki, to attend Amber Rubarth’s House Concert at their lovely home! It was a truly masterpiece trip that I will remember for all my life.

me and dad chowder seattle

We also enjoyed exploring Seattle, including the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum — WOW!

chihuly museum

At the end of October, I flew down to Los Angeles, where I met up with my brother to attend a Blind Pilot concert — one of our favorite bands! Greg is such an awesome concert buddy and we had a blast together.

gb blind pilot

That night after the concert, we drove to Ventura and surprised Mom for her birthday! The shock on her face when we walked through the front door was absolutely priceless.

surprising mom

November

The highlight of November for me was spending Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my fam! It was so much fun to take a getaway trip with them to such a vibrant destination. My parents and Greg had never been there before, so Allyn and I had a fun time showing them around the city we had many fond memories of, from back when I visited Allyn during his summer internship there in 2014. We went to jazz concerts every night, followed by a late-night dessert of beignets. We explored the Garden District and the French Quarter. We took a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi, found the former homes of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, cheered on the streets during a parade, and ate Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant. All in all, it was a perfect trip!

thanksgiving-parade

new orleans architecture

boys eating beignets

December

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this epically long post, December was a whirlwind. The definite highlights were getting to spend time with Allyn’s family and my family: we spent Christmas Eve & Christmas with Allyn’s family, and New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day with my family. It was exciting to share our first holiday season together as a married couple!

me-and-al-xmas-eve

our stockings

christmas list

On to 2017…

I am excited to see what highlights this next year holds! Here’s to making memories with those we love and savoring every minute of this precious life we share together.

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 #50

Aaaaaand just like that, it’s the weekend! It is a warm one around here and we are all trying to stay cool, and also soaking up some gorgeous sunshine outdoors. I get to meet up with this pretty lady in a few hours for dinner.

me and dana sideboard

So excited to catch up with her! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My favorite dessert of late: organic vanilla greek yogurt + fruit {raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are my faves!} + mini chocolate chips.

yogurt dessert

2. My wonderful minister gave me a copy of this little book, which takes its title from a beautiful Robert Frost Poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

nothing gold can stay

I’ve been reading through the short essays in this book when I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep at night, and it has been a source of comfort.

3. Last weekend I drove to Marcus Books in Oakland to attend a talk by Tavis Smiley about his new book chronicling his 20+ year friendship with Maya Angelou, My Journey With Maya. Tavis’s talk was filled with humor, wisdom, and his trademark insight. He is one of my role models! And I am savoring this book. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy — I think it would make the perfect Mother’s Day or graduation gift!

my journey with maya

I also loved these beautiful murals on the outside walls of Marcus Books:

marcus books

marcus books 2

4. My friend Jess sent me this lovely ring and a nice card in the mail, out of the blue! It was really sweet and made my day. It’s an infinity ring, symbolizing the everlasting bonds of friendship. She sent them to our friendship group from college, as a way of honoring Celine.

infinity ring

5. This *free* April reflection worksheet courtesy of Nicole at Life Less BS. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to April and hello to May! Nicole never fails to make me feel inspired and ready to tackle my goals and BIG dreams for my life.

Questions for the evening:

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

a year of Wooden: week 20

Hi, friends! I’m a day late with this post because yesterday turned into a catch-up day after my whirlwind weekend! But I’m back now for this week’s year of Wooden challenge.

On a personal note, please send your thoughts and prayers for my brother and his MBA classmates who are in Bangkok on a school trip … Thailand has just enacted martial law and while Greg and his group are safe, as his protective older sister I can’t help but worry a little. Thanks in advance for your good thoughts!

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.

For the month of May, we’ll be focusing on the very first item of Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Be true to yourself.” Each week, I’ll be posting a question for you to reflect on, perhaps through journaling or meditation. The goal is that by the end of May, you’ll have a clear idea of what it means to be your happiest, most authentic self so that you can work on being true to that self.

Last week, the question to reflect upon was: What in your life makes you feel drained, overwhelmed or fearful?

I journaled about my tendency to sometimes overcommit myself, which can make me feel exhausted and overwhelmed. I’m slowly learning {and re-learning, and re-learning!} that when I hold myself back from trying to do “all the things” and instead commit only to activities and endeavors that I feel excited and passionate about, then it works out best for everyone involved. Instead of overextending myself, I have more energy to devote to these things that I DO care the most about. I’m also learning that, as much as I love feeling busy and productive, I need to give myself days to relax and recharge too. {Tim Kreider wrote a fantastic essay for The New York Times on this topic: “The Busy Trap.”}

This week, here is your question to consider: What in your life makes you feel most alive, vibrant, connected and strong?

vibrant life

mid-week meditation

Hello, beautiful friends! Hope you’re having a lovely day! I’m off in a few hours to teach and then head to the airport to catch a flight home for my cousin Julie’s bachelorette party and wedding this weekend… I can’t wait!

Last night I went to an insightful meeting at church, and as always our minister began with a brief reading and a couple minutes for quiet reflection. Later on, as I drove home from the meeting, I thought about how comforting and nurturing even those brief periods of meditation are in my life. That gave me the idea to start a new series here on the blog: mid-week meditations! Each week, I’ll try to post a quote or question to think about as you go about your busy day. I hope it brings you solace and gratitude as it does for me!

Today, I’m thinking about joy and abundance, and these lovely words I came across from Sarah Ban Breathnach:

abundance meditation.jpg

If you’re looking for more meditation, I love Heather Waxman’s blog posts and her amazing meditation album Soul Sessions. I’m a newbie to meditation, and Heather has been a gentle guide as I nurture my own budding practice.

Question of the day:

  • Where in your life are you feeling a sense of abundance and joy?

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes …

Notice anything different?

That’s right, you’re not going crazy: we’ve got a new name!

“Day-by-Day Masterpiece” stems from one of my favorite-ever quotes {I love it so much I have it posted above my writing desk and as my cell phone background} … it comes from the late, great John Wooden, who was a huge inspiration to me and my family. One of the maxims he lived his life by was, “Make each day your masterpiece.”

I find that quote so inspiring because it reminds me that each day is truly a treasure and a blessing. Each day is something to savor. Making your day a “masterpiece” does not mean making each day “perfect.” Far from it — masterpieces are full of mistakes, trial-and-errors, messes and wrong turns and laughter and spontaneity. Indeed, I think that’s part of what makes a day a “masterpiece” — the surprises give our lives variety and richness.

To me, a masterpiece day is a balanced day. Time with my friends, family and loved ones; time spent pursuing my writing goals; physical exercise and delicious, healthful food; quiet time to reflect and relax. Love, laughter, daydreams, peace.

I started this blog to keep track of my steps towards becoming more organized in my day-to-day life and tackling those hidden {and, okay, not-so-hidden} trouble spots that were adding stress and frustration to my life.

Something I’ve discovered is that “organization” doesn’t just pertain to the material possessions you own or how clean your home is. It’s more a way of life; a way of thinking; a way of approaching your day.

So I wanted to give the blog a new title to reflect upon how it has grown and expanded in the past six months since I started chronicling my organizational journey with you.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be sharing my organizational projects and day-by-day progress with you. But as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve really grown to love cooking and baking and sharing healthy recipes here. I also am delving more and more into simplified, frugal living — everything from couponing to saving money on date night to selling things on Craigslist. I am participating in the monthly book club over at Peanut Butter Fingers and am hoping to start up my own monthly book club on here. {I’d love to have you join me!} And I’m really passionate about living “green” and doing our part to protect our precious environment. I’m hoping to expand that part of the blog in the coming months. Finally, it really inspires me to follow along with Crystal’s weekly and monthly goal-setting over at Money-Saving Mom, and I want to do something similar on here — I’ve already posted about goal-setting and to-do lists. I want this blog to be a place where we can be sources of inspiration for each other!

So how do we make our days masterpieces? That’s what I’m hoping to explore in this blog!

Making the most of each day, being grateful and mindful, living with passion and joy and love — to me, that is a masterpiece day. And you know what masterpiece days add up to, right? A masterpiece life. What more can any of us ask for?