goals + recipes for the week of 5/25

Happy Sunday, friends! First off, I want to wish a very happy birthday to my beautiful friend Chidelia! Happy birthday, sweets! I love you!

me and chidelia

I also want to send love and prayers to everyone in the UCSB and Santa Barbara community… I am heartsick and horrified over the tragedy that happened in Isla Vista on Friday night. It hits very close to home to me personally, as Santa Barbara is just up the 101 from my hometown. Both my parents went to college there {that’s where they met} in addition to my cousin Melissa, a number of my friends and many of my high school classmates.

ucsb solidarity

It’s been a quieter weekend than last weekend around here, which has been nice. Yesterday after teaching I came home and caught up episodes of New Girl before hitting the sack early. This morning, Allyn came to church with me and then we had a lovely lunch together at Lettuce, one of my favorite salad/sandwich eateries in Walnut Creek. It is beautiful and H-O-T here today!

Before I move on to goals, a quick shout-out to my blogger friend Sarah @ The Pajama Chef for her wonderful, insightful review of my dad’s book Wooden & Me. Thank you, Sarah!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from this past week:
– write ten pages
– send out three query letters/submissions
send acceptances for new young writers project
read up to page 400 in Wolf Hall
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write ten pages
– send out two query letters/submissions
– complete final students evals + certificates
– finish reading Wolf Hall
– go to the gym twice
– complete my 27 random acts of kindness for my 27th birthday!

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
– coconut brownies via Two Peas & Their Pod
– italian tortilla roll-ups via The Pajama Chef
– crockpot freezer meals for the summer via Money-Saving Mom
sugarless homemade granola via Recipes Happen
– rhubarb walnut muffins via It’s Progression
– funfetti cookies or cake {my current birthday front-runner}

bday cake

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over lately?

MPM-Spring
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

wisdom from “abide with me” by elizabeth strout

abide with me

This weekend, I read Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout — what a beautifully written, poignant, luminous novel! I loved it. The main character, Tyler Caskey, is a minister in a small New England town in the 1950s, and the book explores what happens to him — and his congregation — in the wake of terrible loss. If you’re looking for a good summer read that will make you think, I’d highly recommend this book.

I wanted to share some quotes with you from the novel that really struck me:

“Oh, we are far less important than we thought we were, and we are far, far more important than we think we are. Do you imagine that the scientist and the poet are not united? Do you assume you can answer the question of who we are and why we are here by rational thought alone? It is your job, your honor, your birthright, to bear the burden of this mystery. And it is your job to ask, in every thought, word, and deed: How can love be served?” – pg. 268

“No one, to my knowledge, has figured out the secret to love. We love imperfectly, Tyler. We all do. Even Jesus wrestled with that. But I think — I think the ability to receive love is as important as the ability to give it. It’s one and the same, really.” – pg. 285

elizabeth strout

“I tell stories because life fascinates me, baffles me, intrigues me, awes me. And by writing about the world — the natural, human world — I experience these feelings in a way that makes me both joyous and sad, and that brings me face-to-face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence. I can only hope that readers will not only be entertained by the stories I tell, but be moved to reckon with their own sense of mystery and awe. Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn’t know we knew. We can wonder for a moment if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all.” – pg. 299-300 (Author’s Note)

Have any of you read Abide with Me? What did you think?

What books have you read and loved lately?

review of “the sunny side up!” by lauren cook

sunny side up

The Sunny Side Up! is a real gem. Not only will you have fun reading this book, you will learn a lot, too. How can you squeeze the most happiness out of your daily life? What are important components that will bring you lasting fulfillment and joy? What about when life throws challenges your way—how can you find happiness even in the hard times? Lauren Cook, a.k.a. The Sunny Girl, covers all of these topics and more in this engaging, thought-provoking, fun and inspiring book! {You might remember Lauren from this beautiful and inspiring guest post she wrote for us last year about finding happiness in a sense of daily accomplishment.}

Lauren interviewed hundreds of young people and incorporates their views throughout the book on everything from friends to dating, family to volunteering, stress levels to definitions of success. I was fascinated reading all of their thoughts and opinions, and it made me realize that I am not alone in my quest for greater happiness and fulfillment. Indeed, Lauren makes us feel like we are all on the same team, cheering each other on and helping one another gain more joy from life.

One of my favorite things about the book is the interactive quality — Lauren frequently poses questions to the reader, with room for you to write down your own answers. In this way, The Sunny Side Up! is not only a book — it is also a lively, dynamic workbook that will take you through tangible strategies and ideas for pumping up the happiness in your life! The Sunny Side Up! is a joyful manifesto you will find yourself returning to again and again.

What books are you reading and loving this summer?

previous book club posts:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
– Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
– The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
– The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
– Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

review of “blackberry winter” by sarah jio

Happy Friday, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I am *so* excited for the weekend! I’m getting together with some friends for dinner Saturday, and Sunday afternoon a group of us are going to see Circus Oz  at Purdue. I’m also just looking forward to sleeping in and getting some rest. We’ve been having a long string of gray, gloomy days and it’s been a little more of an effort to keep myself cheerful this week — I think the winter blahs are trying to settle in! But I am resisting … perhaps I’ll make some more peanut-butter cup brownies or chocolate-chip cookies this weekend to build up my defenses! 🙂

One highlight of my week was reading this month’s PB Fingers Book Club pick, Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio.

sarah jio

Here’s a brief synopsis: the book alternates between two storylines that gradually merge as the book progresses. The first takes place in Seattle in the midst of the Great Depression, when single mother Vera Ray is forced to leave her treasured 3-year-old son Daniel home alone one night while she goes to work. In the morning, she leaves work to a city blanketed by a freak May snow, termed a “Blackberry Winter.” When she arrives home, her small apartment is empty. Her son has disappeared.

The second storyline takes place during another Blackberry Winter in Seattle in 2010; it centers around reporter Claire Aldridge who is assigned to write a story about the phenomenon. She recently suffered a loss of her own and in the face of her devastating grief, she is growing further and further apart from her husband. Claire becomes obsessed with the story of Daniel’s long-ago disappearance and trying to find out what happened that long-ago Blackberry Winter. Cue the dramatic music!

I was completely swept into the mystery of this story and snuck in bits of reading time whenever I could this week. I just finished it last night and the ending was so sweet and satisfying.

Sarah Jio’s writing style is lyrical and lovely. I have only been to Seattle once, more than a decade ago on a family vacation, so my memory of the city is not too clear. But Sarah describes the city so vividly — both in the present and back in the 1930s — that I felt like I returned there every time I opened this book. It was neat to “go back in time” in Vera’s storyline, and I thought the themes of wealth vs. poverty and greed vs. generosity rang very true to the world today. {Yet another book that confirmed my passion for my #yearofkindness challenge!}

A main theme of this book is motherhood, and I thought of Mr. Jude a LOT while reading. I treasure him beyond words and I can’t imagine not being able to see him, cuddle him, and watch him grow. Mike and I miss him so much between visits, but I am grateful we at least get to see him every month. It was viscerally painful reading about Vera losing her son Daniel in Blackberry Winter — Sarah Jio writes very vivid, real, compelling characters who seem like real people, and my heart just broke for Vera. Her pain is so real. In the book, both Vera and Claire’s lives change in an instant. This book will make you grateful for not just the children you love, but all the loved ones in your life — it will make you want to hold them close, just a little longer and tighter than usual. And of course always, always tell them you love them!

This is a moving and wonderful read that will warm your heart even on the coldest winter day. 🙂

Happy weekend!

review of “7: an experimental mutiny against excess” by jen hatmaker

You know when you hear a ton of good things about a book or a movie or TV show, and there’s a part of you that is hesitant to delve into that piece of entertainment or knowledge because you’re worried that it’s been built up too much, that it can never live up to your expectations now that so many people have raved about it to you?

Often, when I do end up caving and watching or reading whatever it is everyone is buzzing about, I do feel a little disappointed in the end — I guess my imagination and expectations are too easily raised to insurmountable heights! But there have been a few exceptions, when I have just been knocked off my feet by something that had already been built up so much. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • the musical Wicked {I saw it with my mom, who was similarly blown away}
  • Downton Abbey {Mike and I resisted this for a while but are now thoroughly on the Downton Abbey train! Still a little behind, making our way through Season 2 and trying to avoid spoilers on Facebook!}

And now I have a new thing to add to my list: Jen Hatmaker’s amazingly inspiring book 7: an experimental mutiny against excess.

7 by jen hatmaker

I bought this book because I kept seeing great things pop up about it on many of my favorite blogs. The idea behind the book really intrigued me; here is the synopsis from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.”

When sifting through my thoughts about this book, the first thing that struck me was that my experience reading this book is a little ironic, considering Jen’s message of taking your life back from the modern pressures of materialism and overindulgence. Because I gobbled up this book. I devoured the whole thing in less than two days. I just could not stop myself from reading “a little more, just a little more, one more chapter …” Talk about indulgence! 🙂

There were a number of things that made reading this book so addictive. First, I loved Jen’s voice. Much in the same way I felt like reading The Happiness Project was an extended conversation with author Gretchen Rubin over coffee, reading 7: an experimental mutiny against excess felt like I was sitting with Jen Hatmaker at her kitchen table, listening to stories from her life. She opens her home and her life to readers, and her voice is so warm and inviting. I read part of this book on a plane trip, and I had to bite my lip multiple times so as not to laugh out loud. She is hilarious!

I think one of my reservations about reading this book was that I would feel “preached at,” but this is not one of those books. The book is written in a diary format, so reading it feels like you are there with Jen in the trenches as she attempts to make these huge changes in her life. She chronicles her failures and setbacks in addition to her successes and high points — by the end of the book {or, to be more honest, by the end of chapter 2 or 3!} I felt like Jen was one of my good friends. Or perhaps my own personal cheerleader, encouraging me to take the leap and implement some of these ideas into my own life.

The book proceeds chronologically over the course of a year in Jen’s life, with each chapter devoted to a month of the project. {She took off a couple weeks between months to recharge and regroup.} Here is the breakdown of how Jen organized her 7 project:

  • month 1: Food
  • month 2: Clothes
  • month 3: Possessions
  • month 4: Media
  • month 5: Waste
  • month 6: Spending
  • month 7: Stress

I think for me, the most eye-opening and inspiring chapters were those devoted to waste/the environment, possessions and stress. After reading this book, I feel so blessed to have so much, yet also the pressing need to unburden myself from extra possessions — I want to give more to others, to use what I have for good. I feel even more committed to my year of kindness challenge and inspired to do even more! And I have plans in the works to create a more efficient and thorough household recycling system — I try to recycle what I can, but I think I can do better. I will keep you posted!

Well, this review is getting quite long, so I guess I should wrap it up … as you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book. It surpassed even my built-up expectations, moved me, made me think, and warmed my heart. Perhaps above all else, it made me feel hopeful and inspired to do my small part to make a difference and make the world a better, brighter place. Jen Hatmaker is a testament that we all can take charge of our lives, mutiny successfully against excess, and live a more simplified, healthier and happier existence!

——————-

if you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
review of The Happiness Project
review of Thirteen Reasons Why
review of The Secret Keeper

review of “the secret keeper” by kate morton

I mentioned on Saturday that I was happy to be curling up with a good book: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, which was the January pick of the PB Fingers book club. I’m so happy this book was chosen for the book club, because otherwise I’m not sure if I would have known about it. I had not read any books by Kate Morton before, and in general I do not read much historical fiction, but I will certainly be checking out the rest of her work now!

The Secret Keeper shifts between present-day England and WWII London during the Blitz. It took me fifty pages or so to fully settle into the book, but I grew to deeply enjoy the rich details and extensive research Kate Morton must have done to write this book. I also don’t want to spoil it, but the ending is marvelous!! I felt almost giddy with suspense and the thrill of a surprise well done.

kate morton

Without trying to give too much away, here are some of my thoughts and take-aways from this book:

  • Reading this made me feel like I was alongside the characters, living through a war: incessant days and nights of terrible bombings, friends and family killed, men going into battle. It made me appreciate the quiet, peaceful life I enjoy. Nothing like war to put my own little daily struggles and problems into perspective. And it also made me feel very grateful to veterans and current U.S. soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country. I want to do something as part of my #yearofkindness to show my deep appreciation and gratitude.
  • On a craft level, reading this book as a writer, I was impressed by the way Morton shifted across characters and time periods to keep the reader in suspense. Also, by using a close third-person perspective, she was able to dip inside multiple characters’ thoughts and points of view–and the reader was left to decide how much to trust/believe the information given. {I have long been a fan of unreliable narrators ever since falling in love with The Great Gatsby in high school.}
  • I really enjoyed settling into the vividly drawn world of this book. Morton’s use of details and description is stunning. I want to weave in more details and setting description into my thesis novel that I am currently revising.
  • Historical fiction is wonderful reading! I love feeling like I am learning things about a place and time in history while also being engrossed in a story. Caring about the characters in the book also makes me feel that I get a better sense of who the people were who lived during that time.

Have any of you read The Secret Keeper? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Have a wonderful day!
-Dallas

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these:
review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
review of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Review of “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

Today was a glorious 50-degree day here in Indiana, and a Friday to boot! I celebrated by stopping by a frozen yogurt shop for a midafternoon snack. They still had the holiday flavors out and I perhaps gorged myself on a little too much of the gingerbread fro-yo {I am a sucker for anything gingerbread flavored, as evidenced by this photo of my happy gingerbread chai latte face} and needless to say, I am now in a little bit of a fro-yo sugar coma. I will persevere onward…

So, you may remember that this book was on my to-read list back in November as part of the book club hosted by blogging phenom Julie at PB Fingers.

the-happiness-project

You may also have noticed that finishing the book was crossed off my to-do list a while ago and that I mentioned one of the book’s principles {“Do good, feel good”} in my post about taking cards & cookies to the nursing home for the holidays.

To be honest, I think I kind of blurred together that post and the book in my mind, and thought I had already posted a review of The Happiness Project on here … until I went to look for the post last night and couldn’t find it. Whoops!

Better late than never, right? 😉

The Happiness Project takes us through a year-long quest of writer Gretchen Rubin to become happier and more grateful for her life and her blessings. She focuses on a specific area of her life for each month, such as feeling more energetic, being a better parent, and improving her relationship with her husband. Her aim is to continue the lessons from each month into the next month {picture a snowball accumulating more and more power as it rolls forward} so that by the end of the year she is attempting to put all of her lessons into practice. I really liked how she set up the project, and the book, in this organized, easy-to-follow way. I am using this strategy to tackle my own goals for this year: I have broken them up into different categories and am focusing on one main category per month, which will hopefully make it less overwhelming to stay on track and get things done.

Rubin writes in an accessible way, almost like a friend chatting to you over coffee. I also liked how she interspersed quotes, examples, and scientific & psychological research she had done throughout the book. It is clear she dove full-heartedly into her happiness project and I think that is a big part of what makes her story so inspiring and invigorating. This book is part of what motivated me to start my own year of kindness challenge!

year of kindness button

I was moved by Rubin’s “Splendid Truths” about Happiness {you can read the entire list on her blog here} especially her Second Splendid Truth:

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

Reading this statement made me feel joyfully understood. This would be my First Splendid Truth; this is my key to happiness. I make myself happy by making other people happy. And I try to brighten other people’s days with my own happiness. I remember a mantra I came up with in elementary school: “Why be sad when you could be happy?” It still rings true, for me, in most situations.

Something else that I found useful from this book was the appendix, which is filled with handouts and resources for people interested in starting their own happiness projects. Rubin wrote that one of the most motivating things for her was to track her progress with daily charts, and as I am someone also motivated by checking things off lists, I devised my own goal list for the week to keep me motivated on those routine goals that could easily fall by the wayside.

All in all, I think The Happiness Project is a motivating and inspiring book to read while also asking yourself, “What does my own Happiness Project look like?”

Have any of you read The Happiness Project? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

** For January, the PB Fingers book club pick is The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

** I’ll also be reading and reviewing 7: an experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker if anyone wants to join me! I’d be happy to post links to your book reviews, too!

7 by jen hatmaker

Have a great weekend! I am planning a night in watching Men in Black III {which I still can’t believe I managed to miss in theaters… I’ve been wanting to see it for.ev.er!}

Hope your night is filled with fun and relaxation and perhaps even a little Friday fro-yo! 😉

xo,
Dallas