why surprise dates are my new favorite thing

Back in the spring, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts–Happier With Gretchen Rubin & Elizabeth Craft–and one of their tips was to plan “surprise dates” with your significant other. I immediately loved this idea. I get a huge kick out of surprises, both planning them for others  and being surprised myself. Also, Allyn and I had a long list of “someday” date ideas–activities and restaurants and places that would be “fun for a date someday”–and, while we have always gone on a lot of fun dates together, I thought having a clear structure would be motivation to tackle even more of the creative things on our list. One thing I highly agree with Gretchen Rubin about is that more often than not, when something can be done anytime, it is not done at all.

I proposed the “surprise date” idea to Allyn, and he was game to give it a try. {One of the countless amazing things about my husband is that he is always open to trying new things, whether that is a new recipe I have invented or some activity I hear about on a podcast. I love you, honey!}

We decided to alternate months planning surprises dates for each other, and set parameters to keep things from getting too crazy–the last thing we wanted was for these surprise dates to seem stressful or like a huge event. {To be honest, I think Allyn was probably trying to reign me in because he knows I tend to get a little too enthusiastic or go a tad overboard sometimes. See: planning a huge surprise party for his birthday at a restaurant with all of his family and friends, when we had only been dating for six months. What can I say? I love birthdays and I love surprises and I love him!}

Now, five months into our surprise date experiment, Allyn and I both agree that it is one of our favorite traditions, and definitely something we hope to continue throughout our marriage. It is such a kick to plan the dates for each other and, on the receiving end, the dates just have an extra bit of special magic because they are surprises. It reminds me of when we first started dating. Surprise dates are an easy way to keep the romance alive!

And they don’t even have to be that original. For our very first surprise date, which I planned, we went out to dinner and a movie. But it was more special than our average dinner-and-a-movie date because I found a new-to-us restaurant to try out, and also took Allyn to a cool boutique candy shop to get movie treats before heading to the theater. {No lie: the way to my man’s heart is sour gummy candy.}

Here are some other surprise dates we’ve gone on together:

  • Lunch at a cute little Mexican restaurant and a walk along the Hayward Shoreline, which is quite a lovely hidden gem.

  • Lunch and beignets at a New Orleans-themed restaurant, then a matinee showing of the musical Monsoon Wedding.
  • Fireworks night at an Oakland A’s game.

  • An afternoon at the Exploratorium, a super cool science museum in San Francisco, plus a drive to Twin Peaks to take in the incredible views of the city.

  • Dessert at a French bakery that Holly introduced me to during her recent visit {she and her boyfriend discovered it when they were out here for our wedding!} followed by an indoor rock-climbing class.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this idea with you guys in case any of you find it intriguing! Let me know if you try it out yourselves, or if you do something similar. What are some of the most fun dates you’ve been on? Anything we should add to our list of dates to try in the San Francisco Bay Area?

why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 1}

My freshman year of college, I had a huge crush on a boy who lived in my dorm. Let’s call him M. He was friendly and witty, with a crinkle-eyed smile, and talked about world issues and politics like no one I had met before. These were the days before wireless Internet and smartphones, back when you could only watch TV on actual televisions, and not everyone had TVs in their dorm rooms. The girls across the hall from me had a TV, and their room became the “hang-out spot” on our wing, and M would often come upstairs from the boys’ floor to watch sports games in the afternoons. Our dorm rooms were shoeboxes, and we kept our doors open for the illusion of more space. I’d be working on a homework assignment at my desk and I could hear his shouts and groans and cheers from across the hall. We started talking. We became friends; to my surprise, he became one of my best friends. And I quickly developed a crush on him. This was no secret to anyone in our friendship group.

Looking back, I smile at how naïve I was. I went away to college without my first kiss. Everything I knew about romance and relationships had been culled from YA books, rom coms, and the Disney channel. I whole-heartedly believed that when two people liked each other, they would start dating. Simple and easy as that. One night, when we were all piled in the room across the hall watching a movie, I was sitting next to M and he held my hand. I went to bed that night with shooting stars in my belly, certain that this meant we were now dating.

But it meant no such thing. The next day, when M sauntered into the room across the hall to watch a baseball game, his perfunctory greeting made it clear he was going to act like nothing had happened. I felt silly and embarrassed. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. This was college, after all. People probably went around holding hands all the time. I told myself to get over it; he obviously just thought of me as a friend.

Time marched on. We had long conversations about random things. We laughed about inside jokes. Every time I would feel sure that this was it, we were friends and nothing more, and I was okay with that—something would happen that would make my heart flutter anew with hope. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I marched down to his dorm room, knocked on the door, and unequivocally stated that I liked him as more than just a friend. I remember how he stared at me, his expression unreadable. “I have to think about things,” he told me. “I’ll get back to you.” Like I had invited him to a birthday party and he had to check his calendar.

But he never did get back to me. We didn’t talk about it again. The turning point came after the Handholding Incident 2.0, when he kissed me after a party and then acted like nothing had happened when I saw him the next day. I decided that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, ballooning with hope and then breaking my own heart over and over again.

I’m done, I wrote in my diary. I’m over him, once and for all. And I compiled a list of all the reasons why we would never work.

“I’m done,” I told my friends. I remember this moment vividly—a Sunday evening in my dorm room, the streetlights blinking on outside my window, the door closed for once so no one walking by would hear our conversation. “I’m going to find a guy who actually wants to be with me and doesn’t play these stupid games. And someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late.” My friends braided my hair and handed me cookies they’d snuck out from the dining hall and assured me that one day he would grow up and realize how dumb he had been to let me go.

In that moment, I desperately wanted to be “the one that got away.” I wanted him to yearn for me the way I was yearning for him; to hurt the way my heart was hurting. Looking back now, it almost feels like I cast a spell that day. If my life were a novel, our narrator would step in right now and warn, Be careful what you wish for…

The rest of freshman year carried on. I forced my feelings to ebb away, and gradually they listened. I dated a few other guys. By the time we moved out of the dorms, I genuinely felt nothing more than friendship for M. It only stung a little to hear him talk about the beautiful girl he had a crush on in one of his classes; I even helped him pick out a gift to give her on the last day of class. Whenever those voices in the back of my head would pop up, sneering that he didn’t like me because I wasn’t pretty enough, cool enough, smart enough, I would look back at my diary entry and say the words like a promise: One day, he’ll look back and regret it. I’ll be “the one who got away”…

Summer waned and we returned to school for our sophomore year, excited to be living in off-campus apartments with balconies and kitchens. {By this time, I had developed an entirely new huge crush on another guy who would alternately woo and shatter my hopeful heart, but that’s a whole ’nother story.} I was so happy that I had finally let go of my pointless feelings for M, because it felt like we were legit friends now. He was the guy friend who insisted on walking me the couple blocks from his apartment to mine late at night; who came over and made me soup that time I got a really bad case of the flu; who gave me a guy’s honest opinion when I was trying to pick out an outfit for a date. He laughed at my silly stories and listened to my ideas. Now that I no longer cared about trying to make him fall in love with me, I was just myself around him. It was freeing to hang out without over-analyzing every little thing he said and did, searching for clues about his “real feelings” for me.

Then, one night, he came over and said exactly the words I had wanted to hear from him the year before…

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

my valentine’s weekend


Hello, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful Presidents’ Day! In honor of our past presidents, here is a link I came across with some truly inspiring quotes: 50 Greatest Presidential Quotes of All Time.

I also hope you had a love-filled {all kinds of love, from friendship to pet-love to romantic love} Valentine’s Day! My minister gave an insightful sermon about the many forms of love in our lives that we should celebrate, rather than only focusing on romantic love. I could not agree more! She also touched upon The 5 Love Languages, a subject I find quite fascinating. You can watch her sermon on YouTube here.

My Valentine’s Day was not just limited to a day, but encompassed the whole weekend! Here are some snapshots:

My sweetie and I ordered Blue Apron for the first time, and received our first delivery on Friday night. We had heard many good things about this meal/cooking service and thought we would try it out for ourselves! We ended up making all three meals in three straight days, for dinner on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night. I was blown away by how easy it was, and how absolutely delicious all the meals turned out! Each night Allyn and I would look at each other across the dinner table in disbelief: We just made this?! Really?! I also feel like the recipes taught us some new cooking tips that we can use in lots of future recipes of our own! We are definitely Blue Apron converts now. 🙂

Friday night's dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Friday night’s dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Saturday morning, I woke up with the urge to bake. So I whipped up these easy + healthy apple oatmeal muffins, along with a note: MUFFINS FOR MY STUDMUFFIN. I came across this idea on Pinterest {the wedding-planning frenzy has begun!} and thought it was too cute, so I couldn’t resist doing it for my studmuffin. 😉

apple oatmeal muffins

After enjoying a couple muffins for breakfast warm from the oven, I headed out for a quick tutoring session, and when I returned home my sweetie surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers!

Valentine flowers

I spent most of the rest of the day obsessively reading THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN… have any of you guys read this book? Allyn’s sister loaned it to me and I started it on Friday night, and could.not.put.it.down alllll weekend… I finished it on Sunday afternoon! Very suspenseful and full of twists and turns.

girl on train book

Saturday night we made another Blue Apron meal and I had to continue our Valentine’s tradition of red velvet crinkle cookies! YUM. These are so festive and super easy to make {besides the batter turning your hands bright red!} 😉

red velvet crinkle cookies

On Sunday, Allyn came with me to church to announce our engagement news during the “joys and sorrows” part of the service. It was so wonderful to share our happiness with the congregation! Everyone was so warm and joyful, and it warmed my heart.

We stopped by my grandparents’ after church to say hi, and I was delighted when my aunts and cousins surprised us and came by for lunch, too! We hadn’t seen them for a while and it was so fun to chat and share stories. Grandma busted out some of the wedding photo albums from when my aunts got married, and there was much laughter while looking through them. {’80s fashion out in full force!} My grandma then disappeared for a little while into her bedroom and emerged holding her own wedding dress from 60+ years ago! It was a goosebumps-inducing sight. The dress’s beautiful lace is still preserved quite well. It was quite a special moment!

My grandparents also surprised me with “engagement flowers”… our apartment is now bursting with flowers and I love it!

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When we got home, Allyn and I got some work done for a little bit, and then he asked, “Do you want to go mini-golfing?” There is a very cute course less than a mile from our new apartment, where Allyn and his family have gone many times. It was a beautiful evening so we walked over to Golfland and played 18 holes. There were many families and couples out and the atmosphere reminded me of summertime. I played pretty well, but Allyn absolutely rocked it. He got THREE hole-in-ones! How is that even possible?! Needless to say, he beat me handily.

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mini golf

When we got home our stomachs were growling, so we made our final Blue Apron meal of the batch: seared chicken with mashed potatoes and maple-glazed carrots. It was both of our favorite one from the bunch {and all of them were delicious!}

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valentines dinner

It was the perfect ending to a truly lovely weekend!

Questions of the day:

  • What was the highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?
  • What is your Love Language?

fabulous friday #28

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re having a fabulous day!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. The gorgeous summer sunshine and the beautiful beach. I went out to dinner with my parents and it was one of those perfect evenings… warm, a slight breeze, the sun setting over the ocean. I tried to capture it with my camera, but this photo doesn’t do it justice!

pretty ocean

2. Last night, my sweet parents surprised me with tickets to see Once: The Musical at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles! The movie is one of my favorites and I think the music is stunningly beautiful. Seeing the musical was goosebumps-inducing! And we made a night of it with a lovely dinner beforehand at 33 Taps in Hollywood. My parents are two of my best friends and I love getting to spend time with them!

pantages theater

mom dad once

3. I always love coming home and getting together with friends! I saw Gricelda for a lunch date at our favorite spot, Urbane Cafe. Tania invited me to her house for a long catch-up visit {the kind where you feel like it’s been maybe forty minutes and you look at the clock and, whoops, three hours have passed!} And Erica and Kyle had me over to their adorbs new apartment for dinner.

me and erica at her place

They made a delicious healthy stir-fry with rice and I tried out a new recipe for dessert: raspberry brown-butter crumb bars. Oh man, you guys — so good! I will be sharing the recipe next week, so stay tuned.

raspberry brown butter bars

4.  I was floored by this blog post about the declining health of America’s kids — more proof that kids need active play time every day! This amazing nonprofit org, KaBoom!, is where my brother is interning this summer in Washington, D.C.

5. My first Kindle short story is now available! It’s called “Grand Slam” and for a limited time, it’s on sale at Amazon for less than a buck! Here’s a brief description: Derek is a die-hard Cincinnati Reds baseball fan. He finally works up the nerve to talk to his crush, Regina… but then he learns she is a huge New York Yankees fan. The Reds are going up against the Yankees in the World Series! Can their budding romance survive an intense sports rivalry?

grand slam cover

Read a preview and get your copy here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M1236J2

Here’s to soaking up every last drop of this TGIF and cheers to a fun summer weekend!

Questions of the morning:

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

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.

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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!

saturday upsides: my favorite romantic movies

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Happy weekend, everyone! Time for another edition of Saturday Upsides — today, in honor of Valentine’s Week, I’m excited to share with you some of my all-time favorite romantic movies. I came across an article on Cracked.com yesterday about how the weather influences people’s preferences when it comes to movies: when people are warm they generally prefer action movies; when they are cold they generally prefer romantic movies. Makes sense to me!

valentines week

Valentine’s Day + cold winter weather = the perfect time to curl up under a blanket and watch a good romance!

Here are a few of my top picks:

Serendipity

Serendipity

This is probably my favorite “chick flick” of all time! It came out when I was in high school and I think I saw it three times in the movie theaters alone. My friend Micaela and I were obsessed! I love the idea of serendipity {a fortunate accident} and love that is “meant to be.” This movie twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the end. I love the characters, the music, the settings, the dialogue. There’s also a lot of humor in the movie — Eugene Levy’s character is hilarious!

When Harry Met Sally

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This movie just makes me feel so happy and warm inside. You know those movies that make you feel like everything is right with the world? When Harry Met Sally is at the top of my list. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are fantastic together, and the dialogue and storyline are Nora Ephron at her best. One of my favorite things about this movie is the intersplicing of “real life” older couples sharing how they met. Best love quote of the movie: “At that moment, I knew. I knew the way you know about a good melon.”

You’ve Got Mail

you've got mail

Another Meg Ryan classic … I can’t even count the number of times I’ve watched this movie with my friend Holly. It’s just so sweet and wonderful! Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are superb together. I love the music in this movie; I love the book/reading theme; I love the backdrop of NYC. This movie is actually a remake of a Jimmy Stewart class, The Shop Around The Corner, which I have watched many times with my Gramps and would also highly recommend! The ending of both movies always gives me a grateful, goofy, teary smile–one of the best kinds of smile, in my opinion.

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!

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This is such a fun movie! I remember it came out when I was in high school, and I had a bad day at school and my sweet dad and brother took me to see this movie in the the theaters. {My mom was at work.} How lucky am I, right? Best dad and brother ever! I loved every minute of this movie that first viewing, and I love it still. This is the perfect rainy-day movie, sleepover movie, lazy Sunday movie when you just want to watch something funny and sweet. Which guy should she choose: the famous celebrity or her small-town best friend? {Okay, you might already be able to guess who she chooses, but getting there is the good part!} 🙂

The Notebook

the notebook

There’s something about the love story in The Notebook that really sweeps me away. The kiss scene in the rain is amazing!!

And of course, the perfect movie to celebrate Valentine’s Day would have to be …

Valentine’s Day!

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It doesn’t get much more love-packed than this! While I don’t think this movie is quite as good as its Christmas-themed inspiration Love Actually, I still really enjoy the multitude of interweaving storylines, star-studded cast, and of course the day all the action revolves around: Valentine’s Day! This movie explores many different types of love in many different relationships. Plus, my girl Taylor Swift is in it! Love her.

What are some of your favorite romantic movies? Please share in the comments section!

Hope your weekend is wonderful,
Dallas

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you might enjoy these other valentine-themed posts:
easy + inexpensive valentine’s day cards
an adorable owl craft project
6 simple sweets to make your sweetie for valentine’s day
budget-friendly valentine’s day ideas
hand-crafted valentine’s day decor