daffodils

The first time I remember noticing daffodils popping up in the springtime was my junior year of college. This might sound crazy to some of you—that I was into my second decade on this planet before I paid those bright yellow flowers any mind. But I grew up in a Southern California beach town and went to college in Los Angeles. We had warm weather and sunshine the whole year round. I don’t remember nature changing much with the seasons. Maybe the hills grew a little browner in the summer, a little greener in the spring. But palm trees don’t shed their fronds in the autumn, and I don’t remember any daffodils.

My junior year of college, during the spring semester, everything changed. My world expanded. I studied abroad in England in a small university town called Norwich. It was a truly magical season of my life, though of course I didn’t know that at the beginning. The truth? I was terrified. I was so homesick that I couldn’t even think about my homesickness because I was worried it would paralyze me. Instead, I told myself over and over again how excited I was. I stoked my excitement like it was the first sparks of a fire.

I had decided to study abroad because I loved the idea of living in England and traveling around a foreign country, and I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Waaay out of my comfort zone. You see, I was the child who never made it through a sleepover without calling my parents to come pick me up. I was the high school senior who didn’t even apply to any colleges outside of California because I couldn’t imagine not being a short drive away from my hometown. I guess you might say that, for me, studying abroad was a sink-or-swim decision. I had a feeling I would always regret it if I didn’t study abroad. So I went to the info meeting. I filled out all the paperwork. I put down my deposit for a dorm room and registered for classes at the University of East Anglia. It didn’t seem quite real until the early morning, a week after New Year’s, when my parents drove me to LAX and I hugged them goodbye. Of course, I cried. It all felt surreal. But, I told myself, this was what I wanted.

When I arrived, it was early January and the sun sank at 4pm. I had never been so far from home. It was pre-smartphone days, though we did have Skype, so I could talk to my parents and my brother. But it was a twelve-hour time difference and it felt, for the first time in my life, like I was trying to navigate this world—this life—on my own. I arrived by bus with nothing more than one large suitcase and the tightly grasped knowledge, deep within me, that I could do this. This was an opportunity to be my best self, right from the get-go. No one here had any preconceptions about me. Which was lonely—but also liberating.

That first day when I arrived, I remember buying a frozen dinner from the on-campus grocery store. {Soon, I would learn that the better shops and restaurants and real grocery stores were in town, a short bus ride away.} I remember staring out the kitchen windows at the inky darkness as I microwaved the frozen chicken curry in my quiet dorm kitchen. That first day, jet-lagged, I ate dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon. My first friend, a British student in my dorm named Stevie, teased me for eating dinner at an old-person’s time. But he sat with me and gave me the low-down on campus life and answered my questions. I was immediately grateful for his friendliness, and for the other students in my dorm—or, my “flat” as the British kids called dorms—who trickled in over the rest of the weekend, returning to school from winter break. They were gregarious and fun and welcomed me beyond my wildest dreams. By the end of the first week, I felt like I had found “my people.”

The campus really was beautiful, and pretty much the exact opposite of my urban Los Angeles experience. My dorm-room window looked out onto a wide expanse of wild grass and a large pond surrounded by a dirt path, and a marshy area farther on that you could explore for hours. It reminded me of Wuthering Heights. It was exactly what I had dreamed England to be like. What I hadn’t expected were the wild bunny rabbits, hopping around everywhere. And I hadn’t expected the daffodils.

My first couple months in England were cold and rainy. I had brought along a big tan downy jacket that I affectionately dubbed “Poufy Coat” or “Poufy” for short. One weekend, it snowed, and everyone ran outside and spun around in the falling flakes, sticking out our tongues and laughing. Snow wasn’t very common—not like later, when I would live in Indiana—so I wasn’t the only one who was excited. By Monday morning, all the snow had melted.

Shortly after that snow, the daffodils began popping up. I remember looking out my bedroom window and seeing the grass studded with yellow. Walking to class, I’d smile at clutches of daffodils, nodding along the sidewalk like little surprise gifts. They seemed like special messengers, sent to remind us: Spring is coming. Spring is on its way. Don’t worry—this 4pm darkness isn’t going to last forever.

And before long, before we knew it, spring did come. The days grew longer, warmer. It was the longest semester of my life because so much was new, but it also passed by in an eye-blink. Soon, we found ourselves on the cusp of summer. We studied for final exams sprawled out in the sunshine on the grassy lawn. We picnicked on blankets and ate ice cream cones. We ordered another round of drinks at the pub, sitting outside to savor the late rays of sunlight. And then, suddenly—even though we’d been moving towards it all semester long—school was out for the summer. I hugged my friends goodbye, promising to always stay in touch. I packed up my large suitcase and took the bus into town for the last time, where I caught a train and then the Tube to the London airport. I flew back home, feeling like not quite a different person than I had been when I left six months prior—but not quite the same person, either. I felt… like me, only bigger. Braver. More whole somehow.

I think of my days in England often. I especially think of them during this time of year, when the daffodils spring up. Where I live now, in Northern California, we have a greater change of seasons than we did in Southern California. Here, I occasionally glimpse a row of cheerful daffodils.

Daffodils give me hope, and not just because of what they symbolize. Yes, they remind me spring is coming. Yes, they remind me that the darkness won’t always last. But even more than that, they make me think of change. Of what we are planting within us now, that will emerge to fruition much later.

We plant daffodils in the fall. They nestle there in the soil for months, under the cold and rain and snow. And then, just when maybe we’ve forgotten about them, or have started to worry they won’t come up after all—just then, they pop their green tips above the surface of the soil. They grow upwards towards the tentative sunlight. They open their yellow faces to smile at us.

A lot of seeds—or maybe you’d call them bulbs—were planted within me during my semester abroad in England. I planted daffodils during that semester that wouldn’t break through the soil until years later. I planted daffodils that I never knew I would depend upon until, years later, I wept to see them. Bulbs of courage, of open-heartedness, of faith. Of plunging forward into something new even though it was scary and even though I didn’t feel quite ready. Of embracing the unknown. Of surprising myself. Of pushing past my comfort zone, into the glorious blank slate of a new adventure.

I’m still planting daffodil bulbs. Each day, I plant something new, digging into the soil of my life with equal parts grit and faith, believing that one day in the future—maybe when I least expect it—a new sprig of green will burst up into my life and bloom.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open up a new document on your computer and free-write whatever comes to mind when you think of these questions.

  • What daffodils are you planting in your life right now?
  • What is an experience you have plunged into, even though you felt nervous or scared?
  • When have you stretched outside your comfort zone?
  • Write about a time you surprised yourself.

fabulous friday #14

Happy Friday, friends! It’s been a couple weeks since my last fabulous friday post, but I’m happy to be back today. Taking the time to make note of what I love always gets the weekend off on a great note!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Springtime! The weather this week has been absolutely gorgeous, and all the trees are bursting into bloom. Not to mention it staying light out past dinnertime thanks to Daylight Savings — it feels like the transition from winter to summer has officially begun. I love this time of year!

spring tree

2. My friend Kelsey’s laugh. This girl has one of the most beautiful, contagious, joy-filled laughs I’ve ever heard. I talked with her on the phone this morning for the first time in a while, and it was wonderful to hear her voice and her laugh. It’s been a couple hours since we hung up, and I’m still feeling happy from talking to her.

3. Oatmeal with strawberries. All this week I’ve swapped out my usual apple-and-peanut-butter oatmeal for strawberries-and-vanilla-ricemilk oatmeal, and I’m loving it.

strawberry oatmeal

4. Wisdom from some of my favorite bloggers, particularly these posts:

5. This beautiful video {thanks Allyn for sending it to me!}: 20 strangers kiss for the first time

Now I’m off to the gym and to run some errands! Tonight should be a low-key, catch-up-on-New-Girl-episodes kind of night, but this weekend is gearing up to be busy with fun plans. {brunch! birthday celebrations! double date!} I’ll be back on Sunday or Monday with a goals post/recap, but in the meantime I want to leave you with these two quotes that have really been speaking to me lately:

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” -Bertrand Russell

“If you try too carefully to plan your life, the danger is that you will succeed — succeed in narrowing your options, closing off avenues of adventure that cannot now be imagined.” -Harlan Cleveland

Questions for the day:

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

springtime veggie pasta bake

Hi everyone! I have a simple, delicious and healthy recipe to share with you today. This meal is simple to make, easily adaptable to your preferences, and is bursting with fresh veggie flavors! Hope you enjoy!

springtime pasta bake

– 1/2 box whole-wheat pasta {I used rotini}
– 1 yellow squash
– 1 green bell pepper
– 2 roma tomatoes
– 1/2 sweet onion
– 1 cup fresh baby spinach
– 1 tbsp minced garlic
– a drizzle of olive oil
– your sauce of choice {I used a combination of tomato sauce & pesto}
– 2 cups shredded cheese {I used an Italian blend}

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.

3. Chop and dice the veggies. Toss them in olive oil and saute them in a large pan on medium heat, until onion and garlic are fragrant and spinach is wilted.

4. Drain the pasta and pour cooked noodles into a large casserole dish. Toss with sauce and veggies until everything is well mixed.

5. Top with shredded cheese.

6. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve and savor! This is one of those recipes that makes terrific leftovers, too!

pasta bake

What are some of your favorite springtime recipes?

if you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
easy veggie, potato & sausage bake
cilantro-lime quinoa with chicken
tilapia with pineapple salsa

year of kindness challenge: week 14

year of kindness button

Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend? The weather has finally shifted from winter to sunny spring and I am LOVING it! Walking outdoors and soaking up the sunshine and fresh air is such a pleasure.

Speaking of spring, it seems fitting that the kindness challenge this past week was to give someone flowers. I gave flowers to two lovely people this week: my friend Shavonne, who aced her thesis defense {my defense is this Wednesday, eek!} and to the English Department Schedule Deputy Judy Ware, who is retiring this semester after many years of service. She is a really sweet lady and will certainly be missed at Purdue!

I picked up a couple pretty bouquets at the grocery store while I did my shopping for the week.

flowers

It was so much fun delivering them to Shavonne and Judy! Both were so surprised and excited to get flowers. Their faces lit up! It was the best $10 I have spent in a long time.

Judy sent me an email that afternoon:

“THANK YOU for the beautiful wishes and special card/good wishes.  I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. Enjoy finishing your degree and your academic next steps!!!”

This week’s kindness challenge pairs nicely with spring cleaning: go through your bookshelves and box up the books you no longer need or do not plan to read again. Then donate them to your local library, Boys & Girls Club, school or homeless shelter. You could also purchase some new books to donate. A great way to get children involved in this act of kindness is to have them pick out their favorite book to donate to a child who maybe does not have many books of his or her own.

{Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may know that literacy is a cause very dear to my heart — you can learn more about my organization Write On! For Literacy here!}

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Have a great week!
-Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
week 13 challenge: give someone flowers

happy friday!

I have finished teaching my afternoon class, which means it is offically SPRING BREAK here at Purdue! Woo hoo! There may still be snow on the ground, but it is beginning to feel a little more like spring. Today’s temperature was a balmy 40 degrees, and it is staying light out later and later, which is so nice after a long winter of 5 pm sunsets.

A few fun things of late:

  • Yesterday I saw Warm Bodies, a zombie love story. It was witty and hilarious and surprisingly moving. I loved it! If it’s still playing where you are, I’d highly recommend it.
  • Today I had lunch with good friends at Panera {shout-out to Sarah The Pajama Chef: fuji apple chicken salad is the best!} My friend Matt and his wife Casey recently got the most adorable basset hound puppy named Merriwether, and I could not stop petting her soft ears and wrinkly face. I miss our family dog Murray a TON — I even dreamed about him last night! — and I can’t wait to see him this summer! He would have been jealous at all the attention I was giving Merriwether.

murray jealous

  • I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a suspenseful, twists-and-turns mystery that was recommended to me by mulitple people and I have to say, I really could not put it down. The book is over 400 pages but I flew through it in a matter of days, even staying up late to read it a few nights! I was over-all satisfied by the book and very impressed with the author’s plotting and characterization talents, but for me the ending was disappointing. It felt like a roller-coaster that is building and building, and then just stops before the final descent. There is a final twist, but my main feeling when closing the book was frustration. Has anyone else read Gone Girl? What did you think of it?
  • The next book I’m planning to read is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green as part of the March PBF Book Club. I have read other books by John Green in the past and LOVED them, so I have high hopes for this one!
  • Maybe I am feeling book-crazy because I stopped by the local library this afternoon and spent some time browsing — one of my favorite things to do! I go to the library pretty much once a week and stock up on not just books, but also DVDs and CDs. Before I moved to Lafayette, I often used to overlook the library as a wonderful treasure trove of free entertainment.
  • I’m super excited to be participating in The Lean Green Bean’s Foodie Pen Pals group for March! It’s free to sign up, and you’re paired with another blogger or reader to send a box of treats and food goodies to that month. I’m having a blast picking out things to send to my pen-pal. You can learn more about the group and sign up for next month at The Lean Green Bean.
The Lean Green Bean

Hope you have a wonderful weekend! Anyone else getting spring fever?