for mikey

There were a few years in my life before I met my friend Mikey, but I don’t remember them. In my memory, Mikey was always there, just as my brother Greg was always there. Greg was born when I was two and a half years old, and I met Mikey around the same time, when I began going to daycare at Jeannie’s house. Jeannie was a warm grandmotherly woman with big glasses and bright lipstick, who made us oatmeal in the mornings and shooed us outside on sunny days to ride around the backyard pavement on tricycles. In the autumn, Jeannie had a scarecrow decoration that for some reason terrified me, so she took it down and put it away in the back of the hall closet. That was the type of person she was. The only thing I remember ever being upset at her about was that she would insist I wasn’t allowed to marry my brother Greg. At four years old, I was convinced that I was going to marry him one day, only Jeannie said I couldn’t. My mom finally told her, “Jeannie, don’t worry about it. If she still wants to marry her brother when she’s sixteen, then we’ll have a problem.”

Mikey and his younger sister Morgan also went to daycare at Jeannie’s, and we became fast friends. Mikey is three months older than I am, and as a kid he had a bowl haircut, round cheeks, and an ever-present grin. Jeannie watched other kids, too—there were maybe six or eight of us in total—but Mikey and I were a unit. We went to preschool together, too, and spent many mornings playing “house” together in the play kitchen. I might have thought I would one day marry Greg, but Mikey was my pretend-husband. When it came time to enroll in kindergarten, I couldn’t imagine being separated from him. My parents somehow finagled permission to enroll me at Poinsettia Elementary, even though we didn’t live in the district, because that’s where my best friend Mikey was going to school.

The timeline is unclear to me, but around this time, Jeannie got sick. Her cancer had come back. I don’t remember how the grown-ups broke the news to us that Jeannie was gone. I just remember we didn’t go to Jeannie’s anymore. It was around the same time as our transition to kindergarten and full days of school. It was like Jeannie was a magical person—a magical genie—and when we outgrew her, she disappeared. I like to think of her magically reappearing in the lives of some other little boys and girls, greeting them with a lipsticked kiss and a big hug. My memories of that early time in my life are hazy, but they are suffused with a feeling of comfort, safety and love.

Elementary school presented new problems: namely, other little boys our age. Mikey and I still played together at recess, but now I had competition. And it was hard to compete with these boys. I was a shy, soft little kid, and the boys had a secret code language of humor and teasing that I didn’t understand. I remember, in first grade, playing on the basketball court with Mikey and his new best friend Alan, who I was supremely jealous of. Mikey would throw Alan’s basketball down the grass hill so he had to run after it and then trudge back up to the court. The boys seemed to think this was hilarious. I didn’t think it was very nice.

In elementary school, Mikey and I started to grow apart. I made friends with girls in our class, and before long I had BFF necklaces with Kelly, and play dates where we would make up stories with our American girl dolls and paint our nails. By fourth grade, Mikey and I weren’t inviting each other to our birthday parties anymore. We were still friends, but it was different now. It was harder, somehow.

Middle school made things even harder, even more awkward. Boys and girls were not really friends at my middle school. There were big groups of boys and big groups of girls, and sometimes they would collide in giggly flirtation and then bounce away from each other again. Many of my friends from elementary school were in the district for a different middle school across town, so the transition had been a rough one—almost like starting over. Mikey and I did go to the same middle school, and it was nice to know he was still with me. Our joined past seemed almost like another life—like a secret that only we knew. We were in many of the same classes, and his presence was comforting to me, even though we didn’t interact much. Eventually I met Erica, and became part of her friendship group.

High school was much of the same. We ran in separate circles. I remember our sophomore year, Mikey—who was going by Michael or Mike now—had a crush on one of my friends, who treated him scornfully. That was the first inkling in my gut that maybe she and I weren’t going to be friends for much longer. And we weren’t. Junior year, that friendship exploded in a painful flurry. I felt so betrayed, so lost and alone. I remember navigating through the crowds of students to the quad at lunch, passing by the picnic table where Mikey and his friends always sat. Part of me yearned to just walk over and plop down beside him. That’s what my preschool self would have done. She wouldn’t have been able to imagine a time when Mikey and I weren’t a unit. Even though it had been years since we’d had an actual conversation, I sensed that I still would have been welcome there. But things were too complicated now. So I didn’t say anything to Mikey. I walked right on past.

Senior year is when Mikey and I found our way back to our friendship. We were in the same physics class, and were paired up together for many labs. He was still goofy, still nice, still unabashedly himself. This grown-up version of my old friend loved historical reenactments and World War Two. He played classical music on the piano and watched foreign films. He read more widely than anyone else I knew at our school. I was surprised, but also not surprised, when I began to think of him as one of “my people” again. Then, a few of us formed a study group and we’d meet up on weekends to cram for tests together, and sometimes we’d have movie nights at Mikey’s house. He and I slipped back into our friendship like it was a well-worn jacket that we had set down for a moment and forgotten, like it had been waiting patiently for us all this time. I imagined Jeannie looking down at us, smiling, nodding her head in approval.

Soon, it was as if Mikey and I had never had that break in our friendship at all—as if we had always remained close. When we talk about our friendship now, when we introduce each other to someone else, it is always as if we became best friends at the age of three and remained that way throughout school. In a deep, quiet way, maybe that is true. I think I always knew that Mikey was someone I could count on if I needed him. I hope he knew that about me, too. He is one of the few people in my life who has always accepted me exactly as I am. Around him, I have always felt comfortable being nothing other than myself. I have always felt like enough. Even during the challenges of high school, when my self-esteem was sometimes like a gas gauge on Empty, when I felt achingly different from everyone else, when I worried about what people thought about me—I never worried about what Mikey thought about me. I could just relax around him and be myself.

As senior year sped by, we hung out all the time. Mikey swept me into his friendship group; I called them “the boys.” We would crowd onto the sofa and watch movies at his house; old movies I never would have watched on my own, like Dr. Strangelove. Mikey played songs from Phantom of the Opera on the piano. We went together to Alan’s baseball games and cheered him on from the bleachers. One Sunday, I was stranded in a parking lot when my car wouldn’t start, and my parents were away somewhere. My brother couldn’t drive yet. It was Mikey I called, Mikey who came to rescue me without hesitation. He came to the school play I wrote, bringing along the rest of “the boys” with him, applauding loudly from the front row. He came to my reading and book signing when I published my collection of short stories 3 a.m., talking with me beforehand about normal things—he could probably tell I was nervous. We went to Prom in the same big group of friends. In my yearbook, he wrote, This isn’t really goodbye. Don’t worry—I will always be with you!

{high school graduation, with two of our favorite teachers from elementary school}

During college, we talked on the phone sometimes, and he came to visit occasionally. He and Celine bonded over their mutual Lebanese heritage. Years later, he would travel to Paris with his family, and Celine was living there, and they hung out together and Skyped me from her apartment. I remember the strange joy bubbling up inside me as I laughed with them via a computer screen about some random story. How small and precious and wondrous the world seemed—my oldest friend, and my dear college friend, calling me together from halfway around the world. I wasn’t there physically, but I felt like I was. When Celine died, Mikey was one of the few people in my life who I felt not only understood my grief, but shared in it. He was grieving her, too. It comforted me that the two of them had shared their own adventures. That she still lives on in Mikey’s memories, too.

Celine and Mikey were the same in their blind faith and unfettered support of my writing. They both made me feel like I had nothing at all to prove; like all of the things I was hoping for and dreaming for and striving for already existed in the future, moments just waiting for me to reach them. I didn’t have to worry at all. I didn’t have to doubt myself. I could take a deep breath and just relax, and take pleasure in my writing. Mikey still makes me feel this way. He has always been my fan.

Whenever I have a book event anywhere near Ventura, Mikey is there. He always gives a little shrug, like it is no big deal, like, Of course I’m here. Why wouldn’t I be? Whenever I see his familiar stride loping through the audience, I feel a little less nervous, a little more calm. Deep breath. Mikey’s here. Over all these years, his pride in me has helped me feel more proud of myself.

I vividly remember the first time I met Luana, who was then Mikey’s new girlfriend. I was home for a visit, and the three of us went out for ice cream. I loved her immediately—she is warm, and funny, and welcoming—the kind of person who makes you feel right at ease. Within fifteen minutes of meeting her, I felt as if I had known her for a long time. Luana is a fiery, vibrant, beautiful woman from Brazil, and she draws Mikey out of his shell. I remember the way he looked at her like he couldn’t quite believe she was there sitting next to him, stealing bites of his ice cream. I remember the way they teased each other, and how she made him laugh, and how he seemed a little more open, a little less guarded, a little more himself than I had ever seen him before. At least, I hadn’t seen him this way for a very long time. Perhaps Luana helped him find his way back to that little round-cheeked, goofy-grinned boy I had known at Jeannie’s. Mikey has seemed… freer, ever since he met her.

Please, I remember hoping that night as I drove home. Please don’t break his heart.

She didn’t break his heart. She filled it. They got married a couple weeks ago, on October 6, and my eyes brimmed with tears when they read their beautiful and heartfelt vows to each other. I’ve never seen Mikey as happy as he was that day. They were both radiant. Witnessing their marriage, I felt like I was a balloon swelling with happiness because my dear sweet friend found this incredible woman who loves him so deeply. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole weekend.

Traveling back up to the Bay Area after Mikey and Luana’s wedding, I thought a lot about friendship, and how grateful and lucky I feel that Mikey and I held onto ours. After all, it takes work to keep a friendship going, even when you have a lifetime of history together. But the work is always worth it. More than worth it. Mikey’s sturdy and unwavering friendship has taught me the power of the little things, that are actually the big things. The power of showing up, and keeping promises, and supporting each other without reservation. The power of loving your friends for the people they were and the people they are still becoming. When I look at Mikey, I can see the little kid he was reflected in the man he is now. I can also see the little girl I was, reflected in the way I am around him—a little sillier, a little lighter, a little more playful than I am in my grown-up life. Friendships let us hold onto these past versions of ourselves, incorporating them into our present. Old friends, good friends, true friends—they are depositories, helping us hold our memories closer and keep our dreams alive.

One of my favorite photos of me and Mikey is this one. We are five years old, side by side, squinting into the sun. It looks almost as if we are trying to glimpse a future we can’t see. We don’t know what is coming next. But we do know we’ll have each other. We know our friendship will last.

Your turn:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “freewrite” about one of more of these questions:

  • Write about one of your oldest, dearest friends. What are your favorite memories from your years together?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities of a true friend?
  • Have you ever grown apart from a friend, and then reconnected? Write about that experience. Or, is there a friend you would like to reconnect with?

fred

One of my fondest friendship memories is from one of the hardest periods of my life. It was my final semester of grad school and I had broken up with my fiancé two weeks before. I was waiting outside the public library near campus, feeling alone and numb, watching for a familiar red car. Suddenly, there it was, turning the corner and pulling up to the curb. The woman driving was my beautiful friend Holly, with her dark curly hair and tan skin and colorful sunglasses. She smiled and waved, reaching over to open the passenger door. I grabbed my backpack and slid into the car. I couldn’t quite believe she was here, my dear sweet friend who I think of as my sister. She hugged me close and my numbness dissolved into hiccupy sobs.

“Oh, baby girl,” she said. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

“I’m just so happy to see you,” I choked out. Which was the truth. Yes, I was crying with sadness, but mostly I was crying with gratitude and relief that Holly had driven all the way from Nashville to Indiana to spend the weekend with me. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” she replied.

We drove to the apartment I was subletting until graduation. {I had moved out of the apartment I’d shared with my ex.} Holly set down her duffel bag and, without a word, we flung ourselves across my bed, lying on our backs and gazing up at the cottage-cheese ceiling. Holly and I lived together in college, and whenever we see each other it feels like we are living together again. She knows what brand of crackers and yogurt and cereal I buy at the grocery store; we use the same type of hair products; we both listen to Taylor Swift when we get ready in the morning. When other people visit, I often feel like I should plan out an itinerary of Fun Things To Do so they won’t get bored, but visits with Holly tend to include everyday activities like errands and coffeeshop work sessions and doing each other’s dishes. With Holly, it is not uncommon for us to put on a movie, pause it to talk about something, and never finish watching the movie because we’re still talking two hours later. Her friendship is like a comfortable pair of well-worn jeans that I can slip into and be exactly myself.

“Someone wants to say hi,” Holly said, rummaging in her duffel bag. She pulled out a small stuffed animal, a monkey with a well-loved fuzzy body and a wise stitched smile.

“Fred!” I exclaimed, hugging him to my chest. Back in college, Holly’s mom sent her Fred in a care package. Ever since then, Fred has been lent out to me in emergency situations, like when I broke up with my college boyfriend and wanted something to hold as I tried to fall asleep. After college graduation, whenever Holly and I visited each other, Fred was a part of our visits: Holly would bring him on trips, and when I visited her I would fall asleep holding his soft squishable body. For my birthday card one year, Holly took a picture of Fred wearing a birthday hat.

I smiled at Holly. “I can’t believe you brought him!”

“He insisted,” Holly said. “You’re his girl.”

{Fred and me circa blurry cell phone camera, 2013}

It was amazing how happy and comforted I felt holding Fred in my lap. He made me feel connected to earlier versions of myself. I thought of my college self, devastated over the breakup with my college boyfriend. I thought of all the other heartbreaks I’d been through along the way: the dates that never called again, the budding relationships that fizzled out, the guys who wanted too much too fast, the guys I liked but didn’t love. With every heartbreak, I always held out hope that it would be worth it in the long run; that the temporary pain and disappointment were actually stepping stones leading to the eventual joy and fulfillment of finding the person who was right for me. I realized that I owed it not just to my current self, but also to my past selves to keep looking, to keep hoping. Never to settle.

“One day,” Holly said, as if reading my thoughts, “Aunt Holly is going to tell your kids about how their mom was engaged once before she met their dad, and it’s going to be this mysterious tidbit about their mom’s life before she became their mom. And I’m going to tell them how brave their mom was for listening to her gut and her heart, and how it’s so good she did because then she met their dad.”

I squeezed her hand. “You really think so? I’m going to meet him one day?”

“I know so,” Holly said. “And you’re going to be so happy, and you’re going to have absolutely zero doubts, and you’re going to call me up and say, ‘Oh Holly, THIS is what it’s supposed to feel like!’ ” {Side note: When Allyn and I got engaged, I called Holly and that is exactly what I said.}

Over the years, Holly and I have often joked that we live “parallel lives” — it seems that things tend to happen to us simultaneously, whether big things like a new job or small things like a bad haircut. The same week I broke up with my fiancé, she ended things with her boyfriend at the time. We were both in deep pain, but there was also joy buried in there too because at least in the midst of such pain we got to be together. We spent the entire weekend talking and crying and processing and laughing and speculating and crying some more. We went out for dinner and ciders at an Irish pub. We went to the movies. We went to the grocery store because Holly wanted to make sure I had enough food, that I was eating enough. We went to the mall and each found perfect dresses: me, a white lace dress to wear to my thesis reading; Holly, a flouncy gold dress to wear to her school’s formal dance.

Then, all too soon, it was Sunday. Time for Holly to hit the road back to Nashville. We always do goodbyes quickly to keep from crying too much. Holly hoisted her duffel bag onto her shoulder… but she left Fred sitting on my pillow.

“Don’t forget Fred!” I said, grabbing him for her.

“I want you to keep him,” Holly said. “Just for these next few weeks, until I come back for your thesis reading.”

“Are you sure?” It was all I could say at the moment. I felt overwhelmed.

“Yep,” Holly said. “Fred wants to be here with you right now. I wish I could stay with you, but since I can’t, he is staying in my place.”

“Are you sure you’ll be able to come back for my thesis reading? It’s so much driving — I didn’t realize you were coming both weekends — I thought you were just coming this weekend instead —”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Holly said, pulling me in for a hug. I buried my face into her curly hair and let myself cry a little, wondering how it was possible that my heart could feel so broken and yet also so full.

{Holly and me at my thesis reading}

The other day, one of my students was writing a piece about a beloved stuffed animal they had received as a baby, and it made me think about Fred. About how, sometimes, an object can add up to more than its individual parts. Because Fred is not just stuffing and fabric and thread. He is more than that. He is imbued with the memories of my friendship with Holly.

His name has always suited him. He just seems like a Fred. Maybe because — as it struck me the other day — if you take FRED and add IN all the memories and laughter and tears and time you spend together, it adds up to FRIEND. FRED + IN = FRIEND.

When I think of Fred, I think of all the joys Holly and I have celebrated together, and also all the storms we have supported each other through. All the ways that Holly has been there for me and all the ways she has made me feel understood and loved. All of our meandering and silly and heartfelt conversations that Fred has been privy to. Fred, like Holly — and like all beloved stuffed animals and beloved friends — is an outstanding listener. He is patient, and he never judges. He is soft and warm, but he is also tough and durable: made to last. If I were to pick a symbol of true friendship, it wouldn’t be joined hands or friendship bracelets or hearts drawn in the sand. It would be a well-worn, well-loved, stuffed animal monkey with a wise stitched smile named Fred.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” without any self-editing or judgment. Just see what flows out of you. Feel free to use one or more of the following questions as inspiration.

  • Write about a time that a friend was there for you when you needed them the most.
  • Do you have any memories that hold both sadness and joy? Write about them.
  • Describe a beloved stuffed animal and the memories and values they hold for you.
  • What is most important to you in a friend?

learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn’t just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.

goals + recipes for the week of 3/1

Hi there, friends! Wow, it’s been a whirlwind weekend over here! How about you? It’s been nice to decompress and relax a little this evening after being go-go-go on Friday and Saturday. This morning I had a wonderful, restorative time at church, and chatted with people for quite a while after the service. When I came home, I called a couple friends to catch up while I was lounging in bed. It was lovely!

Then I chopped up bunch of veggies that were on their last legs in the fridge — celery, carrots, onion, bell pepper, snap peas — and threw them together in a pot of soup for dinner, which I ate with my grandma in front of the TV as we watched “Nashville”… my grandma is so funny watching that show, she thinks most of the male characters look alike and is perpetually getting their storylines confused. Such a cutie-pie!

Backing up to Saturday… I was out the door at 10:45 to tutor two of my mentees before driving to the public library to teach four back-to-back classes of kiddos. Other than some of my kindergarteners being scared of the thunder outside {we got some rain this weekend, woo hoo!} it was a pretty uneventful day of teaching. The quote of the day came from one of my eight-year-old students, rocking a shiny plastic dollar-sign ring: “Chuck E. Cheese’s is so HARSH, Miss Dallas. It’s so hard to win tickets!” #secondgradeproblems

After teaching, I drove to my sweetheart’s place and we carpooled to Plank to meet up with Dana and Brad for a double-date! We had such a fun time: chatted over great food, played arcade games {skeeball is my fave!} and of course we couldn’t leave without taking photos in the photo booth:

us at plank photo booth

All in all, it’s been a really wonderful weekend. I hope yours has too! And now… moving onto goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
mail in passport application
connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– participate in The Minimalist Challenge
– connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
butternut tabbouleh via Cookie + Kate
baked pb apple oatmeal via Two Peas and Their Pod
grain-free classic chocolate-chip cookies via Detoxinista & It’s Progression
spiced pumpkin cornbread via Daily Garnish & It’s Progression
potato rosemary knots via The Pajama Chef
– my own springtime veggie pasta bake

Questions of the day:

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

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

goals + recipes for the week of 2/22

Hi there, friends! What did you think of the Oscars? I really need to get out to the movies more because out of all the Oscar nominees for Best Film, I had only seen one. I really want to see Boyhood, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Birdman!

We went over to my Aunt Annie and Uncle Arn’s house to watch the Oscars and eat a delicious homemade pasta dinner. I need to get the recipe for my Uncle Arn’s tomato sauce so I can share it with you guys! He is Italian and makes a darn good pasta sauce.

I’ve been missing Celine a lot today. Trying to be gentle with myself. The grief ebbs and flows. I was talking with my brother earlier, trying to analyze my feelings — how maybe it’s starting to feel real that she’s truly gone; maybe I’m coming out of my denial of her death; maybe my sadness felt overwhelming because of all the beautiful gowns at the Oscars, my dear Celine who loved fashion so much.

me and celine

Greg just listened, and then he said, “Or maybe you’re just missing your friend.”

Yeah. I think that’s it. I’m just missing my friend. A lot.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– send out queries to agents
– compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends
finish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

few thousand words about love

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– mail in passport application
– connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
southwestern kale power salad via Cookie + Kate
white chickpea chili via Two Peas and Their Pod
flourless almond butter chocolate chip cookies via Two Peas and Their Pod
easy chocolate raspberry energy bites via PB Fingers
banana cake with cinnamon glaze via The Pajama Chef
– my own strawberry coconut chocolate-chip cookies

Questions of the day:

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

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

valentine’s day recap! + goals + recipes for the week of 2/15

Hello, everyone! Hope you are having a masterpiece day. It feels like springtime here in the Bay Area, sunny and warm. The trees are already bursting into bloom and daffodils are popping up everywhere. I love it!

You know what else I love? Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a great one! Mine was simply delightful. I did some morning baking {perhaps my best batch ever of red velvet crinkle cookies!} and then spent most of the day hanging out with adorable kiddos, teaching classes for Communication Academy. One of my kindergarten students made me a valentine and when her mom came to pick her up after class, she started crying because she didn’t want to leave! Nothing makes a girl feel loved quite like a 6-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum because she has to say goodbye to you. 🙂

After my last class ended at 5:45, I jumped into my car and drove to Oakland for a Valentine’s night date with my sweetheart. The drive was absolutely gorgeous — the sun was setting over the water, and the twinkling lights of the city made a stunning silhouette against the pink and red clouds. It felt like a valentine from Celine. ❤

me and Al Valentines

Allyn and I walked a couple blocks from his apartment to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. Have you guys had Ethiopian food before? Before Saturday, the last time I did was back in grad school. I think the food is delicious, and it’s a fun dining experience, eating “family style” with your hands. Another bonus was that, on a night that can get pretty crazy to eat out at a restaurant, this was a quieter, off-the-beaten path place. It was lovely!

Allyn Ethiopian food

Ethiopian food

Then we went back to Allyn’s place to exchange gifts and watch Jerry Maguire {which I had never seen!} Allyn got me a box of chocolates and a beautiful purse from his travels in Kenya. Not only is the purse gorgeous from a fashion sense, it also supports a great cause. The purse was made through an organization called Amani — which means “higher peace” in Swahili — and is a sewing and reconciliation program for marginalized women in Africa. Women gain experience in sewing, bookkeeping, procurement, quality control, management and design; products sold enable women a chance to earn a consistent income. You can learn more at www.amaniafrica.com.

Valentines collage

All in all, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day! ❤

On Sunday morning, Allyn and I headed to church bright and early because I was serving as Worship Associate for the 9:30 service. The topic was Salvation and I spoke about Celine. I was really nervous beforehand, but it felt good to talk about her and I was able to get through it without breaking down into tears. Afterward, so many people in the congregation came up to give me hugs. I’m slowly learning to lean on people in my grief and I feel grateful to be part of such a caring community.

Today has been spent writing, editing, reading, looking through old photos with my grandma {she and my Grandpap are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in June and she’s already starting to prepare!} and baking. Lately I just can’t get enough of baking, so I’m embracing it and trying out new recipes! Right now I’m noshing on these zucchini muffins made with coconut flour, plus I added in some peanut butter, shredded coconut and chocolate chips.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– write 10 new pages {halfway there, wrote 5 new pages}
– compile tutoring worksheets
finish reading The Un-Americans
– schedule doctor’s appointment
– begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– send out queries to agents
– compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– begin process to renew passport
– connect with two friends
– finish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
thai pineapple fried rice via Cookie + Kate
5-ingredient spinach parmesan pasta via Two Peas and Their Pod
slow-cooker minestrone soup via Two Peas and Their Pod
vegetable beef barley soup via Swanson Vitamins website
falafel, tzatziki & greek lemon rice via The Pajama Chef
– my own cilantro-lime quinoa with chicken

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?
  • How was your Valentine’s Day?

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

fabulous friday #17

Happy TGIF, friends! I hope you have fun plans in store for this spring weekend!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My incredibly supportive, thoughtful and generous friends and family. I’m still on Cloud Nine after my Steinbeck Fellows reading on Wednesday night! My mom and grandparents came, as did Dana and her sweet mom Lynn, and Allyn took time out of his busy schedule to be there.

me and gparents reading

with dana and lynn

with allyn at reading

2. My dad. Yeah, he gets his own number 🙂 Some of you might remember when I had my first Steinbeck Fellows reading back in December, and he drove up with me after Thanksgiving to be there {and we also went to a wonderful talk by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns the next night!} Well, the arrangement was that he would stay home this time to take care of Mr. Mur-dog, while my mom came to the reading to support me.

Looking back now, I probably should have expected him to do what he did. Here are two facts about my dad: 1) He loves surprises; and 2) He has never missed a single performance or big event of mine, not even back in second grade when I was the lead in our class play and he came to ALL four performances even though it meant he had to miss a big event for work.

mom and dad reading

So there I was on Wednesday night, chatting with people at the dinner in the Steinbeck Center before the reading, when I felt two familiar hands over my eyes… I turned, not able to believe it. My dad! That was one of the best hugs of my life.

My dad drove 5+ hours to surprise me and be there for my reading! And then after the reading he turned back around and drove the 5+ hours home so Mr. Mur-dog wouldn’t be left alone overnight. He said simply, “You know I couldn’t have missed your big night!” It was such an incredible surprise — a memory I will always look back on and cherish. I love you, Daddy!

with dad steinbeck reading

3. These beautiful flowers that Dana and her mom gave me. They are brightening up the kitchen, making me smile every time I walk by!

flowers from dana

4. This video made me cry in a good way: http://www.upworthy.com/a-pregnant-woman-learns-her-baby-has-down-syndrome-people-who-have-it-answer-her-one-big-question-2

5. And this new Ingrid Michaelson song always makes me smile & dance in the car: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsvKT8vsgF4

Today is shaping up to be a “taking care of business” workday, which will balance out the all-play-and-hardly-any-work plans I have for the weekend. Looking forward to spending time with friends, putting in quality time on my yoga mat, and soaking up some sunshine at the A’s game on Sunday!

Questions of the morning:

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

fabulous friday #11

It’s TGIF! You know what that means…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Independent bookstores. I could spend hours wandering through a bookstore, and have a special place in my heart for cute little independent ones. My new favorite: Rakestraw Books in Danville. Look at this framed quote they have on the wall {so true!}

book quote

And this book made me laugh out loud. Poor pups!

dog book

2. Walks with Dana. Exercise always flies by with this girl because we talk and talk about anything and everything. {Don’t you love friends like that? I’m so blessed in my friendships!} This past weekend she took me on a beautiful path by her house, and we saw chickens and this super-cool birdhouse display.

birdhouses

chicken

3. My amazingly supportive hometown community and incredibly kind friend {and fellow writer} Ken McAlpine, who interviewed me for Our Ventura TV a few weeks ago … the interview is now available to watch! Here’s the link: http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/2737/

4. This Broccoli Slaw & Kale w/Chicken Salad from Trader Joe’s. I know I already gave a shout-out to TJ’s in last week’s fabulous friday post, but this salad deserves its own spotlight. You guys. I could eat this salad for days on end and not get sick of it. {Actually, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this week… LOVE it!}

broccoli salad

salad

5. My friend Shane’s blog, Day by Yoga, that chronicles his experience as a budding yogi. Shane is an “old soul” … super wise, super inspiring, super down-to-earth. His blog posts always brighten my day!

Questions of the morning:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • Any fun plans for the weekend?
  • What is your favorite Trader Joe’s find?

year of kindness challenge: wrap-up + reflections

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge — the final challenge in this Year of Kindness — was to forgive someone. I am a fierce believer in forgiveness. When you forgive someone, you set yourself free from the cage of anger and pain and bitterness. As I mentioned before, this past year was a tough one for me at times. There was so much love and growth and laughter, but there was a lot of pain, too. The hardest part was knowing that I caused others pain, in particular two people I cared for deeply. I can’t know, and can’t control, whether they ever forgive me. But this past week, crossing the bridge from 2013 into the sparkling new year 2014, I knew I had to forgive myself.

Sometimes, real life is messy and difficult. Sometimes, being true to yourself and listening to your gut creates collateral damage. Sometimes, you are confronted with a decision and there is no pain-free choice to make. But I know in my heart that I made the right one. Sometimes, pain is necessary to avoid a much greater avalanche of pain in the future.

So this week, I finally wrote a letter of forgiveness. To myself. And I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It was a fitting end to this year of kind acts: being kind to myself.

I learned and grew so much from this year of kindness challenge.

kindness collage

Here are my top 5 take-aways:

1. Aesop is right: “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” This year has solidified my belief that even small acts of compassion and joy — smiles, cards, a few minutes out of your day to help someone — can make a big difference. You never know how very much your kindness might mean to someone!

2. Want to be happy? Be kind. I learned that if I’m in a sad or grumpy mood for whatever reason, the quickest way to turn my day around is to do an act of kindness for someone else.

3. Little by little, big things can happen. This time last year, the idea of doing 52 unique random acts of kindness seemed like a huge, overwhelming task. But by focusing on one act per week and integrating it into my routine, doing acts of kindness became a habit — something I soon looked forward to every week! I was also so inspired by the support and encouraging words I received from readers and fellow bloggers. Special thanks to Lauren, Lindsay, Danica, and Gayle for contributing kindness act ideas for the project!

4. Being brave and putting yourself out there is SO worth it. There were times I was nervous to do acts of kindness. Striking up conversations with strangers, buying coffee for people in line behind me, reaching outside my comfort zone … it can be scary to put yourself out there! But every single time, I was left with a huge smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.

5. Have faith. It’s a magical world we live in. Time and again, I have been blown away this past year by the wonderful connections and coincidences that have happened — and by the acts of kindness that others have done for me! Keeping track of acts of kindness has also made me more aware that we are all connected.

bday girl

As always, in love & kindness,
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the entire year!

Questions of the day:

  • What is something you need to forgive yourself for?
  • What are your final thoughts & reflections on this year of kindness?

year of kindness challenge: week 47

year of kindness button

Hola from Mexico! I found a spotty bit of wi-fi access in our hotel lobby so I am hoping I’ll be able to post this real quick before heading back out to the beach with my fam. {A longer recap of our trip with pictures is coming upon our return home!}

This past week’s kindness challenge was to reach out to someone who is going through a tough time and just listen. Often my first impulse is to try to “fix” things, but I’m trying to re-train myself to just listen. Sometimes when you’re sad the best medicine is a kind listening ear. I reached out to a friend who has been a little down lately and it felt good just to be there for her. I hope it helped her feel better to talk things through.

The Week 47 Kindness Challenge is to brighten someone else’s Thanksgiving. Here are some ideas: volunteering to bring Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate; extending an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner to an acquaintance who is alone; sending cards of love and thanks to your far-flung family and friends; or all of the above!

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 wonderful week! I’m off to go boogie-boarding with my mom. 🙂
– Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 46 weeks!

Question of the day:

  • What kindnesses happened in your life this past week?
  • What are your plans for Thanksgiving?