30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

This year, I’m ringing in a new decade! Yep—I’m joining my hubby in the 30’s club!

As when I turned 27, my birthday wish for this year is to create a “kindness chain” … I’ve spent the past few weeks doing 30 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 30th birthday. My birthday wish is for you to join me in an act of kindness. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

1. Bake goodies for a neighbor. One of our neighbors helped us Allyn carry a heavy desk up the stairs to our second-floor apartment when I was clearly struggling to hold up my end. He was just walking by and kindly came to our rescue! So I baked him some muffins with a thank-you note. I also gave some dried lavender in a small glass vase to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce, who admired a vase of dried lavender in our apartment a few weeks ago.

thank you note

2. Donate stamps for The Letter Project. This organization was started by my blogging friend Whitney, and I love her mission to provide letters filled with comfort, hope and encouragement to women and girls. I have previously written letters for girls through The Letter Project, but I wanted to do a little bit more, so I donated some stamps too! Whitney works tirelessly to bring joy to others, and her efforts and genuine spirit inspire me so much.

3. Donate to a classroom on DonorsChoose in honor of all the teachers in my life. I chose this project to help bring a creative writing space to students in a Head Start program in Louisville, Kentucky. {Bonus: all donations are currently being doubled for this project!} This donation is also in honor of my brother Greg, who is a huge champion of Early Childhood Education and play-based learning, and who inspires me daily with his amazing work empowering administrators, educators and students through the nonprofit organization Right to Play.

4. Leave a kind note in a public place. I stuck this post-it note on the bathroom mirror at the airport!

5. Donate craft materials to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I learned about this really neat reuse center from my sweetheart, who has become a waste management expert due to all his environmental work. This organization welcomes donations of everything from used toilet paper rolls to old buttons to fabric, electronics, media and more! Everything at their center is available for teachers to come take to use in their classrooms, for free. It is a wonderful concept, and I was happy to go through our apartment and my grandma’s house and get some materials together to donate, including two fake plants! Allyn was sweet enough to drop the donation off for me when he went to the area to donate blood.

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

6. Pay for someone else’s coffee. While visiting my hometown for my birthday weekend, I met up with my friend Erica for coffee at our favorite local spot, Simone’s. I gave the barista an extra $5 to pay forward to someone else’s coffee that day. I hope it gave a stranger a nice surprise!

{The two of us at Simone’s during a visit years ago!}

7. Reach out to a friend. I sent messages to a few friends I haven’t been in touch with in a while, and got wonderful responses in return!

8. Write a note of appreciation. I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite bloggers, Alex Franzen, telling her how much her joyful spirit and empowering words mean to me. I also shared a video that Allyn took of me giving a talk as a Worship Associate, when I shared her words and a story from her blog. She wrote back to my email right away, and was so touched that she shared the video with all of her subscribers. I have long been a fan of Alex’s; now I feel like I made a new friend!

9. Pick up litter. When I walked my favorite loop around my parents’ neighborhood, I brought a plastic bag along with me and picked up any litter I saw. I was surprised how much I gathered in just twenty minutes!

10. Write glowing reviews of my doctorsI am so lucky to have wonderful doctors who truly make me feel cared about and safe. I wrote reviews of them on Yelp so that when prospective patients are searching for doctors, they will know that these people are amazing!

11. Deliver flowers to a nursing home. This is actually something I like to do every year on my birthday, in honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May—we used to always celebrate our birthdays together. This year, I bought a beautifully blooming orchid and delivered it to the Ventura Townhouse, where Jewell used to live. The woman working the front desk was delighted and surprised. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Plant trees. I donated to The Canopy Project through The Earth Day Network. Every dollar you donate equals a new tree planted! Earth Day Network works on the ground with organizations worldwide that strengthen communities through tree planting. Using sapling and seed distribution, urban forestry, agroforestry, and tree care training, this amazing and vital organization has empowered rural and urban people alike to conserve, repair, and restore tree cover to their lands. I donated $30 to plant 30 trees for my 30th birthday!

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. Every time I went shopping, I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

14. Donate books and magazines to the library. I donated about half a dozen issues of The New Yorker magazine, some crossword puzzle books, and two novels to my local library.

15. Support indie musicians. I donated to two PledgeMusic campaigns for independent musicians I greatly admire, Amber Rubarth & Blind Pilot… their latest albums are such a treat that bring me so much joy every day! I listen to them on repeat. Amber’s album is “Wildflowers in the Graveyard” and Blind Pilot’s is “And Then Like Lions.”

me and amber rubarth 2

16. Review my favorite podcasts on iTunes. I wrote glowing reviews of two of my favorite go-to podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo.

17. Buy a meal for a stranger. One time, when I was a little girl, my family was out at a restaurant for dinner, talking and laughing. We were having a great time, but as the evening progressed, my brother and I were getting a little antsy and ready to head home. I remember we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the check. Finally, our waiter came over and told us that someone at another table had paid for our meal because we seemed like such a nice family having a wonderful time together. It was such a gift — what a lovely surprise, and a memory that will always stay with me. So, every so often, when I am out at a restaurant and see a family or a couple or a member of our military, I try to “pay it forward” by secretly paying for their meal, the way that stranger did for my family two decades ago.

18. Give empowering notes and “inspiration gemstones” to my students. Since we are at the end of the school year, I thought it would be a fun time to give my students little notes of appreciation and pride over all their hard work and growth this year! I typically give them writing-related gifts like pencils and mini notebooks, but I wanted to do something different this time and ordered these cool gemstones on Etsy. I wrote them notes saying, You are a gem! and explained that these are lucky gemstones that will bring them inspiration when they are feeling writer’s block. My students seemed to really like them!

19. Scatter “lucky pennies” on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

20. Leave quarters on the laundry machine. I left a note and surprised one of our neighbors with a free load of laundry!

21. Let someone go ahead of me in line. At the grocery store, after I unloaded my full cart onto the conveyer belt, a woman came up behind me in line with just a small basket of items, so I let her go ahead. She was very grateful.

22. Donate clothes to charity. I went through my closet and found a dress and two shirts that are in great condition but that I never wear. Allyn also gave me some clothing that he wanted to donate, so I dropped everything off at Goodwill.

23. Take Murray for a walk and let him stop and sniff to his heart’s content. Love you so much, bubsy! Even though you can be a slow, stop-and-sniff walker!

24. Donate to a food pantry. A couple months ago, Allyn and I spent a morning volunteering at our county food bank. The manager told us that one of the most-requested items is peanut butter, since it lasts for so long and is filled with protein, and kids love it. So I went to the grocery store and bought four jars of peanut butter, and donated them to the bin for the food bank.

25. Donate my old pair of sneakers. I love these bright pink shoes! They were with me on my trip to Europe, all over town, and through countless workouts. They still have a lot of life in them, even though I have a new pair of sneaks now. So I did a bit of research and found a local donation center at Fleet Feet Sports. I hope they bring someone else joy and comfort!

26. Surprise someone with a visit. I took a book to my writing buddy Lari when I was home visiting my parents over Memorial Day weekend. Lari and I write each other letters throughout the year, but it is always so nice to visit in person. She has some health issues, so she isn’t able to get out of the house very much. We had a lovely time chatting and sipping on Starbucks iced lattes on her couch!

27. Thank our maintenance man. We are so lucky to have the best handyman at our apartment complex. Jose is friendly and fastidious—when we have a problem, he always wants to fix it for us in a hurry! Whether it is a squeaky door, a broken cabinet, or carpenter bees on our deck, he is our guy! I left a note for him in the front office, and also wrote a note to his supervisor about how wonderful he is.

28. Give money and a note to a street performer. At our local train station, there is nearly always a man playing the saxophone. It always brightens my day, but typically I am rushing past, anxious to make the train on time. This time, I made sure to head to the train station early so I could listen to him for a little bit. Then I dropped some money, along with a note, into his open saxophone case.

29. Answer a survey. Whenever I go to the post office, they always point out the survey at the bottom of the receipt, but I’m always too busy or forget to make the effort to go online and fill it out. This time, I went home and did the survey, giving our local post office rave reviews because they are awesome.

30. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. This is always one of my favorite things to do when I want to brighten my own day! I buy a balloon at the grocery store register and ask the checker if they will give it to a child who comes through the line. I love to think of the wonder on a little girl or little boy’s face to be surprised with a balloon for no reason!

 

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness! You have truly made my 30th birthday a masterpiece. Here’s to a sparkling new decade!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

* If you liked this post, you might want to check out the archives of my year of kindness challenge!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about kindness.

  • What is an act of kindness you have done or would like to do for others?
  • Write about a time someone surprised you with an act of kindness.
  • What is a memory that warms your heart, perhaps even many years later?
  • What is your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?

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!

20160214_141039

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.

IMG_1392

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!}

20160214_191043

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 #48

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have some fun things on the agenda today and are enjoying the lovely spring weather!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My friends and family and all the love they bring into my life every single day. Losing Celine not only made me reflect on all the ways I am so grateful for her and how fortunate I feel that I got to be her friend — the loss has also made me more deeply appreciate all the people I love. This week specifically I am grateful for: phone calls from my parents and Greg; a Skype date with my friend Chidelia, who lives in China; a phone call with Ben {who actually met up with Greg when he was visiting NYC for a few days}; a phone call with Janet before she left for an amazing writing residency in Scotland; texts and emails with Holly; a dinner date with my sweetheart; and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Dana.

st pattys with dana

2. Later daylight hours thanks to Daylight Savings Time. There’s something about this time of year that always gives me so much energy and hopefulness. It feels like the start of new beginnings. I can feel the long summer days on the horizon. I love driving home from my tutoring appointments in the daylight and being able to watch the sunset out the window as I make dinner.

3. I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday, and it went great! I’ve been having some pain in both of my legs, and wasn’t sure what was wrong, so I went to an orthopedist who recommended PT. The physical therapist was so knowledgable, helpful, and optimistic about my recovery, which made me feel SO good! She watched me walk {apparently I have a collapsed arch, which might be at the root of my problems} and gave me some exercises to do at home with this resistance band.

physical therapy

She also gave me a deep tissue massage to loosen up the tight, painful area on both my legs, and taught me how to do an ice massage afterwards. I’m also going to order orthodics for my shoes, which I’m hopeful will help.

Have any of you done PT before? My parents both have, and it really helped both of their issues {my mom’s knee and my dad’s shoulder.} I walked away from my first appointment feeling VERY impressed, and looking forward to my appointment next week! Thanks for all of your kind words and good thoughts. 🙂

4. Last week, when I was smack in the middle of a pretty nasty head cold, Allyn cooked me dinner and rented this movie I’ve been wanting to see, titled What If? It stars Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and Zoe Kazan who you may have seen in Ruby Sparks … I just love her. Anyway, the movie was one of my favorites I’ve seen in quite a while. Cute, funny, sweet, the right amount of quirky. I’d highly recommend it for your next date night rental!

5. One of my goals for 2015 is to work on setting healthy boundaries, something I’ve never been all that great at. I thought this article by Lissa Rankin was on point: http://lissarankin.com/can-you-navigate-love-with-healthy-boundaries. For me, saying no and setting boundaries is much easier said than done, but I’m working on it!

BONUS: If you’re looking for a great veggie dinner recipe, I made these butternut squash & black bean enchiladas the other night for Allyn and I, and we both loved them. They were also inexpensive, easy to throw together, and you can make them in advance and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to bake & serve.

enchiladas

Apologies for the bad lighting in this pic… but trust me, they were delicious!

BONUS #2: Major CONGRATS to my cousin Julie who matched at UCLA to become an OB/Gyn! So proud of her {and excited she’ll be moving back to California!!}

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #47

Happy Friday, friends!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. I was feeling really sad earlier this week about Celine… just missing her a lot. My sweetheart surprised me with beautiful flowers and took me out to dinner. He is simply the best.

flowers from allyn

2. Speaking of flowers… the amaryllis that Allyn’s stepmom Laurel gave me three weeks ago is finally blooming! It’s so pretty. And I’m thrilled that I’ve kept it alive and haven’t accidentally killed it! {I don’t have the greenest thumb…}

amaryllis

3. One of the little girls I tutor is selling Girl Scout cookies, so I bought a few boxes from her… and she delivered them to me in the sweetest decorated bag. How cute this this?

decorated heart bag

On the subject of Girl Scouts, Holly reminded me of something really awesome that Celine used to do: when she saw Girl Scouts selling cookies at a table, she would buy a box of cookies and then GIVE the cookies to the Girl Scouts so they could enjoy them while they worked. Such a simple, thoughtful act of kindness that brings SO much excitement and happiness to the girls! It is also the perfect solution for those times you want to support the Girl Scouts, but don’t particularly want a bunch of cookies hanging around your pantry.

20150227_121147

4. My thoughtful friends Shane and Lauren sent me cards this week. Always brightens my day to receive love in the mail!

wild things card

5. In the mail this week I also received copies of North Dakota Quarterly, a beautiful literary journal. I am honored to have my work published in the current issue, 80.2. You can read my short story online here.

north dakota quarterly

On my agenda for the weekend: tonight Allyn and I are going to dinner and to a play — a production of Part I of Angels in America, a powerful play I read and loved in college. I’ve never seen it onstage and am very much looking forward to it! Tomorrow, I’m teaching all day and then in the evening Allyn and I are meeting up for a double-date with Dana and Brad at this new-ish adult arcade place called Plank that looks really fun. I’m excited!

Should be a great weekend. 🙂 Hope yours is wonderful, too! Have fun and be safe out there, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #39

Happy Halloween, everyone!!

lit up pumpkins

What fun things do you have planned for today + tonight? Allyn & I are dressing up as Sebastian the crab & The Little Mermaid and we’re going out for dinner in Walnut Creek, then out to see the murder-mystery play Deathtrap. I’ll show you a picture of us dressed up in our costumes in Sunday’s blog post, but for now here’s a sneak peak at my wig that came in the mail yesterday! This is actually my first Halloween ever wearing a wig, so I am probably more excited than is normal, haha. {And yes, I’m dressed in my yoga clothes, getting ready to head out soon!}

mermaid wig

Also, I want to back up and wish my sweet Mama a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! It was her birthday yesterday but it was such a crazy day that I didn’t get around to doing a blog post. {But don’t worry, I did call her yesterday and send her a card & present!} My dad sent these beautiful roses to her office… they are USC colors, since Mom is a huge USC fan! Go Trojans!

mom usc roses

Also, because I think this photo is way too adorable not to share, here is a pic of my mom when she was a little girl that is hanging in the hallway of my grandparents’ house. I can totally see the woman I know in her little-girl eyes and face. What a cutie-pie!

mom little girl

Mom, thank you for being my role model and inspiring me every day with your loving heart, genuine kindness, generosity and grace, quiet strength, and beautiful soul. I love you so much. I count my blessings every day that I won the lottery ticket to get you for a mother. It is a true privilege and a gift to be your daughter! ❤

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. So remember last week when I finished writing my novel? And remember a few weeks ago when I went to the Orchard nursery with Dana to revel in all the pumpkins and autumn decorations, and I spotted these beautiful hand-painted sunflower tiles and mentioned wanting to someday get one for my own kitchen?

sunflower tiles

Wellllll, guess what my sweetheart did? He surprised me with a gift to celebrate finishing my novel that I’ve been working on for the past three years.

sunflower tile

Not to mention, I hadn’t even said anything about the sunflower tiles to him. He just read it here in my post and remembered, and last weekend he drove to the nursery to pick it out and surprise me. I was pretty much speechless when I opened it. Allyn, your thoughtfulness, love and support blow me away! Thank you so much for celebrating with me! Now, every time I look at this gorgeous sunflower tile hanging in my kitchen, not only will I smile because I love sunflowers and it is soooo pretty — I will light up inside with such a warm memory. 🙂

2. T-Swift’s new CD. OMG you guys. I am crushing hardcore on this CD. I am in puppy love. I am obsessed. I can’t stop listening to it. SO GOOD! I didn’t even mind when I had major traffic driving home from teaching last night, because it meant more time to bop around in my car dancing to these songs. Is it weird that Holly and I are already giddy with excitement about going to see her in concert when she tours for this CD? Because we are.

t swift 1989 cd

If the music itself weren’t amazing enough, check out her Halloween costume. One of the lyrics to her new song “Blank Space” is “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”… the caption to her Halloween costume says, “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a PEGACORN.” {unicorn + pegasus = a possible daydream?} She is so goofy! I love it.

taylor swift Halloween costume

3. These wise words from Heather Waxman… the first time I read them, I felt like she was talking directly to me. As someone who is not often loud and does not prefer to be the center of attention, I love her message that quiet strength and quiet confidence are equally true and beautiful:

Sometimes, we think that we have to be loud and obviously the center of attention in order be confident. But that’s not really it at all. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman carrying herself with soft strength. Quiet and ease. Grace and a smidge of grit.  That’s just so beautiful. She doesn’t feel like she has to prove anything. She doesn’t care if she’s the primary focus of the conversation or sitting and listening as a few people spearhead the conversation. Because she just is. She’s just being. 

4. This week I finished knitting a scarf to donate to the wonderful nonprofit organization Knit With Love that donates knitted and crocheted items to people in need, whether they are impoverished, homeless or struggling with illness.

knit with love

Here is their mission statement: “We believe that the gift of a hand-made item can provide physical warmth to people who may have little else, and can also be a tangible showing of love and support that will serve as an encouragement in this difficult time. Every item is donated to a person who greatly appreciates the hand-made gift. As of June 2014, we have donated over 5,000 knit items to people in 37 countries.” WOW, right? Amazing!

It makes me happy to think of someone wearing this colorful scarf I made and feeling loved!

scarf

5. Finishing with a bang: The Giants winning the World Series on Wednesday!! It feels like the whole Bay Area is celebrating! Everywhere you go, people are wearing Giants’ gear and Giants flags are waving from cars and houses everywhere. I’m enjoying the special feeling of camaraderie with everyone, even strangers in line at the grocery store 🙂 Dana was so cute, waving her Giants rally rag from back when they won the World Series in 2010!

dana giants win

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone!!

Questions of the day:

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

fabulous friday #38

Happy Friday! You know what this means, right? One week till Halloween!! Do you have any ghoul-tastic plans yet? {Haha, someone is obviously a liiittle too hyped up on caffeine right now… sorry!} Earl Grey before yoga + post-yoga endorphins + pumpkin chai latte from Starbucks after yoga = this version of me you are hearing from right now 🙂

Moving right along… this weekend, Allyn and I are going pumpkin-patching {don’t know if that’s actually a verb, but it is now} and I’m planning to hit up a craft store for a couple last-minute touches for my Halloween costume. If you’re looking for an easy, fun Halloween costume but don’t have any ideas, feel free to check out this post with some costumes that have worked well for me in the past!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This beautiful autumn bouquet from ProFlowers that arrived on my doorstep a couple days ago from my incredibly sweet and thoughtful dad! He sent them just because he was thinking of me and wanted to send some sunshine my way. How amazing is that? I am the luckiest daughter on the planet. I miss you, Daddy!

autumn flowers from dad

2. My favorite dessert of late: peanut butter toast topped with mini chocolate chips!

pb toast

3. Every time this song comes on the radio I do a little happy dance: “Riptide” by Vance Joy.

4. This heart-wrenchingly beautiful and wise short essay my brother wrote for HuffPost called The Girl Effect and My Grandmother. Read it, and believe me — you’ll be glad you did! Here’s a teaser:

“The agony of these missing parts applies not only to our deceased loved ones — it applies to when we allow fear to dampen courage; ignorance to imprison knowledge; and hatred to overwhelm love.”

5. My grandma’s soup. Her chicken tortilla soup just might be my favorite, but she also makes a mean split pea and curried lentil + barley. I’ll try to get the recipes for those latter two up on here soon!

grandma tortilla soup.jpg

Oh yeah, and one more thing that might explain why I’m feeling so dang happy and excited … I FINISHED MY NOVEL!!!

finished novel doc

Happy weekend, friends! Sending lots of love & joy your way! Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere. It means a lot to me 🙂

Questions of the day:

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

why I lied to you on friday

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope your day is off to a lovely start. I’ve been nursing a big mug of huckleberry tea all morning… this is the stuff I got on my trip to Seattle and I only have one tea bag left in the box! So I am savoring it.

huckleberry tea

I’ll be back with this week’s year of Wooden post tomorrow, but for today I wanted to pop in with a quick weekend recap because it was a pretty fantastic one around here!

So, remember when I said that I was heading into San Francisco on Friday night for a dinner date with my sweetie to celebrate his birthday?

I lied.

Well, half-lied. Because it wasn’t really a dinner date for just the two of us. It was a reservation for 30 people! I had to keep it quiet here on the blog, because Allyn reads my blog {hi, honey!} and he had no idea… I was throwing him a surprise party!

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our "nice, quiet, date night just the two of us..."

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our “nice, quiet date night just the two of us…”

I’d thrown a couple surprise parties with my roommates in college, but this was my first time ever throwing one by myself, AND it was my first time organizing such a big event! I learned a lot and had a blast. I kept thinking of Coach Wooden’s saying, “The journey is better than the inn.” I definitely enjoyed the month-long “journey” of planning this big surprise! 🙂

Allyn’s friends and family were so helpful — I could not have done it without them. Different people from different areas of his life helped me get the word out and invite his various social circles. I originally made the reservation at the restaurant about a month in advance, and as time went on I had to keep calling them back and increasing the amount of people in my reservation, because the RSVPs were rolling in! One of the best things about planning a surprise party for someone you care about is connecting with all the other people who care about that person, too!

Some things I learned about planning a surprise party:

  • If you’re going to have it at a restaurant, Yelp is your friend! I wanted to find a venue that was not too expensive, was close to public transportation, and was accommodating for big groups. After a bit of searching, I settled on Unicorn Pan-Asian Cuisine, which ended up being perfect.
  • Make your reservation as early as possible! I also think it’s better to over-estimate your attendance and then call back as the date approaches and lower your reservation number. I did it opposite, but I was lucky that they had the space for me to keep increasing my reservation!
  • I’d also recommend checking out the venue in person ahead of time, if possible. It was really helpful for me to be able to picture the restaurant when I was planning the party and describing to guests where they should go when they arrived.
  • Ask the restaurant if they are able to do individual separate checks for a large group. In our case, they were only able to do three separate checks {one for each table} so I asked everyone to bring cash if possible to help making splitting the bill easy. Some people also recommended the VenMo app, which sounds really neat, but we didn’t need to use it — everyone brought cash and it all worked out fine.
  • Delegate! People love a surprise and they love to help. An unexpected benefit of planning this party for my sweetheart was that I grew closer to his friends and family as we engaged in deception together, haha.
  • Have guests arrive 15-20 minutes earlier than the guest of honor does. That way, you have some wiggle room if people are running late. Also, it gives some time for guests to mingle and get to know each other — something I could tell everyone was really happy about.
  • I gave Allyn’s stepmom a big poster card that she had everyone sign while waiting for me and Allyn to arrive. It gave people something to do, plus it is a meaningful memento for Allyn to have from the party, to remind him of all the people who care about him.
  • Keep things as simple as possible! Especially where alibis are concerned. Allyn knew where we were going, when we were going, and how we were getting there. He knew that we were going to dinner to celebrate his birthday. The only thing he didn’t know was that there would be 30 other people there to celebrate with us!

One thing I didn’t take into consideration is my sweetheart’s early bird tendencies! It’s something I love and admire about him — he is always punctual {often early} and hates to keep people waiting. So I should have guessed that he would want to leave for the BART station early to make it into the city for our 7:20 reservation! He said, “If we’re early we’ll just catch an earlier train.” I tried to hide the panic on my face and said, “Then we’ll be too early for our reservation!” Then I camped out in the bathroom for a while to “get ready” 🙂

Other stalling tactics if you’re trying to delay the guest of honor:

  • change your outfit
  • “accidentally” spill something on them so they have to change their outfit
  • go to the bathroom one more time
  • decide to wear a different pair of shoes instead
  • “forget” something and have to go back inside to get it
  • get gas on the way there
  • get “lost” or go the wrong way

Fortunately, none of these stalling tactics are really out of character for me, so Allyn was not suspicious when we left later than he suggested. We ended up hopping on the 6:50 train into the city just like I had planned, which got us into the city at 7:15. Walking to the restaurant, I felt so excited it was hard not to skip! When we got there, I dragged him past the bar area at the front, because I knew everyone was waiting a little further back into the restaurant. My legs were shaking. Everyone jumped up and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

I will forever cherish the memory of that moment. The look on my sweetheart’s face was absolutely priceless. He said later, “I wasn’t surprised…. I was stunned.” He just stood there for a few moments, looking around at all the people from his life — his parents, sister, childhood friends, grad school friends, roommate, mentor — and he kept repeating, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” I could tell he was blown away. It was absolutely wonderful!

The rest of the night flew by. I had so much fun talking and mingling with all these terrific people from my sweetheart’s life. We ended up closing the restaurant down! It was a perfect night.

us and laurel

justin and fawn

allyson and her dad

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

Happy birthday, Allyn! I love you so much.

Questions of the morning:

  • Have you ever thrown a surprise party?
  • Has anyone every thrown a surprise party for you?
  • What was the highlight of your weekend?

27 acts of kindness for my 27th birthday

Last week, I shared that my birthday wish for this year was to create a “kindness chain” … I spent the week doing 27 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 27th birthday. It was my favorite birthday celebration ever! And even though my birthday has officially come and gone, it’s not too late to join in on the kindness chain. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

here they are…

my 27 acts of kindness:

1. Leave a complimentary note in a public place. I left these notes in the bathroom at Starbucks.

bathroom notes

2. Pay for someone else’s coffee drink. I bought a $5 gift card at Starbucks and asked the barista to use it to pay for someone else’s drink later that day. I asked if he would use it for someone who seemed stressed out, or someone who was particularly friendly or nice to him. “That’s really cool!” he said, giving me a big smile.

starbucks card

3. Give a meal to a homeless person. Last Friday night Dana and I went out to a delicious pizza place in Berkeley called Jupiter and we split a wood-fire pizza topped with a variety of cheeses, garlic, potatoes and bacon. At the end of our meal we had a few slices remaining and I took them to go. On the way to my car, I gave the boxed up leftovers to a very grateful and sweet homeless man, who offered to share them with me but it was late and I told him I needed to be on my way. “Bless you!” he called after me. I would have taken a picture of him, but it was dark. You’ll have to use your imagination and picture him smiling.

4. Write a kind note. I wrote cards to a number of friends + family members this week to say hi and let them know I’m grateful to have them in my life!

kind notes

5. Pay for someone else’s meal. I bought a $20 gift card at Panera and then handed it back to the cashier and asked if she would use it to pay for the meal of a family that came in. She looked surprised and said, “Oh my goodness, really?” I explained that it is my birthday. She said, “It’s YOUR birthday and you’re giving this to someone else?” Yep, that’s the idea! 🙂

Panera surprise

6. Put money into strangers’ parking meters. I left a handful of quarters on top of this parking garage payment machine.

parking garage payment

7. Reach out to a friend. I sent messages to a few friends I haven’t been in touch with in a while, and got wonderful responses in return!

8. Write a note of appreciation to a co-worker. I wrote a note to one of my co-workers at Communications Academy who did a terrific job subbing for me when I was out of town for Julie’s wedding.

9. Pick up litter. Over the week I collected a pretty big bag of trash, simply by picking up litter on the ground I saw in my daily life!

litter

10. Bring snacks to yoga class. When I think back to my 26th birthday, it’s crazy to realize that I hadn’t ever taken a yoga class at that point. Yoga has become one of my favorite rituals — definitely one of the best habits I’ve picked up in the past year. I absolutely love my biweekly Hatha yoga class. I’ve become friends with my fellow yogis, who always brighten my day with their warmth and positivity. This week I brought some energy bars to class to say thank you!

yoga snacks 20140529_092909

11. Visit residents in a nursing home. In honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May — we used to always celebrate our birthdays together — I brought some homemade cookies and kind notes to a local nursing home. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Give a treat to a toll-booth worker or gatekeeper. I gave cookies to the man who works the security gate at my neighborhood. He was surprised and excited — I guess it had been a long day working, and he was hungry! Chocolate-chip cookies always do the trick.

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. I went shopping two times this past week, and each time I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

14. Donate books and magazines to the library. I donated about half a dozen issues of The New Yorker magazine and two books to my local library.

15. Send a thank-you note. I sent a couple thank you notes this week … and now I have a many more to send to thank my friends and family for their generous, thoughtful birthday gifts yesterday! 🙂

thank you notes

16. Write a 5-star review on Amazon. I wrote 5-star reviews for three books I’ve enjoyed lately: The Bigness of The World by Lori Ostlund; Beautiful Soon Enough by Margo Berdeshevsky; and 20-Something, 20-Everything by Christine Hassler.

17. Compliment a salesperson to his or her supervisor. I had a really wonderful and helpful woman ring me up at CVS, and afterwards I thanked her and asked how I could pass along my compliments about her to the higher-ups. She wrote down the info on the bottom of my receipt, and as soon as I got home I sent in feedback. Debra, you are fantastic!

receipt cvs

18. Bring treats for my students. I brought chocolate-chip cookies to my Communications Academy classes, and oh man were the kids excited!

cookies

19. Scatter lucky pennies on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood, where I sometimes go to write and read under the trees. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

lucky pennies

20. Bring treats to the hospital staff. My Gramps and two uncles are surgeons, and my cousin Julie is currently in medical school {so proud of you, Julie!} so I know personally the dedication, selflessness and generous care that doctors and nurses give their patients. I brought half a dozen muffins and scones to the emergency room at the local hospital as a small gesture of thanks.

hospital treats 20140530_122639 20140530_124457

21. Let someone go ahead of you in line. At the A’s game on Monday, I let a number of people go ahead of me in the {always long!} line for the women’s restroom; a couple mothers with children were especially grateful.

me and al a's game

22. Donate clothes to charity. I went through my closet and found a dress and two shirts that are in great condition but that I never wear. Allyn also gave me a bag of clothing that he wanted to donate, so I dropped everything off at Goodwill.

clothes for goodwill

23. Pay the toll for the car behind you in line. When Allyn and I drove into San Francisco to go to the California Academy of Sciences for my birthday {so much fun!} we paid the toll for the car behind us in line. The tollbooth worker was at first confused, then surprised, then pleased by the gesture. It was especially sweet of Allyn to indulge me in this act of kindness because he has a Fastrak beeper and we had to go through the slower line to pay cash for another car’s toll.

24. Give a note and a chocolate bar to the mailman. Our mailman is very friendly and nice, always taking extra care to bring packages to the door if it is raining, and always waving hello when we see him on the street. I left a chocolate bar and thank-you note in the mailbox as a surprise for him.

thank you for mailman

mailman note

25. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. When I was waiting in line at the grocery store, these pretty balloons at the checkout stand caught my eye. I thought about how excited I was to get balloons as a child, which gave me an idea: I bought one of the balloons, then handed it back to the checker and asked her to give it to a child who passed through her line sometime that day. She was excited and delighted to do so.

grocery store balloon

26. Leave a really big tip. I gave an especially big tip to the friendly barista at one of my favorite independent coffee shops, who recommended a delicious tropical green tea to me.

27. Give someone flowers. I bought a bouquet of carnations at the grocery store, and then removed the rubber bands and separated the bouquet into individual flowers. When I went to the bank to get a roll of pennies to scatter at the playground, I gave the flowers to the bank teller and asked if she would pass out flowers to customers. As I left, I heard the man in line behind me ask in a surprised voice, “Did she just give you flowers?” I hope she gave him one! 🙂

20140530_132211

birthday carnations

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness this week! You have made this birthday my most special yet, and this is definitely a birthday tradition I hope to continue for many years to come!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

* If you liked this post, you might want to check out the archives of my year of kindness challenge from last year!

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?

year of kindness challenge: week 50

I am a little in awe of the fact that it’s already Wednesday, and just one week until Christmas! My past couple days have flown by so fast, it feels like some calendar squares simply disappeared. Anyone else feeling this way?? 

At least my days have been jam-packed with good stuff… teaching writing workshops at local schools, long walks and catch-ups with friends, cooking dinner for my family, sorting through and delivering donated books as part of my annual Holiday Book Drive {more on that later this week}… I’ve been collapsing into bed by 10 p.m. and sleeping like a rock!  

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge was to give a warm drink to a toll-booth worker, newspaper delivery person, or your mailman/mailwoman. I brought hot chocolate to the people working the security gate in my grandparents’ neighborhood. They were so surprised and appreciative, and it made me smile the rest of the day. 

The Week 50 Kindness Challenge is to donate a toy or book to a child in need this holiday season, and/or to drop off a donation at a local animal shelter. 

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 marvelous week!
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 49 weeks!

Questions of the day:

  • How do you find zen in the midst of such a crazy-busy time of year?
  • What acts of kindness happened in your life this past week?