on vulnerability + saying “i love you” {part 1}

Later this week, Allyn and I are headed to Monterey for a little getaway with his family. I’m excited to see everyone and soak up time adventuring and relaxing together. I lucked out with awesome in-laws and I always have a blast with them!

Our upcoming trip made me think about the first trip I took with them—the first time I ever went on a trip with Allyn, in fact. We’d been dating for a little over two months and he invited me along on the family getaway to Mendocino. I was thrilled. “Yes!” I told him ecstatically. “I’d love to come!” Then I immediately began to stress out about what to pack to make him fall in love with me.

I like to tease Allyn that back then, he was a bit of an enigma to me. For the first few months that we were together, I worried that my feelings for him were stronger than his feelings were for me. Looking back now, I’m not quite sure why. I think it might be because we have different Love Languages—mine is definitely Words of Affirmation, and I’m fairly sure Allyn’s is Acts of Service. Yes, Allyn asked me to be his girlfriend and told me he cared about me. And his actions spoke even louder than his words. He invited me to do things with his friends, wanted me to meet his family, called me every night before bed, and always kept his promises. He planned thoughtful dates for us, listened to my stories and problems, and even wooed my grandma with a box of toffee.

But I yearned for more. I wanted him to LOVE me. I loved him. Of course, I hadn’t told him that. I wanted him to say the big L-word first. Somehow, I felt I could trust it more if he said it first. What if I told him that I had fallen completely, madly, head-over-heels in love with him… and he just said, “Thanks”? Or what if he said “I love you too” not because he really felt it, but because what else was he supposed to say?

I spent a lot of time worrying about this.

I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly analyzing his words and actions, searching for clues. I imagined what particular circumstances might need to unfurl for him to take my hand, look me in the eye, and say, “Dallas. I love you.” After all, I was pretty sure he did love me. His actions were filled with love. But I wanted him to SAY it. I wanted to hear the words so I could wrap them around myself like a blanket, play and replay them in my mind, shape them into bricks and build a solid foundation on their truth. So they could become my home.

It’s funny, because Allyn has never been one to play games and has always been very clear and up-front about his feelings. {Note above, when he asked me to go on vacation with his family after a mere two months of dating. Um, HELLO past self!} I think what made me feel so vulnerable was that I felt differently about him than about anyone else I had ever dated. From very early on in our relationship, I knew I loved Allyn. He was IT. He was The One. But did he feel that way about me?

Which brings us, my friends, to Mendocino. We were going on a romantic trip into the wilderness for four days. I was officially being ushered into the family as Allyn’s Girlfriend. This was it, I felt sure. He was going to tell me, “I love you.” The clouds would part and the angels would sing.

From the get-go, the trip didn’t unwind quite as planned, even though it was a delightful weekend. Allyn’s family made me feel welcomed right away. The vacation house they rented was fun and quirky, with a hot tub and a stunning view of the ocean far below. We lucked out with gorgeous weather and went hiking and exploring and even spotted a whale in the wild. We cooked big breakfasts and dinners together and ate s’mores for dessert over games of Jenga. I loved seeing the little-kid glimpses of Allyn that emerge around his siblings: their decades-old inside jokes, his sugar-high laughter, his easy comfort with them.

{us in mendocino, april 2014}

But, I could sense it right away—something was off with him. He wasn’t as sweetly attentive as he usually was. Did he regret inviting me along? Was our relationship moving too fast? Maybe I was cramping his style. I made an effort to hang with his sister sometimes, to give him alone time with his brother, to help clean up the kitchen with his stepmom, to not be “attached at the hip.” {Even though we’ve never really been one of those couples and I already felt like we each had our own independent hips.}

One afternoon, during a hiking break, we sat on a log together in the forest. My internal I-Love-You Antennae perked up. This could be it! This was the perfect opportunity. Just the two of us, in the peaceful wilderness, in the dappled sunlight.

He was quiet.

“Watcha thinkin?” I asked after a little while. My stomach was filled with butterflies.

“Nothing much,” he responded. My butterflies drooped in disappointment.

Somehow, we got to talking about his upcoming summer internship in New Orleans. He would be gone for two-and-a-half months, and we’d already discussed me coming out to visit him at some point during his stint there. That’s why I was so taken aback by what he asked me next…

{This story will be continued on Friday! See you then!}

Aloha! from The Big Island & Chobani Flips GIVEAWAY!

Hawaii pool view

Aloha, friends!! I am typing this from a beautiful, breezy outdoor patio overlooking the pool at our vacation place in Hawaii… it is my first time to ever visit Hawaii, and I have been utterly blown away! Allyn’s grandfather has rental property on The Big Island, and when it worked out for Allyn and I to join his family for a short vacation in paradise, we jumped at the chance. June was a total workaholic month for me — between teaching summer camps for kids and keeping up my usual tutoring work, celebrating the release of Dancing With The Pen II, taking on some weekend literature classes for high school students, planning my ninth annual Summer Writing Camp, spearheading a screening of the Minimalism documentary in my hometown {seats still available if anyone is interested!} and preparing to marry the love of my life in less than two months… life has been quite a whirlwind!

Which is all to say, this vacation has come at the perfect time. Sun, sand, snorkeling… sunset dinners, hikes, lazy mornings… lots of relaxation and interesting conversation with people I love… it has been the “recharge” I needed!

me and al jungle selfie

An unanticipated perk of this trip is that it introduced me to Chobani Flips, a new product from my favorite yogurt company! The past month or so, I have been trying to eat yogurt every day to help keep my gut happy with probiotics, and I am a big fan of Chobani because they use real ingredients, natural sweeteners, and are always non-GMO. They also have such a wide range of flavors and taste so rich and creamy — I love having yogurt for dessert!

When we arrived at our vacation home, the fridge was stocked with some products that the previous renters had bought and left behind… one of our previous renters must have been a BIG Chobani Flips fan, because there were five containers stacked there, waiting for me to pounce on them! 🙂 I have been having them for breakfast AND dessert. My favorite flavor is the Almond Coco Loco: a delectable blend of tangy coconut, mini chocolate chips, and nutty almond pieces.

Serendipitously, Chobani just reached out to me with a neat flow chart quiz that you can answer to determine what flavor combo will be up your alley. And, because I love Flips so much, I decided to sponsor a giveaway to give one of you a $10 grocery store gift card so you can try out Chobani Flips for free! {Note: this giveaway is NOT sponsored by Chobani, it is sponsored by me, and all opinions are my own.} To enter, leave a comment on this blog post letting me know your favorite flavor or what you would most like to try. You can also follow DaybyDayMasterpiece on Facebook, Twitter, and/or subscribe to the blog for entries into the giveaway!

chobani_flowchart_x2_v09

Chobani_myflavor_card_sweetnspicy_v03 Chobani_myflavor_card_sweetnsalty_v03 Chobani_myflavor_card_sweet_v03

Enter below! Good luck! 🙂 The giveaway closes on Saturday, July 23rd.

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gifts from 2015

Wow, it is hard to believe we are already here, the first day of 2016! For me, 2015 seemed to pass slowly and then all at once. January 26, 2015 will forever be a “before” and “after” day for me, splitting my life into two distinct periods: before I truly knew grief, and afterwards — now — living with the painful knowledge and awareness of what real loss feels like. After my dear friend Celine died, February and March felt like wading through life underwater; time was water-logged and everything felt strange. But slowly, gradually, throughout this year I have returned to myself — albeit, a slightly different version of myself. I guess that is what it means to grow older: to be shaped by life while trying to remain true to that authentic core of your being, of your spirit.

In many ways, grief stripped away all the nonessentials of my life this past year, leaving a deeper appreciation for what truly matters: the people I love and the experiences and memories I will cherish all the rest of my days, however many remaining days I am blessed with. To be sure, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I feel the full weight of gratitude to be here, witnessing the unfolding of a new year. It really is true that each day on this Earth is uncertain and precious; each hour we are given of this life is a miraculous gift. I feel that so much more deeply today than I did a year ago.

Here are some of my gifts from 2015:

I got to travel to Carmel with my sweetheart to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a charming Bed & Breakfast by the seaside.

I got to travel to L.A. to watch my brother Greg’s amazing panel at USC about “The Girl Effect.” So proud of him!

greg edmonth panel

I got to travel to Pittsburgh for a big family reunion and to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

with my girls

I got to reunite with many close friends, and meet many new friends, at Celine’s Celebration of Life — which was a beautiful and healing day; sad and yet also more joyous than I could have imagined.

celine celebration group

I got to celebrate both of my boys graduating with their M.B.A. degrees: my brother from USC and my sweetheart from Presidio Graduate School. They both blow me away with their smarts, hearts, and hard work. They are now making a meaningful difference in the world: Greg at CGI America focused on early childhood education, and Allyn in the fields of sustainability and education in the Bay Area.

me and al graduation

I got to celebrate my 28th birthday with so many people I love, who made me feel very loved.

birthday cake

I got to watch my dad be inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame for his career achievements and impact as a sports columnist. What an amazing day!

I got to travel to Europe with my sweetheart and his family for two weeks! We went to Paris, Barcelona, and the Provence region of France. It was a wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming trip!

sunflowers

I got to deliver my first-ever sermon! It was such an amazing experience and my mom and dear friends came to support me. I am already looking forward to hopefully giving another sermon at my church next summer!

The Magic Thread

I got to take my sweetheart on a surprise trip to Half Moon Bay for his birthday!

half moon bay me and al

I got to travel to Lake Tahoe for the first time and see my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” produced onstage! It was a dream-come-true!

me at emerald bay

I got to travel to Cleveland for the first time to visit my dear friend Holly, and travel to NYC to visit my brother — where we were seated at THE table from one of my favorite movies, Serendipity!

serendipity table!!!

And I got to soak up lots of time this holiday season with people who mean so much to me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Here’s to lots of breathtaking moments in 2016!

traveling simply + the top 3 hospitality items I wish hotels would provide

Hello, friends! During this holiday season when many of us are traveling, Fairmont Hotels reached out to me about doing a post on the topic of favorite travel amenities. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, plus I am curious to hear your comments on the topic! Please play along in the comments section. 🙂

A big theme for me of late has been trying to simplify and streamline my life. This relates to travel, too! Back in college, I traveled around Europe for three weeks with two of my best friends, each of us bringing nothing more than a backpack as luggage. It was an amazing trip and serves as a reminder for me that you do not need to bring a lot of STUFF to make life-long memories you will treasure always!

backpack

Now my only real “must haves” when I travel are: my contacts/glasses; my favorite face-wash and sunscreen; cozy socks; portable snacks like granola bars and fruit; and a good book or two!

Fairmont Hotels also asked my ideas for the top three hospitality items I wish hotels would provide on the West Coast, such as the Claremont Hotel. Mine are a liiiiiiittle out there creative, but see if you agree — I think it would be SO awesome if hotels would provide these things:

Yoga mat

After a long car trip or plane ride, my body is aching to be stretched out. In the past I have tried to do some yoga moves in my hotel room, but it is never very peaceful or comfortable. Bringing my own yoga mat from home is inconvenient; it is bulky and takes up too much space. If a hotel chain provided yoga mats in their hotel rooms, it would definitely persuade me to stay there! Also, by doing so, hotels are sending the message that they care about their guests’ health and peace of mind. Travel can be stressful, especially when you are traveling for business purposes. When I am feeling stressed out, nothing centers me and calms me down like a quick yoga session.

Compost bin

The more I learn about composting our food waste, the more convinced I become of its importance. All of the hotels I have stayed at have little trash bins in the room, but what if one of these was a compost bin with a lid? If emptied every day, this would not smell at all, and it would make a big difference in the amount of waste sent to landfills! When I travel, I often bring healthy snacks such as apples and bananas; it always makes me sad to have to throw these in the garbage instead of composting them.

Why does composting matter? Food waste in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment {without oxygen} which produces the gas methane. When it enters our atmosphere, methane is a much more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. All of this can be solved by composting, because when food waste decomposes in a natural environment with oxygen, no methane is produced. Plus we produce compost to fertilize our future food products. It’s a win-win!

compost bin

photo credit: Sac compostable en place via photopin (license)

Recipe card

This idea was sparked by my recent visit to the Penzey’s Spices store in Cleveland. One of my favorite things about the store was the tear-off recipe cards scattered throughout the aisles. It was really fun to take home recipes from different parts of the world that featured various spices, many of which I had never before used. Trying out these recipes when I got home was a way to relive my trip a bit and also expand my repertoire in the kitchen. I think it would be neat if hotels adopted this idea and had recipe cards in the room that guests could take home with them. Perhaps hotels in different regions could feature recipes local to that region, or maybe all of the hotels could feature the same recipe and it would change each month or so. This would be a neat way to highlight local restaurants and chefs. The recipes could even be collected in a cookbook at some point that could be available for guests to purchase.

Questions of the day:

  • Your turn: what amenities would improve your stay at hotels?
  • Do you have any travel tips to share?

my trip to nyc

Happy Monday, everyone! Hard to believe we are flirting with mid-November already. Where does the time go?? I feel like an eye-blink ago was Halloween. Anyone else feel that way?

All this weekend, Paris has been on my heart. To me, Paris will always be Celine’s city, and as such it will always be a magical place. The Parisians I have met are wonderful, free-spirited, generous people. Although my heart breaks, along with so many hearts in the world, with the attacks that happened on Friday, I am choosing to give healing energy to thoughts of hope and love, instead of hatred and fear. We love you, Paris.

celine legacy

Before time gets too far along, I wanted to share with you a recap of my recent trip to the Big Apple to visit my brother. It was my fourth time to NYC, but my first time going as less of a tourist: not staying at a hotel, not seeing the big tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. My brother took me to places that were more off-the-beaten path, that I had never even heard about before, and I felt for the first time a glimpse of what it might be like to live as a true “New Yorker” as my brother is doing during this season of his life. {I am SO proud of him — he has embraced the city and his job and new friends and is simply doing fabulously!}

me and gb reunited

I was so happy to be reunited with my brother! That first night I arrived late {after navigating the bus/subway system from LaGuardia airport… I had to be brave and ask people for help, and everyone was kind and patient, even when I got my huge suitcase stuck in the subway turnstile… all in all, I was quite proud of myself, and quite relieved to make it to Manhattan safely!} Greg and I walked to the Seaport area across the street from his apartment and had a wonderful dinner at the Italian restaurant Il Brigante. I had the eggplant parm. Delicious!

The next morning, we walked to Chinatown so my brother could get his biweekly buzz haircut — he has found a place that does it for $4! Chinatown was so neat to experience because it really did feel like being in a different country, with all the signs in Chinese and people speaking Chinese and little stands along the sidewalk selling hot food and tea. I have been to Chinatown in San Francisco before, but NYC’s Chinatown felt even more immersive to me!

My brother lives in a great apartment in the financial district and his roof has an amazing view! We went up there to take in the sights. Postcard-worthy!

view of city from apt roof

view of bridges from apt roof

me and greg roof

We met up with my dear friend Ben for literary-themed cocktails at the rooftop bar The Library. Ben had been wanting to take me to this bar ever since he discovered it, because of my profound love of books, so it was extra-special to be able to go there with him!

rooftop cocktails library bar

After drinks and a quick dinner, we went to see the Broadway play Hand to God, a dark comedy featuring a hand-puppet that had me laughing… and thinking. The actors were superb!

hand to god play

On our way home from the play, we stopped by Schmackarys for some cookies! I could not decide what to get, so Greg indulged my sweet tooth and we got a box of half-a-dozen to share over the weekend. My favorite was the s’mores. YUM.

schmackarys cookies nyc

The next day, Greg took me to The High Line Park — it used to be a railway, and has great views of the city. It is a neat feeling to be walking through trees in the middle of Manhattan! Greg and I also got a kick out of watching various kids and adults of all ages approach a water fountain/sculpture near where we sat for a break during our walk. After The High Line, we explored Chelsea Market and the lakeshore. It was chilly but beautiful!

chelsea water

We grabbed dinner at The Meatball Shop, a popular restaurant chain in the city, serving all sorts of both veggieballs and meatballs. I love how NYC has such specific and diverse food options!

Thee next day, I met up with Greg after he finished work — I got a tour of his awesome office and got to meet some of his super-nice coworkers! — we headed out for dinner and a VERY special dessert stop. Longtime blog readers may recall my intense love for a certain romantic comedy circa early-2000s? I saw this movie for the first time in theaters when I was in high school, and have watched it pretty much every year since then. It is my “comfort food” movie… what can I say, I just love it! You can guess what it is based on the photo below:

Serendipity!

Yep… Greg took me to SERENDIPITY! As you can tell from the above photo, I was pretty dang excited! And since it was a Monday night, we didn’t even have to wait very long for a table. Greg ordered a classic frozen hot chocolate and I went for the salted caramel frozen hot chocolate. Delicious!

frozen hot chocolate

The true magic of the night came when our waiter approached us holding an iPhone. “You are sitting at a very special table,” he said, thrusting the phone at us to show a picture from IMDB… of my two favorite characters sitting at the VERY SAME TABLE. Ahhhh! It was definitely a serendipitous moment! Greg told the waiter, “Oh, you don’t have to tell her about the movie, she knows exactly what table this is.” Haha! The waiter was kind enough to take our picture and Greg made an image for me with us and John & Sara {from the movie!}

serendipity table!!!

On Tuesday morning, I took the train from Grand Central Station to Wassic to meet up with my dear friends Janet and Lauren for lunch. These two lovelies drove two and three hours respectively to have lunch with me! It was so wonderful to see them. We do not get to see each other all that often, but when we do, everything falls back into place and it is like we just saw each other. I feel very grateful to have such special friends! We went to Harney & Sons tea shop for lunch and oh my gosh, you guys, good thing I was flying back on a plane because otherwise I would have been tempted to buy alllll the tea.

janjan laur

When I got back to the city, I had some time before Greg got off work so I made a quick stop by Central Park. It wasn’t much time to explore, but just walking around one small square at the edge of the park was lovely. Such an incredible, beautiful green space in the center of the city!

central park

All too soon, it was Wednesday morning, and time for me to get on board a plane back home to SFO {but not before taking a silly selfie with my brother!} I miss him very much, but I am so proud of him and I love our adventures together. Already looking forward to the next one! 🙂

me and greg silly

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family vacation to Mexico
highlights of my trip to Cleveland
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weekend in South Lake Tahoe
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weekend getaway to south lake tahoe

Hello, friends! This week’s year of living simply post will be comin’ at ya tomorrow, but this morning I wanted to bring you a special recap post of my weekend in South Lake Tahoe! It was my first time there and ever since I moved to the Bay Area, people have been telling me and telling me that I needed to go. I knew it was a gorgeous place, but let me tell you — it was even more gorgeous than I was expecting!

Plus, it was the perfect time of year to go: the weather was cool in the evenings but warm during the day; the area was peaceful and not too crowded with summer or winter tourists; and the few trees in the area that were not evergreens were changing colors into beautiful yellows and oranges. And the lake absolutely shimmered, such a pure and vibrant blue.

lake tahoe

Boats on the lake!

tahoe boats

I took walks along the shoreline each day I was there. I could not get enough of this view!

lake tahoe 2

The whole reason I was invited to South Lake Tahoe was because of the inaugural WordWave Literary Festival; I was honored to win first place for drama in the playwriting competition, and the organizers of the festival put me up at the Camp Richardson Resort for three nights so I could attend rehearsals and the performance on Saturday! What an incredible experience it was to see the talented actors and director bring my words to life onstage. I can’t even adequately describe it, you guys. I just felt — still feel — filled with light and gratitude. And magic. Yes, it was an utterly magical experience.

Here is a photo of the beautiful Valhalla Boathouse Theater… it used to be an old boathouse but was renovated and turned into a theater. It is one of the coolest performance spaces I have ever seen!

valhalla theater

Backing up for a bit, on Friday night the WordWave Festival officially began with a Steampunk Ball in the woods! Do you guys know much about steampunk? I was not very well-versed in the trend but WOW, the costumes people wore were out of this world. It was explained to me as a Victorian style meets modern technology/gadgets/gears/etc. Like the Robert Downey Jr. style Sherlock Holmes. I did not have a steampunk costume but enjoyed mingling at the ball, admiring the decorations and chatting with people. I took this photo for you guys of this steampunk octopus sculpture!

steampunk octopus

On Saturday morning, I went to a relaxing gentle yoga class, walked along the water, and attended an amazing keynote speech by Pam Houston, who has long been a favorite writer of mine. {Her latest story collection, Contents May Have Shifted, is in my top five books I have read this year.} Pam talked about how being an artist is most of all about noticing things and being present to the world around you. I could not agree more! And she spoke about how telling our stories and sharing our voices is desperately important, especially to celebrate our wondrous and one-of-a-kind and precious Earth. She inspired me to use my voice to spread messages and tell stories that are deeply important to me.

contents may have shifted

Early Saturday afternoon, Allyn arrived! {He had to work Thursday and Friday.} He actually took Amtrak up so that we would only have one car and could drive back together on Sunday. Neither of us had much experience with Amtrak, but he said it was great! He took a train from Oakland to Sacramento and a bus from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe. The whole journey took about 4.5 hours, not much longer than it would have taken to drive, and both the train and the bus had wi-fi so he was able to get some work done during the journey and also just relax and enjoy the scenery. {It is a very pretty drive for the last hour or so!} I was relieved that he was on time and had such a pleasant trip. And it was sooooo nice to drive back together instead of taking separate cars on the way home!

tahoe trees

I picked Allyn up from the bus station at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, and we grabbed some sandwiches at a cute little deli and then headed to Fallen Leaf Lake, which one of the actors in my play had recommended as a gorgeous place to hike. We ate our sandwiches along the trail and explored the area for a couple hours. It was so pretty! Tall trees, a gurgling creek, and well-maintained hiking trails.

me and al tahoe

When we reached Fallen Leaf Lake, I could see why the actors were raving about it! This picture does not come close to capturing its peaceful beauty.

fallen leaf lake

Mid-afternoon, we headed back to our room, showered, and got fancied up for dinner — and for my play debut!

ready for my play!

Allyn took me out to a celebratory dinner at The Beacon Restaurant, which Dana had recommended as one of her favorite Tahoe spots! We made a reservation in advance, so we were able to snag a table out on the patio looking onto the lake as the sun began to set. It was perfect!

beacon restaurant

Oh you guys. I was a giddy bundle of nerves before the performance! But my play went wonderfully. {All three plays went wonderfully!} It was a full house and the audience was terrific, very engaged in the performances. They gasped during the surprises and laughed at the humorous lines and during the dramatic moments, you could hear a pin drop. I was so proud of the actors and grateful for the way they treated my work with such respect and enthusiasm. They brought their own artistic vision to my script and, by bringing the characters and their relationships to life, made it even better than simply my words on the page.

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

On Sunday, before heading home, I wanted to check out Emerald Bay, which was another “must see” spot many people told me about. Allyn and I started to drive towards Emerald Bay around 11:15 am, but the Tahoe Marathon was still going on so the road was closed until noon! We solved the problem by driving back into town and picking up some lunch to-go at a Mexican place that was recommended highly on Yelp, Jalepeno’s Taqueria. We both went with breakfast burritos, and also picked up a chocolate croissant at a bakery next-door, Don’s Cakes by the Lake. By then, it was late enough for us to drive back and get through to Emerald Bay. We ate our lunch while gazing out at this spectacular view:

emerald bay

Apparently, it is one of the most photographed spots in all of California! I can certainly see why. I could have stared out at that peaceful view for hours.

me at emerald bay

Eventually, it was time to hit the road so we would make it back home in time for dinner. It was an easy drive with just a few spots of traffic — bopping along to music and chatting with my sweetie made time pass quickly. I already am looking forward to visiting Lake Tahoe again!

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8 reasons you haven’t heard from me in a month and a half

Hello, friends! Gosh, I cannot believe it is already the end of July. I did not intend to take such a long blogging hiatus… it was one of those things that just kind of *happened* the way that life happens sometimes! Here’s what I’ve been up to this summer {and why you haven’t heard from me in a while…}

1. I went on a trip to Europe! It was absolutely beautiful, and restful, and adventurous, and sad, and healing, and exactly what I needed. This trip was born about a year ago, when I was invited along for a weeklong trip to the south of France with Allyn’s family. Allyn and I decided to extend our trip a little bit and spend some time in Paris to see my friend Celine. We booked our tickets back in December. I could not wait to see Celine again in her favorite city, and to introduce Allyn to her, and for us all to spend time together.

When Celine died, I wasn’t sure if I could still bear to go to Paris without her there. But I knew that she would want me to go — she would have been furious if I canceled that part of the trip! And so I went. And later I will write a whole post about all the things I learned there, but suffice to say it was very hard, and missing her was a whole-body ache, and I felt and saw her everywhere — and there was something very comforting in that underneath all the pain.

sunflowers

In addition to Paris and the south of France, we also spent a few days in Barcelona with Allyn’s brother Colin and Colin’s girlfriend Charlotte, which was lovely. One of the treasures of the trip was getting to spend so much time with Allyn’s siblings — they are such fun, thoughtful, easy-to-be-around people, and I am grateful to have them as friends.

allyns siblings

me and Allyn France

2. I got an eye infection. Immediately upon returning home from our trip. The doc thinks I must have picked something up on the train/metro/plane/airport/etc. So many germs while traveling! Anyway, this derailed me for a bit, with doctors appointments and antibiotics and hot eye compresses. Fun! But it is all better now, thankfully. And now I am much more appreciative of my un-itchy eyes!

3. I’m teaching summer camps for Communication Academy. In the summer, instead of weekly classes, we teach week-long camps for kids and teens. I teach public speaking, journalism, and academic writing. I love teaching the camps because the class becomes very close during the week, spending so much time together, and you see a lot of growth in the students. It’s very inspiring! However, my workdays are longer than during the school year — more of a traditional 9-5 as opposed to three hours in the afternoons — and it can be hard to fit in writing/emailing/blogging time.

4. My role at church is expanding. In addition to serving as a Worship Associate this summer, I am giving my own sermon and leading the service on August 16. I’ve also taken on a leadership position as co-facilitator of a Young Adult Community Circle. All of this is enriching, important work for my soul, and is challenging me to grow in new ways!

5. Janet came to visit for a few days. Allyn and his family took us out on a boat ride around the San Francisco Bay!

me and janet

6. Holly and I met up in Chicago to see our girl Taylor Swift in concert! It was an amazing show, even though we were sitting in the_very_last_row! Spending time with Holly fills my heart up so much. I wish we lived closer, but I am beyond grateful for every moment I get to spend with this lovely lady!

me and Holly

tswift concert 1989

7. Some terrific developments have been happening for me professionally these past couple weeks… I landed a new copywriting gig, won second place in a national writing contest, and have exciting news regarding my novel that I will share with you at a later date, once I am no longer afraid of jinxing things! 😉 I also wrote a few short essays about writing that you might be interested in:

8. Now I am back in my hometown, soaking up time with my fam and my brother before he leaves for his new job in NYC on Friday! I am also teaching my writing camp this weekend and next weekend. Yesterday I gave a book talk and signing at a local bookstore, Mrs. Figs’ Bookworm, and was so surprised and grateful at how many people came out to support me! I have such wonderful friends. So, so lucky!

friends at booksigning

book signing sign

And now you’re pretty much caught up! I hope the summer has been treating you wonderfully, too. I hope you are getting time to relax and recharge your batteries. Is there anything you need to take a brief hiatus from? If you feel like you are juggling lots of plates — is there one you can set down, even for a short while?

I missed blogging and I missed checking in with all of you, and after my time away I am feeling rejuvenated and eager to be back! Thank you for reading and being part of my little corner of the internet.

P.S. Murray sends you a big kiss! TGIF & happy weekend!

murray kiss

highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture

gator

20140706_140656

After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.

Woodsgiving

Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.

5 things my brother has taught me {happy birthday, greg!!}

My little brother turns 25 today!!

me and gb kids

I got home yesterday afternoon, and I am so happy I get to be home to celebrate with my fam 🙂 Last night, we had Gramps over for dinner and it was a lovely evening all around. Tonight we are going out for dinner at a restaurant {Greg’s choice!} and I just made a batch of peanut butter cup brownies for dessert.

greg and gramps

Even though he is younger than I am, my brother has always been my role model for living a fulfilling, fun, meaningful, and extraordinary life, rich with the things that truly matter. He is so giving, loving, wise, compassionate, and hilarious. He is my best friend. What a blessing it is to be his sister!

me and gb

My very first memory is the morning he was born 25 years ago today, when I was two and a half. I remember telling my mom, “Call Daddy! Call Daddy!” because my dad was at work and my mom wasn’t feeling very well. {Um, Ma, you were in labor! Haha.} Greg was born a couple weeks early so his birth came as a bit of a surprise. My family jokes that if my mom hadn’t called my dad to come home from work and take her to the hospital, I would have ended up delivering my brother in our living room — he was born that quickly!

Anyway, it makes perfect sense to me that my first memory is the morning Greg was born… because before then, I was just waiting for my best friend to come into the world ❤

me and greg summer

In honor of the amazing impact my brother has had on my life, and on countless other lives, during his quarter-century on this Earth so far, I present to you…

5 things my brother has taught me:

1. Hard work is its own reward; savor the process. Greg is an incredibly hard worker. Just one example: he made it onto the USC track team as a walk-on, and impressed everyone so much with his diligent work ethic and enthusiasm day in, day out, that he ended up being Team Captain his senior year, and an Assistant Coach the year after he graduated. He would be the first to tell you that he was far from the most naturally talented runner on the team. His consistent hard work was what made him a strong runner.

Trojan_Invite_2011

But even more than his amazing work ethic, Greg inspires me by the joy he gets not from results, but from the process of working hard on something that matters to you. When I was sloughing through the muddy middle of my novel, he wrote me this in an email:

Creativity — and all of life — sometimes is like a fallow field that looks like things are slow on the surface, but in reality all that effort is building up richly for next big explosion of energy that everyone else sees and that you’ve known is a continuation of all the consistent hard work and dedication you pour into your craft every day. Keep taking it one step at a time and don’t let any sense of rush or worry take away from the excitement of all the progress you are making on these great gifts that you have already done such work creating to this point.

2. Seize life’s adventures fearlessly. I can be a fearful person, a worrier, a homebody. Greg inspires me to move past my tendency to fret or worry, and to cultivate my sense of adventure. He makes me think of the phrase carpe diem {“Seize the day!”} or of Thoreau’s advice to “suck the marrow out of life.” He has traveled to Mali and Ghana in Africa; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Vietnam; China; Europe; and numerous cities across the U.S. — and he brings back once-in-a-lifetime stories from all his travels. I want to travel with him to Africa one day!

greg camel

3. Find joy in little moments, every day. Greg is a goofball. He makes me laugh all the time. He is the type of person who seeks out joy and creates joy, in little moments, every single day — whether that means having an impromptu dance party, or telling a funny story, or wearing a silly outfit to a football tailgate, or simply taking the time to notice and appreciate a beautiful sunset.

greg dancing julie's wedding

Greg dancing at my cousin Julie’s wedding.

4. Invest in relationships and experiences, not material things. Greg has such a wide network of friends; he is always reaching out and connecting with people. He is a great listener. He always builds people up. We talk on the phone pretty much every night, and no matter how busy he is with schoolwork or final exams, he always makes time to talk to me. He lets the people in his life know that they are important to him.

me and greg little

5. The best gifts are those you give to others. Greg is selfless, always thinking of others ahead of himself — and he has shown me that the act of giving is a beautiful gift you can give yourself. In high school he started a nonprofit organization called Give Running that has donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to disadvantaged youth around the globe. He is passionate about The Girl Effect, blogging frequently about it for the Huffington Post. For Christmas this year, he made a donation to Embrace, an organization that helps serve “preemie” babies in third-world countries, in my honor. He is so thoughtful, kind, and authentically generous. He makes me want to be a better person. He inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself.

greg with chief

Happy birthday, Gregburn! You may be taller than I am, but you will always be my little brother. I love you unconditionally!

me and gb at deck

goals + recipes for the week of 8/31

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone! Hope you have something fun planned. 🙂 Hard to believe tomorrow is September already!

I’m super excited because Dana is visiting me in Ventura for the long weekend! I’m happy to get to show her around all my favorite restaurants, hang-out spots, and childhood haunts.

me and dana sideboard

Plus a now cone-free {woo-hoo!} Mr. Mur-dog is ecstatic to have a new friend! Haha he is pretty much beside himself.

cone free murray

Last week I said I was hoping to get a LOT of writing done, and I was very successful in that goal! Now I’m hoping to continue that momentum into this week! #takingcareofmorebusiness

Before I head out, time for goals…

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from this past week: 
revise 75 pages of my novel-in-progress
– complete new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
connect with three friends
– do yoga twice
– read through three back issues from my New Yorker stash

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– revise 100 pages of my novel-in-progress
– complete new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
– submit three pieces to journals/publications
– connect with three friends
– do yoga twice
– read through five back issues from my New Yorker stash

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
pumpkin oatmeal bars via The Lean Green Bean
mixed berry granola muffins via Two Peas & Their Pod
– peanut butter honey yogurt dip via Two Peas & Their Pod
slow-cooker cinnamon applesauce via It’s Progression
– my own gluten-free oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies

Questions of the day:

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

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