fun-filled “staycation” weekend

My brother found a cheap flight from NYC to the Bay Area and came to visit us for a long weekend! He was our first houseguest, and we loved sharing our little apartment with him. I went grocery shopping on Friday evening to stock up on favorite items for our houseguest and Allyn was very thorough about checking the comfort of the air mattress.

My brother said that the timing of the trip could not have been more perfect for him because last week incredibly busy, both at work and in his personal life — he is moving to a new apartment, AND his workplace moved to a new office, AND he had a big work event this past Friday. He said it was really nice to fly out to California and relax for a couple days! I told him that it felt like a vacation for us to have him here — a “staycation,” if you will. Allyn and I had so much fun showing him around our town and taking him to our favorite places. Allyn joked that we’ll need to wrack our brains to come up with things to do next time he visits, because we did everything there is to do in our little town!

Saturday

Saturday morning we slept in a bit and I made smoothies and pancakes for breakfast. Then we headed over to the Lake Chabot recreational park down the street and went for a walk around the lake. We also showed Greg the picnic area we reserved for my 30th birthday party in a few months! Allyn is super on top of party planning, which is good, because apparently picnic spots get booked up six months in advance. We were lucky to nab one for the first weekend in June.

After 45 minutes or so, we headed back home and got all cleaned up to head over to a “gender reveal” party for dear friends of ours who are expecting a baby in August. We could not be more excited for them — they’re going to be such great parents! Greg met them during our wedding festivities and actually got together with them in the fall when they were out visiting NYC, so he has become friends with them too. The timing worked out perfectly that he was in town to come along to their party! It was my first time attending a gender reveal party and the concept was so much fun. They asked guests to wear either blue or pink to the party, depending on what gender you thought the baby was going to be. Then, towards the end of the party, the parents-to-be cut open a cake to reveal either blue or pink. We all wore blue, even though Allyn thought it was going to be a girl {he just didn’t have anything pink to wear.} For some reason, I had this overwhelming feeling that they were having a boy. I felt pretty dang confident. And I was right! It’s exciting to imagine them welcoming a baby boy in just a few months.

The party was a blast — lots of Allyn’s friends from high school were there. I love these people but we don’t get to see them as often as we would like, due to everyone’s busy schedules. In fact, we hadn’t seen most of the gang since our wedding six months ago! It was great to chat and catch up with everyone over delicious “soul food”: fried chicken, black-eyed peas and rice, mac and cheese, cornbread, greens. There was enough food and cake to feed an army, and the hosts insisted that all the guests take home leftovers. We left the party around 5:30 and, while we had originally planned on taking Greg to a local Thai restaurant that night for dinner, none of us were feeling like eating again anytime soon. Sleepiness hit, along with a rainstorm, and nothing sounded better than changing into pajamas and cozying up on the couch to watch a movie. So that is exactly what we did! We picked up the movie “Arrival” from Redbox on the way home, which we had all been wanting to see. I was worried the movie might be a bit too scary for me {I am such a horror movie wimp} but it wasn’t scary at all, just suspenseful. The story was told in an interesting way that kept you guessing, all the way up to the enigmatic ending. It was definitely a good movie to watch with other people, so you can all discuss it afterwards.

Sunday

Early in the morning I had a couple student writing appointments scheduled, so after a shower and a quick breakfast of two defrosted muffins from the freezer, I slipped out while the boys were still sleeping. When I returned home a couple hours later, Allyn was making breakfast and Greg had just returned from a run. I joined them for breakfast #2, and soon we all headed out the door for an afternoon of fun!

Our first stop was the local bowling alley where we made it just in time to take advantage of their “before noon” weekend discount. When bowling, my goal is always to break 100. I got the closest I could come without actually meeting my goal: 99! I bowled more 9’s that game than I ever have in my life. Allyn and Greg both broke 100, Greg edging out Allyn with a spare in the final frame to win the game, 114 to 108. It was a close match! The bowling alley was hoppin’ — lots of families and little kids with bumper lanes — and it was fun to be part of the festive atmosphere.

After bowling we walked a few minutes to this cool shop called Aran’s Art Studio that Allyn and I had passed by many times and had always wanted to check out. In addition to teaching classes and hosting birthday parties, they also have a large selection of pottery that you can drop in anytime and select to paint with your own designs. When you’re done, you leave the pottery and they glaze and fire it, then call you to come pick it up when it’s ready {usually within a week, according to the helpful receptionist.} It sounded like fun, so we each chose a piece to paint. I used to love painting when I was a girl, and I’d forgotten how soothing it can be. About an hour later, we left the painting studio feeling relaxed and also energized by our creations. I can’t wait to see what they look like glazed and fired! Greg sweetly picked out a vase he painted for me, so I get to keep his piece, too!

We had just enough time to squeeze in lunch at one of our favorite local restaurants, Don Jose’s, before I had to head off to teach my weekly Creative Writing class. While I was gone, the boys went to the movie theater down the street to see the movie “Logan” {which I was grateful for because I really did not want to see it — too violent for my taste!} They really liked it but confirmed that yes, it was much too gory for me. It made it easier for me to be away knowing that they were seeing a movie I definitely did not want to see!

When I arrived home from teaching around 7pm, Allyn and Greg were putting the finishing touches on a Blue Apron meal they cooked for dinner! Tangelo-glazed salmon with apple farro and an extra side of green beans. {The meals we order from Blue Apron are portioned for two people, so I bought an extra fillet of salmon and some green beans at the grocery store to round out the meal and make it enough food for three!} The meal was aaaaamazing and we all toasted the chefs!

After dinner, we played a few rounds of a supremely fun card game called “Guillotine” that Allyn’s sister introduced us to a while ago. It is a simple premise, so the game is easy to learn, but it uses a combination of logic, strategy and luck that really keeps your interest. Usually my go-to activity after dinner is to relax on the couch with a TV show or movie, but having Greg here reminded me how much I love playing board games and card games, too!

During the game we enjoyed some leftover cake from the party on Saturday. Allyn made his typical sugar feast of an ice cream dish! He cracks me up. I tease him that he has the sugar tooth of an eight-year-old!

Monday

Greg and I have a tradition of going out for breakfast or brunch together. So on his last morning in town, Allyn and I took him to a gem of a breakfast place down the street, called Doug’s Place. It’s been in town since 1978 and has the homey atmosphere and huge portions of a local staple. Allyn ordered the “light” breakfast {which would be a normal-sized breakfast at any other restaurant: two eggs, bacon and toast} and Greg and I split a ginormous veggie omelet and French toast. I loved both items, but the French toast was the winner in my book!

Allyn didn’t have to work, and the rain was kindly holding off, so after breakfast we headed over to the mini-golf course. On a gray-skied Monday morning, we had the place to ourselves! It felt like we were kids playing hooky from school. The course is a lot of fun with some very creative hole designs. Greg got a hole-in-one!

For lunch, Greg said he was in the mood for “a fast-casual Mediterranean place” and, thanks to Yelp’s help, I was able to find a great spot called Shish Grill that was on the way to our afternoon activities. The boys ordered chicken shawarma and I got a falafel sandwich. The restaurant was busy with a lunch crowd but we were very impressed by the service and the food! After lunch, we stopped by my grandparents’ house as a surprise. Grandma is out of town visiting her sister, but Grandpap was home and he was so excited to see his grandson. The look on his face when Greg popped out from around the corner was priceless! We had a really nice time visiting with him.

Next up, we dropped off Greg at the gorgeous Lafayette Reservoir for a run while Allyn and I went to our tax appointment. Taxes are never very fun, but our appointment was less painful than I was anticipating, and I was excited about our first time filing as a married couple! #relationshipmilestones

The timing worked out perfectly and we swung around to the Lafayette Reservoir just as Greg was finishing his cool-down. I wish we lived closer to the reservoir because it is such a peaceful place to walk around. Fun fact: Allyn and I went to the Lafayette Reservoir for our second date, and it was the location of our first kiss!

We headed back home and Greg showered and packed up his stuff while Allyn and I made another Blue Apron meal for dinner. This recipe was chicken yakiniku with bok choy, sesame-marinated carrots and garlic rice, and it was another winner. Yakiniku, according to Blue Apron, is “a type of barbecue sauce that combines the sweet notes of teriyaki with the savory depth of sesame.” We all thought it was delicious and not too spicy! To ensure the meal would be enough for three people, I simply added some additional veggies and the boys also polished off leftover corn muffins from Saturday’s party.

After dinner we had just enough time for a rematch of “Guillotine.” Then, all too soon, it was time to drive Greg to the airport to catch his flight home. His visit went by so fast, but it also felt so full in the best way. I can’t wait until he visits again!

Questions of the day:

  • What are your favorite places in your hometown to take guests when they visit?
  • Have you ever had a “staycation” before?
  • What is your favorite card/board game or favorite movie you’ve seen recently?

fabulous friday #52

Hi friends, and happy Friday! Hope you’re up to something fun! I’m heading into the city as soon as I hit “publish” on this blog post to have lunch with my hubby {I still get a little giggly calling Allyn my husband :)} and then I’m going to have an afternoon “writing retreat” at a coffeeshop. I’m excited to delve into this new novel I’m working on, and also to get in some distraction-free commenting time on the wonderful batch of poems and stories I received from my creative writing students this past week. {News since I last posted an update on here: I’m teaching a weekly creative writing class for high school students in San Jose, and I’m LOVING it!} Speaking of things I’m loving…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. One Teen Story! I love this little magazine for so many reasons. The issues come out every month, and each issue is a new story geared for teen audiences {but wise and wonderfully written — I think adults will love them, too!} Some of them are even written by teens, including “A Eulogy for Pretzel” and “Sunrise” in this batch below. I often slip a couple issues into my bag when I am taking public transport somewhere, so I can read without having to lug around a bulky book — I can fit these even into my small purse. I also like to use issues as “prizes” to motivate my writing students.

one teen story

2. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios — I nabbed these when I spotted them at the grocery store because I adore pretty much anything pumpkin spice. I have been eating them for breakfast or as a snack all week long, and I also made these delicious cereal bars from Eating Bird Food.

3. Last weekend, for Allyn’s birthday, I planned a birthday surprise outing for him. I absolutely love birthdays and I had so much fun planning out a fun adventure for us. We went to the pumpkin patch where we were able to conquer a corn maze for the second year in a row and picked out some stellar pumpkins for only $4 each! I have named them Fred & Ginger.

Allyn pumpkin patch

Then we went out to dinner at this neat restaurant called Old City Hall Restaurant that used to actually be the town City Hall — there is so much history in the building, and where the bathrooms are used to be the jail cells! They still have the iron gates and it was definitely the coolest bathroom I have ever seen. I would have taken a picture for you guys but I had left my purse/phone at the table!

I did however take lots of photos of our final stop of the surprise-filled day: the Lumination experience at Gilroy Gardens! This was so cool, you guys! If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend it. It is like the Rose Parade meets Christmas lights meets the Chinese lantern festival. We spent a couple hours walking all over the gardens and taking in all the amazing light sculptures. One of my favorites was a ginormous dragon that was entirely built out of china dishes–cups, bowls, plates, etc! It was incredible to behold.

dragon lumination

dragon china plates

4. Something about autumn always makes me bust out my James Taylor albums, especially October Road, and I love his new one Before This World as well. Lately I’ve also been rocking out to this Ben Rector song… impossible to be in a grumpy or tired mood when this song comes on, am I right??

5. I don’t usually get political in this space, but this election feels too perilous not to speak out against hatred, violence, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and a terrifying frenzy of fear. Too much is at stake to stay silent. In these times of uncertainty, I have been particularly inspired by this movement, #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote, started by writers Julianna Baggott and David Scott, who reached out to fellow writers, family, and friends, who reached out to more folks and word spread quickly. The response has been overwhelming — some pieces are heartbreaking and moving, others inspiring, others simply stunning. The line-up of writers include two Pulitzer-prizewinners, New York Times bestselling novelists, a National Book Award-winner, critically acclaimed poets, as well as social workers, teachers, even a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Special Forces. DedicateYourNoTrumpVote.com is looking for people from various walks of life, a diverse range of experience and points of view. Submit your own piece, or just read the words of others and consider what you want your vote to stand for — what legacy you want to leave to your future children and grandchildren.

Questions for the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?

goals + meal plan for the week of 5/1

Hi there, everyone! Happy Monday! My little windowsill plants are starting to sprout… I am waaaay too excited about these little seedlings!

sprouting plants

Highlights of this past week included going to a very inspiring fair of student environmental projects at Allyson’s high school; going out to dinner in San Francisco with Allyn’s dad and stepmom; and seeing a local production of this very cute and funny play, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! {Though I told my sweetie of course that title does not ring true to the two of us! Haha.}

love you you're perfect show

We also finished watching a terrific TV series we have been enjoying on DVD {a Christmas gift from Allyn’s brother Colin} called Slings & Arrows… any fans of literature, theater, Shakespeare, or quirky dramedies with interesting characters, I would highly recommend it! Also, in the first season, a young Rachel McAdams stars… she’s perhaps my favorite actress. Love her!

My favorite new recipe I made this past week was a shrimp & veggie pasta dish from a cookbook that Holly gave me, Healthy Cookbook for Two. It turned out great! Light and perfect for the warm weather we’ve been having.

shrimp pea pasta

Tonight, we are heading into San Francisco for a special event at the Museum of Modern Art! I have not been there before and am so excited. Plus, it’s a fun excuse to get a little gussied up. 😉 {Very exciting for a writer who spends a lot of time in yoga pants and pj’s!}

Time for goals… please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher {…almost there!}
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events {made headway on venues!}
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists {reached out to some people, but have not nailed anything down yet…}

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events
– complete and submit new short story
– complete second Presidio interview
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Monday: Curried butternut squash, chickpeas & spinach {subbing butternut squash for sweet potatoes}
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Out to dinner
Thursday: Pizza and salad
Friday: Slow-cooker minestrone
Saturday: Taco salad
Sunday: Leftovers!

Questions of the day:

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

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

goals + meal plan for the week of 4/24

Hi there, everyone! I know today is Monday, but it has felt like Sunday all day to me… I have a few tutoring clients on Saturday, so Sunday + Monday have become my “weekend” of sorts. Today was filled with typical Sunday-ish tasks: laundry, grocery store, dishes, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. I also was very excited to go back to my favorite yoga class this morning, after a few weeks away. And I finally planted a little windowsill herb garden I have been wanting to do for a while. We’ve got little pots of basil, rosemary, and garlic chives. They look so hopeful lined up in the sunshine! Last but not least, meal-planning happened today. {One day late, better than nothing!} My trusty crock-pot has been cooking dinner all afternoon. It smells good! After this post goes live, my sweetie and I are going to dig in.

crock pot dinner

I noticed last week that doing this goals + meal plan post really helped me feel motivated and organized throughout the week. When I would feel overwhelmed or unfocused, I would refer back to my goals post and it helped me re-energize. Sometimes I tend to want to do ALL.THE.THINGS at once, so goals posts are helpful because I can only set so many intentions for each week… it’s a reminder for me not to get too far ahead of myself, and to just worry about the piece of the puzzle that is in front of me in the moment.

Highlights of this past week were the Zyzzyva reading on Thursday evening in San Francisco! I have loved and admired this literary magazine for years, so seeing my work published in their pages is a surreal and amazing feeling, and getting to meet the editors and other contributors in person was such a treat. Allyn came with me and made me feel like a superstar, taking pictures of me in front of the building and during my reading. Afterwards we went to Burger Bar for dinner. It was a very lovely, special date night!

zyzzyva reading

Wedding-planning wise, this past week we were on a ROLL and I really hope to continue the momentum… in addition to making huge strides on our registry {something that I am so grateful for, but also find very overwhelming because I feel the need to research every item extensively before we put it on our registry} we also designed and ordered our wedding invitations and thank-you notes, made lots of headway on reception decorations, and decided on a bakery for our dessert. Things are coming together, slowly but surely! Also, on a random side-note: this is the first week where our wedding is truly starting to feel near. I know that time is going to fly and it is going to be here so quickly! I am trying my best to savor every step of the process. 🙂

Now, you’re all caught up on my life! Time for goals… please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
finish lay-out of Dancing With The Pen II
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– send out AWP thank-yous
– complete Presidio Q&A article {the person I’m interviewing had to push back our interview to this week}
– complete registry for bridal shower {this was huge!! AND we got our wedding invitations ordered, too!}

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– submit Dancing With The Pen II to publisher
– schedule Dancing With The Pen II events
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– meet with prospective wedding hair & make-up artists

meal plan week of 4-24-16

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Monday: Crock-pot thai peanut chicken and rice
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Soup and corn muffins
Thursday: Dinner in Fremont with Allyson
Friday: Mustard roasted fish {from what I read in a magazine article, this is one of T.Swift’s favorite recipes!}
Saturday: Shrimp & fresh pea fettucine
Sunday: Leftovers!

Questions of the day:

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

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

goals + meal plan for the week of 4/17

Hi there, everyone! Happy Sunday! As I was sipping my tea this morning and checking my email, I started thinking about my goals and plans for the week ahead… and I had the urge to bring back my Sunday goal posts here on the blog! I always find it inspiring when other people share their goals and action plans, especially on a bite-sized, small-step basis. Plus, sharing my goals on here helps keep me accountable — and helps me recognize when perhaps I am setting a goal that is related to my “fantasy self” and not to my real-life actual self. {For example, when a goal keeps showing up week after week and I never seem to find the time or motivation to complete it… a definite sign that maybe it’s actually not that important in my life!}

I’ve noticed these goal posts tend to fall away when I get swamped with outside commitments or extra work projects. But I am going to make a real effort to continue them consistently, even as life promises to get extra busy in the next few months with travel, birthday celebrations, teaching summer camps, and wedding planning! I have found that setting aside 15-20 minutes on Sunday to intentionally set goals and map out a meal plan for the week makes me feel more charged and excited going into the week. It keeps me more focused and less stressed. So here goes! Please feel free to share your goals and/or meal plans in the comments below!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish lay-out of Dancing With The Pen II
– publicity for Summer Writing Camp
– send out AWP thank-yous
– complete Presidio Q&A article
– complete registry for bridal shower

Here is my meal plan for the week:
Sunday: Dinner at Allyn’s mom’s
Monday: Sausage, potato and veggie bake
Tuesday: Leftovers/on our own
Wednesday: Tortellini & salad
Thursday: Dinner out in the city {I have a reading event for Zyzzyva magazine!}
Friday: Spaghetti squash burrito bowls {substituting acorn squash because it was on sale!}
Saturday: Crock-pot thai peanut chicken and rice

Questions of the day:

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

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

why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT of time and mental space, because then I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment. 
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed in our house. 🙂
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus, nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

my valentine’s weekend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

apple oatmeal muffins

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

Valentine flowers

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

girl on train book

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

red velvet crinkle cookies

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

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

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

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

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mini golf

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

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valentines dinner

It was the perfect ending to a truly lovely weekend!

Questions of the day:

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

my halloween weekend recap!

Hi, friends! Can you believe it is already November? I have some travel recaps coming your way soon, but first I wanted to share my Halloween with you guys because it was a great one!

allyn allyson me and pumpkins

On Friday, Allyn cooked us a delicious dinner of salmon & veggies, and then we carved pumpkins! You may remember Harold and Maude from our trip to the pumpkin patch at Half Moon Bay in early October. I was so relieved they lasted so long without growing moldy, and were in great shape for us to carve the day before Halloween. Yay!

harold and maude

We used stencils to make a gremlin {Allyn} and a mummy {me}… I thought they turned out pretty great!

mummy and gremlin

On Saturday, Allyn had a work event during the day and I had a meeting for church and some errands to run. In the afternoon, I assembled the last of my costume by making a wreath out of fake flowers I bought on sale at Michaels {apparently these flowers are part of their autumn line, which is now on super sale because that store is alllll about the holidays currently!} I had never made a flower crown before, but I used this tutorial and once I got the hang of it, the crown came together pretty easily. Here are the steps I did:

how to make a simple flower crown 

  1. Wrap floral wire around your head to measure the fit. Make sure you don’t make it *too* tight because you will be adding flowers, so it will get a little thicker. I used two strands of floral wire to make it a little sturdier.
  2. Snip the flowers you would like to use and arrange them on your crown in a pattern. Important note: make sure you leave enough stem on the flowers. I would recommend a couple inches, to make sure you are able to attach them securely to the wire.
  3. Use floral tape to tightly wrap around the stem of the first flower, continuing for a few inches down the wire of the crown to really stabilize the attachment. To me, this step was the key. At first, I did not use nearly enough floral tape and my flowers kept falling off. When I started using more floral tape and continuing down a couple inches past the flower’s stem, the entire crown felt much more secure.
  4. Continue until you make your way around the entire crown. Ta da! Your very own flower crown {that can double as a wreath if you hang it on the door, as I plan to do next autumn!}

forest gump and jenny

Can you tell who Allyn and I dressed up as for Halloween? Forest Gump and Jenny!

We met up with Allyn’s sweet sister Allyson and her friend Henry, who both dressed as Pirates, and drove into San Francisco for dinner and a Halloween show! Dinner was Chipotle because they were having a special deal where anyone who dressed up in costume got any menu item for just $3! I went with the vegetarian burrito bowl. SO GOOD.

Halloween chipotle

Then we drove to Fort Mason by the marina to go to the BATS Improv Halloween Musical Show! I just happened to come across info about this annual show when I did an Internet search last month for fun Bay Area Halloween events. It ended up being an absolutely wonderful way to spend Halloween night! The cast were very talented and quite hilarious. They made up an entire two-act musical show on the spot based on the audience’s suggestion of a title: “Infection!”

improv halloween comedy show

Allyn’s eyes are closed because Forest Gump is tired from all that running…

All in all, it was a truly fantastic Halloween!

On Sunday, there was an incredibly moving All Souls Service at my church. I have been missing Celine a lot lately, and the beautiful service and words of joy in the midst of grief were exactly what I needed on this day. I lit a candle for Celine and walked down the aisle to place it on the communal altar. I felt understood and lifted up by the supportive members of my church community, and for that I am very grateful.

I miss Celine every day, but every day I also smile thinking of a memory we shared, or simply remembering her genuine laughter.

candle for Celine

Later on Sunday afternoon, Allyn and I took BART into San Francisco to see the production of one of my all-time favorite musicals, “Once”! You guys, I adore this show. It makes me feel connected to the world around me and it reminds me why I love creating art: to give hope to others and celebrate the beauty of ordinary life.

once play sf

“Once” is an adaptation of the independent movie that came out a few years ago and won the Academy Award for Best Song. I love the movie, the songs, the storyline, and the musical does not disappoint! This was actually my third time seeing this show: I saw it originally on Broadway in New York City, and then a couple summers ago with my parents in Los Angeles. It was really special to be able to share the experience with Allyn this time!

before seeing once

Aaaaand, that’s a wrap! This week so far has been busy getting caught up after my travels to visit Holly in Cleveland and Greg in NYC. Hoping to pop back in soon with a recap of my trip! Until then, hope you are having a lovely week and adapting to the time change. I am slooooowly getting used to it getting dark so early. As one of my adorable tutoring kids said when I arrived at 5:30 yesterday for our lesson: “Miss Dallas, why are you here at midnight?!?” Haha. It IS strange for the sky to be dark as midnight at 5:30 p.m. but I am trying to embrace the winter for all the gifts it brings. I do love this time of year! What about you?

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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fabulous friday #52

Hi friends, and happy Friday! It’s been far too long since I’ve done a Fabulous Friday post… I’m excited to bring this back today! Hope you’re up to something fun this lovely autumn weekend. 🙂

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Being in Lake Tahoe! This is my first time traveling to this gorgeous vacation destination that so many people rave about, and I must say it has lived up to my expectations and then some! It is a beautiful time of year to be here, with crisp fall weather and so much greenery. I snagged a postcard for you guys!

Lake Tahoe postcard

I am loving being part of the Tahoe WordWave Festival. There are so many talented, creative writers and artists all around and it has been a privilege and pleasure to attend the workshops and events. Additionally, I am SO excited for the premiere of my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” tomorrow night at the Valhalla Boathouse Theatre! The cast of my play took a selfie for you. {How adorable are they??}

my cast

2. Backing up a little bit, this past Tuesday Dana and I attended the Taste of Walnut Creek, a fundraiser for a variety of local organizations, including my church! Each attendee got a little booklet of coupons and you would walk around downtown and stop at various restaurants to get a sample.

taste of walnut creek booklet

Each sample was quite small, but at the end of the night we were definitely full! {And we didn’t even make it to all of the restaurants offered!} If your town offers something similar, I would for sure recommend attending. Here is a list of the different eats & drinks we enjoyed:

I had an absolute blast strolling around downtown Walnut Creek, eating and chatting with beautiful Dana! I feel so blessed to have such amazing people like her in my life.

me and dana taste of walnut creek

3. I can’t get enough coconut butter lately! Have you guys tried this before? I first had it smeared on my morning bagels at Key West when I was there for the Key West Literary Conference a couple years ago, but I kind of forgot about it because I never see coconut butter in the grocery store, just coconut oil. But coconut butter was on sale at Swanson’s Vitamins last week, so I bought a tub.

coconut butter

You guys, I can’t get enough! My favorite thing of late is to prep a slice of toast with half coconut butter, half almond butter. Mmmmm I could eat this all day.

coconut almond butter toast

Aaaaand I am pretty sure my love for avocado toast will never die. Bring on the healthy fats!

avocado toast

4. I recently discovered Susan Hyatt {thanks to my girl Alex Franzen} and I am loving her short weekly “GO!” podcasts. Susan releases a new episode each Monday, with the goal of helping you get your week off to a great start. Topics range from your finances to your family to your business/career. I love how these are short enough to listen to as I’m getting ready for the day, and they never fail to give me a burst of inspiration. Susan is like that funny, no-nonsense, motivating friend who gives you the honest kick-in-pants you need. I binge-listened to all of her episodes last week, and now I am kinda bummed I have to wait each week for a new one!

5. Allyn and I got our pumpkins! Fingers crossed they last till Halloween; we are planning to have a pumpkin-carving party with Allyn’s sister on Halloween day. Since I like to name EVERYTHING, I of course had to name our pumpkins. Let me introduce you to Harold and Maude! {Have you seen that movie? Such a great one.}

our pumpkins

Questions for the morning:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?