Category Archives: Style

Long Live the Thank You Note!

Sifting through the mail this evening, my interest went first to my W2, but then, in between the ads, popped out a stylish little card, unopened, signaling Alex did not recognize the sender. For the life of me, I did not either. Who the heck do we know in Belmont?

As I opened the wax-sealed envelope and spotted the letterpress Gramr gratitude co. logo, I remembered. A few months back, as we sat and waited for our veggie burgers at Sunflower drive-in, we met two recent college grads headed up to Tahoe from the Bay Area. They had made a detour because somehow Sunflower was Zagat rated, a surprise to us, because it’s good, but it’s a total hippie hole in the wall.

We sat and waited and waited for our food, as is the custom, until we fell into natural conversation with these two strangers. They had that undoubtedly cool Bay Area vibe and soon we were exchanging life stories and listening to their plans for a gratitude company. Our afternoon transformed from run-of-the-mill dog park jaunt to feeling like we were on vacation ourselves, getting to know people we would probably never hear from again but had some pretty darn interesting stories.

Flash forward to today and a remarkably detailed little note of gratitude for our encounter appeared in the otherwise boring pile of mail. Such a simple concept. Reach out and send some gratitude into the universe and that gratitude will keep traveling forward. While their website is still in the works, you can follow them on Facebook or instagram and watch for the launch of their high-quality, heartfelt brand of thank you notes.

Truth be told, I have a secret soft spot for handwritten thank yous, so tonight I’m grateful for the inspiration from Matt Richardson over at Gramr gratitude co. He reminded me that writing a good thank you is a craft and of the importance of being brave enough to chase our dreams… whether they be gratitude start-ups or teaching underprivileged children or writing the next great novel.

Gramr

Gramr

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The Perfect End to An Endless Summer

Tomorrow is the very last day of summer break. After that, two days in Santa Cruz for a teacher retreat, a day to prepare my classroom, and then three days off to celebrate the final weekend of my twenties with friends (and dogs!) at a beach house about two hours north of San Francisco. Life is full and good to the point that I don’t have much time to lament summer’s passing.

Yesterday, a dear friend threw me an early 30th (or second 29th as she prefers to call it), and I have to say it was the perfect farewell to summer. We sat in her parents’ gorgeous backyard, sipped sparkling lemonade, and talked for hours about her life in San Francisco and mine, here. It was the kind of afternoon that does not need to end, filled with organic green clay masks, pedicures, and swimming, exactly the kind I long for whenever summer begins, that existed so freely in childhood, but now only appears here and there, unexpected though always desired.

If only I knew how to create that feeling more often– four hours on a Saturday could always feel never-ending in that beautiful childhood way. Time manipulation will always be my most coveted super hero power. So, as I ramp back up for 31 new little faces and a pile of revisions to my book, I am also determined to hold on to yesterday afternoon in a way that makes all time stop for a moment whenever I would like.

bday bday bday

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Overheard in a Ross Dressingroom…

Today I allowed myself an indulgence. I shop for new clothes maybe twice a year, max. Generally, my sisters and I swap items over little parties with friends, or I browse thrift shops. I try not to over-consume, although like most Americans, I still cross the line into some level of wastefulness and then feel guilty later.

Before a big vacation it is my ritual to pick up a few items, part of the anticipatory pleasure of travel. So, this morning, I headed off to Ross, my budget compromise to minimize at least the financial guilt of consumerism. After I carefully selected a couple items, including a swimsuit more characteristic of a 65 year-old woman, I headed for the dressing room.

As I squeezed into colorful Speedo spandex, I overheard a mother-daughter duo in the next stall.

“Oh my God.” Sheer horror in the daughter’s voice.

“What hun?”

“So-and-so’s sister has cervical cancer.”

“How old is she?”

“Mid to late twenties.”

They were both silent in disbelief. I, too, stopped for a moment. We all know someone with cancer. We all know people hurting because of it. Just this morning I had a conversation with someone I care about who faces a monumental loss. Sadly, we live in a world where cancer is not rare.

As I stood suddenly aware of the trivial concerns that face all women during swimsuit shopping, I was struck by the desire to get home and tell my husband we need to take better care of ourselves, we need to enjoy each moment as much as we can. Funny how the words of strangers can be so jarring.

The truth, as we all know, is that life can end abruptly (or slowly) at any time. When we remember this, time spent with loved ones becomes much more meaningful and finding the perfect swimsuit matters a lot less. For the record, I went for the old-lady one-piece, granny chic is totally my style, big sunglasses, colorful tote, and most importantly, a whole lot of love.

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Playing the Part: Fake it ’til you make it!

Fake it ’til you make it is a common piece of advice for anything you want to achieve in life. While on the surface, it might sound a bit disingenuous, there is a lot of truth to this statement. As a teacher, I had to fake it until I knew what I doing. Had I not, the kids (and their parents) would have eaten me alive. Likewise, when it comes to writing, platform creation is the current buzz.

However, for all of us yet-to-be-published authors out there, we know platform creation comes with a little faking. After all, we have to create the image of the author (and an audience) before our books even have real spines. I knew I had achieved some success in this endeavor when a friend introduced me at a party as a “real writer” again and again. While I protested a bit at first, she was adamant I had earned this title. At that moment I realized I had successfully played the part.

So, now it’s time to take this adage to the next level as I prepare to query (last round) and possibly self-publish Expecting Happiness. Some of the most common advice in platform creation is to make sure you present a professional and unified picture of yourself across all of your pages, (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Gravatar etc.). It’s important to make sure you pick just one or two photos as many readers will not know you well enough to identify you in different settings without these cues.

As such, I enlisted the help of a local blog friend and talented photographer to take some head shots to help me polish my presentation. While I’m going to hold off on picking which photo (or two) to use until after I get back from my trip, I wanted to give her a shout out for her photographic talent. If you live in the Sacramento area and need photos for any occasion, head over to Urke Photography’s blog. Likewise, Ashley also runs her own blog empire over at Domestic Fashionista (and has been my delightful inspiration for Thankfulness Thursdays). Stop by, say hi, tell her I sent you!

And, most importantly– keep on playing the part until it becomes a part of you! Any secrets you want to share on how you’ve faked it to make it?

Photo credit: Urke Photography

Photo credit: Urke Photography

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Why hello, Summer.

One more day of work, but yesterday felt like summer’s return. Sure the temperature dropped a startling (and welcomed) thirty-plus degrees, more reminiscent of early fall than early summer, but we still gathered around the big outdoor table to celebrate my stepsister’s 25th birthday with our beloved oak tree and retreating sun to awe us with their nightly slow dance.

Specialty cocktails a la Pinterest, a communal canvas, and happy dogs helped to set the mood for summer, my nephew inviting each of us to take a turn alongside him in the hammock.

Sweet, sweet summer, you always leave us too fast. I know you’ve just arrived, but we’re going to hold on extra tight this year…

Black Berry & Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonic w/ a splash of mermaid

Black Berry & Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonic w/ a splash of mermaid = Perfection.

Blackberry & Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonic recipe, in case you need some inspiration for a summer beverage...

Blackberry & Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonic recipe, in case you need some inspiration for a summer beverage…

Fun party idea-- everyone has to add to the painting... Everyone.

Everyone had to add to the painting… Everyone.

Joey & Odin

Joey & Odin

I <3 summer sunsets.

Heaven.

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Writers: Finally a good use for Pinterest!

I know plenty of women who are obsessed with Pinterest. From teachers to moms to fashionistas, Pinterest appeals to pretty much every woman I know, (as well as some of the men, too, I’m sure). Until today, this excluded me. I signed up because I use it from time to time for visual inspiration or to find a picture for my blog, but I have never got into pinning things, (I already waste my valuable writing time in too many ways).

However, one of my big goals in revisiting my book is to anchor it with more specific visual cues. I don’t want to turn into Steinbeck with full page descriptions of meadows, but three words here, five words there can really shape what readers see. I want my book to feel more textured, more quirky, more unique. This comes from no one other than myself. I feel like many of my visual descriptions are too generic, even if my goal is to keep much of my description minimalistic.

So– I’ve decided to create a board on Pinterest for images that fit with my vision of the book. Before I revisit each chapter, I’m spending a maximum of five minutes pinning images that mesh with what comes next. I tried it with my prologue this morning and the story felt much more alive. I could see Kristen’s outfit more clearly, I could see Jake’s gift sitting on the kitchen table. Best of all, by the end of the book, I will have a board full of images from their travels, their choices, their lives. I love it.

Feel free to stop by and watch my story grow. And, if you create a similar writing board for your work, I would love to check it out.

Any other good writing uses for Pinterest?

Pinterest is full of so many images

I have always googled images while I write, but Pinterest gives me a way to keep all of the images together, creating a visual storyboard of my novel.

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Happy Easter From a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

I know, I know, I promised no more dogs. I kept my word for a few days. Could not pass up the opportunity to put a wolf in sheep’s clothing, (especially when said wolf found the costume on his own… dug it out of a long-lost bag and carried it around in his mouth).

Happy Easter, whether you’re Christian, culturally Christian, or none of the above.

Smiling

Happy Easter, happy dog.

Wolves.

Simon is wondering what Odin is so happy about. He thinks dog costumes are stupid.

Waiting for the Easter Bunny.

I like to think Oats is waiting for the Easter Bunny in his sly costume. He likes to think we’re going on a walk.

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Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programing

Good news, I’m done blogging about dogs. I realized I was a little obsessed there for a moment. Just imagine what I’ll be like when I have children. Save yourselves.

To make amends, I offer you my favorite song of the week. Here’s the challenge. Go about your business with the song playing in the background but stop every time you hear the words Barbra Streisand and have a mini dance party. If that doesn’t make your Monday happier, I’m not really sure what will. And, chances are, you won’t be able to control yourself and will have to keep dancing.

You’re welcome.

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Hippie Weekend Getaway: I Think I Tried Too Hard…

Before I left this weekend, I did my best to put myself in a hippie mindset. I dug out my most hippie apparel (think yoga meets the outdoors), downloaded Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success for my drive, gathered healthy snacks (dried organic mango, anyone?), and made a vow to go make-up free (thanks for the inspiration Twenty-Something Travel).

Turns out I may have been overdoing it a bit. As soon as I was out of my car and had a good look around, I realized the clientele of this little hot springs retreat outside wine country was more diverse than I expected. In fact, pretty sure you could picture anyone in your mind and someone similar was there. Young, old, plump, thin, rich, struggling, tattooed, clean-cut, foreign, hippie, otherwise.

I guess when I heard naked, I thought it would be a specific kind of person. But really, people from all walks of life seemed to be alright with it, minus, of course, me. I was one of maybe four people who opted to remain covered. The others were all women, (interesting, right?), of various ages and backgrounds.

I did feel a little bit like the weirdo for keeping on my suit, but there are some things I’d rather keep a mystery. Likewise, I could have done without seeing everyone else’s mysteries, although I totally got that I was on their territory, so if I didn’t like it, I could leave. Regardless, the whole time I found myself wondering where should I be looking… Do I look people in the eyes and nod hello? Do I avert my gaze whenever I cross someone’s path? Is that old woman really talking to me with her legs wide open like that?

Fortunately, the vibe was definitely not sexual. It was more like visiting a different country with alternative norms than my vision of some hedonistic hippie hang out. Signs even reminded people to honor each other’s personal space. I never once felt intruded upon.

Cameras are not allowed... Probably because of the nudity around the pools. I still snuck this one from my favorite reading spot. Those figures in the distance aren't naked people, they're Buddha statues.

Cameras were not allowed… Probably because of the nudity around the pools. I still snuck this picture from my favorite reading spot. Those figures in the distance aren’t naked people, they’re Buddha statues.

Out of my element or not, it was a good adventure. It kind of reminded me of that family resort on Dirty Dancing, complete with activities, a movie theater, a restaurant, and charming, if not slightly rustic accommodations. There was even a community of people who live and work there full-time, not unlike the movie.

While I did get a little restless without my phone, or laptop, I enjoyed the beautiful grounds, mellow vibe, sound of running water, hiking trails, labyrinth, free yoga three times daily, massage, and sunshine warm enough for sunbathing in January. I even allowed my mom to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning to hit the hot springs in the dark, when the pools are practically empty. As I floated on my back and stared up at the stars through a canopy of evergreen trees, I understood the allure of the place. Pure magic, clothing or not.

Even though I had a relaxing time, I would only return again with someone who really wanted to be there. It was not entirely my thing. I don’t love soaking in water shared with naked strangers, no matter how progressive I like to think I am or how wonderful the yoga offerings were. I prefer the ocean and a little technology, I suppose.

The room decorations were cute, although everything felt a little dark/rustic. You definitely wanted to be outside...

The room decorations were cute, although everything felt a little dark/rustic. You definitely wanted to be outside… As for me, I tried a little too hard to fit in… Next time maybe a pair of jeans and a little make-up won’t ruin anything.

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Who would you cast in the movie of your novel?

Okay, so I got a bit distracted this morning as I rewrote my pitch. See, I could not decide whether or not to leave in my physical descriptions of my characters. The Book Doctors suggest brief physical descriptions, but for some reason it still feels a little clumsy to me, (new pitch to follow soon).

This got me thinking about what my characters actually look like to me in my mind’s eye. Visualization is not my strength. I see fuzzy versions of my characters, not concrete people, which is not to say I don’t know my characters, but rather nailing down an exact picture in my mind is just not the way I think. I need to see the faces of real people.

So, I decided I need to cast my characters– a useful exercise that happens to also be fun:

Kristen: I imagined her with dark hair, blue eyes, someone who would fit the inspiration of the song “Galway Girl.”

Today I realized she would probably look like Olivia Wilde, which I assure you has nothing to do with her great first name. She’s classically beautiful but can also pull off a punk rock, peace activist college kid, which is important to Kristen.

Kristen.

Kristen. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Jake: He was a bit harder for me to cast. Does Paul Rudd have a younger brother with brown eyes? I imagined a guy that is attractive in a charming smile kind of way, maybe a bit goofy. In my book I describe him as lanky because I see him as athletic and charismatic, but in a real way. Today’s winner: Okay, Paul Rudd wins even if he might be a little older than Jake and maybe not into playing a role that is not purely comical… Guess I’m on the look-out for a younger Paul Rudd willing to mix drama with humor.

Jake.

Jake. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Or, on second thought, maybe Josh Radnor… He did a good job writing/directing/acting in HappyThankYouMorePleaseso he might also be a good Jake.

Other Jake?

Alternate Jake? Photo Credit: Pinterest.

Decisions, decisions… Of course there are half a dozen other characters to be cast, but I’m pretty sure it would take me two hours to pick them all, which seems like a case of diminishing returns. Focusing on my two main characters, however, worthwhile.

Have you cast your protagonists?

And, on a side note, do you provide physical descriptions of your main characters in your pitch? I’m conflicted, as usual.

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Start Something That Matters

I will put it out there. I love TOMS shoes. I have two pairs, I bought Alex a pair for Christmas, (he just doesn’t know which pair…), and I will continue to buy these shoes into the future. They are comfortable, versatile, stylish, and matter. The company has created a brand loyalty for me that is unmatched by anything else I own.

Maybe it's the good karma, maybe it's because they're cute, but days I wear my TOMS are good days.

Maybe it’s the good karma, maybe it’s because they’re cute, but days I wear my TOMS are good days.

For those of you who don’t know, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. I have heard some criticism in the world of philanthropy that TOMS is not teaching anyone to fish, that it’s just giving out shoes as a capitalistic ploy to sell more overpriced shoes, that if people really cared they should just give the money directly to a cause instead of buying themselves a pair of shoes in the process.

I say, so what? If I am going to pay $40+ for a pair of shoes, I would rather a kid with bare feet receive a pair too. I’m going to spend the $40 either way. Shoes are something I prefer to buy new. It’s about time the fashion world be revolutionized. TOMS does this while also telling a story, a story about a guy who went to Argentina and returned with a dream to put shoes on the feet of needy kids. More than a million kids now have a pair of shoes because of his dream.

With Alex’s Christmas present came a bonus, Blake Mycoskie’s book about his entrepreneurial journey to found TOMS, Start Something That Matters. Easy to read, humorous, and inspiring, I recommend the book. I’d say buy it, but even better, buy a pair of TOMS online and get it for free this month, as well as a pair of shoes for a kid somewhere. I love success stories that combine entrepreneurism, passion, and a good cause.

A great read.

A great read.

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Why I Love Audrey Hepburn

I have loved Audrey Hepburn since I was a little girl, before it was trendy to put her face on everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts. Growing up, she made me want to be an actress. There was something so gracefully beautiful about her. She floated across the screen, turning up in Rome, New York, London. I wanted to talk like her, to move like her, to dance through the streets of the world like her. She played intelligent, independent women. She talked back. She had charisma.

I think part of what drew me to her as a child was that she reminded me of my mother and grandmother. (Photo credit: Audrey Hepburn: A Life in Pictures)

My grandmother around the same era. I wish I had a picture of my mom to share, she looked even more like her.

Of course, those characters I fell in love with were not actually her, but something about the way she played those women made me believe she was all those things in real life too. Over the years, friends and family have given me all kinds of Audrey Hepburn books and memorabilia. In the accounts of her real life, she was everything I admired as a girl. She was also many of the things I admire as an adult. She aged gracefully. She did not disappear just because she got older. She gave the later part of her life to UNICEF to help disadvantaged children.

“For me, the only things of interest are those linked to the heart.” -Audrey Hepburn (Photo Credit: The Audrey Hepburn Treasures.)

Audrey aged beautifully, living out her passion for helping others. (Photo credit: Audrey Hepburn: A Life in Pictures)

Photo credit: Audrey Hepburn: A Life in Pictures

My celebrity crush is and always will be Audrey Hepburn. She is the one famous person I would want to meet for brunch. We would laugh and talk and she would call me darling and people would think we were related. I’d leave feeling glamorous and ready to tackle the world. Audrey inspires me to put on some skinny jeans, dance theatrically around my living room, buy a dog basket for my bike, and travel to every corner of the earth for pleasure and for charity.

Now, it’s your turn. Who is your celebrity crush? Or, if you don’t have one, what famous person would you want to meet for brunch?

“Sex appeal is something you feel deep inside. I can convey as much fully clothed, picking apples off a tree as standing in the rain.” -Audrey Hepburn (Credit: A Life in Pictures)

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