dear celine, this is how you made me feel

celine

This is Celine. She was one of my best friends, and on Monday I found out that she died in a car accident. I can’t quite believe I’m writing about her in the past tense. I’m having an extremely difficult time believing that she is gone. It all seems surreal and incomprehensible and just plain wrong. Her brother Cameron was in the car with her, and he is in critical condition — please send your prayers and love to him and their entire family. <3

Celine was one of the most vibrant, joyful, loving and beautiful people I’ve ever known, and I want to tell you about her.

me and celine

She was the first friend I made in college, on move-in day in the dorms. Her dorm room was kitty-corner from mine. My parents had left and I was sitting on my new dorm-room bed, feeling a little bit sad and scared and alone in my new life, when Celine came in with a box of popsicles and asked if I wanted one. We started talking, and I learned she grew up in L.A. and had a younger brother around the same age as mine. I felt comfortable with her right away — she had a genuine smile and a contagious laugh, and she was so expressive you wanted to keep swapping stories with her forever. That day, she looked so sophisticated in a newsboy cap and colorful sunglasses, and I remember thinking, “This girl is waaaay too cool to want to be friends with me. I’ll just ride this wave as long as it lasts!” Later, once I realized she actually *did* want to be my friend, for reals, I told her about my first impression. :) We would joke about that throughout our friendship.

me and celine milkshakes

It is probably not an exaggeration to say I spent as much time in Celine’s dorm room that first year as I did in my own. We ended up living together throughout college, and all of us shared so much more than just an apartment. Those girls were my second family. We shared meals and clothes and shoes and makeup; we celebrated holidays together; we threw the most fun themed parties of my life; we whiled away hours and hours discussing everything from crushes to politics to High School Musical, sharing stories from our pasts and daydreams for our future; and oh, boy we laughed. We laughed so, so much. I feel incredibly grateful that I found such special people to share college with.

roomie party

all the ladies soph year

Celine was a true original; a bright light; fearless and colorful and brave. She was goofy and funny and FUN. Celine’s authenticity brought people together in the best way. She taught me to be proud of the silly parts of myself; that I can be a serious and determined person yet also retain a childlike enthusiasm about the world. She taught me that often it’s the little things — the jotted notes, the inside jokes, the impromptu dance parties — that are really the big things. And she taught me that life isn’t just about being productive and “accomplishing” things and checking items off my daily to-do list. Sometimes — actually, most of the time — the most important thing to do today is to enjoy it, to have fun, to make ridiculous and beautiful and spontaneous memories with the people you love.

goofy roomie photo

Celine loved fashion, and she was such a talented designer. Our senior year, she sewed a whole ensemble of clothing for a fashion show benefit to combat malaria. I like to remember her sewing away on our living room floor as we all watched DVDs of The Office and did homework. I’ve never thought of myself as very fashionable, but she helped me feel confident in myself. She was always delighted to help pick out an outfit for a date, or a special event, or simply an ordinary Monday. We had many fashion shows in our apartment. Celine could pull off any outfit with pizazz. I think of her wearing an American flag sweater and colorful socks, and looking perfectly chic and perfectly her.

She *made* that dress!!

She *made* that dress!!

Yet along with her wonderfully zany side, Celine also had a quieter side. She was a terrific listener. She never judged. She made you feel safe and supported. Freshman year of college, when I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I remember fleeing to her room, sobbing, and she hugged me as I cried. Another time, when I was feeling down on myself because “no boys were ever going to like me EVER” she played me this song, “Somebody’s Baby” by Phantom Planet, saying it made her think of me because I was “so awesome that guys probably just assume you’re already taken.” I still smile and think of her when I hear that song.

Celine saw the very best in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself.

me and celine

Junior year, Celine and Holly studied abroad in Paris at the same time I studied abroad in England, and they came to visit me one weekend.

in london

Then I visited them for a week during my spring break. That week in Paris remains one of the happiest, best weeks of my life.

me holly celine in paris

Celine loved France — she was proud of her French-Canadian heritage and spoke fluent French — and she especially loved Paris. In college, she talked frequently about her dreams of moving to Paris and going to fashion school. And after we graduated, that is exactly what she did. She studied at the Parsons Paris School of Art & Design and ended up working for the Paris College of Art, a job that took her all around the world. I can’t begin to express how proud I was of her. So many people talk about their dreams, but never do anything to make them real. Celine was actually living her dream. She made it happen.

me and celine in Paris

I was lucky to get to visit Celine in Paris once, a few years ago. It was exciting to get a taste of her life there. She was a terrific tour guide, excited to show the city she loved to the people she loved. One thing I always admired about Celine was that she was always herself, and our friendship remained a comforting touchstone even as so many other things about our lives changed. In a cafe in Paris, we giggled together the same way we had in our apartment living room in Los Angeles.

holly surprise party

Even though the miles and time zones between us made our communication less frequent, I always knew Celine loved me, and I hope she knew I loved her. She was there for me for the big things. Like when I broke up with my fiance, she Skyped with me for two hours, even though it was incredibly late Paris time and she had to work in the morning. She laughed and talked with me about random old memories until I felt better.

me and celine xmas

And those times that we *were* able to see each other, we picked up right where we left off. Celine came to visit me soon after I moved to the Bay Area, and we pretty much talk-talk-talked for three days straight. It felt like we were living together again. That visit was such a gift.

20131025_154036

The last time I saw her was in late May, right before my birthday. She was in San Francisco with a couple friends from France, and the two of us met up for brunch. I had a cold, and I remember wondering whether I should cancel; I didn’t want to spread my germs to Celine, or to anyone else my path would cross on my commute into the city. But we were able to see each other so rarely that I thought, “Screw the germs, I’m going!” And my God, I’m so grateful I did. We had a lovely visit, chatting in the sunshine over hot coffee and tea and scones, and before we hugged goodbye in the Bart station I remembered to snap a photo, this one:

me and celine bart station

We’d emailed some since then, and in the last email she sent me, Celine asked if I could resend her the link where I post my short stories online, because she wanted “some reading from my favorite writer!!” She was always so supportive of my writing, and in the wake of her passing I feel a renewed commitment to pursue my dreams with zeal and determination, in her honor.

Celine only graced this world for 26 years, yet she touched SO many people’s lives with the bright light of her spirit. Quite simply, she made others feel seen, and heard, and happy, and loved.

how you made them feel

Our friend Jess put it so well in these words to Celine: “It’s hard to explain how much fun we had and how much living the rest of us are going to have to do to make up for your absence.”

college football game

Holly did too: “Love knows no tense.”

me hol celine

Dear Celine, I miss you. I love you. I will forever be grateful for the spectacular gift of being your friend.

celine dogpile

grad caps and gowns

me and celine goofy

me and celine halloween

a year of living simply: week 3

Hi everyone! Apologies for my delay in posting… I was out of town visiting my friend Holly in Nashville! We had an amazing time, as we always do when we’re together. I just love this girl so dang much!

me and hol sunshine

Most of yesterday was spent trying to get my life back in order after being away for nearly 3 weeks {visiting my parents in Ventura before my trip to Nashville}… unpacking, laundry-doing, and prepping for the various teaching & tutoring sessions I have this week! Aaaaand perhaps spending some quality time with my sweetheart, who has returned safely from his adventure in Kenya, hooray! I’m so grateful that he had a fantastic trip, and that he is home safe and sound.

allyn kenya with kids

Now… onto this week’s simplicity challenge! Over the course of the year, we’ll be focusing on various meanings of simplicity: in our possessions, routines, spending habits, projects, relationships, food choices, and more. We’ll rid ourselves of clutter — physical, mental, emotional. We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Last week, the challenge was to ruthlessly unsubscribe to unnecessary emails. I first went through and unsubscribed to the various spam/promotional email lists I’m on that I haven’t bothered to unsubscribe from even though I never open them and am wholly uninterested. That was the easy part.

The harder part for me was unsubscribing from lists that I am genuinely interested in, but simply don’t have time to read. I realized that I have remained subscribed to these emails because I blindly hoped that some mystical future version of me would one day find the time to conscientiously read through them — even though I know that isn’t true, and even though the slow trickle of them piling up and piling up in my inbox stresses me out. I think this relates to the “Fear of Missing Out” phenomenon that is so prevalent in our social-media culture. I think I was worried that if I deleted an email newsletter that I was interested in reading without actually going through and reading it, I would “miss out” on something important. But no, what I was really doing was to open these emails and scroll through, skimming them mindlessly.

So, this week I ruthlessly unsubscribed, choosing to remain subscribed to only those email lists I fully, genuinely *love* to read, the ones that consistently add value to my life. I told myself that if I missed any one of them, I could always resubscribe. But, not surprisingly, I don’t miss any of them. It might sound silly, but the simple act of unsubscribing and taking back a portion of my inbox has made me feel freer and more at peace. Email isn’t as big as a chore as it once was. And that’s a step in the right direction!

workstation

This week reminded me of the whole point of minimalism: clearing away all the stuff that isn’t important makes room for what truly IS important to you.

This week, let’s continue our digital de-cluttering: go through and organize your photos, deleting any unnecessary duplicates or “bad” ones. My photos on my computer are a jumbled mess of random folders, and my photos on my phone are a disaster zone — I never delete any! This week, I want to get these all straightened out. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to organize your photos, so you’ll have a system ready to go for all the photos you’ll take in 2015! :)

I’ll leave you with this insightful post from The Minimalists that I thoroughly enjoyed: “Thomas Jefferson’s 10 Rules for a Good Life”

Questions of the morning:

  • What emails did you unsubscribe from this week? Was it easy, or more difficult than you envisioned?
  • What digital clutter do you struggle with?

my piece is on thought catalog!

Hi everyone! Just poppin’ in this morning to share some exciting news with you: I wrote a piece that is up on Thought Catalog! My short essay is about my high school drama class, life’s transience, firsts and lasts. You can read it here.

If you enjoy it, I’d be super grateful if you share it on Facebook, pass it along to your friends, and/or comment at the bottom!

thought catalog essay

Have a masterpiece day!

a year of living simply: week 2

Thank you so much for your kind words and enthusiastic support of my year of living simply challenge, which I launched here last week! I’m so excited to be embarking on this fulfilling endeavor with all of you :)

Over the course of the year, we’ll be focusing on various meanings of simplicity: in our possessions, routines, spending habits, projects, relationships, food choices, and more. We’ll rid ourselves of clutter — physical, mental, emotional. We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Last week, the challenge was to identify one or two or three things that you tend to over-purchase, and write out a pledge not to purchase any more of these items for the next month {or however long feels good to you.} Personally, I have a weakness for over-purchasing tea, stationary/notecards, and pretty, flow-y scarves. I pledged to purchase no more of these items for myself during the entire year of 2015, or until I use up the embarrassingly large stash that I currently possess.

I must admit, I was a little surprised at my impulses to purchase these items, even during the first week of the new year! Especially tea. I realized I tend to visit the tea aisle whenever I’m at the grocery store, just to check out if they have any new flavors or any good sales… even though I definitely do NOT need to buy more tea because I have more than enough to last me for a good long while! So, I made a conscious choice not to even stroll down the tea aisle. I did not want to tempt myself. Same with stationary. At Trader Joe’s the other day, I refrained from even browsing their card display. Instead, I used two cards I had already purchased for friends’ birthdays, and used notecards I’d purchased after Christmas last year for all my Christmas thank-you notes. It may seem like a little thing, but it feels like progress!

kind notes

The challenge this week relates to digital clutter. I don’t know about you, but I spend way too much time struggling with my email inbox that constantly seems to be overflowing, begging for my attention, distracting me from the important tasks I truly want to be working on. I have gotten better about responding to email right away, instead of putting it off and letting it sit in my inbox for days. But I still have a ton of email clutter that stresses me out whenever I open my inbox.

So the challenge for this week is to ruthlessly unsubscribe to unnecessary emails. You know those emails you delete without opening? Or those newsletter-y, informative cause-based emails piling up that you are theoretically interested in, but haven’t opened in weeks months because you don’t have time to read them? Or {for me} all the emails from literary journals with links to stories and essays and poems that I want to read, that I’m blindly hoping some mystical future version of me will one day find time to conscientiously read, even though I know I won’t?

This week, take five minutes to unsubscribe and ruthlessly delete these unnecessary mass emails you never read. See what it feels like not to get these emails for a week. If there happen to be any you miss, you can always go back and resubscribe after the week is over. For now, try it out. I’m excited to hear how it goes for you!

Side note: here is an insightful and thought-provoking post I read this week with a secret to being more productive {hint: it’s doing less, not more!}

Questions of the morning:

  • How was the first week’s challenge for you? What did you pledge not to purchase any more of for the time being?
  • What digital clutter do you struggle with?

goals + recipes for the week of 1/11

Hi there, everyone! It’s been a lazy Sunday around here… which is nice, because things are going to pick up pretty soon when I go back to work/teaching/tutoring/church duties! Lazy Sundays at home with my parents remind me of lazy Sundays growing up — such a cozy feeling! Especially because it’s been gray and drizzling here all weekend. Hooray for rain! We can always use more rain here in California.

I just wanted to pop in and say hello :) Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday, too! This evening, Gramps is coming over for dinner, and right now Mom and I are watching the red carpet coverage at the Golden Globes. I hardly ever watch these awards shows, so it feels like a treat.

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:

– write a new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
– compile tutoring worksheets
– finish reading Anna Karenina
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
roasted cauliflower & freekeh with garlic tahini sauce via Cookie + Kate
power salad w/lemon chia seed dressing via Two Peas and Their Pod
loaded baked potato gnocchi via Two Peas and Their Pod
butternut ribbon goat cheese pesto pizza via Cookie + Kate
slow-cooker minestrone soup via The Pajama Chef
– my own honey-lime chicken enchiladas

Questions of the day:

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

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

fabulous friday #44

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve done a fabulous friday post around here… excited to get back to it!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Being home and soaking up time with my sweet family. Greg heads back to USC tomorrow {for his final semester of business school… craziness!} and we are going out to dinner as a family tonight. We’re going to try out an Indian restaurant downtown that Greg has been eying for awhile. I haven’t had Indian food for a looooong time, and I’m looking forward to some quality time with three of my very favorite people!

Irish pub fam

murray

{And Murray knows he is my favorite pup!}

2. My sweetheart made it safely to Kenya, and he and his group successfully summited Mt. Kenya! They only have sporadic Internet access, so I haven’t been able to communicate with him very much, but one of his group-mates posted this photo on Facebook of them all at the peak of Mt. Kenya. {There he is, second from the right!} I’m really proud of him, and excited to hear about all his adventures when he returns home in about a week!

mt kenya

3. Allison Williams. We watched her interview with Jon Stewart last night and I was completely charmed. I only knew her from the Peter Pan Live special, but now I’m seeing her everywhere — including on the cover of the Glamour magazine!

glamour allison williams

I loved what she said about the importance of knowing yourself before looking to others for outside validation:

“I’ve just figured out who I am. I am now rarely confronted with a feeling, physical or emotional, that I can’t place. … Part of getting to know yourself better means that all the relationships in your life improve: friendships, family, fiance, all of it.”

Also, while watching the Jon Stewart interview last night, my dad said, “Hey Dal, she kind of looks like you!” Maybe I’ve finally found my celebrity doppelganger?

4. Alexandra Franzen included a link to this amazing singer-songwriter, James Bay, in her latest newsletter. I can’t get enough of his soulful voice and lyrics!

5. This past Wednesday, I went to the book launch party for Jennifer Niven’s new YA release, All The Bright Places. It is a really wonderful book — like The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower — and Jennifer could not be nicer or more gracious. It was so exciting to meet her!

all the bright places

BONUS: I have some writing-related news to share with you!

  • My YA romance ebook, “How I Became a Coffee Addict,” is available for FREE through January 10th on Amazon! Grab your copy here.
  • My short story “Receiptless” was recently published in the literary journal The Literati Review; you can read it online here. Hope you enjoy! :)

Questions of the day:

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

a year of living simply

Happy Monday, everyone, and welcome to our new subscribers! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to visit my little corner of the internet. I am grateful that I get to spend my time with you!

On today, the first Monday of 2015, I’m excited to debut this year’s week-by-week challenge! These year-long series have become my favorite component of blogging. I learn and grow so much, especially thanks to the comments, insights, and support from all of you!

  • In 2013, we did a year of kindness, completing a unique random act of kindness every week.
  • Last year, I hosted a year of Wooden, where we followed the teachings of Coach John Wooden to add meaning to our lives in a variety of areas.

In looking over my goals for this year and thinking about how I hope to grow and where I would like to be as I type to you a year from now, I kept coming back to one word: presence. I want to be more present. I want to be aware of, and grateful for, every moment of this unique and amazing life. Sometimes it feels like life is rushing by so very fast, in a flurry of social media and distractions and texting and constant “busyness”… I want to slow it down. I want to savor it. I want my days to be made up of beautiful moments, not long to-do lists.

making a life quote

Next, I started thinking about fellow bloggers who make me feel excited and inspired. There are many — too many to name right now! — but a consistent theme of their posts is authenticity and simplicity. Paring down your life in order to make space for the things that TRULY matter.

Something lights up in my soul when I think about that mission. Simplicity. Time. Space. Room to breathe, and learn, and grow, and simply be.

And so, with delight, I present to you the yearlong blog series for 2015…

year of living simply

Over the course of the year, we’ll be focusing on various meanings of simplicity: in our possessions, routines, spending habits, projects, relationships, food choices, and more. We’ll rid ourselves of clutter — physical, mental, emotional. We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

Here’s hoping that by the end of 2015, we will be less stressed, more present, and simply happier in our slightly simpler lives :)

For this first week, the challenge is to identify one or two or three things that you tend to over-purchase. What are your spending weaknesses? Maybe you have a bajillion candles around your house. Or twelve different salad dressings in your fridge. Perhaps your jewelry box is crammed with earrings because you can’t resist getting a new pair every time you go to Target. {Which is entirely understandable; they do have super-cute earrings at Target.}

Now, once you have your over-purchase weaknesses identified, make a pledge not to purchase any more of these items for the next month. Or two months. Or six months. Or year. Or however long feels good to you.

Write this pledge out on a piece of paper. Sign it. Date it. {I know it might feel silly, but trust me — signing a contract with yourself makes you much more likely to take it seriously and follow through on your promise!}

Personally, I have a weakness for over-purchasing:

  • tea {I’m sure none of you are surprised about this one} ;)
  • stationary/notecards
  • pretty, flow-y scarves

I am pledging to purchase no more tea, stationary/notecards, or pretty/flow-y scarves for myself during the entire year of 2015, or until I use up the embarrassingly large stash that I currently possess. {Even with all the tea I drink, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get through the entirety of my tea stash. We shall see!}

tea stash

I was tempted to put “books” on my list, too, but since I am a writer and have friends who are writers, I want to be able to purchase their books and support them without going against my simplicity pledge. So, “books” are sort of half on my list — I’m certainly planning to work my way through the giant stack I have beside my bed before deliberately purchasing any more books to read, but I reserve the right to purchase books written by my friends or colleagues or mentors or blogging buddies, etc. Oh! And I’m planning to review a book related to simplicity/minimalism on here every quarter, so I might have to purchase a couple of those books!

I want to end with this lovely quote from one of my favorite minimalist bloggers, Courtney @ Be More With Less:

Questions of the morning:

  • Is there anything you tend to over-purchase or have a weakness for purchasing?
  • What would you like to focus on during this year of living simply?

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing year of Wooden challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

my goals for 2015

Happy New Year, everyone!

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Every year on January 1st, I reflect on my goals from the past year and set new goals for the new year. I organize them into subtopics because it helps me have more of a handle on the different facets of my life.

Here’s how I did on my goals for 2014:

Writing Goals
1. Establish writing routine. 400 words. Every day. No excuses. {I definitely made progress in establishing a writing routine, but with teaching and other commitments, I think writing 5 days a week is more sustainable for me than trying to write every single day.}
2. Revise thesis manuscript and send to agent. {This was definitely one of my biggest accomplishments of 2014… there were many times throughout this year where my novel felt like a giant mess and I worried it would never come together… proof that diligent work, day by day, adds up!}
3. Complete memoir manuscript. {I completed about 100 pages of this, but am at a crossroads now, unsure if I want to move forward on it or put it aside. We shall see!}
4. Complete 200 pgs of new novel. {I’ve started a new manuscript, am about 20 pages into it!}
5. Write a new one-act play.
6. Write a full-length play. {Wrote the first act of a new full-length play!}
7. Finish Verna novella & put out as an ebook. {Didn’t finish my Verna novella, but did put out 3 short stories as ebooks on Amazon}
8. Write three blog posts a week.
9. Read at least one short story a week.
10. Read at least 40 books.

Write On! For Literacy Goals
1. Send out a newsletter every other month.
2. Become an official nonprofit organization.
3. Teach a summer writing camp.
4. Teach a winter writing camp.
5. Teach a college essay/app seminar. {I’m crossing this off because I did a great deal of individual tutoring and college app coaching.}
6. New ebook of work by young writers. {Working on it now!}
7. Compile Writing Camp ebook/program.
8. Hold a Holiday Book Drive.

Professional Goals
1. Apply to fellowships & Ph.D. programs.
2. Send out 52 submissions. {I sent out 71!}
3. Submit 12 freelance queries.
4. Launch tutoring business. {This was a big part of my year!}
5. Publicity: 10 talks/blog posts/radio shows.
6. Conduct 5 writing workshops. {I surpassed this a great deal through my job teaching at Communication Academy!}
7. Put 10% of every paycheck into savings.
8. Put $1,000 into Roth IRA at end of year.

Healthy Life Goals
1. Exercise 3 days a week.
2. Do core work 5 days a week.
3. Stretch every day.
4. Meditate at least 3 days a week.
5. Smoothie and/or salad every day.
6. Send a card/letter to Gramps every other week.
7. Participate in She Reads Truth.
8. Complete Year of Wooden challenge.
9. Journal at least once a week.
10. Pray & count my blessings every night.

weekly goals

Here are my goals for 2015:

Writing Goals
1. Log at least 10 hours of writing time every week.
2. Sign with a literary agent.
3. Complete new novel manuscript.
4. Complete four new short stories.
5. Write a full-length play.
6. Complete eight new nonfiction pieces.
7. Finish Verna novella & put out as an ebook.
8. Write 150 blog posts.
9. Read at least 50 short stories.
10. Read at least 40 books.

Write On! For Literacy Goals
1. Send out six newsletters.
2. Publish new edition of Dancing With The Pen.
3. Teach a Summer Writing Camp.
4. Teach a Winter Writing Camp.
5. Compile Writing Camp ebook/program
6. Hold a Holiday Book Drive.

Professional Goals
1. Publish collection of essays.
2. Send out 52 submissions.
3. Send 52 charming notes.
4. Revamp website.
5. Publicity: 10 talks/blog posts/radio shows.
6. Put $1,000 into Roth IRA at end of year.

Healthy Life Goals
1. Exercise three days a week.
2. Do core work five days a week.
3. Stretch every day.
4. Meditate three days a week.
5. Smoothie and/or salad every day.
6. Send a card/letter to Gramps every month.
7. Complete Year of Simplicity challenge.
8. Pray & count my blessings every night.

Questions of the morning:

  • What are your goals for 2015?
  • How do you organize your goals and stay motivated throughout the year?

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.