taming the excuse-monster in my mind

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently moved to a new apartment. Habits researcher and author Gretchen Rubin writes, in her book Better than Before, that an excellent time to adopt new habits is when undergoing a shift or change in your life: a break-up, a new relationship, a new job, a home renovation, etc. Moving to a new place, it turns out, is actually the #1 time to successfully adopt new habits! So I leaped upon the opportunity to try cementing some new healthy habits that I had been wanting to fully integrate into my life.

{Image source}

One of these habits is going to bed earlier, so I can wake up earlier feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Another is to focus on simplicity; I did a huge purge of clutter and papers before I moved, and I want to keep these nonessentials from slowly re-accumulating in my life, as they so often do. Also, I now begin every morning with two big glasses of water and a green smoothie. I try to write at least a couple hundred words on my creative work-in-progress each morning before I even check my email or work on projects for other people. And I am trying to set in stone a regular routine of going to the gym.

I belonged to a gym close by where I used to live, and I would go there fairly regularly, but it was never something I especially looked forward to. I could never figure out why. It was a nice gym, with lots of classes available and fancy amenities. I realize now that I did not fully feel comfortable there; the atmosphere was a bit competitive and intense, and I prefer my gym time to be low-key and low-stress. This new gym I joined by my new apartment is much less fancy, but much more my vibe: like me, the people who go there seem friendly, a little rag-tag, and much more interested in exercising for good health than for looks.

One of my favorite classes is a Monday morning gentle yoga class. The instructor is funny and upbeat, and the class always flies by and is the perfect way to ease into my week.

Lots of other people must think so, too, because the class is pretty much always filled to capacity. Classes work on a first-come, first-serve basis; when you arrive at the gym, you can ask for a pass to get into the class, and if they have any more available the person working the front desk will hand a pass to you. If not, you’re out of luck!

{Photo cred: tricsr4kidz, Flickr Creative Commons}

One week, I was a little late getting out of bed and, even thought I arrived to the gym ten minutes before class was scheduled to begin, they were all out of passes. Rats! I thought, but it was not a big deal. I stashed my yoga mat in the locker room and worked out on the elliptical machine instead.

When I was leaving, about twenty minutes before the class was scheduled to end, another woman was standing by the front desk holding a yoga mat of her own. She spotted my yoga mat and summoned me over. “Were you kicked out of the class, too?” she asked.

“Well, I wasn’t kicked out… there just wasn’t enough room when I arrived.”

This woman shook her head angrily. “It’s not fair! They should have two classes! I got here at the time the class was supposed to start, and I wasn’t able to get into the class! They kicked me out! It’s not fair!” She was like a toddler having a tantrum, blaming everyone else but herself for her predicament.

The manager behind the front desk met my eyes with a helpless expression. I realized this other yogi had probably been angrily complaining to her for the past half hour. And now she was trying to get me to gang up on the manager about the completely fair gym policy.

“It was my fault,” I said, shrugging. “I should have gotten here earlier. But I still had a great workout anyway!” And then I smiled at the manager and headed out the door. I could still hear the other woman sputtering.

This woman, with her countless loud excuses, reminded me of someone familiar: myself, at times. Especially when it comes to my BIG goals. Which, for me, pretty much all center around writing. The truth is, as much as I want to spend my days writing up a storm, on a minute-by-minute level it often feels like writing is the last thing I want to be doing. Because writing is so often difficult! It requires so much thinking and feeling, so much honesty and bravery, and so much willingness to fail, to deal with uncertainty, to feel like you have utterly no idea if what you are creating is going to ever come together at all.

Usually, I find it is especially difficult to begin. To climb back into whatever I am working on. To bridge the gap between the shining potential of the idea in my head and the stark lines of words marching imperfectly across the page. And the act of beginning is often when my excuse-laden self pops up and brightly says:


Oh, you can’t possibly write today! Look how beautiful and sunny it is outside! You don’t want to waste a day like this. Go make a picnic! Go for a hike! Now, now, now!


Oh, look how rainy and dreary it is outside. Why don’t you curl up with that new novel you’ve been wanting to read? Reading a couple chapters will be good for inspiration. Go on, just for a bit. … Oh, why not read for a bit longer? Reading is important for writing, after all.


Oh no, you woke up late! You’re completely behind schedule! No time to write today!


Oh, you woke up early! Aren’t you feeling a little groggy still? Why not get a jump on some other projects, and you can come back to your creative writing once your cup of Earl Grey has kicked in?


Shouldn’t you clean the bathroom? Wash the dishes? Put in a load of laundry? Vacuum the carpet? Your desk is looking quite messy — probably best to organize it first, before you start writing.


Don’t you have a little headache? Your back is feeling kind of sore? Maybe you’re getting sick. You should go back to bed. You should rest. Is that a pain in your gut? Maybe you should eat something. Drink something. Go put on the tea kettle. Go make a sandwich.


Oh, and you should definitely check your email and your cell phone! Can’t miss any messages! It could be something important!


Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I’ve grown to recognize the sabotaging excuse-monster in my head for what she is: afraid. She doesn’t want to sit in the discomfort. She doesn’t want to risk failure. And so she tries to veer me off course. And, on those days (thankfully, becoming rarer and rarer) when I give in and I don’t get the writing done, and I feel guilty and angry for not writing, she always pops up on those days, too. She is filled with those same excuses for why I did not put time into my most meaningful work. She always wants to blame everything else in the world but my own decisions. She is like the other woman who did not get a pass for yoga class.

She has taught me: only by taking responsibility for my own actions, can I change them. Only by recognizing when I am making excuses can I put the brakes on the excuse-train. And only by truthfully assessing my old habits can I build new, better habits.

In a recent podcast with Arch Street Press, Dr. Douglass Jackson, founder of Project C.U.R.E., says, “Figure out what gets you so excited that it gets you up out of bed, puts your feet on the floor, and you just can’t wait to get back to it.”

Writing has always been that something to me. Now, my habits are reflecting this, too.

Ever since that week when I was too late to get a pass, I arrive to yoga class half an hour early. That early, I always am able to get a pass. I walk into the yoga room and lay out my mat on the smooth wooden floor. I have my pick of places in the room. And then I go ride the exercise bike or run on the elliptical machine until it is time for class to begin. Instead of feeling guilty and upset, I feel empowered.

I think that is one of the best ways to feel in our creative lives and our work lives and our personal lives and our whole lives: empowered.

And the best part of all? It is in our power, every single day, to create that feeling for ourselves.

goals + recipes for the week of 3/22

Hi, everyone! Hope your weekend is winding up great.

I had a busy day at church serving as Worship Associate with a special guest minister, Jason Shelton, who just so happens to be a minister at Holly’s church in Nashville! I actually saw him leading the choir when I went to a church service with Holly during my last visit. It was such a nice coincidence to have him visiting my church and it made me feel closer to Holly in a small way. I miss her a lot!

Jason Shelton is a super talented composer and musician, and there was lots of fantastic music during both services today. The theme of today’s worship was “music, change, the old and the new” and I maaaaay have written my Call to Worship about Taylor Swift. I was a little nervous about it, but the writing came straight from my heart and felt so appropriate to the theme. Happily, I discovered there are other T.Swift fans in the congregation {including a very sweet group of seventy-year-old women who came up to me afterwards} and everyone applauded at the end of my Call to Worship! #mychurchrocks

with allyson pirates

Backing up to Saturday, we celebrated Allyn’s sister Allyson’s birthday last night with a pirate-themed murder-mystery party! My guess about the murderer was completely off, as was most everyone else’s, but Allyson used her excellent sleuthing skills and solved the case. I could tell she really enjoyed her party, which made me happy because she is such an amazing person. I hope the party was a small way to show her how very loved she is! Also, check out the red beard on Allyn {aka Captain Redbeard}… it totally stole the show, haha.

allyn redbeard

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last time:
– copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– participate in The Minimalist Challenge
connect with two friends
finish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish final read-through of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend {this got pushed to the back-burner with other projects, but I really want to finish it this week!}
– do yoga two times & PT exercises daily
– connect with two friends
– finish reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
green goddess hummus via Cookie + Kate
spring panzanella salad via Two Peas and Their Pod
orange chicken tofu via Detoxinista & The Pajama Chef
easy chickpea salad via Food Friends
bunny bait via The Pajama Chef
– my own potato, sausage & veggie bake

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 + recipes for the week of 3/1

Hi there, friends! Wow, it’s been a whirlwind weekend over here! How about you? It’s been nice to decompress and relax a little this evening after being go-go-go on Friday and Saturday. This morning I had a wonderful, restorative time at church, and chatted with people for quite a while after the service. When I came home, I called a couple friends to catch up while I was lounging in bed. It was lovely!

Then I chopped up bunch of veggies that were on their last legs in the fridge — celery, carrots, onion, bell pepper, snap peas — and threw them together in a pot of soup for dinner, which I ate with my grandma in front of the TV as we watched “Nashville”… my grandma is so funny watching that show, she thinks most of the male characters look alike and is perpetually getting their storylines confused. Such a cutie-pie!

Backing up to Saturday… I was out the door at 10:45 to tutor two of my mentees before driving to the public library to teach four back-to-back classes of kiddos. Other than some of my kindergarteners being scared of the thunder outside {we got some rain this weekend, woo hoo!} it was a pretty uneventful day of teaching. The quote of the day came from one of my eight-year-old students, rocking a shiny plastic dollar-sign ring: “Chuck E. Cheese’s is so HARSH, Miss Dallas. It’s so hard to win tickets!” #secondgradeproblems

After teaching, I drove to my sweetheart’s place and we carpooled to Plank to meet up with Dana and Brad for a double-date! We had such a fun time: chatted over great food, played arcade games {skeeball is my fave!} and of course we couldn’t leave without taking photos in the photo booth:

us at plank photo booth

All in all, it’s been a really wonderful weekend. I hope yours has too! And now… moving onto goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
mail in passport application
connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– participate in The Minimalist Challenge
– connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
butternut tabbouleh via Cookie + Kate
baked pb apple oatmeal via Two Peas and Their Pod
grain-free classic chocolate-chip cookies via Detoxinista & It’s Progression
spiced pumpkin cornbread via Daily Garnish & It’s Progression
potato rosemary knots via The Pajama Chef
– my own springtime veggie pasta bake

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!

goals + recipes for the week of 2/22

Hi there, friends! What did you think of the Oscars? I really need to get out to the movies more because out of all the Oscar nominees for Best Film, I had only seen one. I really want to see Boyhood, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Birdman!

We went over to my Aunt Annie and Uncle Arn’s house to watch the Oscars and eat a delicious homemade pasta dinner. I need to get the recipe for my Uncle Arn’s tomato sauce so I can share it with you guys! He is Italian and makes a darn good pasta sauce.

I’ve been missing Celine a lot today. Trying to be gentle with myself. The grief ebbs and flows. I was talking with my brother earlier, trying to analyze my feelings — how maybe it’s starting to feel real that she’s truly gone; maybe I’m coming out of my denial of her death; maybe my sadness felt overwhelming because of all the beautiful gowns at the Oscars, my dear Celine who loved fashion so much.

me and celine

Greg just listened, and then he said, “Or maybe you’re just missing your friend.”

Yeah. I think that’s it. I’m just missing my friend. A lot.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– send out queries to agents
– compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends
finish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

few thousand words about love

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 10 pages
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– mail in passport application
– connect with two friends
– finish reading The Autograph Man

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
southwestern kale power salad via Cookie + Kate
white chickpea chili via Two Peas and Their Pod
flourless almond butter chocolate chip cookies via Two Peas and Their Pod
easy chocolate raspberry energy bites via PB Fingers
banana cake with cinnamon glaze via The Pajama Chef
– my own strawberry coconut chocolate-chip cookies

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!

valentine’s day recap! + goals + recipes for the week of 2/15

Hello, everyone! Hope you are having a masterpiece day. It feels like springtime here in the Bay Area, sunny and warm. The trees are already bursting into bloom and daffodils are popping up everywhere. I love it!

You know what else I love? Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a great one! Mine was simply delightful. I did some morning baking {perhaps my best batch ever of red velvet crinkle cookies!} and then spent most of the day hanging out with adorable kiddos, teaching classes for Communication Academy. One of my kindergarten students made me a valentine and when her mom came to pick her up after class, she started crying because she didn’t want to leave! Nothing makes a girl feel loved quite like a 6-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum because she has to say goodbye to you. 🙂

After my last class ended at 5:45, I jumped into my car and drove to Oakland for a Valentine’s night date with my sweetheart. The drive was absolutely gorgeous — the sun was setting over the water, and the twinkling lights of the city made a stunning silhouette against the pink and red clouds. It felt like a valentine from Celine. ❤

me and Al Valentines

Allyn and I walked a couple blocks from his apartment to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. Have you guys had Ethiopian food before? Before Saturday, the last time I did was back in grad school. I think the food is delicious, and it’s a fun dining experience, eating “family style” with your hands. Another bonus was that, on a night that can get pretty crazy to eat out at a restaurant, this was a quieter, off-the-beaten path place. It was lovely!

Allyn Ethiopian food

Ethiopian food

Then we went back to Allyn’s place to exchange gifts and watch Jerry Maguire {which I had never seen!} Allyn got me a box of chocolates and a beautiful purse from his travels in Kenya. Not only is the purse gorgeous from a fashion sense, it also supports a great cause. The purse was made through an organization called Amani — which means “higher peace” in Swahili — and is a sewing and reconciliation program for marginalized women in Africa. Women gain experience in sewing, bookkeeping, procurement, quality control, management and design; products sold enable women a chance to earn a consistent income. You can learn more at www.amaniafrica.com.

Valentines collage

All in all, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day! ❤

On Sunday morning, Allyn and I headed to church bright and early because I was serving as Worship Associate for the 9:30 service. The topic was Salvation and I spoke about Celine. I was really nervous beforehand, but it felt good to talk about her and I was able to get through it without breaking down into tears. Afterward, so many people in the congregation came up to give me hugs. I’m slowly learning to lean on people in my grief and I feel grateful to be part of such a caring community.

Today has been spent writing, editing, reading, looking through old photos with my grandma {she and my Grandpap are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in June and she’s already starting to prepare!} and baking. Lately I just can’t get enough of baking, so I’m embracing it and trying out new recipes! Right now I’m noshing on these zucchini muffins made with coconut flour, plus I added in some peanut butter, shredded coconut and chocolate chips.

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:
– write 10 new pages {halfway there, wrote 5 new pages}
– compile tutoring worksheets
finish reading The Un-Americans
– schedule doctor’s appointment
– begin process to renew passport
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– send out queries to agents
– compile tutoring worksheets through end of Feb.
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– begin process to renew passport
– connect with two friends
– finish reading A Few Thousand Words about Love

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
thai pineapple fried rice via Cookie + Kate
5-ingredient spinach parmesan pasta via Two Peas and Their Pod
slow-cooker minestrone soup via Two Peas and Their Pod
vegetable beef barley soup via Swanson Vitamins website
falafel, tzatziki & greek lemon rice via The Pajama Chef
– my own cilantro-lime quinoa with chicken

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?
  • How was your Valentine’s Day?

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

goals + recipes for the week of 2/8

Hi there, friends. It’s been a beautifully rainy weekend around here… always SO grateful for rain in our drought-stricken California! This weekend I spent some lovely hours reading, cozied up in my bed, listening to the rain patter outside. Right now I’m reading Molly Anterpol’s stunning short story collection The Un-Americans and I highly recommend it.

Something I was reminded of this past week was how much better all-around I feel when I fuel my body with real, whole foods. In the wake of Celine’s death, I really didn’t feel like eating much at all. When I did eat, it was a lot of bread and cookies and even one-too-many “screw it I’m sad” Starburst that gave me a canker sore.

Then, earlier this week, my body was practically screaming out for veggies. I didn’t know it was possible to experience an intense craving for spinach, but I felt it! So I stopped by the grocery store on my way home from tutoring and filled my hand-basket with cucumbers, bell peppers, celery, carrots, frozen berries… and, yes, a ginormous tub of organic spinach that it is now my mission to use up. I’ve been making scrambled eggs that are actually more spinach than eggs:

spinach eggs

I’ve also been throwing spinach into morning smoothies, and I’ve been having lots of fresh spinach salads. Plus I just can’t get enough raw veggies… plates of sliced up carrots, celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers have been my go-to snacks.

raw veggies

Anyway, this is all to say that I’ve been reminded, yet again, how much what I eat effects my mood, energy, and general sense of well-being. When terrible things happen, when I’m feeling down, when everything looks gloomy, it is even more important to feed my body good things. Bring on the veggies!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 10 new pages
– compile tutoring worksheets
– finish reading The Un-Americans
– schedule doctor’s appointment
– begin process to renew passport
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
creamy zuppa tuscana soup via Two Happy Bellies
all of these Valentine’s Day desserts via Two Peas and Their Pod
get your greens salad via Two Peas and Their Pod
triple bean veggie burgers via Peas & Crayons & It’s Progression
dark chocolate double-coconut macaroons via The Pajama Chef
– my own red velvet crinkle cookies {perfect for Valentine’s Day!}

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?
  • Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans? {Check out my post from last year with some thoughtful, simple gift ideas for the loved ones in your life!}

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

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!

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

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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.

goals + recipes for the week of 12/14

Hi there, everyone! As soon as I hit “publish” on this blog post, I’m heading off to church bright and early… I’m Worship Associate today, so I have lots of little duties to perform to get ready for the first service at 9:30. Today the children’s choir is performing a special concert as part of the service, which I am very excited about! The kids are way too cute 🙂

It’s been a good weekend so far. Yesterday I taught my rambunctious group of kiddos; it was our final class! I’ll be starting up again with a new class in January, and I hope that some of them will come back and sign up for the new quarter. We shall see!

Allyn is in the midst of his final residency for the semester — he’s such a champ, powering through the long days with a smile on his face — and tonight his school is having a dance party in San Francisco. I went to the one held at the end of last semester and it was super fun! I’m looking forward to going tonight and celebrating the end of the semester. My sweetheart has worked incredibly hard the past four months and I’m really proud of him.

On the topic of working hard… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from the past couple weeks: 
write a new chapter of my memoir
finish holiday cards
– finish student evaluations
finish reading short story collection
– go to two yoga classes
connect with two friends
Woo hoo! It was a successful week around here! 🙂

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write a new essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul
– compile tutoring worksheets
– finish reading three New Yorkers from my stash
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
chocolate pb chip oat bars {vegan + gf} via the real-life rd
peppermint pattie brownies via Two Peas and Their Pod
chocolate-dipped toffee shortbread via Two Peas and Their Pod
green salad w/apples, cranberries & pepitas via Cookie + Kate
gingerbread muffins via The Pajama Chef
– my own white chocolate m&m pretzels

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!