on toughness, empathy + being gentle with yourself

When I was in high school, I played on the basketball team for two years. I’ve loved basketball since I was a little girl playing for youth teams, where the coaches would sometimes bring boom-boxes to blast music during warm-ups. In elementary school I spent many recesses playing H-O-R-S-E and pick-up games with the boys. At home, we had a basketball hoop in our driveway and I found a sense of calm in the hours I spent after my homework was done, practicing my shot, my dribbling, my lay-ups, until the daylight faded away to dusk and it was time to come in for dinner. Track and cross-country are close contenders, but basketball might still be my favorite sport. I love the team camaraderie. I love the fast-paced energy of the game. I love elegance of shooting, that clean feeling when you release the ball from your hand and just know it’s going in, and then the joy of that SWISH through the net.

My freshman year of high school, I was so excited when I made the Frosh-Soph girls basketball team. Immediately, I felt welcomed and my confidence blossomed. The sophomore girls on the team were so friendly and they took me into their fold. We worked hard in practice, but the ultimate goal was to have fun. I played center or power forward, so I never dribbled the ball much. But I remember one game in particular when, for whatever reason, the defender wasn’t guarding me until I reached the half-court line. So Coach told me to dribble the ball up the court each play, and I did it successfully. I was nervous at first, because I never thought I could be a point guard! But after that game, I felt like I could do anything. Like I didn’t have to box myself into a specific role. And, the more confident I felt in myself, the better I played.

Then, mid-way through the season, the Varsity coach decided to move a girl on the JV team up to Varsity, and to move me up to the JV team. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I felt honored to be chosen, but it was a difficult situation to move into a new team partway through the season. I was the new girl at the bottom of the totem pole, playing with girls older than me and better than me who already had built their own team dynamics—on and off the court. On the Frosh-Soph team I had started every game, but now on the JV squad I sat on the bench and felt lucky to play a couple minutes. My confidence tanked, but I still tried my best to be positive and work hard.

The biggest obstacle was my new coach. A nice man off the court, during practices and games he would yell constantly. I have never been inspired by yelling. The coach constantly berated me for not being “tough” enough, and it seemed like nothing I did could convince him otherwise. No amount of showing up early for “optional” practices, busting my butt during block-out drills, or hustling up and down the court changed his option of me—that I was a nice, “soft” girl who needed to “toughen up.” It is true that I have never been an ultra-competitive person. To me, playing basketball was as much a contest against myself—to continue working hard and improving my own game—as it was a contest against the other team. I didn’t have that desire to crush my opponents, and if we lost, I shook it off pretty easily. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tough.

As I entered my sophomore year, I hoped for more stature and confidence on the JV team. Yet, the situation was pretty much unchanged from the season before. During each game, I sat on the bench, my knees jiggling. I yearned to play, but I was also filled with nerves—I worried about making a mistake and being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench again. I tried to remain confident in myself and my abilities, but it was hard.

One game will be forever etched into my memory. This was the turning point when I knew that I would not go out for the team again the following year. I just couldn’t handle the emotional toil anymore. It wasn’t worth it.

This particular game wasn’t an especially important one. It wasn’t a playoff game, nor was it a game against the rival high school across town. Personally, it was an important game to me because our family friend, my Uncle Wayne, was in town and he was planning to attend the game with my parents. I looked up to Uncle Wayne very much {I still do!} and wanted to impress him. I hoped that I would get some playing time to show my best effort.

It was a close game. In the second quarter, Coach put me in. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes. It’s possible I scored a basket or two. It’s possible I made some passes. Someone on my team fouled a player on the opposing team in the act of shooting, so we all lined up for free-throws. Since the other team was shooting, my team got to line up on the innermost spots. The player shot the first free-throw. I bent my knees, elbows out, preparing to box out for the rebound if the second free-throw was a miss.

It was. I successfully boxed out my player. But another player—a guard from the other team, who had not been boxed-out—swept in and grabbed the rebound.

Immediately, my coach was screaming. He called a time-out and we all hustled for the bench. I was not prepared for what happened next.

Coach had yelled at me before. Not just me—he yelled at all the players. He had pulled me out of the game before. He had expressed displeasure and disappointment. But it was nothing like this. Loudly, leaning right in my face, he screamed at me for not getting the rebound. He screamed that it was all my fault that we were losing. He screamed that I was “killing” the team, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I wasn’t tough enough.

I was completely caught off guard because I had boxed out my player. I didn’t expect that I had done something wrong. I didn’t think I had made a mistake. But even if I had—even if I had purposefully dribbled the wrong way down the court and deliberately scored two points for the other team—his verbal outrage would have been completely out of bounds. I realize that now. A grown man yelling in red-faced rage at a sixteen-year-old girl is never okay. Especially in front of her peers and her community.

I would learn later that it took every ounce of self-control for my father not to run down from the bleachers and yank me away from that screaming man. He didn’t want to embarrass me or cause any more of a scene. And he knew how much I loved basketball. He didn’t want to jeopardize that for me. But he—and my mom, and my brother, and Uncle Wayne—were appalled. He tried to catch my eye, so he could thump his chest with his fist in our signal for “I love you. You’re doing great.” But I wouldn’t look at him.

The reason why I wouldn’t look at my dad, or my mom or brother or Uncle Wayne, or anyone in the bleachers, was because I was ashamed. Already, as I took my place at the end of the bench and avoided my teammates’ eyes, I was internalizing my coach’s words. He was in a position of power and he was telling me that I was a loser, and in that moment I believed him. I believed that everyone in the bleachers, including my parents, saw things the way he did. Everyone thought that I was “killing” the team. Everyone thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Everyone thought I wasn’t tough. Red-hot shame coursed through my veins that I had messed up enough to deserve such a torrential smack-down.

It never crossed my mind that perhaps I didn’t deserve it. That perhaps Coach, not me, was in the wrong. That perhaps everyone sitting on the bleachers was horrified not by my playing, but by his out-of-control outrage.

Later, my parents would comfort me and I would feel better, coming to believe that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Later, they would schedule a meeting with my coach and talk with him about the incident, although he would never apologize. Later, I would decide to end my basketball career and focus on cross-country and track, and later still I would become involved with my high school’s drama department, which was a life-changing experience in the best way. Although I still loved the game of basketball, I did not miss the self-doubt and negativity that came from playing on that team.

These days, I only think of my old coach very occasionally, when I make a mistake and catch the way I’m talking to myself. Not usually, but sometimes, the words that I say to myself could be coming directly out of the screaming mouth of my old coach.

I can’t believe you just did that! What were you thinking? You ruined everything! You’re so stupid! It’s all your fault!

Whenever I catch myself doing this {like that time I spilled green tea all over the table} I feel a punch in my gut. I try to immediately silence that critical voice in my head by taking a few deep breaths. Then I ask myself,

How would you talk to your best friend or one of your students if they were in this situation?

The answer: I most certainly would not yell or berate them. I would treat them with gentleness, compassion, and understanding. I would offer words of encouragement and support. I would tell them that everything was going to be okay. I would build them up by reminding them of their past successes.

My self deserves that same courtesy and love.

Unfortunately, it is likely that every single person reading this has been yelled at before. Perhaps you were yelled at by a parent, or a teacher, or a coach, or a boss. Or perhaps you yell at yourself when you do something wrong. These experiences bury themselves inside us. They can last for a long time, their reverberations rippling outward to the present. {Recent studies have shown the damaging effects that yelling and shouting can have on children and teens—possibly as detrimental as physical hitting.} A friend told me recently that, as a child, he always felt much more at ease when he was over at a friend’s house and their dad was at work. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the reason: his own dad was a frequent yeller who frightened him, and so he was frightened and nervous of his friends’ dads, too. He associated all men with yelling.

It is up to each one of us to break the cycle. Not only in our behavior towards others, but also in the way we treat ourselves.

I do not want to be an angry basketball coach screaming at my self. Instead, I want to be like the coach of my Frosh-Soph team, who made me feel confident enough to be point guard for a game even though I had never played that position before. Who never would have yelled at me, even if I had failed—and, with that knowledge, helped give me the confidence to succeed. I want to talk to myself the way that my dad and mom and brother and Uncle Wayne talked to me that fateful day, taking in the shadows of my shame and erasing them with light. I want to talk to myself the way that Allyn talks to me, centering me with his calm support and love no matter what happens.

After all, that little voice inside my head is powerful. It is the only voice that I hear all day, every day. It never, ever needs to yell to be heard. A gentle, compassionate whisper will do just fine.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open up your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a time when someone yelled at you. What was your response? How can you find peace with this memory and move forward?
  • Write down a list of self-talk phrases you often direct at yourself. Are they positive or negative? How can you be more kind and gentle to yourself? Look at your negative words. What are some loving phrases you could replace them with?
  • Who in your life makes you feel loved and supported? What does this person say to you? Write down these words of affirmation. Can you say them to yourself?

why i don’t care about being “cool”

When you work with kids, like I do, they have a way of keeping you pretty dang humble.

Like last week. I was teaching a lesson with two young students who moved to the U.S. recently from Taiwan, and are ESL {English as a Second Language} learners. I was guiding them through a reading comprehension activity I developed, based on my children’s book There’s a Huge Pimple On My Nose! Usually, the kids reading this story know what a pimple is, but “pimple” was a new word for these two students.

“It’s a bump you get on your skin,” I explained to them. “Like a mosquito bite, but smaller. Then it goes away on its own. Usually when you’re a teenager is when you start getting pimples.”

The girl pointed to my face. “Like what you have on your chin?” she asked.

I laughed. “Yep, like what I have on my chin. Adults get pimples, too!”

Later that same day, I was leading a writing lesson with two third-graders. We were talking about brainstorming strategies and how, when you feel stuck or are struggling with writer’s block, it can help to write down every single idea that pops into your mind, no matter how silly or off-topic it might seem.

“Writer’s block happens to everyone,” I told them. “Even professional writers get stuck sometimes. I’ve been writing for twenty years and I still get writer’s block! All you can do is keep trying your best and don’t give up.”

“Wait–you’re a writer?” the boy asked. “Like, do you write books?”

“Yep,” I said, thinking maybe I was earning “cool points” in the eyes of my students.

“Then how come I’ve never heard of you?” he asked innocently.

“Well, I’m not famous yet,” I said, shaking off my stung pride. Elementary schoolers, man. They can be tough!

{But then sometimes they make you feel like a million bucks!}

I remember a time in my life when I cared about being “cool.” Back in middle school and high school, I definitely paid attention to the trends and tried to stay on top of things. I used to straighten my wavy hair when I wanted to feel “pretty” because shiny, stick-straight hair was the coveted kind. {Now my hair is naturally straighter, and—guess what? I miss my waves.} I remember using babysitting money to buy face glitter {I really think that’s what it was—not eyeshadow, but glitter for all over your face, because we were ridiculous like that in the late 90s} and the honeydew-melon spray from Bath & Body Works, which was THE popular scent in my middle school locker room. To complicate things further, the guidelines for what was “cool” sometimes contradicted each other. On the cross-country team, high running shorts and low invisible socks were the “cool” uniform; but on the basketball team, baggy shorts and high socks were in. I played both of these sports in high school. Usually the seasons were at separate times of the year, so coordinating my outfit wasn’t a problem… except for during the summer, when I had both basketball AND cross-country practices. I remember running into the bathroom to change my shorts and socks, slipping from one practice to the next—knowing that I would feel like everyone was looking at me funny if I showed up to cross-country with high socks and baggy shorts, or to basketball with short-shorts and low socks.

As I type this out now, it seems so silly. But at the time, it felt so important.

It wasn’t that I felt like being cool was the most important thing. I cared more about being kind, and curious, and thoughtful, and respected. I cared about being a good friend and a good sister and a good daughter. I cared about learning and growing and striving for my dreams.

But I also cared about being “cool.” I wanted to fit in. I wanted boys to like me.

When I think about that thirteen-year-old girl, peering critically into the mirror and wielding a straightening iron, I want to take her hands in mine and kiss her on the forehead and tell her, You are perfect just the way you are. There is no way you can make yourself any more beautiful than you already are, right this moment. You are exactly, wonderfully enough.  

When I went to college, my world opened up. What had been deemed irrevocably cool at my school had not necessarily been cool at someone else’s high school. I remember sitting around one afternoon with my college friends, going through our high school yearbooks. Looking through the line-ups of senior portraits, none of us were able to pick out who had been in the popular crowd at each other’s schools. It was such a strange, liberating realization. Those old rules didn’t apply anymore. Perhaps they never really had. We had been in small fishbowls, but now we were in the wide-open ocean. There was so much more room here. So much more life and light and color.

I began paying less and less attention to what the outside world marked as “cool” and more and more attention to what I liked, what made me happy, what made me comfortable. It didn’t really matter what someone else said was cool. What did I think was cool? I began to listen to that voice inside me, instead of the voices outside myself. I let my hair air-dry, wavy and natural. I wore tennis shoes. I listened to country music. {Holly and I loved Taylor Swift back in her early, first-album days, when our other roommates thought she was lame.}

I learned that true coolness isn’t about following someone else’s list of rules. It’s about being happy in your own skin and being joyful in your own life. That is what gives you the sparkle. That is what other people are drawn to. Not your face glitter. Not your high socks. Not your honeydew-melon body spray or perfectly straightened hair. It’s your… you-ness. Your confidence and contentment. It happens when you embrace the knowledge that you are the only person in human history who will ever be exactly like you, living your unique and beautiful life. Why try to cram that life into a one-size-fits-all box?

It’s probably not surprising that once I stopped trying to be cool, I became cooler. Boys asked me out on dates, tennis shoes and all.

At my wedding, I put on my tennis shoes and compression socks for the reception, because I wanted to dance my heart out and I wanted to be comfortable doing it. For most of the reception, they were hidden under my floor-length dress. But one of my favorite photos is of Allyn removing my garter for the garter toss. My shoes and compression socks are on full display. Our friends and family who were gathered around loved it. I felt like the coolest bride in the universe.

These days, when I think about how I want to be remembered, I don’t care one iota about being cool. I want to be remembered as someone who lived her life boldly, and freely, and generously, and gratefully. I want to be remembered as someone who spoke her truth, wrote about things that mattered, and loved others with all her heart. I want to be remembered for how I made people feel: encouraged and inspired and cared for and confident.

When my students grow up, I want them to remember their writing teacher Miss Dallas—yes, Miss Dallas with the pimple on her chin and no bestselling books to her name—as someone who believed in them and in their dreams. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as a teacher who made them feel empowered to express their wonderful, complicated, messy, hilarious, impossible ideas down on paper, and to actually have a bit of fun doing it. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as someone who always let them know how proud she was of them, and who taught them to be proud of themselves.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use the following questions as jumping-off points:

  • What was “cool” when you were growing up? Did you feel pressured to be “cool”?
  • Write about a time you felt distinctly uncool. What happened? How did you react to the experience?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

Hi there. It’s me—well, you, from the future. Thirteen years in the future, to be exact. I just wanted to pop in and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I know you’re having a hard time right now. Two of your best friends have quite suddenly ditched you, and you’re feeling unmoored and wondering how everything could have unraveled so quickly. It wasn’t one big fight, but a lot of little things that drew the three of you apart—or, rather, that separated you from the two of them. I know that right now you feel confused and hurt and angry. School used to be filled with laughter and inside jokes, and now suddenly the social logistics of each day is a puzzle without an answer key. Where to sit at lunch? Who to talk to at cross-country practice? You’ve cried more over the loss of these two friends than you’ve ever cried over a boy. I know you are tempted to just turn your back and write them off forever. I know it’s hard to see this now, but listen to me: they’re not bad people. They do care about you, and your friendship with them was real. All those memories you shared together are not fake. It was good, until it wasn’t. High school is messy and confusing and full of changes, and the three of you are in different places, wanting different things. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you have no interest in going to parties and drinking—no matter if that means you aren’t “cool.” Even though this is painful, it is better for you to let go of your friendship with them now, rather than stick around and feel bad about yourself all the time, or turn into someone you don’t want to be.

Listen to me: in six years, you will go to the wedding of one of these friends, and all the angst and hurt you are writing about in your journal right now? It will all seem like a long time ago, I promise. It will seem like a novel you read about someone else. The other friend will get married around the same time you do {yes, you are in fact going to get married—I’ll get to that in a minute} and you will genuinely wish her well. You will wish both of these girls the utmost happiness.

I know you are feeling supremely uncool and unsure of yourself. Your self-confidence has taken a beating, and you feel so awkward all the time. But let me tell you something important, something true: you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be concerned about what the other kids at school think of you. {Besides, the other kids at school aren’t thinking bad things about you—that’s all in your head. The other kids, even the popular crowd, respect your straight-lacedness. Just wait and see what nice things they write in your senior yearbook.} Take a deep breath and lean into the parts of yourself that feel the most true and real and YOU. Those are the best parts of yourself. Those are the parts to cultivate, to nourish, to nurture. When you find sprouts of self-consciousness and comparison and shame? Yank those roots out of your soil. Don’t waste any time watering those weeds.

Want to know a secret? Want to know the silver lining to this painful period of time? When these two friends ditch you, it will open up your life for other friends to come in. You will become closer with people who love and accept you exactly as you are. Remember how close you and Erica were in middle school? Reach out to her again now. She is kind and steady and she truly cares about you. She is a lifelong friend. One day, she will be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Be grateful for her and soak up these everyday moments with her. Stay home from a school dance and have an old-fashioned sleepover with her instead. You never have much fun at those school dances, even though you try. You go because you feel like you’re supposed to go. But I’m giving you permission, right now, to stop doing things because of the opinions of other people. If you want to stay in on a Friday night and eat popcorn and watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Erica, do it. Do it with no regrets.

I want you to know that you are enough exactly as you are. Mom and Dad know what they are talking about. When they tell you that you are beautiful and kind and strong and worthy, when they tell you that you have no idea how loved you are, when they tell you that one day in the not-too-distant future you will indeed meet a boy who appreciates you for exactly the person you are—listen to them. They are right.

Sixteen-year-old Dallas, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. Your nose is not too big. Your hair is not frizzy. You are not—repeat after me—you are not the least bit overweight, and you never need to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for eating two or three of Mom’s chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  She makes the best cookies, doesn’t she? Thirteen years from now, her cookies will still be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And okay, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. You’ve probably skimmed the rest of this letter, eager to get to this part. The part about getting married one day. Right now, I know it feels like you’re never going to meet a boy who like-likes you, much less loves you. Right now, you haven’t even had your first kiss. All of your ideas about love are based on Sarah Dessen books, your weekly TV obsession The O.C., and your favorite rom-com Serendipity. Here’s what I want to tell you about love: it’s bigger and better, more complex and yet more simple, more consuming and yet more ordinary, than you imagine it to be. Love is going to break you apart and put you back together again, stronger and braver and more content in your own individual, lovely wholeness. Love is going to take you by surprise and take your breath away.

Right now you alternate between despair that you are never ever going to get your first kiss, and a desire to plan out every detail of your one-day, future relationship. But, dear one, love isn’t something you can map out. It’s not a short story you can revise and revise again. It’s not a physics problem you can solve. It will sweep into your heart without warning, announcing itself to you boldly, and even though you might feel a little bit scared or unready, you will not be able to ignore it. When love is right, it will continue to grow and grow inside of you, and you won’t have to make excuses for it, and you won’t have to twist yourself to fit into what doesn’t fit. The right love will become a part of you, like your breath, in and out, in and out, and like your breath it will give you life in little moments every single day, with you hardly even realizing it. Right now you think that love means grand gestures and passionate kissing in the rain, but real love is in the ordinary, everyday moments that connect you to another person. When you feel seen and understood and accepted and cared for, little by little, day by day. If you really want an example of the love that is waiting for you in the future, look at Mom and Dad. You will get married on their wedding anniversary, and they are the best blueprint out there for a beautiful, sturdy, lasting love.

To be honest, 16-year-old Dallas, your first kiss won’t come for another couple of years, and it isn’t going to be all that spectacular. But your first kiss with the guy who will become your
husband? Woah. It will be worth the wait, worth all the mess and tears and lonely nights and uncertainty it took to find him. Here’s what I can tell you about your husband: he is amazingly kind, and generous, and thoughtful, and compassionate. He makes you laugh every day, and he is a wonderful listener, and he supports you with all of his heart. He is so handsome, and he tells you that you are beautiful, and he loves every detail about you. {For the record, he thinks you have a great nose.} He is better than any of the loves you imagined for yourself before you met him. He is better than you could have dreamed.

I know, despite your heartbreak and pain, you do realize how fortunate you are, and you’re grateful for what you have right now. You’re grateful for your parents, and for Greg, and for Erica, and for your teachers and your Gramps and your books and your writing. Lean into that gratitude. Lean into those things that fill you up. Savor them. As Mr. Enfield, the drama teacher, will tell you next year before the curtain rises on the final production of the play you wrote {get excited—it’s going to be an awesome experience!}, life is ephemeral. It is always changing, and even those things that feel permanent about your life right now are fleeting. So soak it in, every day. Even the hard days. Be confident in the person you are now and the person you are becoming. Don’t get lost in self-doubt or worry. You have no idea how much you are going to grow, and stretch, and shine, and love, and explore, and how big and wide and incredible the world is. You have no idea of the wonders waiting in your future, in this life you are building. Trust in me, your 29-year-old-self. And trust in yourself, as you are here, now, at sixteen. Everything you need is already there, inside of you.

Love,
Your Future Self

p.s. Give Gar as many scratches and loves and doggy biscuits as you can. He’s a really great dog, isn’t he?

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self. What advice would you give?
  • Write a letter from your sixteen-year-old self to your self today. What would that previous version of yourself want you to remember?
  • Sign up for The Letter Project to write a letter to a real girl or woman who could use a little extra encouragement. Your words can make a real difference in someone’s life!

a year of living simply: week 9

Happy St. Patty’s Day, friends! Hope you are wearing green today so you don’t get pinched! 🙂 I’m excited to get together with Dana tonight to continue our tradition {started last year} of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with homemade Irish coffees, created by the talented Dana herself. I’m really looking forward to seeing her and catching up!

Photo from our St. Patty's date last year!

Photo from our St. Patty’s date last year!

Before heading over to Dana’s this evening, my plans for the day include a few hours of tutoring, making headway on a copyediting project, and some festive baking! I’m going to attempt to make snickerdoodles with green sprinkles mixed into the cinnamon-sugar topping. We’ll see how they turn out!

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to do something to simplify or improve your commute. I did a couple things that were SO simple, but that have improved my car time a great deal!

1. The first thing I did was to clean out all the miscellaneous items and trash old Larabar wrappers that had accumulated in the backseat of poor Charley, my PriusC. I was amazed at the difference it made! Even though I hardly ever use the backseat to transport people, glimpsing a clean car as I climb into the driver’s seat just makes me feel good, like I’ve got my life in order. Combined with my new “arrive everywhere five minutes early” habit, my drive time has never been so stress-free! It’s crazy what a difference a few minutes can make.

2. I started listening to podcasts while I drive. I love music, but I was getting tired of my CDs and the same old radio tunes. Dana told me about a podcast she listened to at the end of last year called Serial, and after listening to the first episode I was immediately hooked. I stopped by the Verizon store and bought an inexpensive auxiliary cable so I can listen to my phone through my car’s speakers; all I have to do is load up the podcast, click “play” and I’m set to go! {Apologies if my excitement is lame — I’ve never really stored music on my phone, so this is a new experience for me!}

Listening to podcasts during my car time has opened up a whole new world for me. I love learning and I love podcasts, but I can’t ever seem to find the time to listen to many — that is, until now! Twenty minutes in the car here and fifteen minutes in the car there really adds up. I’ve finished all twelve episodes of Serial and today I started listening to This American Life. Now I actually find myself looking forward to my car time instead of being annoyed by my commute! If you have any podcasts to recommend, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

charley!

This week’s challenge is to get rid of some paper clutter in your life. How you interpret this is up to you! Perhaps you want to sort through/get rid of one of the paper piles on your desk. Or maybe clean out your desk drawer filled with old receipts. Paper is personally one of my major clutter weaknessnes. I’m planning to attack a certain shelf in my closet where all the pieces of paper I don’t know what to do with tend to congregate in a big tall lilting stack.

Before I go, a couple updates:

  • This month my friend Julie is participating in The Minimalism Game {hosted by The Minimalists} and invited me to play along! The game is to get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second day, three things on the third day, etc. I’m doing a slightly less intense version where I am trying to get rid of one thing every day in March. So far I’ve donated 8 books, 3 magazines, 2 shirts, 1 sweater, and recycled 2 boxes I was hanging onto in my closet for I have no idea what reason. Not sure yet what I’m getting rid of today, but it will be something!
  • A few weeks ago I said that I wanted to continue arriving everywhere a few minutes early, and I’m happy to report the routine is still going strong! Setting my clock three minutes early was a BIG help {I usually forget it is early} and, generally, I’ve gotten into the habit of getting ready to leave about ten minutes before I *think* I need to start getting ready to leave. I’m feeling so much less rushed in general, that I’m definitely planning to hang onto this habit!

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites?
  • What brightens up your commute?

a year of living simply: week 8

Hi there, everyone! Hope your week is off to a great start. I had a nice day yesterday… before tutoring, I met up with a sweet woman from my church who has been checking up on me since Celine died. She is a wonderful listener and a very warm person, and she brought me this beautiful Calla Lily as a little surprise. So thoughtful! When she had to leave, I stayed at the cafe for another thirty minutes or so, reading and sipping on an Earl Gray tea latte called “London fog” that was absolutely delicious.

calla lily

My grief process has been filled with shock, disbelief, sadness and anger, and yet I also feel intensely aware of all the loving people I am so fortunate to have in my life, who have taken care of me and checked up on me and sent me nice cards and notes and text messages. My profound grief is inextricably linked with profound gratitude.

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to be five minutes early to every appointment you have. As I mentioned last week, while I always have the best intentions to be on time early, I had a hard time actually getting out the door when I planned. After some reflection, I realized this was due to my impulse to try to squeeze in “one more thing” before I left the house, and also my tendency to underestimate how much time I will need to get ready, make breakfast, etc.

This week, I did a few things that all combined to helping me actually arrive not just on time, but EARLY, to my various appointments and responsibilities–even during my crazy-busy Saturday, and even with some unplanned traffic.

  • I set the clock in my car three minutes fast {and am trying to forget that it is fast and act like it is the correct time!}
  • When I determined what time I would need to leave the house to get somewhere on time, I set my “goal time” to leave a full ten minutes before the actual time I needed to leave. That way, even if I was running five minutes late… I was still five minutes early.
  • Instead of trying to cram in “one more thing” I forced myself to step away from the computer and get ready to leave. I realized that I used to neglect to build in time for little things I need to do before hitting the road: brushing my teeth, filling my water bottle, and going to the restroom. These things only take a couple minutes, but still–that’s a couple minutes I need to build into my schedule so I can leave on time!

This week’s challenge is to do something to simplify or improve your commute. I am fortunate in that I don’t have to drive to work each morning and home each evening in rush hour traffic, but between driving to teach and tutor — not to mention to see my sweetheart or meet up with Dana — I do spend quite a bit of time in the car.

charley!

My poor PriusC Charley can quickly become a bit of mess, especially the back seat. I usually just drive myself, and hardly ever have passengers in the back, so it is mostly used to store various things I am taking somewhere or bringing home… and a few things that I just haven’t bothered to do anything with. So this week, in addition to thinking up ways to make my driving time a bit more fun, I am also going to simplify my car environment and get rid of the nonessential clutter!

A timely reminder from my Yogi green tea bag! Happiness comes from being contented with what you have.

A timely reminder from my Yogi green tea bag! Happiness comes from being content with what you have, rather than always wanting more.

Bonus challenge: this month my friend Julie is participating in The Minimalism Game {hosted by The Minimalists} and invited me to play along! The game is to get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second day, three things on the third day, etc. I’m doing a slightly less intense version where I am trying to get rid of one thing every day in March. We’d love for you to join us!

Questions for the morning:

  • What helps you leave the house/arrive to things on time?
  • What brightens up your commute?

a year of living simply: week 7

Hello, friends! I’m coming at you a little late with this week’s year of living simply post… I can’t believe it’s already Thursday! I meant to post yesterday, but it was a busy busy day. Tutoring, teaching for Communication Academy, and then last night I went to see my former Purdue professors, Porter Shreve and Bich Minh Nguyen, give a reading at San Jose State. It was wonderful to see them and they both did a terrific job reading from their books.

porter and bich's books

Moving onto living simply… here are a couple simplicity-themed blog posts that really resonated with me this week:

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to identify one project or task that you have been putting off, and DO it — or, if it’s a bigger project, do the first step. The goal was to get this task over with and not let it take up any more of your life!

One project I FINALLY DID this week {after transferring it from one to-do list to the next for the past three weeks… does anyone else do that?} was get my application for a renewed passport in the mail. It wasn’t too time-consuming, but did require filling out forms online, printing these forms, taking a new passport picture, and waiting in line at the post office. It feels really great to not have this task taking up any more of my brain space!

passport

This reminded me of something my brother and I have talked about before: how much less stressful tasks are when you do them way in advance of deadlines. Even though getting my passport renewed was a bit of a pain, I still have plenty of time before it expires, so I didn’t feel stressed about it. In fact, I felt like I was “on top of things” for getting it done so far in advance, so this task actually boosted my self-confidence. On the other hand, it would have been enormously stressful had I waited until the last minute {plus I would have needed to pay more for expedited shipping!}

I’m trying to give myself time and space to complete tasks ahead of deadlines, in all areas of my life.

Speaking of giving yourself time… this week’s challenge is to be five minutes early to every appointment you have, whether that is work, a lunch date with a friend, a doctor’s appointment, whatever! My sweetheart is really really good at this. He is always early, and it is one of the first things I noticed about him; being early for things shows his respect and consideration for other people’s time and commitments. Dana is excellent at this, too! Whenever we meet up, I always know I can count on her to be there at the time we’ve set.

Then there’s me. I have the best intentions, but it seems like I’m always headed out the door five or ten minutes later than I planned to. As someone who is perpetually trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before I leave, this week’s challenge is a really important one for me. We’ll see how I do!

Questions for the morning:

  • What task did you finally get done this week?
  • Do you tend to run late, or are you an early-arriver?

a year of living simply: week 6

Happy Wednesday, dear readers! I hope you are all doing great and enjoying this “short” week after the Presidents’ Day holiday. This morning I’m cooking up a batch of chili but instead of using ground turkey, I’m subbing in roasted butternut squash inspired by this veggie chili recipe I found. I’ll let you know how it turns out! I’m bringing dinner to Allyn’s tonight after I teach my Wednesday afternoon classes for Communication Academy.

Before we get into this week’s simplicity challenge, I wanted to share with you this outstanding fundraising project The Minimalists are doing to build a school in Laos. They’ve partnered with Jhai Coffee, the world’s first completely philanthropic coffee roaster and cafe, started by Tyson Adams. Here’s a brief excerpt from their blog post:

Today, under half of the population of Laos has access to clean, safe drinking water. So Tyson decided that perhaps he could focus less on his material possessions and instead find ways to help.

Since 2013, Jhai has partnered with the Lao Government; Jhai Coffee Farmers Cooperative (JCFC); and a private water-filter company, TerraClear, to serve 23 schools—helping 3,277 children along the way. In less than two years, they have provided 25 water purification filters (filtering up to 99.99% of bacteria, parasites, and suspended solids); completed 21 WASH programs (Jhai’s Hygiene program); installed seven Unicef-manufactured water pumps at schools that previously had no access; built a coffee storage warehouse for the JCFC where farmers house their coffee in a safe, climate-controlled environment, which increases profits for each family; and given organic-coffee training to fifteen member villages for increased quality and future earning potential.

All of this because one man said no to the status quo and yes to contribution.

You can read more here. Check it out — I was so inspired! And now… on to this week’s simplicity challenge!

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to get digitally organized and simplified. I’m going to be honest and admit something to you guys: my computer was a disorganized mess. I had set up file folders at some point, but many of them hadn’t been used in ages. For a while I’d been saving most documents to my Desktop, which was so cluttered with .doc files that you couldn’t even see the faces of me and my brother in my Desktop photo. It was overwhelming to even get started, but I told myself just to do a little bit every day and see where the end of the week got me.

Now my computer isn’t completely organized, but I’d say I’m about 80% there. It is SO much better than it was before. I set up a system of file folders for different projects I’m working on, and broke up my .doc files into different categories so now I can find things easily. Speaking of which… I found a bunch of beginnings of stories and essays that I had started at one time and then forgotten about, and I’m so excited to get back to them! It felt like discovering hidden treasure.

This week’s challenge is to identify one project or task that you have been putting off, and DO it. Or, if it’s a bigger project, do the first step. Often we put something off because we think it’s going to be a chore, but the irony is that it becomes so much more of a chore the longer we put it off because it continues to take up our brain space. Don’t let this task take up any more of your life — get it over with this week!

Questions for the morning:

  • How did it go getting your computer organized?
  • What tasks do you tend to put off?

a year of living simply: week 5

Hello everyone, and happy Wednesday! Hope you are having a great week so far. My week has been a mixture of “grown-up” things like getting my tax stuff in order and scheduling doctor’s appointments and going shopping to keep my fridge stocked with veggies; and restorative time reading, journaling, talking to my family, and soaking up time with friends old and new. I also met with two wonderful women from my church to talk a bit about Celine and how much I miss her. Sometimes I feel the need to cocoon myself, but other times it just feels good to talk about her.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this last sentence of my simplicity challenge summary: We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Celine’s sudden death has shifted my attention to the big-picture things. I’ve been asking myself:

What do I want my legacy to be?

I want to brighten the lives of other people. I want to spread joy and kindness. I want to write books and blog posts and stories and articles that make people feel comforted, supported, inspired, and understood. I want the kids I teach and tutor to feel more confident and proud of themselves. I want to plant the seeds of trees that will provide shade for future generations. I want to help causes greater than myself. I want my loved ones to *know* how much I love them, and to always feel like I have time for them. I want them to know, always, without a doubt, how important they are to me. I want my legacy to be a ray of sunshine that makes other people smile.

Last week’s challenge was to do some free-writing or journaling about your WHY for simplifying your life.

  • What do you want to make room for?
  • What do you want to get rid of {physically and emotionally}?
  • How do you want to feel?

I want to simplify my life to make room for what’s most important to me: namely, my passions and the people I love. I want to feel like I have TIME, like my days aren’t just flying by mindlessly. I want to notice and savor the everyday moments of beauty in my life. I want to feel energized and excited and FREE.

Since writing is my passion and a major vehicle I use to spread joy and connection in the world, I realized I need to set aside some time to simplify and organize the backbone of my writing life: my computer files.

This week’s challenge is to get digitally organized and simplified! Delete unnecessary files; clean out your Downloads folder; organize your Word documents into folders; clean up your Desktop. Even if you’re not a writer, I’m willing to bet you use your computer every day and it contains files important to your life and your dreams.

fabulous friday #39

Happy Halloween, everyone!!

lit up pumpkins

What fun things do you have planned for today + tonight? Allyn & I are dressing up as Sebastian the crab & The Little Mermaid and we’re going out for dinner in Walnut Creek, then out to see the murder-mystery play Deathtrap. I’ll show you a picture of us dressed up in our costumes in Sunday’s blog post, but for now here’s a sneak peak at my wig that came in the mail yesterday! This is actually my first Halloween ever wearing a wig, so I am probably more excited than is normal, haha. {And yes, I’m dressed in my yoga clothes, getting ready to head out soon!}

mermaid wig

Also, I want to back up and wish my sweet Mama a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! It was her birthday yesterday but it was such a crazy day that I didn’t get around to doing a blog post. {But don’t worry, I did call her yesterday and send her a card & present!} My dad sent these beautiful roses to her office… they are USC colors, since Mom is a huge USC fan! Go Trojans!

mom usc roses

Also, because I think this photo is way too adorable not to share, here is a pic of my mom when she was a little girl that is hanging in the hallway of my grandparents’ house. I can totally see the woman I know in her little-girl eyes and face. What a cutie-pie!

mom little girl

Mom, thank you for being my role model and inspiring me every day with your loving heart, genuine kindness, generosity and grace, quiet strength, and beautiful soul. I love you so much. I count my blessings every day that I won the lottery ticket to get you for a mother. It is a true privilege and a gift to be your daughter! ❤

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. So remember last week when I finished writing my novel? And remember a few weeks ago when I went to the Orchard nursery with Dana to revel in all the pumpkins and autumn decorations, and I spotted these beautiful hand-painted sunflower tiles and mentioned wanting to someday get one for my own kitchen?

sunflower tiles

Wellllll, guess what my sweetheart did? He surprised me with a gift to celebrate finishing my novel that I’ve been working on for the past three years.

sunflower tile

Not to mention, I hadn’t even said anything about the sunflower tiles to him. He just read it here in my post and remembered, and last weekend he drove to the nursery to pick it out and surprise me. I was pretty much speechless when I opened it. Allyn, your thoughtfulness, love and support blow me away! Thank you so much for celebrating with me! Now, every time I look at this gorgeous sunflower tile hanging in my kitchen, not only will I smile because I love sunflowers and it is soooo pretty — I will light up inside with such a warm memory. 🙂

2. T-Swift’s new CD. OMG you guys. I am crushing hardcore on this CD. I am in puppy love. I am obsessed. I can’t stop listening to it. SO GOOD! I didn’t even mind when I had major traffic driving home from teaching last night, because it meant more time to bop around in my car dancing to these songs. Is it weird that Holly and I are already giddy with excitement about going to see her in concert when she tours for this CD? Because we are.

t swift 1989 cd

If the music itself weren’t amazing enough, check out her Halloween costume. One of the lyrics to her new song “Blank Space” is “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”… the caption to her Halloween costume says, “cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a PEGACORN.” {unicorn + pegasus = a possible daydream?} She is so goofy! I love it.

taylor swift Halloween costume

3. These wise words from Heather Waxman… the first time I read them, I felt like she was talking directly to me. As someone who is not often loud and does not prefer to be the center of attention, I love her message that quiet strength and quiet confidence are equally true and beautiful:

Sometimes, we think that we have to be loud and obviously the center of attention in order be confident. But that’s not really it at all. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman carrying herself with soft strength. Quiet and ease. Grace and a smidge of grit.  That’s just so beautiful. She doesn’t feel like she has to prove anything. She doesn’t care if she’s the primary focus of the conversation or sitting and listening as a few people spearhead the conversation. Because she just is. She’s just being. 

4. This week I finished knitting a scarf to donate to the wonderful nonprofit organization Knit With Love that donates knitted and crocheted items to people in need, whether they are impoverished, homeless or struggling with illness.

knit with love

Here is their mission statement: “We believe that the gift of a hand-made item can provide physical warmth to people who may have little else, and can also be a tangible showing of love and support that will serve as an encouragement in this difficult time. Every item is donated to a person who greatly appreciates the hand-made gift. As of June 2014, we have donated over 5,000 knit items to people in 37 countries.” WOW, right? Amazing!

It makes me happy to think of someone wearing this colorful scarf I made and feeling loved!

scarf

5. Finishing with a bang: The Giants winning the World Series on Wednesday!! It feels like the whole Bay Area is celebrating! Everywhere you go, people are wearing Giants’ gear and Giants flags are waving from cars and houses everywhere. I’m enjoying the special feeling of camaraderie with everyone, even strangers in line at the grocery store 🙂 Dana was so cute, waving her Giants rally rag from back when they won the World Series in 2010!

dana giants win

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone!!

Questions of the day:

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