it’s okay to feel sad sometimes

Last week, for whatever reason, I found myself in a bit of a funk.

I typically wake up feeling excited to face the day, raring to go on my projects. I typically feel focused and motivated about my daily tasks. I typically look at the clock and can’t believe how late it’s gotten. Where did the day go? Is it time to start dinner already?

But last week, I was dragging. Last week, I felt stuck. I felt lonely and restless and, most of all… sad.

And I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. Everything was the same as it had always been.

It makes me feel vulnerable to write these words to you right now. It scares me a bit, to admit to feeling sad. Especially because I know that I have so very much to be grateful for. I used to feel guilty anytime feelings of sadness crept in. Like I wasn’t allowed to ever feel anything less than joyful and blessed. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant and cheerful, always. I wanted to comfort other people and never need comfort myself. I liked to think of myself as a giver, not someone who needed to cheering up.

But I realized that pretending to never feel sad is simply another way of building a wall around myself, pretending to be something I’m not, refusing to let people truly see me. I was trying to be “perfect” instead of trying to live wholeheartedly and authentically. I can be grateful for all the bounty and beauty in my life, and still have hard days and still feel down sometimes. I can hold both gratitude and sadness in my heart at the same time. And, I realized that never wanting to need anyone else is just another way of never wanting to be vulnerable. I like being able to give comfort to others. I need to trust that others like being able to give comfort to me sometimes.

Last week, I cried more than I’ve cried in the last six months put together. It seemed anything could set off the tears. Listening to a podcast about an empty-nest couple, the bittersweet pride in their voices as they talked about their youngest child heading off to college. Thinking about Mr. Murray, sleeping on the rug by the front door, and wishing that I lived in the same town as my parents, that I could walk right in and surprise him with a ginormous hug. That commercial with the ostrich who learns to fly, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” playing in the background. It was like I walked around with this constant lump in my throat, just waiting to see what would cause the tears to spill forth.

It was so weird. It was so not the version of myself I have come to believe in over the past three decades. I have never been a crier.

One afternoon my brother called to say hi—a routine thing for us—and after a few minutes of talking, I started crying. Like, ugly crying, the kind when you can’t fully catch your breath, and you stay quiet on the line because you know as soon as you try to talk your voice will break again.

My brother was so great, as he always is. He sat on a bench outside the bar where he was meeting some friends for happy hour, and he patiently stayed on the line and talked to me for a little while until I was ready to hang up. He didn’t sound alarmed by my weepiness. He didn’t rattle off a list of things I should do to feel better. He didn’t tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t be feeling the way I was feeling—all the reasons I should only feel joyful in my wonderful life. Instead, he told me that it was okay to feel sad sometimes. He told me to let myself feel what I was feeling. He reminded me that, even though I was feeling genuine sadness in that moment, that the sadness wasn’t going to last forever. That I would begin to feel better soon. And, in the meantime, he told me how much he loved me. He said that multiple times, and each time he said it I began to cry again—but out of gratitude and love for him more than sadness. When we hung up the phone, I still felt sad, but I felt so much better than I had before he called me.

My wish for everyone reading this is that you have a friend in your life like I have my brother. Someone who knows you, at times, better than you know yourself. Someone who isn’t afraid of your ugly crying. Someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it.

{This photo was taken shortly after another time I cried with Greg, when I was visiting him in NYC. It was shortly after Celine died and I was hit with a huge wave of missing her.}

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t tend to get angry or annoyed or frustrated very easily. I don’t yell or snap at people very often. When I get tired, I don’t get crabby. I get sad.

Growing up, when I would feel weepy, my mom would say gently, “Dallas, honey. Go to sleep. You’re tired. You’ll feel so much better when you wake up.”

She was pretty much always right. I would feel better after a nice nap.

So that’s what I still do, if it’s a possibility, when I notice myself feeling “off.” I take a nap, or I sleep in late, or I go to bed early. And I do usually feel a bit better when I open my eyes again. Like the gray film over the world has been swept away. The light seems a little clearer, a little more sparkly.

Other things that made me feel a bit better last week: reading for pleasure; drinking tea and eating dark chocolate; texting with family and friends and Allyn; doing some yoga; going for a walk outside; working on my novel and surprising myself with the story; watching silly videos online; going to the dentist {I was worried I had a cavity, but I didn’t!}

This week, I’m back to feeling much more like myself. The waves of sadness I felt last week seem almost like a strange dream. But I know they’ll be back at some point, because that sadness is a part of me just as happiness is. My varied emotions are all puzzle pieces that fit together into the beautiful, complex mess of being human. As Brooke Castillo reminds us in many of her podcasts, life is about contrast. We wouldn’t have light without darkness. We wouldn’t have happiness without sadness.

In order to embrace my deepest, truest self, I have to be brave enough to acknowledge all of my emotions, not just the ones that make me feel strong and comfortable. I’m learning that embracing my sadness does not give it power over me, as I once thought it would. Just the opposite: only by opening up about feeling down—to myself as well as to others—am I able to move through the discomfort, and, eventually, to move past it.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions to spur on some “free-writing”:

  • When was the last time you felt sad, or angry, or frustrated, or “off” in some way? Was there a certain reason, or was it harder to pin down?
  • What helps you feel better when you’re feeling down?
  • What advice would you give a friend who calls you feeling upset? What might happen if you shared those same gentle words and generous spirit with your own self and your own heart?
  • What is an emotion that makes you uncomfortable? How might you take small baby steps to embrace this emotion in your life?

amber rubarth house concert in seattle

When I wrote a letter on this blog to Amber Rubarth back in May, I didn’t expect that she would ever read it. I hoped my words might somehow reach her – I wanted her to know how much her music meant to me – but, even if she never read my letter, I still felt writing it meant something. Even if the words were just for myself, I wanted to reflect on how I had carried her songs within me for years, how they had impacted my life and had been my companions and helped me grow into someone braver and stronger and more assured in myself, more rooted in my being. It was a small gesture, but it felt hugely good.

me and amber rubarth 2

Even though I wrote that letter for myself, when I published it here on the blog, something amazing happened.

The positive response was overwhelming. People shared with me their own thoughts about how music has made a difference in their lives. The post was shared widely throughout the Facebook and Twitter communities. And, within a few days, my words made their way to Amber herself.

I got goosebumps when I logged onto Facebook one afternoon to find a notification that I had been tagged in a post by Amber Rubarth:

Ah my heart!!! Just read this beautiful post from Dallas Woodburn who came to my show last week in San Francisco. My heart is fluttering with gratitude. Thank you Dallas for your beautiful words and gorgeous soul. Wow. So moving. You are a beautiful writer.

It was the opposite of that frustrated feeling I experienced after our brief interaction post-concert, the one that spurred me to write the post in the first place. Now I felt buoyant and peaceful and more connected to the community around me. I had been able to express what had previously felt inexpressible. I had let someone know that their work was important to me. I was happy and grateful that my words had rippled outward and found their recipient. It seemed like a small miracle.

But the ripples did not end there. I received messages from both of Amber’s parents, letting me know how much my words meant to them. Amber and I became email pals, and she even tweeted congratulations on my wedding day!

screenshot_2016-09-05-08-57-39

And I received an email from a man named Bill.

Hi Dallas,

Long-story-short… My wife and I have been hosting a house concert series in the living room of our house here in Seattle for the past eleven years. Amber Rubarth played our series back in 2013. She’s eager to return and we recently talked about this coming October. Before contacting Amber I did some poking around online to see what Amber was up to and came across your blog post. Wow! It had me and several  friends I shared it with in tears. This type of feedback provides the fuel for touring musicians to continue doing what they do. So here’s the deal… If Amber plays here, I’d like to invite you and a guest to come to the show. And I’d pay for the airline tickets for you both to fly to Seattle. I know, this sounds like a scam. Believe me, it isn’t. As soon as I read your blog I knew what I wanted to do. My brain and stomach (intuition) were aligned with each other and agreed this was the right thing to do. Hope to hear back from you and get your thoughts.

I was absolutely blown away when I read this email. To receive such warm and thoughtful generosity from a complete stranger! Immediately, I replied to Bill with an enthusiastic: Absolutely, I would love to come!!

We hammered out the details over the next few months, and then suddenly it was the end of October, and our trip up to Seattle had arrived! Allyn wasn’t able to attend because he had a previously scheduled commitment for that weekend, but my dad was kind enough to fly up from L.A. to join me for the trip. It was my first time seeing him post-wedding it was SO great to get some time just to ourselves, to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather in Seattle and spent the day exploring Pike’s Place Market, walking around downtown, and eating delicious seafood. My favorite was the clam chowder we ate overlooking the water!

 me and dad chowder seattle

We also visited the amazing Chihuly Museum, which I dubbed “Dr. Seuss books come to life”… the delicate, vibrant, larger-than-life blown-glass sculptures were extraordinary to behold! Tickets were a liiiittle pricey, but worth it. We were both really happy we went there.

chihuly museum

Walking back to our hotel, we stopped at a Starbucks {because, when in Seattle, right?} to escape the brief drizzle and enjoy our hot drinks. And then it was time for the concert! After stopping at a neat local brewery for dinner, we took an Uber to the quaint historical Captiol Hill neighborhood where Bill and his wife Micki live.

It was a funny situation because, although Bill and I had emailed back and forth quite a bit, I had no idea what he looked like. When Dad and I stepped inside the beautiful house filled with people {who mostly all knew each other from previous house concerts there} I was unsure what to do! A white-haired man came up to us in the entryway and I asked, “Bill?” He laughed and said, “No, I’m Jim — but Bill’s making cider in the kitchen. C’mon!” And he led the way back through the house.

Bill knew what I looked like from this blog, and as soon as he saw me, he beamed. He and Micki were both so friendly and welcoming to me and my dad. We enjoyed chatting with them in the kitchen before the concert began, and Bill introduced me to some of his friends who had read my piece here on the blog. It was so special to meet them in person!

As soon as Amber came out “on stage” my heart leapt — I was so excited that my dad would get to hear her music live! I knew he would fall in love with her beautiful songs, and he did. I had never before attended a house concert, and I was captivated by the intimate vibe of the night. It was a mix of a casual concert and a Q&A, with the audience jumping in with questions and song requests.

amber rubarth house concert

Partway through the concert, Amber asked, “Is Dallas here?” I waved my hands so she could spot me in the crowd. Amber then sweetly told everyone about my blog post and the story of how I ended up being at the concert that night. Then she wished me and Allyn congratulations on our recent wedding day and played her “Song to Thank The Stars” for us — out of all her songs, it is my favorite and the one that reminds me the most of Allyn.

I was nearly in tears, it was such a special moment.

After the concert, which flew by way too fast, we got to visit with Amber in the kitchen. It was wonderful to get some time to chat with her about her music, the creative process, my wedding, her upcoming tour and new album, and our families. She is one of the most genuinely kind, warm and authentic people I have ever met. Oh! And she recently starred in a new movie that will be released in 2017! It is called “September 12th” and also stars musician Joe Purdy. I can’t wait to see it!

me and amber 2

{A little blurry, but the best photo of the bunch!}

The trip to Seattle was one of the coolest experiences of my life! What a testament to the generosity and connection of people — former strangers, now friends — and the beauty and love present in our world. I feel so very grateful for this experience! Thank you Bill and Micki from the bottom of my heart. And thank you, of course, to my new friend Amber Rubarth!

You can pre-order Amber’s gorgeous new album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard, at her website: http://www.amberrubarth.com/

dear amber rubarth

Hi. I’m one of the people who came up to you after your concert in San Francisco this past Saturday night and asked you to sign my copy of your CD. I was nervous, and I don’t think I even remembered to tell you my name. I did tell you that I first saw you play at Zoey’s in Ventura years and years ago, and that your music has meant a lot to me. But it is impossible in a one-minute conversation to feel like one is able to say anything that really goes below the surface. I just felt like any other fan, asking to get a picture with you. You were so kind. And then it was the next person in line’s turn and I said goodbye and Allyn and I walked out into the night. And I felt buzzing with happiness at what a wonderful evening it had been, but I also felt a keen layer of frustration beneath my skin. Because I didn’t feel like I expressed myself clearly to you in that one-minute conversation as you signed my CD.

amber rubarth concert sign

Here is what I wanted to tell you.

When I first saw you play, at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, I was feeling a little lost and uncertain. I had just graduated college and moved back in with my parents after my grad school and fellowship plans had ended in nothing but rejections. For my entire life up until that period, my identity had been built on structure and over-achievement. Suddenly, I was floundering. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to build a career out of it. I felt like everyone else I knew had “real jobs” and paychecks and responsibilities and exciting lives in new cities. Meanwhile, I was back in time, living once again in my childhood bedroom, unsure what the future held. And I had broken up with my college boyfriend, someone I had loved very much but had realized was not the love of my life. I felt confident it was the right decision, but I missed him. And part of me worried no one else would ever love me again.

I went to your concert at Zoey’s as part of my attempt to get out more and meet people. Zoey’s owners, Polly and Steve, had always been kind to me — they had even hosted a book signing for me back when I was in high school and released a collection of short stories — and I would check their website often for live music shows. Usually, I would go by myself. I went by myself to your show, and sat at the bar because there were no other seats available, and tried not to feel like a loser amidst the crowd of couples and families. Was I the only one there alone? But as soon as you started singing, I forgot to feel self-conscious. I felt myself in your songs. I felt understood. I listened to your beautiful, fragile, strong voice sing bravely and vulnerably about love and hope and healing, and for the first time in quite some time I felt excited to fall in love again. I felt like the world was indeed a wondrous place and that there was magic out in the future waiting for me.

That night, I went up to you after your show and bought both of your CDs and listened to them on repeat for months, driving around in my car, trying to find myself again. I particularly remember listening to You Will Love This Song on repeat and repeat and repeat. The details felt so true. Your song helped me get over my ex, while still remembering with bittersweet fondness the love we had shared, and taking in what it had taught me, and what I was looking for in a future love.

I got into grad school for fiction writing and moved halfway across the country, from my native California to a small college town in Indiana. If I thought I had felt lonely and uncertain before, I was on a whole new barometer of loneliness now. For the first time, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment by myself. I missed my family with aching fierceness. I felt overwhelmed with my new responsibilities and making friends had never seemed more difficult. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I dreaded Fridays because it meant an endless weekend stretched before me; sometimes, a trip to the grocery store was my entire social interaction. It snowed and snowed. I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly. I read and read and tried to write, authentically, for myself, even though criticism from my peers in workshop resounded loudly in my head. I went on a couple of unsuccessful blind dates and developed one or two hopeless crushes and listened to your song 23. I learned to cook for one. I listened to your CDs as I drove around in my same old car in this unfamiliar new town. Your songs made me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit braver. Especially Chrysanthemum Song.

I eventually met a guy, and we were together for a little while, and I was so grateful to have someone that I lost a lot of myself in the relationship. When everything fell apart, suddenly and irrevocably, I found myself again in the rubble. My brother came out to Indiana to help me regain my footing that first week, and he is also a fan of yours and he would put on your music. When I was sad, I listened to In The Creases and cried. But I simultaneously felt washed anew in a bright, sure happiness. That summer, I listened to your song The Edge and felt like you were speaking directly to me, to what I was feeling, to this new life that I was standing on the crest of, looking out across the landscape.

I moved back to California, this time to the Bay Area. I fit the pieces of myself back together again, trying on some new pieces too: zumba, yoga, green smoothies, long hikes, online dating. I met my sweetie in late January and falling in love with him was like nothing I had ever felt before: swift and yet not rushed at all; patient and trusting yet filled with surprises; gentle and passionate and balanced and consuming, all at once. As you sing in When It Fits, when it fits just right, it takes no time to know.

We spent that summer apart because he moved to New Orleans for three months for an internship. I went out to visit him and we spent three glorious weeks together, eating beignets and walking around the French Quarter and snapping photos of alligators during a swamp tour. The morning I left, I gave him a mix CD I had made for him. We listened to it as he drove me to the airport. I remember rolling down the window and breathing in the cool morning air — it was still dark out and the streets were deserted — as your Song to Thank the Stars played from his car stereo. The rest of the summer, whenever I was missing him too much, I would listen to that song and the ache inside me would ease a little into gratitude.

When one of my best friends died in a car accident, music and books were two of the only things that brought me any sort of comfort. The first six months, I was in a daze. I felt like I was living underwater. I remember listening to your song Pilot. The lyrics from that song run still through my head sometimes, on days when I feel in need of a spark.

Five months ago, my love proposed by serenading me with a Jason Mraz song on the guitar: Quiet. It seems fitting that one of my favorite duets is a song by Jason Mraz and you, which also makes me think of my sweetheart; I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately, as I plan our wedding.

A couple months ago, Amber, when I saw you were going to play a concert in San Francisco, I was so excited. I told Allyn that was all I wanted for my birthday: to go to your concert. So he bought tickets, and I circled the date on my calendar, and we went. When you came out onstage and began to sing, I felt transported back to that night six years ago at Zoey’s cafe. So much was different then. So much has changed. I think back to that shy, nervous, uncertain girl I was, and she seems so young and far away. And yet — hearing you sing your older songs made me feel connected to my previous selves. Sitting in that concert beside Allyn made me feel like I got to share those memories with him, in some osmosis sort of way.

Your concert was beautiful. Your joy was contagious. The audience adored you and we cheered and cheered until you came back out and played us an encore. My breath caught in my throat when your final song was A Song To Thank The Stars. I held Allyn’s hand and felt filled to the brim with grace and love. When you signed my CD, I told you how happy I was that you played that song. You confided that it was the only song you performed that was not on your set list, that you felt compelled to play it at the end of the night for some reason. “You must have been sending lots of mental vibes for me to play it!” you said, laughing. The song felt even more like a gift after hearing that.

me and amber rubarth 2

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this, Amber, is that your music matters. You don’t even know my name, but your music has mattered immensely in my life. It has helped me feel less alone in my lonely times, and more grateful in my joyful times, and it has made me think and made me feel and helped me to be braver and kinder and more attuned to the tiny details of the world around me.

Thank you for your music. I hope you always keep making music. I am so excited to hear what you create next.

Love,
Dallas

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.

year of kindness challenge: wrap-up + reflections

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge — the final challenge in this Year of Kindness — was to forgive someone. I am a fierce believer in forgiveness. When you forgive someone, you set yourself free from the cage of anger and pain and bitterness. As I mentioned before, this past year was a tough one for me at times. There was so much love and growth and laughter, but there was a lot of pain, too. The hardest part was knowing that I caused others pain, in particular two people I cared for deeply. I can’t know, and can’t control, whether they ever forgive me. But this past week, crossing the bridge from 2013 into the sparkling new year 2014, I knew I had to forgive myself.

Sometimes, real life is messy and difficult. Sometimes, being true to yourself and listening to your gut creates collateral damage. Sometimes, you are confronted with a decision and there is no pain-free choice to make. But I know in my heart that I made the right one. Sometimes, pain is necessary to avoid a much greater avalanche of pain in the future.

So this week, I finally wrote a letter of forgiveness. To myself. And I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It was a fitting end to this year of kind acts: being kind to myself.

I learned and grew so much from this year of kindness challenge.

kindness collage

Here are my top 5 take-aways:

1. Aesop is right: “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” This year has solidified my belief that even small acts of compassion and joy — smiles, cards, a few minutes out of your day to help someone — can make a big difference. You never know how very much your kindness might mean to someone!

2. Want to be happy? Be kind. I learned that if I’m in a sad or grumpy mood for whatever reason, the quickest way to turn my day around is to do an act of kindness for someone else.

3. Little by little, big things can happen. This time last year, the idea of doing 52 unique random acts of kindness seemed like a huge, overwhelming task. But by focusing on one act per week and integrating it into my routine, doing acts of kindness became a habit — something I soon looked forward to every week! I was also so inspired by the support and encouraging words I received from readers and fellow bloggers. Special thanks to Lauren, Lindsay, Danica, and Gayle for contributing kindness act ideas for the project!

4. Being brave and putting yourself out there is SO worth it. There were times I was nervous to do acts of kindness. Striking up conversations with strangers, buying coffee for people in line behind me, reaching outside my comfort zone … it can be scary to put yourself out there! But every single time, I was left with a huge smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.

5. Have faith. It’s a magical world we live in. Time and again, I have been blown away this past year by the wonderful connections and coincidences that have happened — and by the acts of kindness that others have done for me! Keeping track of acts of kindness has also made me more aware that we are all connected.

bday girl

As always, in love & kindness,
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the entire year!

Questions of the day:

  • What is something you need to forgive yourself for?
  • What are your final thoughts & reflections on this year of kindness?

year of kindness challenge: week 37

year of kindness button

Hello from Nashville! I am currently in the country music capitol to visit my lovely Holly … it is so much fun just hanging out with her, laughing and talking and drinking tea and watching chick flicks. And I have been having a lot of fun exploring the beautiful Vanderbilt campus and surrounding area while she is in class. I’ve been getting some good writing done at Starbucks, too — pumpkin chai latte, bring it on! On Saturday we are seeing our girl T.Swift in concert! SO. EXCITED.

Anyone have any suggestions for places I should try to check out while I’m here in Nashville? Let me know!

The people I’ve met in Nashville have been so warm and friendly. In fact, my entire travel day from California to Tennessee was blessed with so many instances of kindness! From people letting a harried, late traveler go ahead of them in the security line to strangers complimenting each other while making small talk in line to board the plane, it made my heart smile to see so many instances of connection and kindness.

Another happy thing in my life this past week was that I reconnected with my friend Dana, who I hadn’t seen for years … she reached out to me when she saw I’d moved to the Bay Area, and we met up for breakfast on Sunday. It was SO great to catch up! She is one of those sunshine-filled people who makes you feel instantly at ease, and I was smiling the rest of the day after seeing her.

This past week’s kindness challenge was to fill out a feedback form with five star ratings, write a positive review of a book or product you love, or even call that “How am I driving?” phone number on the back of a semi-truck and rave about the truck driver’s wonderful driving skills. I filled out positive feedback for Marshall’s and Einstein Bros Bagels. It took all of three minutes to do each, and it made me feel like I was brightening someone’s day. Ever since my friend Erica started working at Target, it’s made me more aware that there are real individuals behind even the biggest corporations, working hard every day, who often don’t get as much positive feedback as they deserve. I also wrote two positive book reviews on Amazon {they aren’t up yet, but hopefully they will be up soon and I’ll let you know!} This week’s kindness challenge is certainly one I plan to continue doing. I didn’t see any of those semi-trucks with “How am I driving?” on them this past week, but I’m keeping my eye out … when I do, I am definitely going to call the number and give a glowing report.

The Week 37 Kindness Challenge is to do a household kindness for someone you live with. Do your roommate’s dishes, stock the fridge with your husband’s favorite drink, vacuum for your girlfriend, clean the kitchen for your mom. You get the picture! If you live alone, get creative … maybe you could do a household kindness for your parents or for a friend.

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Always,
Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
– week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet
– week 17 challenge: pick up litter/trash
– week 18 challenge: write a kind note to a mom figure in your life
– week 19 challenge: leave an extra-generous tip
– week 20 challenge: donate blood/join bone marrow registry
– week 21 challenge: visit a cemetery and pay respect
– week 22 challenge: practice a little patience
– week 23 challenge: call 3 loved ones on the phone
– week 24 challenge: do something kind for a senior citizen
– week 25 challenge: pay for someone’s public transportation
– week 26 challenge: volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
– week 27 challenge: send a care package to someone in the military
– week 28 challenge: give at least one compliment every day
– week 29 challenge: do a favor for someone else
– week 30 challenge: scatter lucky pennies around a playground
– week 31 challenge: mail an empowering postcard
– week 32 challenge: plant something
– week 33 challenge: donate school supplies
– week 34 challenge: give a sandwich to a homeless person
week 35 challenge: compliment a salesperson to their manager
week 36 challenge: leave positive feedback