a letter to the tree they cut down outside our apartment window

Dear Tree,

I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself before. I’m Dallas, and I live in this apartment with my husband Allyn, and I have loved you since the first day we moved in one year and two months ago. In fact, you were one of the first things I noticed about the apartment when we were looking at potential places to live around the city. I fell in love with your tall, thick-leaved, beautiful branches, stretching over the apartment balcony in a protective way. Your limbs waved slightly in the breeze — friendly, as if you were saying hello.

Over the next fourteen months, you gave us so much without ever asking for anything in return. During the extremely hot summer, you provided welcome shade from the harsh midday sun. Your pretty branches gave us some privacy from the neighbors all around us, making our apartment feel more secluded. When we dined al fresco on our little balcony, your lush leaves reminded me of the time we traveled to Spain and ate outdoors, and our home-cooked meal felt a tad bit fancier. My writing desk is situated right beside the window that looked out at you, and when I was feeling stuck I would gaze out at your greenery. You made me feel calm and inspired. If that wasn’t enough, birds perched on your branches and serenaded us. What more could we ask for in a companion, dear tree?

I wish I had told you all of this sooner. Sure, I appreciated you, but it was in the absent-minded way you appreciate things you take for granted. Things you think will be around forever.

{you provided such a lovely backdrop for our save-the-date photo}

A few weeks ago, the building manager knocked on our door and gave us the news. It was so unexpected. He said that you were old, and that with all of the storms lately you had become a danger. Trees fall over onto houses and apartments and sometimes they do damage and sometimes they hurt people. He said you were impeding on the apartment below us and next to us. He said you had to come down and that was that. There was nothing we could do. We don’t own the property — we are just renters — and so we don’t own you.

When the men came to cut you down, I couldn’t watch. I felt sick and sad and I kept thinking of this Jack Johnson song with lyrics about a tree that burns down. I promise, tree, that one day, Allyn and I will have a house of our own and we will plant lots of your brothers and sisters in our yard. Until then, I want you to know that I donated to The Nature Conservancy to plant a tree in honor of you.

We miss you, dear tree. We miss you a lot. We miss your shade and your beauty. We miss your quiet presence. We miss your wisdom that reminded us of the world that was here before we came onto the scene, and the world that will be here after we leave, and that maybe our problems aren’t so big after all, and maybe our lives are a little more precious than we make them out to be in the day-to-day tasks and busyness. When I think of you, tree, I think of how you were once a small seedling, and then a sapling, and how you just kept growing and growing and growing towards the sunlight. I want to be like you. I want to have your patience and your fortitude, your generosity and your grace.

Your final lesson to me was to focus even more of my energy on appreciating the lovely little details in my life. I loved you while you were alive, but I wish I had been even more present to your presence. I wish I had thanked you every day and marveled every day at the magic of having you in our lives, sheltering our little apartment and sharing your shade with us. You have reminded me of the fleeting nature of this life, and because of you I am hugging the things I love a little tighter, a little closer, a little fiercer. Because of you, I notice and appreciate all the other trees I come across {even though none of them are quite as beautiful as you} and because of you, I am saying prayers of gratitude for all the everyday riches in my imperfect, messy life.

Love,
Dallas

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to a tree that has been meaningful in your life.
  • Write a letter to a different object {natural or man-made} or a place that has mattered to you.
  • What is something small in your life that you can appreciate and be grateful for, right this very moment?

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

because I didn’t hit “snooze”

I almost hit “snooze” this morning.

I’ve confessed in this space before that I used to have a problem with hitting snooze. But, thanks to some reflection as part of my year of living simply, I realized that I didn’t like how snooze made me feel. I didn’t really get any extra quality sleep, and I just felt bad about myself when I finally did get out of bed… like I was already “behind” on my day. So I vowed to give up on snooze, and get out of bed when my alarm first goes off in the morning. I usually feel a little groggy when I first wake up, but by the time I’ve washed my face, put my contacts in, and downed two glasses of water, I am wide awake and ready to go!

me glasses

However, old habits can be hard to break. Even when you have some great momentum going, it can be so easy to slip right back into old patterns. Because old patterns are comfortable. They tend to feel good in the moment, even if you know they don’t make you feel your best in the long run.

This morning, I almost hit snooze. My alarm went off and I just wanted to snuggle down into the covers for five more minutes. {Which would likely lead to five more minutes… and five more minutes… and five more minutes…} However, I intentionally set my alarm for as late a time as possible for me to get out of bed and still make it to yoga class without feeling rushed. So, hitting snooze would have meant a snowball decision: five or ten or fifteen extra minutes of half-sleep, and no chance of getting to yoga on time.

In that moment, I didn’t want to go to yoga class.

But I knew that Future Me would *wish* I had gone to that yoga class.

So I threw off the covers, got out of bed, and turned off my alarm. I changed into my yoga clothes that I had laid out on my bedside chair the night before. I drank my two glasses of cold water, ate a banana, and drank some green tea.

tea saying

And I felt awake. And energized. And jazzed for my day.

In fact, I had gotten ready so quickly that I still had about twenty minutes until I needed to leave the house. I remembered a delightful podcast I listened to last week, Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette, where she talked about her realignment to how she views time, particularly small pockets of time — ten minutes, twenty minutes — that she used to think were “not enough time” to get anything worthwhile done, so she would waste them away by surfing the Internet or scrolling through her phone. But ten or twenty minutes ARE enough — for taking a walk, for reading a chapter of a book, for meditating. Inspired by that thought, I used my extra pre-yoga twenty minutes to do some journaling, and it was enough time to get down some great ideas for my novel and for future blog posts. I felt excited to come back later and write more!

I left early enough for yoga class not to feel rushed. Instead of listening to the radio during my five-minute drive, I let silence envelop the car and just listened to my breathing. To my thoughts.

Yoga class was lovely, both relaxing and invigorating. Sometimes I feel shy when I sit down on my mat before class starts, but today I mustered the effort to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice. I was reminded of the ways that little bits of small talk and smiles with strangers make us feel connected to the wider world around us. While I think of myself as a natural introvert — I recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of people I am close to — I still need to feel this connection with the broader world in order to feel my happiest.

If I had hit snooze, I would have been late to yoga class, and would have missed out on this breath of connection. Or, I might have hit snooze a couple times, and decided not to go to class at all.

peaceful ocean

My body felt so good after yoga class that I wanted to keep the momentum going. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up some organic veggies and frozen fruit and spinach, and I came home and made myself a fresh green smoothie. It was delicious. Instead of ducking my head behind my computer monitor, I chatted with my grandparents in the kitchen while I drank my smoothie. I didn’t feel at all like I was “behind schedule.” I felt overflowing, like there was time enough for everything I needed to do and wanted to do. Certainly there was ten minutes to drink my green smoothie and talk with my loved ones.

And then I washed the blender and my smoothie mug, made a fresh cup of green tea, and came to sit at my computer to type up this blog post. It is 11:00 a.m. and I am just now checking my email, and the world didn’t end. Nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a couple hours.

I feel energized and excited about my plans for the rest of the day. I feel eager to work on my novel, jazzed about my sessions with students later, and connected to the world and to myself. I feel balanced and capable. Most of all, I feel grateful for the gift of this beautiful day and this precious life.

And I feel grateful that I didn’t press “snooze.”

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

fabulous friday #48

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have some fun things on the agenda today and are enjoying the lovely spring weather!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My friends and family and all the love they bring into my life every single day. Losing Celine not only made me reflect on all the ways I am so grateful for her and how fortunate I feel that I got to be her friend — the loss has also made me more deeply appreciate all the people I love. This week specifically I am grateful for: phone calls from my parents and Greg; a Skype date with my friend Chidelia, who lives in China; a phone call with Ben {who actually met up with Greg when he was visiting NYC for a few days}; a phone call with Janet before she left for an amazing writing residency in Scotland; texts and emails with Holly; a dinner date with my sweetheart; and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Dana.

st pattys with dana

2. Later daylight hours thanks to Daylight Savings Time. There’s something about this time of year that always gives me so much energy and hopefulness. It feels like the start of new beginnings. I can feel the long summer days on the horizon. I love driving home from my tutoring appointments in the daylight and being able to watch the sunset out the window as I make dinner.

3. I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday, and it went great! I’ve been having some pain in both of my legs, and wasn’t sure what was wrong, so I went to an orthopedist who recommended PT. The physical therapist was so knowledgable, helpful, and optimistic about my recovery, which made me feel SO good! She watched me walk {apparently I have a collapsed arch, which might be at the root of my problems} and gave me some exercises to do at home with this resistance band.

physical therapy

She also gave me a deep tissue massage to loosen up the tight, painful area on both my legs, and taught me how to do an ice massage afterwards. I’m also going to order orthodics for my shoes, which I’m hopeful will help.

Have any of you done PT before? My parents both have, and it really helped both of their issues {my mom’s knee and my dad’s shoulder.} I walked away from my first appointment feeling VERY impressed, and looking forward to my appointment next week! Thanks for all of your kind words and good thoughts. 🙂

4. Last week, when I was smack in the middle of a pretty nasty head cold, Allyn cooked me dinner and rented this movie I’ve been wanting to see, titled What If? It stars Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and Zoe Kazan who you may have seen in Ruby Sparks … I just love her. Anyway, the movie was one of my favorites I’ve seen in quite a while. Cute, funny, sweet, the right amount of quirky. I’d highly recommend it for your next date night rental!

5. One of my goals for 2015 is to work on setting healthy boundaries, something I’ve never been all that great at. I thought this article by Lissa Rankin was on point: http://lissarankin.com/can-you-navigate-love-with-healthy-boundaries. For me, saying no and setting boundaries is much easier said than done, but I’m working on it!

BONUS: If you’re looking for a great veggie dinner recipe, I made these butternut squash & black bean enchiladas the other night for Allyn and I, and we both loved them. They were also inexpensive, easy to throw together, and you can make them in advance and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to bake & serve.

enchiladas

Apologies for the bad lighting in this pic… but trust me, they were delicious!

BONUS #2: Major CONGRATS to my cousin Julie who matched at UCLA to become an OB/Gyn! So proud of her {and excited she’ll be moving back to California!!}

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

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

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?

gratitude in the midst of grief

Hello, lovely people! Thank you for taking the time to send such sweet messages and words of love after my last post. It helps to write about Celine, her incredible life, my memories, our friendship; about all the ways I miss her and all the ways she impacted my life.

Her funeral was this weekend. I flew down to Los Angeles and returned to the Bay Area yesterday morning. To be honest, in many ways I was dreading Celine’s funeral. I knew that attending her funeral would make her death seem more real, and a part of me wanted to just keep living in denial, pretending that Celine is off adventuring around the world as she so loved to do. {Have you ever met a 26-year-old who has been to 37 countries??}

me and celine

It was a surreal and sad and emotional and exhausting weekend… but it was a beautiful weekend, too. In the midst of such overwhelming grief, I was not expecting to feel grateful. But I was struck by moments of stunning gratitude, like slivers of sunlight bursting down through the rainclouds.

Here are some things I am grateful for:

  • Celine was pursuing her dreams, living a life she loved. She lived with urgency and passion. She did not put off her dreams until some indeterminate future. She was not working at some miserable job she hated. She was happy.
  • As many said at her funeral, Celine lived more in her two-and-a-half decades than many people do in 80+ years. The priest asked us to think about all the things Celine WAS able to do during her lifetime, instead of focusing on what she didn’t do. I think that is good advice.

celine funeral

  • Celine’s brother Cameron, who was also in the car accident, is headed for a full recovery. He is home from the hospital and it felt like a miracle to be able to hug him at the funeral.
  • At the time of her death, Celine was having a really amazing time in India. Cameron showed us dozens of photos and videos on his phone of the two of them smiling and posing and being goofy. Celine was radiant. It was a comfort to see her so filled with joy in her final days.

celine and cameron india

  • Celine’s family has been so generous in their grieving. They are giving all of us who loved her plenty of time and space to pay our respects and say goodbye. Spending time with her family and friends, sharing stories, laughing about her zany antics, and remembering all the love she showered on the world, was exactly what my heart and soul needed.
  • Being able to spend a few days with other people who knew and love Celine felt like being able to put down a heavy backpack I hadn’t even realized I was carrying. To me, one of the hardest and strangest parts of grieving is navigating the real world — everyday tasks, errands, work duties, small talk — while within you this deep loss is throbbing, an unacknowledged wound. Surrounded by people who were also grieving Celine, it felt like we all shared the same subtext. Even when we weren’t talking about her, we were. Even when we were laughing about some random memory, underneath it we were all saying the same thing: I can’t believe she’s really gone.

joie

  • Seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time, hugging them, and crying with them, was more of a comfort than I could have imagined. I was happily surprised to see a few acquaintances from college who came to pay their respects. It felt really meaningful to see them there. Even people who did not know Celine very well were still deeply touched by her life.
  • My brother came with me to the funeral and the cemetery, and held my hand the entire time. He is my rock. The whole weekend he was sweetly, protectively attentive — for example, at the church when I was in the restroom for a little longer than normal, he asked Holly to go check on me to make sure I was okay. He is thoughtful and caring, a wonderful listener, and always there for me. I don’t know what I would do without him.

me and greg

  • I will never forget the moment I walked into the church and glimpsed Holly at the same time she turned and saw me. I just remember running to her. I was shaking as we held each other and cried.
  • The service was beautiful. Celine’s cousin Anne-marie and Holly both gave lovely readings. Celine’s friend Claire gave a stunning eulogy that captured her perfectly. The songs were perfect; I will never again hear Hallelujah without crying.
  • After the funeral, Celine’s family held a reception at their home, and towards the end a few of us made our way up to Celine’s bedroom. It felt surreal, yet peaceful, to be sitting up there among her things. So many memories! In her closet was this teal mermaid dress that I’m not sure anybody but Celine could pull off:

teal mermaid dress

  • Celine’s mom gave each of us some of her things to take back with us. I was so grateful to receive a Valentine I had given Celine freshman year of college {she kept it all these years!} and a note Holly and I wrote her during the Geology class the three of us took together junior year. Celine’s mom also gave me some gorgeous bracelets of hers and her rainbow purse that makes me smile whenever I see it.

celine purse and bracelets

  • Mostly, I keep feeling grateful that Celine and I were good. I knew how much she loved me. She knew how much I loved her. I wish we had more time together — SO much more time — but I know that more time would not have changed the essence of our friendship. I have no regrets. There were so many words as-yet-unsaid, so many stories that haven’t happened yet that I wish I could share with her… but at the same time, when you get down to what really matters, there were NO words left unsaid. My last message to Celine, about two weeks before she died, said simply: “Thinking of you. ❤ Missing you. <3” Her last words to me were: “I miss you so much!! more updates soon, love you!!”
  • The day of the funeral, my fourth-grade teacher {who is now a dear friend} sent me these words that have become a new touchstone in my faith:

Love is so much bigger than the vessels we live in

and somehow it lasts even after the vessels wear out.

ocean

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?