holiday minimalism challenge

Hi guys! I hope your week is off to a marvelous start! Our little apartment is officially beginning to look like the holidays. We strung up some colorful lights, hung a wreath on the door, and even got this adorable mini Christmas tree! It’s a potted pine, so we’re planning to keep it out on our balcony after the holidays are over. It’s leaning over a little bit and we can’t seem to figure out a way to make it straight… but I think that just adds to its Charlie Brown charm, don’t you? 😉

our-first-xmas-tree

This holiday season, I’m trying out a new challenge for myself. During the span of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am aiming to get rid of one item every day. {For those of you counting, that would be 31 items in total!} During this infamously busy time of year, my minimalism challenge is making me feel energized. In a season of more-more-more, it is a way of centering and reminding myself what truly matters. It is a way for me to practice gratitude for the abundance in my life. It is a way for me to physically clear out some clutter and make some space in my life.

Plus, I love the idea of someone else being able to benefit from something I no longer use, need or want. That is why I am donating all of these items, rather than throwing anything away. However, you could also use this type of challenge to recycle paper clutter, or even to clean out your pantry/fridge!

Here is my donation tally right now:
-5 books
-1 journal
-1 ornament
-2 shirts
-1 candle
Total so far: 10 items {approximately 1/3 of the way there!}

I will keep you posted on my progress!

An Intentional Holiday Season

Allyn and I are making minimalism a cornerstone of our holiday season in other ways, too. How? By trying to make intentional decisions. I think it is a fun challenge to make do and be creative with what we already have, instead of immediately running out to buy more stuff.

Christmas Ornaments

Since this is our first Christmas together, Allyn and I did not have too many ornaments to decorate our tree. {Part of why we opted for a small tree this year!} We like to buy a Christmas ornament as a souvenir on trips we take, so we had beautiful ornaments from our summer trip to Hawaii, our honeymoon to Yosemite, and our recent Thanksgiving trip to New Orleans. We also had an ornament I bought a long time ago on a trip to Belgium, and two ornaments I ordered as Christmas gifts to myself last year: a photo ornament of me and my sweetie, and one of me, Holly and Céline from college. {Hanging this ornament on the tree made me feel a little teary. Love you and miss you, Céline!}

celine-ornament

Still, that left us with a lot of bare tree! Rather than going out and buying ornaments that were not meaningful to us, I looked around at what we had to see if I could make any. I found a few paper gift tags we had saved from Christmas gifts we received last year, of adorable elves. They made great ornaments! I also found some miniature foam surfboards that had been used as place cards at a wedding we attended — all I had to do was attach ornament hooks and up onto the tree they went. I love these as ornaments because they bring to mind my beachy hometown. We strung some Mardi Gras beads from our New Orleans trip around the tree, along with some pretty ribbon. Also, I had a couple pendant necklaces lingering in my jewelry box with broken chains that I’ve been meaning to get fixed one day. All I had to do was loop a bit of ribbon or an ornament hook through the pendants, and they morphed into lovely ornaments.

Wrapping Gifts

We are using up paper, ribbon, gift bags and tissue paper we already have {a lot of it saved from gifts we have previously received} rather than buying more wrapping supplies. It makes me happy to think of these supplies getting a “second life” rather than just being tossed into our trash can. Yes, some of the wrapping paper is a bit wrinkled, and not all of it is really holiday-themed, but in my opinion that doesn’t matter. I still think our hodge-podge gifts look pretty!

wrapped gifts recycled paper

Gifting Consumables + Experiences

We are also making an effort to gift consumables this year, such as homemade baked goods, granola, and spiced nuts. {Here is a favorite spiced nut recipe that I recently made — so yum!} One thing I love about gifting homemade consumables is that you can reuse glass jars or other containers to “wrap” them in: looks nice, costs you nothing, and is eco-friendly. Win-win-win! I personally love receiving homemade gifts because they seem extra special and filled with love. When I bake something with the intention of giving it to someone else, the entire process becomes one of intentional joy and warmth. I pour loving thoughts about the person into whatever I am making for them. It is a wonderful gratitude practice!

glass containers

Gifting experiences is another fantastic way to celebrate the holidays minimalist-style. Instead of spending our time at the mall shopping sales, Allyn and I are making an effort to spend as much time celebrating with the people we love. For example, for Christmas we are giving my grandparents a gift to the theater: we bought them tickets to see “A Christmas Carol” with us in a few weeks, an annual local performance that my Grandpap has always wanted to see but has never gotten around to before. The gift is extra-special because we get to enjoy it with them. I can’t wait!

Questions of the day:

  • How are you being intentional and slowing down this holiday season?
  • What are your favorite holiday traditions?

grief and the holidays

This has been a unique holiday season for me. It has been joyous in many ways: filled with love and laughter, delicious food and warm conversations.  More than any other year, I have savored and treasured my time with my family and dear friends.

But also, this has been the hardest holiday season for me, because I have been missing my friend Celine a lot. She used to come home to Los Angeles from Paris for the holidays, and we would “meet halfway” in Malibu for dinner. I keep catching myself thinking that I need to call her, that we need to schedule our yearly tradition. I can’t quite wrap my head around her being gone, even now, eleven months since her death.

me and celine bart station

The holidays are a complicated time. Everywhere around us, commercials and holiday tunes are telling us to be joyful, to be cheerful, that this is the most wonderful time of the year. I love the warmth and connection of the holiday season, and the messages of gratitude and love that abound during this time. {And that we should all try to continue throughout the year!} But I think it is oversimplifying and counterproductive to attempt to squeeze the holiday season into a one-size-fits-all box marked CHEER. I believe it is important to honor your feelings, all of them, by feeling them authentically. If you try to shove sadness aside or quash it, the sadness will only come back stronger. If instead you let yourself feel your sadness, breathe into it, and let it go, then you are acknowledging life’s complexity and recognizing sadness as what it is: the other side of the coin of happiness. They are both products of a beautiful thing: LOVE. And love, even in grief, is something to celebrate.

Maybe, like me, you are grieving a loved one who is no longer with us. Or maybe you are grieving a broken relationship, or a lost job, or a foreclosed home, or something else. As I have learned in grief group, grief is an interconnected web: when we lose something or someone important to us, we often feel renewed grief for past losses we have experienced. It can be painful. It can be overwhelming. But it can also be meaningful in its own way.

Here are some tips that have helped me this holiday season:

Take some quiet time for yourself. The holidays are a notoriously busy time. You have a plethora of things pulling at you, wanting your attention: presents to buy, holiday parties to attend, gatherings with relatives, baking and cooking to do, traditions to uphold, etc etc. When you are grieving, your internal well has run dry. So give yourself pockets of time amidst the craziness to fill yourself up. Curl up and read a book that nurtures your soul. Cook a simple, nourishing meal for yourself. Get a massage. Take a nap. Forgive yourself and be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t matter what you do to fill your well back up: just do something that makes you feel happy and at peace.

Connect with others who loved the person you are grieving. I always feel better after talking with my friend Holly. And this year, instead of sending my usual Christmas card to Celine, I sent one to her mom and brothers. I wrote about my favorite holiday memories of Celine, like how she taught us to string popcorn and cranberries to decorate our Christmas tree in college. If things are this difficult for me, I can’t even imagine what these weeks have been like for her family. My heart breaks just thinking about it. Writing them a note to let them know they are in my thoughts and prayers was a small gesture that brought me comfort, and I hope brought a little comfort to them, too.

all the ladies soph year

Write a letter to the person {or thing} you miss. In addition to sending a Christmas card to Celine’s family, I also wrote a card to my dear friend, just as I have done every year since we met in the college dorms. I told her what has been happening in my life, what I am excited about in the new year, and how much I miss her. Coach John Wooden used to write a letter to his late wife Nell every month after she passed, and stacked them on her pillow on their bed. I am keeping my letters to Celine in a special box on my bookshelf. Writing letters makes me feel connected to her. As my minister says in grief group: just because someone has died, does not mean our relationship with them has ended. Our relationship lives on, just in a different form.

Buy yourself a gift from the person you have lost. If they were still with you, what would they buy for you as a gift? Go buy that for yourself, wrap it up, and stick on a card from that person to you. Ever since Celine died, and especially in the past couple months, I have been feeling the urge to be more crafty. Celine was incredible at seeing the possibilities for treasure among what other people might throw away as trash. An amazing fashion designer, I also remember her making jewelry, belts, bags — she could take old pieces and make them new again. Inspired by Celine, this year I have bravely tried lots of new recipes {spaghetti squash! homemade granola! cilantro pesto!} and I have felt the urge to try crafting new pieces out of old scraps of things, like a braided rug I am sewing right now out of old T-shirt strips. I bought myself some Mod-Podge from Celine this Christmas because I want to try out some decoupage projects, and I know she would approve!

me and celine halloween

Share stories about the person {or thing} you have lost. There is so much joy in stories — they are how the past lives on in the present. However, the important thing to note about this is to be mindful about who you share your stories with. Our culture has interesting, often harmful, ways of reacting to grief — namely, expecting that people should be “over” their grief in a certain amount of time, when in reality grieving is a lifelong process. Some people might be uncomfortable with grief or not know how to react when you share a funny story about the person you miss — they might not understand how you can laugh about a person while still missing them. For me, I know that it is painful to talk about Celine with people who did not know her or know how important she was to me; I hate the feeling of her becoming a brief “cocktail party tidbit.” All it took was one experience of the other person blindly moving on to the artichoke dip while I stood there, breathless under a fresh wave of grief, for me to realize how important it is to guard my heart when it comes to Celine. Now, I only open myself up with people who make me feel safe and listened to.

Do something kind or fun or spontaneous in honor of the person you lost. Maybe this means an act of charity like volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating toys for kids in need. Or perhaps you could honor the person you are grieving by doing something zany they would do that feels out of your comfort zone: going rock-climbing or dyeing your hair or trying zumba for the first time. I am growing out my hair to donate to Locks of Love in honor of Celine, and every time I glance in the mirror and notice how long it is, I think of her and my heart fills.

me and celine

Honoring my true emotions has given this holiday season a new type of beauty for me: less shiny tinsel, and more authentic joy. Yes, I have learned that joy and grief are intertwined. My first real comprehension of loss has also meant that I understand gratitude much more deeply. Everything I hold dear is that much more precious.

fam at beach

Sending love and gratitude for all of you this holiday season, and beyond. I hope this post was helpful, and I would love to hear any of your tips in the comments section below. And I am always just an email away, if any of you are grieving and just need someone to listen. We are here for each other.

year of kindness challenge: week 50

I am a little in awe of the fact that it’s already Wednesday, and just one week until Christmas! My past couple days have flown by so fast, it feels like some calendar squares simply disappeared. Anyone else feeling this way?? 

At least my days have been jam-packed with good stuff… teaching writing workshops at local schools, long walks and catch-ups with friends, cooking dinner for my family, sorting through and delivering donated books as part of my annual Holiday Book Drive {more on that later this week}… I’ve been collapsing into bed by 10 p.m. and sleeping like a rock!  

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge was to give a warm drink to a toll-booth worker, newspaper delivery person, or your mailman/mailwoman. I brought hot chocolate to the people working the security gate in my grandparents’ neighborhood. They were so surprised and appreciative, and it made me smile the rest of the day. 

The Week 50 Kindness Challenge is to donate a toy or book to a child in need this holiday season, and/or to drop off a donation at a local animal shelter. 

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.

Have a marvelous week!
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 49 weeks!

Questions of the day:

  • How do you find zen in the midst of such a crazy-busy time of year?
  • What acts of kindness happened in your life this past week?

goals + cookie recipes for the week of 12/15

Happy Sunday! I can’t believe it’s the beginning of another week … and that Christmas is only ten days away! I hope that your holiday season has an abundance of joy and laughter, and a minimum of stress.

I’m back home with my family for the holidays and it is soooo nice! On Friday night I went with my mom to her office holiday party, and we had a blast. They set up a “casino night” and we spent a large chunk of the evening playing black jack. It was my first time playing black jack, but luckily the dealer was very sweet and gave me hints about what I should do. {Apparently that doesn’t happen in Vegas! Haha.}

me and mama xmas

I’ve been busy preparing for my cousin Julie’s bridal shower next weekend. Longtime blog readers might be experiencing deja vu: last Christmas I threw a bridal shower for Julie’s sister, my cousin Amanda. That party turned out beautifully and a lot of fun was had by all. This year, it’s Julie’s turn!

me and cuzes

The rest of the weekend has been spent running errands, wrapping presents, baking, decorating the house for Christmas, watching made-for-TV holiday movies, and goofing around with Mr. Murdog.

me and murray

Hope you’re having a productive and/or relaxing weekend! Now, on to goals …

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals for the week of 12/1:
write 15 pages of new material
prepare for Steinbeck Center reading on Wedsnesday
– exercise at least twice
– finish reading Girls in White Dresses {this book is aaaamazing!}
– order holiday cards
publicize Winter Writing Camp
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for the week of 12/15:
– write 10 pages of new material
take cookies & cards to the nursing home
– exercise at least twice
– finish reading The Tea Rose
– order holiday cards
– teach a fantastic Winter Writing Camp
– throw a wonderful bridal shower for my cousin Julie
– connect with two friends

And here are some of my favorite holiday treat recipes!
aunt elaine’s peanut butter blossoms
mom’s classic chocolate chip cookies
eggnog cookies w/buttercream frosting
gluten-free oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
gramps’ favorite lemon bars
reeses pb cup brownies
chocolate-covered popcorn
white chocolate pretzels

Questions for the day:

  • What are you thankful for this holiday season
  • What are your favorite holiday cookie recipes?
  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?

year of kindness challenge: week 48

year of kindness button

Hi everyone! Hope your week is off to a good start!

Someone gave me an article from the latest issue of O: The Oprah Magazine called “The Do-Gooder’s Guide to Better Health” that claims “practicing philanthropy is one of the surest steps you can take toward a happy, healthy life.” The article cites studies showing that acts of kindness lead to a longer lifespan, greater happiness, better pain management, and lower blood pressure. Woo-hoo!

Last week’s kindness challenge was to brighten someone else’s Thanksgiving. My family hosted a bunch of my brother’s friends from business school; most of them were far from home and had nowhere else to go. They were so grateful! I also sent cards to a dozen of my friends letting them know how thankful I am to have them in my life.

The Week 48 Kindness Challenge is to help someone put up holiday decorations, write/address holiday cards, or wrap presents. Do you know a busy parent or perhaps an elderly neighbor who could use an extra hand? My friend Jewell used to need help addressing her holiday cards because her hands shook from her medications. Another idea: go to a mall or shopping center and offer to wrap gifts for free!

xmas cards

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.

Have a joyful week!
– Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 47 weeks!

Questions of the day:

  • What acts of kindness happened in your life this past week?
  • What are your favorite ways to spread holiday cheer?

saturday upsides: reunited with my fam!

Happy Saturday, everyone! I am currently writing this late on Friday night from Mike’s parents’ house in the Chicago suburbs, but by the time you read this I will likely be in an airplane en route to Burbank, California, to be reunited with my family for the holidays!

family

I am SO excited to see them. I feel like my child-self on Christmas Eve, unable to fall asleep. I do love my life at Purdue, but it can be hard being so far away from my family. We have always been extremely close and though I do talk to them every day, as our time apart grows I find myself missing their physical presence more and more — I crave a hug from my mom; I want to see my brother’s mischievous-eyed smile; I really want to hear my dad’s laugh. I absolutely cannot wait to hug all of them in a matter of hours!

saturdayupsidesbutton

So my Saturday Upsides today, of course, is that I get to see my family. Their love and support is such a blessing in my life!

I was thinking today, as I scurried around town trying to get done what felt like the hundreds of little errands and tasks to complete in preparation for my trip, that traveling is like a lot of things in life: you have to put in a bunch of work to get to the reward. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes by John Wooden: “The journey is better than the inn.” Now, I’m not saying that waiting in line at the Post Office is better than the moment I step out into baggage claim and see my family’s smiling faces. But instead of letting stress get the best of me, I tried to appreciate the rituals of errands and packing and preparing for my trip back home as part of the journey itself. Switching up my mindset made my hectic day a whole lot more enjoyable!

What are the upsides of your lovely Saturday? Anyone else have de-stressing pre-travel tips to share?

-Dallas

thanksgiving gratitude list

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am spending the long weekend with Mike’s family up in Chicago and they have welcomed me into their household with open arms and absolutely delicious food. Especially during the holiday season, it is very hard to be so far away from my parents and Greg! Luckily I’ll get to go home for winter break and spend Christmas in Ventura with them. 🙂

Something I like to do often, but especially on Thanksgiving, is to make a “gratitude list” of all the blessings I have in my life and all the reasons I have to be thankful and happy. Often I make a mental list {it is a great way to fall asleep … counting your blessings!} but today on Thanksgiving I want to write a list down. So here it is:

my {ever-expanding!} gratitude list

  • my amazing, supportive, one-in-a-million parents and brother, and all of my terrific extended family, too!
  • my fun and thoughtful and lovely friends, near and far
  • my health {something that I didn’t used to appreciate nearly enough, but feel more and more grateful for the older I get}
  • that I always have not only enough food to eat, but also enough grocery money to buy organic fruits & veggies & dairy even though they are more expensive
  • my safe, warm, cozy apartment that is feeling more and more like home
  • my parents’ home in Ventura that will *always* feel like home and welcome me back with open arms
  • the opportunity to pursue my passions for writing and teaching as a career
  • the incredibly supportive teachers and mentors I’ve had throughout my life — from my first-grade teacher who gave my shy self confidence by casting me as the lead in our school play, to my middle school and high school teachers who encouraged my love of writing, to my teachers at USC and now at Purdue who have helped me develop my own writing voice and  nurture my own creative identity
  • my goofy dog Murray, who never fails to make me laugh with his antics and happy doggy smile
  • long walks through an autumn park or on the boardwalk by the Ventura pier
  • rain falling softly outside on a lazy Sunday
  • snuggling up on the couch with my sweetie
  • all the books I’ve devoured and all those I have stacked on my nightstand, waiting for their turn
  • old movies, especially It’s a Wonderful Life, Some Like it Hot, and It Happened One Night
  • watching Bing Crosby Christmas movies every year with my Gramps
  • warm chocolate chip cookies and a big glass of milk
  • shopping dates with my mom
  • lunch dates with my dad
  • my brunch date tradition with my brother
  • 3-hour Simone’s coffee dates with my friend Erica whenever I go home to visit
  • a hot cup of tea, an empty hour or two, and a journal or good book
  • browsing Target with my friend Holly and stocking up on Taylor Swift cards
  • sending and receiving handwritten cards from those I love
  • sunsets {and the occasional sunrises, when I’m up early enough to see them!}
  • Christmas lights twinkling cheerfully against a night sky or the snow
  • hugs and kisses and even tears saying goodbye because it’s a blessing to have so many people to love
  • being part of such a wonderful community of bloggers, and that you would spend a few minutes of your day visiting my little corner of the internet here!

Happy happy happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a blessed day with those you love!

❤ Dallas