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.

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing year of Wooden challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

a year of Wooden: week 46

Hello there, everyone! Hope your week is going splendidly, and that you are able to take some time for yourself in the midst of the craziness of this holiday season to reflect on what matters most in your life.

We are into our final weeks of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Last week’s challenge was to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. Last week, your challenge was to rainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

After much reflection and soul-searching and self-honesty, here are the three terms I came up with for my own sense of happiness. To me, feeling happy is feeling:

  • connected
  • helpful
  • productive

For this week’s challenge, brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three terms. For example, for me, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

A quick note: I want to make sure to note the difference between happiness and pleasure. Something that makes you happy might not necessarily be 100% pleasurable as you are doing it. And that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. For example, I do not usually feel joyful as I type every word of my daily writing goal. Writing, for me, is happiness, but it is also difficult. Hard work is hard! Work is work! But the right kind of work leads to a greater sense of joy and fulfillment… the sturdy, beautiful kind of happiness that lasts.

Question for the day:

  • What are the terms that you chose for your own individual happiness?
  • What activities could you do to make you feel this way?

5 things my brother has taught me {happy birthday, greg!!}

My little brother turns 25 today!!

me and gb kids

I got home yesterday afternoon, and I am so happy I get to be home to celebrate with my fam 🙂 Last night, we had Gramps over for dinner and it was a lovely evening all around. Tonight we are going out for dinner at a restaurant {Greg’s choice!} and I just made a batch of peanut butter cup brownies for dessert.

greg and gramps

Even though he is younger than I am, my brother has always been my role model for living a fulfilling, fun, meaningful, and extraordinary life, rich with the things that truly matter. He is so giving, loving, wise, compassionate, and hilarious. He is my best friend. What a blessing it is to be his sister!

me and gb

My very first memory is the morning he was born 25 years ago today, when I was two and a half. I remember telling my mom, “Call Daddy! Call Daddy!” because my dad was at work and my mom wasn’t feeling very well. {Um, Ma, you were in labor! Haha.} Greg was born a couple weeks early so his birth came as a bit of a surprise. My family jokes that if my mom hadn’t called my dad to come home from work and take her to the hospital, I would have ended up delivering my brother in our living room — he was born that quickly!

Anyway, it makes perfect sense to me that my first memory is the morning Greg was born… because before then, I was just waiting for my best friend to come into the world ❤

me and greg summer

In honor of the amazing impact my brother has had on my life, and on countless other lives, during his quarter-century on this Earth so far, I present to you…

5 things my brother has taught me:

1. Hard work is its own reward; savor the process. Greg is an incredibly hard worker. Just one example: he made it onto the USC track team as a walk-on, and impressed everyone so much with his diligent work ethic and enthusiasm day in, day out, that he ended up being Team Captain his senior year, and an Assistant Coach the year after he graduated. He would be the first to tell you that he was far from the most naturally talented runner on the team. His consistent hard work was what made him a strong runner.

Trojan_Invite_2011

But even more than his amazing work ethic, Greg inspires me by the joy he gets not from results, but from the process of working hard on something that matters to you. When I was sloughing through the muddy middle of my novel, he wrote me this in an email:

Creativity — and all of life — sometimes is like a fallow field that looks like things are slow on the surface, but in reality all that effort is building up richly for next big explosion of energy that everyone else sees and that you’ve known is a continuation of all the consistent hard work and dedication you pour into your craft every day. Keep taking it one step at a time and don’t let any sense of rush or worry take away from the excitement of all the progress you are making on these great gifts that you have already done such work creating to this point.

2. Seize life’s adventures fearlessly. I can be a fearful person, a worrier, a homebody. Greg inspires me to move past my tendency to fret or worry, and to cultivate my sense of adventure. He makes me think of the phrase carpe diem {“Seize the day!”} or of Thoreau’s advice to “suck the marrow out of life.” He has traveled to Mali and Ghana in Africa; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Vietnam; China; Europe; and numerous cities across the U.S. — and he brings back once-in-a-lifetime stories from all his travels. I want to travel with him to Africa one day!

greg camel

3. Find joy in little moments, every day. Greg is a goofball. He makes me laugh all the time. He is the type of person who seeks out joy and creates joy, in little moments, every single day — whether that means having an impromptu dance party, or telling a funny story, or wearing a silly outfit to a football tailgate, or simply taking the time to notice and appreciate a beautiful sunset.

greg dancing julie's wedding

Greg dancing at my cousin Julie’s wedding.

4. Invest in relationships and experiences, not material things. Greg has such a wide network of friends; he is always reaching out and connecting with people. He is a great listener. He always builds people up. We talk on the phone pretty much every night, and no matter how busy he is with schoolwork or final exams, he always makes time to talk to me. He lets the people in his life know that they are important to him.

me and greg little

5. The best gifts are those you give to others. Greg is selfless, always thinking of others ahead of himself — and he has shown me that the act of giving is a beautiful gift you can give yourself. In high school he started a nonprofit organization called Give Running that has donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to disadvantaged youth around the globe. He is passionate about The Girl Effect, blogging frequently about it for the Huffington Post. For Christmas this year, he made a donation to Embrace, an organization that helps serve “preemie” babies in third-world countries, in my honor. He is so thoughtful, kind, and authentically generous. He makes me want to be a better person. He inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself.

greg with chief

Happy birthday, Gregburn! You may be taller than I am, but you will always be my little brother. I love you unconditionally!

me and gb at deck

mid-week meditation #10

Hi there, everyone! How is your day going? It’s been H-O-T here in Ventura this week — temps are up in the 80s, which feels super hot here because we don’t have air conditioning! Don’t usually need it with the cool ocean breeze and fog. I’ve been working in the dining room all day, which is the one room in our house that seems to get a bit of a breeze. Dad and I went out for lunch today — partly for a fun meal out, partly for some air conditioning! 🙂 We went to one of my favorite restaurants, a Japanese place called Kabuki. I got two sushi rolls and chowed down on the complimentary edamame. Yum!

sushi

I’m savoring these final days at home with my parents before heading back up to my life in the Bay. The rest of the afternoon was spent working on my novel, visiting my Gramps, and baking a loaf of pumpkin bread to deliver as a thank-you to the local newspaper for running a guest column I wrote a couple weeks ago.

Now Dad’s having a Guinness (he fell in love with Guinness while he and Mom were in Ireland) and I’m trying out a cider I spotted in Trader Joe’s… has anyone else tried pineapple cider?! I’ve never seen it before, so I couldn’t resist. It is a bit of a strange combination — apple-y plus tropical-y — don’t know if I’d get it again, but fun to try something new!

pineapple cider

Before I close up my computer and start prepping dinner, here’s a meditation for you:

small daily choices

Question of the evening:

  • What are small daily choices that make you feel renewed?

mid-week meditation #9

Hi there, friends! Can you believe it’s Thursday already? This week is flying by!

Here’s a meditation that seemed applicable in these late summer days, as we transition into a new season of back-to-school and new beginnings. It’s a quote from one of my favorite books of all time, The Great Gatsby.

summer quote

Questions of the morning:

  • What is your favorite memory of the summer?
  • How do you feel renewed as the seasons change?

mid-week meditation #8

Happy Wednesday, friends! I’m in the midst of a fun, hectic, enthusiastic week of teaching journalism & public speaking camp for a group of fourth- and fifth-graders. Even — especially — during these busy days, I am working to cultivate a morning routine of calm, joy and gratitude. This means getting up early enough to meditate, do a bit of yoga, eat a healthy and filling breakfast, pack a nutritious lunch, and have plenty of time to drive to work without feeling rushed. {Which also means going to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep … something that is a challenge for me, a natural night owl!}

Here’s a meditation that might be helpful for anyone else who is also trying to savor the mornings!

morning quote

Questions of the morning:

  • What is your morning routine?
  • What are the “little things” that refresh your heart?