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?

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

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When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

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Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

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When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

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Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

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

my valentine’s weekend


Hello, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful Presidents’ Day! In honor of our past presidents, here is a link I came across with some truly inspiring quotes: 50 Greatest Presidential Quotes of All Time.

I also hope you had a love-filled {all kinds of love, from friendship to pet-love to romantic love} Valentine’s Day! My minister gave an insightful sermon about the many forms of love in our lives that we should celebrate, rather than only focusing on romantic love. I could not agree more! She also touched upon The 5 Love Languages, a subject I find quite fascinating. You can watch her sermon on YouTube here.

My Valentine’s Day was not just limited to a day, but encompassed the whole weekend! Here are some snapshots:

My sweetie and I ordered Blue Apron for the first time, and received our first delivery on Friday night. We had heard many good things about this meal/cooking service and thought we would try it out for ourselves! We ended up making all three meals in three straight days, for dinner on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night. I was blown away by how easy it was, and how absolutely delicious all the meals turned out! Each night Allyn and I would look at each other across the dinner table in disbelief: We just made this?! Really?! I also feel like the recipes taught us some new cooking tips that we can use in lots of future recipes of our own! We are definitely Blue Apron converts now. 🙂

Friday night's dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Friday night’s dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Saturday morning, I woke up with the urge to bake. So I whipped up these easy + healthy apple oatmeal muffins, along with a note: MUFFINS FOR MY STUDMUFFIN. I came across this idea on Pinterest {the wedding-planning frenzy has begun!} and thought it was too cute, so I couldn’t resist doing it for my studmuffin. 😉

apple oatmeal muffins

After enjoying a couple muffins for breakfast warm from the oven, I headed out for a quick tutoring session, and when I returned home my sweetie surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers!

Valentine flowers

I spent most of the rest of the day obsessively reading THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN… have any of you guys read this book? Allyn’s sister loaned it to me and I started it on Friday night, and could.not.put.it.down alllll weekend… I finished it on Sunday afternoon! Very suspenseful and full of twists and turns.

girl on train book

Saturday night we made another Blue Apron meal and I had to continue our Valentine’s tradition of red velvet crinkle cookies! YUM. These are so festive and super easy to make {besides the batter turning your hands bright red!} 😉

red velvet crinkle cookies

On Sunday, Allyn came with me to church to announce our engagement news during the “joys and sorrows” part of the service. It was so wonderful to share our happiness with the congregation! Everyone was so warm and joyful, and it warmed my heart.

We stopped by my grandparents’ after church to say hi, and I was delighted when my aunts and cousins surprised us and came by for lunch, too! We hadn’t seen them for a while and it was so fun to chat and share stories. Grandma busted out some of the wedding photo albums from when my aunts got married, and there was much laughter while looking through them. {’80s fashion out in full force!} My grandma then disappeared for a little while into her bedroom and emerged holding her own wedding dress from 60+ years ago! It was a goosebumps-inducing sight. The dress’s beautiful lace is still preserved quite well. It was quite a special moment!

My grandparents also surprised me with “engagement flowers”… our apartment is now bursting with flowers and I love it!

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When we got home, Allyn and I got some work done for a little bit, and then he asked, “Do you want to go mini-golfing?” There is a very cute course less than a mile from our new apartment, where Allyn and his family have gone many times. It was a beautiful evening so we walked over to Golfland and played 18 holes. There were many families and couples out and the atmosphere reminded me of summertime. I played pretty well, but Allyn absolutely rocked it. He got THREE hole-in-ones! How is that even possible?! Needless to say, he beat me handily.

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mini golf

When we got home our stomachs were growling, so we made our final Blue Apron meal of the batch: seared chicken with mashed potatoes and maple-glazed carrots. It was both of our favorite one from the bunch {and all of them were delicious!}

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valentines dinner

It was the perfect ending to a truly lovely weekend!

Questions of the day:

  • What was the highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?
  • What is your Love Language?

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.

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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

goals + recipes for the week of 3/22

Hi, everyone! Hope your weekend is winding up great.

I had a busy day at church serving as Worship Associate with a special guest minister, Jason Shelton, who just so happens to be a minister at Holly’s church in Nashville! I actually saw him leading the choir when I went to a church service with Holly during my last visit. It was such a nice coincidence to have him visiting my church and it made me feel closer to Holly in a small way. I miss her a lot!

Jason Shelton is a super talented composer and musician, and there was lots of fantastic music during both services today. The theme of today’s worship was “music, change, the old and the new” and I maaaaay have written my Call to Worship about Taylor Swift. I was a little nervous about it, but the writing came straight from my heart and felt so appropriate to the theme. Happily, I discovered there are other T.Swift fans in the congregation {including a very sweet group of seventy-year-old women who came up to me afterwards} and everyone applauded at the end of my Call to Worship! #mychurchrocks

with allyson pirates

Backing up to Saturday, we celebrated Allyn’s sister Allyson’s birthday last night with a pirate-themed murder-mystery party! My guess about the murderer was completely off, as was most everyone else’s, but Allyson used her excellent sleuthing skills and solved the case. I could tell she really enjoyed her party, which made me happy because she is such an amazing person. I hope the party was a small way to show her how very loved she is! Also, check out the red beard on Allyn {aka Captain Redbeard}… it totally stole the show, haha.

allyn redbeard

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from last time:
– copyedit through Chapter 8 of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend
– participate in The Minimalist Challenge
connect with two friends
finish reading The Autograph Man

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish final read-through of client’s manuscript
– finish editing manuscript for a friend {this got pushed to the back-burner with other projects, but I really want to finish it this week!}
– do yoga two times & PT exercises daily
– connect with two friends
– finish reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
green goddess hummus via Cookie + Kate
spring panzanella salad via Two Peas and Their Pod
orange chicken tofu via Detoxinista & The Pajama Chef
easy chickpea salad via Food Friends
bunny bait via The Pajama Chef
– my own potato, sausage & veggie bake

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?

MPM-Spring
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

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

learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn’t just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.