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. ūüôā

7 things my dad has taught me:

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

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

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

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

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

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

me and daddy

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

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

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

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

me and greg shoes

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

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

me and dad

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

with my boys

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

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

Happy birthday dad

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‚ÄĒhelping¬†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‚Äôs Hygiene program); installed seven Unicef-manufactured water pumps at schools that previously had no access; built a coffee storage warehouse for the JCFC where farmers house their coffee in a safe, climate-controlled environment, which increases profits for each family; and¬†given organic-coffee training to fifteen¬†member villages for increased quality and future earning potential.

All of this because one man said no to the status quo and yes to contribution.

You can read more here.¬†Check it out — I was so inspired! And now… on to this week’s simplicity challenge!

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge¬†was to get digitally organized and simplified.¬†I’m going to be honest and admit something to you guys: my computer was a disorganized mess. I had set up file folders at some point, but many of them hadn’t been used in ages. For a while I’d been saving most documents to my Desktop, which was so cluttered with .doc files that you couldn’t even see the faces¬†of me and my brother in¬†my Desktop photo. It was overwhelming to even get started, but I told myself just to do a little bit every day and see where the end of the week got me.

Now my computer isn’t completely¬†organized, but I’d say I’m about 80% there. It is SO much better than it was before. I set up a system of file folders for different projects I’m working on, and broke up my .doc files into different categories so now I can find things easily. Speaking of which… I found a bunch of beginnings of stories and essays that I had started at one time and then forgotten about, and I’m so excited to get back to them! It felt like discovering hidden treasure.

This week’s challenge is to identify one project or task that you have been putting off, and DO it.¬†Or, if it’s a bigger project, do the first step. Often we put something off because we think it’s going to be a chore, but the irony is that it becomes so much more of a chore the longer we put it off because it continues to take up our brain space. Don’t let this task take up any more of your¬†life — get it over with¬†this week!

Questions for the morning:

  • How did¬†it go getting your computer organized?
  • What tasks do you tend to put off?

a year of living simply: week 5

Hello everyone, and happy Wednesday! Hope you are having a great week so far. My week has been a mixture of “grown-up” things like getting my tax stuff in order and scheduling doctor’s appointments and going shopping to keep my fridge stocked with veggies; and restorative time reading, journaling, talking to my family, and soaking up time with friends old and new. I also met with two wonderful women from my church to talk a bit about Celine and how much I miss her. Sometimes I feel the need to cocoon myself, but other times it just feels good to talk about her.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this last sentence of my simplicity challenge summary:¬†We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Celine’s sudden death has shifted my¬†attention to the¬†big-picture things. I’ve been asking myself:

What do I want my legacy to be?

I want to brighten the lives of other people. I want to spread joy and kindness. I want to write books and blog posts and stories and articles that make people feel comforted, supported, inspired, and understood. I want the kids I teach and tutor to feel more confident and proud of themselves. I want to plant the seeds of trees that will provide shade for future generations. I want to help causes greater than myself. I want my loved ones to *know* how much I love them, and to always feel like I have time for them. I want them to know, always, without a doubt, how important they are to me. I want my legacy to be a ray of sunshine that makes other people smile.

Last week’s challenge was to do some free-writing or journaling about your WHY for simplifying your life.

  • What do you want to make room for?
  • What do you want to get rid of {physically and emotionally}?
  • How do you want to feel?

I want to simplify my life to make room for what’s most important to me: namely, my passions and the people I love. I want to feel like I have TIME, like my days aren’t just flying by mindlessly. I want to notice and savor the everyday moments of beauty in my life. I want to feel energized and excited and FREE.

Since writing is my passion and a major vehicle I use to spread joy and connection in the world, I realized I need to set aside some time to simplify and organize the backbone of my writing life: my computer files.

This week’s challenge is to get digitally organized and simplified! Delete unnecessary files; clean out your Downloads folder; organize your Word documents into folders; clean up your Desktop.¬†Even if you’re not a writer, I’m willing to bet you¬†use your computer every day and it contains files important to your life and your dreams.

year of kindness challenge: week 14

year of kindness button

Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend? The weather has finally shifted from winter to sunny spring and I am LOVING it! Walking outdoors and soaking up the sunshine and fresh air is such a pleasure.

Speaking of spring, it seems fitting that the kindness challenge this past week was to give someone flowers. I gave flowers to two lovely people this week: my friend Shavonne, who aced her thesis defense {my defense is this Wednesday, eek!} and to the English Department Schedule Deputy Judy Ware, who is retiring this semester after many years of service. She is a really sweet lady and will certainly be missed at Purdue!

I picked up a couple pretty bouquets at the grocery store while I did my shopping for the week.

flowers

It was so much fun delivering them to Shavonne and Judy! Both were so surprised and excited to get flowers. Their faces lit up! It was the best $10 I have spent in a long time.

Judy sent me an email that afternoon:

“THANK YOU for the beautiful wishes and special card/good wishes.¬† I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.¬†Enjoy finishing your degree and your academic next steps!!!”

This week’s kindness challenge pairs nicely with spring cleaning: go through your bookshelves and box up the books you no longer need or do not plan to read again. Then donate them to your local library, Boys & Girls Club, school or homeless shelter. You could also purchase some new books to donate. A great way to get children involved in this act of kindness is to have them pick out their favorite book to donate to a child who maybe does not have many books of his or her own.

{Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may know that literacy is a cause very dear to my heart — you can learn more about my organization Write On! For Literacy here!}

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 great week!
-Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
–¬†week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
–¬†week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
–¬†week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
–¬†week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
–¬†week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
–¬†week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
–¬†week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
–¬†week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
–¬†week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
–¬†week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
–¬†week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
–¬†week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
week 13 challenge: give someone flowers

marvelous monday: making time for what you love

Happy Monday, everyone! Welcome to all the new followers/subscribers!

When I was thinking about what to write for today, I must admit I was feeling a little down about the weekend being over. It was one of those weekends that really flew by. I mentally scrolled back through the days, wondering where the time had gone. What had I done with my days off? {Not that I don’t love teaching, but still — it’s always nice to get a little break!}

Do you ever have days or weekends like that? Where it feels like a giant Hoover vacuum has invaded your life and sucked up all your time and productivity?

Not that this weekend wasn’t “productive” — I graded student papers; read a book for a lit class I’m taking; sent out a newsletter for my Write On! organization {you can subscribe here if you’re interested — it’s free and comes out every other month or so}; cleaned the bathroom and wiped down the fridge; made cilantro-honey salmon and red velvet cupcakes {recipes coming soon!} … and spent some quality movie-and-cuddle time with my sweetie.

But I still didn’t FEEL productive. Or, maybe I should say, I didn’t feel productive in a way that is hugely important to me: my writing.

When I first entered graduate school, I imagined having an infinite amount of time to write. I mean, that’s what I’m here to do — I’m getting my Master’s degree in fiction writing. You’d think all my time would be dedicated to writing fiction! And it’s true that I am extremely fortunate. I don’t have to worry about holding down a full-time job while squeezing in writing on the side. My position in the program came with a teaching position, a job I love that complements my own writing very well. Most of my homework assignments are things I would want to be doing anyway: reading books, writing stories. My biggest obligation this third-and-final year of the program is to write my Master’s thesis, in my case a novel. I have no excuse not to give writing the shining spotlight of my daily time and focus.

And yet … something I’ve learned is that no matter how much time you have to do what you really love, there are always things that will swoop in and take that time away if you let them. On the one hand, I should have no excuse not to write for hours upon hours every day; on the other hand, real life easily intrudes upon my to-do list: papers to grade, papers to write, books to review, slush-pile submissions to read for the literary magazine, emails to reply to, phone calls to return, errands to run.

It gradually dawned on me that if I don’t make writing a priority now, while my largest obligation is to get my thesis done by getting words on the page, how can I expect to make time to write after my program is over?

Simply put: how do you make time for what you love? If not now, when?

One of the greatest decisions I made for my writing life, and for my own happiness and sense of fulfillment, was when I made a promise to myself to write at least 400 words every single day, no excuses. Doesn’t matter how tired or uninspired I feel. Even if I am sick with the stomach flu I can manage to scrawl out 400 words over the course of a day and meet my commitment. I track my progress on this great, free motivational website Joe’s Goals, which may seem simple but has helped me enormously.

And you know what? Writing really has become a habit. My self-expectations have increased, so now I think of 400 words as the bare minimum. I want to write more than that each day, especially during these gloriously long summer days we’re blessed with right now. Which brings me to this weekend: yes, I wrote 400 words each day, but I still didn’t feel productive the way I hope to. I want to write more. I want to give even more time to doing what I love.

I think balance is the key, and also realizing that you’re probably never going to feel like you have enough time. There’s always going to be more that you want to do. But that’s a good thing, right? That’s part of why you love doing what you love doing so much. “Boredom” is a foreign concept when you feel full of ideas and inspiration, always wanting more time!

I have a sticky-note hanging above my desk, where I see it every day. It says “1/24.” It’s a reminder for myself that I get 24 hours every day; I owe it to myself to use at least 1 of those hours doing what I really love. For me, that means writing.

Can you carve out an hour out of your daily 24 to do what you love?

Have a marvelous week!

All best wishes,
Dallas