the magic of finishing what you started

Hi everyone! It feels good to be back in this space. I did not intend to miss my post on Tuesday—I was so busy writing something else, that I did not have time to write a blog post here. But what happened on Tuesday spawned the idea for today’s post, so in a way everything is connected.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember that I’ve been working on a new novel. In fact, a key cornerstone of my word of the year—FOUNDATION—has been vowing to make time each day for writing projects that nourish me: this year, my goal was to finish my new novel manuscript. Back in January, the Word document on my computer contained nothing more than a title, a handful of scenes, and a burgeoning sense of great possibility.

The idea for this novel was birthed last summer when I took a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii for the first time. I fell in love with the island and soaked up many new experiences, like snorkeling with manta rays and hiking waterfalls. When I returned home from my trip, I jotted down a few ideas for a novel that took place in Hawaii. But then, as life tends to do, it got busy. That was an especially hectic time in my life. I got married and honeymooned. I developed and began teaching a weekly creative writing class for high school students. I helped students brainstorm and edit their college essays—my workload in the fall always tends to pick up for that reason. Allyn and I navigated our first holiday season as a married couple, balancing time with our two families.

The novel idea sat on my computer in a Word document, twiddling its thumbs.

In January, I felt burned out and exhausted. I had been so consumed with my work as a writing teacher and editor and coach, helping other people bring their beautiful words to life, that I had neglected to carve out and guard time for my own creative spirit—and, thus, I felt depleted. I decided that 2017 would be different. I read a lot of articles on setting boundaries, recommitted to work-life balance, and made a promise to myself that my mornings would be for writing. My own writing. I knew that I would be a happier and better teacher for others when I was making sure to give time to myself.

In January, I attended a wonderful writing conference to work on a separate novel idea. I still do like that idea, and I might return to it in the future. But my characters in Hawaii would not leave me alone. This idea kept pushing its way to the forefront of my mind, like a rude child who refused to be ignored.

Does that ever happen to you, with ideas? One thing I have learned is that ideas may behave like children, but you do not have to treat them as such. You do not have to teach them to be patient and wait their turn. If you have an idea that keeps “cutting in line” so to speak, begging for your attention, poking and prodding you all day and refusing to leave the back of your mind—you must pay attention. That is the idea you should pursue. No matter if other, less vibrant or less exciting ideas have been lingering around the corners of your mind for a long time. Life is short, and we will not have time for all of our brilliant ideas. We need to give time to the ones that make us come alive.

So it was with my novel idea. When I returned from the writers conference at the end of January, I kept slogging away for a week or so on the other novel that I had been working on. But my brain kept drifting to Hawaii. Eventually, I gave in. Reluctant {and feeling slightly guilty} to give up the other one, I told myself that I would work on BOTH projects simultaneously. Perhaps some writers can do that. But I have a hard time holding together two expansive, spilling-over, messy novels in my head at the same time. Perhaps some writers birth neater, tidier novels than I do. Mine are always a chaotic overflow. Trying to keep on top of two volcanoes at once was not sustainable.

And so, before too long, I was working solely on my insistent novel idea. My subconscious was living in Hawaii. I was fully invested. I was excited. Actually, more than excited—I was obsessed with my idea.

I think that is a good rule of thumb about whether you should pursue an idea. Are you obsessed with it?

I began riding along the path I had chosen. Nearly always, I begin new fiction projects by thinking about the characters. Their voices came out onto the page in quick bursts, but I still did not know them very well. I still had many questions. This was the fourth novel manuscript I was embarking upon, and the beginning—while exhilarating—is always the scariest part for me. I have some writer friends who love the beginning of a new project. They find energy from the huge wide-open landscape of blank pages before them. For me, those blank pages cause anxiety. At the beginning of a novel, I feel like I am diving into a huge body of water, tentatively beginning to swim to the other shore. At this point, I cannot even glimpse the other shore that I am heading towards. There is only mist and water as far as I can see. Who knows what I will find underneath the surface. There is no other way to go but forward, and so I start to swim. I start to write. Stroke by stroke, keystroke by keystroke. I know that if I put in the work, eventually, I will reach the other side.

This novel progressed much more quickly, and more joyfully, than my previous three novel manuscripts. Some might say it is because I am “getting the hang of” writing a novel, although in my experience every novel is different. I don’t think writing a novel is a formula you ever truly “get down.” Each novel is a whole new animal, a whole new experience—and, for me at least, that is part of the fun!

This one went so much faster—six months from start to finish, as opposed to a year spent meandering around trying to find a storyline and write the very rough draft of my thesis in grad school, and two-plus years drafting my other novels. It was also a much more enjoyable and less angsty process. I believe this is for two reasons. One, I have wholeheartedly embraced the advice that novelist Elizabeth Berg gave me many years ago at a writing conference: “First, please yourself.” Unlike grad school when I was writing a novel to impress my thesis committee, or in college when I was writing a novel hoping to become A Famous Author, now I write simply to please myself. I follow my own internal compass—especially during the drafting phase. Of course, I still hope to eventually get published and please readers. And I know that my writing is far from perfect and that editors, now that I have completed the first draft, are invaluable gifts. But I believe it stifles the creative process to think about any of those things when you are birthing your story.

The second reason this novel was different from any I had written before is that I truly committed to my schedule of writing time. For the past six months, I have been immersed in the story, thinking about it all the time both consciously and subconsciously, because I wrote at least a couple hundred words five days a week. “Work on novel” was the most important thing on my daily To Do List. I treated my creative work with respect. And my idea responded generously. There were parts of the novel that were more difficult to write than others—I always feel stuck in the “muddy middle”—but I never struggled with writer’s block. I always had a sense of where I was going, and new ideas and connections were sparked constantly. Our creative brains are so incredible, once we give them our time and attention and let them do their thing.

Which brings us to Tuesday. I was getting very close to finishing the first draft of my novel. I had written the ending already, and just had a few scenes I needed to finish up. It felt like a puzzle with only two or three patches of blank space left to fill in.

I woke up on Tuesday morning with a searingly clear thought: “Today is the day. Today I am going to finish my novel.”

I don’t know why the thought struck or where it came from. I don’t know why it felt so necessary to finish that day as opposed to later in the week or next week. But it did. I felt like my creative subconscious had sent me a mission.

I didn’t have any teaching appointments scheduled that day. I had emails and grading to do, but that could wait until later. I made myself a mug of tea, sat down at my computer, and dove in.

I wish I could fully describe to you the magic of that day. It felt like getting a “second wind” and sprinting the last mile of a marathon. It was like when you are reading a book you love, and you speed through the final pages because you are so excited to find out what happens. I knew what was going to happen—I was writing it, after all—but at the same time there was still this miraculous sense of discovery. My characters fully came alive. They leapt off the page. By noon, I had written more than 3,000 words. I had to break for lunch because my hand was sore from typing.

I could have stopped there. I knew I could always come back to the novel the next day. I could finish later. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t stay away. I dove back in and kept typing.

I finished at 4:43pm. I texted my family and sweetie and shared the news. My final word count for that day was close to 5,000 words, or about twenty pages double-spaced. I don’t think I’ve ever written that much in a single day. If you had asked me on Monday, I probably would have told you there was no way I could do that.

{My sweetie left a note for me on our kitchen bulletin board.}

It’s funny. I spent the whole day sitting by myself in front of a computer. But I didn’t feel alone at all. I felt like I spent the whole day in Hawaii with these two people I had come to know so well over the past six months. That final sprint to the finish felt like a last hurrah with them. It was perfect.

It was 4:45 pm. I sat down on the couch. I felt so many things. I felt sad to say goodbye to my characters. I felt exhilarated and exhausted. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace that I had made good on my promise, to my characters and to myself. I had finished telling their story. I had stayed with them until the end.

There is such profound magic in finishing what we begin. In staying true to our promises. In following through with our ideas. No matter what eventually happens with this novel—no matter whether it eventually gets published and sells thousands of copies, or never leaves the hard drive of my own computer—I gave a huge gift to myself when I typed THE END on page 256 on Tuesday. I felt such extreme satisfaction and pride in myself. I had said I would do it. And I did it.

When we finish what we start, we build confidence in ourselves. That confidence keeps growing and growing. We begin pushing ourselves further. We wonder what else we might be able to start and finish. The limits of our world expand and, eventually, fall away. Our pride and confidence and imagination become limitless.

I still have a lot of work and editing to do on my Hawaii novel. But I’m already excited to start a new novel manuscript. I can’t wait to see what my creative spirit comes up with next!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • What is a project you have started but petered out on? How would it feel to actually finish? What are some steps you could take to work your way back into this project?
  • Write about a time you finished something you had been working on for a while. What did you do to celebrate? What did it feel like to finally finish?
  • Set a timer for five minutes and jot down a list of every creative idea that flits into your mind. These could be future projects, hobbies, things you want to pursue in your personal life, trips you want to take. Write them down. Which ones jump out at you? Which ones light you up with sparks?

must be nice…

The other day, while waiting in line at the grocery store, I overheard a comment about a TV show host that caught my attention.

“Must be nice,” the person said. “Getting paid that much to just work a couple hours a day.”

I am obviously not a TV host, but still this comment made me bristle. Because I recognized the inherent criticism in these words: the idea that the value of one’s work is dependent on the amount of time one puts in, and furthermore that all the behind-the-scenes work somehow doesn’t “count.”

All of our jobs have behind-the-scenes work; but I think we as a society tend to recognize this work more in some jobs than we do others. When we watch a Broadway play, we understand that the actors don’t just come onstage and perform and that is their entire job—we know that there are many, many hours of rehearsal behind each glittery performance. When we hire someone to remodel our kitchen, we “count” the work it takes them to draw up the plans. When someone clocks into work, especially a 9-5 job with traditional hours, we generally think of their behind-the-scenes work—all the emails and meetings and billing and drudgery—as part of that work time. We measure it and count it and value it. All of it.

But what about when someone’s job has less clearly defined parameters? Someone whose “working hours” in the public eye might not include the entire scope of their job? One example that springs immediately to my mind are teachers. “Must be nice,” I have heard people say about the teaching profession. “Get off work at 3pm and then have the entire summer off.” I think statements like these are ludicrous. My friends who are teachers, including my aunt and my sister-in-law, are some of the hardest-working people I know who care immensely about their jobs. My sister-in-law might leave school property at 4pm, but more often than not she goes home and plans lessons until late at night. She is there for her students before school, after school, during lunch, and she regularly goes above-and-beyond planning field trips and interactive learning events for them.

Plus, beyond all the hours great teachers put in “behind the scenes,” they are such treasures because they make such a difference! I have been so fortunate that I can point to a dozen teachers who have had a profound impact on my life, who I still think of often to this day. Teachers are educating our future. Why do we, as a society, not value their work more? Why do we write them off with, “Must be nice…”?

Let’s stop doing this. Let’s stop writing each other off. 

Perhaps it’s a grass-is-always greener situation. Just as we should not compare our insides to other people’s outsides, we should be careful not to compare the insides of our jobs with the outsides of other people’s jobs. For example, my dad was a sports columnist for many years {he is now a general interest columnist and also writes books and magazine articles} and people often remarked to him how lucky he was to “get paid for watching sports.” While he was fortunate to have a job he was passionate about, watching a sports event in order to write about it for the newspaper is entirely different from watching a sports event as a fan. He was working. Taking notes, conducting interviews, shaping and writing his column during the game, having to go back and erase and change it based on the outcome, and then having to bang it out and file in time for the next day’s paper to be printed. Dad used to joke that the best type of game as a fan—the nail-biting, triple-overtime, down-to-the-wire thriller—was the worst type of game as a sports columnist, because you had no idea until the final buzzer what the outcome would be. You pretty much had to write TWO columns, one for each outcome, because there would never be enough time to write the entire thing after the game ended before your deadline. It would be easy for people to look at my dad’s career and think, “Must be nice…” But they had no idea all of the “behind the scenes” work his job entailed.

The reason that I think this “must be nice” mindset is dangerous is because it isn’t just fair to the people we are undervaluing: it also isn’t fair to ourselves. This mindset puts us in the realm of “victim” and ignores the drudgery and busywork and unglamorous parts that are present in pretty much every job. Susan Hyatt writes about this very eloquently in her blog post/podcast “The Parts You Don’t See.”

Furthermore, this mindset takes away our power rather than empowering us. It pretends that other people have it better than we do, easier than we do, cushier than we do. It does not acknowledge all the hard work they put in to get where they are, and also undermines our own efforts to work hard and advance in our careers. When you accomplish your big career goals, do you want someone looking at you and saying that you are so lucky to be where you are? No! It’s not darn luck—it took years of busting your butt!

When you feel yourself slipping into the defeatist perspective that other people have it easier than you do, I challenge you to take a step back and think about all the hard work it took for them to get where they are. Then challenge yourself to focus on your own hard work to accomplishing your own goals. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Cultivate a mindset of gratitude. Think about it. What makes you more motivated: feeling jealous of other people’s lives, or feeling grateful for all the beauty and blessings in your own life? I know for me, the answer is easy. Gratitude wins by a landslide every time.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some free-writing:

  • What are the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of your job that other people might not recognize?
  • Write about a time you felt valued, or undervalued. What was your reaction?
  • What is your “dream job”? Why?
  • Are there any professions you envy? What do you envy about them? What hard or unglamorous work might also be wrapped up in these jobs?
  • What do you love about your current job, right now, in this moment?

fabulous friday #50

Aaaaaand just like that, it’s the weekend! It is a warm one around here and we are all trying to stay cool, and also soaking up some gorgeous sunshine outdoors. I get to meet up with this pretty lady in a few hours for dinner.

me and dana sideboard

So excited to catch up with her! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My favorite dessert of late: organic vanilla greek yogurt + fruit {raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are my faves!} + mini chocolate chips.

yogurt dessert

2. My wonderful minister gave me a copy of this little book, which takes its title from a beautiful Robert Frost Poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

nothing gold can stay

I’ve been reading through the short essays in this book when I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep at night, and it has been a source of comfort.

3. Last weekend I drove to Marcus Books in Oakland to attend a talk by Tavis Smiley about his new book chronicling his 20+ year friendship with Maya Angelou, My Journey With Maya. Tavis’s talk was filled with humor, wisdom, and his trademark insight. He is one of my role models! And I am savoring this book. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy — I think it would make the perfect Mother’s Day or graduation gift!

my journey with maya

I also loved these beautiful murals on the outside walls of Marcus Books:

marcus books

marcus books 2

4. My friend Jess sent me this lovely ring and a nice card in the mail, out of the blue! It was really sweet and made my day. It’s an infinity ring, symbolizing the everlasting bonds of friendship. She sent them to our friendship group from college, as a way of honoring Celine.

infinity ring

5. This *free* April reflection worksheet courtesy of Nicole at Life Less BS. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to April and hello to May! Nicole never fails to make me feel inspired and ready to tackle my goals and BIG dreams for my life.

Questions for the evening:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?

fabulous friday #49

Hi, friends, and happy weekend! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. This movie: Hank & Asha. My brother sent me a link to it after he watched it on AmazonPrime, and I watched it earlier this week. I was hooked from the first five minutes! It’s a beautiful, unconventional love story told solely through video messages the two characters send to each other. I would definitely recommend checking it out!

2. On the topic of entertainment, I’ve found a new TV show that I’m working my way through… Manhattan Love Story! Does anyone else watch this one? It’s a new show in its first season and I’ve been watching it from the beginning on Hulu. I was missing my love-story sitcom ever since “A to Z” bit the dust {you’ll always have a place in my heart, Andrew + Zelda!} and Manhattan Love Story fills this void perfectly. Fingers crossed this one sticks around!

3. I’ve tried out some new recipes that turned out pretty well this week: an Italian chicken-and-peppers quinoa bowl that I’ll share with you soon; a veggie butternut squash chili {similar to this recipe but with squash subbed for the ground turkey and black beans subbed for the kidney beans, and quinoa added}; and a raspberry-apple cobbler, similar to this one but using raspberries and raspberry preserves instead of pumpkin butter. It was delicious served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top!

raspberry crumble

4. Thanks to The Literary Nest for including my story “The Man Who Lives In My Shower” in their debut issue! This story originally appeared in Zahir: a journal of speculative fiction back in 2010, and it’s wonderful to see it get some renewed attention. You can read it here.

5. This quote I rediscovered today through Timehop:

“Always remember that striving and struggling precede success, even in the dictionary.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Questions for the evening:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?

a year of Wooden: week 3

My thoughts & prayers are with the Purdue community… there was a shooting at the university early today. Crazy to think that this time last year I would have been right there on campus. And I do have many friends who are still there. Please send your good thoughts.

Coach Wooden was also a Purdue alum, graduating in 1932 with a degree in English. He helped lead the Boilermakers to the National Championship and was the first player ever to be named a three-time consensus All-American. While at Purdue he was nicknamed “The Indiana Rubber Man” because he was always diving onto the hard court after the ball. The West Lafayette community treasures Coach Wooden — I spotted photos of him and framed Pyramids of Success in countless restaurants and businesses there.

a year of wooden

This year I am doing “a year of Wooden” following the teachings of Coach John Wooden, and in particular his 7-Point Creed. I’m beginning the year with the Creed’s first item:

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.

This past week I read Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, written by Coach Wooden with Steve Jamison. I have read this book many times, and each time I learn something new. I love how it is written in brief sections so you can pick it up and read one in a few short minutes. Each section feels like a meditation or prayer or poem — a great way to begin or end your day with a little thought and reflection. When I read this book, I feel like Coach is speaking personally to me, sharing anecdotes and philosophies from his life. This is a book that grows with you. Whenever I read it, I always come away feeling refreshed and inspired.

For this week, I’ll be reading Coach Wooden’s children’s book, Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. I think grown-ups will enjoy this easy and fun read, too! It’s perfect for the child in all of us. Better yet, read this book to a child in your life and have a conversation with him or her about the true meaning of success. Here’s a little about the book:

Inch and Miles have one last assignment before summer vacation begins. Their wise teacher, Mr. Wooden, has asked them the meaning of success. Using a magic silver whistle, Inch and Miles set out on a journey to discover the blocks of the Pyramid of Success and learn how to try 100 percent to be their personal best.

I’d also like to give a shout out to Harper For Kids, a really neat nonprofit organization that uses Inch and Miles as a teaching tool to change young kids’ lives! Learn more about their programs here.

Looking forward to hearing your comments about the book next week!

Question of the day:

  • What were your favorite books as a child?

mt. whitney wednesday: the descent

Hi everyone! This post is part of my series the Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the earlier post in the series, you can read them here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, July 26, 6:37 p.m.

My legs are aching and shaking. My hiking boots seem made of lead. My shoulders need an hour massage and my neck needs acupuncture treatment. My feet feel like I am walking barefoot on hot blacktop. Every step is a challenge.

And yet I feel wonderful. For now, at least, none of the pain matters. We have made it back down to Whitney Portal, to the beginning – and end – of the trail. Our journey has come full circle. We did it. We really did it!

The descent felt longer than the trip up – even though it was two hours shorter – probably because we didn’t have the anticipation and excitement of going up. My goal was to reach the summit – I didn’t even allow myself to think about the 11 miles I had to hike back down the mountain.

After five hours of hiking down, when we were so close to the end and yet still somehow so far away; when we could see the tiny distant parking lot of Whitney Portal where our car with the nice cushioned seats was waiting for us and it seemed if only we had longer arms we could just reach down through the trees and touch it; when I had been awake for fifteen hours and hiking for eleven, and I just wanted to collapse in the middle of the trail and go to sleep; it was then I started to wish we were finished already.

But the trip down was great in its own way. I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery, and revel in the feeling of accomplishment.  Before too long we reached the half-mile mark we had hiked to yesterday, and before much longer we could see the path winding down to the parking lot below us.

Striding down that last step of the trail, I felt like an astronaut taking her first step back on Earth after a trip to the moon. I had actually made it to the top of Whitney and back again. And I have pictures for proof! I can’t wait to get the film developed and show my friends. Mom thankfully saved a few shots and a fellow hiker took our picture by the trailhead, and we bought some postcards and souvenir T-shirts from the nearby Mt. Whitney store. Other hikers smiled at us wearily with looks that said, “Congratulations!” and we smiled back, “You too!” Sinking down into the front seat of the car, I had never felt so tired and yet so happy at the same time. Mom said she felt the same way after childbirth.

As we drove away, winding down the narrow road, I looked back through the car window at the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States with the same awe and reverence I felt when I saw it for the first time. It is hard to believe that just a few hours ago, I was up at the top of that mountain. It was like a whole different world, like a dream. A dream that came true.

day before hike day

Sunday, July 27, Early

We said farewell to Lone Pine this morning and arrived back home this afternoon. It was fun driving past mountain after mountain and being able to say, “We climbed higher than that mountain! And that one! And that one!”

I slept for much of the car ride home, even though the first thing I did last night after taking a long, hot shower and wolfing down three slices of extra cheesy pizza was conk out the minute my head hit the pillow. Usually I have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms, but not last night! I guess hiking twenty-two miles is a good cure for insomnia.

It was wonderful to arrive home, with a “CONGRATULATIONS!” banner on the front door and my dad and brother waiting inside. Yet a part of me misses the wild beauty and freedom of the mountains, the quaint little Lone Pine diners, even the John Wayne memorabilia.

I brought down from Mount Whitney’s summit a small granite stone, a keepsake reminder of something less tangible that I also brought with me: a strengthened belief in myself and the confidence I can face my fears and accomplish whatever I set my mind to. It is a lesson I will carry with me, wherever my travels take me next. Even back at sea level, I still feel like I’m on top of the world.

whitney mountains

year of kindness challenge: week 26

year of kindness button

Happy Monday! This week marks the half-way point for our Year of Kindness Challenge! Can you believe it?? How is the challenge progressing for you? Any neat stories or insights? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

This past week, my entire family was filled with immense gratitude and awe over the kindness of our friends, family, and strangers — my dad’s Kickstarter project to fund the publication of his new book Wooden & Me reached its full funding goal!! Thanks to all of you for your encouraging words and support. I could not be more proud or thrilled for my pops! The book is now scheduled to be released later this summer. More info is available on my dad’s website. He was also a guest last week on the TV show Sports Central! Here’s a photo my brother snapped of him with the two hosts, Kristine Leahy and Gary Miller:

dad sports central

So cool! The project was a blessing in so many ways and reminded me again and again of how fortunate we are to share this world with such big-hearted, thoughtful people. We were astounded by how many people reached out to my dad and our family with amazing kindness and generosity.

This week I also came across this post by my blogger friend Heather at For The Love of Kale, titled Kindness is Love in Action! I loved this post and I think you will, too: http://fortheloveofkale.com/2013/06/kindness-is-love-in-action/

Last week’s Kindness Challenge came from my lovely blogger friend Ashley at A Happy Lass {if you haven’t checked out her blog, you should hop on over!} and it was to do something kind for people riding public transportation. I left bus tokens at my city’s big public transport center, and I also put change in parking meters. Hopefully it brightened a few people’s days!

The Week 26 Kindness Challenge is to volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry. 

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 wonderful 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
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
– week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet
– week 17 challenge: pick up litter/trash
– week 18 challenge: write a kind note to a mom figure in your life
– week 19 challenge: leave an extra-generous tip
– week 20 challenge: donate blood/join bone marrow registry
– week 21 challenge: visit a cemetery and pay respect
– week 22 challenge: practice a little patience
– week 23 challenge: call 3 loved ones on the phone
– week 24 challenge: do something kind for a senior citizen
week 25 challenge: pay for someone’s public transportation

a simple, successful bridal shower!

Yesterday afternoon, I was so excited and honored to host a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda! We were born only three months apart and went all through school together, from pre-school through college. She is one of my closest friends and I am so happy for her and her fiancee, Justin. They are so cute together and I know they make each other very happy.

me and amanda

In elementary school, we started calling each other “cuz” {short for cousin} and the nickname has stuck!
She will always be my “cuz.”

My Gramps generously let us use his beautiful, large living room to host the shower. {Having a lot of space was a necessity, as we had more than 20 attendees!} Can you spot him peeking out in the pic below, preparing to make his escape before the twenty giggly, wedding-giddy ladies showed up? Haha.

living room shower

We set enough chairs around the room so that everyone would have a place to sit, but also tried to keep the room open to encourage guests to walk around and mingle.

And we designated an area by the fireplace for guests to set down their gifts for the bride-to-be:

gifts

* decorations *

Amanda’s favorite color is pink and her wedding isn’t until June, so even though we held the shower right before Christmas, we went for a summery pink-and-white theme instead of having a Christmas-themed shower.

  • Fresh flowers really brighten up a room!
  • Dress up a plain tablecloth with colorful streamers and bright napkins.
  • Use cups to corral forks, knives, spoons, and toothpicks.

table set

* food *

We went with a simple veggie tray and some h’orderves. The real stand-out were the gorgeous cupcakes, made by one of my mom’s friends:

cupcakes

She’s a professional cake decorator; if you wanted to make homemade desserts, here are a couple of my tried-and-true recipes:
red velvet cupcakes with coconut cream-cheese frosting
carrot cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting

For drinks we did mimosas, red & white wine, soda and water. And of course coffee with dessert!

* games *

Amanda is a competitive person and specifically requested that we play some party games! After doing a little research for ideas, I settled upon two games: Pictionary using wedding-themed phrases, and a “Newlywed” style game to see how well Amanda could guess her fiancee’s answers to a series of questions.

Both games were a big hit, but they did require a bit of preparation. Here are the phrases we used for Pictionary:

  • To Have and To Hold
  • Happily Ever After
  • Just Married
  • I Do
  • First Dance
  • Bridezilla
  • Father of the Bride
  • Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride
  • Tossing the Bouquet
  • Bridal Shower
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Bachelorette Party
  • Tying the Knot
  • Wedding Cake
  • Wedding Bells
  • Going to the Chapel
  • Flower Girl
  • Ring Bearer
  • Best Man
  • Maid of Honor
  • Honeymoon

The Q-&-A game was an idea I saw on the always-wonderful blog Peanut Butter Fingers. Here’s how it worked: a couple months ago, I sent a list of questions to Amanda’s fiancee to answer about her, himself and their relationship. Then I wrote out these questions and his answers out on pieces of paper and made them into a book. I used a small, inexpensive photo album and cut each piece of paper to 4×6 inches to fit perfectly in each slot. Then I decorated the pages with colorful stickers and markers.

bridal question book

question book pages

Here is a full list of the questions I asked the groom-to-be {feel free to add or subtract to fit your needs!}

  • When and where was your first kiss with the bride-to-be?
  • Where was your first date with the bride-to-be?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be’s favorite gift is from you?
  • What is the one item the bride-to-be cannot not live without?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s dream job?
  • If the bride-to-be could move anywhere without having to worry about a job or family, where would it be?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s most obnoxious habit?
  • What is your most obnoxious habit?
  • What turns the bride-to-be off the most about a man?
  • What turns you off the most about a woman?
  • What do you think is the bride-to-be’s favorite memory of your relationship?
  • What is your favorite memory of your relationship with the bride-to-be?
  • What does the bride-to-be picture when she looks into the future?
  • What do you picture when you look into the future?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be loves most about you?
  • What do you love the most about the bride-to-be?
  • What is a big dream of the bride-to-be’s?
  • What is a big dream of yours?
  • What is one thing the bride-to-be will never forget that you did for/said to her?
  • When does the bride-to-be want to have kids?
  • How many kids does the bride-to-be want to have?
  • How many kids do you want to have?
  • If the bride-to-be were an animal, what type of animal would she be and why?
  • If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be and why?

To make it into a game, we asked every attendee to guess the number of questions Amanda would get right. Then we passed the book around the room, taking turns reading out questions and keeping track of how many of Justin’s answers Amanda guessed right. The trick, of course, is that the “right” answer wasn’t always what was true for her, but what Justin thought was true for her. She had to try to think like him, which is the fun part! This game certainly evoked lots of laughter. After we made it through the entire book, we tallied up the number of correct answers and the two attendees with the closest guesses won prizes.

* party favors *

party favors

We found these cute scented candles and thought they would make the perfect party favors! To make them festive and pink, we just wrapped them in a sheet of tissue paper {folded in half} and tied with ribbon.

candle party favors

Here they are all lined up and ready to go for the party!

party favors

The bridal shower was a blast and I think Amanda had a really fun time! I snapped pictures throughout the afternoon that I’m going to print up and slip into a pink photo album for Amanda as a little post-shower gift, so she can look back and remember the day!

shower picture

amanda friends

me and cuzes
It was a simple, successful shower! Have any of you hosted a bridal shower before? What are your favorite party-hosting tips or shower games?

* This post is linked up at Fine Linen & Purple!

newbutton

school paper organization

Happy Wednesday! Hope you’re having a great week! It’s been sunny and gorgeous here. I have been eating lunch outside whenever possible. There’s a grassy quad outside of Heavilon Hall, the main academic building for the English department where I spend most of my time, and it’s so nice to sit under the trees, soaking up the warm sunshine. Hard to believe it will all be covered in snow in a few months! As a California transplant, that is one thing I still can’t get used to — the extreme change in seasons. When it’s summer, I can’t imagine it ever getting cold. When it’s winter, it seems like summer will never come again!

{Or maybe I just need to stop being so dramatic…} 😉

At the beginning of a new school year, I always start off with such great organization intentions. I’ll buy a new binder or notebook. I’ll print out my schedule of where I need to be and when. I’ll redouble my efforts to keep a daily planner. {Something I tend to be good at for a while, and then forget to write things down for a few weeks and get off-routine. Does that happen to any of you guys?}

Organization is certainly important to being a successful student, and it has become extra-important for me since I’ve started teaching. I want to model good organization habits for my students. In previous years I’ve never been supremely disorganized — in fact, from the outside, it probably looks like I have everything together pretty well. {At least, I hope my students think so!} But it’s been something I’ve wanted to get an even better handle on. I hate carting around old papers I no longer need. I hate having to rifle through papers to find a handout for a student who was absent. I hate that sinking-stomach feeling when I realized I didn’t make copies of an assignment sheet I’d been planning to go over in class that day. Etc, etc, etc …

In previous semesters teaching, I tried to use a 3-ring binder to organize everything. It worked pretty well, but was a little bulky and cumbersome to carry around, and the cover started to fall off after about a year. It could also be a little tedious to have to 3-hole punch all my papers, and as the semester progressed I would always accumulate a pile of papers hanging out in the front pocket that I hadn’t gotten around to 3-hole punching and organizing into the proper divider.

This year, I decided to try a slightly new tactic and use an accordian file folder instead of a binder to organize my teaching papers:

I found this one in the $1 section of Target. Look familiar? Yep, it’s the same style I used to organize my stationary stash, only this one is clear instead of blue. I like that it’s made of a durable-feeling plastic, has an easy-to-use elastic clasp, and folds up pretty narrowly to easily slide into my bookbag.

I am teaching two classes this semester, Freshman Composition and Professional Writing. Most of the assignments and grading for Professional Writing are done online through a course website, so I only needed to use one section of the accordian folder for that course. I put that section in the back since I teach Professional Writing directly after I teach Freshman Composition. The rest of the file folder I used for my Freshman Composition course. I organized my papers as follows:

– First section: Attendance sheet, class calendar, and handouts for the day.

– Second section: Copies for the upcoming week.

– Third section: Papers to pass back.

– Fourth section: Papers to grade.

– Fifth section: Professional Writing.

This new system is working really well for me so far! It’s forced me to purge all my unnecessary & old papers, stay organized week-by-week, and keep everything in one place. And it’s easy to carry around with me, allowing me to get a lot of grading and responding to student work done in small snippets of time throughout the day. I find it a lot less overwhelming to grade in little-by-little chunks instead of in one big block of time on the weekend.

How are you getting organized this school year? What helps you stick with an organization system? I’d love to hear your tips for organizing the tons of papers that inevitably pile up during the school year!

Always,
Dallas

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-Time spent: 15 minutes
-Cost: $1