what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever.¬†Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. ūüėČ

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

C√©line, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

year of virtues, month five: resolution

Hi everyone!¬†Since we are already midway¬†into May {how did this happen??} I wanted to write a brief post about my focus for this month from Ben Franklin’s List of Virtues. During the month of April, focusing on industry was very helpful in moving forward on some important projects that had sort of stalled-out midway through.

  • I completed and submitted a short story that challenged me {in a good way} and that I think is one of the best pieces I have written since graduate school. It ended up being a much longer piece than I had originally envisioned, and it felt SO rewarding to complete it!
  • I also made a whole bunch of headway on the publication of Dancing With The Pen II, and organized a book launch pizza party for the Bay Area contributors.
  • And Allyn and I made lots of¬†progress in the wedding planning arena. Proof:¬†our “wedding corner” is slowly taking over our apartment!

Wedding corner

I really want to continue this momentum, so for May’s focus I decided to go with number four¬†on Ben Franklin’s list: resolution.


RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.


To me, this is a virtue that requires two steps:

  1. First, figuring out the most important things you wish do to {perform what you ought}
  2. And secondly, resolve to perform these tasks without fail {make it a habit}

May seems like the perfect month to look back at those resolutions we made in the shiny potential of January 1st and re-evaluate them. Which resolutions are working for you? Which ones are not? Are there any resolutions that you made with the best of intentions and have since let drop to the wayside? Maybe this is a good time to re-commit to those activities or goals.

At the same time,¬†you might have made some resolutions that were more based on your “fantasy self” than your real self. Gretchen Rubin talks about this on her podcast “A Little Happier.” We all have ideal versions of ourselves, but these self-images can¬†be based more on fantasy than on reality. For example, maybe you like the IDEA of being someone who does CrossFit, but in reality a long solitary run or a low-key exercise class like Zumba¬†is much more up your alley. If your resolution was to join a CrossFit gym and go three times a week, and you have yet to make much progress or have stalled out, perhaps it is because you like the idea of being “someone who does CrossFit” much more than you enjoy the actual activity of CrossFit. In that case, it may be time to tweak your resolution to fit your ACTUAL self and the activities you actually enjoy or find the most meaningful.

For my resolutions this month, I am resolving to continue my healthy habits of drinking a green smoothie every morning, going to yoga at least once a week, and working on my creative passion projects for at least half an hour first thing every morning. I am also resolving to continue last month’s momentum by completing my work on Dancing With The Pen II¬†and officially release the book into the world! I can’t wait to share it with you guys when it is available on Amazon.com. Stay tuned! ūüôā

Questions of the day:

  • What does resolution¬†look like to you?

year of virtues, month four: industry

Happy Monday, everyone! How was your weekend? I am back home from a whirlwind AWP conference in Los Angeles, where I got to attend so many helpful and thought-provoking workshops, snagged¬†a whole bunch of new books I can’t wait to read, and connected with some dear friends I had not seen in quite a while. By the end of the conference, I felt filled-to-the-brim with a strange combination of brain-dead exhaustion and recharged motivation in my writing life.

My brother, coincidentally, had to work a conference in Berkeley the same weekend, and got a couple days off work following the conference. So my parents drove up from So Cal with me and we spent three lovely days together in the Bay Area as a family. Allyn called it my “staycation” and that is exactly what it felt like — a little relaxing mini vacation right at home! It was wonderful to all be together, and we lucked out with absolutely gorgeous weather. I joked with my family that San Francisco was showing off for them, because immediately after they left, the weather turned gray and rainy! It matched my mood — I miss them! It is always hard saying goodbye.

view from coit hike

 

fam in sf 2016

Today, since we are already a week and a half into April, I wanted to write a brief post about my focus for this month from Ben Franklin’s List of Virtues. It was a bit difficult for me to choose what I wanted to focus on this month, because I am feeling a bit scattered and pulled in many different directions. Summer and our wedding are just visible on the horizon, but not close enough to touch yet. And yet at the same time, I feel like the new year just began an eye-blink ago and I have so many projects I want to make more headway on before the busy summer begins.

I decided to go with number six on Ben Franklin’s list: industry.


INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.


To me, this is a virtue that must¬†be dealt with carefully. It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s Secret of Adulthood that many things in life are good servants, but bad masters. To let industry rule your life would mean you become a productivity robot, and nobody wants that. I have written on this blog before about my quest to make time for what really matters to me and to value myself and my day not just on the number of things I check off my to-do list. I think we need to be careful with industry that it does not become a barometer of worth; that we do not multitask our lives to the detriment of deep thinking and intentional listening; that we do not speed through our days on auto-pilot, constantly rushing from here to there, constantly checking our email and social networks and newsfeeds. {After all, when Ben Franklin wrote these virtues, there were no such things as smartphones or¬†Google!}

This month, I am focusing on industry with the perspective of being employed in what is most useful to me — what I most want to make headway on in the forthcoming weeks. I have a couple big projects that I really want to move forward with and that I have not been giving the attention they deserve of late. Also, I want to make little-by-little progress on our wedding planning while we still have plenty of time until the big day. As I learned during my year of living simply, taking care of tasks far in advance takes SO much stress away!

My brother shared this graph with me that I thought was very interesting: Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix. Here is a great article explaining it in depth. Basically, “urgent” tasks mean tasks that you need to get done for someone else; “important” tasks are those that are important to YOU for achieving your larger goals.

This month — and beyond! — I want to focus more on important tasks, rather than defaulting into giving most of my time to the urgent column. And, interesting to note, in the important column Covey lists “relationship building” and “recreation” — two items definitely not on the to-do list of a productivity robot. Yes, perhaps¬†it is possible to be industrious AND have a balanced life!

Questions of the day:

  • What does industriousness look like to you?
  • What quadrant on Stephen Covey’s matrix do you spend most of your time in?

gifts from 2015

Wow, it is hard to believe we are already¬†here, the first day of 2016! For me, 2015 seemed to pass slowly and then all at once. January 26, 2015 will forever be a “before” and “after” day for me, splitting my life into two distinct periods: before I truly knew grief, and afterwards — now —¬†living with¬†the painful¬†knowledge and awareness of what real loss feels like. After my dear friend Celine died, February and March felt like wading through life underwater; time was water-logged and everything felt strange. But slowly, gradually, throughout this year I have returned to myself — albeit, a slightly different version of myself. I guess that is what it means to grow older: to be shaped by life while trying to remain true to that authentic core of your being, of your spirit.

In many ways, grief stripped away all the nonessentials of my life this past year, leaving a deeper appreciation for what truly matters: the people I love and the experiences and memories I will cherish all the rest of my days, however many remaining days I am blessed with.¬†To be sure, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I feel the full weight of gratitude to be here, witnessing the unfolding of a new year. It really is true that each day on this Earth is uncertain and precious; each hour we are given of this life¬†is a miraculous gift. I feel that so much more deeply today than I did a year ago.

Here are some of my gifts from 2015:

I got to travel to Carmel with my sweetheart to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a charming Bed & Breakfast by the seaside.

I got to travel to L.A. to watch my brother Greg’s amazing panel at USC about “The Girl Effect.” So proud of him!

greg edmonth panel

I got to travel to Pittsburgh for a big family reunion and to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

with my girls

I got to reunite with many close friends, and meet many new friends, at Celine’s Celebration of Life — which was a beautiful and healing day; sad and yet also more joyous than I could have imagined.

celine celebration group

I got to celebrate both of my boys graduating with their M.B.A. degrees: my brother from USC and my sweetheart from Presidio Graduate School. They both blow me away with their smarts, hearts, and hard work. They are now making a meaningful difference in the world: Greg at CGI America focused on early childhood education, and Allyn in the fields of sustainability and education in the Bay Area.

me and al graduation

I got to celebrate my 28th birthday with so many people I love, who made me feel very loved.

birthday cake

I got to watch my dad be inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame for his career achievements and impact as a sports columnist. What an amazing day!

I got to travel to Europe with my sweetheart and his family for two weeks! We went to Paris, Barcelona, and the Provence region of France. It was a wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming trip!

sunflowers

I got to deliver my first-ever sermon! It was such an amazing experience and my mom and dear friends came to support me. I am already looking forward to hopefully giving another sermon at my church next summer!

The Magic Thread

I got to take my sweetheart on a surprise trip to Half Moon Bay for his birthday!

half moon bay me and al

I got to travel to Lake Tahoe for the first time and see my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” produced onstage! It was a dream-come-true!

me at emerald bay

I got to travel to Cleveland for the first time to visit my dear friend Holly, and travel to NYC to visit my brother — where we were seated at THE table from one of my favorite movies, Serendipity!

serendipity table!!!

And I got to soak up lots of time this holiday season with people who mean so much to me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths¬†you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Here’s to lots of breathtaking moments in 2016!

a year of living simply: week 21

Happy Tuesday, friends! Hope your day¬†is off to a terrific¬†start! I just got home from a¬†morning yoga class and I have some editing & tutoring on the horizon. This evening, Dana and I are going to a fundraising event for my church called Taste of Walnut Creek that promises to feature lots of wonderful food vendors… I’m excited for some delicious eats! Not to mention I’m excited for some quality catch-up time with my girl.

me and dana sideboard

Before I get into this week’s year of living simply challenge, I want to send a big virtual hug and a thank you for your support of my dad’s new book¬†Strawberries in Wintertime!¬†Yesterday, his¬†Kickstarter campaign to take pre-orders was fully funded! Hooray! I am so proud and excited for him.

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge¬†was to wrangle together any gift cards you have lying around, and use at least one of them up! I must admit, the week kind of got away from me with our weekend getaway to Half Moon Bay, but I did gather together all of my half-used gift cards and take inventory. I have a few dollars left on gift cards to California Pizza Kitchen, TGI Fridays, and Applebee’s. I informed Allyn that we will be going out for dessert in the next few weeks to use them up! ūüôā

charley!

This week’s challenge is to get an emergency kit for your car if you don’t already have one.¬†I am set to do some solo driving this weekend — driving up to Lake Tahoe for the Word Wave literary event, where my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” is being performed at the Valhalla Boathouse Theatre on Saturday night! — and I realized that, other than my AAA card, I am not very prepared for any type of roadside emergency or unforeseen circumstances should they arise. So my task for the week is to get together an emergency preparedness kit for Charley before I hit the road! I found this great resource list¬†of common items you should have in a car emergency kit.

Also, I recently purchased this resqme tool after reading a story on the Peanut Butter Fingers blog about how her sister used the tool to rescue a couple who were trapped in their smoking car after a fender-bender. The tool is small enough to fit on a keychain {I stashed mine in my glove compartment} and can cut glass and cut through seatbelts. It is only about $10 on Amazon — a worthy investment!

Questions for the day:

  • What gift cards did you discover lying around?
  • Do you have an emergency kit in your car?

because I didn’t hit “snooze”

I almost hit “snooze” this morning.

I’ve confessed in this space before that I used to have a problem with hitting snooze. But, thanks to some reflection as part of my year of living simply, I realized that I didn’t like how snooze made me feel. I didn’t really get any extra quality sleep, and I just felt bad about myself when I finally did get out of bed… like I was already “behind” on my day. So I vowed to give up on snooze, and get out of bed when my alarm first goes off in the morning. I usually feel a little groggy when I first wake up, but by the time I’ve washed my face, put my contacts in, and downed two glasses of water, I am wide awake and ready to go!

me glasses

However, old habits can be hard to break. Even when you have some great momentum going, it can be so easy to slip right back into old patterns. Because old patterns are comfortable. They tend to feel good in the moment, even if you¬†know they don’t make you feel your best in the long run.

This morning, I almost hit snooze. My alarm went off and I just wanted to snuggle down into the covers for five more minutes. {Which would likely lead to five more minutes… and five more minutes… and five more minutes…} However, I intentionally set my alarm for as late a time as possible for me to get out of bed and still make it to yoga class without feeling rushed. So, hitting snooze would have meant a snowball decision: five or ten or fifteen extra minutes of half-sleep, and no chance of getting to yoga on time.

In that moment, I didn’t want to go to yoga class.

But I knew that Future Me would *wish* I had gone to that yoga class.

So I threw off the covers, got out of bed, and turned off my alarm. I changed into my yoga clothes that I had laid out on my bedside chair the night before. I drank my two glasses of cold water, ate a banana, and drank some green tea.

tea saying

And I felt awake. And energized. And jazzed for my day.

In fact, I had gotten ready so quickly that I still had about twenty minutes until I needed to leave the house. I remembered a delightful podcast I listened to last week, Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette, where she talked about her realignment to how she views time, particularly small pockets of time — ten minutes, twenty minutes — that she used to think were “not enough time” to get anything worthwhile done, so she would waste them away by surfing the Internet or scrolling through her phone. But ten or twenty minutes ARE enough — for taking a walk, for reading a chapter of a book, for meditating. Inspired by that thought, I used my extra pre-yoga twenty minutes to do some journaling, and it was enough time to get down some great ideas for my novel and for future blog posts. I felt excited to come back later and write more!

I left early enough for yoga class not to feel rushed. Instead of listening to the radio during my five-minute drive, I let silence envelop the car and just listened to my breathing. To my thoughts.

Yoga class was lovely, both relaxing and invigorating. Sometimes I feel shy when I sit down on my mat before class starts, but today I mustered the effort to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice. I was reminded of the ways that little bits of small talk and smiles with strangers make us feel connected to the wider world around us. While I think of myself as a natural introvert — I recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of people I am close to — I still need to feel this connection with¬†the broader world in order to feel my happiest.

If I had hit snooze, I would have been late to yoga class, and would have missed out on this breath of connection. Or, I might have hit snooze a couple times, and decided not to go to class at all.

peaceful ocean

My body felt so good after yoga class that I wanted to keep the momentum going. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up some organic veggies and frozen fruit and spinach, and I came home and made myself a fresh green smoothie. It was delicious. Instead of ducking my head behind my computer monitor, I chatted with my grandparents in the kitchen while I drank my smoothie. I didn’t feel at all like I was “behind schedule.” I felt overflowing, like there was time enough for everything I needed to do and wanted to do. Certainly there was ten minutes to drink my green smoothie and talk with my loved ones.

And then I washed the blender and my smoothie mug, made a fresh cup of green tea, and came to sit at my computer to type up this blog post. It is 11:00 a.m. and I am just now checking my email, and the world didn’t end. Nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a couple hours.

I feel energized and excited about my plans for the rest of the day. I feel eager to work on my novel, jazzed about my sessions with students later, and connected to the world and to myself. I feel balanced and capable. Most of all, I feel grateful for the gift of this beautiful day and this precious life.

And I feel grateful that I didn’t press “snooze.”

a year of living simply: week 20 + my dad’s new book!

Happy Tuesday, friends! Hope your morning is off to a wonderful start!

Before I get into this week’s year of living simply challenge, I want to share with you guys some exciting news: my dad is publishing a new book! Titled¬†Strawberries in Wintertime, it is a collection of essays on¬†life,¬†love, and laughter and has already been compared to Robert Fulghum’s heartwarming classic¬†All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. Topics include hellos and goodbyes; celebrating ‚Äúlasts‚ÄĚ as well as ‚Äúfirsts‚ÄĚ; old, new and rekindled friendships; childhood and fatherhood (and motherhood, too); wedding anniversaries and graduations; the magic of a jar filled with marbles and the beauty of a messy garage. Strawberries in Wintertime is scheduled for release on December 1st, right in time for the holidays. Books make terrific gifts! My dad is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to take pre-orders {and he offers some really cool perks as well, like a Skype “Meet the Author” and the opportunity to have your name in print as a sponsor of the book!}… BUT the campaign ends THIS MONDAY, October 5, and this is your only chance to order an exclusive signed First Edition of the book. So don’t delay! It’s hard to beat a signed, personalized new release hard copy¬†book from a national award-winning writer for just $25!

strawberries in wintertime

If you order a copy, let me know and I’ll put your name in a drawing to win a copy of my collection of short stories,¬†3 a.m.!

Moving along to our year of living simply challenge

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge¬†was to¬†find a creative way to repurpose or reuse something, instead of throwing it out or recycling it. I tried making granola for the first time {went with this recipe for oatmeal raisin cookie granola, minus the blackstrap molasses and with Justin’s Honey PB because my store didn’t carry¬†the Cinnamon Swirl PB listed in the recipe}…

oatmeal cookie granola

I wanted to make a special treat for my sweetheart because he recently started a new job doing fantastic work and I could not be prouder of him. He is also biking to and from work each day, which means early mornings and the need for a hearty breakfast! So I decided to surprise him with some homemade granola. I upcycled these two metal tea Harney & Sons tea tins to store the granola and keep it nice and fresh.

granola tins

granola tins

Decorated with some twine and handwritten labels, they turned out pretty dang cute!

granola tins with labels

 

This week’s challenge is to wrangle together any gift cards you have lying around, and use at least one of them up!¬†I don’t know about you, but I have at least half a dozen gift cards to various restaurants taking up space in my wallet and glove compartment, some with only a few dollars left on them… but still, a few dollars are a few dollars! It’s time to make a plan and use them up! You could also sell your unused gift cards at websites like Cardpool.

Questions for the day:

  • What did you¬†upcycle this past week?
  • Do you have a tendency to let gift cards sit around unredeemed?

a year of living simply: week 19

Hi there, everyone! I feel like it’s been a year and a half since I wrote to y’all, because this past weekend up till now was a DOOZY in my little corner of the universe. Flashback to the weekend before last, I went to the doctor for a mild infection and was put on an antibiotic, which I took twice a day. Everything seemed fine. Friday night, I still had three days left of my ten-day prescription. Allyn and I made plans to meet up with Dana and Brad for a fun evening of mini-golf. {I had purchased a Groupon for a foursome round of golf at a fun local Halloween-themed place, Ghost Golf.} I felt kind of sluggish all day and in the afternoon decided to pop over to the gym for a quick elliptical/exercise bike sesh. Maybe I just need a little perk-me-up, I thought.

As soon as I got home from the gym and showered, I knew I had made the wrong call. Now in addition to tired, I felt feverish and achey. But I didn’t want to call off our plans to meet Dana and Brad at the last minute, so I drove to Ghost Golf. When I arrived, Allyn felt my forehead and immediately confirmed that yes, I felt warm. The four of us went ahead with our round of golf and I had a great time despite feeling under-the-weather. {And I even lucked into a hole-in-one! That never happens to me!} Dana and Brad were sweet enough to let me bow out of our plans for after-golf ice cream, rain-checking for another date.

ghost golf

IMG953605

I went to bed Friday night thinking I was coming down with a virus. I hoped beyond hope I would wake up in the morning feeling better, because we had made plans months ago to attend the Renaissance Faire on Saturday to celebrate Allyn’s mom’s birthday. I had never been to a Renaissance Faire and was SO looking forward to going with Allyn’s family! We all had pirate costumes and everything. But I tossed and turned all night, feeling feverish and chilled, and in the morning I felt exhausted. I knew there was no way I could go along to the Faire. I ended up sleeping until after noon, but when I woke up I noticed I had a rash all over me. That was when I called my dad…

… and thank goodness I did! It hadn’t even occurred to me that something could be going on with the antibiotic I was taking, because I’d already been taking it for a week by that point! But Dad said, “I once had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. I think you should go to the doctor and get it checked out.”

Thankfully there is an Urgent Care clinic nearby my house that is open on weekends. I made an appointment and skedaddled over there as soon as they could take me. A doctor examined me and quickly confirmed that, yes, I am indeed allergic to the antibiotic Sulfa. Good to know!! She told me to immediately stop taking it, and that I should begin to feel better soon, though it could take up to a week for it to get out of my system. I was relieved to know what the problem was.

On Sunday, my rash got much worse. I have always had sensitive skin and have gotten a few all-body rashes before, but this one was by far the worst. It has been a long time since I have been so sick. Allyn came over and brought me popsicles and Benadryl, but the rash seemed to be getting worse, not better. So Sunday afternoon he took me back to Urgent Care. Another doctor took one look at me and said, “Oh honey, Benadryl isn’t gonna help that.” I pretty much looked like a bright red lobster! {I told Allyn that I am his lobster. Haha.}

So I got a steroid injection and a prescription of steroid pills to calm down my poor freaked-out skin. Today is the first day I don’t feel itchy! Yay! Traces of the rash are still visible, but it is much better. And I finally am beginning to feel back to my normal energy levels and normal self. I feel so grateful for “normal”!!

What I learned through this whole ordeal:

  • Allergies to antibiotics can kick in after 7-1o days, not just when you first start taking a medicine! In fact, the doctor said I could have possibly taken the whole round of this antibiotic and been fine, but then had to take it at some point in the future and been hit with an allergic reaction within the first couple of days. If you are taking a new medication and start to feel “off” or get a rash, go to your doctor!
  • Listen to your body. I am so glad I went to Urgent Care over the weekend instead of waiting until Monday to go to the doctor. If I had continued taking my antibiotic, or if I had not been able to get the steroid medicine when I did, I would have been SO much more miserable and sick than I already was.
  • Plans can be cancelled and postponed and remade. Your health is most important. I had so been looking forward to the weekend because I had all these fun plans: Ghost Golf, dessert out, the Renaissance Faire, fancy¬†dinner with Allyn’s fam at the Country Club, church community circle, double-date in the city with another couple from Allyn’s grad program… and everything except for Ghost Golf was left on the “cutting room floor” so to speak. I missed out on everything I had been so excited about! But, we were able to reschedule the most important things, and now I am able to look forward to them again. There will be another Renaissance Faire next year. I hate to think what could have happened if I had tried to push my body to do all.the.things this weekend. I think I would have simply collapsed!
  • Love is in the details. I had been looking forward to enjoying a weekend of fun activities with my sweetheart. Instead, I was feeling sick on Friday, we were apart all day Saturday, and Sunday I looked like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. No matter. Allyn came¬†over to simply sit by my side on the couch, watching golf with my grandpa and chatting with my grandma. He held my hand and kissed my forehead. He told me it was going to be okay. He refilled my water glass, brought me dry Cheerios and saltine crackers, and still looked at me as if I was beautiful, even though I was covered in a gross rash. He drove me to the Urgent Care and sat with me while they gave me a steroid injection because he knows how much I hate shots. He came with me to pick up my new prescription. In a lot of ways, I feel even closer to him after this weekend than I would have after our planned weekend of sharing all those fun activities together.

Which is all to say… I am so so so happy to be on the mend!

Moving on to our year of living simply challenge

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to examine your nighttime routine. I have been trying to get to bed earlier because I have been waking up earlier, which has been a challenge for my natural night-owl self. I’ll often find myself trying to fit in “one more thing” before I wind down for bed… and then looking at the clock and an hour has passed and I’m already past my “goal time” of falling asleep.

I’ve been trying to work on creating a relaxing nighttime routine that I will look forward to. For me, this means at least an hour before I want to fall asleep, I change into my comfy PJs and get all ready for bed: wash my face, swap out my contacts and put on my glasses, etc. Then I brew a cup of warm tea like chamomile or fall spice, look over my to-do list for the next day one more time, and climb into bed. I like to call my family to say goodnight, and then I give myself thirty minutes to an hour of reading in bed. It feels luxurious and is the perfect way for my book-loving heart to wind down after a busy day. I sometimes will watch TV, but only if I have a special show I want to watch — not just to watch mindlessly. I find that reading calms me for sleep much more than watching TV does.

When it’s time to fall asleep, I keep my phone on silent and plugged in across the room, turned face-down so that I can’t see the little blinky blue light if I get a message or an email. I also like to keep my room cool, so sometimes I sleep with the window open. This time of year, nothing says comfy to me like feeling a cool night breeze from the window and snuggling down under the covers!

This week, with my illness/allergic reaction, falling asleep was much more difficult due to my itchy rash! I found that sitting up and turning on the light and reading when I was having trouble sleeping, as opposed to tossing and turning in frustration, calmed me down and got me feeling drowsy again much more quickly. One night, I actually got a lot of great ideas for my new novel-in-progress, so I’m glad I sat up and turned on the light and wrote them down! I guess a little insomnia can sometimes be a useful thing. ūüėČ

All in all, I’m learning to wind down for the evening much earlier than I used to. Note to self: dusk doesn’t mean you’re going to be up for six more hours; sunset isn’t a signal to see how much more you can cram into the day!

dusk in key west

Dusk settling in Key West {photo from my trip there in 2013}

This week’s challenge is a simple one: find a creative way to repurpose or reuse something, instead of throwing it out or recycling it. Perhaps that means washing out that jelly jar and using it to store/organize some of your bathroom supplies. Or using that old tea tin as a planter for a windowsill herb garden. You could even wrap an empty oatmeal container in some pretty paper and use it as a gift box for homemade baked goodies! There are numerous “upcycling” ideas all over Pinterest and the Internet… just type in what you have and add “upcycle ideas” and you’ll get plenty! I look forward to hearing what you do — feel free to share in the comments!

Questions for the day:

  • What did you learn from examining your nighttime routine? Did you make any changes?
  • Have you ever been allergic to an antibiotic or other kind of medicine or food that you didn’t know about until it happened?
  • Do you have any upcycling success stories or tips to share?

a year of living simply: week 18

Hi, friends! How is your week going so far? Mine is off to a good start! I picked my sweetie up from the airport on Sunday after his “boys weekend” in San Diego with his high school buddies. I must admit, I was relieved to see him walk down the stairs to baggage claim with no cast on his arm or crutches! {Those crazy guys do a pretty intense Olympiad of sports competitions!} It was nice visiting with him Sunday night and yesterday morning before I left for tutoring commitments. This morning, I had an excellent PT session, met with my lovely friend Trish from church, ran a few errands, stopped by the gym to lift weights, and am meeting up with my dear Dana for dinner tonight after a tutoring sesh with a new client. All in all, a pretty great day!

me and dana my bday

LOVE. HER.

It’s finally cooled down a little here in California, and yesterday was the first day that sort of felt like the beginning of autumn… overcast skies and a hint of chill in the air. I’ll take it! I love the autumn.

Please send your thoughts and prayers to the victims of the horrendous wildfires sweeping across Northern California. My heart breaks watching the news footage. Sending all good wishes that the fire is under control ASAP — and that we might get some precious, precious rain to help the efforts of the firefighters!

Moving on to our year of living simply challenge

{And if you want to catch up or refresh your memory on the previous posts in the series, click on over here for the entire list.}

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to examine your morning routine, and perhaps try making some changes to see if you like what happens. During the summer, I dabbled with getting up earlier in the morning {which meant going to bed earlier, as well!} to¬†feel like I “get a jump on my day” and have some quiet time before the rest of the world awakens. I have always been a natural night owl, but I love the peace and calm of the early morning. I found that I really liked this earlier time schedule, and in general have kept my rising time earlier than it used to be: around 7 a.m. as opposed to 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. Of course, some mornings if I wake up feeling particularly tired {and I have room in my schedule} I let myself sleep in a little later. It’s important to listen to your body!

One thing I worked on this week was to stop pressing “snooze” and just GET UP. Sometime in the last couple of years, I got in the bad habit of pressing snooze multiple times each morning, and — though addictive in the moment when “just five more minutes” seemed like a dream come true — I didn’t like the tone it set for my day. I associate the “snooze” button with negative consequences: not having enough time, rushing out the door, feeling “behind” when the day has just started. Plus, I want to energetically leap into each day, excited about the projects and activities I have on the calendar.

So, this week I put a moratorium on the “snooze.” And, I learned that even when I felt a little groggy when I first turned off my alarm, once I got out of bed, washed my face, drank a glass of water, and put my contacts in, I felt energized and ready to face the day. I think I will always be one of those people who wakes up feeling a little groggy; that’s just me. It doesn’t mean I need “five more minutes” of sleep. The grogginess usually melts away within a couple minutes of getting up, before I’ve even taken my first sip of tea!

tazo pumpkin spice chai tea

When I thought about my ideal morning, I realized that I wanted a little more calm, quiet, “me” time before leaping into my day. Reading in bed for twenty minutes with my mug of tea first thing in the morning feels indulgent, like I’m on vacation — but, really, why can’t I do this every morning? Why does my routine have to be eating my bowl of oatmeal in front of my email inbox? It doesn’t. In fact, it shouldn’t. When I have a bit of¬†quiet time to journal and read¬†in bed first thing in the morning, I feel more centered and focused to dive into the day’s tasks.

I want to try expanding on this a little further and maybe doing ten minutes of yoga and/or meditation in the morning, as well, before I venture out into the world.

picnic view

I love misty Bay Area mornings like this.

This week’s challenge is to examine your nighttime routine. What are your habits at night, before you go to bed?

  • What time do you go to bed? Is it generally the same time every night, or is it scattered?
  • When do you start “winding down” before bed?
  • What are your “winding down” activities? Do you read? Watch T.V.? Play games on your smartphone?
  • Do you stay up later than you intend, or do you usually get to bed about the time you planned to?
  • How is your sleep quality? Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Do you wake up a lot during the night?
  • What is something that makes you feel relaxed? Is there a way you could fit that into your nighttime routine? What would that look like?
These questions are not meant to judge. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of them. They are simply questions for you to reflect upon as you think about your nightly¬†routine and what changes you might potentially make to improve, simplify, or streamline it. ¬†

Questions for the day:

  • What did you learn from examining your morning routine? Did you make any changes?
  • What is your nightly¬†routine? What do you like about it? What {if anything} do you wish to change?

a year of living simply: week 17

Hi, everyone! Hope you had a fun, relaxing Labor Day weekend. Mine was a nice mix of working on projects, taking long walks in the sunshine,¬†lounging with a good book, and¬†Netflixing “Orange is the New Black” {I’m a tad late¬†to the party and¬†just started watching… but I can see what all the buzz is about; that show is addicting!}

It’s hard to believe it is already September. The summer flew by! Yet also, it felt long, in a good way. My summer¬†was filled with so many experiences and big events — graduations, travel, teaching, celebrations — that looking back at the beginning of the summer seems like a long time ago. I was talking to Allyn the other day about how July 4th seems like an eternity ago, since a lot has happened in my life since then: I traveled to Chicago¬†to¬†meet up with¬†Holly {+ T.Swift in concert!};¬†went home to have a few weeks with my family; taught my Eighth Annual Summer Writing Camp; my brother moved to NYC and started his new job; I taught two weeks of Communication Academy camps; I gave my first-ever sermon at church and launched a Young Adults Community Circle; I house-sat/dog-sat for my aunt’s family for a week; I stepped out of my comfort zone and did Improv for the first time… and, I signed with an amazing literary agent {my dream agent!} to represent my novel to publishers. All in all, it’s been a very¬†busy and¬†very exciting¬†couple of months!

This photo encapsulates my summer... exhilarating, wind-swept, filled with sunshine and smiling as I just let myself go with it!

This photo encapsulates my summer: exhilarating, wind-swept, filled with sunshine and new adventures… squinting and¬†smiling as I just let myself go with it!

However, unfortunately, my year of living simply posts went on an unintentional summer hiatus. The entire blog went on a bit of a summer hiatus. At first, I was stressed about it. I felt guilty for not posting. I made lists and tried to figure out when I could wedge in the time.

But then I realized: that was exactly the opposite of what my year of living simply is intended to be.

It’s not about shoe-horning more and more stuff — even meaningful stuff you enjoy —¬†onto your daily to-do list.

It’s about letting yourself do less.

It’s not about rushing around and cramming every minute of your day with stuff.

It’s about letting go. Giving your days margins. Giving yourself grace.

summer grace

So, I gave myself margins and grace. During a crazy-busy season of my life, I let some things lay dormant. Including this blog. Including this year of living simply challenge.

In many ways, I feel like that in itself was my simplicity challenge this summer. Having the faith and the patience to let go, to set it down, and know that the time would come when I could pick it back up again.

And so. Here we are. Summer is drawing to a close, and autumn is upon us. I feel the whirlwind settling a little. I feel that anticipatory energy I always love in the autumn. The start of a brand-new school year {even though I am no longer in school, I still feel the energy!} A blank slate. A row of freshly sharpened pencils. Brand-new notebooks. A new schedule of classes with different teachers and people. {Literally or metaphorically!} Possibility, sparkling everywhere you look.

And I think it’s the perfect time to bring back my year of living simply challenge. I feel rejuvenated and ready to get back on schedule. Ready to refocus on simplifying my life and reflecting on what matters to me. I hope you’ll join me!

{And if you want to catch up or refresh your memory on the previous sixteen posts in the series, click on over here for the entire list.}

year of living simply

In honor of the back-to-school time of year, this week’s challenge is to examine your morning routine. What are your habits in the morning?

  • When your alarm goes off, do you push snooze, or do you leap out of bed?
  • Do you scramble around feeling rushed?
  • Do you never know what to wear, or wear the same outfits over and over?
  • Do you forget things at home?
  • Do you never have enough time?
  • Do you wake up feeling tired, or are you energized for the day?
These questions are not meant to judge. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of them. They are simply questions for you to reflect upon as you think about your morning routine and what changes you might potentially make to improve, simplify, or streamline it. ¬†
morning

Questions for the day:

  • How can you give yourself margins and grace in your ife today?
  • What is your morning routine? What do you like about it? What {if anything} do you wish to change?