what’s your word for the year?

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It is a brisk, clear day here in Northern California… a little break from all the rain we’ve been getting! I’ll take the rain anytime — a welcome respite from the drought we’ve been under the past several years — but it is nice to have a string of sunny days in the forecast.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday, Susan Hyatt’s weekly GO podcast, and it struck a deep chord with me. Susan’s no-nonsense words never fail to light a fire in my belly, and this episode was no exception. She was talking about setting an intention for your year that is just a single word or a short, memorable phrase. Examples might be: steady, rise, slow, patience, shine.

I love this idea because it feels both manageable and highly motivational. While I am a sucker for setting goals and taking baby steps, sometimes — especially at the beginning of the year — having a long list of goals can seem overwhelming. Setting a one-word intention is simple. It is a touchstone you can come back to, again and again, as you move through your day and week and month. Instead of a long list of goals, a one-word intention is more of a habit or a mindset: something that all of your other goals flow out from. The center of the pinwheel; the eye of the storm.

When I look back on 2016, I think a word for my year would have been CHANGE. From my personal life to the larger world, there was so much change and upheaval in 2016. For me personally, that change was wonderful and celebrated — moving in with Allyn, getting engaged, getting married. But even happy change can be stressful, and now as I take stock of where I hope 2017 leads, I find myself wanting to slow down and settle in a bit, getting comfortable in the routines of this new chapter in my life.

me-and-al-holding-hands-married

So, my word for 2017 is FOUNDATION. {Which always puts this song by Kate Nash in my head… but I digress.}

I want to work on getting the foundation of my life in order. For me, that is broken down into four main areas: my health; my relationships; my writing; my home environment.

Health

For health, when I think of foundation, I think of building a solid exercise routine and working more plants into my diet. I already take yoga class every Monday; now, I am striving to do yoga every day, even if just fifteen minutes. I am also hoping to start a routine with my hubby where we got to the gym twice a week before he heads off to work. I think this would be a really great practice for us to undertake together, and I know that doing it together will be really good for my motivation!

I also am experimenting with quitting sugar. I have been curious about this for a long time and have been wanting to try it out, but have been too afraid to take the leap. In 2017, I am bravely giving it a go. After all, I can always go back to sugar! But I want to see how my body and brain feels without it.

Relationships

My relationships are the most important thing in my life and they bring me so much happiness. I want to continue to nurture old friendships and establish new ones. In 2017, I am making time to visit my family and friends who are far away. I am also making more time for phone calls and emails to stay in touch. And, I am reaching out to fledgling friendships to help nurture these new relationships and create stronger bonds. As far as my marriage goes {hee hee, it still gives me butterflies to type those words!} Allyn and I are making time every Sunday for our “check in” with each other about how we are doing, what is on our hearts, what we might be struggling with, and what we are grateful for.

rehearsal dinner

Writing

This is a big one for me! I just returned home from a marvelous writing conference, the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway sponsored by Murphy Writing, and I feel rejuvenated and bursting with ideas for a new huge project I am embarking upon. This book scares me, but I think that just means I need to lean into it more — it scares me because it is pushing me to grow, because it feels braver and bigger than anything else I have tried to write before. Instead of worrying about how many pages I want to write each day or what writing projects I aim to complete by the end of this year, FOUNDATION reminds me to focus on the process of writing. If I make writing a part of my daily routine, then the pages will get written. I will move forward on the projects I want to complete. All I need to do is put my energy in the daily process and show up every day. That is why I am committing to spending the first hour or so of each day working on my own writing projects, whatever they may be.

Home

I have this image in my mind of what I would love my home to look like: clean, comfortable, simple, organized. I feel like I am on the road to getting there, but I am not there yet. A part of me was resigned to never quite getting there. But then I thought, “No — this is your life. You deserve to create an environment that makes you feel wholly calm and at peace. You don’t have to settle for your slightly-messy tendencies.” I was also thinking about what wonderful writer and life coach Maggie Reyes once told me: “My home is my sanctuary.” My apartment is my sanctuary as it is right this very minute, but I want to help it become even more so. To do that, my intention of “foundation” motivates me to finally go through those old papers and receipts, donate the rest of those clothes and items I do not need or want, and incorporate a more regular cleaning routine so chores do not feel so overwhelming.

bookshelves

Above my desk, I have made a sign that has my word on it. FOUNDATION. Every time I see it, I feel inspired and centered.

What will your word be for 2017? I would love to hear in the comments!

taming the excuse-monster in my mind

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently moved to a new apartment. Habits researcher and author Gretchen Rubin writes, in her book Better than Before, that an excellent time to adopt new habits is when undergoing a shift or change in your life: a break-up, a new relationship, a new job, a home renovation, etc. Moving to a new place, it turns out, is actually the #1 time to successfully adopt new habits! So I leaped upon the opportunity to try cementing some new healthy habits that I had been wanting to fully integrate into my life.

{Image source}

One of these habits is going to bed earlier, so I can wake up earlier feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Another is to focus on simplicity; I did a huge purge of clutter and papers before I moved, and I want to keep these nonessentials from slowly re-accumulating in my life, as they so often do. Also, I now begin every morning with two big glasses of water and a green smoothie. I try to write at least a couple hundred words on my creative work-in-progress each morning before I even check my email or work on projects for other people. And I am trying to set in stone a regular routine of going to the gym.

I belonged to a gym close by where I used to live, and I would go there fairly regularly, but it was never something I especially looked forward to. I could never figure out why. It was a nice gym, with lots of classes available and fancy amenities. I realize now that I did not fully feel comfortable there; the atmosphere was a bit competitive and intense, and I prefer my gym time to be low-key and low-stress. This new gym I joined by my new apartment is much less fancy, but much more my vibe: like me, the people who go there seem friendly, a little rag-tag, and much more interested in exercising for good health than for looks.

One of my favorite classes is a Monday morning gentle yoga class. The instructor is funny and upbeat, and the class always flies by and is the perfect way to ease into my week.

Lots of other people must think so, too, because the class is pretty much always filled to capacity. Classes work on a first-come, first-serve basis; when you arrive at the gym, you can ask for a pass to get into the class, and if they have any more available the person working the front desk will hand a pass to you. If not, you’re out of luck!

{Photo cred: tricsr4kidz, Flickr Creative Commons}

One week, I was a little late getting out of bed and, even thought I arrived to the gym ten minutes before class was scheduled to begin, they were all out of passes. Rats! I thought, but it was not a big deal. I stashed my yoga mat in the locker room and worked out on the elliptical machine instead.

When I was leaving, about twenty minutes before the class was scheduled to end, another woman was standing by the front desk holding a yoga mat of her own. She spotted my yoga mat and summoned me over. “Were you kicked out of the class, too?” she asked.

“Well, I wasn’t kicked out… there just wasn’t enough room when I arrived.”

This woman shook her head angrily. “It’s not fair! They should have two classes! I got here at the time the class was supposed to start, and I wasn’t able to get into the class! They kicked me out! It’s not fair!” She was like a toddler having a tantrum, blaming everyone else but herself for her predicament.

The manager behind the front desk met my eyes with a helpless expression. I realized this other yogi had probably been angrily complaining to her for the past half hour. And now she was trying to get me to gang up on the manager about the completely fair gym policy.

“It was my fault,” I said, shrugging. “I should have gotten here earlier. But I still had a great workout anyway!” And then I smiled at the manager and headed out the door. I could still hear the other woman sputtering.

This woman, with her countless loud excuses, reminded me of someone familiar: myself, at times. Especially when it comes to my BIG goals. Which, for me, pretty much all center around writing. The truth is, as much as I want to spend my days writing up a storm, on a minute-by-minute level it often feels like writing is the last thing I want to be doing. Because writing is so often difficult! It requires so much thinking and feeling, so much honesty and bravery, and so much willingness to fail, to deal with uncertainty, to feel like you have utterly no idea if what you are creating is going to ever come together at all.

Usually, I find it is especially difficult to begin. To climb back into whatever I am working on. To bridge the gap between the shining potential of the idea in my head and the stark lines of words marching imperfectly across the page. And the act of beginning is often when my excuse-laden self pops up and brightly says:


Oh, you can’t possibly write today! Look how beautiful and sunny it is outside! You don’t want to waste a day like this. Go make a picnic! Go for a hike! Now, now, now!


Oh, look how rainy and dreary it is outside. Why don’t you curl up with that new novel you’ve been wanting to read? Reading a couple chapters will be good for inspiration. Go on, just for a bit. … Oh, why not read for a bit longer? Reading is important for writing, after all.


Oh no, you woke up late! You’re completely behind schedule! No time to write today!


Oh, you woke up early! Aren’t you feeling a little groggy still? Why not get a jump on some other projects, and you can come back to your creative writing once your cup of Earl Grey has kicked in?


Shouldn’t you clean the bathroom? Wash the dishes? Put in a load of laundry? Vacuum the carpet? Your desk is looking quite messy — probably best to organize it first, before you start writing.


Don’t you have a little headache? Your back is feeling kind of sore? Maybe you’re getting sick. You should go back to bed. You should rest. Is that a pain in your gut? Maybe you should eat something. Drink something. Go put on the tea kettle. Go make a sandwich.


Oh, and you should definitely check your email and your cell phone! Can’t miss any messages! It could be something important!


Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I’ve grown to recognize the sabotaging excuse-monster in my head for what she is: afraid. She doesn’t want to sit in the discomfort. She doesn’t want to risk failure. And so she tries to veer me off course. And, on those days (thankfully, becoming rarer and rarer) when I give in and I don’t get the writing done, and I feel guilty and angry for not writing, she always pops up on those days, too. She is filled with those same excuses for why I did not put time into my most meaningful work. She always wants to blame everything else in the world but my own decisions. She is like the other woman who did not get a pass for yoga class.

She has taught me: only by taking responsibility for my own actions, can I change them. Only by recognizing when I am making excuses can I put the brakes on the excuse-train. And only by truthfully assessing my old habits can I build new, better habits.

In a recent podcast with Arch Street Press, Dr. Douglass Jackson, founder of Project C.U.R.E., says, “Figure out what gets you so excited that it gets you up out of bed, puts your feet on the floor, and you just can’t wait to get back to it.”

Writing has always been that something to me. Now, my habits are reflecting this, too.

Ever since that week when I was too late to get a pass, I arrive to yoga class half an hour early. That early, I always am able to get a pass. I walk into the yoga room and lay out my mat on the smooth wooden floor. I have my pick of places in the room. And then I go ride the exercise bike or run on the elliptical machine until it is time for class to begin. Instead of feeling guilty and upset, I feel empowered.

I think that is one of the best ways to feel in our creative lives and our work lives and our personal lives and our whole lives: empowered.

And the best part of all? It is in our power, every single day, to create that feeling for ourselves.

weekend getaway to south lake tahoe

Hello, friends! This week’s year of living simply post will be comin’ at ya tomorrow, but this morning I wanted to bring you a special recap post of my weekend in South Lake Tahoe! It was my first time there and ever since I moved to the Bay Area, people have been telling me and telling me that I needed to go. I knew it was a gorgeous place, but let me tell you — it was even more gorgeous than I was expecting!

Plus, it was the perfect time of year to go: the weather was cool in the evenings but warm during the day; the area was peaceful and not too crowded with summer or winter tourists; and the few trees in the area that were not evergreens were changing colors into beautiful yellows and oranges. And the lake absolutely shimmered, such a pure and vibrant blue.

lake tahoe

Boats on the lake!

tahoe boats

I took walks along the shoreline each day I was there. I could not get enough of this view!

lake tahoe 2

The whole reason I was invited to South Lake Tahoe was because of the inaugural WordWave Literary Festival; I was honored to win first place for drama in the playwriting competition, and the organizers of the festival put me up at the Camp Richardson Resort for three nights so I could attend rehearsals and the performance on Saturday! What an incredible experience it was to see the talented actors and director bring my words to life onstage. I can’t even adequately describe it, you guys. I just felt — still feel — filled with light and gratitude. And magic. Yes, it was an utterly magical experience.

Here is a photo of the beautiful Valhalla Boathouse Theater… it used to be an old boathouse but was renovated and turned into a theater. It is one of the coolest performance spaces I have ever seen!

valhalla theater

Backing up for a bit, on Friday night the WordWave Festival officially began with a Steampunk Ball in the woods! Do you guys know much about steampunk? I was not very well-versed in the trend but WOW, the costumes people wore were out of this world. It was explained to me as a Victorian style meets modern technology/gadgets/gears/etc. Like the Robert Downey Jr. style Sherlock Holmes. I did not have a steampunk costume but enjoyed mingling at the ball, admiring the decorations and chatting with people. I took this photo for you guys of this steampunk octopus sculpture!

steampunk octopus

On Saturday morning, I went to a relaxing gentle yoga class, walked along the water, and attended an amazing keynote speech by Pam Houston, who has long been a favorite writer of mine. {Her latest story collection, Contents May Have Shifted, is in my top five books I have read this year.} Pam talked about how being an artist is most of all about noticing things and being present to the world around you. I could not agree more! And she spoke about how telling our stories and sharing our voices is desperately important, especially to celebrate our wondrous and one-of-a-kind and precious Earth. She inspired me to use my voice to spread messages and tell stories that are deeply important to me.

contents may have shifted

Early Saturday afternoon, Allyn arrived! {He had to work Thursday and Friday.} He actually took Amtrak up so that we would only have one car and could drive back together on Sunday. Neither of us had much experience with Amtrak, but he said it was great! He took a train from Oakland to Sacramento and a bus from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe. The whole journey took about 4.5 hours, not much longer than it would have taken to drive, and both the train and the bus had wi-fi so he was able to get some work done during the journey and also just relax and enjoy the scenery. {It is a very pretty drive for the last hour or so!} I was relieved that he was on time and had such a pleasant trip. And it was sooooo nice to drive back together instead of taking separate cars on the way home!

tahoe trees

I picked Allyn up from the bus station at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, and we grabbed some sandwiches at a cute little deli and then headed to Fallen Leaf Lake, which one of the actors in my play had recommended as a gorgeous place to hike. We ate our sandwiches along the trail and explored the area for a couple hours. It was so pretty! Tall trees, a gurgling creek, and well-maintained hiking trails.

me and al tahoe

When we reached Fallen Leaf Lake, I could see why the actors were raving about it! This picture does not come close to capturing its peaceful beauty.

fallen leaf lake

Mid-afternoon, we headed back to our room, showered, and got fancied up for dinner — and for my play debut!

ready for my play!

Allyn took me out to a celebratory dinner at The Beacon Restaurant, which Dana had recommended as one of her favorite Tahoe spots! We made a reservation in advance, so we were able to snag a table out on the patio looking onto the lake as the sun began to set. It was perfect!

beacon restaurant

Oh you guys. I was a giddy bundle of nerves before the performance! But my play went wonderfully. {All three plays went wonderfully!} It was a full house and the audience was terrific, very engaged in the performances. They gasped during the surprises and laughed at the humorous lines and during the dramatic moments, you could hear a pin drop. I was so proud of the actors and grateful for the way they treated my work with such respect and enthusiasm. They brought their own artistic vision to my script and, by bringing the characters and their relationships to life, made it even better than simply my words on the page.

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

The stage right before the lights dimmed and my play began!

On Sunday, before heading home, I wanted to check out Emerald Bay, which was another “must see” spot many people told me about. Allyn and I started to drive towards Emerald Bay around 11:15 am, but the Tahoe Marathon was still going on so the road was closed until noon! We solved the problem by driving back into town and picking up some lunch to-go at a Mexican place that was recommended highly on Yelp, Jalepeno’s Taqueria. We both went with breakfast burritos, and also picked up a chocolate croissant at a bakery next-door, Don’s Cakes by the Lake. By then, it was late enough for us to drive back and get through to Emerald Bay. We ate our lunch while gazing out at this spectacular view:

emerald bay

Apparently, it is one of the most photographed spots in all of California! I can certainly see why. I could have stared out at that peaceful view for hours.

me at emerald bay

Eventually, it was time to hit the road so we would make it back home in time for dinner. It was an easy drive with just a few spots of traffic — bopping along to music and chatting with my sweetie made time pass quickly. I already am looking forward to visiting Lake Tahoe again!

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a year of living simply: week 12

Hi there, everyone! I’m back from a family reunion trip to Pittsburgh to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary! It was wonderful to spend time with my family, especially some relatives I had not seen for years and years.

3 generations

the ladies

me and grandpap

My Grandpap’s sister Muriel came — I had never met her before! She is a hoot.

mom and muriel

One day we went into Pittsburgh and had a delightful time exploring the city. We lucked out with a gorgeous sunny day!

pittsburgh

with my girls

on the incline

I’ve spent the past couple days unpacking/shopping/laundry-ing, and getting back into my normal routine. I’m finally feeling like I’m back on the right timezone! Onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to say no to something. As I mentioned, I’ve adopted this bad habit of “hedging” instead of declining outright when asked to do something I have no time or interest in. Instead, I tend to say, “Maybe” and then end up worrying about it, or sometimes just doing it because I can’t bring myself to “let down” the other person. It’s ridiculous.

This past week, I practiced flexing my “no” muscle! I’ll be honest: it was difficult. I felt a pang of worry every time I stopped myself from hedging and said, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that — I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.” Even if I wasn’t saying the words out loud but typing them in an email response, I still felt my nerves clench! But, guess what? I don’t think anyone I said, “No” to hates my guts now. I think everyone understood. In fact, I think people appreciate an honest, up-front response — it is actually much kinder to say, “No” outright than to hedge and hedge and finally flake out on someone. In turn, I don’t feel resentful of “having to do” tasks I have no interest in, and I don’t feel like I’m running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off trying to please everyone and get everything done. Now I have more energy and time for the projects and people who really matter to me.

This week’s challenge is to set aside a small block of time every day to do something you absolutely LOVE. So often, we fill our lives with so much busy-busy-busy-ness that we don’t have any time left to do those things that bring us pure pleasure. I’m not talking about being productive or getting things done; I mean those “frivolous” activities that are simply FUN. Remember back when we were kids, and “fun” wasn’t a luxury — it was a priority? When we actively made time to play? Why do we have to lose that when we become adults?

This week, spend some time thinking about activities that make you feel good — maybe it’s reading books by a certain author or in a certain genre; perhaps it is knitting or scrapbooking; or maybe simply sitting outside under you favorite tree, doing nothing but enjoying the breeze and birdsong. Make time every single day to savor what you love. Put FUN on your to-do list!

Questions for the morning:

  • What did you say, “No” to this week?
  • What is something you absolutely LOVE to do?

a year of living simply: week 11

Hello, friends! Hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. Allyn and I went into the city to a friend’s house for a brunch celebration. It was cold and rainy here yesterday morning, so we were all smiles! {We need rain badly here in California… every drop feels like a blessing!}

me and al easter

We put together an Easter basket that we brought with us to brunch. It was fun to fill the colorful plastic eggs with jelly beans and chocolates, and I enjoyed reading the cute little sayings on them: You’re a Grade A! Chicks Rule. You Crack Me Up. It was a hit at brunch, especially with the little kiddos.

easter basket

Backing up to Saturday, Allyn and I went out to dinner and saw a play in Walnut Creek. The play was called “Mirandolina!” and had been translated into English from Italian. It was a lighthearted romantic comedy and though I went into the play with high expectations {every play we have seen at this theater has been wonderful} this one exceeded my expectations!

mirandolina play

There were multiple laugh-out-loud moments, the cast was superb and had great chemistry, the set and costumes were excellent… plus this theater sells little tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream at intermission, so that is an added bonus. Overall, it was a really fun date night! I love seeing live theater and I’m so glad that Allyn enjoys going to plays with me.

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. Magazines tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” while in the meantime, the huge stack of them stresses me out. This week I took a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, and ended up unsubscribing to three of them. {Though I am keeping The New Yorker!} I am donating a bunch of New Yorkers to the high school library where Allyn’s sister Allyson is librarian… they don’t have much of a budget to spend on magazine subscriptions, so rely on donations. I’m sure many other school libraries are in the same boat, so if you have magazines to donate, you might check with your local schools!

magazines

This week’s challenge is to say no to something. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time saying the simple word, “No.” I’m worried about disappointing people or letting people down, so I’ve adopted this bad habit of “hedging” — even if I know that I absolutely do not want to do something or do not have time to commit to something, I have a hard time declining outright. Instead, I say, “Maybe” and then end up worrying about it for a while before finally getting up the nerve to opt out, or just doing it even though I don’t want to do it because I can’t bring myself to “let down” the other person. It’s so silly! Especially writing it out here, I can see how ridiculous my process is.

The older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. It is a valuable gift that passes by so quickly, and we cannot afford to waste our time doing things that are not meaningful for us simply because we’re afraid of that moment of discomfort that comes with saying, “No.” Sure, there will always be things we have to do that perhaps we aren’t thrilled about {dentist appointments, DMV renewals, household chores} but when it comes to actively committing to an activity or task, I want to be more aware of what I’m adding to my plate. I want to guard my time, so I can use it to invest in the people and projects that are most dear to my heart and most important to me.

Questions for the morning:

  • Did you get rid of any magazines this week?
  • What do you have a hard time saying no to?

a year of living simply: week 10

Hello, friends! It’s been way too long since I’ve checked in with you guys. I took an unintentional blogging break when I traveled down south to visit my brother and my parents for a long weekend. My brother organized this fantastic event about girls education for USC’s “EdMonth” and I did not want to miss it! Thanks to an inexpensive flight on Southwest, I was able to rearrange my tutoring schedule and travel to L.A. to attend. Greg is passionate about women’s rights and his enthusiasm shined throughout the evening! He recruited amazingly impressive and eloquent panelists to talk about “The Girl Effect: From Why to How.” It was such an inspiring event and I am SO proud of him for putting it all together!

greg edmonth panel

greg edmonth panel

I took advantage of being down in Southern California to visit my parents in Ventura before I headed back to the Bay. It’s always so relaxing and happy to spend time with my parents. On Sunday we went to a talk by Garth Stein, author of the wonderful book The Art of Racing in the Rain. I am fascinated to hear other writers talk about their process, and Mr. Stein was as insightful as he was humorous! I also ate way too many strawberries {Mom bought an entire flat from a local farm}, visited with Gramps, and played many rounds of fetch with crazy-eyed Mr. Mur-dog. Soaking up time with my family always makes my soul feel refreshed.

me and greg

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to get rid of some paper clutter in your life. I cleared out my box of old receipts and also organized my tutoring folder, which had become a mess of worksheets and assignments. Now I have everything organized based on age/grade level. Moving forward, my challenge will be to take a little time each week to do inventory and KEEP the folder organized. I am motivated to do so, because I feel much more prepared going into each tutoring session — I know that I will be able to find what I am looking for to engage my students!

This week’s challenge is related to paper clutter… time to tackle the magazine clutter in your life! Magazines pile up in my house so quickly, especially The New Yorker, which comes weekly. They tend to grow into a pile that I tell myself I will read “one day…” {Sound familiar to anyone else?} This week I’m going to take a hard look at my magazine subscriptions, decide which ones I don’t need to renew any longer, and donate all the magazines I honestly don’t plan on reading.

Do you have magazines to get rid of, too? Don’t just toss ’em — donate ’em! I’ve donated magazines in the past, and libraries have always been grateful to receive them. You could also consider donating magazines to nursing homes, hospitals, or community centers.

Before I go, an update: I have become a podcast junkie! I especially love This American Life, RadioLab, and Invisibilia. In the past few weeks I’ve learned about:

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites?
  • What paper clutter did you get rid of?
  • Do you subscribe to magazines?
20150326_203634

My new teaching mantra!

a year of living simply: week 9

Happy St. Patty’s Day, friends! Hope you are wearing green today so you don’t get pinched! 🙂 I’m excited to get together with Dana tonight to continue our tradition {started last year} of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with homemade Irish coffees, created by the talented Dana herself. I’m really looking forward to seeing her and catching up!

Photo from our St. Patty's date last year!

Photo from our St. Patty’s date last year!

Before heading over to Dana’s this evening, my plans for the day include a few hours of tutoring, making headway on a copyediting project, and some festive baking! I’m going to attempt to make snickerdoodles with green sprinkles mixed into the cinnamon-sugar topping. We’ll see how they turn out!

Now, onto the simplicity…

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to do something to simplify or improve your commute. I did a couple things that were SO simple, but that have improved my car time a great deal!

1. The first thing I did was to clean out all the miscellaneous items and trash old Larabar wrappers that had accumulated in the backseat of poor Charley, my PriusC. I was amazed at the difference it made! Even though I hardly ever use the backseat to transport people, glimpsing a clean car as I climb into the driver’s seat just makes me feel good, like I’ve got my life in order. Combined with my new “arrive everywhere five minutes early” habit, my drive time has never been so stress-free! It’s crazy what a difference a few minutes can make.

2. I started listening to podcasts while I drive. I love music, but I was getting tired of my CDs and the same old radio tunes. Dana told me about a podcast she listened to at the end of last year called Serial, and after listening to the first episode I was immediately hooked. I stopped by the Verizon store and bought an inexpensive auxiliary cable so I can listen to my phone through my car’s speakers; all I have to do is load up the podcast, click “play” and I’m set to go! {Apologies if my excitement is lame — I’ve never really stored music on my phone, so this is a new experience for me!}

Listening to podcasts during my car time has opened up a whole new world for me. I love learning and I love podcasts, but I can’t ever seem to find the time to listen to many — that is, until now! Twenty minutes in the car here and fifteen minutes in the car there really adds up. I’ve finished all twelve episodes of Serial and today I started listening to This American Life. Now I actually find myself looking forward to my car time instead of being annoyed by my commute! If you have any podcasts to recommend, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

charley!

This week’s challenge is to get rid of some paper clutter in your life. How you interpret this is up to you! Perhaps you want to sort through/get rid of one of the paper piles on your desk. Or maybe clean out your desk drawer filled with old receipts. Paper is personally one of my major clutter weaknessnes. I’m planning to attack a certain shelf in my closet where all the pieces of paper I don’t know what to do with tend to congregate in a big tall lilting stack.

Before I go, a couple updates:

  • This month my friend Julie is participating in The Minimalism Game {hosted by The Minimalists} and invited me to play along! The game is to get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second day, three things on the third day, etc. I’m doing a slightly less intense version where I am trying to get rid of one thing every day in March. So far I’ve donated 8 books, 3 magazines, 2 shirts, 1 sweater, and recycled 2 boxes I was hanging onto in my closet for I have no idea what reason. Not sure yet what I’m getting rid of today, but it will be something!
  • A few weeks ago I said that I wanted to continue arriving everywhere a few minutes early, and I’m happy to report the routine is still going strong! Setting my clock three minutes early was a BIG help {I usually forget it is early} and, generally, I’ve gotten into the habit of getting ready to leave about ten minutes before I *think* I need to start getting ready to leave. I’m feeling so much less rushed in general, that I’m definitely planning to hang onto this habit!

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites?
  • What brightens up your commute?

a year of living simply: week 8

Hi there, everyone! Hope your week is off to a great start. I had a nice day yesterday… before tutoring, I met up with a sweet woman from my church who has been checking up on me since Celine died. She is a wonderful listener and a very warm person, and she brought me this beautiful Calla Lily as a little surprise. So thoughtful! When she had to leave, I stayed at the cafe for another thirty minutes or so, reading and sipping on an Earl Gray tea latte called “London fog” that was absolutely delicious.

calla lily

My grief process has been filled with shock, disbelief, sadness and anger, and yet I also feel intensely aware of all the loving people I am so fortunate to have in my life, who have taken care of me and checked up on me and sent me nice cards and notes and text messages. My profound grief is inextricably linked with profound gratitude.

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to be five minutes early to every appointment you have. As I mentioned last week, while I always have the best intentions to be on time early, I had a hard time actually getting out the door when I planned. After some reflection, I realized this was due to my impulse to try to squeeze in “one more thing” before I left the house, and also my tendency to underestimate how much time I will need to get ready, make breakfast, etc.

This week, I did a few things that all combined to helping me actually arrive not just on time, but EARLY, to my various appointments and responsibilities–even during my crazy-busy Saturday, and even with some unplanned traffic.

  • I set the clock in my car three minutes fast {and am trying to forget that it is fast and act like it is the correct time!}
  • When I determined what time I would need to leave the house to get somewhere on time, I set my “goal time” to leave a full ten minutes before the actual time I needed to leave. That way, even if I was running five minutes late… I was still five minutes early.
  • Instead of trying to cram in “one more thing” I forced myself to step away from the computer and get ready to leave. I realized that I used to neglect to build in time for little things I need to do before hitting the road: brushing my teeth, filling my water bottle, and going to the restroom. These things only take a couple minutes, but still–that’s a couple minutes I need to build into my schedule so I can leave on time!

This week’s challenge is to do something to simplify or improve your commute. I am fortunate in that I don’t have to drive to work each morning and home each evening in rush hour traffic, but between driving to teach and tutor — not to mention to see my sweetheart or meet up with Dana — I do spend quite a bit of time in the car.

charley!

My poor PriusC Charley can quickly become a bit of mess, especially the back seat. I usually just drive myself, and hardly ever have passengers in the back, so it is mostly used to store various things I am taking somewhere or bringing home… and a few things that I just haven’t bothered to do anything with. So this week, in addition to thinking up ways to make my driving time a bit more fun, I am also going to simplify my car environment and get rid of the nonessential clutter!

A timely reminder from my Yogi green tea bag! Happiness comes from being contented with what you have.

A timely reminder from my Yogi green tea bag! Happiness comes from being content with what you have, rather than always wanting more.

Bonus challenge: this month my friend Julie is participating in The Minimalism Game {hosted by The Minimalists} and invited me to play along! The game is to get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second day, three things on the third day, etc. I’m doing a slightly less intense version where I am trying to get rid of one thing every day in March. We’d love for you to join us!

Questions for the morning:

  • What helps you leave the house/arrive to things on time?
  • What brightens up your commute?

fabulous friday #47

Happy Friday, friends!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. I was feeling really sad earlier this week about Celine… just missing her a lot. My sweetheart surprised me with beautiful flowers and took me out to dinner. He is simply the best.

flowers from allyn

2. Speaking of flowers… the amaryllis that Allyn’s stepmom Laurel gave me three weeks ago is finally blooming! It’s so pretty. And I’m thrilled that I’ve kept it alive and haven’t accidentally killed it! {I don’t have the greenest thumb…}

amaryllis

3. One of the little girls I tutor is selling Girl Scout cookies, so I bought a few boxes from her… and she delivered them to me in the sweetest decorated bag. How cute this this?

decorated heart bag

On the subject of Girl Scouts, Holly reminded me of something really awesome that Celine used to do: when she saw Girl Scouts selling cookies at a table, she would buy a box of cookies and then GIVE the cookies to the Girl Scouts so they could enjoy them while they worked. Such a simple, thoughtful act of kindness that brings SO much excitement and happiness to the girls! It is also the perfect solution for those times you want to support the Girl Scouts, but don’t particularly want a bunch of cookies hanging around your pantry.

20150227_121147

4. My thoughtful friends Shane and Lauren sent me cards this week. Always brightens my day to receive love in the mail!

wild things card

5. In the mail this week I also received copies of North Dakota Quarterly, a beautiful literary journal. I am honored to have my work published in the current issue, 80.2. You can read my short story online here.

north dakota quarterly

On my agenda for the weekend: tonight Allyn and I are going to dinner and to a play — a production of Part I of Angels in America, a powerful play I read and loved in college. I’ve never seen it onstage and am very much looking forward to it! Tomorrow, I’m teaching all day and then in the evening Allyn and I are meeting up for a double-date with Dana and Brad at this new-ish adult arcade place called Plank that looks really fun. I’m excited!

Should be a great weekend. 🙂 Hope yours is wonderful, too! Have fun and be safe out there, everyone!

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

a year of living simply: week 7

Hello, friends! I’m coming at you a little late with this week’s year of living simply post… I can’t believe it’s already Thursday! I meant to post yesterday, but it was a busy busy day. Tutoring, teaching for Communication Academy, and then last night I went to see my former Purdue professors, Porter Shreve and Bich Minh Nguyen, give a reading at San Jose State. It was wonderful to see them and they both did a terrific job reading from their books.

porter and bich's books

Moving onto living simply… here are a couple simplicity-themed blog posts that really resonated with me this week:

year of living simply

Last week’s challenge was to identify one project or task that you have been putting off, and DO it — or, if it’s a bigger project, do the first step. The goal was to get this task over with and not let it take up any more of your life!

One project I FINALLY DID this week {after transferring it from one to-do list to the next for the past three weeks… does anyone else do that?} was get my application for a renewed passport in the mail. It wasn’t too time-consuming, but did require filling out forms online, printing these forms, taking a new passport picture, and waiting in line at the post office. It feels really great to not have this task taking up any more of my brain space!

passport

This reminded me of something my brother and I have talked about before: how much less stressful tasks are when you do them way in advance of deadlines. Even though getting my passport renewed was a bit of a pain, I still have plenty of time before it expires, so I didn’t feel stressed about it. In fact, I felt like I was “on top of things” for getting it done so far in advance, so this task actually boosted my self-confidence. On the other hand, it would have been enormously stressful had I waited until the last minute {plus I would have needed to pay more for expedited shipping!}

I’m trying to give myself time and space to complete tasks ahead of deadlines, in all areas of my life.

Speaking of giving yourself time… this week’s challenge is to be five minutes early to every appointment you have, whether that is work, a lunch date with a friend, a doctor’s appointment, whatever! My sweetheart is really really good at this. He is always early, and it is one of the first things I noticed about him; being early for things shows his respect and consideration for other people’s time and commitments. Dana is excellent at this, too! Whenever we meet up, I always know I can count on her to be there at the time we’ve set.

Then there’s me. I have the best intentions, but it seems like I’m always headed out the door five or ten minutes later than I planned to. As someone who is perpetually trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before I leave, this week’s challenge is a really important one for me. We’ll see how I do!

Questions for the morning:

  • What task did you finally get done this week?
  • Do you tend to run late, or are you an early-arriver?