Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: Year in Review- Make It Happen

I learned the importance of happiness in 2011.

Yet it was only a few weeks before the year started that my sister passed away. The last thing in the world that I felt was happy. And, I knew any joy I may feel in the future would not be complete because I wouldn’t get to share it with her. On the other hand, I would have been doing her a huge disservice if I didn’t try to be happy. I’ve learned over the years how resilient the human spirit is in the face of sadness and devastation. So, to honor Charmaine, I set out to be happy.

I’m fond of lists, of setting goals and resolutions. But I wanted to stop planning too much and to start doing. “Make It Happen” was the year’s theme and the key to my happiness. I was going for my dreams.

Spoiler alert: I’m still not a successful published writer of children’s books. Sometimes the road to success is long but at least I know where I’m supposed to be going. I’m going to travel on and enjoy the journey.

I did take baby steps in fulfilling that particular dream by enrolling in a couple of writing classes. I got to know the character for my picture book series better and I can’t wait for you guys to meet him soon. The classes were such positive experiences that it motivated me to continue taking college courses- even if they aren’t for writing- just to continue learning.

I continued to immerse myself in Portland’s literary scene- and the Book World in general. I won a contest for Wordstock. I know it was just for a button but I’ll take any win I can get. I met one of my favorite writers ever- Jasper Fforde- who proved to be as hilarious as I thought he would be. Libraries continued to be great sources of both information and entertainment- from Bollywood dancing during a multicultural presentation to eating hot dogs and cracker jacks after an opening reception for a traveling exhibition on baseball.

Volunteering has become a big part of my life since moving to Portland. I was able to explore different projects yet be more involved in the causes important to me- namely the ones promoting literacy in people’s lives.

I also set monthly challenges throughout the year as a fun way to keep myself accountable for the things I set out to do- Spring Into Shape, The Incredible Lightness of Being, and Step Up, just to name a few. They really worked and I think it motivated others to do the same.

I did things I wanted to do (enjoying festive moments throughout the year)- and things I didn’t realize I wanted to do (tangoing in the park). I got to explore Portland- and Oregon- and appreciate the quirkiness and wonderfulness of where I lived.

In late October, my dad passed away. We hadn’t really been close over the years. But the more I heard stories about him and how he lived his life, I realized we had a lot of things in common. I was my father’s son despite not having a relationship with him besides the occasional phone call.

The deaths in my family made me appreciate life even more and taught me how important it was to nurture the relationships I had. Everything I had been doing took on another dimension. Taking care of myself (the monthly challenges). Volunteering (because now I was doing it in memory of them as much I was for myself and helping out others). Going for my dreams. Creating moments with family and friends. If it weren’t for my efforts in seeking out happiness and choosing to be happy, I don’t think I would have been able to bounce back as quickly as I have.

I feel much more confident in going after what I want. At the same time, I know I’m still a work in progress. I’m so ready for whatever happens in 2012 (and beyond). I look forward to the future with all the happiness it has to offer.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Step Up Challenge Write Up

Now that October has come and gone, I can say with certainty I did well with my Step Up challenge. One of the reasons for its success was probably due to reading “The Happiness Project” (Gretchen Rubin) while it was going on. Like “Delivering Happiness” (Tony Hseih) in January when I was planning out my resolutions for the year ahead and “The Art of Happiness” (Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler) during my Incredible Lightness of Being challenge, it’s great when the perfect book comes along during a time when I was able to fully appreciate what it had to say. These books helped me put things in perspective.

Goals: Start keeping and filling up a notebook for one month. Do 30 minutes of focused writing every day.
A single-subject notebook (or even just a notepad) should be on every writer’s must have list. The goal of filling one up during a course of a month is very doable with focused and/or creative writing. It also provides a sense of accomplishment when you see how many words you wrote.

Goals: Write a review for every book read. Read one new author in the A to Z Children’s Picture Book Series Challenge.
It was fun to figure out what to read, especially for the A to Z CPBS challenge. Taking time to reflect on what I liked and didn’t like about a book was a good exercise- and very helpful as an aspiring writer.

Goals: Lose 5 pounds. Exercise 5X/week including 2X/wk in the fitness center. No Spending Days 4X/wk. Limit eating out to 2X/wk. Vegetarian Days 3X/wk. No Food Court or Fast Food restaurant except Subway.
What you get in life is partly due to the decisions you make, a fact I was constantly made aware of every time I was on the elliptical. Finding time to go to the fitness center (or actually just exercising) was kind of a hassle but it always felt good afterwards. Deciding what to eat (or not) and what to buy (or not) reminded me I had choices in life- and a responsibility to take care of myself physically and financially. Bringing lunch to work instead of eating out or skipping on Big Macs and Quarter Pounders were easier to do when thought about in those ways. Most weeks, I was able to do more that the minimum. The last week of October was kind of crazy and I missed out on my Vegetarian goal by one day! And, I did end up getting a bubble tea drink at a mall so I guess I didn’t meet that goal either. But, surprisingly, I’m fine with it.

Goals: Cook something using fresh ingredients. Maintain blogs.
These were the only two I didn’t accomplish. The first one failed because there really was no reason or incentive for me to follow through with it. I may attempt this goal again at a later date but I’m also fine not knowing how to cook anything beyond canned soup or instant noodles.

Fall Cleaning. It may not have been to the extent I originally wanted but my place has a lived in orderliness about it now.

Do Halloweeny Stuff.
Boy, did I ever! Successfully navigating my way out of a corn maze, attending a horror reading, and reading a scary story were some of the highlights but my most favorite was finally carving my first jack-o-lantern!

Buy ticket for Las Vegas.

I also stepped up my volunteering.

To my delight and amazement, October offered many events that fit perfectly with my writing goals. Wordstock had a great roster of children’s book writers and illustrators that attended this year’s festival. I received a lot of very useful information. (I was also very happy I won their button contest with “i’m bringing paperback” entry!) My new writing class also started up. I was actually less enthusiastic about that but it has helped me make progress with my picture book. Another “step up” moment for me was asking Ellen Hopkins a question during her reading. For such a long time, I’ve let my shyness get the best of me. Not that I’m Mr. Confidence all of a sudden but it felt good to speak up.

It would be weird if I didn’t at least mention that my Dad died towards the end of October. Life is what happens despite of all the plans you make. Certain events are beyond our control. I would say this though: I think focus- and having goals and resolutions- in life helped me cope with this unexpected news.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Step Up

After slacking off the past couple months and losing focus, I think it's time for another month-long challenge. I know it sounds hokey already- and add to it that I like naming them- but it works for me. I've realized though that I need to be specific with my actions and the reasons behind them.

October's challenge is to "Step Up" because I want to bring everything I've already done to another level. Step up my writing. Step up my exercising. Step up my savings. Step up my volunteering.

Also, life has presented so many opportunities that I've passed on because I let fear, shame, laziness, other people's expectations, and self-doubt get the best of me. But, by stepping up, things can be so much better than they are now.

I'll share my goals for this month in the next few days since it won't start until October. Once again, everyone is invited to join me in my challenge. What will you step up to?

Edited to add on 10/01/11:

Here are my Step Up goals:

Start keeping and filling up a notebook for one month
Do 30 minutes of focused writing everyday
Write a review for every book read
Read one new author in the A to Z Children’s Picture Book Series Challenge
Lose 5 pounds
Exercise 5X/week including 2X/wk in the fitness center
No Spending Days 4X/wk
Limit eating out 2X/wk
Vegetarian Days 3X/wk (unless it’s a some sort of party or event)
No Food Court or Fast Food restaurants except Subway
Cook something using fresh ingredients
Fall Cleaning
Do Halloweeny stuff (i.e. carving pumpkins, going to corn mazes and haunted houses, etc.)
Maintain blogs
Buy ticket for Las Vegas trip

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Being Vegetarian

When I found out that one of my friends' doctors suggested she switch to a vegetarian diet for whatever ails her, I figured I can show my support by dabbling in it as well. Not to the full extent as she would have to but this would be at least something. For me, I don't really consider a meal complete unless there's meat so this was going to be a challenge for me.

My original goal was just to be vegetarian twice a week but when I realized it was relatively easy not to eat meat, I decided I could up it to four times a week. And that was basically my guideline for how I defined a vegetarian: someone who doesn't eat meat. I would continue consuming chocolates, cookies, dairy products, etc.

I also wanted to be vegetarian for a whole week, which I just recently completed. How do I feel? What did I learn?

There really were no health benefits for me because I was still eating a lot of processed foods. Perhaps that's why I didn't feel any change in energy. Instead of eating healthy lively food, I was still eating junk. And I wasn't getting enough protein just because I was too focused on what I shouldn't be eating that I forgot about what I should be incorporating in my diet. Obviously I have many things to learn but at least I am even more mindful of what I put in my body. I'm happy to say that I can see myself as being a moderate (occasional) vegetarian.

There are many tasty vegetarian options out there. Although as I took a bite out of a veggie burger patty or a curried tofu, I couldn't help but think how much more delicious the dish would have been if it had some form of dead animal on it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Incredible Lightness of Being

A new month means new goals.

While I always get excited about dreaming up of what I want to do or accomplish, I learned- actually, I was reminded again- that it really helps if I write things down. It makes the goals more concrete and I feel more accountable for them somehow. While I carried over some previous habits into June- like volunteering again, exercising on a regular basis and having No Spending Days- and started writing every day (even if it is just journaling), I didn’t feel I did anything worthwhile. It sounds silly but meeting those goals wasn’t fun for me because I didn’t give that month’s challenge a name like I did for May- Spring Into Shape, or SIS.

But we learn from our mistakes. And, so, July’s challenge is to attain An Incredible Lightness of Being- or Lightness, for short. I don’t care if it doesn’t really make sense but it sounds nice. So, why Lightness?

July means summer. Hopefully, that big ball of light in the sky will make many appearances in Portland. We celebrate Independence Day and the sky lights up for that one night.

Lightness also refers to losing weight and being healthy. I’m definitely going to keep exercising 4 times a week for at least 30 minutes. Along those lines, I’m going to try vegetarianism this month as well- a single day here and there and then a whole week in mid-July. Hopefully, I can make it a habit to not eat meat at least twice week. (If I’m not lazy, I’ll talk about why I decided to do this in a later post.) And, I’ve always wanted to read up on meditation so it seems like the perfect time to try it out.

Lightness can also be the unburdening of debt. While I’m pretty good with my finances, I’m still going to have at least two No Spending Days a week.

And, to me, lightness of being results from happiness. And, isn’t happiness something we all want in our lives? So, every day this month, I’m going to find at least one thing that I’m grateful for. And, if I can do it in a haiku (a throwback to April’s challenge), so much the better!

What makes this month’s challenge more fun for me is that there’s a book associated with it that practically covers everything I’ve been talking about. I am currently reading “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. There seems to be a connectedness with my current interests.

Of course, everyone’s invited to join me in my challenge to find an incredible lightness in being.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spring Into Shape

My self-imposed monthly challenges have reminded me of the things I'm able to accomplish when I only set my mind to do so.

April's was to write a haiku every day which coincided with National Poetry Month. I dubbed May's as Spring Into Shape (or SIS) with the intention of getting physically and financially fit. Here are the goals I set up for myself:

  • Lose 5 pounds (x)

  • Exercise 3X a week for 30 minutes (*)

  • Keep a food journal (x)

  • Get a free credit report (*)

  • Limit blended caffeinated beverages to once a week (x)

  • No fast food except McDonald's and Taco Bell (*)

  • Limit eating out 2X a week (x)

  • No Spending Days 3X a week (*)

  • No more work burritos (*)
(*) Goal met
(x) Goal not met

It was early on in the SIS challenge that I decided I didn't want to continue keeping a food journal. I'm too much of a foodie to keep track of every single thing I eat. Consequently, the limiting of blended coffee drinks and eating out fell to the wayside.

I would say though that my No Spending Days were effective in not making me eat as much. Plus I really did become more aware of my eating portions.

As for exercising, this is definitely something I'll be carrying over. The physical aspect of SIS wasn't necessarily to lose weight but to incorporate healthy life choices.

To meet my financial goals, I've got to say I'm grateful for gift cards. No Spending Days have been fun but I'll probably cut it down to only once or twice a week, emphasizing more on how much I spend on any given day.

It's weird I didn't think to continue a writing challenge but that'll be soon remedied. I look forward to future challenges!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

30 Days of Haiku

April was National Poetry Month. As a little challenge to myself, I figured I'd try to capture each day's events or emotions or thoughts into a haiku. You would think it'll be easy but those s-words were tricky. I wouldn't be surprised if I have some missing or extra syllables here and there. I'd like to point out though that real haikus are more than just meeting the 5/7/5 syllable pattern. I would recommend that people find out more online but these are mine.

The trouble with fools/ is they repeat their mistakes/ It's time for a change
Cherry blossoms bloom/ all along the waterfront/ Spring's here, finally
Spiraling upwards,/ Reaching new heights, aspiring/ to be what I dream
Pitter, patter, rain/ Off to work, day one of five/ Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
What awaits yonder?/ Nothing but sadness or... OR.../ Something wonderful?
It's now or never-/ to do something worthwhile or/ fade into nothing
Twenty-four seven/ there's nothing new to report/ but bad news, it seems
The whole world's aglow/ Does the light come from the sun/ Or somewhere within?
Just a lazy day/ sleeping in and vegging out/ nothing wrong with that
The trains go by, bye/ To places I've never been/ perhaps someday I'll
It's hard being nice/ when all they want is your blood-/ at least there's cookies
The sun shines above/ and the brook babbles below/ there is peace within
Open your hearts, minds-/ you shall get more than you give./ Kindness is the key.
Whoosh, whoosh, life goes by/ Sometimes you need to slow down/ Breathe in, out, repeat
Elevate my soul/ I am not here, not myself/ Your words are magic
Kindness surprises / but is appreciated- / very much, indeed.
Sunshiny spring day/ my soul opens up, receives/ this much welcomed light
Sigh. What was today/ but a fleeting memory,/ a moment now passed?
The present is now./ The future... well, who can say?/ The past: history.
To those who greeted,/ thank you for the well-wishes./ Happiness inside.
Into the dark night,/ we go in search of ourselves/ to bring into light.
The moments we had/ now just snapshots of what were-/ fleeting, everlast
Basking in the sun/ with nature all around me/ quiet perfection
In a state of flux/ constantly in between/ neither here nor there
Hearts break and they mend./ Resilient, yes, but the tears/ they leak through the cracks.
Sadness surprises/ like sudden downpour of rain/ on a sunny day
Intoxicated/ The night is young, the stars bright/ Pitcher is half full
The world is spinning/ all the horses at full speed/ merrily go round
Your words are nonsense/ outrageous and laughable/ balderdashery
My words fill the world/ be it written or spoken/ and all I can give

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Reading Life- Year in Review 2010

I read 60 books in 2010. Instead of the usual breakdown of just Fiction and Non-Fiction books, I also added Graphic Novels. That’s a pretty new genre for me and I’ve been surprised at how wide the scope of subjects they tackle, not just the common superheroes stories we’re familiar with.

Out of the titles I included in my reading list, only 17 of the books I read were on it.

I’ve read 32 new authors but only a couple of them were worth checking out their other books- Stieg Larsson and Guillermo Del Toro.

Breakdown of Books Read in 2010

Non-fictionMemoirs- 4
General- 7
Graphic Novels- 2

FictionMystery/Thrillers- 11
Kids/YA- 20
General- 11
Graphic Novels- 5

Total- 60

There were so many great books! Here are some of them:
-The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
-The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
-The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larson
-Push by Sapphire
-Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood
-The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
-My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I would say the worst book I read was "In the Stacks", a short story collection about libraries and librarians. It was just absolutely poorly edited! And, sad to say, I was not at all impressed by "The Secret of Ka" by my one of my favorite authors Christopher Pike. He could do so much better and already has a YA series going that should be finished before beginning another one!