Lessons Learned from Letting Go (of Things)

I shared this photo on my Facebook page this week, and got a lot of virtual amens. 😉

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Can we add a #truth?! I cracked up at the “Watch YouTube videos” slice of the pie chart because I had just stayed up past midnight cleaning out a closet … all because of a YouTube video. (Okay, maybe 3 or 5 videos.) But they were some of the most helpful videos I have watched to date, and I actually didn’t feel too bad about procrastinating taking a break from writing. 😉

I had stumbled onto an article while I was surfing the net (aka. research for writing) that described a life-changing way to clean. Life-changing, really? A few more articles later, and I had started to buy into Marie Kondo’s “KonMari method”. Instead of buying her book for more information though, I decided to go the el-cheapo route and turned to YouTube.

Jackpot!

If you search for “konmari” on YouTube, you’ll find about 15,200 videos(!) on how to clean your home, KonMari style. There are some amazing vloggers on there who opened up their homes to share their before and after room makeovers. These people seriously inspired me. But what inspired me more was the KonMari method and its simple and refreshingly different perspective on things. We’re talking about clothes, books, paperwork, electronics – any non-living thing that is taking up space in your home. When you’re cleaning up your things, Marie Kondo’s advice is to not ask yourself, “Will I ever use it again?” or “Is it worth keeping?” Instead, all you need to ask is this: “Does it spark joy?

Hm? Hm!

Yup, it’s as simple as an emotion. Joy.

I’d been going about it all wrong. In the past when I’ve attempted to clean the house, I would get caught up in my head. More specifically, the cheap part of my brain that would be afraid to let go of something. Even if that something was old or broken or worn. But more often than not, that something was still functional but hiding under a layer of dust waiting for the “someday” when it might be used again. And the longer these things sat around, the more cluttered and messy the house became.

We had gone over to my parents’ place last weekend and when we got home, hubby commented, “Their house is so clean.” Of course I immediately replied, “They don’t have two kids living there. And you didn’t look in the closets or under the beds (my dad’s favorite hiding spot, haha).” But in the next breath, I thought to myself, Those are just excuses. If I really wanted to tidy up our home, I needed to change my attitude and get my behind movin’!

So I did. I went through the closets and took all the clothes that no longer sparked joy when I looked at them. It was a good reminder that I need to cut down on my impulse purchases (ie. do not buy a tank top that is too big for you even though it is only $0.25!). I came away with several bags of clothes (one for recycling at H&M – you get a 15% coupon for every bag you bring in!; and two bags of gently worn ones for donation), roomier closets and a happier attitude.

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Next, I tackled two boxes of papers that I had kept hidden in C’s closet for years. I’m talking about report cards from elementary school, homework assignments, college acceptance letters, prom pictures, and letters from friends since childhood. Part of me couldn’t believe I had kept all those things; the other part of me understood why. Those boxes held the identity I had developed for myself, someone who based her self-worth on academic achievements and social status. Once upon a time I had looked at those papers with a certain amount of pride and happiness, but that night as I went through them, I felt a sense of wistfulness. Those papers didn’t possess the same value to me as before. Or maybe, I didn’t need them to define myself anymore. I ruffled through them and set the majority in a to-be-recycled pile (which eventually filled a large garbage bag) and kept some of the letters and other mementos that made me smile. Best of all, I breathed a little easier when I was done because there were now two empty shelves in the closet, something I had never seen before in our house.

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That’s another thing Marie Kondo advocates – empty spaces! Don’t feel like you need to fill up every single shelf or cabinet to the max. Open spaces give you room to breathe and move around and feel free. Ahh, just the picture of this empty shelf makes me happy. 😉 It also inspired me to rethink how I fill up my time. If you could see the rest of this closet (a sight I will gladly spare you from), you would probably feel your shoulders tense up. That is also a good analogy to how our bodies react when we fill up our lives with activity after activity and leave no empty “shelves” for rest and relaxation. Cleaning out this closet made me see how my “Martha nature” keeps me wanting to be on the go and overly-productive. I’m learning to make some room in my life just to be and to feel.

I hope this post inspires you to not only tidy up your home, but more importantly, to make time and space for joy in your life. Here’s one more picture I’ll leave you with – the muchkins’ homework table – that totally makes me happy every time I look at it. (I wish I had taken a before picture of it, as well as the shelf behind it, but you’ll have to trust me that it was scary!).

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Just one more note about tidying up: Be patient, especially if you have little ones and also big ones in the house who may not be fully on board with the process. While I was cleaning up the bathroom, I told E, “I’m throwing out your old toothbrush, okay?” He answered, “But it’s for my collection!” Aiya. Before I would have said, “But it’s old and you’re never going to use it again!” This time, I replied, “Does it make you happy?” 🙂 I got silence for an answer, and promptly tossed the toothbrush in the trash. (If he had said, “Yes” though I may have had to respect his answer, haha.)

Here’s the perfect song for this post,” I’m Free”, which I totally remembered when I found my old Jon Secada CD while cleaning out the CD/DVD/VCD cabinet. I love the lyrics: “Things are only as important as I want them to be.”

What things are you holding onto that bring you joy? What things do you need to let go of to experience joy?

Interview with Sci-fi/Romance Author N. Ceves

I’m excited to share my first author interview with you today!

I recently met fellow author N. Ceves after she picked up my first book and found my blog. Through total divine intervention, we struck up a conversation via Facebook when she agreed to be my beta reader for my latest release. And recently, I became her beta reader for her new book, Even the Stars.

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Let me just say that I started reading Even the Stars, a Christian sci-fi/romance, with some doubt. Why? I thought I wouldn’t be able to feel for the male character … who just so happens to not be human. You read that right. The hero of the book is an android. (I can hear all the Star Wars fans cheering now, haha.) I honestly wondered if I would be disappointed by the story and if it would be believable or relatable.

Well, let me tell you how wrong I was! Not only was I drawn into the story from the first sentence, I couldn’t put it down until the very last page. I also teared up several times throughout the book. Even after I finished it, I had deep philosophical/theological questions going around in my head for days … all because of an android. 🙂

Even the Stars left such a big impression on me that I decided to interview its author and find out more about her and the inspiration behind her book. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did. So, please sit down, share a pot of tea with us and meet your new favorite author, N. Ceves. 🙂

Me: Please tell us about yourself (ie. your family, background, hobbies, etc).

N. Ceves: I am a wife, a mom, an indie author, a teacher of infants with special needs. I love reading and tea and learning. I am passionate about faith, social justice, equality, education, and peace. Did I mention tea? Total tea nerd.

Me: What prompted you to start writing? What genres do you like to read and write?

N. Ceves: NaNoWriMo changed everything. I began writing creatively as soon as I could write, but joining the wild ride that is NaNo made writing a bigger part of my life.

I love to read anything that draws me in until I’m lost in that fictive dream.

Me: Please tell us about your book Even the Stars. What was your inspiration for the story? 

N. Ceves: Even the Stars is about two people, one human and one synthetic: an android. Leaving Earth aboard a starcraft in hope of finding a habitable planet light years away, these two people find themselves falling in love.

The book is about faith and the power of unconditional love.

It is a sweet, faith-infused love story that happens to take place in space. Is there a genre for that!?

I imagined a glimpse of a scene: a woman aboard a spaceship of some kind, leaving Earth. The intense feeling of homesickness that I picked up on was heartbreaking. “No matter where I go,” she seemed to say, “it won’t be home. It won’t be Earth. No other place could ever be home.”

I began to write a story around this glimpse. After I completed it, I felt something was missing.

Later, I remembered a moment in the story where the android, Dev, asks Verity, the doctor aboard the starcraft, if she believes he has a soul. I began to wonder more in depth about Dev. What gave him courage, what gave him hope in his isolation? The answer came to me that he had faith. At a moment of loneliness and grief, he reached out and he believed.

Me: What challenges did you have in writing Even the Stars? What did you enjoy most about writing it? 

N. Ceves: There were a few scenes in Even the Stars that involved a great deal of sadness for me. To write those scenes as well as I could, feeling so much emotion, was challenging. The scene in the book that includes Dev’s journal hurt to write.

What I enjoyed most was that I felt as though I got to know two pretty wonderful people: Dev and Verity, and take part in their adventure. I know, logically, that I made them up… but it doesn’t feel that way.

Me: What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

Nobody should ever make you feel less than. You are infinitely precious.

Me: If Even the Stars was made into a movie, which actors/actresses would you cast in the film?

I was just thinking that I would love to see True To You as a movie! I feel as though I actually viewed the scenes in your novel; that’s how immersed I was. (Me: Aw, thanks!)

If Even the Stars was a film I would wish for completely unknown actors and actresses to be cast. There are so many amazingly gifted actors and actresses working very hard and we just never see them.

Me: One final question – if you had to leave earth for another planet, what would you take with you? What would you miss most about earth?

N. Ceves: I would have to take my dog and cat as I view them as part of my family.

I would miss the very essence of our planet: the earth itself, including everything that grows and lives; the air, and the light.

Me: Thank you, N. Ceves, for taking the time to chat with us!

If you want to take a trip aboard a starcraft and get lost in a sweet, timeless love story, you’ll want to read this book! Get it now on Amazon.com (click here) and please help her spread the word by leaving a review once you’ve read the book.

And check out Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ song, “Stars”, which kept playing through my mind as I read Even the Stars.

If you had to leave earth for another planet, what would you take with you? What would you miss most about earth?

My New Release: The More the Merrier!

Happy Tuesday and welcome to my book release party! Sorry for not sending out invitations in advance, but it was hard to round up any snails on such short notice. 😉 I was hoping to do this in two parts (cover reveal and then book release), but it all came together at once this week. So without further ado …

Cue the fireworks!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

I’m thrilled to share my first short story with you, a sweet romance titled The More the Merrier! Here’s the book cover (designed by the amazing Deborah Bradseth of Tugboat Designs)!

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Now, people say never judge a book by its cover, but I think there’s a lot of information you can gather from this one. Fuzzy white sweaters? Red sparkly font? Asian faces? Hmm… If you guessed this is a story about an Asian couple at Christmastime, you’re right. 🙂

Here’s the gist of the book (aka. back cover blurb):

Fed up with a string of bad blind dates, health blogger Alyssa Wu just wants to drown her sorrows in ice cream. But there’s one more evening she must endure – a fake date with her best friend Barry Chang. They must convince her family they are in love, an act which may (or may not) be easy to pull off, thanks to the magic of some mistletoe.

This 10,000 word short story is perfect for your lunch break, workout or while you wait in line on Black Friday. Read it today to get in the Christmas spirit any time of the year!

This story was so much fun to write, especially given the fact that I had to think about wintery things in the middle of an August heat wave. That’s where Alyssa’s love of ice cream came in. 😉 The male character’s name comes from two people whom I adore; one fictional and one real. Barry is of course for Barry Allen of The Flash, someone who is sweet, genuine and courageous. Chang is my dear maternal grandfather’s surname. This book is dedicated in loving memory to him, a man so rich in love and compassion.

After I wrote my last book, True To You, with a Chinese main character and her family, I decided to tackle writing about my culture again in this book. I find a lot of humor in stereotypes and boy, are there a lot of funny things that Chinese parents do. LOL. 🙂

I hope you enjoy The More the Merrier! You can read an excerpt on my blog under the “Seasons of Love Series” tab (click here). And yup, this is book #1 in a new series. There will be three more short stories coming next year for the seasons of spring, summer and fall (along with book #3 in my “Taking Chances Series“)!

You can purchase The More the Merrier at Amazon.com: Kindle format. It’s available for $0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited.

And take a listen to the song featured in the book, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”. It’ll get you in the Christmas spirit for sure!

 

 

 

Leaving the Porch Light On (for Your Tween)

Hubby and I have an unspoken contest going on. There’s no monetary gain involved or prize to be won, just bragging rights. Every so often one of us will turn to the other with an “I did it!” smile on our face, while the other will respond with wide eyes. We trade our stories with a great sense of accomplishment and pride. So, what is this “skill” that we like to boast about to each other? You’ll probably never guess …

It’s getting to hold E’s hand.

Yup. Our high need son who always clung to us, sat on our laps whenever possible and never left our side for years is (finally) growing up. And with his growing confidence and independence comes a desire to do things on his own. Gasp! Without us.

Let’s pause for a moment to observe the passing of childhood and the commencement of the tweenage years. :O

The reality is, E is now less than a year away from the double digits. He is sounding more and more like a big kid, especially when he rolls his eyes at my jokes and says, “Mo-om” in the most unimpressed way possible. He never wants me to come help out at school or even to chaperone field trips (sorry Mrs. V!). And worst of all, he doesn’t like to hold our hand. When I try to, his hand just slips out of my grip like one of those water wiggler toys you can never hold onto (kids of the ’90s know what I’m talking about!). Which is why it’s such a HUGE deal whenever hubby or I get to hold his hand.

I was sharing this with his former kindergarten teacher the other day at parent-teacher conferences (she’s currently C’s teacher). She affirmed his growth over the past few years and encouraged us with this line, “Just keep the porch light on for him.” In other words, even though he may not need us as much, it’s our job to let him know we will always be here for him.

Image courtesy of dreyboblue/flickr.com

Image courtesy of dreyboblue/flickr.com

Even now as I type this post, I can feel my eyes welling up at the thought of E not needing us. How can someone who was once so dependent on us for his every need not need us?! :O

Well, his independence definitely didn’t happen overnight. And thankfully, I have a feeling it’ll be some time before he packs up and moves out of the house. Right now, he wavers between the little boy we once knew and the teenager he is becoming. He may not want to hold my hand, but every now and then he’ll let his knee touch mine under the dining room table. He still pauses and waits for me to kiss the top of his head when I drop him off at school. And if I’m lucky, he lets me hold his hand for a few seconds while we cross the street.

He may not be my baby anymore, but I’ll always keep the porch light on for him. Even if I can’t hold his hand, I will always hold his heart.

My firstborn. :)

My firstborn. 🙂

Take a listen to this sweet song by Rascal Flatts, “My Wish”. It captures my wish for both my munchkins as they grow up.

Who do you leave the porch light on for? Who has left it on for you?

Lost: One Man’s Wedding Ring

There’s one thing for sure about hubby and me: we are as different as a poodle and a great dane. I’m a night owl, he’s a morning bird. I’m frugal, he’s generous. I’m neat, he’s …, well, you get the picture. 😉

Another thing we’re complete opposites in is the way we wear our wedding rings. In all the years that we’ve been married, I’ve only taken mine off when I was pregnant (and bloated); he takes his off several times a day. Whether it’s because he’s washing his hands or putting on lotion or fixing something around the house, more often than not, hubby goes around ringless. He also ends up forgetting where he put his ring, and I (or one of the kids) will spot it on the kitchen counter or bathroom sink or dining table and return it to him.

Our family game of “lost and found” has worked well for many years … until now. You see, it’s been over a month since anyone has seen hubby’s ring and all of our attempts at locating it have failed (even the one where he offered the kids a $10 reward; you can imagine how hard they tried to find it then!).

Which is why hubby and I decided to go to the mall on a recent date night to peruse the jewelry stores. This was actually our first time shopping for wedding rings because we had gone the Asian route (aka. cheap and efficient) when we got married and had his dad pick up matching bands for us in Hong Kong (he used to be in the jewelry business). We figured it was time to choose a new set ourselves and as a pre-celebration of our 15th anniversary next year.

So, there we were heading to the first jewelry store when hubby reached down and took my hand. He held it tight, placing his warm palm against mine.

I looked over in surprise at his sudden display of affection.

He then grinned at me and said, “We should look like we’re in love.”

HA HA! (Yes, I married a funny one.)

Sure, hubby was joking, but part of me started thinking that we probably don’t look as “in love” now as we did when we first got together. Back in those early days, I remember we held hands ALL. THE. TIME. We held hands while we rode in the car, while we walked from the parking lot to our destination (ie. the movies/park/store/restaurant/mall), and back again.

Somewhere along the way, however, we stopped reaching for the other’s hand. Life happened, and our hands got full with long hours at work, dirty diapers and other things that took our time and attention away from each other. There’s no doubt that our relationship has grown and deepened a lot over the years, but it’s lost some of the sweetness that fueled it in the first place.

When we were really newlyweds. :)

When we were newlyweds. 🙂 (Look, no gray hair!)

Thankfully, our evening as an “engaged couple” brought it back to us. We held hands more that night than we probably had in a long time. And it was nice to connect in that simple, yet powerful way.

There was one thing we found out though that was not so nice. Rings cost a lot more now than they did fifteen years ago. It’s going to cost us a bit of money to buy new wedding rings, but ultimately, the lesson learned from doing so is priceless. 🙂

Here’s a super cute song, “Here Come Those Eyes” by Chris Rice, which captures the sweetness of love so well.

How do you show love and affection to your loved ones? How has that changed over the years?

Thoughts of an Almost 40 Year Old Gal

I clearly remember the night before I turned 20 like it was yesterday (but it was, wasn’t it?? LOL). My roommates and I were studying in our college apartment, and as soon as the clock struck midnight, I freaked out. I stood up on our lumpy, faded brown couch and began jumping … up and down and up and down.

You could probably guess I was not thrilled to be growing older. Back when I was a kid, I remember thinking that 20 sounded ancient and so far away. There was no way I could ever be that old. But as someone wise once said, time waits for no one. In fact, it seems to pick up speed once you reach your early 30’s. And before you know it you’re 39 and seeing someone you don’t totally recognize in the mirror, except that she kind of reminds you of your mother (and Facebook keeps wanting to tag you in photos as her! #truestory). 😉

That’s where I am today. About a month away from turning 40 – but NOT freaking out this time. Why not? Because I know …

1. It’s a privilege to age. The truth is not everyone makes it this far. I count every day that God gives me on this earth (good and bad) a blessing and an opportunity.

2. The older I get, the more ______  I am. There are so many words I could put in that blank space. Thankful, empathic and wise are a few that come to mind. Confident is another (which is a major one for me!). The changes happening inside me far outweigh the changes taking place on the outside. You can buy smooth skin, hair dye and a new hip, but you can’t buy internal growth.

3. Age is but a number. I may not have the face or body of a 20 year old, but I can still do a lot of cool things. Some of those things I can actually do better now that I’m older. I listen better. I write better. I even dream better because I have let go of some of the fears that once held me back.

Just because I’m reaching mid-life doesn’t mean the fun is over. God willing, things are just getting good. I’m ready to tackle my 40’s with purpose and passion. I hope to publish more books. I want to meet new people, such as authors or readers (preferably online since I’m an introvert, haha). I want to grow old with hubby and be able to reminisce about the good ‘ole days with him. I may even want to experience what it’s like to live with teenagers.

There really is a lot to look forward to as I turn 40. Just not the couch jumping. I’ll leave that part to my little monkeys. 🙂

Image courtesy of http://www.amazon.com/MIP-Does-This-Shirt-T-Shirt/dp/B00NUG7CUW (this is not an affiliate link)

This shirt comes in pink! (Image courtesy of http://www.amazon.com/MIP-Does-This-Shirt-T-Shirt/dp/B00NUG7CUW – this is not an affiliate link)

This is a new song by Meghan Trainor (featuring John Legend) called “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”. The lyrics are a beautiful reminder to not take anything, especially the people in our lives, for granted.

What have you learned from growing older? What do you look forward to in the years to come?