Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is ACES?

I told my coworker I would blog about this, so this one's for you, Camilla. 

Let me just preface this post by saying that if you're the kind of person who has never been entirely sure what to do with a semicolon or which their/they're/there to use when you're writing, you might want to stop reading right now. We are about to dive deep into editing-land, and I want to save you from it. Consider this a trigger warning, of sorts. This post could cause extreme boredom, revulsion, and/or horrible flashbacks to English teachers and their red pens of pain that you have now spent years trying to forget.

For anyone still reading, welcome to the world of grammar geeks, style sticklers, and, of course, word nerds. This post is coming at you live from St. Petersburg, Florida, (enjoy the photos) where I have just spent the day reveling in the company of my particular tribe of nerds. That's because ACES stands for the American Copy Editors Society and I'm currently attending their annual conference.

This hotel is full of introverted, but unfailingly kind and knowledgeable folks, who are thrilled to be here listening to other knowledgeable folks talk about punctuation minutiae, explain how dictionaries are compiled, and recount hilarious anecdotes about misplaced modifiers. I kid you not. This is really happening.

For editors, this is a rare and exhilarating chance to hang out with people who get you. I've been to writers conferences and publishing conferences, but it's with my fellow editors that my loyalties will always lie? lay? reside.

Even though most of us walk around this conference in constant, quiet fear that someone will catch us committing a grammar faux pas, we love listening to the hum of quiet conversation about citation guidelines, style sheets, and word processing innovations.

Which brings me to my big news. Well, big if you're an editor who loves The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) as much as I do.

Today I attended a session presented by one of the main editors at the University of Chicago Press, which publishes said manual. The presenting editor's name is Carol Saller or Carol Fisher Saller if you're talking about her in an official author capacity. She is one of my editing heroes. When I rode the elevator upstairs with her yesterday I had to stop myself from gushing because that would have made us both uncomfortable, but she really is just that great.

Carol (as I like to call her, since that's how she introduced herself to me while we were waiting for the elevator yesterday), was there in the session this morning to talk about the brand newly announced forthcoming seventeenth edition of CMOS and a few of the changes and updates that have been made.

Knowing her audience was full of editors and journalists, Carol anticipated us wanting to share these updates with our fellow word nerd friends and only asked that in doing so, we did not offer our own personal interpretations of these new guidelines but simply pass them along, exactly as written. So that's what I'm doing. I took pictures of her slides, and here they are, complete with my terrible photography skills and some not-so-great conference room lighting.

I will say there are some changes that I'm super excited about. Some I'm ambivalent about. And others I think are a little bit of a misstep, but I also think that's to be expected, given the nature of the manual. I won't offer my personal thoughts and commentary here (mostly because I'm too tired right now to do anything but add pictures to this post and call it a night), but if any of you fellow word nerds want to chat in the comments or on Facebook, I would be happy to follow up with you there. Tomorrow. Or some other time when I'm not exhausted.

This hard-to-see picture is to illustrate the amount of red-lining that transpired during the writing of the type 2 singular they entry. Apparently the debate was "lively" but "extremely collegial."


And this concludes our terribly lit slideshow, people. I hope you appreciated it. I could go on and on about how much I'm loving this conference, but I am sure you all have better things to read on the internet or better things to do in general.

I do want to write a post sometime on the topic of accessible content, which topic I'm going to present on here at the conference on Saturday. But like I said, I'm too tired to write more right now.

In other news, there's a ship here that looks like a pirate ship and it was super impressive to me.

PS–Did I mention that I rode in an elevator with Carol Fisher Saller yesterday? Best. Elevator ride. Ever.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

But what about today?

I've been trying to write a blog post all day.

Actually, to be honest, I've been trying to blog for weeks now. I've considered lots of topics, but nothing has been pulling at me to write it. And so I've been putting it off in favor of other things: watching Netflix, going for walks, practicing the piano, working, hanging out with my family, trying to teach myself to make and stick to a budget. All good things, really. But not this. At times I've even wondered if maybe I'm done blogging, or if I should just take a sabbatical for awhile and come back to this when I'm in a better frame of mind.

I can't say that won't still happen, but I don't think it's happening quite yet. I still like my blog a lot. I just haven't been feeling super inspired to talk about anything.

I think part of that has to do with what I actually want to address in this post: For the past few months, I feel like I've been living too much in the future. I'm so excited about things that are coming up later this year, like moving into my tiny house and paying off loans and going on trips, that I've basically been ignoring my current day-to-day living.

This is probably not a surprise to people who know me well. I tend to live in the future a lot. I like to set goals. I like to make plans. I like thinking about how I could progress and become better. I really like change, and when I can see it coming, it makes me excited.

Those aren't bad qualities. Sometimes they're very good ones. The problem comes when I get so caught up in the future that my current life starts to feel empty by comparison. This is when I start to think things like, well, I'm not that happy now, but I will be soon. I'll be happier just as soon as I get my tiny house towed up here or just as soon as I can go on another trip or just as soon as this work project is complete.

But what about today?

The thing about living in tomorrow is that tomorrow never really comes. Or by the time it does, you're focused on the next thing. The thing that comes after whatever you just accomplished.

I'd rather not wait that long to be happy. And it's not just happiness that I'm talking about. I generally am fairly happy and optimistic, no matter what's going on. What I'm talking about really is more than happiness. It's a sense of peace and wellbeing that comes with knowing my life has purpose, like what I'm doing matters now and will continue to affect me as I move forward.

Those kinds of feelings are what I've really been putting off lately. Living in the future or in tomorrow means I start investing my future plans with that sense of purpose, rather than making my purpose something I can do something about right now. In some ways, it's convenient because it means I get to sit back and twiddle my thumbs while I wait for the future to come. In other ways, it's gutting. It makes me feel like there's no point in even getting out of bed in the morning because today is just one more day of pointless nothingness that needs to be ticked off a calendar before I can get to those better days I know are coming.

That's what living in the future can do to you. That's the really dangerous part about it.

Instead, I'd rather live in today. I don't want to have to wait until my life is perfectly put together before I start enjoying it. Because the truth is, my life is never going to be perfect, so I would be waiting for a really, really long time.

Unfortunately, I'm not as good at living in today as I am at living in the future. Today is messy. It's full of mistakes. I make them all the time. It's also full of other people who I have to interact with, and that can be a struggle for me. Today might be mundane. It might be mediocre. It might have moments of awesomeness, but it might also have moments of sadness, frustration, guilt, annoyance, fatigue, fear, uncertainty.

Today is a little too real for me. Tomorrow is the stuff of fantasies. In today, you're forced to confront reality. In tomorrow, you can be anyone, do anything. In today, you're you. And that you is probably flawed, which is pretty frustrating.

Anyway, I feel like I'm babbling a bit, but I hope you guys get what I'm trying to say. I'm also getting really tired, and that's not helping.

I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to accomplish this whole transition from future to present living. If anyone has ideas on how to do that, I'd be happy to hear them.

Sometimes it helps me to get outside. Nature is fleeting. When you spend time outside on a regular basis, you start to pick up on how quickly things change, especially this time of year. There's so much growth and change that happens in spring: flowers bloom and then vanish quickly; trees bud and then the next time you see them, their buds have changed to full dark leaves. That's part of the reason I take so many pictures when I'm outside. I know that whatever I'm seeing in that moment won't happen quite the same way ever again. There are too many factors at play, like the weather and the light and the time of year. It's like Pocahontas says, "what I like best about rivers is, you can't step in the same river twice."

If I can extend that fleeting feeling from nature into my interactions with people and the tasks I have to accomplish each day, I might start to feel more connected to today.

 Another thing I might try to do more of is noticing my present surroundings, including the people and moments that made today special to me. I probably won't share them all on my blog because that would be exhausting and probably not all that interesting to read and would, frankly, belabor the point.

But to conclude this long and rambling post, I'll share a few little things I noticed today that made this day special to me:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Today I walked into church and one of my good friends was sitting there and so instead of sitting alone, like I normally do, I sat with her. That was nice for me. I don't mind sitting alone (usually I prefer it) but today I felt like company, or at least I felt like having her company.

Today I played the piano and noticed that I'm getting better at it. I'm not very consistent about practicing, so my progress is slow, but it's still happening.

Today I had dinner with my family and it was yummy! The missionaries came over, and we had roast and potatoes and my mom made her famous crescent rolls. There are definitely some benefits to living at home, and this is one of them.

Today I drove through some beautiful green hills down 680 to San Jose for a fireside. The sun was setting and it had finally gotten low enough to break through the hazy cloud barrier that hung around for most of the day. The golden light on the wildflower-covered hills was lovely. I saw a rainbow. I love living here where I do. There's something about this place that just resonates with my soul. I love the Bay Area, and it loves me back.

Today I realized that I need to be better about studying the scriptures and strengthening my spirituality. I've been on auto-pilot a lot lately. I'll read, but I won't really think about what I'm reading. I'll pray but I won't really think about what I'm saying. Somewhere along the way, I stopped talking with God and started talking at Him. I can't imagine that's a very interesting conversation from His perspective.

So there you go. That was my day. It wasn't wasted, and there were good moments in it. I just needed to take the time to notice them. I hope I can keep doing that. Because as much as I love the future, I think I could also learn to love today.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Guest Post: How do you go from good to great writing?

Dear lovely blog readers,

I know I've been a little . . . sporadic about posting lately. The truth is my life has been really busy with work, tiny house logistics, more work, moving, continuing to minimalize, attempting to put myself on a budget for the first time in like ever, and lots of other good things. But the sad fact is that my blog has gone slightly neglected. I can tell the weeds around here are getting a little high, and I'm sorry about that. I'm hoping to remedy the situation soon. Specifically, stay tuned for a tiny house update. Good things are coming! Yay!

In the meantime, however, we have a super special treat today in the form of a guest post from one of my favorite people ever: Elodia Strain.

To give you some back story, I've known Elodia for almost ten years now. (HOLY COW, I am OLD. She's not old. Just me.) When I first started working as an editor, lo those many years ago, Elodia was one of my very first authors that I worked with and I was so dazzled by her that I just about keeled over from the excitement. I kid you not. I was definitely fangirling the entire time I worked on her book. We've been friends ever since, and her writing has only gotten better!! It is not an exaggeration at all to say that I LOVE Elodia's books.

In celebration of her newest book coming out, which you can find here on Amazon, by the way, Elodia's been on a blog tour and I'm super flattered that she took the time to make my blog one of her stops.

Since we're all about questions and answers around here, I asked Elodia to tell us how to take writing from good to great. (And by "us," I mostly mean me because I really need this advice. Seriously.)

Here's what she had to say . . .

My Quest for Great Writing

As part of the blog tour for my new book, I made sure I got to stop by this one, which is a personal favorite of mine. I admire the blogger as an editor, author, and person. So. Heidi posed me this question: “How do you go from good to great writing?” This is a question I seem to ask myself on a daily (sometimes minutely) basis. And as I’ve asked and worked toward the answer, I’ve come up with a few tried and true tactics that I seem to use over and over, book by book, page by page. Maybe they’ll spark something anew in your personal creative pursuits!

Number one, I think about the readers. A LOT. When I wrote my first book in 2005, I was writing the kind of book I looked for and couldn’t find a lot of—squeaky clean romantic comedies with a little sweet meat to them. Just like inventors talk about solving a problem, I was writing to fill a need. I still do that. Maybe someday I’ll write a super heavy literary masterpiece, but for now, I’m writing for the woman who is overwhelmed by life and needs a laugh, the woman who needs a little pick-me-up. I care about the people who read my books so much. I’m grateful to them, hopeful for them, and always, always aware of them.

Second, I write when I’m not writing. When I start a book, I buy a bunch of yellow (or white, if my go-to store is closed) notepads, and put them all over the house. On the treadmill, next to the kitchen sink, in a basket by the bathtub. These are for my “relaxed brain” notes. Thing is, when I write, I often leave spaces if I can’t find the best words. For example, I’ll type: Ian drove (an old school Americana type of car.) Then, while I’m doing dishes or painting my toenails, my “relaxed brain” will come up with: A 1975 Ford truck. For the sake of trees and cash, I’ve tried keeping my “relaxed brain” notes on my phone, but I always come back to my trusty notepads. (In fact, here is a picture of one week of notes taken while working on The Dating Experiment.)

Third, I try to make every word count. Early on, when I was first started writing, I would sometimes spend hours writing descriptions and backstory that was just kind of…lame to write. And then I had this serious Eureka! moment. I realized if it was drudgery to write, then it probably wouldn’t be a lot of fun to read. This has been one of the single most important lessons I learned as a writer. And it’s not to say that writing isn’t hard, and painful, and all those things, but you just kind of know when something is fun and when its not.

Which brings me to my last tactic. When it comes down to what words end up being put to paper or screen, I trust others’ opinions sometimes, my gut often, and God ALWAYS. This is true for all aspects of writing from plot to characters to setting. I have a whole lot of growing to do as a writer, but I have yet to regret following this pattern.

Wow. What awesome words of wisdom. Thanks so much for stopping by, Elodia! I loved your advice! And thanks to all you readers for your patience with me when life temporarily takes me away from blogging. I promise I'll always come back. And in the meantime, if you're looking for something to read, might I suggest checking out more of Elodia's awesome writing in The Dating Experiment or any of her books, available on Amazon and in bookstores all over. Hope you're all looking forward to a great weekend! I'll be back soon!  —HD

Friday, February 10, 2017

Should I buy this thing?

Ever since I really committed to minimalism about a year and a half ago, I've been trying to figure out how to cope with the constant pressure to buy more. I do my best to stay away from the Youtube ads, the radio spots, and the billboards and signs all around me, but I am not immune. There are times when I impulsively think, "Yeah, I should really buy that new pair of jeans or fancy-smelling soap or book from the library that I started reading but didn't finish before I had to return it."

I'm getting better at figuring out when that voice is a reasonable one because I legitimately do need something and when the voice is tempting me to purchase something I'll later regret. But it's a battle. Constantly.

Of course this isn't a minimalists-only dilemma. I think it's something we're all familiar with to some degree. Most people I know don't make enough money to buy everything on their want lists and some people I know can't even afford everything on their need lists. But being a minimalist does mean that I tend to argue longer with that voice that says "you should just buy it."

Me: Hey, I just ran out of this thing. We should probably buy some more.
Also Me: Hm. Is it food?
M: Yes.
AM: Is it in your budget?
M: Uh . . . maybe?
AM: Whatever, let's just buy it. 
M: Really?
AM: Shrug. It'll be gone soon anyway.

(Now you know why my food budget is always the first financial casualty of the budgeting month.)

M: Hey. Now I ran out of this other thing. We should probably buy more.
AM: Is this thing food?
M: No. This is a non-food thing.
AM: Oh. Bummer. Are you sure we need it?
M: Well . . .
AM: Is it toilet paper?
M: Yeah. 
AM: . . . Are we out of Kleenex too?
M: . . . I'll check.

M: Hey, so we're out of this other thing.
AM: Is it food?
M: No. It's not food.
AM: And you're sure we need it?
M: Pretty sure.
AM: Have you tried living without it for a week?
M: . . . 
AM: And how did that week go?
M: Um. Fine? I guess?
AM: Great! Call me back in like six months if you still think we need the thing.

M: So about this thing that we're out of . . . ?
AM: Right. If it's not in the budget, I think you're just going to have to find it for free somewhere. Or can you make it yourself or something? I really don't want to buy the thing.
M: I know you don't, but it would be so much easier! And that would make me happy.
AM: Happier than a vacation? Happier than getting out of debt? Happier than paying off your tiny house?
M: You're right. We don't need the thing.

M: I think we might need to buy a thing.
AM: What now?
M: You know your favorite book? Well, I dropped it in a mud puddle and I had to throw it out. It was a mess.
AM: What?!!???!? We can't live without that! Quick! Grab the debit card! Find the Amazon page!! Buy the thing!!!!
M: Great! And while we're here on Amazon can I show you this other thing?
AM: Wait, did you murder one of my books just to get me on Amazon so you could try to trick me into buying another thing??
M: No comment.

These kinds of conversations swirl around in my brain at least once or twice a day. Frankly I'm used to them now. They're almost comforting. Especially when I compare them to this unsettling paradox:

M: You know you're a minimalist, right?
AM: Obviously.
M: Well, then why do you still write books and hope people will buy them?
AM: What are you talking about?
M: Well, books are things.
AM: So?
M: I'm just saying, you're all anti-things now. "The endless production and consumption of pointless things is only hastening the impending demise of our planet." That's what you're always telling me.
AM: Yes. Right.
M: So . . . doesn't that mean you should stop producing your books?
AM: But I like writing my books!
M: But the books you write turn into things. That's what publishing is. Books get turned into things and a lot of those books are things that people don't want and don't need.
AM: I'm not listening to this! I don't want to stop writing books! It makes me happy.
M: But what if someone gives your book to some sweet unsuspecting person who doesn't want it and then your book just takes up room on a shelf somewhere and gets in the way of making that lovely person's life as simple and as minimalist as she might like it to be?
AM: Stop it! The guilt! It pains me!
M: . . . So are we like done writing books now? Because I can think of a lot of other things we could be doing with our time.
AM: No. We're not done. I still like writing books.
M: Fine. I'll just go talk to your friend Writer's Block.
AM: I wish you wouldn't do that. 
M: Isn't that Writer's Block over there sitting next to Procrastination?
AM: No. That's Laziness. Writer's Block is the one hanging out with Netflix over there by Facebook and Instagram.
M: Oh yeah. I like those guys.
AM: Sigh. So much for that new novella I was plotting.

In case you didn't follow all that, I'm still going to keep writing. In fact, I just got my contract for another year of Tiny Talks, so that's exciting! And in related news, this book arrived in my publisher's warehouse last week! I love my board books! They're so cute and happy. I can't wait to see these illustrations in person!

I don't have my author copies yet because I've been too lazy/busy to call my publisher and ask for them, but when I do get my copies, I'll probably give as many as I can away to my blog readers. I think I'll be doing a lot more of that from now on—giving my books away to people who genuinely want them. It's what some other minimalist writers I know do, and it will help me resolve the cognitive dissonance I feel whenever I start to think of my books as things.

I know it might sound extreme that I'm worrying about this, but to me it's a little like being a vegetarian who works in a meat-packing factory. The vegetarian doesn't believe that people should eat meat, but if everyone stopped eating meat, the vegetarian would be out of a job. So while I'd like people to stop buying things they don't need, if people stop buying my books, I won't get to publish them anymore, and that would be sad for me.

If any of you have thoughts on how to resolve this inner conflict (preferably thoughts that don't involve giving up on minimalism or my book writing), I'd be happy to hear them. For now, I'm just going to try not to think about it too much. And there's nothing better than a Netflix binge to help you stop thinking! I'm so glad Netflix is not a thing and that it doesn't have ads to pressure you into buying more things. If anyone needs me, I'll be watching the rest of Call the Midwife.

Oh, and do check back soon if you want a free copy of Jesus Was Just Like Me! I should have some to give away in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What's up with your tiny house?

So here's what's going on: the place where I had planned to leave my tiny house for a few months and let it be rented out to people overnight has been shut down by the city. Boo. So much for that awesome plan.

Now we're back to square . . . Well, I don't want to say square one because I'm definitely further along in the going-tiny process than I was a year ago. I mean, I still have a house. It's perfect for me. I designed it for exactly what I want and need. I've paid for it and borrowed money to do so. And that's all well and good, BUT . . . I don't have anywhere to put it. So maybe we're at square 1.5 or something.

Anyway, I've known about this for a couple weeks now but I've been avoiding talking about it on my blog or social media because I like to have a plan in place before I tell people about my problems. It helps me to feel like I have things under control. Like even if I haven't totally figured it out yet, I know where I'm going and I can probably get there on my own, thank you very much.

This time, however, I really don't have a plan. And it's been a little rough. I've been questioning all sorts of things like, should I even go tiny anymore? Should I sell my house and pay off my debts and start over again? Should I try to find a place to live in my house now? Should I put in storage for awhile? And ultimately who am I if I'm not the tiny house girl, you know? Like where is my life going and what do I want to do with it and who do I want to be?

I tell ya, there is nothing like a lack of tiny house parking to bring on an existential crisis.

But after all this questioning and avoiding and getting more and more frustrated, I've finally decided to start talking about this problem because I need help. I have tried my darndest to find a solution for where to put my tiny house, and it's just not working. Now maybe this means that it's a problem that's not meant to be fixed. That would be sad, but if that's the case, and it's really what Heavenly Father wants for me, I could accept that. I'd cry about it, but I'd be okay.

But there is another possibility. Maybe the reason I haven't been able to find parking on my own is that I need to learn how to ask for help and rely on my community. So that's what I'm doing.

I've been researching and researching the zoning laws in Alameda County and the surrounding areas, and as I suspected, there is just no way to legally live in a tiny house on wheels around here. (Except in an RV park, which is simultaneously too sketchy for my comfort zone and too expensive for my budget.) However, I have learned that it's legal to park an RV or tiny house on private property in a backyard or a side yard, as long as you don't live in it.

I think that's what I'm looking for—at least for now. Not forever, obviously. I would like to live in my house eventually. But for now, I need to be realistic and admit that all I can afford is to put the thing in storage and wait until I've shifted some things around financially.

The other option I'm considering, and this may still happen, is to move my house up to Clearlake and live in an RV park up there. That situation is within my budget and totally legal, it's just not in the best neighborhood and also I'd be living in the middle of nowhere, two hours from everything. Not ideal. I mean, great for writing a novel or something, but maybe not so great for my social life. I am an introvert, but this would be extreme.

I guess I just needed to let you guys know what's happening in case I do decide to up and move somewhere again without much warning.

It's all part of the adventure, right?

But in the meantime, if you have (or someone you know has) some extra space in your backyard and you want a super cute playhouse for your grandkids or something, I've got just the thing. I might even be able to pay you to keep it there. You just can't sleep in it or use the kitchen or the bathroom or anything that might count as "living" in it.

The other possibility is that I might live somewhere "illegally" for awhile. And if that happens, I'm totally going to redo my blog to give it a ninja theme or maybe camouflage or James Bond or something. Ooh! Or pirates! I like this plan.

In case you're unfamiliar with all the legal issues surrounding tiny house living, here's a good primer article:

Are Tiny Houses Legal? Yes.

I have gone back and forth on how I feel about living "illegally" or a-legally, as I prefer to say. I don't like the idea of living outside the law. I am a total rule follower, anyone will tell you that. But in this case, I actually think the rules are kinda wrong. I don't want to get up on a soap box or anything, but it's really hard to find super small housing in America, and I think that's a shame. And to be honest, it has everything to do with the construction and building industries and a lot less to do with what people actually want and need.

Obviously, I wish there were more options for fully-above-board tiny house living. That would be awesome for a lot of reasons. I will say that things are getting better. There are way more tiny house communities now than there ever were in the past. Someday, I'd like to try to join one or maybe even help start one. But as far as an immediate solution, I'm just not ready. And once again, there's the whole budget thing.

So for now it's either storage, Clearlake, or living a-legally. If you think you might know of another option or if you'd be interested in letting me store my house at your place, I'd love to chat with you. Also, if anyone has a truck (like a Ford F-150 or bigger) and wants to let me borrow it or earn some extra money for towing a tiny house around, I'd love to hear from you too.

If you want to rub it in my face, tell me I'm irresponsible for getting myself into this mess, or just say you told me so, you're totally welcome to do that too. I get it. Really, I do. And It's true. You did tell me so, and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm sure many of you (maybe most) won't understand why I'm so set on trying to do this really-hard-to-do thing. But that's okay. You don't have to understand. I may not know what I'm doing, but I do still know why I'm doing it. I guess right now that's all I've got.

Oh. And I've got a tiny house, and it's super cute. I suppose that's something.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Do you have a new Primary book out for 2017?

Yes! I sure do. Thanks so much to everyone who's asked me about this.

My 2017 Primary book is called Tiny Talks: Choose the Right

You'll notice that this year we are back to the Tiny Talks title, but don't let that fool you. This book incorporates a lot of the same format that I used for 2016 in Time to Share. That means that in addition to talks for kids to give, you'll also find lessons, activities, videos, songs, and scriptures that go along with each week's theme. Plus, I've included a sample outline for your annual Primary program in Sacrament meeting.

It's kind of hard to tell from this small picture, but trust me, there is a LOT of stuff in this book. A lot more than I ever put into Tiny Talks.

I really appreciate everyone who helped me write this book, including so many of you who contributed names for me to use in the talks and stories. For your information, I used the following names in this book.


Again, thank you so much to everyone who sent in names. I wanted to use them all, but there just wasn't enough room. If I missed your child's name this year, I'll definitely keep it in mind for next year.

I also need to give a big shout-out to all my amazing friends and colleagues at Cedar Fort, especially Shawnda, McKell, and Chelsea who worked so hard on this book. I love the collaborative partnership I have with you guys. It's great to still feel so involved in the publishing process even though I don't work at Cedar Fort anymore. Thanks for bringing my ideas to life, ladies!

Finally thanks so much to each one of you who read my blog and use my books. I really hope my books are helpful to you. I love writing these Primary books, and I feel so grateful each year that I'm able to do this. Thanks for all your support!

And to show you how thankful I am to all you blog readers, I'm going to give away five copies of this brand new book to you folks. All you need to do is share a link to this blog post on Facebook and tag me in it or message me to show me that you did it. Super easy, right?

If you're one of the first five I'll send you a private message on Facebook so I can arrange to send or deliver your book to you.

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season and that you're looking forward to a happy and exciting new year ahead. Yay for 2017!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What's it like to be a minimalist at Christmastime?

It's the most wonderful time of the year, folks! I hope you're enjoying your holiday festivities so far.

Christmas is awesome for so many reasons, but in the past couple of years as I've really started embracing minimalism, there have certainly been challenges around this time of year. I've tried to figure out how to do Christmas as a minimalist, but I'll admit it's been a struggle. I have high hopes for this year, though. I think I've finally figured it out, or at least I'm getting pretty close.

Part of that has to do with the passage of time: most of my friends and family have now gotten used to not giving me things. And part of it has to do with really focusing my philosophy of minimalism in the past year: what minimalism means to me, how I practice it, and how much more I enjoy giving things away than getting them.

But first, a look at Christmases past. As a child I remember loving Christmas. I loved the anticipation, wondering what Santa would bring. I loved decorating the tree and laying underneath it, looking up at the lights. I loved the music and the treats and spending time with my family.

But I will confess, I didn't always love my actual gifts. I'd pretend to like them because I knew that people who loved me had spent a lot of time picking things out for me and had spent money they didn't always have to make my Christmas special. I always felt so guilty when I didn't genuinely like a gift. It felt like a burden to have this thing that I didn't want, didn't know what to do with, and had to keep because I couldn't bear the thought of offending the person who'd given it to me.

After ten years or so of this, I started to realize what was happening. Before then, I wasn't sure how to process the feelings of post-Christmas let-down. It soon became clear that I'd have to make Christmas about more than the presents or I'd continue to be disappointed. Luckily, this realization coincided with me starting to enjoy singing in choirs. Suddenly there was a new reason to love Christmas—all the caroling and choir practices with friends helped me look forward to the season. That got me through to college, when Christmas became all about the joy of traveling home to California, spending time with my family and enjoying the comparatively warm weather and the break from school between semesters.

Yet still there was that nagging guilt of not liking all my presents and of feeling frustrated by the consumerism, the busy-ness, and the burnout that often come along with the Christmas season. Christmas is a hard time to say no to things. You want to make the most of it and keeping adding more and more to your traditional celebrating. It seems like the right thing to do.

Simplifying can seem Scrooge-y. You're supposed to want more presents and you're supposed to enjoy picking out the perfect thing for each of your beloved friends and family members. You're not supposed to think about the money gifts will cost you and the fact that so many of these decorations end up in the trash or wasting away in the garage for the other 11 months of the year.

Christmas is supposed to be about more, not less.

But it doesn't have to be that way. As I've discovered in the past couple of years, Christmas can be about experiences instead of things and spending precious time with family and friends. Even at Christmastime, less can be more. A lot more, in fact.

It's all in how you approach the holiday. If you're like me and your childhood Christmases were focused on physical presents, it's going to take a little adjusting to get into the minimalist mindset. Instead of making a list of things you want to receive or keeping your eyes out for that perfect gift for someone on your list, think about all the time you could save not shopping and how that time could be spent creating memories with your family. Maybe you could try making a list of fun things you want to do with the people you love in the coming weeks or months.

Another important part of a minimalist Christmas is learning to say no to invitations to do more. It's going to take some work and conscious effort, but you really don't have to participate in that cookie exchange or attend your coworker's brother's holiday bash, even if you've been doing these things for years. Instead, focus on creating quiet moments to reflect on the beauty of the season. And do say yes to the invitations you really care about. Just remember that burnout is real and it's very important to know your own limits.

One idea that can be really fun is deciding not to spend any money on holiday decorations. I did this a couple of years ago, and it was super fun. I used paper and craft supplies that I already had around my house, plus some used lights and a mini-Christmas tree that were re-gifted from a family member. I made snowflakes and paper chains to hang up in my windows. Then when Christmas was over, I was able to throw most of my decorations away and not have to store anything for next year. I like all-white Christmas lights because you can use them all year, not just at Christmastime. When you have a tiny house, it's hard to justify storing things you only use 1/12th of the time, so stuff like that is important.

I'm not saying that it's bad to buy presents or that you should deprive yourself of the joys that come with this time of year. I just want to point out that there are other ways to celebrate Christmas. I used to get a lot of joy out of giving physical gifts to my friends and family. These days, I get a lot of joy out of giving them experiences and spending time with them. Instead of feeling entitled to boxes of presents, I've found myself feeling excited about donating to causes I care about.

Before you get the wrong idea, I want to point out that I'm not some sort of Christmas saint. I'm not perfect at this stuff. I still feel the pull to do and buy and be more, but I know that in the end, I'm happier with less. Minimalism is not the only way to focus yourself on the true spirit of Christmas, but it's working really well for me.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your holidays are completely magical whether you go minimalist or maximalist this year. Here's to a wonderful Christmas season and a brand new year to come!

Oh, and speaking of a new year, if you're looking for help with Primary this coming year, I've got a few extra copies of this book that I'd be happy to give you. Just leave me a comment here or on Facebook and I'll see what I can do!