A Non-traditional Traditional Christmas

Hello, wonderful readers! Since it’s nearly Christmas, I thought I’d share a post from the past.

Two years ago, my good friend, Brea Essex, hosted one of my blog posts on her 25 Days of Christmas series. I thought I’d revamp the post and share it here. Hope you enjoy!


A Non-traditional Traditional Christmas
Okay, don’t freak out, but I really abhor the majority of holiday traditions—at least, those made up by the retail industry to get us to indulge in ourselves. For example, I’m not big on Thanksgiving food. I know, cardinal sin, right? My ideal Thanksgiving meal would actually be all the best quality meat I could find, cooked to perfection, and chopped into bite-sized pieces in order to dip into the made-from-scratch cheese fondue I would have bubbling on the table. And, I’d have some vegetables to dip too—can’t forget that.
I become very agitated with Black Friday and even Cyber Monday. Do we need to buy all those “goodies?” I mean, does Mom really need another food processor? Would Aunt Mable truly appreciate that quilted leather jacket just because it was half off? And, will Grandma’s garden look better with all those plastic gnomes? Maybe I sound like the Grinch, but when I hear stories of how people are held at gunpoint outside Best Buy on Black Friday and are told to give up that new PlayStation they bought, it brings a great feeling of anger to my spirit. Is this where “tradition” has brought us?
I'm the ghost of Christmas disappointment.

I’m the ghost of Christmas disappointment.

I get the whole décor bit for Christmas time and other holidays too, but honestly, I don’t think we need to have a winter wonderland in Macy’s in October. What ever happened to enjoying each season for what it is? What is the reason or meaning behind what many of us repeat thoughtlessly year after year? What is the meaning of Christmas?
Growing up, we didn’t always have the endless stream of presents that each child dreams of, but we always had enough—more than enough, actually. There were years that Christmastime may have appeared sparse to other onlookers, but I never knew the difference. My mom made sure that Christmas was special for my sister and I. One particular tradition comes to mind when I think of my childhood Christmases.
My mom would drive us around for an hour or so to see Christmas lights at night. We would try to find the BEST house and made our votes for the top candidates. Just spending that time together was magical. We didn’t receive anything tangible, but instead had one of the most precious commodities anyone could want—TIME. Time together. Having our mom spend time with us was the best gift I could have received. I believe there really is no price you can place on time spent with loved ones.
Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 16.31.56
Sometimes, giving of yourself is the most lasting gift you can give to anyone. Out of the many gifts I’ve received over the years, the ones that I still “have” are gifts of time—presence—from loved ones. I probably have about five actual presents from past Christmases and the rest are forever forgotten. But, I will never forget the time my family has spent together over the years.
Another tradition that comes to mind is that of gingerbread house building with my sister and one of our close family friends. For about ten years, we had a tradition of building gingerbread houses from scratch. Some years, they turned out pretty sketchy…
Other years, they turned out great!
The point is: we do this to spend time together—again, the whole presence theme. So, ask yourself: what does Christmas mean for you? Is it a stressful time where you bust your budget to get things that your receiver is going to sell on eBay December 26th? Or, is it a peaceful time where you get the chance to spend time with loved ones and pour into their lives? Are you rushing around, ignoring the people right in front of you just to impress guests, or are you present in the moment? This Christmas, I encourage you to take a non-traditional approach and do something different.
What if you chose to skip on presents this year and donated money to those less fortunate? What if you cancelled that Christmas Eve extravaganza at your house and instead took your family driving around town to find the best lit house? Happiness doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but it will cost you something—time. Taking the time to remember the meaning of Christmas and pressing pause on your busy, hectic life to enjoy what you already have is something that will never go out of fashion. So, have a very merry, non-traditional traditional Christmas!
Merry Christmas from my family to you and yours! <3

Merry Christmas from my family to you and yours! ❤

NaNoWriMo’s “Permission To Write” Effect

Happy December, my lovely and wonderful readers!

I didn’t post much last month, with good reason (at least, I think I had good reason!): I was busy writing up a storm to “win” NaNoWriMo. And … I finally did it! After my fourth time participating, I finally freaking did it. I wrote more than 50K words in 27 days.

Cheers to all of us winners out there!

Cheers to all of us winners out there!

But, how did I do it? Well, I attribute my success to three things:

1. I finally felt like I had permission to write—whatever—which helped.

By having “permission to write” whatever and whoever I wanted, everything else fit into place. There was no judgement, no anxiety about getting everything right, but just pure focus on the story and characters that I began to fall in love with.

Until this year, I never truly understood what that so-called permission meant until I actually let it reign supreme in my writing process this past November. As I move forward, I will always keep that permission to write at the top of my writing needs, and I believe it will continue to help me improve my craft and my prose.

2. I kept a steady pace and routine.

Keeping a steady pace and routine is harder than it sounds. But I already knew that I am a creature of the night. I often can’t sleep until 3 or 4am, so I either read or write. During NaNo, I obviously chose to write. I typically began around 11pm and wrote until 1am–sometimes 2am. Doing that every night in November helped me to hammer out an average of 2K words a night.

Sometimes I wrote more, sometimes less, but I did not have any huge spurts of 10K words or anything. (I don’t think writing spurts are bad, but sometimes they don’t help the routine.) I chose particular scenes or chapters to work on, and if I needed to, I’d add to my notes to save more for later. I think I’ve finally found a good writing groove to stick to for future books (and of course, for when I rewrite the first draft of my NaNo book).

3. I prepped like a war general before battle by outlining and note-taking two weeks leading up to NaNo.

Some writers are “pansters” and some are straight up planners. Or, like me, some are in between. When I began to dream up the concept of my third novel, I started outlining two weeks prior to NaNo. I had a notebook as well as note cards. The notebook helped me to get all my ideas out in a jumbled format. The note cards helped me to write key elements of particular scenes–or even write up some punchy dialogue (much neater than notebook notes).

Having both as resources was the best thing I’ve ever done as a practicing writer in the past 5-6 years. Without those elements, I don’t know that this year’s NaNo would have been as smooth for me as it was. I was able to see the beginning, middle, and end of my story, and that’s what truly helped my story flow from 0 to just over 52K words.

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me This Year

So, even if you didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year, didn’t participate at all, or are scratching your head, saying: “What the hell is NaNoWriMo?” I think there’s an important lesson to be learned that anyone can apply to their craft.

Giving yourself permission to do something–to write, to follow a dream, to become a better person–that’s how it all starts. Permission. No one is going to come up to you and say: “I give you permission to write this book.” Nor are they going to say: “I give you permission to find a job that makes you happy.” NO. It begins with you, and you need to say it to yourself. Only then can you be better than you were yesterday. And you know something? Our world could definitely use a lot of “better” in it.

So, I dare you. Give yourself permission, starting today, and see what happens. If you fail, give yourself permission to get up and try again. And soon, you’ll see that having permission is the best thing that could have ever happened to you.

Until next time,


I won! Woohoo!

I won! Woohoo!

The Necessity of Vacation

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

For the next two weeks, I’m creating my own sort of writer’s retreat, up in the boons of Northern California with my grandmother. I’ve got WiFi (which is on a limited GB plan!), but we were on dial-up up here just a few years ago. No joke. On Wednesday, my most exciting event was finding a dead raccoon and a (live) frolicking deer while taking the dog for a walk to the mailbox, which is down the street.

I’ve been here for a week already, however, feeling more relaxed than I have since I got back from Spain a few months ago. The most convenient part about my little retreat is that I have been able to focus on very important projects, including NaNoWriMo2014. I have never written so much in such a short time. Woot! 

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Having time to ourselves to work on projects and reflect about things in our lives is very important. Therefore, I’d like to touch briefly on the importance of vacation–whether it’s a day of reflection or a week (or more) away from everything.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

When I was 21, I had worked for 3 years straight with NO vacation. I thought I could conquer the world while working full-time, and going to school full-time. I worked 7 days a week (for the most part) and nearly collapsed from doing waaaayyyyy too much. Then I had a wake-up call when I finally took a vacation. 

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008--a life-changing vacation.

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008–a life-changing vacation.

One of my best friends was getting married in Hawaii and I didn’t want to miss the wedding. I booked a flight and hotel for both my sister and I, and decided we’d make the trip a full 8-day vacation. It was glorious. I had nearly forgotten how wonderful it was to relax and do next to nothing. I came alive again. And I realized that I hated working so much and needed to make a big change in my life.

Girls trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

Girls’ trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

A few months after that vacation, I quit my job and pursued other career paths. I was so happy and wondered what had taken me so long to make the change. Then I remembered that my vacation had triggered my desire for change, and that’s when I understood how important vacation is. Had I not taken that trip, who knows how long it would have taken for me to realize that I needed to make a drastic turnaround?

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

Vacation–or even reflection days–can bring clarity that the day-to-day grind can’t. It brings us to a different place physically (sometimes) and mentally (almost always) because we are removed from the norm. When we fail to take time for ourselves to reflect, get away from “it all,” and evaluate our current work/life situation, we do ourselves a disservice. We are more likely to fall into unhealthy habits all around, and wonder why we feel dissatisfied or stuck.

My nephew and I in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister's Sweet 16 in 2011.

My nephew and me in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister’s Sweet 16 in 2011.

Vacation doesn’t have to be something expensive or burdensome. It can be a day set aside once a month, or every other month, in order to disconnect from all our devices and e-mail, and become centered. It can be a day where our sole purpose is to journal and project the future of our business or career–or even plan our next novel. It’s a day where we ask ourselves: Am I where I want to be?

Times Square, New York with my mom in 2012.

With my mom in Times Square, New York in 2012.

And, if the answer is “no,” then we can use the remainder of our away time to come up with a way to answer “yes” in the near future.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

I would like to note that an annual getaway does amazing things for our perspective on life. For myself, I come back from vacation with a new vision for my business and writing endeavors, and I just feel rested and ready for the next chapter of my life. I’m a nicer person when I come back from vacation, and that’s always a good thing. Being happier and more relaxed means that I’m a healthier person who can run a healthy business. I’ve made it a rule to travel somewhere at least once a year since that trip to Hawaii nearly a decade ago, and I’ve been blessed enough to keep that rule.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

If vacation is not an option for you in the near future, set aside some reflection days–national holidays are a good start. And, if the thought of vacation stresses you out…um…you should probably take a vacation. 🙂 Grab a piña colada and take some time for yourself. Cheers!

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a “handcrafted” piña colada! Made it myself. 😉

How to Become a Successful Entrepreneur: 5 Rules

(Updated 10-20-14)

Oftentimes, expecting success and acting like you are already successful in a new endeavor can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who have a positive outlook in life are not immune to calamity, but they know how to get through the storms of life, conquering unfortunate situations with a sword of destiny. Maybe that sounds a little too poetic, but in principle, it’s true.

Each one of us has something unique to offer the world, but often we become so bogged down by responsibilities, that we settle for less than our best. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by, or unfortunate in, our situations and we allow ourselves to play the victim. We begin to recite the old cliché: “I wish that I knew what I know now…when I was younger.” We become stuck in our past mistakes or failures to launch. It’s a depressing cycle.


There’s nothing wrong with choosing the life and responsibilities that we do. Many people want to get married young, start a family, and want to live the suburban life. That is totally fine. I have never had those desires at the forefront of my life, and that has given me a unique advantage in climbing my career ladder. However, I do think there’s a problem with settling.

“Settling can lead us to become stuck in our comfort zones, and we create a drudgery-filled routine in life, too scared to move beyond the known to the unknown.” -T. Hela

Those who are successful in life are those who refuse to settle, see failures as simply lessons from which to learn, and hate the phrase “comfort zone.” And those same people are the movers and shakers of this world, helping to solve various problems for humanity, mainly because they have found their niche in life and are contributing to the world through their individual genius.


When I began my own business in August of last year, I had two main goals:

1. To be overwhelmingly happy with my work (and thus not feel like I was actually “working”).

2. To make enough money to pay the bills.

However, it’s only been a recent discovery in which I noticed how my own niche and passion were helping to not only solve problems for my clients, but were extending beyond the scope of each project.

For example, when I copyedited a website for a client—my largest project last year—I not only helped my client to have better web copy, but affected every current and future visitor who would be looking at the website.

When I edited a manuscript for another client, I helped her novel’s message and storyline come across more effectively, and also affected future readers by better facilitating them to connect to a great story that will encourage them in their personal lives.

So you see, what I do for a living is much bigger than writing and editing; what I do affects many people, just like ripples in a lake.


But again I ask: Why is it so hard for many to find their “genius?” Why do people settle and become miserable in their careers, have a midlife crisis around forty, and feel like what they do doesn’t contribute much to the world?

I honestly think that it comes down to two simple things:

  1. Individuals don’t know themselves as well as they think.
  2. It’s just plain scary to take a leap of faith.

But those two things can be remedied. It’s not easy, and it certainly takes a fair amount of time to develop. Yet, it can be done.

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Get to know yourself: personality-wise and career-wise. There are some great avenues in which to do so:

  • The Meyers-Briggs personality test is a great way to begin on the path of “knowing thyself.”
  • Clifton Strengths Finder (2.0) is an awesome resource for finding your strengths and applying them to your career and personal life. I have often bought the book for my clients, and have had them take the test so I could better understand their habits and ways of thinking.
  • Stand Out is another great way to discover dominant traits/strengths for your work life.
  • No matter how few or how many traumas you’ve experienced in your life, invest some time and money into either a coach or therapist. One of my amazing friends, Sarah, has a coaching business which helps people determine their goals and move past obstacles to live a life in which they thrive.

2. Plan for both success and failure.

  • As the saying goes, “Failing to plan means planning to fail.” However, keep in mind that failure is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’ve prepared. This is different than failing a test because you didn’t study. It means planning for the best and worst, but always hoping and striving for the best. Have realistic expectations and goals, but dream big.
  • The more I study successful people, the more I hear them saying the same thing: “Overnight success is contingent upon years of planning.” Though I did take a big leap of faith into starting my own business last year, I had been developing my writing/editing skills for many years, and studied all that I could about business, goal-setting, and time management. And I’ve still not struck that whole “overnight success” thing, but give me another year or two, and I believe I will.

3. Become a People Collector.

  • “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Time and time again, this saying has proven itself on numerous occasions in my life. I quickly learned at a young age just how important it is to know the right people, and develop great relationships with them. It has advanced my career more so than having three college degrees.


4. Give back.

  • Be a People Collector, yes, but also be a resource for other People Collectors. By giving of your time and talents, you’d be surprised how many favors you can call in. Before launching my business, I did a ton of pro bono work, and now it’s paying off. By doing pro bono work, I discovered that: there was a market for my skills, my skills were in high demand, and I enjoyed coaching/writing/editing/business building.
  • Offer something of value to people, and offer it for free. Do you know something that other people don’t? I’m not saying to give away the bank and never charge for your intellectual property, BUT…divulge some helpful tips here and there. It will hook people, and they’ll feel more confident about hiring you for the full spectrum.

5. Don’t fear the unknown; fear regrets.

  • When all else fails, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. You have to do something that no one else is encouraging you to do, except for that throbbing feeling in your heart. It’s that feeling pushing you to do something unexpected and risky. It’s the thread that connects all entrepreneurs: the courage to possibly look stupid and fail because you believe so strongly in your idea.
  • If you find yourself miserable in your career or life circumstance, ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen if I decide to take this risk? If you answer any range of outcomes, except for death, then consider how you would plan to overcome or avoid any of the consequences. Losing all your money, looking stupid, failing, etc. Seems to me that death is worse than all those things, if that helps to put things into perspective.
  • If you have such a compelling idea to do something—an idea that won’t leave you alone, no matter what—then start drafting out the possibilities. Is it helpful to others? Will it make money and help you pay the bills? Is there a market for it? Do you possess the skills and knowledge necessary for this idea to come to fruition? And if you are missing some skills or knowledge, do you know others who could help you? If you answer yes more than no, you should probably do it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is NOT a weakness; it is a strength. After all, that’s the whole point of becoming a People Collector AND a resource for others. Call in some favors, buy someone a coffee for an hour of their time as they give you advice, ask an old boss or colleague for a letter of recommendation or testimonial.
  • Think of all the possibilities rather than all the obstacles!

Like I said before: It’s not easy to be successful, but it’s doable. Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all found our genius niche and offered it to others? If we were all helpful AND successful? Perhaps we would have more time to give back to others and tackle humanity’s problems with real and lasting solutions.

So, my encouragement to you: Look inward first, before looking outward. What can YOU fix about YOU? How can you shape your life and career to be someone you’re proud of…someone who reaches others?

How can you help yourself, so that you can help the world?

Until next time, Keep Calm & Business On!


A New Decade: Welcome to 30

Today is my 30th birthday, and I’m actually pretty stoked.

Me on my 23rd birthday, 7 years ago!

Me on my 23rd birthday, 7 years ago!

During the past few months, I’ve read EVERY “30 Things By 30” kinds of articles on Buzzfeed, HuffingtonPost, blogs…you name it, I’ve read it. And funnily enough, I have been able to relate to almost every article.

23rd birthday. Feels like eons ago!

23rd birthday. Feels like eons ago!

Just what is it about not only adding another year to your existence, but transitioning to a new decade?

26th birthday...always classy!

26th birthday…always classy!

Well, for one, I think that it’s easier to quantify your life experiences, ups and downs, and major milestones in larger chunks as opposed to individual years. For example, if you asked me: Tamar, what was going on in your life around age 22? My response would be: Like I know…

Vacation in Hawaii. I *think* this was around age 22... Who. Knows. Ha!

Vacation in Hawaii. I *think* this was around age 22… Who. Knows. Ha!

But when I think back on the past decade of my life, I see a cumulative existence. I see a girl who became a woman (who still feels like a kid at times). I see a young woman who overcame many years of weird and bizarre illnesses, who now has a better appreciation for good health and a greater understanding for those who suffer from chronic sickness/pain. I see a young woman who fought hard to successfully earn her college degree while working full time. I see a young woman who learned how to speak up for herself while still being diplomatic and graceful (even when I wanted to punch someone’s throat).

I see a young woman who learned (and is still learning) how to forgive those who wronged her, and learned how to ask for forgiveness when she was wrong. And I see a young woman who began to accept herself–her WHOLE self–for who she was and who she is. I still have a ways to go with that one (among many other things), but don’t we all?

My first tattoo, age 20. (I've added 4 more since then.)

My first tattoo, age 20…or maybe 21… (I’ve added 4 more since then.)

I am not perfect, nor do I think I will ever reach perfection in this lifetime. However, I am wiser, stronger, and more capable because of the past decade. And, thankfully, though I had many rough patches in my 20’s, I am all the more resilient–I still believe in miracles and magic, which is an absolute requirement if you’re a writer. I am always learning something new, continually fascinated by the discoveries I make.

My very first book signing, age 27.

My very first book signing, age 27.

I am blessed.

Wandering around El Dorado Forest, age 29. (Photo cred: Robin M.)

Wandering around El Dorado Forest, age 29. (Photo cred: Robin M.)

How many people can say that they wrote 2 books before hitting 30? How many can say that they were able to travel halfway around the world and live there for a while? I’m constantly awed when I reflect on the out-of-this-world opportunities that I have been given.

Age 27, right after a book signing at Barnes & Noble. Wow, what a moment!

Age 27, right after a book signing at Barnes & Noble. Wow, what a moment!

I don’t think I’m some super special snowflake or anything, but the past decade has definitely taught me about the power of yes and no–saying yes to the things that light up your world, and turning down other things (even great ones) that don’t. And because of that, especially the past few years, I have been living a very rich life.

My mom and me in NY, 2012 (age 28).

My mom and me in Times Square, NY, 2012 (age 28).

As I jump forward into a new year–a new decade–of life, I will keep saying yes to the things that stir excitement and ignite my passions within. Because the past 10…20…29 years of my life have taught me that when I do what I was made to do, I can actually help the world become a better place.

I don’t know all that is in store for me, but I am excited for what is to come–all the good, and even the not-so-good. Every new experience will teach me something, and in turn, I can teach others. I hope that my life will serve as an inspiration to others. Even if I can positively affect just one person’s life, I will be content. Also, I’m glad that I care less about the little things that I don’t need to waste my time worrying about–especially the opinions of others. There is so much freedom in just being me and being okay with that. 

Me with one of the most important people in my life: my nephew. (Age 28 here.)

Me with one of the most important people in my life: my nephew. (Age 28 here.)

Now…for the moment you’re really here and reading this: MY SPECIAL GIVEAWAY! I have 2 presents to give away today. The first is for everyone: My first book, Feast Island, is FREE today, in celebration of my birthday (Kindle version only). Yay! Click HERE to get it.

AND…if you are among the first 5 people to comment on this blog post, you get a FREE Kindle version of my latest release, The Wrong Fairy Tale! Woohoo!

Here’s your prompt: What is an important thing you’ve learned as you’ve grown older?

Share in the comments below!

WFT final cover onlyjpegThanks for being here and for reading this post. Without you, this would be a diary instead of a blog! xoxo