Bullet Journaling for Readers


I’ve kept journals for as long as I’ve been able to write! It’s satisfying to put my thoughts into an elegant notebook. By sheer persistence I filled a shelf with notebooks of all sizes and colors. Flipping through the pages, I encounter myself in different stages of my life. These can be difficult times, calm times, creative times.

Since my journals tend to be wordy, it took me a while to get the hang of bullet journaling. It did not seem a good fit, considering the details I’m used to recording. Something changed this year. Perhaps it was the sense that, with the pandemic, it’s been a dull world; this pushed me to try new things.

I wanted to use colorful marker pens; I wanted to draw and use washi tape. Keeping a traditional diary is therapeutic, but the bullet journal gave me a way to learn new skills.

I’m still getting the hang of it; my journal is nothing close to the things you see on Pinterest! I have found some fun ways to use it as a reading journal. As I figure out which methods work for me, I’ll share them with you.

The Bookshelf Drawing

Source: britishbookart on Etsy

I have to admit that the popular practice of drawing books to represent the real shelf is what attracted me to this form of diary.

I’ve seen really creative shelf sketches with bears, flower pots, and paintings on a shelf. My shelf drawing was much plainer. I still enjoy filling in the colors of book spines when I finish reading them!

If you’re not an artist but want to have a reading tracker, I found this excellent print on Etsy! Isn’t it adorable? It’s full of color and personality; seller britishbookart is very talented!

Genre Tracker

What is the ratio of genres that I enjoy? Do I read more Mystery than Romance? As a writer, I would find it useful to see which genre I ‘know’ most about—it’d help me find my strengths and craft better stories.

Bullet journaling offers a great way to track habits such as study time, outdoor time, or tracking the glasses of water taken daily. In a like manner, I’ve made a genre tracker.

I keep my genres general—Romance, Mystery, Self-Help. Under Mystery I gather all of the “subgenres” like historical mystery or murder mystery, making the tracker quite simple. According to my BuJo right now, right now I’m I enjoying Mystery and Romance more than Fantasy–but that could always change!

Quote Collection

Source: She Doodles on Instagram

Goodreads is a great place to save your favorite quotes from books, but my eyes are really sensitive to light. Unless I’m writing or blogging, I try to avoid computer screens; my phone light is really low.

For this reason, I prefer to keep my quotes on a page I can read comfortably.

You can make a “quote dump” page to gather these words of wisdom, or record them on the “sidebars” of your daily spreads. I’ve done a bit of both!

I’m crazy about this spread by She Doodles on Instagram; they can be used for words of encouragement, but also to keep track of quotes. It’s minimalist but catches the eye!

Cover Collage

For the same reason stated above—my eyes are sensitive to light—I don’t use Goodreads to keep track of books.

Considering all of the eBooks on my Kindle, it’s easy for me to lose track of what I have to read when I can’t see them visually!

I printed out the covers of books I haven’t read yet and glued them into my bullet journal, trying to sort them by genre. I have my section on nature books, mystery/thriller, classics…it’s a bit of work, but when you see the books collected, the work is worthwhile!

Here’s a glimpse into my own journal! You can tell I’m a fan of historical romance!

Book Reviews

I don’t post all of my reviews online, but I read quite a bit. I want to record my thoughts on each book so that I can reflect on them later. I reserved several pages in my BuJo with blue “tabs” on the edge. That way, I can easily find my personal book reviews.

It’s nothing special—I note the title, the day I finished reading, and up to three paragraphs of reflections. These are useful, because my reviews help me revisit them!


There are other fun ways to use a BuJo for reading. I’m eager to learn more as I continue this wonderful hobby! If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!

The Purpose of 2021


At the end of a year such as this, I find myself at a loss for what to say. Parts of 2020 were wonderful, such as seeing my cousins again after so long. Other aspects were nightmarish–imagining all of the people in the world falling sick, picturing empty chairs at Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, the sense of utter helplessness.

I imagine that 2020 changed everyone in some way. As it is now, I have developed a thirst for God again–yes, a thirst for Truth. You can see it in my religious blog. You might notice it if you see the pile of Papal Encyclicals on my desk, waiting to be read. I am single, but I’m in love with Jesus and His Church.

Can there be a love stronger than what I feel for the Church right now? She is a beacon of hope and a chest of treasures. The best memories of my childhood were in religious education class. There is no sweeter aroma to me than the inside of my parish, which I can smell even through the odious face-mask. I think of the days I was preparing for Confirmation–and such a nostalgia grips me that I want to weep.

I can’t–I can’t imagine I would have found this love again, if COVID fear had not sent me back “home.” Hold on to your faith and don’t let go. Bathe your quaking heart in the gentle truth of God’s love; wrap yourself in the safety of Mary’s mantle.

Some of you, like me, might feel inclined to weep as we near the end of this horrific year. Do it–let your tears water your faith. It will grow into a deeply-rooted tree, shade in the heat of trouble, shelter from the storm.

As for me, one day I will teach religious education. One day, I will give other kids the beautiful memories that my religion teachers gave me. When, God, will I be able to do this in person? A blog is all I can manage for now. I pray that this should be in my future–yes, I study and I pray.

My beautiful Idaho in the winter

Many of you might have lost someone this year. I wish I could tell you that time will heal your grief, but if my previous post here tells you anything, it’s that time does not patch up the wound of a lost loved one.

At the Christmas Eve Mass last week, we asked for my beloved grandmother’s name to be mentioned in the prayers for the deceased. When I heard her name mentioned as deceased, my heart hurt–as if she had left us again. It felt like that morning, two years ago, when my dad woke us up on Christmas Eve to say, “Grandma died.”

After prayers were said, the choir played The First Noel, my favorite Christmas song–but I could not sing it. I was crying–so hard that I could not hold a note, or remember the lyrics. I could only kneel and rifle through the beautiful memories of Grandma and her house, the clothes she wore, her scent and her laughter, the deck overlooking her yard. My heart, though grateful that she was with Jesus, felt terrible pain.

It felt as if she had been wrenched from me again.

On the kneeler, I felt relief–and then emptiness–and I sobbed instead to The First Noel, praying in thanksgiving for my grandma’s life. That was all I could do–thank the Lord for her life.

If you need to cry, let your tears water your faith. Don’t hold them in, though; turn to the crucified Savior and cry.

There’s a time for flower beds and there’s a time for ice / The armor of the tree and bush which, frozen, slowly dies…

2021 does not promise to be easier. I’m not afraid of 2021. I wear the shield of faith, and instead of letting it wrench me of hope, I pray that God will use me and my writing to give hope to others.

I’m not afraid of 2021. I am afraid of not seeing a future, of not anticipating being anyone, of being the same person I was before COVID. Let me never be lukewarm again. I am more than a writer; I am a child of God, His ambassador on earth. All Christians have much work to do in His name.

There will have been positive changes in you this year, as well. Perhaps you can’t see them yet; dig deep and you will feel them. Have a good cry and they will surface on your heart. You have a purpose–yes, you, though there are moments you might feel you don’t make a dent in history. You have a purpose; that’s why you were born!

My grandma had a beautiful purpose; now she has gone to Jesus. She left a family aching with rich love for her. Live the sort of life that will form your legacy of love. There is nothing else we should strive to be remembered for, because God is Love.

Enter 2021 ready to find your purpose. I am.

Dear Grandma:


Dear Grandma:

It’s been two years, and I guess I need to talk to you. Merry Christmas is hard to pronounce, because you left on Christmas Eve.

I remember what your house looked like every Christmastime. I remember you had Mrs. Claus sitting on a child-sized rocking chair and you always had tons of ornaments on your tree. You made a lot of them decades past; I really wish we had gotten better photos of the masterpiece that was your Christmas tree.

It’s been two years since you went to Heaven and I’ve learned that time does not, in fact, heal. It gives you opportunities to find distractions; you pick up new hobbies and responsibilities. You seek the same sort of comfort in other people, but no one hugs like you did, and no one smells like you did.

One summer we were in your basement. You asked me, “Would you ever consider visiting my church?” Because you are Mormon and I have been Catholic since I was eleven. I didn’t know what to say at the time; I didn’t want to get into a religious discussion with my grandma. “I’ll consider it,” I promised you, and though you might have wanted some more enthusiasm, you didn’t press the subject.

When you died, I decided I wanted to keep that promise. I didn’t expect I’d be keeping that promise I made to you while you were in your casket, but I’m sure you were in the same room. I told a story my cousins must have been familiar with. I spoke of how you loved the autumn leaves as they changed with the seasons. I reminded my cousins of how you would point them out every time you drove us somewhere in October.

I spoke to distant family and friends from your church who probably didn’t know this side of you, about how you were an artist. You would pull up in your white Dodge Durango, all dressed up to visit the craft store. One time you accidentally pulled up to get us when I had arranged to go somewhere else with a friend, so you and I agreed to go out again some other time. I regret that decision; I will always regret it.

I spoke a eulogy as a granddaughter, and though I had never done any form of public speaking previously, people said that it was moving. Many asked me to send them the transcript. It was the last thing I could do for you on earth: remind people of how you loved.

Two years later, Christmas isn’t the same. You left us on the morning of Christmas Eve, forever making yourself a part of the Christmas spirit, but we are human and our hearts are still broken. Last year we did not put up a Christmas tree; this year we have a small one, but your house has been taken by another family, and we are utterly alone in this city.

My brother snapped a candid shot of a time you spontaneously decided to teach me to make chocolate chip cookies. You were wearing a cheetah-print blouse and I was paying attention. I didn’t know at the time how desperately I would want that moment back, and I am grateful to Christian for preserving that moment.

One time you were speaking of someone you knew who had gotten engaged, and seeing that I looked melancholy, gave me advice about relationships. “You’ll have one one day,” you said, referring to a wedding announcement. “Men aren’t as aggressive with their feelings.” Whether that’s true or not, your care for how I felt on the subject still serves as a balm.

One time I asked you if Grandpa would be proud of us. It had been over ten years since his death, and you knew him better than anyone else, while I only have flashes of important moments spent with him. “Oh,” you said, nearly breaking down, “he would be so proud of you.” You then walked away, as if to cry somewhere.

I remember being a young child, cuddled up against you while you read out loud from Peter Rabbit. I remember the feel of the couch beneath us, the smell of your laundry detergent, and the illustrations from the book. Then I would want you to read me another book, and you’d wait patiently as I chose a children’s book from your cupboard. It smelled like the library I would one day have. When you died, I kept that copy of Peter Rabbit for myself.

A snippet of a conversation between you and Grandpa lingers in my mind regarding the grandfather clock we inherited from you. He was staring at the pendulum as it went back and forth, admiring how the entire living room could be seen on its face. “Colleen,” he told you, “take a photo of that.” “The flash would ruin it,” you replied. “Paint it,” he said.

There are moments that the four of us feel lost in the world without you. We haven’t gone to your favorite restaurant, Casa Mexico, since then; I don’t think we ever will. We can’t drive by your house.

I always dream of your house, you know. I dream of going inside and everything being where it should be, including the grandfather clock now ticking away in my living room. In my mind, that will always be our family’s house.

“You’re still grieving?” some might ask. “That was a long time ago.” Or, “She’s in Heaven!” Or, “Find a hobby.”

Certain friends could not understand that grief causes change in behavior, priorities, and mindset. I don’t miss them. If they couldn’t stand by me while I grieved, they weren’t really friends.

Grandma Colleen, the thing I remember most about you is how the only thing you remembered to say in your final months was “I love you.” You took that love with you, and I can picture you looking back at us at the gates to Heaven in order to say “I love you” one last time.

I don’t know the point of this post. I’m not sure you can read it. I suppose I want everyone to know for Christmas what a great grandmother you are.

You left a void in all of us. I’m sorry we can’t fill it; I don’t mean to guilt you. We miss you and we always will.

Christmas is about Jesus…but it’s also about you. It always will be.

I love you.

-Mariella

Waiting at the Manger


Last night we made a small pilgrimage to our church, where there is a Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is not there yet; according to tradition, He will be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. In our house we have a small Nativity scene where Baby Jesus is covered up; He will be revealed on Christmas Eve.

Friends, it has been a year to test all of us; enough has happened to chip away at the faith of the most pious person. We cannot let fear steal away our joy of the holidays. We cannot let fear steal away our joy.

I’m not a theologian. I am a storyteller. Long ago, when I was baptized, I knew Jesus had sent us all out to tell the greatest story of them all: the story of how He came to save us from eternal grief. My short posts on lives of the Saints at Write Catholic are only the result of the first chapter.

What is the first chapter? Is it not when the Creator descended as a babe, helpless in the arms of His Mother, surrounded by the animals blessed to adore Him–already rejected, because there was no room for Him at the inn?

2021 is a good time to erase fear from the inns of our hearts and make space for the gifts that Jesus brought us. In 2020 we were all afraid, and we had reason to be; in 2020, many people lost loved ones and had their lives changed forever.

St. John Paul II’s handwriting encourages us to remember the 365 times that the Bible tells us not to be afraid. Anyone who knows of St. John Paul II’s life can agree that he saw fear; he felt it; he wept when he lost his friends, he must have been frustrated when Parkinson’s debilitated him, and there must have been times when he asked God Why?

He had a purpose, though, and God never gives us more than we can handle. You have a purpose, too; so do I. In 2021, I will follow the words of St. John Paul II and pray for the grace to stand steady in the face of a shifting world.

As survivors of 2020, what might our purpose be? Here are some ideas off of the top of my head:

  • Comfort the mourning. You probably know somebody who lost a friend or family member to COVID; send them a card in the mail and reassure them of your prayer and friendship.
  • Exercise your faith. Like a muscle, faith needs to be put into action daily. Read the Bible or a devotional; sit in silence and wait for the soft voice in your heart to give you instructions.
  • Pray the Rosary. Our Lady gave us the Rosary with the promise that this Sacramental would save the world. She told the children at Fatima that it should be prayed every day. I have made this a practice, and it brings me peace I cannot describe with human words.
  • Count your blessings. A dear friend encouraged me to write my small blessings in a gratitude journal. Be grateful for your breakfast in the morning; be grateful for that line in a song you really love. The more you practice gratitude, the more grateful you will be.
  • Tell someone about Jesus. I can assure you that, in the chaos of 2020, many people have forgotten about Jesus and what He did for us. Tell one person about Jesus this year; remind them that we have not been forgotten, and that we look forward to a better world.
  • Practice charity. Whether it’s donating to a food bank or being kind to someone you do not know, those five dollars might buy a meal–a kind sentence might be the only kindness someone encounters in an entire day. Love covers a multitude of sins–and heals a multitude of hurts.

We are a people of joy, not fear.

Christmas is nearly upon us; I can feel in my bones that we Christians have extra work to do in 2021. Raise the hashtag #2021BeNotAfraid. Seek the positive, the reminders of God in the world. Tell people why you still have hope.

My part in all of this? I am a writer. I can use words to get messages across. I am more than a fiction writer. My interests are in more than fantasy and historical fiction. It is my vocation to keep telling the greatest story in the world.

I believe this is my purpose. Sit down for a while now and ask God…what is yours?

Creativity in Quarantine


I would love to say that I am #StayingAtHome, but I found this situation more complicated—and emotionally loaded.

When we first arrived in Peru, we were staying in a hotel. This was where we were when, halfway into our trip, a quarantine and curfew were set; all of the stores closed. Any place that we might have gone to have fun has been shut down for weeks.

After that, we left the hotel to spend the remainder of our trip at our grandmother’s house; there is still nowhere to go except for the grocery store.

Boredom can be painful.

I expected that quarantine of such a nature would give me inspiration to finish a book. Instead, I’m writing a few chapters, but they are good ones.

It’s hard to focus on creative writing when the media makes you so hyper aware of the bad things happening in the world. We are all feel a little out of place. We are all celebrating small victories, like finishing a chapter or reading a long book.

As we wait out the last three days, hoping the U.S. Government will get us home, I’m allowing myself to feel the negative feelings. They can lead to clarity. They can serve as inspiration. Ultimately, they can guide us.

I hope you’ve found something to keep you sane during this time. We are all seeing the world in a different way; how have these events changed your viewpoint?

Imagine Success


2020 is young, and sweet progress is being made. I’ve written 10,000 words towards my first novella of the year. I am hoping for four of them.

As I wade through the tale of Isolde and Gareth, I can’t help reflecting on how my writing process has changed since I began. It’s more mature; for instance, though I do not outline much, I need a checklist of events. I sort through scenes in my head, and try to pick those that are absolutely necessary.

With a goal of 30-33,000 words max for The Price of a Unicorn, it is important to choose the most necessary scenes.

My writing prompt app said today, Imagine success. That sent a wave of excitement through me. Though success comes in many forms (for instance, writing 10k is success) the prompt made me think of what I want from my stories.

I have a mermaid series in the works, and a fantasy trilogy loaded with magic; now, I have my side project of novellas. These novellas play out in my head like television shows, more than my books did. I might rewrite them in screenplay form.

When the new year began, I made plans for the next ten years. I want to read all the classic novels, including obscure ones you won’t find in bookstores. I want to be decent at the piano.

Most importantly, by the time 2030 comes around, I want to have plenty of stories published. I have all that I need to succeed as a storyteller; until this year, I only lacked motivation.

You ask me to imagine success; I see a shelf full of books with my name on them. I see journals of poetry. I see memoirs of my travels, articles, and anthologies.

The next ten years, God willing, shall be full of ambition and learning. It’s possible, when I quit procrastinating. It’s possible, when I believe in myself. I have so many stories to tell!

When you imagine success, what do you see?

Thoughts on the Louvre


I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.

I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.

However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.

Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.

We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.

Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.

But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.

Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.

I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.

What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.

In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.

The Lady of Paris


Yesterday, the Eiffel Tower stood before me.

All my life, I had wanted to meet her in person, wanted it desperately; I pined for it, as if anxious she would one day walk away. I feared she would vanish to a different spot if I kept her waiting, for no lady likes to wait.

But there she was watching, steady with wisdom from years she had seen go by, years of revolution, heroes and tragedy. Only the stars could compete with her light. No diamond can outshine her.

She stood in the same spot she’d been all the time I had wanted to see her. I like to believe she waited for me patiently. Perhaps she knew I would one day arrive and bask in her great shadow.

She stood as if I were the reason she had kept to that spot.

As the taxi made its way up the street, her light beamed over the city, settling on me. In that moment, I nearly cried.

Her light settled on me and she seemed to say, “Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you.”

The 2019 Reading List


In this post, I spoke about my New Year’s Resolution: to read 30 classic novels—or at least attempt to read them—in order to work through my bookshelf. Collecting books is a beautiful thing, but that’s only half the fun; the magic is in reading them!

I said I would post my reading list when it was assembled, however there has been a change.

The original plan was to read 30. While planning my reading list, I took into account the length of some of these books and the time I will have available. I also reminded myself that, following the death of my grandmother, I’ve been having problems sitting down to focus on a book.

The number has therefore been lowered to 25, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t read them all. The point is to be trying.

I have already finished the first book on the list—it was The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A post about the novel will follow. I took copious notes of the first chapters but stopped halfway through, when the book became too gripping to jot my thoughts every ten pages.

Here, then, is the list. The books are to be read in no particular order, and I have chosen these titles on the basis of owning them; there is no theme, even though you can tell classic literature is my favorite category. Also, some of these books are novellas or anthologies; they are thick books I haven’t gotten through yet.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Sagas of Icelanders (anthology of folklore)
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Russian Fairy Stories (anthology of folklore)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Sons and Daughters by D.H. Lawrence
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • TBA

I have left one spot empty because I know myself, and I know a classic will pop up sometime in July or September that should be in this list.

I am not limiting this year’s reading to the books listed above. I’m positive there are other lighter works that will provide modern respite. The point of this challenge, in the end, is to make progress, know literary history, and develop my vocabulary. Most of all, I look forward to doing something I enjoy. Reading old books has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

Have you set any goals this year? What are they?

l’automne


Your bookshelves are empty.
Outside, the leaves fall.
We’re waiting through
The saddest autumn of all.

Your piano is sleeping—
Too great for my hands.
Still, I will play
‘Til my heart understands.

I took home your paper
To sketch out your face,
But you have a smile
That art can’t replace.

The trees out your window
Have all become bare.
So I search my heart:
You will always be there.

I’m thankful to have this beautiful woman for a grandmother. And I’m thankful to have her for another Thanksgiving.

Life & Flowers


I stepped out today to find all of my flowers had bloomed.

Gathering some into a vase, I realized why it’s important to wait for certain things—and to appreciate what’s going on during the wait, even in moments when it seems no change is happening.

The flowers are stunning, aren’t they? If I had rushed them, if I had not waited out the long hot summer, if I had not endured August weeks of dryness during which no flowers grew—I would not have gathered so many colors today.

The cliche is true: the best things are worth the wait, every moment of it.