highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.


On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture



After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.


Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.

fabulous friday #41

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve done a fabulous friday post… feels good to be back into more of a regular blogging schedule, after the Thanksgiving craziness! 🙂

My day so far has been a great one… restorative morning yoga class, pumpkin spice chai latte at Starbucks, phone chat with my brother, a few errands checked off my list {including the Post Office, which was much less crowded than I was anticipating! Don’t you love when that happens?} This afternoon I have a couple tutoring appointments, and then tonight I’m getting together with my beautiful-inside-and-out friend Dana for dinner. I haven’t seen her in a month and I’m so excited to catch up!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Raaaaaaain! We have finally been getting some rain here in California, and it is so wonderful!

rainy days

We’re singing and dancing like Gene Kelly around here 🙂 I love drizzly winter days when it feels so cozy to be snuggled up inside, sipping a mug of tea while cookies bake in the oven… which leads me to…

2. I made a holiday version of my pumpkin-spice chocolate kiss cookies! I used the same chocolate cake-mix cookie base, and then instead of a pumpkin spice Hershey’s kiss I topped them each with a candy-cane Hershey’s kiss. The classic peppermint + chocolate combo is a winner, plus they look so darn cute!

peppermint kiss cookies

3. While we’re on the subject of holiday treats, I picked up this black-and-white drizzle kettle corn as an impulse buy at Safeway, and it’s become my go-to dessert. For fellow sweet-and-salty lovers and chocoholics out there, this is right up your alley! I love that it’s made with non-GMO corn and has no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives; no high-fructose corn syrup; and zero cholesterol or trans fats. The grocery checker told me there is also a peanut butter & chocolate version that I am going to keep my eye out for.

holiday kettle corn

drizzle kettle corn

4. This quote from Whitney at sometimes.always.never reflecting on the past year — I feel very similar to the way 2014 unfolded for me:

“It was a year of small, beautiful changes that probably don’t look like a ton to an outsider, but that meant a lot to me. It was a year of personal growth and risks, reflection and change. It was a year of countless little moments that added up to a whole year that turned out to be really beautiful.”

5. I brought back the chocolate advent calendar this year! Greg and I used to get these every year as kids and I have such fond memories of opening them together each morning before school. A couple weeks ago, I spotted chocolate advent calendars when I was at Trader Joe’s, and I grabbed one. {Actually, two — I got one for Allyn, too!}

advent calendar

It brings a smile to my face every morning to see what shape of Christmas chocolate I will get that day. Sometimes it’s the little things, right?

And that’s all for now. Have a delightful weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Do you get a chocolate advent calendar?

a year of Wooden

I gained so much from doing my year of kindness challenge this past year, that I decided I wanted to take on a new year-long project in 2014. When I was brainstorming ideas I kept coming back to my blog’s title, Day-by-Day Masterpiece. It was inspired by one of my favorite sayings, “Make each day your masterpiece” from the late great basketball coach John Wooden. The saying is part of Coach Wooden’s 7 Point Creed, which was given to him by his father Joshua Wooden upon his graduation from high school.

My dad gave my brother and me copies of the 7 Point Creed, which we both carry around in our wallets. As I was reading over the creed an idea began to form. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. The past couple days I have been on the edge of my seat to share this with you!

This year {and perfect timing, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Coach Wooden’s first NCAA basketball championship title} I present to you …

a year of wooden

This year I am going to focus month-by-month on a different item from Coach Wooden’s 7 Point creed, rounding out the other months with his “two sets of three.” The goal will be to add on a new trait each month while continuing to do the items from the previous months … so that by December 2014, I’ll be doing all the items, bringing everything together to “make each day a masterpiece”! I’m going to start off with the first item on Wooden’s 7 Point Creed:

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.

This month, I’m going to focus on reading books by Wooden and about him, a new one each week. I’m kicking things off this week by rereading my dad’s wonderful new book Wooden & Me: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach & Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece.”

If you’d like to follow along with me, you can pick up a copy of Wooden & Me here or on Amazon — both print and ebooks are available!

Have a masterful week!

highlights of 2013

Happy New Year’s Eve! Whether you’re painting the town red or cuddling up with those you love and watching the ball drop on TV {I’ll be doing the latter!} I hope you give 2013 a stellar send-off tonight. Have fun and be safe!

Here are some of my highlights from the past year:

  • Attended the Key West Literary Seminar in Key West, Florida, where I spent a week learning from amazing writers, made some fabulous new friends, and met one of my literary idols — Judy Blume!

key west workshop w:judy

  • Submitted my thesis and graduated from Purdue with my M.F.A. in Fiction Writing! What made it even more special was that my parents, grandparents, and Holly traveled to West Lafayette for my thesis reading.

me and hol thesis reading

my birthday wish

cuz bride!

with writing campers at ceremony

  • I bought my first new car, a Prius C that I named Charley!


me and gma

red tour bus

  • Reconnected with my friend Dana, one of the sweetest people I know {and her adorable dog Heidi, a.k.a. Mr. Mur-dog’s girlfriend!}

dana and heidi

baby photobomb

jess's show

after the game


family with gramps

This year I also:
– celebrated my 10-year anniversary of climbing Mt. Whitney
– tried zumba for the first time
– began attending church regularly
– de-cluttered & simplified my possessions
– completed my Year of Kindness challenge
– celebrated the release of my dad’s new book Wooden & Me
– met up in person with my blogger friend Sarah @ The Pajama Chef and bumped into Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers in the middle of San Francisco
– went to a hot-air balloon festival
– read 71 books
– joined Foodie Pen-Pals @ The Lean Green Bean
– got on board the smoothie train
– and tried my hand at some new craft projects and recipes!

What an incredible year it has been. Tomorrow I’ll share my goals and dreams for 2014… but for now, it’s your turn!

Questions of the day:

  • What are your highlights from 2013?
  • What new things did you try this past year?