highlights of 2016

Hello, hello, my long-lost friends! I feel like the universe is laughing at me, because pretty much as soon as I hit the “publish” button on my last post {oh, you know, the one about how I was aiming to have a minimal, simple holiday season}… alllll of the craziness descended! Isn’t that just the way life works sometimes? I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to my month of extreme overwhelm, including work stuff and my first holiday season as a married woman {!!!}… but, suffice to say, one of my top goals for this next year is to establish a more sustainable work-life balance and to strengthen my boundary-setting muscles!

I can’t believe we are already here, in the first days of 2017. When I think back to my life at this time last year, it is unbelievable how much has changed. What a year it has been! 2016 has been a year of contradicting emotions for me: perhaps the best-ever year in my personal life, but a very rough year as far as our nation and the larger world are concerned. Here’s hoping that 2017 is filled with greater love, deeper connections, and a broad, fierce effort to fight injustice and hatred wherever they rear their ugly heads.

One of my favorite rituals at the end of each year is to look back on my best memories from each month. Here are my highlights of 2016…

January

My sweetie and I moved into an apartment together! It was so exciting to take this big step in our relationship, and to begin building a home together. I love our cozy apartment! If you missed it, here is a little tour.

bookshelves

I also chopped off eight inches of my hair to donate in honor of my dear friend Celine. It was the perfect way to remember her on the one-year anniversary of her death.

for celine

On the last weekend in January, Allyn took me on a surprise getaway to the beautiful Russian River valley celebrate our two-year dating anniversary… and he got down on one knee! Getting engaged to the love of my life was the absolute best way to kick off 2016!

me and al redwoods

February

We drove down to Ventura to celebrate with my family, and began to start planning our wedding! We set the date for September 4th, which is my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Al and I engaged

Also in February… my mom flew up to help me go wedding dress shopping and meet with vendors, and I said “yes” to the dress!

wedding-dress-try-on

March

I flew home to Ventura to celebrate Easter with my parents, and then attended the AWP writers conference in Los Angeles. It was absolutely wonderful to meet up with old friends from undergrad and grad school! And I always find writers conferences so motivating and energizing for my own work. Often, as a writer, you spend a great deal of time in solitude, so it is important to engage with the writing community whenever you are able!

April

Greg was in Berkeley for a work conference, so my parents and I met up with him in San Francisco for a brief little family vacation! It was so fun to spend some time in the city with my fam. We climbed Coit Tower, wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf, sipped famous Irish coffees and ate delicious Italian food.

fam-sf-trip

May

Allyn took me out to dinner in San Francisco and to a concert of one of my favorite-ever musicians, Amber Rubarth — the next day, I wrote her a letter about what her music has meant to me over the years, and to my surprise and joy, she responded!

me and amber rubarth 2

Memorial Day weekend, Allyn and I drove down to Ventura to celebrate my dad’s birthday and my 29th birthday {my long-awaited “golden” birthday!} with lots of cake, delicious home-cooked meals, and a family mini-golf outing! {Allyn got not one, but TWO hole-in-ones! His reign as Mini-Golf Champion continues…}

fam-golf-outing

June

I published the second “Dancing With The Pen” anthology of stories, essays and poetry by young writers! This was a true labor of love and I am so proud of all of these amazing young writers who I feel truly blessed to work with. Such an inspiration!

dancing-with-the-pen-kiddos

dancing-in-my-possession

Also in June, my wonderful mother-in-law threw me a beautiful bridal shower… I felt utterly “showered” with love!

me with aunts

me with sunflower plate

In June, I also began teaching extracurricular high school literature and writing classes through an organization in San Jose, which is something I really enjoy! I have been doing individual private teaching the past several years, but I missed the dynamics of classroom teaching from my grad-school days at Purdue.

July

I took my first-ever trip to Hawaii! It was so fun and relaxing to spend a week soaking up the sun on the Big Island with Allyn’s fam. I also checked off a couple “bucket list” activities like swimming with manta rays and learning to snorkel! It was extra special getting to see the Mauna Kea resort where my grandparents spent so many wonderful vacations together.

shave-ice

From Hawaii, I flew to Southern California to teach two weekends of Summer Writing Camp — one of my favorite teaching gigs each year. The kids have such amazing creative energy, and I love getting to witness their joy and unfettered enthusiasm for writing.

In Ventura, I also hosted a screening of the documentary film Minimalism and was elated when it SOLD OUT. This was an example for me of diving into a new challenge, working hard, and building a success! If I hadn’t taken the risk of volunteering to host the screening, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience our community coming together in such an inspiring way.

minimalism-screening

Speaking of community… one final highlight of July was the surprise bridal shower that my aunt Kymmie threw for me in Ventura! I was utterly shocked and it was absolutely wonderful to get to celebrate with my hometown friends and family who hadn’t been able to make it up north for my other bridal shower. {I know, what a blessed lady I am to have not one, but two amazingly generous showers!} We played some fun and hilarious games, ate scrumptious food, and I felt so filled with laughter and love.

August

I taught summer camps in writing, reading, and public speaking. We attended a beautiful wedding of family friends in the quaint beach town of Bolinas. And the rest of August was a blur of our own wedding preparations!

at-katie-carlos-wedding

September

Besides the day my brother was born, September 4, 2016 was the absolute best day of my life. Allyn and I got married! Celebrating our union with so many of our dear family and friends was incredible. Even months later, I can’t begin to put it into words.

me-and-al-xmas-card

We honeymooned in Yosemite, which was magical and relaxing and everything a honeymoon should be!

me al yosemite

honeymoon dessert

After we returned from our honeymoon in paradise, I began teaching a Creative Writing class for high schoolers every week in San Jose. It has been a great way to flex my teaching muscles, and my students grew so much over the course of the semester!

October

We went to a darling pumpkin patch where we conquered another corn maze, and attended the neat Lumination festival of lights in Gilroy.

Allyn pumpkin patch

dragon lumination

October was also filled with lots of fun travels! We spent a weekend visiting my cousin Arianna at Chico State, where she is a freshman.

visiting-arianna-chico

My dad joined me for a weekend getaway up to Seattle, courtesy of the amazingly generous Bill and Micki, to attend Amber Rubarth’s House Concert at their lovely home! It was a truly masterpiece trip that I will remember for all my life.

me and dad chowder seattle

We also enjoyed exploring Seattle, including the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum — WOW!

chihuly museum

At the end of October, I flew down to Los Angeles, where I met up with my brother to attend a Blind Pilot concert — one of our favorite bands! Greg is such an awesome concert buddy and we had a blast together.

gb blind pilot

That night after the concert, we drove to Ventura and surprised Mom for her birthday! The shock on her face when we walked through the front door was absolutely priceless.

surprising mom

November

The highlight of November for me was spending Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my fam! It was so much fun to take a getaway trip with them to such a vibrant destination. My parents and Greg had never been there before, so Allyn and I had a fun time showing them around the city we had many fond memories of, from back when I visited Allyn during his summer internship there in 2014. We went to jazz concerts every night, followed by a late-night dessert of beignets. We explored the Garden District and the French Quarter. We took a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi, found the former homes of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, cheered on the streets during a parade, and ate Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant. All in all, it was a perfect trip!

thanksgiving-parade

new orleans architecture

boys eating beignets

December

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this epically long post, December was a whirlwind. The definite highlights were getting to spend time with Allyn’s family and my family: we spent Christmas Eve & Christmas with Allyn’s family, and New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day with my family. It was exciting to share our first holiday season together as a married couple!

me-and-al-xmas-eve

our stockings

christmas list

On to 2017…

I am excited to see what highlights this next year holds! Here’s to making memories with those we love and savoring every minute of this precious life we share together.

gifts from 2015

Wow, it is hard to believe we are already here, the first day of 2016! For me, 2015 seemed to pass slowly and then all at once. January 26, 2015 will forever be a “before” and “after” day for me, splitting my life into two distinct periods: before I truly knew grief, and afterwards — now — living with the painful knowledge and awareness of what real loss feels like. After my dear friend Celine died, February and March felt like wading through life underwater; time was water-logged and everything felt strange. But slowly, gradually, throughout this year I have returned to myself — albeit, a slightly different version of myself. I guess that is what it means to grow older: to be shaped by life while trying to remain true to that authentic core of your being, of your spirit.

In many ways, grief stripped away all the nonessentials of my life this past year, leaving a deeper appreciation for what truly matters: the people I love and the experiences and memories I will cherish all the rest of my days, however many remaining days I am blessed with. To be sure, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I feel the full weight of gratitude to be here, witnessing the unfolding of a new year. It really is true that each day on this Earth is uncertain and precious; each hour we are given of this life is a miraculous gift. I feel that so much more deeply today than I did a year ago.

Here are some of my gifts from 2015:

I got to travel to Carmel with my sweetheart to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a charming Bed & Breakfast by the seaside.

I got to travel to L.A. to watch my brother Greg’s amazing panel at USC about “The Girl Effect.” So proud of him!

greg edmonth panel

I got to travel to Pittsburgh for a big family reunion and to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

with my girls

I got to reunite with many close friends, and meet many new friends, at Celine’s Celebration of Life — which was a beautiful and healing day; sad and yet also more joyous than I could have imagined.

celine celebration group

I got to celebrate both of my boys graduating with their M.B.A. degrees: my brother from USC and my sweetheart from Presidio Graduate School. They both blow me away with their smarts, hearts, and hard work. They are now making a meaningful difference in the world: Greg at CGI America focused on early childhood education, and Allyn in the fields of sustainability and education in the Bay Area.

me and al graduation

I got to celebrate my 28th birthday with so many people I love, who made me feel very loved.

birthday cake

I got to watch my dad be inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame for his career achievements and impact as a sports columnist. What an amazing day!

I got to travel to Europe with my sweetheart and his family for two weeks! We went to Paris, Barcelona, and the Provence region of France. It was a wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming trip!

sunflowers

I got to deliver my first-ever sermon! It was such an amazing experience and my mom and dear friends came to support me. I am already looking forward to hopefully giving another sermon at my church next summer!

The Magic Thread

I got to take my sweetheart on a surprise trip to Half Moon Bay for his birthday!

half moon bay me and al

I got to travel to Lake Tahoe for the first time and see my one-act play “Woman, Running Late, in a Dress” produced onstage! It was a dream-come-true!

me at emerald bay

I got to travel to Cleveland for the first time to visit my dear friend Holly, and travel to NYC to visit my brother — where we were seated at THE table from one of my favorite movies, Serendipity!

serendipity table!!!

And I got to soak up lots of time this holiday season with people who mean so much to me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Here’s to lots of breathtaking moments in 2016!

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.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

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

gator

20140706_140656

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.

Woodsgiving

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.

goals for the week of 1/19

Happy Sunday! My weekend has been filled with good things: family time, yoga, meditation, fuji apple chicken salad + acai iced tea at Panera, a phone date with Erica, lots of reading, and a moving sermon at church this morning about social justice. Last night I saw the new movie “Her” with two friends, and on Friday I saw “Saving Mr. Banks” with my aunt. I’d highly recommend both movies!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from this past week:
write 10 pages
go to two yoga classes
take Charley in to dealership to be serviced
– complete three chapters of copyediting project {only did two!}
finish reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander in time for book discussion group at church
connect with two friends

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 10 pages
– go to two yoga classes
– complete two chapters of copyediting project
– finish reading all of the old Narrative Stories of the Week in my email inbox
– connect with two friends

Questions of the morning:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What have been your highlights of this weekend?

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!

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

DSC00016

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?

highlights of 2012

At the end of every year, before I set my goals and resolutions for the new year, I like to take some time to reflect on the year that is ending. This forces me to pause and appreciate all the blessings I have been given and what I accomplished from the hard work I put into pursuing my goals. This really motivates me for the upcoming year!

Here are some of my highlights of 2012:

Personal:

  • traveled to NYC to see the Off-Off Broadway production of my play as part of the Samuel French Short Play Festival {and had an adventure narrowly escaping Hurricane Sandy!}
  • attended my brother’s graduation from USC
  • visited my friends Holly & Janet in Nashville
  • was asked to be a bridesmaid in my cousin Amanda’s wedding {this upcoming June}
  • started this blog!
  • saw a bunch of terrific concerts, plays, and Broadway shows: Bob Dylan, Blind Pilot, Ringo Starr, Ingrid Michaelson, Florence + The Machine; Once, American Idiot, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Young Frankenstein; Jerry Seinfeld; The Strange Undoing of Prudenica Hart, The Understudy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and the beloved Lafayette Feast of the Hunter’s Moon festival
  • went to a Purdue basketball game with my brother when he visited me at school
  • learned to cook a bunch of new healthy recipes
  • read 48 books {follow me on Goodreads!}

Professional:

  • wrote a novel for my thesis manuscript and submitted the rough draft to my advisor
  • submitted my collection of short stories to a variety of small presses and it was a Finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction
  • published stories and essays in the Nashville Review, Prime Number, The Mom Egg, thickjam, Extract(s)
  • my short plays were produced in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Paula
  • applied for and was accepted to teach undergraduate Business Writing at Purdue in addition to First-Year Composition; completed the required mentoring program
  • taught Intro to Creative Writing during the summer
  • taught a summer and winter writing camp through my organization Write On! For Literacy
  • was accepted to attend the Key West Literary Seminar in January and to present an academic paper at the Louisville Conference in February; attended the AWP Conference in Chicago
  • expanded my Holiday Book Drive to the Purdue community

nyc play

Tomorrow I’ll post my goals for the new year! What are some of your highlights from 2012?