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!

fabulous friday #43

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you’re having a great morning! I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time believing it is already Friday… not to mention already December 19th! Tomorrow is the lovely Dana‘s birthday, and then on Sunday I’m heading home to So.Cal to spend the holidays with my fam! And on Monday, my amazing brother Greg turns the big 2-5! Birthdays galore around here, I love it.

I’m super excited for all the joy and festivities and family and friend time this upcoming week brings! In the meantime…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Christmastime in San Francisco. Allyn and I went into the city for a date night, and it was absolutely magical. Union Square is lit-up so beautifully and we were lucky enough to score a table at Burger Bar that had a terrific view. After dinner we rode the glass elevators at the Westin St. Francis Hotel up to the 29th floor to look out at the entire city. Then we got hot chocolate to-go from a restaurant that was closing up. {The man was kind enough to give us the hot chocolate free of charge because he said he was just going to throw it away otherwise! How nice is that??} We sipped our hot chocolates as we held hands and watched the ice-skaters and listened to the holiday music. It was perfection.

union square

me and al xmas

westin xmas tree

union square xmas tree

2. Celebrity doppelgangers. I am fascinated by this! Perhaps because I’ve always had a hard time figuring out who my look-alike is. The person I’ve been told most often is Claire Danes, which I consider a huge compliment because I think she is wonderful. What do you think, do you see a resemblance? Could I be her much-less-glamorous kid sister?

me claire danes

I got onto this topic because when Allyn and I were watching the ice-skaters in Union Square, a woman said out of the blue that Allyn looked like a celebrity to her, but she couldn’t place who. I suggested Kevin Bacon, but she said it was someone else.

al and kevin bacon

We left before she figured it out, so I guess it will always remain a mystery!

3. My Grandpap’s choir Christmas performance last night. They work so hard practicing for months leading up to the holidays, and it shows! They go all out with costumes and presentation, and the cheerful holiday music always brings a smile to my face. Plus, I love watching my Grandpap when he sings — he always lights up with joy! It was fun that Allyn could make it, too.

grandpap choir concert.jpg

4. This quote from Heather Waxman {especially apppropriate and meaningful during this time of year!}

“Healthy boundaries aren’t about building walls around yourself. They’re about building doorways of love around your energy field. Boundaries are not meant to separate you from other people. They’re meant to build doorways for you to attract the right people into your life.”

5. Tonight Allyn and I are going to see a local production of A Christmas Carol. It is one of my favorite stories. Though I have read the book and have seen a number of movie versions {including the classic Disney cartoon version!} I have never seen a dramatic performance of A Christmas Carol, so I am really excited 🙂

Have a terrific weekend, friends! And don’t forget to…

leave sparkle

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Who is your celebrity doppelganger?

fabulous friday #42

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re having a good one!

It’s a typical Friday for me… this morning I headed to one of my fave yoga classes, now I’m getting some work done on the computer, and later this afternoon I’m tutoring a few great kiddos.

We have been getting LOTS of rain here the past couple days… they say it’s one of the biggest storms we’ve had here in five years! Fortunately we are all safe and sound here. If it’s stormy and bad-weathered where you are, please be safe!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. The Lucy Hale song “Mistletoe.” It’s been bopping around in my head off and on since I heard her sing it on the “CMA Country Christmas” TV program, and this week I finally went and ordered it on iTunes. Love it!

2. This interesting and thorough article Allyn sent me with tips for staying calm and managing stress {especially useful in this often-stressful holiday season}: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140805002649-50578967-how-successful-people-stay-calm

3. Speaking of the holidays, here are two socially impactful, beautiful gift ideas if you are doing some holiday shopping:

4. I’ve been craving veggies — carrots, celery, bell peppers, kale — even more than usual lately. For example: last night, I sliced up half a bell pepper as part of my dinner, and ended up going back to the fridge and polishing off the rest of the pepper later that night as a snack! I’ve never craved bell pepper before, but there you have it! I believe our bodies tell us what they need, so I’ve been riding the veg-tastic train all week. This is an interesting NPR article about how what you eat affects your mood: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/14/329529110/food-mood-connection-how-you-eat-can-amp-up-or-tamp-down-stress?

5. This quinoa veggie salad from Costco. Tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, lentils, beans, quinoa — healthy, light and filling. It’s made a great quick lunch on a couple days this week when time got away from me and I was a little rushed to get out the door.

quinoa salad

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I’m gonna leave you with this beautiful John Gardner quote my brother sent me:

greg quote

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

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?

homemade photo collage poster

Last summer, Mike and I went on a fabulous two-week vacation to London and Paris. Personally, I prefer to save up money for experiences and trips rather than expensive gadgets and material things, because the memories will last forever.

And we made a lot of wonderful memories during that trip, many of which I documented with my camera:

Along with taking pictures, I also documented our trip by saving ticket stubs from the trains and subways we rode and the plays we went to, along with maps, brochures and playbills.

At first my plans were to save everything in a photo album, but then inspiration struck: why not make a collage of my favorite photos and hang it up where I could see it multiple times every day and remember the amazing trip we had?

I went to Target and picked up an inexpensive poster frame — I chose a big size because I knew I had a lot of photos I wanted to showcase, but you could definitely do the same thing in a smaller size if you’d prefer.

I laid out everything before I glued anything down — I wanted to have the freedom to move things around and play with shapes and colors. I ended up using some of the tickets to make a border around the edge, and I grouped photos loosely together based on the different places we went. Then I simply used a glue stick to attach everything. {I’m sure double-sided tape would work well, too, but a glue stick was what I had on hand.}

It took a little while to get everything glued down, but I put on an episode of Friday Night Lights to watch as I worked, and the time flew by. I also didn’t worry about using a ton of glue, because I knew the plastic cover of the poster frame would protect the photos and hold them in place.

I hung it up right beside my kitchen where I can see it as I cook!

I love this project because it’s a wonderful, inexpensive way to organize and preserve your photos and enjoy them in your daily life. It’s also an easy, personal and home-y way to decorate your place!

How do you keep your photos and keepsakes organized? Any fun photo-sharing tips or crafts?

Always,
Dallas
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Time spent: about one hour
Cost: $5.00 for the poster frame + $12.00 to print photos