Month: December 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

I have been looking forward to Christmas time since….well, probably since last Christmas, really.  It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year for me.  I love the lights, the weather, the foods, the gifts, the music (I am one of those people who start playing Christmas music in October)…it’s just such a festive, beautiful time of year.  I always do everything I can to make the most of it. Because I enjoy the season so much, Christmas festivities always start very early for me.  I think that the kick off this year would probably be the Tour of Homes that I took Michael on for a date in early December.  I don’t know what it is about home tours, but I find them exceedingly fascinating and enjoyable.  I’ve always enjoyed riding around and looking at homes from the outside…perhaps it’s just the extension of that activity that I find so much fun.  Whatever the reason, it was a blast.  There were 7 homes and 1 historic church on the tour, although we only made it to 6 homes before it ended for the day.  But even so, it was worth our time.  All of the homes were gorgeous, and on top of that most were decked out in all of their Christmas glory.  There were also different restaurants from around town that were offering food tastings at all of the houses.  We had apple and cheese wedges and a fancy meat and olive sampler and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup and key lime pie dessert shooters and lobster bisque and I’m forgetting the other one but they were all DELICIOUS.  Oh, and gawking at the gorgeous houses was pretty fun too, of course :).

The tour of homes was followed shortly thereafter with Michael taking me to see A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theater, which was FABULOUS.  I’ve wanted to go see that for years, but could never muster up the willingness to bite the bullet and pay the steep admission costs.  But Michael finally got me there, and it was totally worth it.  The set was beautifully done, and the actors and musical numbers were brilliant.  This version of the classic story also had a marked “gospel music” feel to many of the characters and songs, which was a new and enjoyable twist to a very well-known story.

A week or so later was my company Christmas party.  Michael has gone every year since the tradition was started, but this of course was my first time.  The highlight of the Brightlink Christmas party is the gingerbread house competition.  There are 3 rules – things can be prepared in advance, but nothing can be assembled ahead of time; everything must be edible; and you only have 1 hour to assemble your house once the contest gets going.  Some of the entries have gotten quite impressive.  There have been nativity scenes, a barn, an iconic building on the Georgia Tech campus, and an angry birds fight that involved a blowtorch and flaming marshmallows launched in a catapult-like contraption, just to name a few.  Employees are generally paired into teams with their spouses, but since Michael and I are dating we were also put into a team together.  Before this year, the gingerbread house that Michael was most known for was “Snowpacolypse” – he knew he wouldn’t get a house standing, so he put a bunch of marshmallows over the battered gingerbread and said a snowstorm had come through.  Oh dear.  I had actually never before built a gingerbread house in my life, but I knew that I wanted to at least get one standing, lol.

What we ended up with actually far exceeded my expectations.  We decided on a “beach house” theme, and I spent a long time the weekend before prepping everything I could beforehand.  I even made the gingerbread – Michael said that it look liked it had been store bought, a comment which I considered high praise, indeed.  We dyed blue icing for the water, made some grey icing for the mortar on the walls, and used a variety of different types of food to make the designs and textures that we were going for.  Some of my favorites included dried dates for the stones on the walls, triscuits for the roof, green peppers for the trees, fruit roll-ups for the towel and hammock, and crushed up cheerios for the sand.  It was fantastic!  I was so very pleased with the result….winning “chef’s choice” (the caterer’s vote) was just icing on the gingerbread (pun very much intended, haha)!

And then, of course, I also hosted my own Christmas party before leaving for Albany.  It is becoming a tradition – this is the third year that I’ve done it.  It was a blast, as always.  And this time I didn’t try to cram all of the prep work into a single day, which meant that I had enough energy to actually enjoy it by the time that people started showing up.  We had a nice dinner, decorated gingerbread cookies, played some Christmas games, made some silly photos in front of the Christmas tree, and then did a white elephant gift exchange that was really a blast.  Last year about 2/3 of the gifts were some form of chocolate, so this year I forbade anyone from bringing that, and it seemed to ignite people’s creative juices when it came to white elephant gift-buying.  There were books, and funny hats, and blankets, and house decorations, and even a bungee-cord chair.  That’s the one I ended up with :).  I really do very much enjoy hosting, and I love Christmas, and so throwing this Christmas party has probably become one of my favorite events that I host all year.

After the bustle of celebrating Christmas in Atlanta, though, it was nice to have a toned-down week in Albany.  Michael came with me, but we had very little in the way of planned activities.  One night we all went out to see Christmas lights, my grandfather took us out to dinner once, I went clothes or grocery shopping with various members of my family, and we watched several movies together (if you haven’t seen Annie yet, go see it!  It’s fantastic).  And then Michael cooked dinner for my entire family the last night that he was here to celebrate my birthday, which was lovely.  He really blessed all of us a lot over the course of the week.  But overall, Christmas week was a pretty low week, which was just what I needed.  A little R&R is a great way to start a new year! 🙂

Springing into fall

As we are moving into winter, I am finally finding time to wrap up my stories from the fall.  I suppose I have already told most of them (I did leave out the apple picking excursion that Michael and I went on, but really the best story from that is the delicious apple butter and caramel apple muffins that resulted from it :]).  The noteworthy fall tale that hasn’t yet been told , of course, is Thanksgiving.  I’ve always gone home to Albany for Thanksgiving…so it was definitely a new experience to have my family come up to me this year.  We spent Thursday with Michael and his family, then went to the other end of town and spent Friday with Chris and Julia and her family.  And then, I got my family all to myself on Saturday.  It was a wonderful weekend….I’m so blessed to have such incredible people in my life.

It’s rather amazing how different the three days were, however…the Fenners, the Meeks, and the Purcells are three very different families, lol.  Our afternoon with the Meeks was mostly spent playing games – after eating, of course.  It was a big potluck dinner – everyone was responsible for a different portion of the Thanksgiving meal.  That meant that we ended with a much larger variety and quantity of food than we would have otherwise had – not that I’m complaining, mind you.  My coconut pie and my mom’s chocolate pecan pie were big hits :).  But anyway, as I was saying….all of the Meeks love games – as do most of the people in my family – so we were all perfectly content to play word games and strategy games and party games and….well, you get the idea.

Chris and Julia and the Purcells, however, are not game people, so that did not even factor into the equation on Friday.  Mom and dad had bought Chris a turkey fryer for Christmas last year, and he’s been putting it to good use since then.  He fried 3 turkeys for us for Thanksgiving – one for the Purcells, one for my parents, and one for us all to eat.  We were all somewhat mesmerized by the bubbling oil and sizzling turkey skin from the fryer.  After dinner, Julia’s mom took out a box full of questions.  Some were silly, some were serious, some were long conversation starters and some elicited very quick responses.  Cindy passed the box around the table and we all pulled out 2 slips of paper.  We then took turns answering the questions that we had drawn.  It was a great way to foster conversation and learn more about the people around me.  I heard stories from my parents that I had never heard before, and was surprised by the depth and insight that some of my younger siblings showed in answering their questions

My day spent with just my family was marked by little in the way of specific activity except for just enjoying each other’s company.  Of course that could have more to do with them being tired than us actually not wanting to do anything per se :).  We did go shopping with Julia at IKEA for a little bit, which was fun.  And then in the evening dad took us all to a movie together, a rare treat with our busy schedules and the rising cost of movie admissions.  But mostly we just enjoyed each other, and it was so lovely.  I am trying to develop my gift of hospitality, so getting to practice on my beloved family just made it all that much better.  I bought a bed the week before Christmas to put in the spare room for my parents (and other guests) when they came, and put up a Christmas tree just a few days before Thanksgiving, so it was a very cozy, homey environment by the time my parents and little siblings showed up.  I am blessed and grateful that I am able to offer such a comfortable, welcoming place to people to come to my home.

I’m going somewhat out of order here, but I did also want to mention the fall camping trip that I went on a few weeks ago with some friends from house church.  The idea was to “camp” in my parents’ unfinished cabin in the northeast Georgia mountains – we were going to head up there after work on Friday, have a campfire dinner, and then bundle up for the evening and go on a hike the next day.  But, as I’m sure you all know, life doesn’t always go according to the plan.  We all left later on Friday night than we had wanted to…and then hit lots of Friday afternoon traffic…so by the time we got up to the cabin it was nearly 8:00 pm.  With lots to do – we still had to start a fire, get dinner started, warm the house up, yada yada yada – I was in a hurry to get to the cabin.  So we finally get there, and….my key didn’t work.  It was even worse because there is no cell phone service at the cabin.

So I drove away a few miles until I could make a call, and called the only people I knew to call – my great aunt and uncle, who live about 15 minutes from the cabin.  After explaining the situation, they very simply offered all of us to come stay with them for the evening.  They let me and 5 of my friends whom they had never met before come stay with them at a moments’ notice…I was floored by their generosity.  When one of my friends thanked them for letting us come over, Uncle Bill very simply said, “well of course.  Lauren’s family.”  Their simple and enduring love for me nearly brought me to tears.  Although I don’t get to see them very often, it’s amazing knowing that they are always there for me if I need them.  And it ended up (in my opinion, at least) working out much better than if we had stayed at the cabin.  I got to see Aunt Rose and Uncle Bill some in the evening, and much more the next day – Michael and Amy and I stayed and had lunch with them while everyone else headed back to Atlanta.  And I still got to go on a hike, and didn’t even have to freeze on Friday night!  Now if only I can learn to actually not freak out when things don’t go according to plan…