Category: Atlanta

Catching up on life

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  A new marriage, lots and lots of birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a dance event, a skiing trip in Colorado, huge amounts of interpersonal drama, and new jobs for both Michael and myself have proven to be just about all that I can handle.

It is ironic that, although I have been writing more than I ever have in my entire life, I think it’s the longest I’ve been silent on this blog since I started it.  Most of my time lately has been taken up writing for my new blog, forgingsignificance.com.  Right after the wedding I spent several weeks working on some quillwork for an artists’ market at my church, but since about mid-December I have officially taken the plunge and started working full-time toward becoming a freelance writer.

Since then, my days have consisted of lots of website tweaking and beating the pavement trying to submit articles to other sites.  I’ve consistently written at least twice a week on my own blog for several months now, as well as already had 3 articles accepted in other places.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and feels like I’m not making any progress; but then I remind myself that I’ve really only been at this a few weeks, and that helps puts things into perspective for me.

This post is just a brief summary, both for your sakes and mine, of what I’ve been doing the past few months.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write more regularly on here now that I’m in the swing of things :).

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Michael and I had the opportunity to go visit my New Jersey grandparents in October, just a few weeks after we were married.  I was so grateful that Michael had the chance to meet them both, but especially my grandfather, as he ended up passing away just a few weeks later.  We all miss him a lot.  He left quite a legacy.

I was able to do a few fall-specific things, like carve a pumpkin with Michael, meet my friend Sarah in Ellijay for their Apple Festival, and go to the Perry fair with my mom and younger siblings.  That was a really fun afternoon.  Perry is about half-way between Atlanta and Albany, so we met in the middle and made a day trip of it.  It’s hard to develop a relationship with your siblings when you live far away and they can’t drive and don’t have cell phones, so I’m always grateful for the opportunities that we do get.

I once again hosted a Christmas party this year, except this time I did 3 days in a row of Christmas parties!  We took this idea from a friend, and the thought was to try to incorporate as many people as possible, while also making an effort to focus on different aspects of the Christmas season.  So the first night was “celebrating friends,” which was basically my normal Christmas party.  I made dinner, we played games, decorated gingerbread cookies, etc.  One of the games was a new one – I wrapped little treats in saran wrap and made people unwrap the ball with oven mitts on.  It was actually a lot more fun than I expected!  You can read more about that here.

The other 2 nights were “celebrating others” and “celebrating God,” where we wrote letters to troops and did a lessons and carols service, respectively.  We had almost a completely different group every night, and it was really a lot of fun!  I was definitely tired by the end of day 3, though :).

One of the highlights of the last few months was New Year’s Eve.  Michael and I spontaneously decided to go to Birmingham for the night.  And it was really so much fun!  We hung out, played games, watched the ball drop, and enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning with people we love.  Nothing different from what usually happens when I go to Birmingham for NYE, but considering how much drama has been swirling around Michael and I lately, it was a welcome and much-needed respite.  You can read more about that trip here.

I also really enjoyed my birthday celebration a few days later.  It was a pretty low-key affair, but I was surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world (including my mother-in-law, who had just had knee surgery and could hardly walk!  It really meant a lot that she made the effort to come out.  I have great in-laws).  We had a potluck dinner and then went to downtown Atlanta to see the Christmas lights in Centennial Park.  The lights were gorgeous, and we even got a funnel cake!  I suppose that was my pseudo birthday cake, haha.

Several of my friends also brought gifts to the potluck, and as I opened them, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful they all were.  These people who had come to celebrate me together really cared about me.  I know it seems silly, as most people would say it’s obvious that I’m cared about…but when it feels like you’re being surrounded by selfish emotional drama on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.  It was a wonderful night to be reminded that I’m cared for.

We went on a ski trip 2 weekends ago – Michael’s first time!  It was bitterly cold, but a lot of fun.  Even though I’ve been skiing several times before, I actually ended up being a lot more sore than he was.  I think I was so scared from how fast I thought I was going that every muscle in my entire body ended up tensing up, lol.  But we both made it through the day in one piece, so I count that as a victory! 🙂

All that aside, Michael and I have been trying to focus on taking care of ourselves and getting into a regular schedule.  We’ve become connected with a small group at church that focuses on outreach to internationals in Atlanta.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  I’ve also started part-time work teaching a beginner ESL class twice a week.  It’s quite a challenge when you have Spanish, Chinese, AND Russian speakers, and there’s no telling how many people will actually show up!

Now that things are starting to calm down a bit, I’m hoping to be able to update both blogs.  But for the most regular updates, be sure to head over to my new site (forgingsignificance.com) and sign up for my newsletter!  I always post there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The end of one chapter, the beginning of a new one

I alluded to it in my last entry, but my time at Brightlink has drawn to a close.  At the end of last month, I left Brightlink for (hopefully) vastly different things in my future.  I am still weighing my options on what exactly I want to pursue next, although I do know that I’m going to take a few weeks off to get ready for the wedding.  But in the meantime, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the good things that Brightlink has done for me over the past year.  There have been stressful times, of course, and I think that I am making the right decision in leaving.  However, I want to remember the good things, of which there are many.

Brightlink has provided a flexible work schedule and secure income that has allowed me to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have be able to do otherwise.  Most notably, working at Brightlink has allowed me to pay off the remainder of my student loans (which Michael and I celebrated by having dinner at the SunDial restaurant, a famous revolving restaurant on top of a hotel in downtown Atlanta that gives you a complete 360 degree view of the city every hour or so).  We will be starting off our marriage with 4 college degrees between the two of us and not a cent of debt to pay off, which feels AMAZING!

One of Brightlink’s main tenants was the importance of family and encouraging work / life balance, which they lived as well as lauded.  A month or two after Michael and I got engaged, Brightlink threw a “Spring Fling” party for the whole company + families.  They also happened to surprise us with a lovely cake celebrating our engagement.  It was nice to be reminded that the people we work with care about us not just for the work we do, but for who we are.

This flexible work schedule and focus on family also allowed Michael and I to get our engagement photos taken in the middle of the day at Oakland Cemetery, one of our favorite places in all of Atlanta.  It’s where he took me on one of our favorite dates, it’s where we participated in our first 5k together, and it’s where part of his scavenger-hunt proposal took me.  Needless to say, it’s a special place for us, and now it’s even more special because we can say we took our engagement photos there (hooray for being unique AND sentimental at the same time! :]).  I’ve included a few of our favorite shots below:

Anyway, there is not really a point to this post, and I know that I’m rambling and wandering somewhat.  But I mainly just wanted to remind myself of the good things that God has given me over the past year.  For all of my tears shed at Brightlink, all of my frustrations and the times I wanted to give up, I still think it was a good place and was good for me.  I learned so many skills, learned so much about myself and Michael, and got to work with some really amazing people while doing it.  This is why I love writing and recording things – because it’s so easy to forget, so easy to fixate on either all of the good or all of the bad, and forget about the other side of the coin.  Writing keeps me honest, helps me remember that there is always more to the story.  And recording memories like these reminds me that God’s always got my back, regardless of what it feels like in the moment.

Hooray for getting married in 2 weeks!! 😀

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…

Rejoicing in my blessings

I’ve been blessed this summer and fall to get to see quite a bit of family members that I don’t often get to see.  First was my uncle, who came all the way from California to spend the week in Atlanta with Grammie.  They had a busy week, but I managed to snag them for an evening and have dinner with them.  It was great to see them both, but particularly Uncle Jeff – I see Grammie whenever I go down to Albany (which still isn’t as much as I’d like), but I haven’t seen my uncle in years.

I also recently got to have dinner with my mom’s side of the family for my Great-Aunt’s birthday.  Even though they live in and around Atlanta, I see them very rarely, so it was wonderful to catch up with them.  Actually, through unforeseen circumstances I ended up being able to spend almost an entire day with some of them the next weekend…but more on that in the next entry :).

Next on the list was my mom and sister.  My mom has decided that if she wants to see her kids, she just has to go and do it – there will never be a great time, and if she waits around until everyone is in town she will never see any of us.  So she just tries to come up to Atlanta as often as she can, and sees whichever of us happen to be around that weekend.  I’m very appreciative and blessed with that perspective that she has taken.  She came up a few weeks ago; it actually happened to be one of my busiest weekends of the whole summer, but I adore my family, so I made a point of seeing them for at least a little bit.  I got off of work early on Friday and was able to spend the afternoon with them.  First thing we did was take mom shopping for some jeans – 2 hours and lots of laughs later, she finally found some.  Poor Hope was getting very bored, though, so we took her mini-golfing as a consolation prize :).  (Oh….and as a side note….another result of this shopping trip was that I tried out a new way to hem pants that actually keeps the original hem!  It was a life-changing revelation.  Now short people can actually have pants that fit, too! :] ).

After the putt-putting Michael and I were already planning on going to Andretti, an indoor go-kart racing place right by my office, so I thought that after putt-putt I would have to part ways with mom and Hope.  But they decided that Andretti sounded like fun too, and so they tagged along with us there.  You should have seen Hope scurrying up the rock wall!  She was like a mountain goat.  The girl has no fear…it’s truly incredible.  That evening mom and Hope stayed the night with me, so I got the pleasure of spending even MORE time with them!  It was really an awesome day; I so rarely get to spend time with just the ladies in my family these days…

Come Saturday, though, it was off to work again.  Michael moved that weekend, so I was part of the muscle crew that helped him out.  Actually, I didn’t move much furniture at all…Amy and I stayed behind and cleaned his apartment after the guys had taken the stuff over to his new place.  I firmly contend that I had the much harder job, lol…  But it was worth it.  Because Amy and I cleaned the entire apartment while Michael was moving into his new house, he was able to just hand the keys into the office and walk away, and not have to worry about coming back later to clean.

But I must admit….helping Michael move wasn’t done entirely out of pure motives.  Stone Mountain was having their last laser light show of the year that night…and I really wanted to go!  We ended up finishing moving in plenty of time, so we drove out and met his parents for a picnic dinner on the grounds.  We did that because we wanted to get there early enough to get a good viewing seat, but that also meant that we had plenty of time to walk around the park and see the sights.  I had actually never been to Stone Mountain, even though it’s only about 30 minutes from where I live (which is really nothing in Atlanta terms).  They had a little village all decked out – although it seemed a bit confused, as it was sort of a mash-up of both fall and Christmas decorations.  But…I suppose you could say that gave it extra character?  But regardless of which holiday the folks at Stone Mountain were celebrating, my favorite decoration was definitely the pumpkins – they had a whole pumpkin scene set up that depicted the characters from Despicable Me.  Really a very cute idea, and very well executed, too.  And then of course the light show was spectacular.  I’ve actually heard mixed reviews about the light show at Stone Mountain, but I would definitely recommend it.  They did an excellent job melding animated lights, music, and pictures depicting a variety of topics and famous people from Georgia’s history – all on the side of a mountain!  There were even some parts in which they incorporated the enormous carving that makes Stone Mountain famous into the light show itself.  I found it absolutely mesmerizing.

And then of course, I would be much remiss in a post about family if I left out my visit to New Jersey a few weeks ago.  It has been several years since I’ve seen my mom’s parents, and I had a little bit of unused vacation time left from work, so I decided to take a day off and go visit them while I could.  I got up at an absolutely ungodly hour – the plane left at 6:00 in the morning from both locations – but I suppose the plus side of that is that once I landed I still had almost the entire day before me.  And my boyfriend Michael took me to and from the airport in Atlanta, and my cousin Michael did the same in New Jersey…so I really can’t complain about having to get up so early.

Anyway, the days I spent with my grandparents were well worth whatever inconvenience it took to get there.  Even though we didn’t do much, I treasure the time that I got to spend with them.  An added bonus was getting to see my Aunt Joan and Uncle John for most of the day on Sunday.  They came all the way from Connecticut, a 3-hour or so drive each way, just so they could spend a few hours with me.  Because my visit was so short (and I didn’t have any means of transportation), I really couldn’t take the time to visit my other family who lives in the area, so I had just thought that I was not going to be able to see them.  I felt very loved and cared for from them taking the time and initiative to make the trip to come see me in New Jersey.  I was very grateful for the stories and laughs that I shared with everyone while I was there.  As my grandparents get older, and the time I have left to spend with them becomes less and less, it becomes more and more valuable.

I’m so very blessed to have such a wonderful family.  Sure, they have their quirks.  There are of course times when they frustrate me to no end.  But at the end of the day, they are awesome and I love them dearly, and couldn’t imagine life without them.  Don’t take for granted the friends and family that God has put in your life.  Don’t forget how blessed you are to have your own personal cheerleaders.  Don’t nit-pick over their small flaws, but make the effort to see the whole package.  Rejoice in them and take the time to thank them as often as you can for how well they love, care, and look out for you.  And if you feel like you don’t have people in your life who do that…rejoice in the fact that God always will :).

Depth of life

For those of you who know me, it will surprise you to hear that I have not been dancing much lately.  I still can’t help but tap my toes whenever a catchy song comes on the radio, and I’m often walking with a swing in my step, swaying along to the music inside my head.  But when it comes to social dancing, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  I did go to a big dance event in Atlanta in October – and I placed 2nd in the competition that I entered!! – but other than that, I haven’t really done much dancing at all since May.

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

But I am ok with that.  I know that the funk will pass and I will love it just as much as I used to; but until then, I’ve been busy filling my time with plenty of other exciting things.  Michael has planned a few very exciting dates – a couple of my favorites were seeing Cirque du Soleil while they were in town (which was incredible, even though they didn’t let us take any pictures :[ ), and taking a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel that overlooks much of downtown Atlanta.  I don’t think I believe him when he says that his date ideas are boring :).

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away...

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away…

My friend Jess has made a yardsaling convert out of me.  If you know how much I hate to shop, you will understand that this is a very big statement.  But there’s something exciting about hunting down deals, about finding a treasure in the middle of a bunch of trash.  Perhaps I should take up dumpster diving as a hobby… 😉  But, despite my newfound affinity for yardsaling (I don’t think I’m converted quite enough to be able to say that I have an affinity for dumpster diving yet ;]), I haven’t been able to go very often.  My weekends have been taken up by other things – things like traveling, writing, seeing friends, or sometimes just baking yummy goods.

One of my recent personal culinary victories was making homemade challah bread.  Challah bread is a sweet ceremonial Jewish bread that takes hours and hours to make.  It’s not particularly difficult (except braiding the dough so that it bakes into a nice pretty pattern is somewhat challenging), but it has to rise 3 separate times, each time for several hours.  So, all in all, it takes close to half a day to make.  ANYWAY, I have this memory of making challah bread in our old house with my mom.  I don’t remember the occasion – it must have been over 10 years ago at this point.  All I remember is the sweet time that I got to spend with my mother.  Ever since then, I have wanted to make it again, but never had a sufficient reason to invest all of that time into it.

So when an older couple from my church invited me over to their house to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the tabernacle, and specifically asked me to bring challah bread, I jumped at the opportunity.  It took me 2 days to make it, but seeing her face when I arrived was totally worth it.  She had been expecting me to just pick up french bread, since no supermarket sells challah bread.  Her genuine joy and excitement when I walked in with a homemade loaf was more than enough payment for any extra effort required on my part.

My challah bread - it came out beautifully!

My challah bread – it came out beautifully!

A curious thing has been happening to me in Atlanta.  I still yearn for adventures in other countries and cities.  But I am also learning that depth of life matters just as much as breadth, if not more.   I am beginning to experience relational profundity that I could never dream to have by spending a few weeks or even months in a foreign country.  I am learning so much about myself and God and people in general.  Some of it is hard, tough, ugly, painful stuff.  Life gets messy when you get that close to someone.  But I would much rather experience these things and grow from them, than to stay in my own blissful bubble of relational ignorance and bankruptcy.  I do still yearn for adventures.  But I am learning, as my roots are growing  (at least for now) here in Atlanta, that adventures are even more exciting when you have dear people that you love and care for to share them with.  And that is a truly thrilling thought.

Just what the doctor ordered

Although I’ve been blessed to have been able to spend a good bit of time with some dear friends this summer, there are several of them I wish I could have spent more time with.  One of them is Elizabeth.  Between school and then work and church and being super popular with lots of people making demands on her time, she is a tough one to pin down sometimes.  But ironically enough, it seems to have actually gotten a bit easier since she got a new boyfriend.  Caleb and Michael have several times taken the initiative to plan double dates and outings and such, which means I’ve gotten to spend more time than usual with my lovely friend Elizabeth (oh yeah, and Caleb and Michael, too :]).

Two of my favorite such outings were going to the High Museum and visiting Helen for the day.  The High was supposed to be a surprise for me and Elizabeth – the only thing I knew was the date, and that I should dress up.  But it turned out that Caleb told Elizabeth all about it, so the only one who was surprised was me.  And boy oh boy, did the three of them enjoy the fact that I was left in the dark.  They were definitely enjoying teasing me, lol.  But it was worth it.  The High was having an exhibit on classic cars, which was why we went that night.  Knowing that I used to race, they chose that activity really solely because they thought that it would interest me – I felt very loved :).

After leaving the museum, we came across an interactive exhibit set up outside the museum entrance.  It was basically just a bunch of hammocks hanging under the stars – using them was encouraged.  It took a few minutes to snag 2 hammocks near each other, but we finally did, and stayed there in various amalgamations of people until the museum staff finally kicked us out.

My other favorite outing, as I mentioned earlier, was a day trip to Helen.  Elizabeth and I had so much fun with the boys at the High, that we decided to plan our own date.  This one was also supposed to be a surprise, but they are pretty insightful and had mostly figured it all out by the time we left.  But it was still fun.  She and I had packed stuff for a big picnic, which we ate upon arrival to Helen, which is about an hour and a half away from Atlanta.  After that, we rented some inner tubes and floated down the river.  It was pretty crowded, since it was Labor Day weekend, but we were able to navigate pretty well, especially considering the fact that we had decided against renting poles for steering.  I found that tying myself together with another inner tube made navigating the river exponentially easier – when one person got stuck on a rock, the other one usually bounced off of them and then pulled them free.  I only got stuck badly enough that I had to stand up to get off of the rock 3 or 4 times.

In the middle of the river, there was also a couple of big water slides, at which we took a fun detour for a while.  We started off racing each other down, but when Michael was going so fast that he slammed into the pool at the bottom and scraped himself up pretty badly, we decided to calm down a little bit and go at a more relaxed pace.

Once we finished the tubing course, we went back to the town and walked around for a bit.  I didn’t want to bring my camera on the river, so the only pictures that I have from the entire day are from when we were walking around the city center.  Helen is a very picturesque town – it’s supposed to be a facsimile of a traditional German town.  It’s incredibly touristy and I would hate to live in it, but to visit for a few hours was actually a lot of fun.  They have lots of little candy and artisan and gift stores that you could browse for hours if you wanted to.  My shopping limit is much less than that, so I only lasted about an hour before I was ready to head back home.  But it was a very nice day.  I was particularly grateful for the fact that, despite all of the driving to get there, I was actually able to rest and re-charge a bit on the river.  I had been going so hard for so long at that point, that some rejuvenation time was really just what the doctor ordered.  Getting to do it with people I love was just the icing on the cake :).

The upside of glitchy software

My dear friend Elizabeth recently celebrated a birthday.  Many months earlier, she had mentioned that she had never been to an aquarium; her birthday also happened to fall on a Sunday this year, which is a very convenient day for planning things, since most people don’t have to work.  So our church small group planned an outing together to go celebrate her birthday at the Georgia Aquarium.  For a first experience, that’s a great aquarium to go to – it’s actually the largest in the world…for now, at least.  But for all of our best intentions, this outing almost never happened.

We got there around 3:15 on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, however, no one had thought about the fact that it was Labor day weekend.  The place was PACKED.  Seeing the huge swirling mass of people as I was parking, I almost turned around and retreated before I ever even made it to the aquarium doors.  But Elizabeth is a dear friend of mine, and so I soldiered on.  When the group of us who were going finally found each other at the ticketing booths, we realized that there was another problem.  The Georgia Aquarium sells tickets for specific entry windows.  Usually there aren’t enough people there for it to matter; you can just walk up and buy tickets for whatever time slot you happen to arrive within.  But by the time we got there, all of the tickets were sold out until 7:00 pm.  Almost 4 hours away.  To make matters somewhat worse, between season passes and guest passes and some people buying tickets in advance, everyone was actually able to get in at 3:00 except for 2 people, Matt and Aaron.  As we stood there at the self-ticketing kiosk, trying to figure out what to do, Aaron started absently tapping the “buy tickets” button over and over again.  All of a sudden, the 3:00-4:00 time window showed up as available!  But then the next time he tapped it, it had disappeared again.  We quickly seized our chance.  Aaron and Matt whipped out their credit cards, and kept tapping the screen until the 3:00 window showed up again.  It had to be quick, you see, because we didn’t want the system to figure out that we were gaming it and started behaving properly again :).  So yeah, hooray for glitchy software!  Without it, the stories and pictures below never would have happened.

The aquarium itself was pretty cool – being the largest in the world, I knew it would be.  I had been there several years ago and enjoyed it both times; but honestly, I find the cost of admission prohibitively expensive, and normally would rather spend my time and money elsewhere.  BUT, this time was different.  Michael’s dad works at the aquarium, and it just so happens that he was there at the same time we were.  So all of a sudden Michael comes up to us and asks, “do you want a behind-the-scenes tour?”  His dad had just randomly decided to take us all “behind the curtain,” as it were; so we tagged along behind him as he showed us all of the inner workings of the aquarium.

It was really one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen.  We got to see the enormous whale tanks from above, and where they cultivate coral for their exhibits, and the machines that they use to simulate waves, and the rows upon rows of water pumps and sand filtration systems that are constantly running, and the in-house animal hospital that they take the fish to when they need a doc.  It was definitely one of those things where I sort of knew that a lot of stuff must happen behind the scenes in order to bring about the polished finished product, but I had no idea of the enormity of the effort until I actually saw it for myself.  Despite the crowds, it was a really awesome day.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And to think, it was all thanks to a glitchy ticketing system! 🙂

Whirlwind

Things quickly turned into a whirlwind after I returned from Peru (and by quickly, I mean within hours of stepping off of the plane).  That is largely why it has taken me such a long time to finish all of my stories from Peru – I was just going non-stop for months straight.  Since I knew I was going to be gone for 5 weeks straight right after graduation, and I didn’t have a job lined up and thus didn’t know where I would be living, I just let my apartment lease end.  But that meant that when I returned from Peru, I had all of my stuff in storage, was bouncing around with friends because I didn’t have my own place (and doing lots of driving too, since most of them live outside of Atlanta), and also still trying to find a job.  The lack of my own place made everything more stressful, and the increased drive time was wreaking havoc on my back.  Needless to say, it was a stressful time.

But things weren’t all bad.  I did a lot of dancing during this time – in fact, the day I returned from Peru was the anniversary party for Wicked Westie, and you can bet your boots that I was there, even though I was nearly sleeping on my feet from the long trip back.  As tired as I was, I was really glad that I got to be there – I’ve missed every other anniversary party for Wicked because I’ve been in one country or another.

I did skip dancing a couple of times, but it was for worthy causes.  My favorite was going to see the Lego movie at an outdoor showing at Emory University.  It was something put on for alums and friends of alums, so Elizabeth invited a group of people to go join her.  I did miss dancing, but I had a great evening with some awesome people – including Federico, a friend of Elizabeth’s who is actually Peruvian!  Totally worth it :).  It was great being able to reminisce a little bit with someone who understood what I missed so much about Peru.

Another reminder of Peru was the World Cup, which started while I was still there but continued for a while after I returned.  I happen to have several stateside friends who also like soccer, so for the Netherlands-Mexico game we decided to go to a pub that’s popular for watching World Cup matches.  They were rooting for the Netherlands, so in the spirit of unity I dressed up in my best orange outfit and started cheering on the Netherlands.  But I couldn’t make it through the whole game like that – pretty soon my Spanish roots took over, and I took off the orange topshirt I had on and went over to the other side of the pub to cheer on Mexico.  Hey, I may have never been to Mexico, but it’s a whole lot closer to Costa Rica and Peru than Holland is! 🙂

Introducing Lauren Fenner, MS

I am now the proud owner of a Master’s of Science Degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.  Although I am very happy for and truly proud of my accomplishment, I decided, against the opinions of many, to not walk at the graduation ceremony.  I did do all of the other celebratory  things for graduates – I went to a graduation banquet at church, a reception for everyone in my major at school, and also an awards ceremony for an award that I received for high scholastic achievement while at Georgia Tech.  But I simply wasn’t invested in the school enough to make me want to walk.  Unlike at Berry, where I was looking forward to it for weeks, the thought of walking at Georgia Tech just sounded tedious to me.  I hope that I will not regret my decision in 15 years, but at this point it is a moot point.  At least I haven’t regretted my decision up to now :).

So instead of walking, I decided that I would throw a party to celebrate the other graduates in my life.  I knew quite a few people graduating this semester, so I got a bunch of mutual friends together to celebrate their accomplishment.  It wasn’t a super well thought out party, since it was coming on the end of a crazy few weeks of writing papers and doing interviews, some of which were in other cities.  So I was pretty tired and didn’t have much time to plan it.  But the group was fun, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

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That was the last party of the semester.  Or so I thought.  But my friends had other plans.  I thought that I was going to my friend Elizabeth’s house last Saturday night just for a regular sleepover.  But she and Michael had actually been scheming for weeks to throw a surprise graduation party of my own.  I’ve gotta say, I was pretty impressed…I didn’t have a clue until I walked in the house and saw decorations hanging everywhere.  They had gotten almost everyone from my house church to come, and even Chris and Julia made an appearance for a little bit!  Needless to say, I was blown away.  They had games, and food, and brought the ping-pong table out, and even started a fire in the back yard once the sun went down.  It was an amazing evening, made even more special by the fact that these people I love so dearly had worked so hard to make it a surprise.

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Oh, I suppose before I wrap up that I should also give an update on the job hunt.  I’ve been diligently, sometimes frantically looking for a job all semester.  I’ve gotten pretty far in the interview process with several companies – including Apple flying me all the way out to their regional headquarters in Houston – but so far, nothing has panned out.  But I will be leaving for a month-long trip to Peru next week, so I’ve kinda stopped looking for right now.  At this point, the priority is to just enjoy my time while I’m over there.  Trying to juggle the interviews with classwork made life supremely stressful over the past few months, especially the Apple interview in Houston, but I tried to look at it as good interviewing practice, at the very least.  Plus I got to have dinner with my dear friend Sarah while I was in Houston, and still managed to pull off all A’s – a surprising feat, considering the fact that one of my classes alone required hundreds of pages of reading and about 15 hours of time every week, plus nearly 100 pages of written work over the course of the semester.  Despite the fact that I’ll be leaving for Peru without a job offer, I’ve got quite a peace about it all.  I consider this semester a huge success, and am looking forward to getting back in the job hunt when I return :).

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So wonderful getting to see Sarah! Even if it was just for a few hours 🙂

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That big circle above the road is a street sign!! I was in a super swanky area of town…

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My hotel room

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The view from my balcony