Category: family

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.

Wedding love

Just over 3 weeks ago, I married my best friend.  My wedding weekend was the closest thing to perfect I could have asked for.  Despite rain the entire week before and after, including the night of the rehearsal, our wedding day stayed cloudy and cool all day long – perfect for pictures, not melting in the Georgia heat, and minimizing the mosquitoes.  It was, in fact, the only day without rain within a span of nearly 3 solid weeks.  Please remind me of that if I ever say God doesn’t answer prayer.

My wedding really was exactly what I had hoped for.  It went smoothly, with to my knowledge zero hiccups.  Everyone looked amazing, the decorations were beautiful, we were surrounded by people we love, we honored God, and it was a great party.  But that would have never been possible without the incredible amount of love and support we received from so many, many people.  The weekend and day of, of course, but also weeks and months prior.  From the beginning of our engagement, we’ve had people reach out to us and plan engagement parties, bridal showers, help us with logistics and details…much more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed of.  Michael’s parents hosted a lovely rehearsal dinner – with almost no input from me and Michael, which was definitely a blessing!  One less detail for us to worry about :).  We had people volunteer to make the wedding cake, run the sound equipment, do my hair and makeup, create a video recording of the ceremony.  We had friends meet together for weeks in advance so they could lead us in worship as our first act as a married couple.  Our minister and his wife met with and mentored us on several occasions.  My dad made us an exquisite “unity coffee table” – two separate slabs of wood representing me and Michael, joined together only by the symbolic wooden bonds of faith, hope and love.  It’s so beautiful.  I love it, even more so for the time and care that so obviously went into it.

Married life has not been a bed of roses.  I knew it would be hard, but the challenges we’ve faced so far have been unexpected, and thus caught us somewhat by surprise.  But I hope that I never forget how supported and loved I felt, how present God was in all of the details, how incredible my friends and family were (and are).  I honestly don’t have a lot more memories from my wedding, as the whole thing passed by in a bit of a blur.  However, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and I do have plenty of pictures to show you!  Enjoy the 2 albums below, from the rehearsal / rehearsal dinner and wedding day.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, the wedding day pictures are the same ones posted there.  There is also a video of the ceremony at the bottom – it’s about 40 minutes long, if you’d like to watch it.


The countdown begins

Frenzied.  That’s the best way to describe the 3 or so weeks leading up to my wedding.  Not really in a bad way…there was simply tons going on, and although I enjoyed most all of it, I also found keeping up with it quite exhausting.  I definitely can’t complain of being bored, though! 🙂

I got to spend most of those 3 weeks with my good friend Caro.  You may remember her from my Peruvian exploits last year – she was a fabulous travel companion then and has become a very dear friend since.  Anyway, she was in my bridal party, but wanted to come for more than just a weekend – gotta get your money’s worth out of a plane ticket from France!  Our first stop was somewhere near and dear to both of us – Berry College.  That’s where we met, and it utterly stole both of our hearts, so it was only natural that we would spend a few days back there.  Once there, we did very little together – we had different friends to catch up with and different priorities for our visit.  Caro flitted around all over town catching up with people; I spent most of the 3 days we were there to myself, resting and relaxing and preparing myself mentally for the next few weeks.  I did go to my old church for the Sunday service, and managed to have dinner with some dear old friends one night, which was really lovely.  But other than that, I simply basked in the beauty and peace of my alma mater.  It was a very much-needed mini retreat for me.

From Berry, we drove further north to Tennessee.  For as long as I’ve known her, Caro’s been obsessed with country music, and has always wanted to visit the heart of country music – Nashville.  So we drove up there and spent a few days exploring the world of country music – taking a tour at the Grand Ole Opry, walking down the historic Broadway Street, going country dancing at the famous Wildhorse Saloon, and watching a show at the Bluebird Cafe, a place for up-and-coming musicians that was made famous by the hit TV show “Nashville” (of which Caro is a huge fan).  Reserved tickets at the Bluebird cafe were sold out, so we got there 2 hours before the doors opened in order to get one of the 20 or so additional open seats.  The show was very good, but even if it wasn’t, just seeing her excitement made the trip worth it for me! 🙂

As the days in Nashville passed, however, Caro’s excitement level grew, while mine dissipated.  The nerves and to-do list of my upcoming wedding – at this point just a week away – were starting to get to me, and I was turning into a quite distracted and not very good travel companion.  It had been fun, but I knew that I needed to get home.  She, on the other hand, wanted to stay a day later than originally planned so she could go to a show at the Opry and see more of the city  So, I let her have my car, and I took a bus from Nashville back to Atlanta.  It worked out well – Caro was able to do more in Nashville, and I was able to surprise Michael at work and have dinner with him that evening.  Plus I got to have a few days to myself before the wedding week craziness ensued, the value of which cannot be overstated.

Speaking of wedding week craziness…while up until this point, I was only hosting Caro on and off while she was in town, starting the weekend before my wedding my house turned into a regular hotel.  It started with my dad, sister, and brother Josh coming up on Saturday.  They wanted to have a little time with me to themselves, since they knew they wouldn’t get that the following weekend.  We were able to go to a little community arts and crafts festival together, which was nice.  We all had a lot of fun, and I really appreciated them making the effort to come up and actually spend some quality time with me.

The next day, dad and Josh went home, but Hope stayed with me.  We got to spend a few days together, and she was a lot of help wrapping up last-minute details and keeping me company.  I enjoyed that time with her immensely.  By the time the bulk of the guests started arriving, I had very little in the way of wedding details to still take care of.  That was wonderful, because it allowed me to focus on spending time with the out-of-towners that I hadn’t seen in a while.  I decided a long time ago that that was what I wanted my focus to be during my wedding – not obsessing over all of the little details that no one was going to remember, but spending time with and focusing on people that I love and how much they mean to me.  I went to the airport 3 times in 3 days – to pick up my grandfather, and also my dear friends Sarah and Rachel.  It wasn’t a lot of time we spent together, but it was something, and I treasure the one-on-one moments I had with them.  I also got to have breakfast with my Aunt Cathi the Saturday before the wedding, which was a REAL treat!  She lives in Arizona and we rarely see each other, and I’m not sure we’ve actually ever had one-on-one time like that before.  It was lovely to take a step back and just be there in the moment with her for a few hours.

Of course, in talking about the last few days before my wedding I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful bachelorette party that my mom threw for me.  Most brides would hesitate at the idea of even letting their mom come to their bachelorette party, let alone having her plan it.  But it was an easy decision for me.  My mom is undoubtedly my best friend, and although she drives me crazy sometimes, I never doubt that’s she’s my biggest fan and always in my corner.  I found out later that she was really nervous about planning it, worrying that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it was superb.  It had a perfect mix of tasty food, fun (and somewhat embarrassing!) games, pretty decorations, great company, and godly wisdom and encouragement.  My favorite part was when all of the attendees surrounded me and prayed for me.  It was a good reminder that wedding preparations may be fun, they may be stressful, but really at the end of the day what matters is marriage preparations, and learning how to daily give up your life to serve God and your spouse.  I’ve sure got a long way to go learning that!

It is often said that the bachelorette party and last few weeks before the wedding are a person’s last hurrah.  In some ways, I suppose that’s been true for me, as well.  I got to travel some with just me and a girlfriend, something I probably won’t do very often now that I’m married.  I really enjoyed being able to celebrate my last few days of singleness with dear friends and family.  But I don’t feel like this is the end of the story.  The days until the wedding have been steadily marching down, true…but I hope and pray and truly believe that this isn’t the end of my adventures, but rather the beginning.  The beginning of many adventures that I don’t have to experience alone, but rather I get to share them with my best friend.  Now if only my poor nerves would go along with that and calm down! 🙂

Ice-sweeping and treeline-soaring

My zest for adventure and learning new things sometimes takes me to unexpected places.  For example, when the owner of Wicked Westie hosted a curling event for all of his volunteers, I was all for it (after my initial scoffing, at least).  The only thing I knew about curling was that it was that sport in the winter Olympics that everyone makes fun of – something about sweeping ice to make a stone slide faster, right?  But I’m always up for learning new things, and so I gave it a shot.  Turns out that curling is a lot more than that.  Like every new skill I am introduced to, I left with a much deeper appreciation of the skill required by professional curlers…a skill that makes something that’s actually quite difficult look effortless.

In some ways, I feel like learning how to curl is like learning how to drive a manual car.  Every limb is doing something different, and none of it feels natural.  You push off with your right foot, and balance with your left arm, aim and thrust a 42 pound curling stone with your right hand, all while balancing on your left foot on a piece of Teflon designed for reduced friction on the ice.  It was…tricky, to say the least.  I would be surprised if anyone in the entire group of 30+ people didn’t end up wiping out on the ice at least once during the course of the night.

But surprisingly….curling is also really darn fun.  If I didn’t have something else going on almost every other night of the week, I would have seriously considered joining the league.  I guess I’ll have to stop making fun of the curling matches I see in the winter Olympics, lol… 🙂

My other big adventure lately took me to the trees of rural Georgia, on the longest canopy zipline in the world.  For Christmas last year, my parents bought a family ziplining package for all of us to enjoy together – complete with matching shirts for “The Fabulous Fenners – Superheroes in disguise.”  It was a fantastic gift.  The ziplines and rope bridges were fun – and it was definitely a blast to see different members of my family navigating the tree-top courses.  And there was a fantastic lodge with an incredible view that we got to enjoy when we finished the zipline course.  But the real enjoyment, for me, came from just being together.  We spent the night in a nearby cabin, so we didn’t have to worry about any event or deadlines or expectations…we were just together.  We went on walks and played board games and read books and watched a movie and talked and laughed…it was just a really special time.  Sadly, Chris had a job that came up last-minute, so he wasn’t able to make it, but we know that he was there in spirit!  Mom and dad are already planning on what to do next year – which is awesome!  Good memories are a much better gift that some random item picked up from the store out of obligation instead of interest :).  Already looking forward to the next Fabulous Fenner outing!

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.

Celebrating a life well lived

After bravely and fiercely fighting as hard as she could, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer this summer.  It took me a very long time to decide how to write about it.  Of course it was difficult on all of us, seeing her go through the pain and suffering that she did.  And although I miss her very much, I am glad that she has moved on from that hardship and is in a better place now.  However, I don’t think that Jan would have wanted me to focus on the sorrow of losing her.  A much more fitting eulogy, I think, is focusing on the celebration of her life; remembering the wonderful woman that she was, and being grateful for the time I had with her.

One of my strongest memories of Jan happened over a decade ago.  Mom and dad went away for their anniversary, and so they left me, Chris, and Josh with Pa and Jan (Matt and Hope weren’t born yet at this point).  Chris and I bickered a lot that weekend, but Jan was my little oasis.  I knew that I could always run away to her and have her teach me something or just talk to me, and everything would be better.  I spent a lot of time that week just watching her cross-stitch.  She loved cross-stitching, and was really good at it, took – she made some truly brilliant designs in her lifetime.  She is probably a large reason why I picked up cross-stitching, myself.  Now that she is gone, I like it even more – it seems like a eulogy of sorts to her every time I pick up a needle and thread.

Aside from that weekend, I have lots of vivid memories of going to visit Pa and Jan in their almost-beachside home when I was younger.  I would stand next to her at the sink, helping her peel the shells off of the shrimp that we were cooking for dinner – she always made the best food.  I remember when she first showed me how to use a shrimp peeler – after I finally figured it out, which took a while, I promptly decided that it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Jan loved cooking, and since they lived so close to the ocean she cooked a lot of seafood.  It is fitting, I think, that one of the last things I did for Jan in one of my later visits was to let her sit back and relax while Pa and I cooked crab cakes for her.  She had already started to get sick at that point, but I had no idea then that that would be the last time I would see her alive.

They moved a few years ago, and I’ve visited them several times since; but their old home still holds so many memories for me.  I remember digging through their interesting books and magazines to find something to hold my attention while I curled up in their overstuffed reading chair for hours.  But then, more often than not, I would get distracted by the high ceilings or beautiful view, and drag Jan outside to go on a walk with me.  Being so close to the beach, Pa and Jan also made sure to make good use of that whenever we came to visit.  I have a photograph of Chris and I in 2 separate dune buggies, which were rented courtesy of our generous grandparents.  We were obviously having a ball.  The pictures don’t show it, but I’m sure that there was some friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition happening in those dune buggies while Pa and Jan sat and looked on, just enjoying the sight and presence of their grandchildren, regardless of what they happened to be doing.  I remember that when we were on the beach and she was in her bathing suit, I would often notice her upper arms and want to play with them – I thought they were smooth and touchable and wonderful.  As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she hated me doing that; I get it now, but I still stick with my guns and say that she was, and always has been, beautiful.

One of my favorite things about Jan was that she not only encouraged my own interests, but she also spurred me on to pursue other interests that I may not have tried otherwise.  One year for Christmas they bought me a flute; for my birthday, which falls a few days after Christmas, they paid for a year of flute lessons.  As retired music teachers this was probably a no-brainer gift for them, but I had never even considered learning an instrument.  I ended up not sticking with it after that year, which I really regret and often wish that I could pick back up; nevertheless, the fact remains that she was constantly spurring me to better myself, something that I really appreciated about her.  And she didn’t just want us to learn for the sake of learning; she actually took real pleasure in seeing our progress.  My little siblings elected for piano lessons instead of flute, and they are still taking lessons; up until her death, she was always asking for recordings of their recitals, or for live demonstrations when they went to visit.  What was happening in our lives mattered to her.

But, as I already mentioned, Jan was always more than supportive of my own chosen interests, too.  My first pair of real dance shoes was purchased by Pa and Jan.  I’ll never forget that day…we drove ALL OVER town to find those things.  Myrtle Beach is not known for its swing dance scene, and thus finding a store that stocked the specialty shoes that many west coast swing dancers use proved to be no easy task.  But Jan was determined…it was important to me, and so it was important to her.  In the end we finally chanced upon a pair that I loved in a Halloween costume superstore, of all places.  I adored those shoes.  I wore them into the ground…they were literally falling apart before I finally retired them.

Myrtle Beach may not be known for its dance scene, but it IS known for its golf scene.  Every time we went to visit them, they would take us to a different putt-putt golf course.  I have never been a fan of real golf, but I always loved exploring a different mini-golf course with my grandparents (and yes, there were so many that we never went to the same one twice).  When I got older and started visiting them without the rest of my family, they assumed that I would have outgrown that activity, as well.  So when I actually asked to go there again – what can I say, I’m sentimental – they humored me, but then also took me to see Le Gran Cirque, Myrtle Beach’s version of Cirque du Soleil.  What a night!  I have to say, putt-putt was fun….but I was glad that they took it upon themselves to make me try something new.  That was an incredible performance.  Along a similar line, the last time our whole family visited them together, they took us all to a hands-on science museum called WonderWorks.  Was such a blast.  Jan was (and Pa still is) an incredibly giving, generous person.

Even after her death, the impact that she had had and was continuing to have on so many people is impossible to ignore.  As I sat there in the church during the memorial ceremony, I marveled at how many people were there, how many people had worked so hard to make her memorial service special and actually memorable.  How many people really loved her deeply.  How many people were working extra hard to make sure that Pa was taken care of after her passing.  Jan left behind a plethora of wonderful memories, scores of people who esteem and miss her dearly, and remnants of herself that will continue to bless people far beyond the scope of her life.  That, my friends, is the definition of a life well lived.  I miss her very much, but even more so I am proud and grateful to have had her in my life.  I am honored to have known her.

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! 🙂