Category: holidays

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.

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…

Thanksgiving is for giving thanks

This past Thanksgiving was the first Thanksgiving that I was state-side in 3 years.  Needless to say, it was certainly a time of thankfulness on my part.  I took my friend, Sunny, with me home to celebrate with me and my family.  We did a tremendous amount of cooking and baking – pies, fruitcake, green bean casserole, turkey, yada yada yada.  It was wonderful having a normal-sized kitchen to work in again – my kitchen in Atlanta looks like it’s made more for midgets than for regular people, lol… 😉

After Thanksgiving dinner, my sister and I decided to make an enormous leaf pile and jump in it – a totally regular activity for a graduate student, right? 😉  It became more of an all-inclusive family event, with Josh and Matt and even Dad getting involved in the action.  Mom supervised and took pictures.  Hahaha.  
Other highlights included light-hunting with the fam (an annual tradition) and going to putt-putt – Hope had the best shot of the day, hands-down.  You can’t argue with a hole-in-one on the second hole of the game- when the shot came from the first hole! 😉  The biggest event of the weekend, however, would definitely have to be The Haircut.  Sunny and I decided to go together and donate our hair to Locks of Love.  I had been planning on doing it for a while; Sunny’s decision was rather more spontaneous.  But it was fun for the both of us – definitely a bonding experience!  So now I have short locks again!  I miss my hair, but at least this time I actually like my new haircut, which I could not say the last 2 times I donated my hair.  I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to it growing back, though ;).
There are so many things that I’m thankful for this year.  I’m thankful for friends, and for my incredible family.  I’m thankful for good health that allows me to give my hair to someone who has none.  I’m thankful for the lessons that God has taught me and the experiences that He has given me over the course of my life.  I’m thankful for my church.  I’m thankful for the homes and adopted families that I have all over the world.  I’m thankful for warm weather.  I’m thankful for chocolate cookies, and working heaters, and scarves, and fun jewelry, and big fuzzy bathrobes, and christmas lights, and soothing music, and teddy bears, and nail polish, and cell phones, and notebooks, and cute pens from Korea to jot all of my random thoughts down with in aforementioned notebooks.  
But most of all, I’m thankful for God’s favor and love.  And I want to live in a way that shows that.  It was really hard going back to Atlanta after Thanksgiving – back to the grind of schoolwork and classes.  But whenever I struggle with leaving, I always remind myself that God has put me here for a reason, and the best way that I can honor Him is to bloom where He’s planted me, and to do my best wherever He sends me.

Sunny’s first time making merengue cookies!

Look at Josh trying to be all cool and stuff…. 😀

I love my daddy 🙂

The fateful haircut!!

Happy Fourth of July!

I celebrated the 4th of July vacation with my family this weekend. It was great fun, but a little unsettling, as well. It was not just my immediate family, although they were all present (with the exception of Chris). It also including rarely-seen aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like. It was great to see all of them – it’s been yearsssssss since we’ve seen each other. But at the same time, I hated being reminded of how distant we are. The kids literally have to re-introduce themselves to each other every time we get together, because it’s so infrequent. I know that our lives have diverged, and we get together as much as we can, and it’s great to see them when we do…but I’ve always wanted a big, close extended family. It’s like teasing a child with candy when I see my big extended family, but know that we are not close and likely never will be.

But anyway, enough of that self-pity. Onto the details of the weekend. I met mom and the little ones at my aunt’s house in Alpharetta (she’s technically my mom’s cousin, not her sister, but I don’t know what that would make her to me; it’s easier to call her aunt :]). Mom and the kids came back with me that evening and stayed in my apartment. That was fun, even though we were all pretty thoroughly exhausted at that point. I hadn’t expected my little siblings to ever be able to see my place, so it was cool that they got to. I also loved waking up to see them in MY house, not vice-versa… :).

The next morning, we went to my friend Julia’s church, Perimeter church. It was really good. The message was incredible, and so, so applicable to me in my current stage of life. He was talking about freedom in Christ (quite appropriate, considering Sunday marked the anniversary of our freedom as a nation). He tied it into concerns and plans about the future, relationships, finances…basically, everything that I’m currently struggling with. It was a very timely message for me.

We hung around for a while talking with Julia and her parents. They’re really nice, I like them all a lot :). Finally, though, we had to move on. So we jumped in the cars (I drove daddy’s truck, since he had met us up there that morning) and headed up to Suches, the “Valley above the clouds”. Suches, for most of you guys that don’t know, is located in the northeast Georgia mountains, near Dahlonega.

Sunday afternoon was spent playing with cousins, conversing with aunts and uncles, and consoling indignant siblings. My uncle tried – fairly successfully – to recruit me to work in the CIA as an attaché. It’s definitely at least an option I’m going to look into… 🙂 As the light started to fade, we all packed up and went to the local school to watch the fireworks display. It was a very good show, especially considering the size of the town.

Monday was spent lolling around my aunt and uncle’s house, and saying goodbye as the day wore on and more and more people left for home. Finally, dad and I decided to head back down the mountain. We stopped by our cabin on the way down. It looked rather sad and neglected, but that’s to be expected – it’s been over a year since anyone’s been there. But other than that, it seemed to be in pretty good shape, which was a relief to us all.

I made it back to Atlanta, and had just enough time to unpack and get ready for tomorrow before a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to have dinner with her. So we went to Atlantic Station and grabbed dinner at the Cheescake Bistro. The service was less than commendable, but the food was amazinggggg. And the cheescake….oh, the cheescake. We decided that we couldn’t go to a restaurant called the Cheescake Bistro and not get cheescake. So I boxed up the dinner I couldn’t eat, and she and I split a white chocolate and strawberry cheescake. I’m pretty sure I died for a few minutes and went to heaven. Now, however, I’m back in the very real, cheescake-less world, and have to be at work tomorrow. So I’m going to call it a night.

I do have one more thing I want to say, however. I don’t know why, but the fireworks got me in a very pensive mood, and I decided to pen a quick poem. I’ve re-written it here in my blog. Don’t laugh, a natural poet I am not :P. I would like feedback, though, if you have it, as long as it’s constructive :).

Thunderous tremors split the sky
Flashes of light punctuate the staccato shots
Glittering ribbons of emeralds, rubies, and diamonds slice the air
The screams and echoes of deadly firearms pervade the night sky
As the smoke clears, the cries of the frightened fill the stillness
Then, silence.
Tranquility.
Peace.

The struggle to obtain freedom…and the celebration of it
The outward façades are analogous
The charred earth on both the fields of conflict and carnival prompt all who see it to remember
Remember the hardships.
Remember the struggles.
Remember those who gave their lives for people they would never meet.
Their sacrifice remains long after the singed ground has healed
Remember that sacrifice, before the annual gala of frenzied sparklers forces remembrance