Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Showing Up in the Darkness

In Sunday School, we watched this Christmas message by Louie Giglio.  If you have time this season, I encourage you to listen to it while wrapping gifts or cooking dinner.  It reminds us of the importance of the Christmas message in a way that is not just cheesy cliches or picture perfect manger scenes.  His words reminded me that the gospel is both beautiful and messy at the same time. And most importantly, he reminds me that the gospel brings beauty to our mess. No circumstance is too disastrous that it can't be redeemed by our Savior and no moment is so lonely that the Savior can't show up.

We often forget the heaviness of Mary and Joseph's situation. Being chosen to carry the Savior may seem like a blessing now, but it was a scandal at the engaged woman claiming that her baby would arrive via virgin birth!  There must have been whispers behind their backs and judging eyes. People assumed Mary was promiscuous and a liar and they assumed Joseph was a fool. I wonder how many friends were lost and if their families doubted their story.

The two had just endured a long journey on what is one of the worst days of the year - TAX DAY.  A pregnant woman who was likely feeling the normal pregnancy discomfort had just travelled bumpy roads on a smelly donkey. They did not have a lot of money and had no place to stay.  No one took pity on them and welcomed them in.  An inn keeper informed them of a place to find shelter -- probably not a lovely stable like in our nativity sets, but instead a dark damp cave on the side of the hill where animals found refuge at night and during storms.

And Giglio pointed out something I had never thought of: what was Mary praying that night?  I think if we pause, we all probably know (or at least we women know) what her prayer was: Lord, please do not let this baby come tonight. Not here, not now.

But, we know the rest of the story...the baby did arrive.  In the middle of what may have been the worst night of young Mary's life, a Savior came. The Lord broke his silence of 400 years in the most basic way -- with a human cry from a tiny baby in a dark dirty cave on a bad day to a scandalous couple. The Lord showed up in the mess.

The Lord shows up in our mess too! I have endured some pretty tough Christmases -- full of heartache, broken relationships, family tragedies, death, pain. I have also enjoyed wonderful Christmases -- with an engagement, family gatherings, friend's weddings, joyful moments.  And you know what? The Lord showed up in each and every moment.  He was there in the tears and brokeness just as much as the joy and celebration. Christmas solidified that He knew and understood because He came.

Christmas will not always be joyful memories and postcard quality moments. Some years, it will be hard to celebrate - but the reality that Christ showed up in our broken world and our messy lives is a message most needed by those dreading the Holiday season.

Our Savior showed up for Mary in her dark moments - and He will show up for us as well!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent is for the hopeless

Last week was the first week of advent, the week where we light the candle of HOPE. This has always been my favorite week of advent -- partially because it officially kicks off one of my favorite times of year, but also because I, like most of you, live in a world that often lacks real hope.

Hope is frowned upon by cynics, intellectuals and realists as being too naive and childlike.  Hope is sometimes even discouraged by well meaning Christians out of fears that unrealized hopes will lead to a lack of faith or disappointment. As a result of both secular and religious attacks, we find ourselves suppressing hope daily, clinging to the idea that we must be tough to survive and stoic to show true faith. Hope is seen as weakness.

But advent arrives every December - amidst our broken relationships, sick family members, tight budgets, sinful struggles and unmet longings - and it gently calls out to us - Hope, Long, Believe.

Advent reminds us of a people who hoped for a Savior for hundreds of years before their longing was finally realized.  Advent is a celebration of fulfilled longings and answered prayers.

Advent points to Jesus, His arrival as an infant and His coming return; but it also gives us a much needed respite from a world of cynicism and fear.  Advent reminds us to place our hope in a Savior who hears, understands and answers, a Savior who lived in this same fallen and painful world. Advent reminds us that trust and faith is more than just obedience and fear because we are free to hope for change, freedom, healing and answers. Advent reminds us of our eternal hope and a victory that is already won.

And, perhaps most encouraging for many facing difficulties and trials during the Holiday season, advent provides this comfort: we serve a God who understands our pain and longings, a God who is with us in the waiting. Advent reminds us that longings can be answered and that waiting can be used for preparation, growth and anticipation.

Our world may be cynical, but even a generation of realists long for Christmas miracles, unexplained joys, family reconciliations, healing, relationships and love this time of year.  Every cheesy Christmas movie or commercial displays a sense of hope (albeit false hope) during this season. But we are so fortunate to have a real hope and answer to our longing. We have a Savior who came, will return, answers and sustains.

It's sometimes hard to hope in this broken world, but advent is for the hopeless. It is for those who feel like they are wading through mud, stuck in a world of waiting and longing. Advent reminds us or our true hope. Advent provides a time to celebrate longing, anticipate answers, rest in His comfort and remember that He came to save us from a broken world full of longing and waiting.

So, hope away. Cling to our greatest hope. Lay your longings at His feet. Trust that He can provide and sustain. We are blessed with these 4 weeks each year that remind us of the Hope we have been given.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

ADVENT: How We're Celebrating

I love the holiday season (yes, maybe that makes me #basic).  I love it all- the glimmer of lights cheering up even the dullest days, upbeat holiday music encouraging you during your morning commute, delicious seasonal treats that make my belly and heart full, curling up with cocoa and watching Christmas movies with the cheesiest yet happiest endings, time spent with family and fiends, finding the perfect gift for someone and most of all, celebrating advent. 

Celebrating Advent gives us 24 extra days to prepare our hearts and minds for the real reason to celebrate. During the holiday chaos, it gives us a daily opportunity to reflect on the Lord's  birth and to anticipate His second coming.  It serves as reminder not only of Christ's birth, but also His death, resurrection and return.

Earlier this week, a fellow blogger wrote about ways she is celebrating Advent this season and I thought I would share the ways both I and my little family are celebrating. I hope our future kids will anticipate the start of Advent as much as I do each year. I hope that Advent reminds them that the Lord is returning and that waiting (in Advent, life's trials and when awaiting the Lord's return) can be a time of anticipation, growth, encouragement and hope.

Here's how we are celebrating:

(1) Lighting the Advent Wreath.

We light our advent wreath nightly.  I received this advent wreath from a sweet family when we got married and it is one of my favorite wedding gifts. Each night, D and I light the wreath, do our advent devotional and pray.  I like taking time with my sweet hubby to focus on Christ and anticipate Christmas each day.

(2) Reading through an advent devotional.

 We are working through Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift advent book. Last year, we worked through one of Piper's advent devotionals, also excellent (and free!)

(3) Celebrating through music.

As silly as it may sound, I try to listen to Christian Christmas carols as much as possible throughout the day.  Music is a great format for sharing truth and as I hear lyrics about advent and our Savior's birth, my heart is focused and encouraged.  Additionally, the church we have been attending is sponsoring a couple Christmas concerts this month and we are trying to attend at least one of these events.

(4) My own personal advent readings.  

A friend posted this advent devotional (by on facebook and I have been following it, plus reading any and all articles I come across regarding the Advent season. Reading an Advent article at lunch or when I first arrive at work tends to refocuse me.

(5) Blogging. 

Whether you like it or not, you will be seeing some posts about Advent (if it's not your thing, then come back in January!) I love Advent and tend to talk a lot about it each year. (examples here, here  and here ) so I am sure I will be doing the same this year. 

(6) Praying Boldly.  

Advent is about waiting, longing, peace and hope. Advent and Christmas is a picture of a God that answers prayers and provides in huge ways, including providing a perfect baby to take our place.  Advent is also a reminder that God became man-- yes, man - like you and me -- so He understands our pain, betrayal, longing, disappointment.  During this time of year, I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting on how privileged we are to serve a God that relates to us and understands.  I also tend to lay aside my doubts and fear of disappointment and make BOLD prayers for myself and for others -- for healing, for babies, for marriages, for salvation, for forgiveness.

It's such a special time of year -- a time when we await the baby's birth and the Lord's return, a time where we focus on the manhood of Christ and the fact that he understands our pain and struggles, a time when longing and waiting is celebrated not hated. Advent has always been a source of encouragement in my life, even more so during life's difficult years. 

What about you? Anyone have plans to celebrate Advent? How do you celebrate?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Minute Thanksgiving Dish: Homemade Mac and Cheese

This month, we have 4 Thanksgivings...which is a bit surprising considering the fact that we will not be at home in DC or in Mississippi for Turkey Day. I was worried that we would not celebrate in a traditional way at all and was starting to plan a little weeknight Turkey fest for hubby and me. But, no need for our own private feast because we will when all the dust settles, we will be having Thanksgiving 4 times: with Dave's sisters last weekend,  with 2 different dinner groups and with friends in NYC. By December 1st, we (and our bellies) will have celebrated the holiday FULLY (yes, pun intended).

The first celebration was at the beginning of the month with our dinner group. Everyone signed up to bring various dishes via email and I signed up for dessert and salad, but when I looked back over the list, I realized that the only 2 things on the list that my picky husband would eat were meat and rolls. So, at 3 pm at work, I begin to frantically search for an easy side dish that I could make in the hour and fifteen minute time frame we had before dinner group.** Mashed potatoes would take too long and I had no good recipes for a fall risotto or rice dish. So, I settled on Mac and Cheese.

I had only made homemade mac and cheese a couple times before and had no idea what recipe I used and how long it took, so I did an internet search for simple mac and cheese recipes and selected a few to read through and then picked which one looked yummy and easy enough to shop for and complete in a limited time frame. Sometimes I spend half and hour looking for the perfect recipe and sometimes I basically settle on the first decent one I find.  In this case, it was the latter - and in this case, the halfhearted approach worked well, because our simple mac and cheese was delicious.  It certainly wasn't the fanciest, most flavorful version I have ever tasted -- no bacon, specialty cheeses or truffle oil -- but for what it was - a hearty cheesy filling side dish - it was perfect. Plus, it was simple and quick to make

We ran by the store to buy the ingredients and then I hurried to prepare and cook our side dish quickly so that we were only a few minutes late.  Actually, the short time frame worked out best because the dish was still piping hot when we arrived and homemade mac and cheese, in my humble opinion, is one of those dishes that is at its best the first time it comes out of the oven. It does not improve with reheating.

I found the simple recipe on this blog.  The only thing I did differently was use penne noodles instead of macaroni. Also, I didn't just pour the sauce over the noodles, I kind of mixed it all together, but still made sure there was a generous amount on the top to bake into a crispy top.

  • 1 lb Macaroni (or other pasta)
  • 2 (8 oz) Packages of Sharp Cheddar Cheese (grated or in chunks, I prefer grated)
  • 2 cups Milk
  • ½ cup Flour
  • ¼ cup Butter
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste

  1. In a large pot boil macaroni until tender.
  2. Shred your cheese and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan melt butter over medium heat.
  4. Add flour and mix until brown amber color (Make a roux).
  5. Add milk and whisk until thick.
  6. Add cheese one hand full at a time.
  7. Mix until cheese is all melted and smooth.
  8. Place cooked macaroni in baking pan.
  9. Pour cheese mixture over macaroni.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven
  11. Salt & Pepper to taste.

I have made the dish 3 times this month for get togethers. It's simple, inexpensive, a crowd pleaser-- and husband pleaser. If Turkey Day is fast approaching and you have yet to pick a dish to contribute, then this recipe might be a good one to try.  It's hard to mess it up and you can make a tasty dish without slaving away all day.

A couple of personal notes: I added cayenne pepper. Also I have halved the recipe and I have cooked the noodles and poured the sauce and then refrigerated the dish throughout the work day before baking that evening. Doing the prep work ahead of time is not quite as yummy as cooking all at once, BUT it wasn't bad and definitely worth trying if you want to prep the food then have someone else bake (in my case, D baked the mac and cheese since he gets home from work earlier)

**Before you think I am a saintly wife worried about what my husband would eat, you should know that I was more worried about people being offended by the lack of food on his plate than I was about him having enough to eat.  D is picky but in some way, he's not picky -- for example, a meal of rolls and turkey is plenty for him.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cold Day Treats: Pumpkin Bread

It's cold - not just in DC but across America (which honestly, makes me feel a little bit better about the cold -- misery loves company right??)  Apparently, there are locations in all 50 states that hit freezing or below freezing temps yesterday...yes, even Hawaii and Florida. I checked a few states via because I wasn't so sure I believed NPR-- and it's true, cold everywhere!!

It was 17 degrees this morning -- so cold that I could see my breath, so cold that my ungloved fingers were changing colors, so cold that our car skidded a bit on the way home from the gym because we drove over a portion of the parking lot where the storm water drains and apparently freezes, so cold that there was frozen vomit on the platform on my way to work..yep, can't make that up.

When it's this cold, I feel like I need to find the silver lining and cheer myself up. I like to remind myself that there are some positives to cold weather... For example.....

  • It's so cold outside, but thankfully I have a pot of chili cooking!
  • I hate cold weather, but I love an excuse to snuggle up next to my cute husband and catch up on TV.
  • Cold weather is the worst, but the accompanying Christmas lights are glorious!
  • It's freezing, but cold weather is the perfect excuse to bake...especially seasonal treats!
And, last night, to cheer myself up about the colder temps, I used the weather as an excuse to bake warm fall themed goodies.  I'll admit, I partly baked so we would have goodies for our guests arriving tomorrow, but I partly baked so that our apartment would smell lovely and so that I could lick the spoon at the end (Don't judge, you know that's the best part of baking...) Baking was a good way to lift my spirits!

My baking drug of choice last night was pumpkin bread. During the fall months, sometimes we just need a little pumpkin in our lives! I love that the recipe makes 2 loaves so that I have an extra loaf to freeze for weekend breakfast, office treats or a last minute snack to bring food to a bible study, girls night or other event. This recipe freezes well and tastes just as yummy when you defrost it.

I got my recipe from a cooking website and it's nothing fancy, but definitely homemade and far tastier than any box mix.  You can add nuts or chocolate chips --- I suggest chocolate chips which makes it taste more like a cake than a bread (in my humble opinion)



  • 2 Cups Libby’ Pure Pumpkin
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • 2/3 cup Water
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1.5 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Ground Nutmeg


  • Mix Pumpkin, Sugar, Oil, Water, and Eggs in large mixing bowl until well combined.
  • In medium mixing bowl, combine Flour, Baking Soda, Salt, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg.  Stir well, then gradually pour into large bowl of pumpkin mixture.  Stir well to combine completely.
  • Spray TWO 9×5 Non-stick Loaf Pans with Pam Cooking Spray.
  • Pour mixture evenly into loaf pans.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 45 – 55 minutes, or until done and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • ENJOY!!

There is nothing like a warm slice of pumpkin bread to lift your spirits on a cold fall day.  How blessed I am to have a warm home, a comfy bed and yummy treats on cold days. So much to be grateful for!

So, if you are facing some cold temps (and my guess is that you are experiencing freezing temps because well, most places in America are dealing with cold weather...), maybe it's time to cook some Pumpkin bread to help cheer you up! And, don't forget to lick the spoon!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Updates

Just a few updates on this COLD boring Tuesday.... some little nuggets I have not shared on this blog!

 Check out my blog post on Joy at my friend Emily's blog, The Orange Slate. She's doing a great little series on Joy where she asks others about their views on Joy, so check out all the posts. It's been interesting for me to see what other people have to say on the topic and read their tips on being joyful! I think you will be encouraged by their words! I am hoping she wraps it up by answering the questions herself (Emily, hint, hint...)

 I never introduced you to my new nephew.  Meet Baby Gil. He's two months old now and tall, dark and handsome -- okay, maybe not tall yet. but definitely dark and handsome.  His hobbies include making serious faces, gifting us with the occasional smile, pacifiers, eating and staring at random objects and pictures on the wall (is he an art lover? maybe!).  

I put off posting about him until my sister posted, but then I forgot! I've gotten to hang out with him 3 weekends and its safe to say that I am already in love.  I am counting down til Christmas vacation where I will have two full weeks of time with family, most importantly time with my nieces and nephews! D and I seriously have the cutest nieces and nephews ever, on both sides of the family -- it'll be a pretty high standard for our "one day" kids to live up to!

The day Gilly bean was born...

Sleeping Beauty

He is kindof a serious little dude, but his smiles are pretty great too!

And, just for fun, here is a picture of Gil's big brother, Jack, in his Halloween outfit because who wouldn't want to see a picture of this cute monster????

Stay tuned because in February I will have another little niece to introduce!

As I said, we are taking a break from apartment decorating to enjoy the Holidays.  The apartment is at least presentable enough now, but I still have lots of fun things I want to try -- and as always, our bedroom will be the last to be decorated, but I am determined to actually decorate it this time as opposed to slapping a couple pictures above our bed and calling it "done" in our last place.  As we continue in January with the slow process of decorating, I promise to do a home tour or something similar, but until then, let me show you my favorite wall in my favorite room in the house. 

I LOVE our Gallery wall....and I must admit, I am quite proud of how it turned out.  Our wall is fun and a huge focal point -- plus. it has bits of D and me mixed in.  (I'll let you guess who supplied the deer head.....)  It also has some prints and pictures we acquired together...representing this first year of marriage.  The wall keeps growing and I know it will probably change a lot over the years.  Sure, gallery walls are really in style at the moment, but they feel so homey, especially when you mix in personal pictures and sentimental pieces, so I hope that even when it's not as trendy, our home always has some type of gallery wall full of family photos, kid's artwork and pictures that remind us of places we love!

I am even thinking of fun ways to add to the wall at various holidays.  For Christmas, I think I may place a Santa Hat on the reindeer and add a tinsel garland, just a fun way to make our home's focal point more festive! Anyone have any fun ideas?

Exactly one month ago, my sweet D turned 30 and we celebrated all day long with breakfast at Ted's Bulletin (our favorite), presents, shopping, time with his parents, dinner and drinks at Copperwood Tavern (another favorite) and his annual "Better than Sex" cake (which is basically a chocolate cake made even more fattening with whip cream, condensed milk, caramel and candy topping)  It's been his birthday cake of choice since long before I met him - and since we rarely make big desserts like cakes (usually just cookies, brownies or other individual items), he usually only gets to enjoy the cake once or twice a year!

Since October was such a busy month of guests and settling in to our new place, I blogged only 3 times and never posted on D, his birthday and how much I adore him.  So, in short tribute, let me say that I am very blessed to get to do life with such an amazing guy.  I will never quit being happy that he was born 30 years (and 1 month) ago and even more so, I will always be grateful he chose me. He's such a godly, loving, funny, hard working, sometimes goofy guy and I loved being able to celebrate him last month and will work harder to make sure he knows he's appreciated each and every day of the year. Here's to the next 30 years -- hopefully full of more happy moments than tears, lots of growth, designing several cool buildings, many travels and adventures, tiny children running around a cozy home - and maybe a few gray hairs :) I am excited to do the next 30 years with him!

It was 20 degrees when I woke up today - in November, pre-Thanksgiving and a month before Winter "officially" arrives.  I think it's safe to say that we are in for a cold winter....and as much as I don't love winter, I am hoping for lots of snow. If it is going to be cold, then it might as well include some days off from work. I am currently crossing my fingers and sending up prayers for a snow day in December.  Last year, we had our first snow in December and enjoyed a day in sipping hot chocolate while watching holiday movies with the Christmas tree lit.  It was the closest to a WHITE CHRISTMAS that I will ever see! November will end a busy couple months of guests and travels, and after all that busyness and fun, I could use a lazy snuggly Christmas-y snow day, preferably on a Friday or Monday....who wants to join me in my noble snow day prayers??

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hello November!

Last month, I did a little bit better with meeting my goals.  I also think that I did not over commit to projects in October so that helped me do fewer goals well.

Even without tons of projects, October was still full of life, laughter, traveling (Harper's Ferry, State College trips) and visitors (3 sets!) We also celebrated Dave's 30th Birthday and Halloween. Dave also prepared for one of his licensing exams and passed it! October is always such a pretty month - pleasant weather, pretty colors and all the good things about fall without many of the negatives. As the month came to an end and November rolled in, we have more cold weather and less sunshine, although the calendar is kind to us, isn't it? As temps (and my mood) start to drop, holiday decorations start to go up. I can't remain too grumpy about the weather for long because the holiday season is here! My least favorite time of the year is at least ushered it with the most wonderful season of the year!

November will be busy just like October, 2 sets of visitors and a Thanksgiving trip to NYC (can't wait!). We love travelling and visitors, but it was wonderful to have our first full November weekend free of any responsibilities or plans.  We did chores, cooked a nice meal for a "date night in", slept a lot and watched a lot of football and movies! Many of our friends were on a church retreat, so we couldn't over-obligate ourselves and it was glorious to have time with Dave and time to rest!

 November will also be a time to enjoy the last few days before winter (and I hear its going to be a cold one again, thanks polar vortex!) -- I plan on soaking in whatever last warm days we have, enjoying the beautiful falling colorful leaves, watching a lot of football AND savoring all things pumpkin (except pumpkin spice lattes, those are gross).

Since the busy holiday season has arrived,  I think we will take a break from decorating until January and just spend time with each other, friends, and family. Plus, there will be lights, Christmas concerts and parties to enjoy! For that reason, my goals list is a bit smaller this month.

  • Hang up a Gallery Wall in our living room
  • Purchase dining room chairs
  •  Cook 1-2 recipes from “Bread and Wine” Yes, finally tackled this one -- we tried Blueberry Crisp -- and I made the recipe 3 times. 
  • Hang Pictures in my office. Still empty walls...probably won't happen until January.
  •    Paint our bedroom bookcase and my dresser gray.
  •  Paint our kitchen stools. Sadly this probably won't happen until after the Holidays, maybe even the spring as it is soon going to be too cold to paint on our patio.
  •   Finish unpacking and organizing the closet.  Finally did this. It is not perfect, but it is at least unpacked and organized somewhat!
  • Order a wedding Picture for the dining roomThis is also waiting until after Christmas as my focus is now going to be decorating for the Holidays, getting us to NYC for Thanksgiving and Mississippi for Christmas and finishing up buying and wrapping gifts!
  •    Read a book I read Inferno for book club and really enjoyed it! I just started Unbroken.....I am enjoying so far as well.
  • Celebrate D’s 30th birthday!! I love this sweet man and am so glad he was born. We had fun celebrating!
  •  Add a few fall touches to our apartmentI made a fall wreath and added some mini pumpkins and glitter pumpkins!
  •    Make an effort to do 2 fun fall activities We went to a corn maze and on a ghost tour!
  •  Enjoy our two sets of visitors this month!  We ended up with 3 sets of visitors and enjoyed them all -- my mom, brother and grandparents came, then Dave's parents came and then Marley and Bech and the boys came!
  •  Halloween Costumes!
  •   Buy several Christmas gifts! 
  •  Put a little in our Europe Jar. Sadly, no. It all went to travel, decorating and gifts.  I feel, like many other goals, this one will get back on track AFTER the holidays.
  •  Go to the gym before work 1-2 mornings a week. 
  • Blog More.  It wasn't a lot more, but it was more. I am calling that a Win

  • Decorate for the Holidays. It may be limited decor because we will only be in DC for 3 weeks next month, but I think it is important for our home  to fill Christmas-y.
  • Plan our trip to NYC for Thanksgiving. Parade, lights, museums, friends.
  • Complete at least half of whats left on my Christmas Gift list.
  • Wrap gifts as they come in.
  • Continue with going to the gym a couple mornings a week.
  • Enjoy time with guests.
  • Be more grateful.
  • Help prepare a Thanksgiving menu for our NYC thanksgiving!
  • Blog More.
  • Read one book. I am currently reading Unbroken for book club.
  • Be more diligent about praying for my friends and family.
  • Try one new recipe, maybe even one from Bread and Wine.
  • Continue in my plan to decrease my caffeine intake. I am now on day 5 with no caffeine.  I still plan on having the occasional coffee or diet coke, but I don't want to be so reliant on it!
Happy Happy November everyone....I hope that the beginning of your holiday season has started off joyfully. This truly is a special time of the year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I am not ashamed to listen to Christmas Music in November

As Halloween ended, the official Holiday season rolled in.....and so did the annual debate on when is it too early to start celebrating Christmas?

I am 100 percent on board with celebrating Thanksgiving all month long.  Thanksgiving is an all American holiday that involves no gifts, little decorations and less fuss all around than Christmas. Just family, food and a time of thanksgiving! I love the idea of an entire month that reminds us to be grateful.  Despite difficulties and disappointments, most of us have far more blessings than we deserve and Thanksgiving gives us a chance to reflect on what we have, instead of what we want.

However, that being said, I also crank up my Christmas music as soon as possible...without shame.  They nay-sayers can judge away and can choose to abstain until Dec. 1, but I will continue to hum along to my favorite holiday music weeks in advance.

Reasons why I listen to Christmas Music in November:

(1) It makes me happy (with no consequences to anyone else).  That's really my #1 reason.  Generally, choosing to do what makes you happy is not always the best course of action to take. That's how affairs, divorces, broken friendships, hurt family relationships occur-- because we do what makes us happy and forget the consequences to others....but, turning on some Christmas carols while I clean my house or ride the metro doesn't hurt anyone.  It's one of those decisions I can make simply based on what I want to do, and so I do it.  The only consequences is that it might annoy a friend, spouse or family member -- in which case, I will change the Pandora station or stick my earphones in!

(2) It gets me in the Holiday spirit. I know, I know, I can hear you saying, but what about Thanksgiving? I am including Thanksgiving in my "Holiday season" -- because whether or not we like it, the Holiday season is Nov. 1 - Jan. 1. That 2 month period will be full of gatherings, happy memories, traditions, stress, family, friends and food. In fact, I usually take a sigh mid-October because I know that starting with Halloween events, life won't be slowing down until January.  I have happy holiday memories, so mostly this season is joyful for me (although I know it's not that way for everyone), but even for the lucky ones with happy memories and traditions, the Holidays can be full of stress and busyness. Listening to carols while cooking, shopping, cleaning or wrapping gifts helps me remember the reasons for the Holidays and get into a more joyful Holiday spirit. I can't help but focus on  memories of Holiday seasons past as I listen to Christmas Tunes: Thanksgiving meals with my family, watching the Macys parade with my sister, decorating the tree, Christmas eve communion, opening gifts Christmas morning, the perfect NYE kiss, etc. Holiday music re-energizes me and reminds me to focus on the many good things about this season, not just the stressful parts!

(3) There is no Thanksgiving music.  Sure, there are a few hymns about thankfulness that we sing in November, but it's not an entire musical genre.  If there was a "Thanksgiving" genre, I would probably be listening to that right now, not the "Dave Barnes Christmas" station on Pandora.

(4) Many Christmas songs are Gospel based. Seriously, a large part of the music we listen to at Christmas are really hymns about Christ's birth, an essential apart of the Gospel story. I don't know about you, but I benefit from hearing the Gospel in some form every day....which is why the older I get, the more I find myself listening to Christian music on the radio. Christmas music is another way to hear the Gospel daily.

(5) Christmas music provides Hope.  Along the lines of Christmas music being Gospel based, carols and hymns provide Hope to the hurting, stressed out, sick, disappointed Advent provides us the comfort that Christ came and lived in this same broken world we do and can relate to our heartache.  He then died, rose, conquered death and will come back for us. The lyrics to many Christmas hymns and carols provide Hope, not just in December, but in November and year round. The Lord came. The Lord understands. The Lord saves. (My current favorite Lyric: A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!)

(6) Christmas is more important than Thanksgiving.  There, I said it. Christmas is a time where we celebrate our Savior's birth. It's a religious Holiday (although I know it is also very secular) Thanksgiving is a wonderful reminder to be grateful and count our many blessings, but it is not a church Holiday. It's American made. So I am okay if Christmas music encroaches on Thanksgiving a bit.

(7) It reminds me of home.  Dave and I get pretty itchy to go home this time of the year (last year we counted down and I caught him singing "I'll be home for Christmas" in the shower)....but going home for Thanksgiving is not really an option. (Although we get two long weeks at Christmas!!) Throughout the holidays, growing up, my Dad played Christmas music. It was constantly on at home and in the car.  Playing music while we go about our daily business reminds me that we will be going "home" for part of this season. Having music playing while we meal plan for Thanksgiving, wrap gifts, run errands and decorate help make our little home more "homey" as well.

If you were to walk into my apartment tonight, you would notice that it's still decorated for Thanksgiving and fall.  The only Christmas decor you would see is my french nativity set (which remains up year round) and a few wrapped gifts in the corner (just getting a head start). I try to spend time in prayer daily with a focus this month on thankfulness and answered prayers.  We have 4 Thanksgiving meals with friends planned (1 down, 3 to go) and will probably eat so much Turkey that we avoid it for a few months! We are donating to food drives and volunteering at the church Turkey drive.  But, while you notice all these touches of Fall, November and Thanksgiving at our place, you might also hear a few Christmas carols playing on my computer or phone.....and you may not like that early Holiday music, but you know what, I do - and I plan to listen to it all during November while still enjoying Thanksgiving.

(small side note in full disclosure: Last year we did decorate early for Christmas because it's so much work to pull all the decorations out of storage and we were leaving for Mississippi around the 20th, so I wanted the tree and other decorations to be up for a month to justify the effort. Also we were hosting Thanksgiving at our house and our apartment was still not fully decorated but hanging a wreath and putting up the tree definitely livened things up for guests. This year, I have not decided....if it goes  up early, it won't be until a day or two before Thanksgiving. I love our fall decor and want to keep it up as long as possible...)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cooking through Bread and Wine, Recipe 3: Blueberry Crisp

Remember my goal to cook through Bread and Wine this fall? Yeah, me too.  But, my typical excuse, life got busy and things like trying new recipes (and blogging) fell off my radar.  So, I am just now trying out my 3rd recipe!

I bought the ingredients a few weeks ago to cook this dish for my papa's birthday while he was in town, but we had so much food at the house already...leftovers, tailgate snack food, breakfast treats, etc. that I decided to postpone....and this dish was worth the wait. I absolutely loved it.  

The dessert was tasty and sweet without being too sugary or heavy. Pair it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have a wonderful dish.  The author mentions that the leftovers are good as a reheated breakfast, particularly when topped with greek yogurt.  I might have to try that tomorrow :)

As is normally the case, this is not my picture. I was too busy eating to snap a shot of the crisp!

I loved 3 things about this dessert:
  1. I loved the crunchy topping mixed with the soft warm blueberries. I think it's wonderful when foods aren't too hard or crunchy and aren't too mushy.  This dessert was a nice in between!
  2. It's fairly healthy.  You use almond flour, oats, nuts, blue berries, oil and a little maple syrup (or honey in my case because I did not have any maple syrup).  There is no butter or sugar and the whole dish requires 1/4 cup of sweetener which is pretty good for a dessert.
  3. It's EASY to make.  We made last minute plans to have dinner at another couple's house. They were making the meal so I volunteered to make dessert and bring a bottle of wine. I then proceeded to be lazy and put off cooking all afternoon -- but this recipe took 5 minutes to prep and 40 minutes to cook, so my procrastination didn't ruin the evening! And, my Sunday didn't require hours in the kitchen which allowed me more time to curl up with D and catch up on TV (priorities, folks). I may always keep a couple bags of frozen berries in the freezer so that if I need a last minute dessert, I can throw this together.
So, here's the recipe to this delicious dish. Spoiler alert: I am making it again for our dinner group this week...although I am considering trying a different fruit as the base.  And I need to bring a meal to a new mom so I may make it for her as well. This is my grown up version of having a favorite shirt during childhood that you insist on wearing again and again. I found a simple, fairly healthy, tasty recipe that I enjoy, so it will be my go to for the next couple months!

Oh, and I am also happy to report that if you only have honey at home and are too lazy to go to the store and buy maple syrup, honey substitutes quite well.  I still want to taste the maple syrup next time I make it, but the honey had a nice light flavor and definitely works!

  • 4 cups blueberries (or any fruit, really)
  • Crisp topping:
    • 1 cup old fashioned oats
    • ½ cup pecans
    • ½ cup almond meal (available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, health food stores, or made by putting almonds in food processor until fine, but before they turn to almond butter)
    • ¼ cup maple syrup
    • ¼ cup olive oil
    • ½ tsp salt

Pour four cups fruit into 8×8 pan. Spread crisp topping over the fruit. Bake at 350 degrees 35-40 minutes, or longer if topping and fruit are frozen, until fruit is bubbling and topping is crisp and golden.

See? Could that be any simpler? 
Other Bread and Wine recipes I've tried:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Love: Choosing Well

If you have read my blog for several months or follow me on facebook, you've probably seen me post articles about soul mates and you have realized by now that I don't buy into the whole "Soul mate" theory on love. I don't think we have a soul mate that meets all our needs and I don't believe we find that person and live a life of rainbows, unicorns and flowers. I believe that love is a mixture of feelings and choice.

The idea of having one soul mate that you must find to be happy and in love is quite fear provoking-- what if you don't find him? What if he is already married? What if you make a mistake and marry the wrong guy and your soul mate is still out there? At that point, are you justified in leaving your marriage to find him? What if you quit loving him?

But, the flip side is also a little daunting. If you can marry many different types of men, do you have to settle for someone? Does that mean romance is gone? Is it more like a contract than a marriage? How do you pick? Do you find someone practical with whom you have no romantic feelings for and settle down? I have jokingly said that I could have married many different men and probably made it work (not so romantic right?) -- but God is sovereign and allowed me to marry one special guy. There may not be soul mates or star crossed lovers, but there is a God who often time directs our paths and opens doors - which is why out of all the guys I could have ended up with, I ended up with D.  (FYI, I don'st say ALL the GUYS to mean LOTS of guys were asking for my hand in marriage, I mean ALL the GUYS in the sense that there are many godly great men out there who could have and would have made a good husband. I am particularly grateful though that the person I married is D!!)

So here is a recent article from the Huntington Post entitled, "Real Love is a Choice" Check it out because the author is far more eloquent than I am. And I love that it is a secular article.  Christians and non-Christians alike are noticing the need for more commitment in our relationships.

Many times, we choose to love our spouses...and I suppose the longer you are married, the more love becomes a dance between feelings and choice-- alternating between periods of time where you wake up completely enamored with this other person and you can't imagine walking through life without him and days, weeks, even months where love feels more like a choice, a commitment, based on vows not feelings. And, even on a daily basis, we alternate between desiring to please and love our spouse and moments where we want our way and must choose to lovingly place him or her first.

Sometimes love is a choice made separately from your spouse -- where you chose to put them first, to honor and cherish them despite a lack of emotions encouraging you to do so.  But, sometimes love is a choice together -- realizing that marriage isn't living in a viral engagement video, honeymoon facebook album or a blockbuster romantic comedy. Most days, it's paying the bills, cooking dinner, sharing the same viruses back and forth, watching tv, cleaning toilets.  In these days, marriage may be a happy commitment, with accompanying feelings, but it is still a commitment, still a choice, definitely not always a fairy tale.

I consider myself a realist -- realistic enough to know that love is often times a choice, but also hopeful enough to believe that you can choose a spouse that makes the choice a little easier most days.  Just because I believe love will involve a lot of commitment doesn't mean I don't still want the feelings as well.  I think picking wisely can help make the daily choice to love a bit easier at times.

My thoughts on choosing a spouse that makes "choosing love" a bit easier:

1. Choose to marry someone with whom you are "in love" and feel attraction. I feel like this is obvious. This is not an arranged marriage or two people deciding they are suitably matched to be business partners for life. Fall in love, enjoy loving and being loved in return. Pick someone who you find attractive -- physically, emotionally, intellectually.  This won't guarantee that you always feel love, but it's a good place to start. On days that you want to choose not to love your spouse, on days you want to quit, hopefully you can remember your original feelings and why you loved them.

2. Choose someone whom you respect and admire.  Attraction and love are great, but make sure you are marrying someone who you admire and respect.  Marry someone whom you would think was a great person even if he or she wasn't your spouse...someone who portrays character traits and discipline and has goals that you respect. It will still be hard sometimes to love this person, but it is easier to love someone whom you generally think pretty highly of.

3. Choose to marry a Christian. He or she does not have to be a preacher, elder, biblical scholar, but someone who loves the Lord, loves His church and who seeks to serve Him and grow.  Being unequally yoked makes for a hard marriage.

4. Choose to marry someone who has dealt with hard times.  Someone once asked me what had prepared me most for marriage and my response was having roommates (see #5) and enduring hard times.  I think it's one of the things I find so attractive about my husband. He has had disappointments and hardships and pushed through.  I feel strongly that he can handle any challenges life and marriage throw our way. I trust that he will strive to choose love even when its hard.

5. Choose someone who has chosen to love others well.  Marriage is not the only relationship where we have to sometimes choose love over ourselves.  Find someone who treats others lovingly, who chooses to act kindly to family, friends, neighbors, roommates, cashiers at Walmart.

6. Choose to marry someone who repents and forgives easily.  Whether you feel head over heals in love or are choosing to love when it's hard, you will screw up and fail to love well at times.   It's best for both partners to repent and forgive well.

***And of course, when we seek mates with these qualities then for sure, we should be striving to do the same things...learning to handle hard times, loving others well even when that love is a choice, practicing repentance and forgiveness in our daily lives, etc.

I'm not an expert in love or marriage -- with almost a year and half of marriage under my belt, most would call me a novice. We can't control who we fall in love with, but we can choose who we marry. Love is a choice, and oftentimes it may be a hard choice - but choosing well at the beginning may help make that choice a bit easier.

Also, on one last note: I am a big believer that often times, feelings follow choice.  In marriage, in relationships: choose to love, choose to serve, choose to forgive and the Lord can supplement that choice with feelings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lots of Changes: Settling In and Recovering

Settling into Work

A fellow blogger recently asked me if I ever found a new job -- and I realized that after sharing some about my job search journey over the past year, I never shared the good news (so sorry!)  This summer, I got a promotion at the Government Affairs/Public Relations firm where I worked last fall and spring...moving from a temporary position to a permanent one! Thanks for all the good concern and prayers as I looked last spring!

This June, I was in the process of interviewing other places when the head of PR approached me about working in his department.  An associate was leaving later in the summer and he wanted me to interview for the position.  I was able to start working in PR at the end of June, but it took a couple months to get all the details worked out and make me official.  (August Recess where most of DC shuts down slowed down the process tremendously!)  I did not share this wonderful news earlier out of superstition and fear that things would not work out. I had many set backs over 9 months of job searching-- government shutdowns, job opportunities falling apart last minute, etc. so as silly as it sounds, I did not want to jinx things by announcing it to the world.

Then, when things became official, I forgot to share with y'all because I had been in the position for a couple months so it wasn't really "NEW" news for me!

I am having to learn a new field and how to use my skill set in the PR world. There was definitely a learning curve at first. I tend to like the policy/government affairs side of things better BUT working at this particular firm was always a goal of mine (since law school) and it's exciting to be here full time, even if it meant switching departments.  It's also nice to have an office with a door I can close again -- and have a little corner of the work world that is completely mine! Once we finish settling into the new apartment, I plan to decorate --- aka, add some pictures and artwork to my office! I have the perfect set of Jackson, MS prints by Thimblepress that I want to hang to remind me of my Mississippi home while here in DC!

**Note: Although my job search was difficult, I was so blessed to have a temporary (although it turned out to be not so temporary) entry level position.  I know so many people are not even that fortunate and I never want to portray that my short bout of semi-employment is nearly as difficult.  I had never spent much time thinking about how unemployment can affect you not only financially, but emotionally and physically as well (Seriously, I had so many headaches and knots in my back -- I think Dave is relieved that I am fully employed because I don't ask for backrubs as much!) We often don't think of others' battles until we have a short glimpse of that trial ourselves, but now, I feel my heart, prayers and hopefully my actions will reflect more concern for those that are out of work.

Settling into our Apartment

I loved our location last year, so it's no secret that I moved to the new more spacious but more suburban apartment kicking and screaming. Honestly, had I been single still, I would have chosen location over space, but I know that what is best for us and our family is having more space and more storage -- so that we can have a guestroom/study, maybe one day a nursery-- plus we can actually have all of our clothes fit in closets AND more comfortably host guests, etc.

My two criteria for moving was (1)the apartment must have a patio or balcony and (2) we must decorate the new place  and make it our own. Our last place was never fully decorated -- partly because of lack of money and partly because of lack of space to do projects (Seriously, where in a 625 square feet and no outdoor space do you paint a piece of furniture??) Now we have more of both money and space and are tackling projects and decorating our space a little each weekend. Dave does not always love this "project mentality" but he mostly humors me since it was our agreement.....and since we will likely live in this apartment until we can afford to buy a place, I think we both really want to feel like this place is our home -- even if we put it together piece by piece!

We already had a couple friends in the neighborhood and have made a few more, so slowly but surely, we are settling into suburban living. I promise to show more pictures when we finish, but until then, here are a few snapshots of the projects we have been busy with around the house!

We've added a little fall decor to the apartment, particularly at the dining table.....

I've painted several pieces of furniture including this bookcase for our bedroom...

We started putting together a gallery wall because I am currently obsessed with gallery walls... BUT the wall already looks different as we have added piece and sadly we had a frame break when it fell!

Our guest room was probably the simplest room to decorate and is therefore, the most complete! I still have a couple small projects for the room, but it's the most presentable room we have -- which is good because we have TONS of fall guests, yay!

A little living room decor with a fall theme.....


Now that life has some normalcy (but is it ever really normal?), I have felt an extreme need to just recover. Recover from job searching and rejections and leads that did not follow through. Recover from a first year in DC that did not exactly go as hoped or planned. Recovering from things that can't be helped like shutdowns and bad economies and hiring freezes.  Recovering from hurt feelings and disappointments. In the process of job searching, you receive help from many people (including some that you don't even know well) but you also have some people who you thought would be more willing to help but don't volunteer to help you out. You have a lot of dashed hopes when jobs seem that they will work out but then fall apart! Also, when moving to a new city, you have some groups of people that include you immediately and some that don't. My only tip to these situations is to focus on the many many kind people, show a little grace to others and to remember how this stage felt so that you will be a good friend to others facing similar circumstances!! (Seriously, I want to be that annoying person who sends out other people's resumes to everyone in my email list, ha!)

For me, recovering has also meant working to let go of frustration that DC did not immediately turn out how I thought it would  -- or how it had been in the past. Remember, I spent 3 summers living and working here and had previous experiences in this city in which to compare our life.  Where we live, where we go to church, friendships, neighborhoods may look different than I originally wanted or imagined it would, but different does not mean bad. Ups and Downs, we are making our own little life here.

When things finally worked out with my job, I took a sigh of relief and realized just how stressed and worried I had been for several months. It has almost been a comfort that we have lots of little projects around the house right now. It has been nice to throw myself into something and spend more time around the apartment and spend a lot of time with Dave, rather than busying myself away from home.  Also, it was also very fitting that as the job situation worked itself out and we moved to the new apartment, we were able to go on vacation to Toronto and enjoy time together, celebrating this happy (yet challenging) first year of marriage and DC!

I love living in DC and am glad to fill a bit more settled here... until the next challenge right? I feel God doesn't ever let us get too settled, because change, frustration and waiting must grow and improve us in ways that can't be achieved without their presence in our lives. But, for now, I take a deep breath and thank God for the breathing period - to settle, recover and enjoy my many blessings....and to pray for those that still feel unsettled in areas of life - career, relationships, family, location.  Hopefully, as this time of moving, settling in and recovering comes to an end, I will be a bit more frequent poster on this blog!