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Jon and I roadtripped to visit my sis, bro-in-law, and sweet niece this past weekend, and I just have to share some highlights.

For one, the 7 hour drive is actually quite pretty, so we don’t usually mind the long trip…that is, until we’re making the long trip back and have to fight the NoVa traffic. Still, we were amazed by the beautiful wildflowers lining the highways and always enjoy this cool rock formation in the “Sideling Hill” of Maryland:

Pink, white, and purple flowers everywhere!

C, our 2.5 year old niece, humored us with endless quotable quotes, and some were just so sweet!:

(Jon gave me a bite of his pancakes)
C:  “Look!  Jon is feeding Regan like a tiny little baby!”

(C was having a pretend picnic on her bedroom floor)
Me:  “What are you eating at your picnic?”
C:  “Ummm salad.”
Me:  “What else?”
C:  “V8.”

(Rachel was trying to get C ready for bed)
R:  “Charlotte, lay down so I can zip up your PJs.”
C:   (with an encouraging, mother-like tone of voice) “Mommy, you can do it from here.”
<after she zipped it up>
C:  “Good job!  See, you got it!”  (how old is this girl anyway?)

(Tony returned to the dinner table from receiving his residency graduation plaque)
C:  “Daddy, I was so proud of you!”  awws” from surrounding tables> <2 more seconds and C is back in the hallway running around like a crazy person>

(Rachel was helping C sign Tony’s Father’s Day card, which can record a voice message)
R:  “How much do you love Daddy?”
C:  “To the moon and back!  I love you, Daddy!”

(as Jon and I were walking to the car to leave)
C:  “Bye!  Be careful!  Check your tires!”  (thank you, mom)

Memorable moments:

C kneeling down in anticipation to watch Jon juggle the silly putty – seriously, you would have thought she was at the circus!

C going down the water slide  67 times and jumping off the side of the pool another 47.  (Good arm workout for me.) This girl is not afraid of anything and will jump into the water before you can say “go!”

Carrying sleeping C in from the car after a very long day at the pool.  Such a sweet life moment!

All of us eating wayyy too much ice cream at Jeni’s – yummm!

And the winner:  Charlotte eating a leaf off a bush at the zoo because “it looked like basil.”

Oh to peer into the mind of a child!

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Recent Thanksgiving

Several influences over the past months have encouraged me to count blessings more and learn to live a life of thankfulness.

Probably the main influence is Ann Voskamp in her blog, where she writes so much of what it looks like to lead with gratitude.  Here are a few select posts on the topic.  Also, a few brief quotes…

How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Joy is the fruit of gratefulness.  ~ Ann Voskamp

No one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God.

Thankfulness is the deep, contented breath of Peacefulness.  ~Ann Voskamp

I also was encouraged by a friend to keep a daily thankfulness journal, which not surprisingly has changed my perspective on how to be thankful, even when at first glance my day seems crummy.  God does not forsake us, and we can often see glimpses of His goodness, His teaching and humbling us, and the little bits of grace for the common good He provides.

Some of my recent thanksgivings:

– a medical scare with my mom that turned out to be okay

– my cute orange coffee mug that is sunshine in the morning

– an impromptu lunch with a friend at work on a crummy day and the comfort of being with a friend who allows you let your guard down

– celebrating with a friend in expectation of her and her husband’s adoption of their first child

– after busting my ear on the cab door and somehow ripping out my earring, finding my earring on the street before the honking cars behind me got too angry (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?)

– being thankful for my dad on his birthday and upcoming Father’s Day

– having a job where I can work on a team of spirited, bright, kind people

– an unexpected pause this morning for a nice conversation on the couch with Jon; specific answered prayers about our continual growth as individuals and a married unit

– not minding the metro delay yesterday because I had a good new book to read (Robinson Crusoe)

– teaching a little girl violin and her actually still wanting to have lessons, even after I laid the smack down for not practicing enough (to all my previous teachers out there: I’m so sorry!!  I probably drove you nuts.)

– conflicts that remind me to lean on Jesus all the time

I definitely cannot say my mind always goes to thankfulness first, but even attempting to go in this direction has been a blessing in itself.

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If you’re from Evansville, Indiana, you bond over the heavenly goodness that is white queso from Los Bravos.

If you live in the DC metro area, you bond over not knowing what anyone does for their jobs and the painfulness of long commutes. (and the pride and excitement of living in our nation’s capital!)

If you spend time with old classmates, you bond over the crazy things you once did and wish you could relive just to laugh as hard as you did the first time.

If you meet a new coworker at CEB, you bond over the 10 minute elevator wait and all the pregnant ladies in the building.

So what do you bond over with aunts you rarely see, who are a generation older, live several states away, and have a completely different life than you? 

Books!  I am thankful today for all the bookie friends I have, who can share a nice discussion about literature, themes, favorite reads, perplexing stories, and the enjoyment of a good story.

(photo from Pinterest – would love a room like this one day!)

Thanks to GoodReads – I can now keep track of my booklist in a much more practical way!!

Also thankful for all the signs of summer!

– neighborhood pools finally open

– upcoming trip to see my sis/bro-in-law/adorable niece whom I miss SO much (also means roadside kettle corn and produce stands – it’s become a tradition)

– outdoor concerts, especially picnics and lawn seats at Wolftrap and summer bluegrass at Frying Pan Farm Park (yes, it’s really called that!)

– plenty of opportunities to grill out

– upcoming reunion getaway with college girlfriends

– blueberry picking at a nearby farm, then making tonnns of blueberry goodies afterwards

– hopefully a vacation in there somewhere, but Jon and I will have to get over our inability to plan ahead and make decisions…

What’s on your summer list?

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Here I raise my Ebenezer

As I reflect on the past 2 years of marriage, I have thought often of the word “Ebenezer.”  I first heard it in one of my favorite hymns and wondered what the heck it meant:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I come”

(from “Come Thou Fount“, lyrics by Robert Robinson)

(Disclaimer: I struggle with how forward to be about faith in this blog with readers from many different backgrounds, but I cannot help but mention these things today.)  I found out “Ebenezer” was a reference to Samuel in the Old Testament, who had called out to God, and God heard his prayer and protected the Israelites from the Philistines.  He placed a large stone there, called an Ebenezer, and it meant “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  Here God has been faithful.

I am so thankful I can look back across the past 2 years of marriage and read through my journals or think of situations where God has been faithful.  Over and over He protects us and reminds us who He is and who we are.  Some examples:

– Several people in the same week encouraged us out of the blue by telling us they’d been praying for us and thinking of us.

– In our worries of our chaotic schedules and life decisions, we were reminded that God is in control and will take care of us.

– We were able to look at ourselves and name ways we have grown because of the others’ influence.

– We each had similar prayers answered that we didn’t even know the other was praying about.

– God repeatedly opened our eyes to remember that only He can truly fulfill our every need, and because of that we can enjoy each other all the more without feeling inadequate when we don’t always perform perfectly.

Now, most of these things we have to be reminded of quite often, but God never fails to reveal Himself to us in new ways, even if it takes humbling us by seeing how selfish we are or how often we chase after everything else to fulfill us besides Him.

Since I cannot erect a large boulder in our tiny back yard, maybe I’ll start a little rock pile somewhere or a jar of note cards with the date and a note about God’s faithfulness that day.  It’ll be great to look back years from now and count those blessings!

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1.  Jogging/dinner/Parks and Recreation date nights with Jon.  These have pretty much become our Thursday nights.  Jon runs slowly with me (and then sprints up and down the sidewalk, while I huff and puff at my normal pace), and when I take walking breaks, we talk; when we run, he talks at me, and I give him thumbs up when I agree.  Back to Parks and Rec – Ron and Andy are our favorites.  Annnd I think sometimes I can identify a little too much with Leslie Knope.

2.  Pretending flowery weeds are are real flowers and laughing at the ridiculousness when I pull a whole plant out of the ground to take home.

3.  Under the Sycamore – now this is a blog worth reading.  This sweet mom of 4 (who is currently in the adoption process for a 5th – from China!) just asked for a small donation this week to help fund a baby incubator for the orphanage in China. Due to her great blogisphere following and compassion of the readers, upwards of $8,000 was donated in just a few days, which will cover the sponsorship of 9 children for an entire year and provided cleft palate surgery for 7 children in the past week!  What a treasure! (plus, she partnered with a blogger friend who gave away this cool print in honor of the adopted baby named “Song”!)

4.  Thursday Dessert Days at work (not the overrated candy bowl, but real, homemade desserts).  I have successfully started dessert days on 2 teams at my company.  The first team took it as healthy (describing the competition here, not the food) competition and made some outstanding treats.  The second team has had fits and starts with just a few contributors, oftentimes myself…so it’s extra special when someone else surprises the team and makes something tasty! (yesterday’s treat from E. – just double the saltines and cut the butter down by 1/2 a stick – delicious!)

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Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, words don’t come out the right way, my (too high) expectations are not met, etc, the frustration inside can just build and build.  You know how it works – you step away from the issue to collect yourself, cool down, but really you just start coming up with more and more good comebacks for your argument.  Yesterday wasn’t a great Monday morning – I sat on the bus weary and wondering how I’d focus on work because I had a lot swirling through my head.  Then several things forced me to look a bit outside myself, and it’s amazing how that can help pull me out of my downward spiral of “woe is me.”  Some of this inward soul-searching just becomes self-centered navel-gazing!

Some things that “brought me out of myself” yesterday:
1) A quick and muffled phone call with my cool big brother while I was on the bus (trying to talk quietly enough to not be “that girl”).
2) Some nice chats with coworkers in the morning that reminded me there are other people here besides myself.
3) Work that has to get done and needs my full attention.
4) Having a guest for dinner last night and being pulled out of my selfishness to be hospitable.
5) Not yesterday, but all the time: going on walks with Jon is so helpful.  When we’re disagreeing on something, and I have the tendency to turn into an emotional and unreasonable arguer, just going for a walk together and talking brings us out of ourselves, into God’s beautiful creation, and reminds us there are much bigger things going on in the world than me getting my way or proving I am right.  Then we usually have a much more civilized and graceful conversation as a result.

Photos taken at Skyline Drive last fall

I once had a seminar teacher who said “if you find yourself depressed about not having a husband (or fill in the blank with better job, well-behaved kids, resolution to a disagreement, the list goes on), get out and do something!  Serve!  Help someone!  Anything to draw you out of yourself and remind you of the big picture.”  It doesn’t mean that our troubles are insignificant; it just means that a lot of the way we handle our troubles is rather self-focused than others-focused.  When I look outward, towards others, towards the big picture and not just my narrow view of my wants and desires, things often seem to come much clearer into view.

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A neighbor of ours is often in his back yard using a power saw to cut wood and such.  Naturally this intrigued Jon, who then struck up a conversation with him to learn that our neighbor redid his entire kitchen himself (which Jon would like to do for ours in the coming months – exciting!).  Jon saw the kitchen and loved it, so he took me back to see how much they had changed and how well it had turned out.  We got to meet him and his sweet wife and their two adorable boys.  As we were leaving, the youngest (maybe 5 years old?) told us to wait because he was making us a book.  After some tears because it wasn’t quite turning out like he had hoped, we ended up with this fabulous piece of art on our refrigerator!

He even told us the story about a mom and a boy and…(couldn’t quite make out the rest, but I’m sure it was interesting!).  Then the older son let us know that even though Michael made us a book, he was going to perform for us.  He proceeded to engage in a light saber battle with himself.  I’m sure there’s never a dull moment once you have kiddos – especially boys!

It was a treat to know some new faces and be welcomed into their home (truly a “homely house” with doors flung wide!), and hopefully we will visit each other more!  I am always saying how tough it is to live in the suburbs and be far away from friends, but maybe we have some right in our back yard. 🙂

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