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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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A while back I found this CUTE Virginia map/craft idea on Etsy, and after trying to re-create it myself and majorly failing, I decided to put it on my Christmas wish list.  My bro and his wife got it for us (thanks!), and it now hangs in our entryway hall and is so sweet.

Since I started my Christmas list in September (a lot of things go on the Christmas list when I’m trying to budget and not buy them myself!), I guess maps were on my mind.  I decided to run with the map theme for Jon’s birthday last October, so I bought a large map to frame and document all our travels with push pins.  Well, the October birthday present was finally finished on March 18th – only a few months late.

I didn’t realize when I bought the map that framing it would be a problem – you cannot use glass if you want to put pins in the map, but you have to find just the right size – and how do you get a backing thick enough to put pins in?  I found the right sized frame on Craigslist, and it just so happened that the glass was already broken, so the lady gave it to me for FREE.  Awesome.  It was a bad cream color and looked really dated, so I did my first spray paint job.

We bought a tri-fold (yeah, I’m sure you haven’t seen one since middle school science fair) to use as the backing, and then I used spray adhesive to stick the map to the tri-fold.

(make sure to use this stuff outside – major fumes!  I used a chip clip and a heavy book to hold one side of the map in place, then I lifted up the other end of the map, used the spray adhesive, and smoothed it down.  Then I swapped the clip and book to the other side and did the same thing again.)

The tri-fold popped right into the frame, but I secured it with some packing tape to be safe, rearranged the hanging hooks, and voila!

I’m a quick worker and not always the most careful, but sweet Jon just had to open up google maps to make sure we put our pins in the VERY exact location for each trip (seriously – “that right there is highway 270..so go right just a smidge..wait, too far..put it right above the “M” in that word…er…further…ok”).  I got a bit impatient and then thought – what a doll he is for caring so much about our map!  Maybe it’s a fun crafty project for me, but I hope over the years this will be a great way to capture our adventures together.  Looks great on the huge empty wall in our basement, AKA Jon’s Man Cave.

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I introduced you to a friend of mine last time, my Pen-Friend for the past several years, who has spoken joy and wisdom into my life.  One of the things I admire most about her is her understanding of marriage and what it means to actively love one another, through thick and thin.

Marnie has told me stories of her husband’s military deployments, their exciting times on trains as they relocated for military duty (sharing one cot instead of separate bunkbeds), and their years of raising a handful of children.  After Don’s military service, they decided to find some sort of employment where they could work together, so they became head butler and head maid/cook for a mansion in Illinois (makes me think now of Bates and Anna from Downton Abbey – love it! Watch first 3 mins).  They have experienced many adventures – some notable, some more in the mundane daily life – but their strong partnership is apparent.

When Jon and I first started dating, I sent her a photo of him, and below is her response.  She’s a skilled illustrator and artist, so she tends to notice the details.

Ha!  Love her enthusiasm (and she knows a looker when she sees one)!  After all, he was a childhood model – that’s him on the right. 🙂

I digress…

Don’s health has declined over the past few years, and I cannot say how many times Marnie has counted it joy to take care of him.  She thanks God for every day they have together, and when I have told her how great it is she is so willing to care for him (as not everyone would be glad for that task), she quickly responds with something like “He’s my love!  This is just what we do.  This is just a different stage in life, and I’m so thankful we are still here together.  This too shall pass.”  When Jon and I first married, she commented on the hard work necessary to make a lasting marriage, and no doubt this has helped bring her and Don to where they are today.

Marriage does take work, and actively loving sure isn’t always easy.  We did vow to love in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.  I have seen in Marnie and Don the riches that result from years of active love and service to one another – what a witness of God’s love towards us, in good times and in bad.

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Meet My Pen-Friend

During my sophomore year of college, I unknowingly kindled a pen-friend friendship (I like that better than pen-pal) that I never thought would last years down the road and be such a delight in my life.  About 8 years ago, something sparked my memory of the sheer coolness of my childhood best friend’s grandma, so I decided to write her a letter.  It sounds random, but I spent almost every afternoon and many weekend nights at my friend’s house, and her cool grandma would take care of the kids during the afternoon, while parents were still at work.  This lady was probably in her 70s and was still fit enough to play skip-it with us.  (Refresh your memory here if you can’t remember.  Awesome.)  Anyway, I spent so much of my childhood with this family and loved every minute of it.  Marnie was a neat part of that.

I had no idea that she loved to write letters and would continue our correspondence faithfully for the next 7 years of my life.  I will say that I did more emailing and calling over the years than writing, and the pen-friend aspect was mostly maintained by her – it just takes me too long to write by hand!  (I do think it’s a lost art form, though, and I’m trying to get back into it.)

I will write several installments on this, but one of the first neat things I’d like to highlight about her letters is her vibrant zest for life.  You can see in the letter below her delight in the tiny creatures that live in her garden.  She also comments at the beginning of some photos I had sent her during my summer in Brevard, NC when I performed small roles in the Janiec Opera Co. (here as a grisette can-can dancer in The Merry Widow and then a nun and choreographer for The Sound of Music).  Maybe this is my selfish side, but I’m not sure anyone else I know was ever as excited to hear about my performances, except for maybe my late, sweet uncle Herbie (Marnie and her husband even came to one of my shows in Nashville!).  When I look through Marnie’s letters, many of them paint a timeline of some of my life’s highlights, as she responds and remarks about things I had told her or photos she had seen.  What a gift!

(click on the letter if it’s too small to read) 

What a blessing. 

More to come.

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