A weekend away.

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I always hate it when people flaunt their warm weather escape photos when the rest of us are freezing our tushies off. Every time some blogger writes about how we all need a couple days a month where we can just escape to recharge, I get so annoyed and think WHAT type of a world do you live in where you have that luxury every month????

So first, a disclaimer, in the form of a story.

A couple months ago we were in an especially low place, an especially discouraged place, a place from which I might have snapped at James during one of his visits “You need to figure out something to look forward to and I will MAKE IT HAPPEN.” I don’t include all those low moments on ye old blog because the emotions closest to our hearts need more privacy than the rest. They are softer and more raw, more delicate and painful. Anyways, in that moment, James declared that he wanted a beach vacation to look forward to, something that we could count on, regardless of the uncertainty we were facing. However, the caveat was that we didn’t really want to spend much money. I will confess, I might have taken to angry praying. I’ve been reading the Psalms lately and deciding that we think prayer way nicer and more boring than it was originally intended. My prayers were something along the lines of Hey God. It doesn’t exactly feel like you are playing on our team these days, so if you wanted to give us a free beach vacation to show that you are maybe still interested in this very weary couple – that would be great.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that God is in the business of doling out beach vacations to show he cares. He doesn’t have to, because salvation should kind of be enough. But every now and then he delights in surprising us. As in, after a couple days of my bratty prayer, someone asked if we wanted to use their extra time share points, and our beach escape weekend was on the calendar.

When it rolled around last weekend, it couldn’t have come at a better time. It has  been a rough year, and an extra rough last month. I told James the other night that it felt like I had spent the whole year twisting tighter and tighter and it had built up to the point where I felt like I was going to snap, going to rip apart.

Cue warm breezes and teal waters.  We spent three days in South Florida, soaking up some much needed sun and quiet breezes. We walked on the beach, drank fancy drinks by the pool, and ate tacos that I am still thinking about. We watched way too much TV and managed to find a local donut shop that blew my mind. People, I basically have the spiritual gift of finding donuts wherever I am, and don’t even pretend like this is not a real gift. We drove down to the Keys and went snorkeling in (at? over? around?) a coral reef, marveling at the colors and trying to avoid the fanged barracudas with less than benevolent expressions. We talked about the strangeness of Christmastime in the sun, the vastness of the sea, and the total impenetrability of the ocean.  We rested and ate and walked and remembered, hey, we really like being married to each other. I can’t tell you how much I needed that.

When we left DC, it was a dreary grey day where night seemed to fall too early. But when the plane peaked above the clouds, I was blinded by the beauty of the endless stretches of pale pink fluffiness, tinged with gold against the blue of the sky and the warm sun. It made me think about this past year, a year that in many ways has been cloudy, dark, and long. But that’s only because I can only see it from where I am in it, looking up at grey clouds and longing for the break, for the sun. Gazing out at that sunset, I took a deep breath and thought about the new year that will start soon. I felt the tightness untwisting, loosening, and letting me breath a little easier. We still have some loose ends from this past year to tie up, some messes to clean up, but when I look back, I can see more than just grey clouds now. I am looking for the bits of light and color that were there even when I couldn’t see them.

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2014 Christmas Card Out-takes

It’s that time of year again… CHRISTMAS CARD SEASON! My fridge is getting all gussied up with beaming faces. Our cards will hopefully arrive here in time to be shipped out before we leave for Christmas with our families. The big goal is just to have them on fridges by the end of those 12 days of Christmas. With every perfect card that comes, I can’t help but wonder what photoshoot meltdowns, what panicked late night ordering, what battle over contrived phrases went down in each home.

Thus, I give you great tidings of good Christmas card out-takes, the 2014 Edition. James and Hannah 2014-5

James, on Christmas cards in general: “Wait – we have to do one EVERY year?”James and Hannah 2014-6James, on writing the Christmas card: “I hate this. Everything I write is obnoxiously cheesy or totally arrogant.”

Hannah, on writing the Christmas card: “WHAT IF WE WROTE OUR CHRISTMAS CARD USING NOTHING BUT LINES FROM CHRISTMAS CAROLS??”

James, on Hannah’s amazing ideas regarding the writing of the Christmas card: “Um… That’s a little overboard. Though it would be merry and uplifting.”

(For the record, we did have a draft of our card going where we re-wrote the “12 days of Christmas” to be about 2014 in our lives…. but we couldn’t think of anything for 10 and 8 so we scratched that and started over.)

Speaking of merry and uplifting, how about a little failed “skipping into the distance” photo?James and Hannah 2014-51  James, on wandering around Capitol Hill while Susannah took our photos: “So… basically we are doing the exact same photoshoot as our engagement one… right? And… why? Can we use those?”

James and Hannah 2014-30As can be seen by his expression, James was thrilled that I have colonized the scarf that was once his and used it for my own wardrobe, and every photoshoot I did this fall. Seriously, if I have taken photos of you in the last two months – you have been wrapped in this scarf. James and Hannah 2014-28Hannah and James, Christmas Cheer extraordinaire. Coming to a mailbox near you. I can feel the excitement all the way across the internet. James and Hannah 2014-2
Are you all sending out Christmas cards this year?

All photos by the talented Alumbra Photography. See last year’s Christmas card out-takes here.

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A Christmas Walk

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetLast night James and I did one of our favorite low-key Christmas traditions, walking across Capitol Hill to see some of our favorite holiday decorations. We started at Starbucks, loading up on those amazing sugary holiday drinks before wandering over to check out The People’s Tree in front of the Capitol. The tree was from Minnesota this year, and I have to hand it to the fine people of the land of 10,000 lakes: your decorations totally topped last year’s. We especially loved the car license plate that was strapped to the tree amidst precious ornaments made by (I like to imagine) schoolchildren. After marveling at the tree, we continued on to Union Station to bask in the glory of the wreaths, check out the Norwegian tree and trains, and hit up the recently opened Shake Shake. Union Station has been under construction most of the time I’ve lived here, but it will always be one of my favorite buildings.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis walk, beyond being a lovely Christmas activity, is a special one for us, as it marks all the locations where I tried to orchestrate my own proposal in that horrible December of 2011. It takes us to Union Station, the first site where I was sure he was going to propose, so sure in fact that I demanded to be led with my eyes closed the last block to enhance the moment.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetIt also brings us right to the Capitol Tree, site of the infamous I’m-not-leaving-here-without-a-ring showdown of 2011. I’m not exactly proud of that moment, but it happened, and now it is hysterical. This past Wednesday, the three year anniversary of our engagement, we went to see The Nutcracker, laughing about my terrible response to James’ proposal three years ago and the Nutcracker performance that we didn’t even make it in to see. picstitch Walking around our neighborhood last night reminds me how far we have come. Once sites of a lot of angsty tears and frustration, they are now places where we laugh, share cheesy fries, clink Starbucks cups, and feel so blessed that it turned out exactly the way it did.

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Megan & Kellen

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The Best Christmas Party

Usually, we throw some sort of Christmas party, some sort of Yuletide gathering where we eat too much delicious seasonal food and enjoy time with friends during this busy season. Last year we hit on the genius idea to skip the fancy evening party and go with a lavish brunch after our church’s annual performance of The Messiah. Truly, this was one of my best ideas ever.

But this year we aren’t throwing any party. Not because we don’t have just as much holiday spirit, but does anyone else feel like there just aren’t enough days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? We realized we could either throw a party and stress ourselves out, or just have more time to hit all the other parties and enjoy all our favorite holiday traditions. Mooch off other people’s cookies and don’t do dishes? Yes please. Tonight we are managing to hit not one, but two parties, the second being a murder mystery dinner where I am secretly hoping I am the murderer. James is hoping to get murdered, which shows that we a) don’t really know how this is done and b) are a true match. Plus, we are maybe still cleaning our kitchen from last month’s donut extravaganza, so big parties will have to wait.

Sometimes I wonder how the frenzy of Christmas parties evolved and why they become so stressful. It, plus the fact that my college bestie Bethany and I have been texting about it, has me thinking back on one of my favorite Christmas parties, one so simple and yet so perfect.

It was our senior year of college and I lived in a perfect little house with three girls, a whole host of mice that inhabited the walls, a family of deer that dwelt in our backyard and enjoyed the salt block we bought them (totally illegal, I know), and even the occasional raccoon that made it’s way into our mudroom. We also briefly had a kitten, but that didn’t end so well when it wandered off and was adopted by a fraternity house. I’ve written about life at The Ramp before, because it was a place where I was impossibly happy, happy in the way that you are in college houses, when you have no real responsibility yet but you are tasting the very first hits of true adulthood.

We decided to throw a Christmas party on almost no budget and launched ourselves into the preparations. Finals were ignored and Bethany and I spent an entire day “decorating” our house for the party. Since we were basically broke, this amounted to hacking down boxwood and holly from our back yard and the arboretum and scattering it around our house. We cleaned, baked some cookies, and filled an entire Crockpot with beanie weanies and BBQ sauce. We were reading to party.

Right before our festivities, we all trudged in the snow to see Bethany perform in the college choir rendition of Handel’s Messiah, which our school did every four years, ensuring every student a chance at participation. It seemed right that it fell our senior year, right that we could go out in a blaze of voices and organ chords. The church where it was performed was also beastly hot, and the choir had to stay standing in their robes the entire performance. Every night people fainted. To fight the heat, Bethany resorted to wearing swimwear under her robe, boldly flashing a bare leg our way as she climbed the stage and we giggled in the balcony.

Back through the snow home afterwards, where we served up beanie weanies on paper plates and dolled out mulled wine. We carded people at that party, partially because we were sticklers about the law (illegally domesticating deer aside) and partially (mostly) because wine don’t come cheap.  We passed out Christmas cards where we had dressed as the Christmas family (the non-holy one) and made Elise wear her reindeer antlers at the party. I look at these truly awful Christmas cards and think about how fun they were to make, how different than they typical “let’s look perfect to impress everyone” thing we usually do. It was 2004, and sepia tones were still cool, and we made Bethany wear a pillow under her shirt. 261427_601239928916_1630109464_n 1917752_521184954726_2035374_nSometimes I wish we could all still have parties like that, still send cards that showed how we act, still be content with beanie weanies on paper plates and foraged boxwood taped to doorways. It seems like so much of this season gets caught up in the presentation that we forget what it is really about. It’s about having everyone inside together, about feeding as many as you can, about the hours you wait for the Messiah’s final stanzas, standing together to sing those last lines. It’s about teetering between the old and new, expectation, and being bold enough to wear a bikini beneath your choir robe.  In our flurry to throw the perfect Christmas party, we forget that Christmas is about remembering the humblest of beginnings. It’s about stables and babies and simple welcomes to this world.

Here’s to the season, in all it’s comes-as-you-are richness.

(PS: Bethany also just wrote the best Advent post ever here. )

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The most wonderful time of the year

Fall2014-255 Fall2014-256 Fall2014-258Fall2014-257 Fall2014-259 Fall2014-261 Fall2014-262 ChristmasFall2014-265It seems like every year I get more and more excited about the Christmas season. That stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is just packed with so many wonderful things. The expectation of Advent, visits to family, all the best songs, Christmas cookies — I love it all! Last Sunday we ended Thanksgiving break by walking over to Eastern Market to pick up our tree and kick of the season with some of our favorite holiday traditions. Our house smells like the season now, thanks to that massive bag of scraps that James hauled back. I spread them across the tops of our bookcases, making our apartment feel like a ski lodge and leaving pine needles everywhere. We did not cut down our tree ourselves. It is short and slants to the side. We have an old sheet wrapped around the base, there are no lights on the back, and it is decorated with every last one of our 14 ornaments. We love it. And yes, that is Fireplace for your Home (season 1, episode 2) crackling beside the tree. I find footage of logs burning quite soothing.

Driving back from Indiana I started making a list of some of the things I am excited about doing in over the next couple weeks. Here are some of our DC holiday favorites:

  • Checking out the Capitol Christmas Tree.
  • Free Christmas concerts at the DC Botanic Gardens, where we also marvel at the huge model train.
  • Candlelight Christmas tours at Mount Vernon.
  • The Eastern Market tree forest.
  • Taking in a viewing of The Nutcracker.
  • Taking in the tree, wreaths, and train at Union Station.
  • Singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs at all appropriate (and some inappropriate) times.
  • Advent, and all the wonderful expectation that means.
  • Zoo Lights! To be fair, we always intend to do this and never make it. But I am putting this on here to get me to actually go check them out!

DC people, what are your favorite holiday happenings? For those of you elsewhere, what are some of your favorite Christmas traditions wherever you are?

 

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From Thanksgiving.

Though it was hard to take photos of our Thanksgiving because I tried to have either a baby or pie in my hands at all times, here are some glimpses of our time in Indiana with James’ side of the family. Fall2014-187 Fall2014-188Fall2014-193 Thanksgiving//Reunited with my amazing sister-in-law! Love this woman, this MOTHER, and I am extra thankful for her this year. About a month ago, as in, when she still had a newborn in her arms, doctors discovered an almost plum-sized tumor in her leg. The surgery left her on crutches for a couple weeks and then we waited for two weeks while they ran tests. Finally, despite medical odds, the tumor came back benign and we all hugged each other extra tightly this year knowing what could have been.//Fall2014-195 Thanksgiving2Fall2014-197// At the Gingerbread Festival, wherein my youngest brother-in-law took home a prize. Unfortunately, my photos turned out blurry, so you will just have to trust me on the greatness of his gingerbread house. //Fall2014-203 Fall2014-205 Fall2014-206 Fall2014-207 //Let’s be real: baby William was the star of the entire week. We spent a lot of time like this, just marveling at his chubby thighs and big smiles. A lot of time was also spent cheering him through tummy-time and watching his little self struggle through turning over. BABIES plus HOLIDAYS equals BEST EVER.//Fall2014-208 Fall2014-209 Fall2014-210 Thanksgiving3// Not too far from where James grew up, there is a little town called Harlan, Indiana. There is nothing in Harlan. Nothing, that is, except the world’s best donut shop. At the Harlan bakery you will not find donuts topped with bacon and carmelized whatever, you will not munch on $4 creme brulée donuts, you will not come away with artisan pastry creations. As you know, I love donuts, but I am scared they are quickly going the way of the cupcake: over-priced, overworked, and under-tasty. At Harlan, these donuts are what they should be: simple, huge, cheap, and delicious. I look forward to my pilgrimage every visit, dragging anyone who will come on my donut train and overwhelming the poor Harlan Donuts employee with my enthusiasm. Y’all, that entire box of fresh donuts below cost me $8. //Fall2014-214fall2014-220 Fall2014-227 Fall2014-229// There is nothing I love more than family stories. James jokes that my family could spend a weekend together, do one thing Friday night, and then spend the rest of the weekend reliving it and think it was a perfect weekend. He is absolutely right. I just feel like family stories do more than anything else to weave us together, to make us understand the experiences that are sown into our lives and our beings. Late one night we got James’ dad on a role telling us stories from a motorcycle trip he did all across country when he was younger. He spent over a year traveling on his bike and living on the road, and hearing about those adventures was one of the highlights of our time in Indiana. //Fall2014-231 Fall2014-232//Just what is the point of having the whole family together if we can’t force everyone into coordinating clothes and make them stand around in the cold for family photos? I mean, that’s what my side of the family does every year, dragging it out into an hour+ affair where we are all deeply annoyed by the end (see here, here, and here). While James’ family is less photo obsessed, we do have a bigger family than the last time we were all together, and that demands a photoshoot. Thus, we put on our best lumberjack-inspired wear and trekked out into the cold and mud for some pictures. In a true Thanksgiving miracle, we actually managed to get two were everyone was looking at the camera and smiling.//Fall2014-236 Fall2014-251//I’m so thankful to be a part of this tribe, and most thankful of all for the man who made me a part of it, who drove almost all of both legs of the lonnnggggg drive from DC, who let me stop for bathroom breaks nine million times, and who patiently stood in the cold long before everyone else so that I could get the tripod and camera settings just right. He’s a keeper.//Fall2014-243

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