Flowers for Good Friday

Spring-74 Spring-75 Spring-76 Spring-77Sometimes I just stand at the window and look across the back alley at this tree. It’s perfect really, every branch like a bouquet of fluffy pink flowers. The tree grows behind an abandoned, or at least very run-down, house. Something about the elegant beauty of those pink branches shading the decrepit fence and boarded windows always makes me stop. The petals fall on tangled weeds and the light filters through flowers onto crumbling foundations. Beauty and ugliness, light and shadow, life and death.

Just like Good Friday, the day when it looks like Death won. Divorced from Easter Sunday, Good Friday is the saddest day of the year. But Easter comes. Flowers bloom after winter. Life wins.

I know I shared this poem a couple years ago, but I remembered how much I loved it when a friend shared it the other day and I just had to share it again.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing–
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
-TS Eliot, “East Coker”

What are you doing this Easter weekend?

(PS: A Good Friday quote from my favorite Frenchman here.)

 

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In search of denim.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetDisclaimer: This is a serious first-world problem post. I am fully aware that I am ranting about a luxury problem. I realize the utter ridiculousness of all of this. But still. My blog, my rant, my rules.

Let’s talk about jeans.

More specifically, let’s talk about Madewell jeans, the jeans that, according to everyone on the internet, are magical. The jeans that will be the perfect jean, the only jean you ever want to wear, the jean that makes you feel slimmer, happier, kinder, etc. The jeans that never stretch out, never give out, never give you muffin-top, never let you down. The jeans that somehow, solve every problem you could face. Or so the collective opinion of the internet seems to be.

Thus, after years of lacking a good basic jean, and a long budget analysis ( say what you will about “simple, quality pieces” they are pricey) I traipsed out to the Madewell in Georgetown in mid February and bought a pair. Actually, I ordered a pair. They are only carrying a cropped inseam in store this season (“our designer is really pushing the beauty of the ankle right now”) and for my almost 6 foot figure, that is a disaster. I was assured this was not a problem, and on a denim high I excitedly placed my order for my longer jeans, to the applause and encouragement of the perky “denim bar” consultants. Yes, they were back-ordered till April 15th, but I was willing to wait.

And wait I did. Excitedly. Eagerly. Happily. Almost.

And then on Sunday I got an email saying my order was delayed but “we promise it will get there soon!” Yes, I felt a little like Jacob being told he had to work 7 more years for Rachel, but whatever. I called Sunday afternoon to confirm and all was good. Until Monday, when they asked me to call them for a question about my credit card. I called, we fixed the problem, and right as I was about to hang up, the employee paused and asked me to wait. Long wait, perky music. Then he came back and informed me that my jeans would actually never be coming, that the shipment had been cancelled. No explanation, just cancelled. I asked about the email, the one promising an April 30th shipping, the one I had just called about yesterday. He sheepishly admitted that I would have found out about the cancellation in May. Wait, I sputtered, you would have let me just continue waiting for jeans that you knew were never coming????  Yes, yes in fact, they would have.

Needless to say there was anger, and — bless his soul — the poor customer service really did try to help. But the best that this supposedly amazing company could do was put me on a “wish list” online (um duh, I can do that myself) and give me a 40$ gift card. However, as I already spent a 25$ gift card on the pants that they did not refund, that really means a 15$ gift card, little recompense for indefinite waiting for ordered pants that would never come.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, it was implied at some point that the problem was not their pants, but my size. Why yes, I did cry in the parking lot at work for awhile. I was crying about waiting fruitlessly, I was crying because my body had been made to feel like an insurmountable problem for this company, I was crying because I was frustrated, but mostly I was crying because I really, really, wanted those jeans.

But alas, not to be. A hefty percentage of their jeans  are backordered, and though they promise ship dates, I will not be trusting that again. Thus, the jean search continues. Continues FAR away from Madewell, that is.

So what are your denim recommendations? What are the jeans that you just love, the ones that you go to every time you turn to your closet? Give me names people! The goal is to maybe find a good pair of jeans before it gets too hot to wear them.

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“We sleep well with tired bodies.”

I don’t really do this very often, but today I have a guest post for you! Y’all know of my current German obsession, and one of my friends from college is currently living in Germany. I love reading her blog about living in another country with her husband Cody and boys, Sebastian and Bruno. I approached Mary a little while back and asked if she would mind guest posting about what she has learned from this time in Germany and I am happy to share her thoughts and photos* today! 
IMG_2705I sit on our bed—simple striped linens, borrowed, covering a folded out futon that tips on Cody’s side if you get too close to the edge, and begin to be overwhelmed by the flood of thoughts and images that I associate with the past 8 months.

Eight incredible, full, hard, and enriching months.

I became obsessed with German culture and language when I was in middle school. No one remembers why or how exactly it happened, but those closest to me remember that phase of my life, much like the phases we all have as children, longing to know something special, and be the best at that something, and achieve a uniqueness capable of allowing us to put a definite stamp on the world.IMG_3516

In college, there was a 3-semester language requirement for all BA students, and I chose German. At that point, however, my obsession with the language had waned considerably. By my third required semester of German, I was hooked, and remember exactly where I was when I decided to be a German major. I studied in Germany twice during my college years, both month-long programs.

The 4 years following graduation brought a marriage license, two baby boys, a master’s degree for my husband, and absolutely no German practice for me. I cut my hair into a pixie shortly after the birth of my first son, became absorbed in learning to be a wife and a mom, and sought to find what time I could for any kind of artistic pursuit I could get my hands on. Those years were rich and full years, but they were so full it was hard at times to see quite where we were headed. Caring for children has never been my strong suit, and these years of babies and toddlers, though so very sweet, were (and still are!) filled with many many challenges for me.IMG_0806

But then last Spring, things started to come together in a way that only God can orchestrate. My Theology-studying husband decided to apply to an exchange program in Baden-Württemburg, Germany. He was accepted, we left our North Carolina home, spent the summer in Southern Ohio with our families, and here we are—8 months in.

Although so much of what has led to us making the move to Germany makes sense and is, we believe, where God has led us, I can’t ignore that the fact of me living in Germany also carries with it the unmistakable ring of irony. I am, at face value, one of the least adventurous people you will meet. But I have also always craved adventure, and now realize that there is no set prescription for what adventure is or what being an adventurous person looks like. For years, I have felt stuck in the monotony of life, craving the thrills that so many enjoy, and quite foolishly have overlooked so many of the unique opportunities for adventure that have stood right in front of me. And even more foolishly, I’ve failed to recognize the adventures that I have engaged in as being true adventures.

But I am happy to report that things have changed.IMG_1141

Our family has come to consider all actions that break into our routine or expectations for our day as bite-sized adventures. A new park, a stop at a cafe for Brezeln, a short train ride to a neighboring city just to look around, a hike to a nearby mountain, and a detour down an unknown street or path are all adventures in our house. This is the first thing that living here has taught me. Living in Europe is not inherently adventurous (or at least after a few months). If you crave adventure, but find yourself constrained by finances or toddlers hanging onto your legs, or babies who must be fed every 2 hours on the dot, find it first in the little things—weave it into your daily routine, and pretty soon… bam. What an adventurous life you’re leading.IMG_1146

Sometimes, amidst the haze of routines and demands on your time and body, it can be difficult to know where to start. Start by putting your shoes on. I am convinced that adventure happens as soon as you step outside. Reason No. 2 that my life is a study in irony. As a child, my paralyzing fear of tornadoes meant that I hardly ever went outside to play (at least during “tornado season”). I am not an outdoorsy person at all, and yet, I realize now that I am happiest when I am outside and in nature (even though my hermit tendencies always try to convince me that this is not the case). Moving to Germany has kicked us out the door, and continues to push us outside on a daily basis. When you don’t have a car, walking outside happens no less than twice daily. Walking places and being outside is now one of the most amazing things about my life. We push our bodies every day and make them work for food, literally, and as I look at my boys so glowing with health and good exercise, able to walk for miles every day, my heart fills with joy. We are met with disbelief every time someone sees how far Bruno, at 22-months-old, can walk. Go, Brunsy, go! We are engaging with the world in a very tactile way, and experiencing the beauty that God has given us to enjoy—sun! wind! rain! stars! moon! trees! birds!—just call us the “German Family Strecker.” All we need now is a treehouse to live in, and bad pirates to “fight down,” as Sebastian would say.IMG_0787

Under this larger umbrella of redefining and embracing adventure are a myriad of things that have enriched our lives. If we hadn’t taken a risk and embraced this opportunity to live in Germany, I think we would have missed out on a lot of things that have molded us more into the family that God has designed us to be. It has been a difficult challenge to be so removed from our families and culture, and yet the difficulty of it has brought us together in new ways. We are not simply offshoots of two families that had a couple kids together. We are our own family unit—an admittedly terrifying and also liberating thing. Faced with all the differences in tradition and culture that come with living in a foreign land, we have had to examine more closely why we do the things we do. We are weaving German culture into the way we live, and into our family traditions, and that is such a special gift.

We have also been given the gift of learning a second language. I can’t tell you how mind-blowing it has been to watch my sons learn to speak German. How can such a little 3-year-old grasp the nuances of such a big language, and with no studying, reading, explanations or grammar help? Wahnsinn! Unglaublich! Two words we hear and use often when discussing Sebastian’s quick grasp of the German language.IMG_1182

Through our experience of living in Germany, God has stripped us of so much foolishness and immaturity. I have become a better mother, wife and woman. My pixie cut is a thing of the past, and as my long hair reaches down past my shoulders, I feel myself again (nothing against pixies!). My closet doesn’t bulge with unworn clothes, but houses a simple and satisfying wardrobe made possible only by the necessity of packing light. We have hosted our families numerous times—a huge blessing—and through many of my own horrible failures, I have learned important lessons about being a good hostess. Our children are growing in mind and body, and aren’t constrained as much by my “stay indoors” tendencies, but climb and run and explore daily.

We sleep well with tired bodies. And day by day, with ironic twists, and sometimes painful breaking and reshaping, we live adventure.

How do you live adventure where you are?IMG_1121

*All photos are by Mary, except for the first two which were taken by her talented sister Joanna

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Love Letters.

Spring-5 Spring-7 Spring-11 Spring-12 Spring-13Spring-14 Spring-16 Spring-18 Spring-19Spring-20 Spring-21 Spring-22 Spring-23 Spring-25 Spring-26 Spring-27 Spring-29 Spring-32 Spring-36 Spring-39 Spring-41 Spring-51Dear Husband: Thanks for taking the time to resuscitate our bikes after sitting on the porch all winter so that we could go on our epic Sunday bike ride.

Dear Janna: Thanks for coming to visit this weekend and encouraging me to get out and spend Sunday afternoon loving on this city. It’s the best having a friend in town who has been in my life since before I could walk.

Dear Eastern Market Mini-Donuts: I love you. I love that I can eat you in two bites, that you aren’t too sweat, that I can cover you in all different sauces, and that I can have 7 of you for 3$. DC just doesn’t even realize how amazing you are, and I’m ok with that because then our little neighborhood wood be overrun.

Dear Vegetables: Sorry… I know it’s been a while… I promise to see you again soon.

Dear Capitol Hill: Even though your rent makes me want to cry, you are the best. I love your Lincoln dog park, your flower stands, and the bold colors you splash across your houses. I know that I will never ever EVER make enough to live in one of those houses unless I sell all my plasma and half my vital organs, but I love that you let me dream.

Dear DC: Thanks for always having new and wonderful things to discover. Like the Old Post Office tower, which lets you see the whole city. I love that I think that I know you, but then you show me something else to love about you. You’re the best.

Dear Japanese Magnolia Trees: You and I both know that you are far superior to those measly cherry blossom trees that everyone was flocking to see this week. But just between us, I’m glad everyone is delusional, because it means that we had Rawlins Park to ourselves to enjoy those perfect pink blossoms.

Dear Old Navy Ballet Flats: You are just the best ever.

Dear Spring: Thanks for showing up. You had us worried there a couple times, but you are here and you are glorious.

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It’s not about the magazines.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetLast week I cried about a stack of magazines.

When we exchanged our about-to-expire frequent flyer miles for a year’s worth of magazines, I had no idea how much those glossy pages would weigh me down. It feels wasteful to throw them away without reading them, messy to let them just pile up. Instead, I force myself to binge occasionally, dragging myself through the pages of Vogue and InStyle, developing a preference for Afar over Travel and Leisure, and desperately trying to keep up with the weekly onslaught of Time and Entertainment Weekly.  I don’t even like half of these, but I feel guilty just tossing them. And with the business of this semester and 5 weekends straight of visitors or travel, my stack has grown monstrous.

Which is why, when I sat down one evening to trudge through German sentences that have no end, I glanced over at the stack of magazines and promptly burst into tears. I hate them, I hate them — DON’T TOUCH THEM -I HAVEN’T READ THEM, I sputtered at James. Instead, he quietly slipped out to go get me a milkshake. In our first year of marriage, he might have tried logic and reasoning, but as we come up on two years, he knows that some tears just need ice cream.

Because we both knew it wasn’t about the magazines. It was about German sentences that slice verbs in half and hide the mutilated words everywhere until I go mad trying to piece the meaning back together. It was about scrambling every day to get my lesson plans together for a new class after 4 times teaching the same class. It was about barely keeping on top with my own work and feeling frustrated with grad school in general. It was his job being busy and us never having time to just be still together. It was about the many things up in the air right now, things that make it hard to imagine a stage of life coming where we won’t be this stressed, tired, and anxious. It was about midterms and papers and late nights and just wanting it all to stop. 

It wasn’t the only tearful outburst of last week, and we decided that this week we had to be proactive. I ruthlessly purged the magazine stack, deciding that tossing Kim Kardashian out with the empty milk jugs deserved no guilt, and that really, how much entertainment do I possibly need to read about each week?

And then, on Monday, on the eve of a week that promised all the same burdens as the last one, we stopped and took a walk in our city. We saw the trees finally brave enough to unfurl flowers and the happy faces of District residents who made it through that never ending winter. We took our eyes off of computers, phones, and books and enjoyed an hour of just being together.

Here’s to finding more ways to stop and stave off those breakdowns that have nothing at all to do with the magazines. Processed with VSCOcam with x1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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What I would do differently.

WegmannWedding211Confession: I still look through my wedding pictures a lot.

James made me take down some of the millions that I had spread around our house once we had been married a year, but I still look through them on a more regular basis than I should probably admit. Some would say this is vanity, and maybe it is. But y’all, I loved that day. I hope that it won’t be the happiest day of my life. I hope that someday we will do wild great things, welcome children, hold grandchildren, etc., and that all of these things will contend for the happiest day. But that day in July was pretty wonderful. Everyone told me the day goes too fast for you to enjoy it, but I really and truly did. So many details of that day are etched in my memory, so many perfectly happy moments, so much laughter and joy.

But there are totally things I would change. Not big things, like my dress, or the food, or the venue, or you know, the groom. Yet as I play it over, there are things that I would change to make the day easier, better, or cheaper. Things that I foolishly forgot that caused stress for others, things I thought important that have proved not to be, and things that I would beg anyone getting married to consider. If any of you are in that boat, here’s a list to help you out.WegmannWedding217

  • Just let your wedding party wear what they want. On one hand, I do love that only one bridesmaid paid over a hundred for her dress, and all the girls looked great. But did it matter that all their navy dresses were the exact shade? Probably not. And will I ever get back the years of my life that David’s Bridal took when they discontinued all the styles in the middle of wedding season and we had to track down dresses all across the country one by one? Absolutely not. The men’s suits were no better. Yes, if we had just told them to show up in a gray suit, there would have been multiple shades of gray. Oh, but I still would have been married and stuff.
  • Skip the pricey flowers. My flowers were awesome, exquisite, lovely, and perfect. Or so I remember when I look at photos. The flowers never really mattered to me, and having no clear idea of what I wanted before entering the florist, I got swept up in the decision and we ended up spending way too much on an aspect of the wedding that wasn’t super important to me. I loved our florist, and would highly recommend her to anyone who really values the flowers at their wedding, but I probably would have been just as pleased with some bouquets from a grocery store. Don’t get carried away with the elements of the wedding that aren’t important to you. The wedding industry exists because they are important to someone, but that someone doesn’t have to be you.
  • Don’t think your wedding needs a ___________________. In that blank you can insert whatever ridiculous thing the Internet is telling you that you need. Options include: special named cocktails, unique photo booths, choreographed wedding party dances, hand-made favors, animals fulfilling rolls typically filled by people, an original thing for people to sign, and the list goes on and on. None of these things are bad, but sometimes we get so set on some random thing (usually so we can have detailed photos of it in an artsy Pinterest collage) that we become unduly obsessed. For me, it was that my wedding needed to have a “graphic identity.” When the invites came and the printer had printed part of the cards purple-blue instead of navy, I collapsed into a pile weeping that he had “compromised the graphic integrity of our wedding.”  WHAT THE WHAT? I wanted an entire graphic suite of paper documents that would be coordinated and spread across a piece of distressed wood and strewn with flower petals. Because obviously, all of my guests were going to save every paper item from our wedding, lay it out, and praise my overarching graphic theme. The friend who designed our invites was a true sport and worked everything together, but I still let something so small become so big. Life lesson: If you become a crazy, you will drive other people crazy and cry a lot.
  • Reserve tables for your people. Somehow, in the rush of wedding madness and the flurry of last minute rsvps exceeding our table capacity, we didn’t think to reserve any tables for the wedding party and our families. We planned on having no place cards for the majority of the guests, given the laid back garden party atmosphere of our reception, but this oversight meant that I didn’t get to sit with my parents at the reception and that my brother had to oust a table of college friends so some older family members could have a seat. Surely we had some shabby chic chalkboards somewhere that could have said “Reserved for family” and sat against a mason jar in the middle of a table.
  •  Put someone clearly in charge of the reception.This is tricky. A bad or controlling DJ will kill your party. You will be trapped on the dance floor doing called dances like the Cha-Cha Slide indefinitely. But no one in charge will kill your mother, or at least mine. In my mind, it was going to be spontaneous order. I had a very detailed schedule that I had distributed and our friend who was DJ’ing knew the flow. But I didn’t really communicate that to anyone or pick someone from our bridal party to be master of ceremonies, so basically I had a circle of bridesmaids, friends, and family who had to dash around more than they should have.

But on the whole, I wouldn’t change much, especially not who I ended up marrying.

WegmannWedding207

What about y’all, what would you tell someone to do differently?

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The Best Ordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookies-7Despite my own love of kitchen time, I do not believe that every women should have to be a master chef. I mean, we leave in a magical age where food can arrive at your door. And not just pizza- everything. For two people who grew up in the country, outside the traditional delivery radius, James and I never cease to be amazed by this amazing perk of city existence. And yes, you can usually make healthier food at home… but not always. Plus, cooking takes time. I love that time, but I’m not about to force it on someone who has no time and just decides that this is one battle not worth fighting.cookies-1 But there are two things that every women (Or head of house, if that be a man, you can insert him for all uses of woman here. I tend to assume that my constituency is pretty pretty heavy on the high heels and scrunchies.) needs to master: a covered meal you can take to someone in need, and chocolate chip cookies. Both of these are hospitality staples, things that you role out to tell people you matter in my life. 
cookies-2These are my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. She usually has a container of them frozen somewhere, ready to roll out when the troops roll in. They are the cookies that greeted me on the first day of school, the cookies that I remember making next to her when I still had to climb on a chair to reach the counter. They are the ones she sent me at college, the ones that I took James when we were dating, the ones that always taste like home. They are the cookies that are chocolate cookies to me.

And they are absolutely, totally, ordinary. cookies-3 They have no nuts, no berries, no brown-butter or special toppings. I say best because I love them best, not because they actually are the best. They won’t surprise you, thrill you, or win any sort of culinary honor.  But I would argue that that isn’t the point of chocolate chip cookies. These cookies will comfort you. They will disappear from the plate that you plunk down in the middle of game night or after dinner so fast that people will barely remember to comment on them. But later, when they leave, they will remember that they had been loved. That is what a chocolate chip cookie is supposed to do.

cookies-4I keep a bag of frozen dough balls on hand so that I can always have fresh baked cookies for the people who pass through our home. There have been a lot of those lately, some special visitors, but others are regular faces around our table and I love having these cookies on hand. I Instagramed a stack of them lately and had some friends ask for the recipe and I am excited to share it today. It is not terribly different from any cookie recipe, including the standard back-of-the-bag Tollhouse one (classic), other than the addition of cream of tartar and the adjusted baking time. I have flirted with other cookie recipes lately, tried them out and found them good. But you always come back to your cookies. 
cookies-5And these are mine, the recipe my mother drilled into me adjusted slightly to reflect my own preference for brown sugar. I debated sharing “our” recipe, but I don’t really believe in unlimited secret recipes. You can, and perhaps should, have a couple – tops. After that, it’s important to remember the point of food, and that is building community. Letting someone recreate the joy they felt in your kitchen in their own is such a gift.
cookies-6So if you don’t have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is your own, the one that you go to, trust in, and are proud of, may I invite you to take this one. 
cookies-8The Best Ordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies

Combine:
-1.5 cups brown cugar
-.5 cup white sugar
-.5 cup oil
-1 cup butter ( I use salted)
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla

Beat until smooth. In theory, you should do the butter and sugars first and then add in the other stuff but I don’t think it makes much difference. Plus it makes more dishes and I am super opposed to any separate mixing.

Whisk together and add:
-4 cups flour (throw in a little extra if it seems to sticky at the end — it should be more like dough and less like brownie batter)
-2 tsp baking soda
-4 tsp cream of tartar
-1 tsp salt

*Chocolate Chips

Once again, in theory this should be mixed first and added in batches… but that means more dishes. So I usually just dump in half the flour and the rest of the white stuff, stir, add rest of flour. Throw the chocolate chips in with the last flour addition — for some reason that I do not understand this makes them better than adding them on their own.

Form dough into balls and bake on ungreased (I line with parchment bc I’m lazy and hate dishes) cookie sheets at 350 for 10-11 minutes. THEN TAKE THEM OUT OF THE OVEN AND DO NOT TOUCH THEM FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES. DO NOT OVER BAKE THEM, EVEN THOUGH THEY WILL BE SUPER DOUGHY AND NOT COOKED. This is the real key.  The hot cookie sheet finishes cooking them while keeping them fluffy soft.

Add 1-2 minutes baking time if you start from frozen dough.

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