Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Grand Life

Although the Thanksgiving holiday was full of great memories with my family, it was also a monumental moment for us as we dealt with the passing of my dear ol' Granddaddy.  For those that don't know, my granddad had been in poor health for awhile, some of it due to a brain injury related to a fall 4 years ago, the rest just due to old age and a failing body. On Thursday he enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends and then on Friday, by God's sweet grace, he passed peacefully from this life into the next the way we all hope to go - taking his afternoon nap in his favorite chair. 

I have such wonderful memories of my grandparents and I was delighted to be a part of the celebration of his life, held on December 4th in his home church in Jacksonville. Honestly, I didn't prepare myself well for the emotional impact this event would have on me, and I'm not talking about the typical sadness or grief. We are all so glad he is at peace after 87 great years on this earth and a life well-lived. 
What struck me so deeply during this time of remembrance and reflection on his life was not that he was gone from us, but how he lived while he was here. 

For those that haven't had the pleasure of meeting my grandparents, I'm sorry for you because they are some of the dearest, most caring people I know. At my grandfather's passing, my grandparents had been married over 65 years and together over 70. 70 years. I have no concept of that. Being together since my grandma was 15 and a junior in high school. Being together through college and while my grandfather got drafted in WW2. Being together through buying houses and having children, working jobs, retiring, countless trips to their treasured getaway in the mountains of North Carolina, and stacking up even more friendships along the way. They spent their lives in Jacksonville, the place both of them grew up and rooted their life in the church my great-grandparents were charter members. 
Although my grandparents have accomplished much, what strikes me most about their life is how they gave. They truly embraced Christ's call to servanthood and they have loved others so incredibly well it brings me to tears just thinking about it. From being engaged in children's ministry, to student ministry, to adult ministry, to caring for their church rose garden, to delivering food with Meals on Wheels, to a million other involvements and organizations... they have consistently, quietly, and humbly poured their lives out for others over and over. And for DECADES people. Not just at Christmas or when their church was raising money for some good cause... almost every day of every week... even when they would spend their retired summers at Lake J. 

At Granddad's reception, I was so moved to hear countless tales of his legendary humor paired with story after story of his lasting impact in the hearts and minds of so many. People he served at his church. His receptionist from 30 years ago. Old neighbors, new neighbors. The teenager with down syndrome. Children of the friends they had shared dinner with every Tuesday night for eons. The stories flooded in like letters to Santa before Christmas and I was just so unbelievably overwhelmed by their love for others, their vulnerability to others, and I marveled at how no one was ever a burden to them. No one made them uncomfortable or was someone they tried to avoid. Everyone was important and worth their time. The signs of his/their legacy of love was almost visible, like a valiant badge of honor worn by each person they had touched along the way. 
Strangely, in a moment when I should have been sad and wrestling with grief, I found myself battling... envy. I was envious of the life he lived. Envious of his kindness (isn't that the biggest oxymoron... don't worry, I'm seeing a therapist Tuesday haha JK), envious of how patiently and honorably he loved my grandma, envious of how clearly Jesus had changed his heart which was evident by the truckloads of "good fruit" bore from his life. A war raged within me as I was torn between feeling waves of pride (for being related to this amazing guy) to feeling depths of shame (for feeling like my own life is far inferior and being lived way less purposeful... insert guilt from excessive Netflix marathons). 

As I cried my way back to Georgia, peeling back the layers of my memory and tending my bruised ego, a small voice whispered a simple truth, "You can have what he had". This wasn't a consumeristic, narcissistic, keeping up with the Jones type of self-centered self-talk, but an honest revelation that those emotions I was feeling- that envy, was actually good and unlike material wealth, wisdom or whit, I could easily have what he had because there's only one thing you need to make it happen: a willingness to give. Not a certain education or income bracket, but a daily choice to put others first and dedicate yourself to the place you are and the people you are with. That's all it takes. 
Ironically, for the last few weeks Psalm 37:3 has been on our minds, God's call to "dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness." Zach and I have been unpacking what it means to do this and really, that is our heart's desire at this point in our life. To be rooted, to be known, to be living like grandma and granddaddy and have our impact on our community look more like a crater and less like a divot. 

With 2015 just days away, I can't help but make this my word/phrase and focus for the year. Cultivate faithfulness and give. Lavishly love others through the lens of Christ. Look for places to connect and commit. That's the goal at least. 

Thanks Granddaddy for being such an inspiration to me. Grandma (I am sure mom will print this out so you can read a copy), thanks for continuing to model faithfulness and love through all the highs and lows of life. You are a treasure to all who know you and I am so lucky to call you Grandma!

Final resting place of Bob Dart, the rose garden he tended for so many years at
Southside United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, FL

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cheer & Chocolate

So it's no surprise I love gift-giving and just... creating experiences for people through gifts. (Insert custom care package business idea, mentioned here.) Our Allie girl is often the recipient of these goodie boxes and we've sent her many different themed packages throughout the years. I don't know why, but it never occurred to me to send her a Christmas box (maybe because I am always deep in the throes of buying her Christmas gifts haha). Nonetheless, I really wanted to send her something to enjoy and share with others this holiday season before she comes to celebrate with us. It's a little pre-packaged holiday party. All she has to add are the people to share it with. :)

Here's a peek into Allie's box of Christmas cheer and chocolate! :)
Packing slip.

Pretty card.
The smell of Christmas.
Cute textural garland for decorating her bed (or whatever the party's at!)
Christmas music. Al is always on the hunt for new music to enjoy while she does her school work and we really enjoy this Phil Wickham album.
Paper straws. Cause paper straws can make any drink a happier experience.
And assorted sweets to share with family or her Classical Conversations class. If you are looking for some ideas on what to send someone without ordering one of those pre-made gift sets of really generic stuff, consider shopping at Trader Joe's. They have the BEST holiday goodies packaged in cute boxes.
Ok these are not from TJ's, but they are the best powdered truffles!
I don't like peppermint and chocolate together, but even I like these holiday Joe Joe's!
And of course... what is Christmas without cocoa?!
There are loads of other options at Trader Joe's, but this was all I could fit in the box! Hope you enjoy sweet Allie girl and spread a little Christmas cheer to all those dear!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thankful Hearts

Finally, I am getting around to recapping our Thanksgiving holiday! I've had a lot going on the past week or so (more on that later) and I just haven't had a spare second to upload and organize photos. Thank goodness for the weekend :)

As previously mentioned, Al's 14th birthday was November 15th. Although Zach sent her flowers on the big day, we didn't get a chance to celebrate in person until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Our friends Justin and Jenny who live about an hour away came to spend the night and celebrate Allie with us. Birthday festivities began at Sweet Tomatoes, Allie's choice of dinner destinations. At first glance, one might think this is a healthy restaurant, but it is really a carb coma disguised as a salad bar. Haha!

After eating pizza, pasta, and soup (with a side of salad... insert cry/laughy emoji here) we went home  for more carbs (dessert), gifts, and Allie's choice of movie.

Sweet, sweet, 14 yr old Al. Oh man, oh man. I know it seems like we spoil her (at times), but really.. she spoils us! She's the best kid ever.
Allie's been wanting a pretty phone case for awhile since she inherited my old black, boring Otterbox when she got her phone last summer. She and I have always drooled over the Rifle Paper Co. ones and I was thrilled to find this one on mega sale. :)
Opening gifts from Nana and Holly & Jim...
And finally getting her very own knitted duster.
This girl LOVES her some long cardigan sweaters, so much so that she wore it almost every day. Haha!
Homemade brownie pie and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to accompany the birthday candles and birthday song. :)
The night was topped off with a viewing of Timothy Green, a sweet family movie we haven't seen since it appeared in theaters. All in all it was a great birthday celebration and awesome start to our holiday week together.

Thursday morning I got to work preparing our Thanksgiving feast. On the alternating years we don't have Allie for Thanksgiving, Zach and I go to Florida to spend the holiday with my extended family. On the years we do have her, we stay home (so she doesn't have to travel twice) and have a small, quiet gathering around our own family table. I actually kinda like the rotation - one year I cook everything and the next I'm pretty much a freeloader at my parent's house. It all balances out I guess. :)

This year's table was very simple and natural - just flowers, candles, and a brown woven tablecloth.

So even though most people think I can cook anything and everything, I'm not gonna lie... I was intimidated by the turkey situation this year. The last time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner, I got a pre-cooked turkey from Trader Joe's and just heated it up. It was great. :) This year... TJ's pulled a fast one on me and didn't carry the easy, pre-done turkey so I had to come up with plan B. Since our gathering was just the 3 of us plus Zach's mom it made no sense to get a big, 12 lb. bird that would take us a week to eat. Instead, I bought a turkey roast (cause we only like white meat anyway) and used Ina Garten's herb roasted turkey breast recipe.
I didn't get any good pics of our turkey, but it turned out exactly like the recipe pictured below! It was unbelievably flavorful and juicy, plus Zach said it was the best turkey he's ever had. THANKSGIVING WIN. :)
My favorite thing to make for Thanksgiving is cranberry apple crumble, kinda a really fancy cranberry sauce or side or... it could even pass as a dessert.
I think cranberries are SO beautiful.
The dish turned out great, but it makes me laugh that Allie still prefers the canned, gelatin cranberry "sauce" over my fresh cranberry crumble.
For her, it's all about the ridges. LOL
I also whipped up loaded mashed potatoes (another family favorite)
corn casserole
sweet potato casserole
fresh french beans
and of course, what's Thanksgiving without piping hot rolls?
My Thanksgiving plate.
For dessert I made apple cinnamon croissants
and Zach's mom made the classic pies. NOMNOMNOM.
Since I spent all Thanksgiving morning in the kitchen, we spent all Thanksgiving afternoon/evening lounging around the house, watching movies and enjoying each other's company. So much to be thankful for!

On Friday it was time to get in the Christmas spirit and finally address the fresh cut tree sitting in my living room. Like always, dad dropped off our tree the weekend before Thanksgiving after his annual Christmas tree trek to NC. Our tree was perfect- the perfect size, the perfect rich green color, and the prefect Christmasy SCENT! I love love love having a Christmas tree in my house!
Allie and I threw on the classic Christmas music, picked off all the extra leaves and needles caught in the branches, and began trimming the tree as we sipped hot apple cider. It was a very Norman Rockwell moment. :)

Even though the majority of our ornaments are just generic silver and red, we do have a tradition of adding one special ornament each year that we've been a family. Each one is tagged for that year so we can keep track of when it was added to our collection. (See pic.)
Allie and I usually take a special shopping trip just to hunt for the perfect addition to our family of ornaments. This year we chose this glittery chipwood reindeer.
Rockin' around the Christmas tree
Allie is growing up SO fast. I think it's fair to say Zach and I LOVE this age and all the meaningful conversations/ interactions/ fun we have with Allie paired with all the growth, blossoming, and hope we see in Allie. I've always been a crazy photo-taker, wanting to capture every single second of our lives, but I feel the pressure even more to capture her as she's changing so much.

Allie rockin' her birthday duster, jeweled headband, and feather earrings. Such a little hipster. :) (In comparison, it cracks me up to remember how I looked in 8th grade - baggy t shirt, Umbro shorts, classic Adidas shoes... juuust slightly tomboyish. Haha! Allie definitely has the edge on me. :))
So beautiful.

On Friday we avoided all shopping areas like the plague and instead went to play pirate laser tag with two of our favorite people - Jon and Kayla.
Pirate preparation.
We had a blast (as always...we are kinda serious pros about laser tag by this point.. haha) and highly recommend Laser Voyage to anyone in the Atlanta area. It's the best!
Besides a lot of just chill time at home, Allie and I enjoyed an afternoon of shopping on Saturday. Our little town of Duluth has some really quaint shops that we love to peruse. This time, everything had been decorated for Christmas and carried an enchanted, holiday glimmer. 

Some of our favorite finds...

Adorable wreath pillow from Target :)
She looks SO grown up here.
Even though shopping is fun, what I look forward to most is the drive in the car- the uninterrupted, intentional conversations we get to have, the laughs we share, and the bond that grows stronger and stronger in our hearts.

I also couldn't help but let Allie pick out some holiday sweets to enjoy between now and when we are together again after Christmas. She picked chocolate covered espresso beans (no surprise there)
and powdered truffles, a newly discovered favorite.
Unfortunately she forgot to take them back to Alabama so we decided to send her a whole box of Christmas goodies to enjoy. (More on her Christmas care package coming soon.)

Even though our time with Allie always seems to be so quick and never long enough, I am consistently amazed to see how God exponentially increases what we do have, it's like our own version of the loaves and fish bible story. He takes what seems like an impossible task and not only "makes it work", but blesses us beyond our wildest dreams. We are so grateful for so many things, especially the promise that God loves our dear Allie, has such an intentional plan for her life, and has generously blessed us with the opportunity to be her parents and walk with her through life.
Thank you Jesus for so many things - my greatest blessings on this earth are this guy and this girl, which are made possible by your death on the cross. I am so grateful!
Merry Christmas from our family to yours!