Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year Yearnings

Man, that seems like such a futuristic date, but it's not. It's today. The present. My life. It's cray. Like many people, I like starting a new year and getting that "fresh start" to set goals, hope and dream, and gaze expectantly towards what is to come.

For me 2015 was a bear. I became a full-time mom of a 9th grader virtually over night. Talk about life whiplash! This 24/7 responsibility was brand-spanking new and shocker! - NOT EASY. Given the unusual details of our situation, Allie has had many challenges to overcome and we have truly given it our very best to parent her well, even if our newfound parenting legs are shaky and our steps sometimes feel like a teetering toddler.

Although it was crushingly difficult at times, it was also incredibly humbling to see God so at work in Allie's life, and I suspect ours as well. :) I hope one day she is able to look back on this season and really see God's hand upon her life and his intentional plan for her every step of the way.  I am so grateful for the gift of God's visibility during this time. It brought us much hope and encouragement when we needed it most.  I am also grateful for so many in our life who have encouraged us, supported us, and walked with us every step of the way. One person in particular has been our lifeline on many occasions and that's my MIL. I am SO thankful God led her to move here in 2014 because we desperately needed her for the unknown journey ahead. She has stepped in and helped so much - like picking Allie up from school every Tuesday when Zach had meetings, always looking for ways to help at our house (from cleaning to sewing to handywoman skills and more), and always lending an ear to talk to. I am forever in her debt. Seriously!

The end of January will make 6 months of Allie living with us full-time. In some ways, I feel like Allie has been here forever and in other ways, it's like no time has passed at all. Although many have celebrated Zach and I for our newfound parenting skills, there is one major misstep I am hoping to correct in 2016.

For years I have observed moms of all ages and noticed a common trend- a trend of the responsibilities and day-to-day "wear and tear" of motherhood creeping up on moms and silently...slowly...almost invisibly strangling out almost all of the other non-mom related characteristics in that woman.  I have agonized over this in others and I swore to myself that if I ever became a mom, I would never be "that person"; that I would maintain interests, passion, balance and an identity apart from my mom role, but alas... what do you think completely blind-sighted me? :) I woke up one day a few months after Allie moved here and found myself in a place like so many others - where my thoughts, time, money, and heart were swallowed whole by being a mom. Although motherhood requires a lot from me, in order for Zach and Allie to get my best, it cannot demand ALL OF ME and I must fight to maintain this balance. It's the whole airline safety "secure your own oxygen mask before helping others" mentality. The only way to serve my family to the best of my ability is to carve out time, energy, and money to take care of myself and in 2016, I am committing to do just that.

For me, this practically means getting serious about my health again. HELLO (sung like Adele..) auto-immune condition I have pretty much ignored completely over the last 6 - 8 months. (I hope Dr. Song is not reading this... Ha!) Since I prefer to practice holistic medicine, this means I have to make time to minimize inflammation through proper diet, take my supplements as scheduled, and exercise. I cannot continue to ignore my physical needs if I want to be at my best and live a long, healthy life. For a commuter mom like me, finding time to exercise has been virtually impossible, but there are two tools that are helping me squeeze it in whenever I can. #1 is "the FitBit". Last year my company did a team step challenge and issued us all FitBits. Having a FitBit has made me so much more aware of my daily activity (or lack thereof due to having a desk job) and challenged me to set daily goals for myself. #2 is the 7 Min Workout app. For me, there is no excuse for not having 7 minutes to work out. Even I can find 7 minutes and let me tell ya, those 7 minutes kick my butt!

Apart from health, carving out "me time" includes everything from making time to see friends regularly (which is BRUTAL in Atlanta because everything is so spread out, we might as well all live in other states) to simple ways of finding time to relax alone - like taking baths, going on walks, reading/Bible study/journaling, sneaking away small moments to eat chocolate and watch Downton Abbey, etc. I am an introvert (I know some of you won't believe that, but it's true) so having alone time to decompress is a MUST. As a mom, it's really easy to just constantly sacrifice what you need or want for those around you, but for me- taking a few minutes here and there to do something I want goes such a long way! Things like, making a special lunch just for me, taking time to make something beautiful/dabble in food photography (or any photography), go shop and blow a gift card just on me. Gasp! It's the little things people and it matters. More and more I am finding that if I set smaller goals - daily goals instead of big lofty long term ones, I'm much more likely to achieve them and that includes even daily goals to #treatyoself.

Spiritually, I have been so laser focused on what God is doing in Allie, or in our family as a whole, that I haven't really been paying attention to what he has for ME personally. Again, another indicator my oxygen mask is not properly on. :) I must work to clear out some mental space and time to listen to what God has for ME - not just the role I play as Allie's stepmom/ Zach's wife/ family manager extraordinaire.

And lastly, one of the best ways to get your head out of the sand and recalibrate your heart is to do something for others- to serve, and regularly look for ways to positively impact those around you. I'm not sure exactly what this looks like in this season and what I will choose to get involved with, but I really want to do something - not just around holidays, but as a regular part of my life. I have admired this so much in my parents and grandparents who have truly lived out their faith and given their lives to help those around them. This year I wanna find my place of influence, my little corner of the world to do for one (or for a few) what I wish I could do for all.

So here's to 2016 and a brand spanking new year, that feels all shiny and bright. Truthfully, I know it won't be, but that's the beauty of hope. It rejuvenates even in the darkest of times and always believes something better is to come. It's the beauty of the gospel lived out day to day because thanks to Jesus, there is always something better to come!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Christmas Wishes

December. Writing about December is so bittersweet. I love so much about the season and the public celebration of Jesus' birth, but it just... always ends too quickly. :( This year, it went by even faster than normal, BUT I am so grateful for our first Christmas season with Allie at home!
As previously mentioned in my November post, Dad delivered our beautiful, fresh, Fraser Fir right before Thanksgiving. I simply love quiet mornings alone with just me and ma' tree.
I am not a huge holiday decorator, but my MIL Cindy and Allie worked very hard to create a beautiful fresh garland to display around our front door.
It was a combo of fresh Fraser Fir, pine, and cedar. The greenery combined with the white lights made our door way so cozy each night! I loved it!
This month Allie went to her very first semi-formal (Christmas Rush), hosted by the student ministry at our church. Doesn't she look adorable?

She is totally rockin' my beaded headband and silver clutch...

SO excited!
For weeks Zach and I had been counting down to taking Allie to see the Jerusalem IMAX movie. We saw this National Geographic film 2 years ago when it first came to Atlanta and fell in love with it. We were absolutely thrilled to see it come back to Fernbank this year so we could share it with Allie.

Fernbank Natural History Museum
Friday nights are special at the museum- lots of food, drinks, live music, and dancing!
It was so fun and a great family outing. :)
Also, while we are on the topic of entertainment, if you are looking for an intriguing new show, check out "How We Got To Now"which is currently available on Netflix. It's a 6 episode PBS series that focuses on 6 innovations that shaped the modern world. It is truly fascinating. We've really enjoyed it, but we are documentary dweebs so... there's that. :)

This Christmas, we also had the opportunity to participate in the Family Serve Day at Perimeter.
Benefiting the Rainbow Village community, we had the privilege of shopping for needy families at the pop-up toy store.
Honestly, the magnitude of this organization and Christmas initiative was a bit overwhelming, but once we got the gist it was fun to find gifts that perfectly suited each child on our list.

Things we wish we could have taken home. Ha!
In addition to toys, each child also gets a hoodie and pair of gloves.

In addition to Family Serve Day, Allie and I volunteered to bake homemade goodies for the Christmas program at our church.
 Our treats included oreo truffles (made by Al),
mini pecan pie tarts,
 and mini chocolate chip cookie cupcakes.
We also were door greeters for that event, and look who stopped by our door to say hi! It's that guy who use to have a beard! :) Love this pic of Zach and Allie, looking all fancied up.
One of my favorite details about the Christmas season is the gift wrap. I love wrapping beautiful presents with different ribbons and twine. 

This year, I even used tree branches and berries as filler in shipping boxes. I think it's way prettier than bubble wrap don't you?

One of my favorite moments for this holiday season was hearing Zach sing his Christmas song, "Once a Year" at Perimeter. It is one of my favorites. :)

Since he does not sing it often I jumped at the opportunity to document it. Sorry the video is kinda poor, but at least you can hear it. :)

Before the end of the semester, December wrapped up a few school projects for Allie including a presentation on Australia (AP Human Geography) and on the Odyssey (Honors Literature). For the Australia project I whipped up some Lamingtons (Australia's culinary icon) for her to share with her class.

For the Odyssey project, Allie recruited Zach to help her write a song and this is the finished product. It's about the relationship between Odysseus and his dog Argus. :) Needless to say this was a HUGE hit at the school and with her teacher.

In other musical news, Al's winter chorus concert was Dec. 8 and they did a lovely collection of Christmas songs. My favorite was the closing song when all the choirs circled the auditorium and sang Carol of the Bells. Here's a clip!

We are so unbelievably proud of all Allie has accomplished this semester. She has worked SO hard and overcome so much. We celebrated the end of her first semester of high school at Ponce City Market, also known as my favorite place in the ATL.
 (photo cred: Ponce City Market Insta)
Food Hall decorated for Christmas!
I spy Allie and Zach...
We treated Al to the best burger in town- served at Holeman & Finch in Buckhead as well as the new H&F Burger at PCM. I know it doesn't look like much, but... it's a show stopper folks.
The best burger was followed by King of Pops, and the only thing better than a regular King of Pop popsicle, is a chocolate dipped pop!

My favorite guy in my favorite store. 
Trying to keep up with these two...
The latest and greatest thing at PCM is Citizen Supply. It's a fabulous collection of goods from various craftsman.
To our surprise, we stumbled across a display of Old Try letterpress prints! (Not only do we have a few of these on display in our home, but the owner is Zach's childhood best friend.)

 More goods. I loved this creative display of watches.
 My peeps.
And if a stellar report card weren't enough to celebrate, God MIRACULOUSLY opened the door for Allie to attend christian private school starting next semester! I mean, Zach and I are so excited, we're like piglets in a puddle over here. It's our Christmas wish come true.
This is a massive answer to prayer and a much needed environment for Allie. God has blown our minds with his attention to detail and total provision in our life. Thank you Jesus!

So starting January 5 Allie will be attending Mount Pisgah Christian School. The faculty has gone above and beyond to welcome us and usher Allie into the Pisgah family. Words cannot express our gratitude. So here's a sneak peek of where she will be doing all that "learnin' stuff" going forward. :)
(Photo Cred: Collins, Cooper, Carusi (design firm) website)

 For Allie, one highlight of this school is the student commons-
 specifically the all you can eat buffet and 1 hr lunch break. Ha! It's the little things right?
We are already so blessed by this school and look forward to all the opportunities it will provide Allie going forward.

While Allie was off spending time with family in Alabama, the week of Christmas was spent finalizing Christmas meals/travel details and doing a lot of prep for Allie's school change which has a much more coordination than her previous public school (paperwork, uniforms, technology requirements, etc.).

One of my favorite things about Christmas though is spending Christmas Eve with just Zach. After all the church services are done we have a tradition of making lots of our favorite goodies, sitting in front of the fire/Christmas tree lights, and watching The Holiday. Oh it's dreamy guys. I absolutely LOVE it and look forward to it each year. Since Zach had a 9 pm service to lead, I had plenty of time to pull together some scrumptious goodies for us to snack on.

Christmas Day was much of the same - exchanging gifts with Z, cooking for the two of us + my MIL, and a lot of food prep for our big holiday feast with family in NC. I ended up baking a few pies, as well as these TO DIE FOR apple cider cupcakes - filled with homemade cranberry sauce and topped with cinnamon buttercream icing.
I mean, these are LEGIT. If you are interested in the recipe let me know cause I combined 3 different ones to get this combo. SO GOOD, so goregous, and so worth the effort!
After picking up Allie on the 26th, we headed straight for the mountains to meet my folks, Zach's mom, Zach's brother Ian, and his girlfriend Heather.
Lake Junaluska is such a special place for our family. We all love coming here. Walking around the lake is definitely a family tradition and something I love to do.

 Like most of the south, this area had gotten a ton of rain - so much so that many boat docks (like this one below) were completely submerged.
 Winter's delight is the evergreen tree. I have a mild obsession with all the giant hemlock trees along the lake shore.
 Stopped for a goose crossing.


 Numerous stone paths weave through this mountain community. I find their aged beauty - defined by moss-covered stones, overgrown ivy, and billowing waves of cracked pavement (caused by creeping tree roots underneath) so enchanting.
 Naturally, I love looking at the houses here and picking out my favorites.
 This is our Lake J dream home. If we ever have money to burn we are renovating this charming, turn-of-the-century bungalow!
 And of course, our little blue house. I have known this place longer than any other home in my life and it houses so many cherished memories.
Mom and dad had arrived before us and got the house ready for a Christmas celebration!

Per my request, mom brought along my grandma's "Christmas bear". I'm pretty sure this musical bear is older than me, but it is a memorable part of my Christmas past as a child. I love this darn thing, even when it's so old the songs are out of rhythm and tune.
Poking around downtown Waynesville. 
 Enjoying a cold drink next to a raging river.
 Making friends with the locals. :)

We drove up to Cattaloochee to check out the status on the ski resort (which was rather pathetic thanks to the abnormally high temperatures) and admire the epic mountain scenery. While battling some intense wind, I was able to snap this shot of Allie walking up this mountain field.
Honestly, it's pretty symbolic of where she is right now in life. She's definitely covered some ground over the past 5 months and grown in many ways, but has so much further to go. You can do it Al!

Since most of our time at Lake J was super relaxed and unplanned, I was totally off my photo-taking game and did not manage to get a group shot of the 8 of us. Luckily however, I did convince these two brothers to pose right before Ian and Heather headed back to their home in Tuscaloosa.
 Lazy days at the lake are spent doing a variety of "not much" including reading, and in the case of me and Allie, some adult coloring!
Adult coloring books have become rather popular over the past few years. Given this was my first attempt, I had no idea how challenging they are! So many tiny details, I honestly did not finish mine. But Allie stayed the course and after working on it for 3 days, finally finished this masterpiece!
One of the most special things about this trip was actually our Christmas tree. Mom and dad had bought a living tree for us to use in the house like a typical tree, but with the plans of planting it in the backyard in memory of my sister. I loved this idea and we hope to do another one sometime down the road for my granddad.

After much effort due to the extreme weight of the root ball, Dad and Zach finally wrestled this beast to the backyard and got it sufficiently planted.
The Christmas tree's new home!
After a great family Christmas celebration, we left NC with grateful hearts and returned to Georgia just in time to celebrate the end of 2015 with our friends Justin and Jenny. As usual, I could not pass up an opportunity to whip up some tasty (and super simple) treats including:

white cheddar chive pimento cheese
 club crackers topped with sliced roast beef, Boursin cheese, and chives
 Zach's fav - dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in proscuitto
 Hawaiian sliders
 (Not pictured: Jimmy Dean garden dip and zucchini fritters, the BEST cookies in the world -Earth Fare's vegan chocolate chip cookies), and these homemade heath bar brownies.
 Yes, food for a small army, but we enjoyed our ample sustenance as we watched the Bama game and laughed over silly stories and memories from years past. At midnight (yes, we made it to midnight!) we toasted to a new year ahead of us and celebrated with cheap fireworks. Ha!
 Dancing with sparklers

 Happy New Year from the Kales and Kennedys!