Thursday, January 12, 2017

Delightful December

Wow. And just like that it's 2017. A new year, a fresh start. I totally dread putting away all the Christmas stuff after the holidays and just the seemingly loss of magic and wonder, but there is something exciting and refreshing about a new year. New hope, new possibilities, new growth. December was a super sweet month for me. This year, I enjoyed Christmas so much and really savored the season. I think a big reason for that was something we did as a family each day. Every night from December 1st to 25th, we would each share something we were thankful for. I loved doing this and it really kept me focused on gratitude and just humbled me so much this year as I was reminded how abundant my life is with family, friends, and God's grace.

As mentioned in my previous November update, we decorated our tree right after Thanksgiving and immediately started with the Christmas music and movies. I absolutely adore the living room during Christmastime. It's just so cozy to me!
Sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree is one of my favorite things to do. This elephant ornament is really special to me because it was given to me by my sister after her time in Uganda with the African Children's Choir. It was special to me back then, but now that she is gone it holds even more significance each Christmas I spend without her.
This year was the first year I did almost all my shopping on Cyber Monday or shortly after. I even got all the wrapping done prior to December 15th which has NEVER happened before, but was amazing! It was such a gift to myself to not be rushing around the week or two before Christmas and just gave me the time to really soak up the Christmas season .
 This year I designed and printed my own gift tags...
 as well as making pom-pom gift toppers with yarn.
A little bit of my gift-giving took me to one of my favorite places at Christmas - Ponce City Market. It is always amazing, but the added Christmas cheer makes it extra special. 
I am really into evergreen trees so needless to say I wanted to strap all of these to the roof of my car and take them home!
Apart from the typical decorating and gift-giving aspects of Christmas, Allie and I did a lot of fun things celebrating the season this year. One night earlier in the month, I took her out for a special night. I had been wanting to take her to this restaurant called Bread & Butterfly which serves a pretty epic tomato soup (which is one of her favorite foods). Bread & Butterfly is a charming, French restaurant in Inman Park with incredible details and intentional ambiance. Here are some pics provided by the restaurant. :)



We went at night so the place felt even warmer and cozier than when it is flooded with natural light. 
 It was early so we ended up having the place to ourselves which was so nice.

There it is - the reason we are here! Ha! (Side note: My friend TLC thinks this puff pastry looks like Donald Trump's hair HAHA)
And once you break through the buttery, flaky pastry, the thick, warm soup is revealed!
 While Allie enjoyed her soup, I had a simple, but delightful salad.
After our quick bite at Bread & Butterfly, we headed over to Buckhead to attend The Grove, Passion City Church's monthly women's event. I brought Allie here twice last year, but we had never been at Christmas time. 
PCC is always such a gracious (and creative) host by creating the loveliest ambiance in the lobby and at each hospitality table.

We got there an hour before it started and the parking lot was already full! We ended up having to park at overflow parking and be shuttled to the church. Because of this, all the seats were already taken in the main auditorium so we quickly grabbed seats on the floor. It ended up being the perfect spot for us to experience this special, special night.

Cece Winans was the special musical guest and she wasted no time getting the crowd engaged.

The whole evening was really special, but for me... what stands out the most are the stories. They had 6 or 7 women share their stories in the most beautiful way. All of them were so different but so beautiful as they shared how God had transformed their pain into hope, how He has been their "help from heaven". The last two women (pictured below) were two of the mothers who lost their daughters in that tragic UGA car accident last spring that took the lives of 4 young students. 
I could not believe my eyes. These women who had experienced the unthinkable, standing on stage pouring out their story - their pain - their journey so that we might understand how much God loves us. It really blew my mind and was so impactful. Afterwards, Cece and the band played Matt Redman's song "Help from Heaven" and it was...well... so powerful. Here's a short clip because I really cannot capture it in words.
Thanks Passion City for such a wonderful evening encouraging the women of this city. 
The following week was Perimeter's Christmas program called One Child and it was incredible. Utilizing some new technology, they pulled off a really phenomenal experience celebrating who Jesus is and what He has done. The whole team did such an amazing job. Really, photos don't do it justice, but thanks to Jon Berry Photo, I have a few to share! 

My guy :)

The following week Zach was scheduled to be out of town for work so that meant Allie and I had a week to ourselves. Since the likelihood of this happening again is very slim, I wanted to make the most of it by planning something special and Christmasy for each day. 

On Monday, we served with the Norcross Co-Op. This organization supports over 800 families and provides Christmas for thousands of homeless or needy children in our area. The concept seems simple, but the execution is one giant beast of a project! The overly simplified description of this initiative is that people/businesses/etc. donate tons and tons of gifts for children. All these gifts are then organized and set up like a giant store. Volunteers then come through the store and "shop" for a specific family, picking out gifts for each child based on their age, wishes/interests. Those toys are then bagged and tagged for the appropriate family and they are transported to another location where pick up will happen. Last year we participated in the "shopping for a family" portion of the process, which you can check out from last year's Christmas post. This year I wanted us to serve the families in person so we signed up to work one of the pick-up nights where families come to collect their gifts. 
Volunteers gathered before the big night begins.
The pick-up nights are much more than just... come and get your bag of stuff. As the families enter the facility they first are greeted by volunteers serving drinks (cocoa, cider, coffee, etc) and snacks (cookies and popcorn). We ended up getting tasked with passing out the snacks. Al covered the cookies, my MIL Cindy did the popcorn and I was the runner, replenishing their baskets as needed from the kitchen.

After getting their snacks and cocoa, the kids got activity packets (to keep them occupied while they waited in line) and then a chance to get a photo with Santa! 
After the Santa stop, they entered the prayer room where volunteers sat with each family and prayed over them and any specific needs. Then they moved on to the pick-up location which not only provided them with the gifts hand selected for their children, but also wrapping paper so they could wrap all the gifts when they get home. Over 250 families came through the night we worked and it was incredibly busy from start to finish! All three of us really enjoyed doing this and actually getting to talk to the families and wish them a merry Christmas.

On Tuesday Allie and I had a "Buddy the Elf" night. I made breakfast for dinner (which included lots of Buddy-inspired syrupy treats) and we watched the movie Elf!
I made Allie chocolate chip pancakes with Christmas cookie cutters :)
and I made myself Paleo spiced apple cider waffles that were amazing! (as well as a side of maple cinnamon sweet potatoes pictured above). It was so much fun!
On Wednesday we had a spa night which included Beautycounter charcoal face masks, paraffin waxing for hands and feet, and nail painting! Allie looks hilarious with her mask "beard". LOL
Trying to smile but my face is so stiff! haha (Oh and we are trying to make a Christmas tree with our hands. :))
Mask on her face, paraffin wax on her hands, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on tv!
On Thursday Zach was home for a brief time so we enjoyed some intentional family time gathered on the sofa together. On Friday, Zach headed out to Arizona while Allie and I hunkered down for a fun night including Chipotle for dinner, crafting some amazing snowflakes, sipping homemade hot cocoa, and watching The Santa Clause!
Some of our flakes. Aren't they so cute?! Mine are on the left and Allie's super intricate ones are on the right.
On Saturday, we concluded our week of Christmas fun with a special night spent with my MIL. We kicked off the evening with dinner at Cafe Intermezzo at Avalon.
I have loved this restaurant for years, mostly because of the incredibly warm ambiance (and uh...amazing desserts).
We had the best time drinking tea,
eating delicious food (this is Allie's french toast!)
and just having some really lovely conversation. I want to remember the time we shared forever! Afterwards we walked through some of our favorite shops like Free People and Anthropologie.
Watching the ice skaters go round and round.
Family :) I am so blessed by these two.
When we got home we had a small gift exchange. A few days earlier we drew names and had to get a gift for less than $5. I know $5 doesn't seem like much, but everyone got something they really enjoyed, especially Allie since I gifted her with a box of Cheezits and a box of CocoaPuffs because I NEVER EVER buy her junk food. LOL
Unbeknownst to me, my MIL and Allie surprised me with another gift that night - a cookbook I had just seen in Anthro! Without me noticing they snuck it out (yes, they paid for it haha), and gave it to me as soon as hiding it became impossible. HA! I loved it and can't wait to try some new recipes. :)
Besides all the family fun, I spent the first few weeks of December collecting Christmas cards from wonderful friends and family (I LOVE getting these!),
 starting to learn handlettering/calligraphy (it's way harder than it looks)...
and prepping some handmade chocolate covered oreos for our clients. My talented co-worker Sam made these - as well as finagling the printable/edible company logo on them and they turned out amazing! I spent a few days tying bows on each one and getting them packaged up in boxes for delivery.
Even though I could not partake of these delicious cookies myself, I have been enjoying plenty of food and drink this holiday season including:

Triple Ginger Brew from Trader Joes. I love gingerale (well, ginger anything) and this stuff is so good!
 This sparkling ginger kombucha
 Apple parsnip soup
 Rosemary meatballs in a sticky peach sauce (These are so good and I eat them for breakfast!)
This triple berry compote is good on pancakes/waffles or I just enjoy it alone with some whipped coconut cream on top!
 AIP/ Paleo Breakfast Cookies. These fruit-filled cookies are made with banana, applesauce, dates, coconut flour, shredded coconut, apricots, and raisins.
I also have found two gluten free/dairy free boxed mixes that Zach and Allie like just as much as traditional wheat flour ones. I usually make the cookie dough and prior to baking, freeze them in individual cookie globs so they can easily bake them whenever they want.
My parents joined us for the holiday on December 22nd and stayed through the 26th. During that time we had a number of Christmas festivities and also visited the Southeastern Railway Museum right here in our hometown of Duluth. It was really cool with a variety of trains on display dating back to the early 1900s.

Dad is scoping out the engine.

Cutest train conductor :)


Seeing all the period furniture and finishes was a highlight for me. They simply don't make things like they use to.
My favorite old railcar is the mail car! It's so cool.


 Doesn't this dining car look Christmasy?
 Mom at the end of the line :)
 Just chillin'
 Just dreamin' of times gone by...


Afterwards, on our way to lunch, we stopped by to visit my MIL at her shop. Zach wastes no time finding something silly to do. :)
On Saturday (Christmas Eve!) I was busy prepping food for that evening/Christmas day, but I stopped to clean up so we could attend Christmas Eve service at Perimeter!
 Zach had been working so hard to ensure Christmas Eve was a special night and the team pulled off yet another fantastic service. Zach designed the set for this and it turned out so well!


Jon Berry Photo
Jon Berry Photo
He also sang one of my favorite Christmas songs - Winter Snow by Chris Tomlin :) Here's a short clip!
Of course the highlight moment of Christmas Eve is always the traditional singing of Silent Night in candlelight. 
 It is just so beautiful and such a sweet moment to meditate on the birth of Jesus.

Jon Berry Photo
Family pics after the service :)

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! :)
Jon Berry Photo
Although Zach and his brother Ian had two more services to play at the church, the rest of us headed home for a relaxing Christmas Eve. I served up my family's traditional Christmas Eve meal- mini pizzas (made to order) and soup! I was so busy I didn't have a chance to photograph my own dishes, I made this Ham Potato Kale soup
and for dessert a giant Paleo Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
And speaking of Christmas traditions, few traditions have been around longer than the Christmas Bear! This Christmas carol playing bear has been in the family for forever, maybe even longer than me. It belonged to my grandparents and I've always loved it. Now, mom brings it wherever we are celebrating Christmas which means I had it at my house this year! Although the electronics are struuuuuuggling hardcore in this thang, I still love love love it's off-key, dragging tempo tunes, maybe even more than the right way. HA! Enjoy :)

On Christmas morning I hit the ground running cooking and prepping for breakfast and lunch. The family enjoyed time gathered in the living room opening gifts and listening to Christmas music while a snowy winter scene displayed on the TV distracted us from the fact it was like 60 degrees outside. Ha! Zach and I love giving each other "good" cards for various celebrations throughout the year. Good cards mean well designed cards typically found in boutique paper shops. I have a knack for finding the best ones and I must say I did *slay* this Christmas by finding this little gem for him. LOL 
 Allie and my MIL looking at a lot of old Christmas photos of Zach from years past.
Our Christmas breakfast menu was a blend of healthy aaaand not so healthy holiday goodies. Zach requested that I not "mess with Christmas" by experimenting with new healthy recipes, so I found a nice compromise. :) One healthy dish - Paleo breakfast casserole (full of bacon, eggs, brussel sprouts and white sweet potato) AND one unhealthy - cinnamon roll french toast bake.
 I did not indulge in the cinnamon roll french toast bake, but everyone else loved it and I must say it does look delicious!
This year I really tried to make something special for each person. Last year my mom really liked these spiced pear pomegranate crostinis so I made them again as an appetizer while lunch was still cooking.
The remainder of the Christmas menu included:
another appetizer: dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto (Zach's favorite)
2 main proteins: Ina Garten's herb roasted turkey and poppyseed chicken (that isn't pictured because it basically just looks like a casserole dish of crushed crackers haha This dish is beloved by my BIL Ian)
Sides: Sauteed skillet green beans, AIP scalloped sweet potatoes (requested by Allie), broccoli salad (which my dad loves and used to be prepared by my sister at Thanksgiving), GF biscuits and regular rolls.
2 desserts: Chocolate brownie trifle and Paleo blueberry crisp
This gluten free trifle recipe I made up was insanely decadent and so good. Everyone loved it! The layers are gluten free/dairy free brownies (King Arthur mix previously mentioned), crushed Glutino chocolate cookies (basically gluten free, dairy free Oreos), Martha Stewart's homemade chocolate mousse with mini chocolate chips, and homemade whipped cream.
I mean... SO GOOD. 
After the lunch feast was done, so was I! All my prepping and cooking was now complete so I could finally rest! In my opinion, the best way to spend Christmas afternoon is lying on the couch rewatching Season 2, Episode 9 of Downton Abbey so that's exactly what I did. :)
The following day, after dropping Allie off in Alabama to spend a little time with her mom's family, Zach and I had little spontaneous date day in the ATL. We stopped by Revelator so he could get coffee and I tried a new (and local!) kombucha.
Afterwards we went to Bar Taco for some lunch. So blessed to get to spend my days with that cute guy right there!
This was such a treat for me since I LOVE Bar Taco, but never get to eat tacos anymore since some of the ingredients are not AIP friendly. I am obsessed with their Bar Taco salad. I could literally eat it everyday and never grow tired of it. It's just so fresh.
On Wednesday we headed up to Charlotte so I could see my holistic doctor for a check-up. Visits to Charlotte always mean time with the Carson family! These folks are like actual family to us and I just love that the kids call us Aunt Shelly and Uncle Zach. :)

My big AG (Anna Grace) showing us her mastered skills on a two-wheeler. We've known this sweetie since she was 4 months old and I just adore her. We spent a good part of our time together building the Beauty and the Beast castle out of legos. :)
 Carson Baby #2, sweet Caleb. This guy is usually all smiles and loves to pretend to be King Peter from The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe!
 #3. Emily, the wild woman. She is super spunky and strong-willed. :)

 I love to watch her ride her "rollercoaster" in the backyard. It's seriously hilarious.
 And last, but certainly not least - Joshua. We got to meet this sweet baby for the first time and he is just a gem.
 He also really likes Uncle Zach and smiles at him constantly!

 Even though our trip was short, we had such a great time catching up with our friends in the Queen City and remembering the treasured years we lived there.

Unfortunately, not long after arriving back home Zach got a stomach bug. :( And then I got it the next day which just happened to be New Years Eve. :( :( :( Needless to say it was a VERY uneventful new years haha since I spent almost all of it in bed. No yummy treats for us, just lots of pear ginger tea,
 probiotics, and essential oils to try and remedy the illness.
Although our new years (and the following few days) were pretty miserable, Zach and I both felt so grateful for the time we had together, even though we were both lying in the fetal position on the sofa. HAHA I didn't get half the things done I had planned to over the holiday break, but that's ok. Sometimes things don't go according to plan. More than anything, I just want to be able to enjoy the present moments that are given to me and savor the time with my family even if things aren't going perfectly. That's my word for 2017 - savor, and I'm hoping to really treasure all 365 days no matter what comes. Cheers to 2017 everyone! Hope your year is off to a fabulous start. :)