Saturday, December 27, 2014

Breaking Tradition

Mama C's backyard in Rose Hill on Christmas Day

Most of us who celebrated Christmas have special memories of Christmases past-- whether it's baking cookies with your family, tearing open presents on Christmas morning, going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, or sharing a meal with all of your loved ones at the same dinner table.  My memories include lots of cooking with my mom and Grandma on Christmas Eve, packing ourselves into the car to go to Christmas Eve service, racing home to eat an Italian meal for Christmas Eve, and all of the kids rushing to help the adults clean up so we can get to the present-opening.  We always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve and then did Santa gifts on Christmas morning.  I remember my brother and sister organizing all of the gifts into piles in the living room and everyone picking out who would go first and which gift to open first.

Christmas this year has been a little different.  My grandmother passed away in June after a battle with breast cancer that spanned almost my entire lifetime, and none of us knew what Christmas would look like this year in light of that.  My mom and sister decided to go to the Florida Keys with my grandpa-- something he and my grandmother always wanted to do together.  This also marked the first married Christmas for Scott and I which meant trying to figure out how to split ourselves between two divorced families so that we could see everyone.

I must say, I think that things have worked out in such a lovely way for our holiday, and though we are not necessarily creating new traditions, we're allowing ourselves to be open to new experiences together for Christmas.  One thing we did this year that was very different for us was deciding not to stay with anyone at their house for the holidays.  We have been staying at Scott's family's beach house in Kure Beach, and it has been just as relaxing as I had hoped it would be.  It has been a little time consuming traveling into town to see family and friends, but it's been worth it to not have to unpack and repack every night to sleep somewhere new.

And while we did break my family's traditions, we still participated in those of Scott's family.  We went to his aunt's house for Christmas Eve dinner after my flight arrived in Wilmington (hello to being awake for 36 hours straight!) and we went to Mama C's in Rose Hill where we got married for Christmas lunch.  I usually don't get the opportunity to see my dad on Christmas, but we started the day with breakfast at his house and gift exchanging after mimosas and breakfast.

This has also been the first year in my life when I genuinely have not cared about Christmas gifts.  I have cared in the sense that I have really loved picking out other people's and putting thought into something truly from the heart, but I have not hardly thought about what I would want for myself.  I have been so appreciative of the things people have given to me, but I have enjoyed time with family so much that the gifts are just the added bonus, not the sole thing that I think about.  I think this just comes with getting older too, but I can remember Christmases where I was so so excited to get a gift that I barely even realized how important time with family was.  It's something I especially reflect on with the recent death of my grandmother.  Oh, how I wish I had spent more time in the kitchen helping her cook meals, or more time watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune with her and my grandpa every night when they visited.  Instead of living in regret, I'm thankful for the time I could spend with her and using that as motivation to spend quality time with the people that are still present.

So this year has been one for breaking tradition and living intentionally.  It's been about being thankful for the relationships that God has helped to develop and strengthen, and it's been about living in the present instead of always anticipating the future or being tied down by past regrets.  I am thankful for the mercy and grace of Jesus, and for the constant way he reminds me of His presence in my life.

I hope that your holiday season has been a blessed one filled with new memories and traditions and people around your table.  And I hope that as the new year approaches, that you reflect on this past one and think about what your prayer is for the year to come.  I always pick a word to live out each year instead of doing a New Year's resolution, and so far I'm still praying about my word.

Lots of love and blessings to you and your families.  I may get one more post in before 2015, but if not, I will see you in the new year!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Italian Honeymooners: Portofino & Santa Margherita Ligure

I'm supposed to be cleaning today.  Or sleeping.  Or cooking.  Or packing and repacking my carry-on bag.  But instead, I'm writing and drinking coffee.  A pine scented candle is lit nearby, my Christmas tree is on even though it's broad daylight, and I'm enjoying my afternoon before I head in for three more nights at work.  I've been feeling under the weather for the past few days but isolated myself yesterday, slept in today, and am feeling like I will be good to go for work and Christmas celebrations this week.

I've decided that it's finally time to share our honeymoon adventures with you.  It's been about 6 months since we honeymooned to Italy, and I realized that I've only shared little bits and pieces with you.  I think it's time to tell the whole story.  I'll probably have to spread these out into a series of posts to avoid overwhelming you with too much all at once.  Today I'll tell you about the first places we visited and maybe my favorite parts of our trip-- to Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure.  If ever you have the opportunity to hop on a place to Italy, do not miss these towns.  I almost included the Cinque Terre region in this post but decided that it needed its own special post, so more to come on that later (that may be my ACTUAL favorite place in Italy so far.  But Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure are awesome beachy places to visit, and very quaint).

We'll start with travel.  Scott and I decided to take an overnight flight to Italy, thinking we would sleep on the flight there and be ready to go when we arrived in Milan at 10AM.  I slept for maybe 1 hour of the flight, Scott might have slept a little more than that.  When we arrived in Milan, I had been told a bus would be outside for us to hop on to take to the train station.  We never intended to stay in Milan; I had been in high school and found nothing Italian or special about Milan.  It felt like any other big city to me, and on our honeymoon, we wanted something with Italian charm.  There was no bus waiting outside, and I knew we had to get to the train station quickly to avoid missing our train.  After awkward pointing and smiling at the Italian help desk, we made our way to the train station below the airport to catch an express train to Milano Centrale, the city's main train station.

After arriving at Milano Centrale, we had an extremely frustrating experience (which is now hilarious) trying to print our tickets and find our train.  We ended up having to run to catch our train, only to find we were on the train to Geneva Switzerland instead of Genova, Italy.  With 2 minutes to spare, we ran faster than either of us had ever run to catch the train on the opposite end of the station.  As soon as our feet landed on the train, it started moving.  We then rode the train for about 3 hours feeling hot, exhausted, and hungry.  There was no air conditioning, no food cart (which had been promised), and we were both too on edge to fall asleep or speak.  Great start to a honeymoon, right?

In any case, we arrived at our hotel (which we LOVED.  Hotel Jolanda, for anyone interested in visiting), took a quick nap, and freshened up for our bike ride to Portofino.  We stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure but used the hotel's free bikes to bike the 25 minutes to Portofino.  Most terrifying bike ride of my life, to be honest.  We were on these windy Italian roads where Vespas were zooming by and small Fiats maneuvered around us.  I was a little bit scared for my life.

We arrived at the main bay at Portofino where we ate gelato, walked around, and ate pizza (gelato came before pizza.  We decided gelato could be had at any time of the day).  I LOVED Portofino and would totally go back.  It is so adorable.  Santa Margherita Ligure was also very adorable-- both are busy fishing towns, but have amazing night life.  We were too tired for that so we ate more gelato, walked around the coast of Santa Margherita Ligure, and rode our bikes back to the hotel to head to bed.

The next morning, we had an INCREDIBLE breakfast that was included in our stay.  Italians do awesome pastry breakfasts with nutella and jams and cheeses.  Oh my.  I'm drooling just thinking about this breakfast again.  And the coffee.  Oh, the coffee.  Not like American coffee, but equally delicious.

We spent the day at the beach before we headed to Cinque Terre that night.  The beach was interesting, you'll see in pictures below that it's actually made of gravel and rocks instead of sand.  It was so lovely and different, and maybe not the Turks and Caicos beach that I always dreamed of for our honeymoon, but entirely lovely in its own way.  This part of the trip was our compromise-- I wanted the beach honeymoon and Scott wanted to travel far.  We chose Italy because we knew we could get both there.  Portofino, Santa Magherita Ligure, and Cinque Terre were on my "must-have" list so I could feel like we had a beach honeymoon.  I think Scott ended up enjoying them VERY much.  We are small town people, even though we live in a big city right now.  At heart, we love the quaintness of small towns.  These places were dreamy for us.

I think that's all I'll type for now.  The rest I'll just tell in pictures.  Hope I didn't bore you too much, and please please go to these places if you ever go to Italy.

Santa Margherita coast on our bike ride

Our ride for the night on our way to Portofino

Our first Italian gelato in Portofino!

   Stairs leading to the Ligurian Sea 

Beach day!

Portofino's bay. Hello Italian Riviera

Santa Margherita Ligure

Restaurant in Santa Margherita-- great seafood pasta dishes!

Santa Margherita at sunset

Continental breakfast at Hotel Jolanda

Had to stop on our bike ride to Portofino for this shot. So pretty

Train tables.  I think by the end we finally understood them

Portofino's bay

View from our hotel

My ride again

Portofino Bay again

Beautiful house, maybe we'll live here someday?


Italian beaches

Loved this bike ride.  This was my happy place


Wandering the streets in Santa Margherita Ligure

Happy Sunday, friends.  Hope your week ahead is a good one and that you find joy in the holiday season.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mama C's

Rose Hill, NC. Mama C's House

I'm three night shifts out from hopping on a plane back to Wilmington, North Carolina to be with Scott and his family for our first married Christmas, and I'm ever so thankful for the blending of our families this year and how we are sharing time with all of the different people we love so much from each part of our family.  

After spending last week at home and flying back to work a few shifts, I've had time to reflect on things that have been really special to me this year.  I've also been listening to a lot of country music over the past couple of weeks, which I typically reserve for summertime listening, but for some reason it's been comforting lately.  Sometimes I think I'd like to live in a country song.  I listen and I feel like I'm experiencing life a little slower and a little sweeter, just how I always like it.

Mama C's house is a place where life is a little slower and a little sweeter, too.  Mama C is Scott's grandmother on his mom's side of the family, and she's one of the loveliest ladies you'll ever meet.  Many of you already know that Scott and I got married at her house in Rose Hill, North Carolina back in April.  Sometimes I can hardly believe our wedding was there.  Every time I drive back down her oak-lined driveway, I'm flooded with memories of our wedding day.  I think of the hours spent putting together our centerpieces and arranging flowers in Mama C's mudroom.  I remember Uncle Nash pulling up with a truck filled with hay bales that he and some of his children helped unload and place throughout Mama C's yard.  And I remember peering out of the upstairs window to look out at all of our family and friends gathered in the front yard under my favorite oak tree, feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.  

So last week when we stopped off of I40 to say hello to Mama C on our way to Wilmington, I felt all of these things.  As we drove down her driveway, I looked up at the live oaks and could feel all of the stresses that have been weighing me down lately falling off of me.  I left them there at Mama C's, tangled in the web of oak trees that line her driveway.  I looked to my left and saw the spot where I stood and vowed to do life forever with Scott as my husband.  We sat in Mama C's kitchen that afternoon nibbling on fruitcake as we looked out at the pond in her backyard, and I just felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.  The things I was so bogged down by in Indy were taken from me, and life slowed down to a pace that allowed me to finally breathe again.  I felt my shoulders relax, the tightness and tenseness in my back fell away.  And I laughed, maybe harder than I had laughed in a really long time.  

I'm going back to Mama C's in a few short days to spend Christmas with this part of the family, and I really can hardly wait.  It's a place where I dream and laugh and sip sweet tea, where worry and fear are not welcome.  I need this again.  I've already accumulated new stresses and burdens that I can't wait to deposit in the oak trees, and my lungs need that fresh air that comes only with country living.  

Have you heard the song "Meanwhile Back at Mama's" by Tim McGraw? This song keeps coming on the radio and I cry almost every time I hear it; it reminds me so much of Mama C's and the simpleness that comes with life removed from a giant city.  Take a listen if you haven't, and if you can bare to swallow a little country music.  Can you believe that at one point of my life, I loathed everything about country music? It's my life blood now (maybe that's exaggerated.  You get my point, though).  

Do you have a place that surfaces these feelings in you? A safe haven? A solace, a happy place?  I hope that you do.  And I hope that you have the opportunity to go there often.  Someday, I want our home to be what Mama C's is to me now.  I want to feel that when I walk in the door and see a fluffy (if Scott will allow the fluff) dog racing towards me or when I see our little small people (better known as children to most) playing with their toys on the living room floor, and when we eat dinners together and when we pray together before bedtime.  

Lots of love,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life Lately

The anticipation of home. Wilmington, NC

Oh man.  It' been a good three weeks since I've written anything, and not for the lack of words but for lack of time!  We've been crazy busy since my last post, and the weeks ahead don't seem to be going much slower.  I was going to use my down time today to watch a movie, but Scott encouraged me to write or read, and I think this was wise.  My fingers are happy to be dancing on the keyboard again and my brain is so thankful for the respite that comes with writing.

When I had my old blog, Grace & Peace, I would sometimes write these little posts to jog my brain a little and reflect over what life has been like lately.  I think I'll do one of these again just because my brain is fuzzy from night shift and I don't know that I can coherently write much more than something in list-form today. Let's see how easy it is to pick up old habits again...

Studying for my Med/Surg certification exam.  Everyone says you don't have to study for this, but let's be real, I'm an overachiever at heart and couldn't dream of not cracking a book for this one.  Even though my unit is paying for the exam, it's a whole lot of money and I appreciate the opportunity to become certified too much to not study for the test.  Also, it's been a little bit fun for me.  I'm a lifetime student and miss school more than I probably should, so studying for this test feels a little bit like being in school.  It's been nice to study alongside Scott as he is taking his finals, and since we dated long distance for so many years, we never really did study dates together very often.

Reading blogs and articles online, but sadly no books or anything of real substance.  Until my Med/Surg exam is over, I don't really feel like I can justify reading for fun!  I am hoping that I'll be able to take the exam in January or February, but we'll know more once the approval comes in.  And after that test, oh the books!  I will be reading books like nobody's business.  Have any good recommendations? Ones I have wanted to read for a while include Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and Frances and Bernard.  I'm always looking for new recommendations though! Also, Shauna Niequist's new devotional comes out in March and I'm hoping to go to Chicago for the release of it-- anyone want to come?

Listening to jazzy Christmas music all day every day.  I've been proudly listening to Christmas music since November 1st and will continue until the end of this month.  Sometimes I continue into February. It's really ok.  I don't listen to the cheesy Christmas songs that are on the radio, but more of the Ella Fitzgerald kind of jazzy stuff, so it honestly doesn't always sound like traditional Christmas music and can thereby be listened to year round, right? Right??

Watching Property Brothers a lot with Scott.  We finished How I Met Your Mother and life hasn't been the same since.  Though, I did finally see the alternate ending and am SO happy I did.  I'm going to pretend that it is the real ending and that the one that aired on TV wasn't.  In January, Friends comes to Netflix, and though I have seen every episode multiple times thanks to my former roomies, I can't even wait.  I own a couple of seasons of Friends but have yet to reach the status of owning all of them.  Maybe someday...

Cooking lots of things!  Homemade granola bars (Ok.. that's baking...semantics), chicken enchilada casseroles, the MOST DELICIOUS burgers (I made them twice this week. TWICE), and BMALT sandwiches (bacon, mozzarella, avocado, lettuce, tomato.  YUM).  Want the burger recipe? So easy.  Basically take some ground beef and toss in a bowl.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning, squirt in about 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce, a couple of squirts of Worcestershire sauce, and a few squirts of low sodium soy sauce.  Mix all together and form into patties.  I can't get over the flavor.  They were the best burgers ever, and we ate them without buns so maybe they're sort of healthyish?

Missing my friends from home.  Whenever we visit home, family always takes priority, so I spend very little time in Chapel Hill with my old friends.  Most of my friends up here are work friends, and lately work feels like a high school popularity contest.  I'm noticing little cliques forming and hearing lots of gossip, and sometimes I feel like an 85 year old woman stuck in a 24 year old's body because I just don't quite fit in with people my age there.  I'd rather spend a Friday night reading a book with hot tea and a candle burning than going out or doing what other people my age might enjoy.  Sometimes at work I feel like the nerdy middle schooler with glasses and braces again who tries to be friends with people but just never quite fits in.  I think I'm hypersensitive to the subject of friends because all of my closest ones live so far away, and I'm learning that meeting new best friends is really hard.  I read this book last year called MWF Seeking BFF in which a girl who had just moved to Chicago committed to 1 year of "girl dates" to try to meet a new best friend in her new city.  It was a perfect read for me at the time because I knew about 3 people in Indianapolis and I found the book to be humorous but true. I think maybe I should reread this one, because one year later I'm still finding friendships to be challenging and hard to maintain and come by.  I could use the comic relief of how this girl went on blind girl dates for a year to make myself feel a little less desperate.  I have friends, don't get me wrong.  And I appreciate all of the ones I have made and all of the people who have shown such great kindness to me.  But I still crave the ones who will go to coffee with me to talk about books and Jesus and writing, or someone who will go on a 5 mile run with me and keep me laughing throughout so I don't even realize how far the distance really is (Oh, Shannon.  Please move here).  But I'm learning how to adapt to new friendships and new shared interests with people, it's just a process.

Wishing I could be on a normal work schedule.  Speaking of work... I just told my nurse manager that I would agree to being a charge nurse on our unit, which I'm quite excited about.  My fear with accepting this is that it will just dig me a bigger hole on night shift to where I won't be able to move to days.  I try not to complain too often about working nights, but if you've never done it, I don't know if I can quite explain the feeling to you.  Your relationships all feel so strained, you only sleep in the same bed as your spouse 4 nights a week, you are grumpy and tired and overly emotional and cry over things that normally would not upset you so much, and you feel so disconnected from the rest of the working world.  You eat poorly and have little energy to exercise or be active, and though people will say to you "But you only work three nights a week!" you realize that it's much more than that, as most of your days surrounding your shifts are spent trying to catch up on or get ahead on sleep.  Some people wear night shift well, but sadly I am not one of them.  I am making the best of what it is though and am so appreciative of the people I work with on nights.  Night shift on our floor is a pretty tight knit crew (despite my mention of the new cliques earlier) and we are known for teamwork and helping each other out.  I don't think we'd survive most shifts without that.

Enjoying days off when I can sit by my Christmas tree and stare at the penguin ornaments while watching The Holiday (my Christmas jam.  I watch this about eighty seven times over the holidays).  I'm still looking for more quiet and more time to read and write, but my hope is that it will come soon.

Writing this post and not much else!  My book hasn't been touched in about a month.  Perhaps after the holidays I can get back into it and set some new goals for writing.  I still have so many ideas for it but just haven't recommitted to the process yet.

Anticipating our trip home for the holidays, staying at the beach house instead of house hopping, running on the beach, spending time with all of our family, seeing my best friends, and snuggling with Gracie Lou.  This is our first married Christmas and it's already turning out to involve a lot of planning and coordinating of schedules, but I think it will be a good one!  I have had a lot of fun shopping for both of our families this year and putting together their gifts.  I think gift giving may be a love language of mine that I never quite unveiled earlier in life.  I don't like receiving gifts all that much, but giving them is something I adore.

And I think that's all for now friends.  Expect very little in the way of writing over the next few weeks-- I will write when there is time, but I am expecting very little of it!  We leave Friday for home and I fly back up here next Wednesday to work 6 shifts before going home AGAIN on Christmas Eve.  Whew, lots of travel! Lots of work.  But it's all for good reason-- to spend time with our families.  I hope you all enjoy the holiday season and that you are able to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  I know that this time of year can be so stressful and busy, but it an also be restful if you find your hope in the right places.

Lots of love and warm wishes. And Merry Christmas from our family to your's!