Christmas 2013

drew and me

The last few weeks of 2013 were quite busy for us!  So much so that I am just now getting around to blogging a recap of the holidays.  As usual, Drew and I traveled to Kentucky to spend time with both sides of the family.  Even though we both still had to check in with work every so often, it was extremely refreshing to have almost 2 weeks physically out of the office.  Spending time with family is definitely one of our top priorities, and while Atlanta is still a 6 hour drive from both of our families, we definitely were able to do so this Christmas.

canton xmas

Before heading to Kentucky, we celebrated Christmas, as well as several birthdays, with the Georgia relatives.  Then we headed to Louisville to spend the weekend with Nanny and Granddaddy.  Nanny and Granddaddy’s house is always so cozy during the holidays, and I felt honored to help them decorate this year and hear about their past family traditions.  We were also able to organize a cousins’ breakfast one morning, which was so much fun and will hopefully be a new annual holiday tradition.  The family is constantly growing, with new babies and upcoming weddings, so it was wonderful to have everyone be in the same place at once.

louisville xmas

cousins breakfast

Next up, an afternoon in Shepherdsville with my Mom’s family.  Just when we thought we’d eaten all we could at Nanny and Granddaddy’s house, more great food to enjoy! My Mom was born on Christmas Day, so we celebrated her birthday as well.  That evening we headed to Fort Mitchell, where we would spend the next few days with my parents.  Over Thanksgiving, I had mentioned briefly to Mom and Dad how much I loved baking, decorating–and then eating–gingerbread men.  To me, recreating memories is just as fun as establishing new ones.

shep xmas 2

4 on couch

gingerbread mom and me

There was a light dusting of snow on Christmas Eve…I’d been hoping for a White Christmas but I wasn’t going to complain about some flurries a day early! It hasn’t snowed in Atlanta since we’ve lived there, but I can always count on Kentucky to give me my fill :)

snow

Our final leg of traveling was a stop in Owensboro to visit Drew’s parents.  We spent most of the weekend trying to keep warm, staying in to watch movies and (surprise!) eat more delicious food.  The following Sunday we headed back home to Atlanta, feeling relaxed and refreshed.  Visits with family are always so special; they give me renewed energy and perspective.  Drew and I always feel so lucky to have the amazing, loving family that we do, but we always are reminded of just how blessed we are during the holidays.  While it was hard to say goodbye to everyone, as well as closing the chapter on another year, we know that 2014 will be a great year!

oboro xmas

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree(s)

nannytree1

nannytree2

Toward the end of our Thanksgiving travels in Kentucky, we stopped in Louisville to spend some time with Nanny and Granddaddy.  Drew had mentioned wanting to help them get the house ready for Christmas and I couldn’t wait to help Nanny go through all the decorations she’s collected over the years – everything has a story.  While Drew went out to run some errands with his grandfather, Nanny and I made our way to the basement to pull out the ornaments, stockings and other decorations. She pulled out one of the stockings that she used for Drew when he was growing up – apparently all the grandchildren had the same patterned stocking but they would tell the boys’ ones apart by the stitched “UK” letters at the top. She gave it to us to take back home and it’s now hanging from the middle of our mantle.

ourmantle
Friday night, after decorating the tree with as many ornaments as it would hold, we all gathered around the dinner table for Thanksgiving leftovers, which I’d stand to argue taste even better than the day-of.  We brought leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner up in Fort Mitchell, but silly us, of course they were stocked with some of their own! If there’s one thing both of our families can do equally well, it’s cook.  We definitely had ourselves a feast.

ourtree1

We headed back to Atlanta the next morning and, inspired by Nanny and Granddaddy’s tree, decided to go out and get our own the following day. Now that we have a house, we’re able to get a much larger tree than when we were still living in the apartment. I think this one is double in size! Every night, as soon as I get home from work, I’ll plug in the lights and just stare at the tree while cozying up on the couch. Each time I seem to find an ornament I forgot we had.  I think I’m going to try to convince Drew to let me leave it up until well into January…wish me luck! ;-)

A Very Thankful Thanksgiving

Drew and I have so much to be thankful for this year.  We both have jobs that not only pay the bills, but we truly enjoy them (99% of the time!)  We have a large network of family and friends that loves and supports us, our dream home, and overall health and happiness.  I often find Thanksgiving as a time of reflection, as I’m sure most of us do.  While this year has not been without its difficult times and emotional roller coasters, our blessings far outweigh the bad.

fireplace pic

Last Tuesday, we headed to Kentucky to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents and extended family.  While traffic wasn’t bad, it rained pretty much the entire way.  Theo had fun playing in the snow and even though I’d much prefer it closer to Christmas, I can’t argue that it looks beautiful.  Drew and I made the famous chocolate ganache praline cake, which is no doubt a labor of love.  We actually had to make the ganache twice since the chocolate hardened too quickly the first time.  It takes about three hours from start to finish, but one bite and it all becomes worth it.

us by the cake

It’s hard to pick a favorite Thanksgiving dish; everything is delicious and holds its own unique memories.  My Dad’s deep-fried turkey is always a hit, and my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe hasn’t been tampered with for generations.  We have our twists on traditional favorites (oyster stuffing anyone?!) but definitely serve the usual suspects – sweet potato casserole, rolls and pecan pie.

the bird

After dinner, we always gather in the family room to watch football and let our stomachs settle before it’s time for dessert.  At least 3 or 4 people end up falling asleep, whether on the couch or sprawled out on the floor.  While I don’t brave the crowds and venture out on Black Friday, it’s fun to still pick through the ads.  But what’s even more fun? Sleeping in the next day and then eating a slice of cake for breakfast.

cousins

With this being the last year that my parents will be living in Northern Kentucky, the week was a little bittersweet.  We may very well be eating turkey on the beach next year, or Drew and I may even offer to host.  That being said, I made extra sure to take in all the traditions and memories: making Uncle Doug’s fruit salad, eating lasagna the night before, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over breakfast, looking for the turkey coloring contest in the paper, pre-Turkey day spinning class with Mom, grabbing “just one more” slice of cake at 8 p.m.  Wherever we celebrate Thanksgiving next year, no doubt we will once again be counting our blessings.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

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As of late, we’ve had several back-to-back weekends full of, well, nothing.  Sure, we’ve gotten out and about and done things, but we haven’t had schedule full of to-do’s or traveling.  Of course all that is about to change this coming week as we head to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, but we’ve had several leisurely weekends at home.  Two Saturdays ago we got up early to hike up Kennesaw Mountain.  It had been a little over two years since the first time we went, hiking to the top for a lunch picnic with several other couples.  This time it was just the two of us and we stopped at a quaint little coffee shop along the way to pick up coffee and breakfast.  The view at the top is worth the short hike up and the Atlanta skyline is just beautiful.  Like I said in my previous post, I have definitely taken a new liking to Fall.

fall decor

We’ve had a lot of fun decorating our home for the Fall season.  It’s also been fun to take our time adding things here and there, like hanging up the gold window treatments in the dining room and finding new pillows for the couch.  I think I’ve been to TJ Maxx more times in the past two months than I ever have in my entire life.  This past Tuesday night, I headed to a friend’s house for a girls’ night full of laughter, hot soup, and crafting.  Several of us made wreaths and though I thought I could hold out hanging ours until after Thanksgiving, I just couldn’t wait.  Yes, I am one of those people that post-Halloween, I crank up the Michael Buble Christmas music on Pandora.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving (if you’ve seen the incredibly spread at my parent’s house, what’s not to love?), but as soon as November 29th rolls around, I am in full blown Christmas mode.

wreath

That being said, I’m using this post as an opportunity to hold myself accountable for being content and grateful throughout the holiday season.  I want relax and soak it all in, rather than spinning my wheels in anticipation of what is still left to be done.  It’s no fun wishing away the magic of the season, in hopes that it may arrive a bit quicker.  We’ve spent the last several weeks at church diving into what it means to intentionally seek out rest.  It almost seems like a contradiction to talk about during this time of year, but perhaps this is when we need it most.  I plan to journal each and every day, noting everything from the mundane and ordinary to the extraordinary.  Too many days go by where I try to remember what happened that day, only to forget or have one day run into the next.  By giving each day its own celebration, I think the season overall will be much, much richer.

Falling in Love with Fall

pumpkins

I have long said, “If it could be 80 degrees and sunny year round, I would be a happy camper.”  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the summer months and detested the cold, bitter winter.  However, now that I’m older, I’m finally starting to appreciate Fall.  I used to sulk for the first day in September or October where I’d have to grab a jacket before heading outside.  But when the temperature dropped a few weeks ago, quite a bit earlier than it has the past couple years in Atlanta, I was ready.  There are far too many great things that come with the changing of the season…

Leaves changing colors.  Pumpkin everything.  The red cups at Starbucks are back!  Warm cardigans and cable-knit sweaters.  Halloween.  Apple cider.  Thanksgiving.  Deep fried turkey.  The sound leaves make crunching under my shoes during my early morning runs.  Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.  Carving pumpkins.  Early Christmas shopping.  Holiday office parties.  Fall baking.  Holiday displays in all the stores.  Decorating our home for Fall.  Fuzzy slippers.  Curling up by the fireplace with a good book.  The list goes on.

fallrunning

Fall is my favorite season for running. All the changing leaves are so beautiful!

This past week was Halloween, and I was so excited to finally be able to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  It was just something we just didn’t get to do living in an apartment complex.  Also, you know you’re becoming a real adult when you balk at the price of candy.  I literally stood in the aisle at Kroger for a good ten minutes, wondering how in the world I was spending over $20 on two bags of candy that little fairies, ghosts and goblins would gobble up in seconds.  Thankfully we didn’t run out, and I would stand to argue that I actually had more fun than the trick-or-treaters, “oohing” and “aahing” at all the cute costumes and waving at all the families from our front porch rocking chairs.  It’s definitely a tradition I’m excited to continue for years to come.

pumpkin cookies

Iced pumpkin sugar cookies, just one of our many traditions this time of year.

Not a surprise that another one of my favorite things about Fall is baking.  There’s just something incredibly comforting about the flavors of Fall–pumpkin, cranberry, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.  I also have a lot of childhood memories of days spent in the kitchen with my Mom and grandmothers, wearing aprons too big for me and getting more flour in my hair and clothes than in the mixing bowl.  Today, whenever I make something that reminds me of a family recipe, I’ll take a picture and text it to my Mom and it feels like we’re back in the same kitchen, baking and laughing together.

My Mom’s harvest pumpkin loaf is one of my favorite things she bakes.  I always look forward to it this time of year.  Since I won’t be able to have any until we visit over Thanksgiving, I decided to try making my own version.  It’s a bit different than hers–I added cranberries and left out the nuts and glaze topping–but it smells and looks just as good!

bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Chocolate Chip Quick Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground gloves
1 container vanilla or pumpkin-flavored yogurt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×5 baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Once even combined, stir in cranberries then chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Mom’s Visit to Atlanta

mom and me

Blue shirts, blue house. We take matching seriously in this family.

This past weekend was one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating weekends I’ve had in a long time.  We had a busy summer full of weddings and a family vacation, and even now that we’re traveling less, we’ve still been very busy lately getting settled into our home.  My Mom paid us a visit, arriving last Friday and staying through the weekend…our first overnight house guest!

The rocking chairs are the perfect addition to our porch...thanks Mom & Dad!

The rocking chairs are the perfect addition to our porch…thanks Mom & Dad!

It was nice not to have a set “agenda” for the weekend.  Back when Drew’s or my parents would come to visit when we were still living in the apartment, we would try to pack our schedule with lots of things to see and do, just so we wouldn’t be all crammed in a small space.  Now, it’s nice to relax on the front porch, go for a walk around the neighborhood, and cook a delicious dinner…or do nothing at all.  One of my favorite memories of visiting my parents during my college years were the late nights we’d spend curled up on the couch, talking for hours.  Years later, nothing has changed.

Mom love her granddog grandchild

Mom loves her grand-dog grandchild

Shortly after Mom arrived on Friday night, we went to Miller Union for dinner.  I’d been once before for a work dinner, but this was Drew’s and Mom’s first time.  The atmosphere is very lively but classic, and I could definitely see Drew and I going back sometime soon for a date night, or to just sit at the bar and watch the bartenders make cocktails from scratch.  We all enjoyed our dinner but the highlight of the evening was definitely dessert (duh).

Homemade s'mores with cherry cordial ice cream, and chocolate truffle cake with black pepper ice cream.

Black pepper ice cream…sounds strange. Verdict? Surprisingly delicious.

The weather was perfect all weekend long and we spent the majority of Saturday walking around Atlantic Station, and exploring shops on the Westside.  We didn’t even go back to Midtown, our old stomping grounds.  That’s one of my favorite things about Atlanta: there are numerous neighborhoods to explore and each pocket has its own charm and hidden gems.  Even though Miller Union was delicious, the two dinners we cooked at the house were just as tasty.  We made cajun shrimp pasta and toasted Drew’s homemade bread.  Mom picked up a bottle of red wine for us at a wine shop earlier in the day which accompanied the meal perfectly.  Sunday night we grilled veggies, chicken and salmon, and Mom made brownies for dessert.  Drew has definitely become a pro at using the grill!

us cooking

pasta dinner

The weekend ended far too soon, as it always does when you have friends or family visiting.  It was just the quality time I needed until I’m able to see everyone again during Thanksgiving…the holidays will be here before we know it!  And every time I sit in one of our porch rocking chairs (my parents’ housewarming gift to us), I’ll think of them.  Drew’s grandparents and parents will also be visiting in the coming weeks, so we’re looking forward to playing hosts again very soon.

Getting Settled

chalkboard

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in our new home for almost 3 weeks now…it still doesn’t seem real! Drew and I will catch each other looking gawking  around all the rooms, waiting to be woken up from this dream.  That being said, we are pretty much settled in – no moving boxes still lying around or odds and ends that still need a home.  I think we both wanted to make the house as live-able as possible from the very beginning…plus, it’s not like we had a ton of stuff moving from a one bedroom apartment.  No doubt moving day went as smoothly as it did thanks to help from our amazing group of friends.  From start to finish, it took less than 3 hours to have everything moved from our apartment into the house.  Offer people free beer and pizza and it’s amazing what can be accomplished ;-)

living room

We’ve been on several shopping excursions, buying things like rugs, bar stools and (finally!) a KitchenAid…things we just didn’t bother with while we were living in the apartment, either from lack of space or because we knew we wouldn’t be living there forever.  The house is really starting to come along now that we’ve been able to put our own “spin” on it…it was beautiful and move-in ready before, but it’s amazing how a simple area rug and a few decorative touches can really pull a room together.  We’ve had several get-togethers already as well, including hosting house church and a housewarming party.

dining room1

The best part of being a homeowner?  Besides having almost 3x the space, it’s like a whole new adventure for us.  There were things that just weren’t possibly (or at least not in a fun way) where we used to live.  Cooking in our new kitchen is an entirely new experience; we’re no longer tripping over each other or running out of room while preparing dinner.  I’ve already put the KitchenAid to work (cookie recipe coming soon!), and I’m loving cooking on a gas stove.  We’ve taken Theo on walks around the neighborhood, met several neighbors, and enjoyed evenings relaxing on the porch.  It definitely probably sounds silly, but I get a real kick out of walking to our very own mailbox.  Forget about the one morning that I set off our security system (at least we now know it works!), and it’s been a very easy transition.

kitchen

My Mom is coming to stay with us this weekend and I can’t wait for her to see the house.  I’ve sent her plenty of pictures, and she probably would say that I talk about it way too much already, but I’m excited for her to see it in person.  Drew’s parents will be visiting a few weeks later, and I know they too can’t wait to check out our new place.  Even though we’re both grown adults, Drew and I definitely value our parents’ opinions and sought advice from all of them throughout the house buying process.  No doubt we wouldn’t be in this life stage without their love and support.

Oh, and Theo seems to be settling in just fine, in case anyone was wondering…

theo