Home Sweet Home

Well it has been far too long since we last wrote, sorry about that!  As most of you know, we spent the first part of the summer visiting family, making moving plans, and just enjoying the land of the free!  It has been really good to be home.  Ben and I are now settled into our new place and absolutely loving it.  It would be hard not to love it though after three years in university accommodation!  Nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to show you our new place and mention some of my favorite details.

It was pretty fun moving into a place and getting to unpack all of our belongings for the first time in three years.  It felt like we were getting married all over again!  I have to say though, one of the things that God really changed in me while we were in Cambridge was my attachment to “stuff.”  I love stuff.  I love to decorate and entertain, and keep every special memento which means that it is very easy to accumulate.  There were times when Cambridge was really hard because we had so little, and yet the simplicity of life there changed me.  I loved having space.  I loved having empty drawers and cabinets that weren’t packed to the brim.  So as we moved into our new place, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had.

I counted eight spatulas.  Eight.  I have certainly never cooked with an octopus so it just seemed a tad excessive.  There was a point when I was unpacking our kitchen that I became overwhelmed as I was running out drawers and cabinets (granted, we don’t have many at all), and I just kept thinking, “what am I going to do with all this?”  I had never even used some of it.  So after we had opened every box, I started really looking at things and making “keep” and “give away” piles.  I had so looked forward to moving home, but I did not look forward to feeling like we were already bursting at the seams.  So we took about four boxes of stuff to goodwill and now I feel like we can breathe.  We have space.  Not every shelf is taken and not every drawer is filled.  It feels good.

So here is just a quick glance into our new home…

Entry way...I love the birds  :)

Entry way…I love the birds 🙂

I have my own couch again!!!!

I have my own couch again!!!!

My new dining room table...love, love, love!

My new dining room table…love, love, love!

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Hallway to the bathroom and bedroom...love all the colors in the house!

Hallway to the bathroom and bedroom…love all the colors in the house!

Very small bedroom but it works!

Very small bedroom but it works!

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Hands down my favorite thing is having a dishwasher again!

Hands down my favorite thing is having a dishwasher again!

Ben's little garden

Ben’s little garden

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We needed extra storage and Ben said he liked these wire racks...I was not a fan at first...now it is one of my favorite areas! Smart man that one!

We needed extra storage and Ben said he liked these wire racks…I was not a fan at first…now it is one of my favorite areas! Smart man that one!

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Farewell to Cambridge

It has been far too long since we have written on here and a lot has happened since our last entry.  It has been a very busy, intense two months, but things are finally starting to settle down for us.  Well, sort of.  Our time in Cambridge has just come to an end and now we are spending about a month with our families before we move to Chicago.  We are moving to Chicago as Ben will be starting a job at Moody Bible Institute in July which we are beyond excited about.  I will be starting my own wedding and event planning business so as you can imagine, I am pretty elated.  We are excited, but there is also a lot of change ahead of us.

Before I start looking forward though, I want to reflect on all that has taken place the last few months.  Our time in England was such a wonderful, unique time in our lives and I want to share some of the highlights of the last few months.  In no particular order, here they are…

1.  In April my mom decided to take a last-minute trip and come visit us before we left.  It was a whirlwind visit but it was incredible.  I wanted to show her everything, so we did from walks to Grantchester (even in the freezing cold wind!!), afternoon drinks with my girlfriends, walking around the colleges, a day trip to London,  and afternoon tea, we did it all!  We had such a great time and it was wonderful to just enjoy the city I love with my mom.

A couple of days before my mom came she decided that she wanted to also do a short trip to Italy so we spent about four days in Venice toward the end of her stay.  It was an amazing trip and we had so much fun together.  We laughed so hard my mom was bent over holding her stomach and couldn’t even walk!  We kept getting turned around in the canals and we just couldn’t stop giggling.  We enjoyed gelato, Italian opera, views from the bell tower, a gondola ride, and of course, tasty Italian food!  It was such a memorable trip and I am so glad I got to share it with my mom.  The only thing that would have topped it off would have been having my dad, brother, and sister-in-law there!

2.  For most of the last year, we had been praying about what to do when our time at Cambridge came to an end.  Graciously, the Lord answered our prayers – after teaching us many lessons in patience – and opened some exciting doors for future ministry.  Ben couldn’t be more excited to start his job at Moody.  Chicago is going to be a wonderful city to move to.  We feel incredibly blessed, and we can’t wait to start the next phase of our lives there.

3. We went out with friends to Wimpole Hall one day and it was one of the most relaxing afternoons I have had in months.  We sipped on hot chocolate, walked the gardens, escaped a hoard of mangy looking cows, and strolled through fields in the fading sun.  It was afternoon of fun as we posed for photos, played on the bridges and hiked to castle ruins.  The setting was gorgeous, but it was the people that made the afternoon so wonderful.  The Brock family along with Jack, Jess, and David never fail to keep me laughing.

4. One of the things that we have not really shared on our blog has been our desire to start a family.  Through our training in natural family planning, we have known ever since we got married that we may have some problems with getting pregnant.  When we moved to England we began trying to have a baby, but after two and half years the doctors in the NHS told us that we would not be able to conceive without surgery and in vitro fertilization.  No sooner had we received that depressing news than we found out that we were pregnant!  That’s the NHS for you (sorry British friends…you know it to be true).  We couldn’t wait to tell our families once we returned home, but sadly we lost the baby around 8 weeks and this was devastating for us.  We had a very difficult few weeks as we grieved the loss of our baby.  Nevertheless, the very fact that we were able to get pregnant has filled us with a hope that one day we will get pregnant and eventually hold a baby in our arms.

5. Another highlight for me was a girls weekend away in the Peak District.  Me and 10 of my girlfriends rented a house in a little village named Calver and we had such a great time!  It was a weekend filled with great conversations, painting our nails, an afternoon at Chatsworth House (where Pride and Prejudice was filmed), cooking amazing meals together, reading in front of a cozy fire, dancing in the kitchen, playing games, and just enjoying each other’s presence.  This weekend came after my miscarriage so it was exactly what I needed in terms of rest, laughter, talking, and great food!  I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend or more amazing friends.

6. Our lease ended in late April and so we were in need of a place to stay until we left on the 21st of May, and our Cambridge family came to the rescue!  We stayed with five different families during this month and we could not have been more blessed.  We were not only given a bed to sleep in, but we were provided meals, rides to and from here and there, a washer to do our laundry, and best of all, quality time with each family.  While it could have been a really stressful time, our friends made it a time of real blessing and encouragement.

7. Our last two weeks in Cambridge were amazing.  We were showered in love nearly every day.  We had two going away parties that were just incredible.  The first one was a surprise party where everyone was dressed in Victorian apparel and it was unforgettable!  Not only was everyone dressed in Jane Austen style clothing, but they provided us with matching attire!  There was a five course dinner to follow complete with menus, candelabras, and place cards with me and Ben’s silhouettes on them.  Like I said, it was an unforgetable evening.

We had another going away party that was in the Tyndale garden and this was another memorable evening.  The night was filled with all the things we love…burgers, an all chocolate dessert buffet, vases and jars filled with peonies (which is my favorite flower!!), and country music!  My favorite part of the night was once the sun went down and we sat around a fire eating smores.  It was such a sweet time of everyone just enjoying being together.

Our going away parties were so special, but we had a hundred other ways that we were blessed.  We received some of the most incredible gifts and we could not say thank you enough.  From gigantic Cadbury bars (and I mean GIGANTIC) to lovely bracelets, an underground sign with messages from our youth to a painting of me and Ben, a book of photos and notes from friends to a slide show of photos of Cambridge with music by Taylor Swift, we could not have felt more blessed. We felt so, so loved these last few weeks and it made it that much harder to leave.  Thank you to all our Cambridge friends.  When I say that you have been family to us these past few years, I mean that.  Leaving you all and this special time in our lives has been very difficult, but we are so thankful for the time we had with each and every one of you.

There are so many more highlights, but I will stop there for now as anyone who has read this far is probably now in need of stretching their legs!  Below are some photos from the last few months (sorry for how jumbled they are).  More will follow I am sure!!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party...don't they all look amazing?!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party…don’t they all look amazing?!

The whole group at Wimpole...even the family dog made it in the photo!

The whole group at Wimpole…even the family dog made it in the photo!

I love the Brock women. :)

I love the Brock women. 🙂

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Venice...so beautiful.

Venice…so beautiful.

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom laughing in Venice...how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Mom laughing in Venice…how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Amy...our resident chef for the weekend!

Amy…our resident chef for the weekend!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy's garden...so fetching!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy’s garden…so fetching!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District...so fun!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District…so fun!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

I love these girls :)

I love these girls 🙂

The guys playing it cool

The guys playing it cool

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy making her first smore

Amy making her first smore


Birthday Surprise!

I forgot to post this a few months ago…better late than never, right?!

For those of you that don’t know, birthdays are a very big deal to me.  Growing up in my family birthdays were always something to look forward to.  If my birthday fell on a school day, my parents would always send a large bouquet of balloons or yellow roses.  I would be loaded with cards, flowers, balloons and gifts, and let’s be honest, I absolutely loved this.  Birthdays were always fun celebrations of love and laughter and I came to cherish each and every one.

As an adult I find it a little more embarrassing to be as openly excited about birthdays, but the truth always slips out.  I just can’t contain the joy that overcomes me when birthdays are near!  This year, the day before my birthday at our Bible study, I was surprised with the most amazing birthday cake ever.  I mean ever.  It was a tribute to America and me and I loved every bit of it (including the person who made it!!).  Everyone at my work knows how much I love birthdays so they did an amazing job of decorating my desk in the craziest way possible.  There were decorations everywhere, cards on my desk, a beautiful bouquet of roses, and a nice big gift!  I was ecstatic.

Another reason I love birthdays aside from all the attention you get, is I adore surprises.  With that being said, I am a fairly difficult person to surprise because I am always thinking of how people could surprise me!  You can imagine my delight when Ben took me out to a nice romantic dinner and all my girlfriends were there to surprise me!  Ben kissed my cheek and left us girls to enjoy a nice night out together.  We enjoyed tasty Italian food and good conversation.

The last surprise for my birthday came a few days later.  Ben had asked all of my Cambridge friends to write limericks (I had to have him clarify exactly what kind of poem this was!) about me and the past year.  There were 29 of them and each one was made up (for the most part) of 29 syllables.  They were amazing.  Some had me crying, others had me smiling, and some had me rolling with laughter (Jackie!!).  Ben put them all together in this great book that had photos of my friends and favorite memories from my 28th year.  This is a gift I will always treasure.  I thought I would share one of my favorite limericks with you since so many of you won’t have the opportunity to see it anytime soon.  I hope you enjoy!

The Surprise by Ben Wilson
She flew across the ocean,
holding this crazy notion:
To home she goes,
but no one knows-
this might cause some commotion!

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The Grueling Crawl to the Finish

I’ve had a workable draft of my PhD thesis finished since this past summer.  All the basic ideas were in place.  I had to cut down some words, clean up some errors, and make some of the language more consistent.  But the essence of the argument was in place.

I found the process of formulating the argument to be an exciting, fun experience.  I was grappling with new ideas, thinking things through to their logical conclusion, and trying to draw connections between ideas.  That’s the fun part of working on original research.

The less fun part comes at the final stages of the PhD.  Since this summer, I have worked through my thesis over and over and over.  That’s probably not enough ‘overs’.  Each time I’m making things a little more precise, trying to remove every element that reflects fuzzy thinking.  Then I take what I have to my supervisor, and he points out a few more places where I can make things just a little bit better.

Realistically, all of these revisions are the difference between low def and hi def, DVD vs BLURAY.  The story is going to be the same, but hopefully everything is just a little more clear.  At least that’s what I hope.  Sometimes it feels like I have been buried in this work for so long that it has become impossible to tell how it would come across to someone picking it up for the first time.

I’m incredibly grateful for Dr Gathercole’s dedication and attentiveness to my work, and all of his feedback is definitely helping me take my work to a new level.  It’s sort of like working with a personal trainer.  He’s pushing me to a level of critical writing that I probably would not push myself.

At the same time, this work is not especially exhilarating.  It’s the grueling process of figuring out how to state each and every little idea in the clearest way possible.  For the first time in the course of my PhD, I just want this book to be over and done with.  I have other things I’d like to think about; there are new ideas I’d like to explore and develop.

When is a book ever really done?  You could work on revisions forever.    At some point, though, the revisions have to stop.

I think that the end of the PhD process is about refining your critical thinking and writing, on the one hand, and learning to make peace with the provisional nature of all human reflection, on the other.  I know that in 5 years there will be things about this thesis that I would definitely state differently.  Still, I’m going to be happy with what I produce whenever I submit this thesis in April, and it will stand as a record of this stage in my growth as a writer and theologian.  That has its own value, and I’ll leave it to someone else to carry on the discussion after me.


Keep Your Distance!

I am not an especially clutzy person.  I have my moments of clumsiness, but overall, I am not too bad.  But this week….this week I can only be described as a walking catastrophe.

On Friday night I went to stay the night with my friend Courtney.  We had a great night of junk food, movies, and Gilmore Girls.  The change in my luck didn’t start until the wee hours of the morning.  In the middle of the night I got up to go to the bathroom.  I had been trying out this adorable eye mask that Courtney made for me, so when I got up I pushed it up on my head so I could navigate the unfamiliar bedroom.  I was walking back to the bed and just about to get in as I reached up to put the eye mask over my face, when my arm and my face slammed into the eave that was on my side of the bed.

I cried out and stumbled into the bed.  Courtney was instantly awake and her slumbering dogs were now at my side ensuring I was ok.  I rubbed my face as I laughed at my clumsiness.  I had said earlier in the night that those eaves were going to be treacherous in the night…how right I was.

My next moment of misfortune happened only hours later.  We had slept in, but eventually we made a plan for the day.  We were headed to the base for some shopping and Taco Bell deliciousness.  I had just finished getting ready and was headed down stairs when my foot caught the edge of the top stair.  My feet flew out from underneath me and my bum and back slammed into the staircase.  I was holding the railing which only made me flip sideways as I crashed down the stairs.  Not only did my holding the railing turn me around, but it meant that all the muscles on my left side were jerked and twisted as I tumbled down.  I lost my grip as the pain tore down my arm and my side, and I hit my head on the stairs.  I felt like I was in a car accident and it was all happening in slow motion.  Eventually I tumbled into the wall and lay in a jumbled heap.  I have never in all my life fallen down an entire flight of stairs.

My body felt like someone had taken a bat to it.  My neck, back, tailbone, shoulders, ribs, and arms were all sore.  As the day wore on I only got more and more sore, and by the time I made it home to Ben I was practically immobile.  Ben took wonderful care of me, cooking and providing me with lots of pillows.  The only exception to his wonderful nursing skills was when he momentarily forgot about my pain and slapped my butt as I walked to the kitchen.  I nearly cried.  He kept apologizing and saying, “I didn’t mean to, it was out of habit!”  He looked so cute I couldn’t help but forgive him.

The next few days were very painful, but with the help of a pillow at work and lots of Tylenol, I made it through the day.  I left the office today and carefully made my way to the bus stop.  It was pretty icy out, so I watched every step I took.  When the bus finally arrived, I had to step in a big clump of snow to get on.  Not good.  I paid the bus driver for my ticket and was trying to zip my wallet when he started to pull away.  I quickly grabbed for a handle but not before the ice on the bottom of my shoes sent me sailing down the center aisle of the bus.  I crashed into the seats and my wallet tumbled out of my hand as change and receipts flew threw the air.  Quarters, pennies, nickels, pound coins, fifty pence, ten pence, and two pence coins rained down on the first three rows of seats.

All the clatter caused the bus driver to slam on his brakes which only made me slip again and as I reached for a rail I tumbled into a seat which was thankfully vacant.  He shouted out and asked if everything was ok.  Oh yeah, great, thanks pal.  I said yes, but could have slapped the man for not just waiting 10 seconds for me to sit down before he hit the gas.  After barely waiting for my response he was off again.  The ladies in the seats around me all bent down and started grabbing coins and handing them back to me.  From two rows away, one lady loudly called out, “well aren’t we rich.”  She apparently was the one picking up the 50 pennies.

I gathered all my coins, thanked the women who helped, and then tried to sink into my seat so that no one could see my face that was blazing red with embarrassment.  As I walked home, I couldn’t help but fear every slippery surface, every uneven stone, and every wobbly bike rider.  When I saw our house, I smiled and sighed heavily.  I made it home, and at the rate I am going, that seems something to be thankful for!


Surprise!

One thing you should know about me is I love surprises.  I love to be surprised and I love to surprise others.  I absolutely live for the challenge of pulling off a great surprise.  This Christmas I pulled off my biggest one yet.

We had the blessing of being able to go home this Christmas and we decided that instead of telling my parents we were coming home for the holidays, we would simply show up on their doorstep on Christmas day.  I started planning with my brother (Zach) in October making sure that he and his wife (Stephanie) would have some time off and that they could plan to be with my parents.  Not only would we get to spend some quality time with them, but it would also ensure that my parents didn’t plan some sort of last-minute Caribbean cruise or something!  With the planning underway, we got more and more excited.

When I spoke to my parents, I carefully avoided the subject of what we were doing for Christmas and talked more about my company’s Christmas party and all the things our church was doing.  Finally on the 23rd of December, we set off for the airport.  We had a fun two days leading up to Christmas day and I couldn’t get over how excited I was to see our families.  My enthusiasm for all things America and family just kept bubbling over.  I was like a giddy schoolgirl.

Christmas morning finally dawned and it was an amazing day from beginning to end.  We enjoyed Christmas morning with Ben’s family and then had a great lunch together.  We then set off for my parents house.  I have to say that I loved the two and half hour drive to their house.  After having not driven in over a year and a half, it felt great to be on the open roads.  We arrived at my parents house and I drove extremely slowly up their driveway so that they wouldn’t hear the car.  We gently shut the doors of the jeep, crept up the walkway and then slowly tried to open the front door.

It stuck.  I had to mash the handle pretty good before the door gave way and opened.  I could hear my family talking in the living room as Ben and I slowly walked in.  As I turned the corner I said cheerfully, “Merry Christmas!!”  Everyone turned our way and my dad was the first to respond.  He promptly shouted, “What?!  Who is this?!”  My mom’s hand flew to her mouth as she gasped out loud.  The next thing I heard was my dad saying, “this is so cool!”

It finally sunk in to my mom (who thought she was hallucinating!) and she got up and put her hands on both sides of my face and just stared at me for a minute.  Then she kissed my check and pulled me in for a fierce hug.  My dad had finally recognized me by this point and after hugging Ben, he wrapped his arms around me and my mom who were just standing there hugging.  It was the best Christmas gift I have ever been given and the best surprise I have ever pulled off.


Belated Thanksgiving

We celebrated two amazing Thanksgiving celebrations this year, but I have to say that it was the one that was with our small group from church that will really stick with me.  Between the excitement over candied yams, paper hand turkeys, and a never-ending game of mafia, it was a great night.   There is something about celebrating American holidays with people from other cultures that makes it so fun.  Our small group of British students and young adults was no different.

We celebrated Thanksgiving last year, but I think there was even more of a buzz this year about it.  They knew what to expect and embraced it for the wonderful holiday tradition it is.  Each person who came brought some sort of authentic American dish.  I have to say, they did a great job!  Everything was so delicious.  Especially those candied yams…and I don’t even like sweet potatoes!

Before dinner was ready, everyone took a paper cutout of my hand and drew their own turkey.  The winner would be first in line for dessert.  You can imagine how fierce the competition was.  Once dinner was ready, all 18 of us gathered around a huge table and joined hands as Ben prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving.  Knowing this could be the last time we celebrated Thanksgiving with our small group made me a bit more nostalgic than normal.  I love these kids.  Ok, they aren’t really kids at all, but I just love them all so much.  We each loaded our plates full of Thanksgiving tastiness and sat around talking and laughing together.

My end of the table was practically in tears as Ben regaled us with stories from his childhood.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and no one left the table hungry!  When dinner had finally come to an end we had everyone hold up their paper turkeys for review. There were a lot of close contenders, but Rosie’s two artistically drawn turkeys stole the show.  The American flag border really put it over the edge!  Rosie led the way through the dessert line and once everyone was seated back around the table we had everyone say something they were thankful for.  It was wonderful hearing everyone share what was on their heart.  I love that sort of thing.

I finished it off by saying how thankful I was that everyone humored me by getting so into one of my favorite American holidays.  That set off everyone chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”  Ben and I burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but smile.  It was amazing.  After the chanting died down we all cleared the table and headed to the lounge for an entertaining game of charades.  Let’s just say that I don’t think anyone could even come close to Rosie and Colin…they absolutely dominated.  We are going to have to come up with much harder ones next time…

We sat in a huge circle, drank tea, and played games for the next few hours.  It was a perfect night.  As I looked around the room, I couldn’t have been more thankful.  This time of year it isn’t easy to be away from family, but they make it a bit more bearable.  If nothing else, they keep me laughing.  Thank you to all of you who made the night so great, and an even bigger thank you for allowing us to be so much a part of your lives.  You mean the world to us.