Tag Archives: Holidays

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.

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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.


Christmas Eve Blessings & Slideshow

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  We wish you all good tidings this coming year and pray the Lord blesses you richly.  Though we weren’t able to go home this year, we have had an incredible Christmas season.  We have been showered in love this month.  The season was kicked off when our friends Simon and Katie provided us with our first (ever!) Christmas tree!  Then to our surprise, my sweet friend Rosie dropped off boxes of decorations for us to use on our new tree.  Then our friends Candice and Collin surprised us today with stockings full of useful gadgets and homemade treats.  It has been such a wonderful few weeks and we truly do feel so blessed by all of our friends here.  Thank you all for being a part of our lives and showing us so much love and thoughtfulness.  We wish you all the very merriest of Christmases.

Our First Tree!

Enjoy the slideshow recapping our 2011:


My Unexpected Christmas Trip

I am getting to go on the trip of a lifetime.  I have been invited to a destination that is by invitation only and I am assured that language will not be an issue.  The food is terrific, the shopping endless, and the people are unbelievably friendly.  You don’t know how excited I am.  In the near future I will be jumping in a car with a new friend of mine and we will be crossing the highly secure border of the American military base!!  Wahoo!!!!

I was elated to receive an invitation to the commissary on base where I was told I could wander aisle after tasty aisle.  I imagine myself drifting from shelf to shelf, tears in my eyes as I look at the various kinds of chocolate chips I can buy; milk chocolate, semi-sweet, dark chocolate, peanut butter, white chocolate, oh the options are limitless!!  The cereals, the SODA, THE HOT DOGS!!!!!  I can’t believe my good fortune.

My invitation also included a stop that is worthy of a dramatic pause.  So, wait for it.  Just a bit longer.  Almost there.  I am so excited I am almost giddy.  Friends, I am heading south of the border and gonna get me some Taco Bell!!  It has been over a year, and instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, I am dreaming of chicken quesadillas, cinnamon twists and endless refills on soda!  Ah, I can smell it now.

This is one of those opportunities that you don’t want to keep to yourself, so Ben will be coming along of course, but I thought I would also invite one of my British friends who has never eaten at Taco Bell.  That is a crying shame.  This amazing trip just came about today so in my excitement about American food, my British friend (who shall remain nameless) turned to me and said, “so what is all this I hear about Taco Bell?  What is it?”  I nearly choked.  Someone doesn’t know what Taco Bell is?  Yo quiero Taco Bell?  Think outside the bun?  Nothing?  I explained that it was a fast food restaurant that specializes in Mexican food and obviously tacos.  She then asked, “what is a taco?”  The sound of a record coming to an abrupt halt occurred.  I burst out laughing but quickly noticed she wasn’t laughing at all.  I looked over at my American friend and she asked “you aren’t serious are you?”  Oh yes, yes she was.  How could this be?

So, as any good American would do, I am going to introduce my lovely British friend to the world of tacos.  And what better place to do this than Taco Bell?!  Mind you, I know the quality isn’t really well, good, but hey, you can’t be picky over here.  And I have to say, I have yet to find a quesadilla I love more.  Not only will she get to experience the joys of taco bliss, but she will get to see the beauty of an American grocery store.  The order, the fully stocked shelves, the options, it is truly a beauty to behold.  What a wonderful, unexpected Christmas present.


Belated Thanksgiving

This is one of my favorite seasons of the year.  Halloween kicks off the fall with pumpkin carvings, crisp nights, and cozy fires.  Thanksgiving rolls around and I am practically giddy with joy.  I love the food, the snow, the festivities that bring all those you love together.  It truly is a time to be thankful.  The fall season builds in wonderful anticipation for the pinnacle, the celebration of the birth of my Savior.  I find myself getting more and more excited as the weeks go by and my heart seems to be constantly drumming out a beat of thankfulness.  This season just brings an immense amount of peace and joy to me.

I spend a lot of time at bus stops.  Probably about an hour a day.  So I stand there every day in the FREEZING cold, wrapped in layers of scarves, mittens, and hats, headphones in, just smiling to myself.  It is pitch dark when I go home and pretty cold, but most nights, I am pretty content.  Not just content, I am really, really happy.  I am headed home to a husband I love and on a lot of nights, I get to look forward to spending time with people I love here in Cambridge.

We had a pretty amazing Thanksgiving this year.  That is partially because we had two of them!  We hosted Thanksgiving day at our new flat this year (and amazingly fit 14 people around our make-shift table!!) and it was wonderful.  Everyone brought a dish or two and it was a night just spent sitting around the table chatting and connecting…wo things I love to do.  Then just a few days later we hosted another Thanksgiving at the home of some of dear friends here in Cambridge. We had a large group of British students (21 to be exact!) who for the most part had never had an American Thanksgiving.  We assigned each of them an American dish and it was fantastic.  Both Thanksgivings were filled with fun, A-mazing food, and lots of wonderful conversation.  They were two very special Thanksgivings.

This Thanksgiving made me a bit more reflective and as I looked back over the last 6 months or so, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming blessed.  Here are some of the things that came into my mind.

1. Our siblings weddings.  It wasn’t just the weddings of Zach & Stephanie, and Alex & Rachel, it was everything leading up to those beautiful days.  It was precious time with our families and their closest friends.  The four weeks we were in the states this summer will be some of the most memorable four weeks of my life.  Our friendship with our siblings is one of the greatest joys of my life.

2. My friend Cassie spending her savings to come and see me!  The two weeks that Cassie was here were beyond fun.  It was a whirlwind tour of Cambridge, London and Paris and my goodness it was a blast!  Getting to show one of my dearest friends around this beautiful city and just see our life here was so special.  She is one of those friends that just warms your heart.

3. Our brief but wonderful night with Sarah and Mark in London.  One of my old co-workers from PDS was in London for a few days and she and her husband invited us down for dinner.  We met up with them and enjoyed one of the most amazing meals I have had in England.  We ate at this absolutely phenomenal Moroccan restaurant (and I mean phenomenal) and spent the night just catching up, marvelling over how tasty the food was, and just sharing our lives with each other.  I have been so blessed by Sarah as she has made such an effort to stay in touch despite the distance.  The night was wonderful and is one that I think back on a lot.

4. The group of university students and older youth that we meet with.  We started meeting with these students about three months ago and they have just taken up residence in my heart.  They are such a joy to be around and I feel so blessed that we get to be a part of their lives.  The joy and laughter they bring into our home each Wednesday is something I look forward to each week.

5. Dream opportunities.  I never would have thought that I would have so many opportunities come my way that would make my dream career become more of a reality.  I have a good job, but it is what I do outside of work that makes me come alive.  I love planning events and connecting with people and I have been given amazing opportunities to that this fall.  I am so grateful to God for the way he makes un-realized dreams come true.

6.  Our parents.  I feel so fortunate to have the parents that we have.  They have become some of our closest friends and it has been such a joy to see how our relationships have grown in closeness since we have moved here.  We have gained a new appreciation and love for our parents being so far away.  I have felt especially blessed by the ways they have shown us love since coming here.  My dad has written me encouraging Facebook messages and sends me links to things that remind him of me.  Ben’s parents have recently sent us a box of American food that filled us more excitement than just about any other gift we could have received!  My mom has sent me the most amazing letters and cards that leave me feeling so special and loved.  We are truly blessed by the love and generosity of our families.

7. I have a great boss.  For those who know me, you know I haven’t had a great working experience here in the UK, but the redeeming factor has been my boss.  She is by far the best boss I have ever had.  She knows how to get the best out of me, and how to motivate me.  My job and salary are not ideal, but when you have a great boss, those things aren’t quite as important.  I am gaining new skills and being given opportunities that she knows I will be excited about.  That just doesn’t happen every day and I am really grateful for her.

8. My amazing husband.  There is nothing like two weeks apart that makes you acutely aware of how crazy you are about your spouse.  I don’t let too many days go by without telling Ben how much he blesses my life, but two weeks apart makes you aware of other things you are grateful for.  I am thankful for the humour and laughter he brings to my life.  I am thankful for how reliable and constant he is.  I am thankful for all the small ways that he tries to serve and care for me.  He makes me feel like a cherished gift.

9. A renewed sense of conviction.  We have been challenged a lot in our faith since coming here and we have spent countless hours talking through why we believe what we do, and why we hold certain convictions.  There are some areas where my convictions have lessened (rightly so I believe) and others where they have gotten stronger.  I am grateful for all the ways God has grown me, and I am so thankful for His closeness and nearness.

I could keep going, but I am guessing that most people have stopped reading by this point anyway.  Thanksgiving is a special time to reflect on how God has moved in our lives and all the ways He has blessed us.  I pray my heart would always see the beauty of our Lord and that it would rejoice in the goodness that flows from His hand.  Here are a few photos from the last few weeks…


Adventures with Cassie…I love the Parisian life

This is much belated, but I have to tell the rest of my adventures with Cassie.  The 10 days she was here were amazing.  Our days in London, Paris, and Cambridge were just so, so special to me it was way too memorable to skip over.  So, two months later you get to hear the continuation of my love of Paris!

Now, this is sad to say, but some of the events and details have already gone a bit fuzzy.  To be honest, I am actually happy I have waited until now to write, because I think I would prefer to talk about the highlights and overall impressions of the trip.  What I remember now is clearly what really impacted me.  First of all, Paris is incredibly clean and pretty.  You know those Romeo and Juliet balconies that are always in the movies?  Well, they are everywhere.  They aren’t just in the nice districts, they are on every house.  There are beautiful cobblestone bridges and large black lanterns that put off a soft glow over the Thames River.  It is all quite enchanting.

We spent time in Montmartre where we had a street artist draw our picture.  Ben and I got one done, and I have to say, we were beautiful.   I mean really beautiful.  You have never seen perfection until you have seen this drawing.  With that being said, Ben was so beautiful that he looked well, shall we say, feminine?!  It kind of looked like Rachael and her lesbian girlfriend.  He was that pretty.  That picture kept us laughing all day.  Shockingly, Ben lost it somewhere in London on our trip home.  Thankfully we have a picture that Cassie took that at least shows half the drawing.

After our time in Montemarte, we spent the day walking the streets of Paris.  We walked to Notre Dame and heard the hallelujah chorus sung by an all boys children’s choir.  We walked down the Champs-Élysées after looking at the Arc De Triomphe and headed to the Louvre.  We didn’t actually go in the Louvre as our trip was short and we just wanted to see as much of Paris as we could.  We walked more in Paris than I have ever walked, but we didn’t rush anything.  We looked in shops, hunted down crepe makers, sipped on teas and coffee, and bought ourselves Parisian hats.

Probably my favorite part of the trip was going to Versailles.  This was my first official palace to visit and I have to say, I was blown away.  Cassie thought it was all a bit much (and it probably was), but I of course loved it.  I have just never seen such an extravagant home.  I can’t even believe that people lived there.  The house was great, but what I absolutely loved were the palace gardens.  There are nearly 2,000 acres of manicured gardens.  It is absolutely unreal.

The most amazing part of the whole thing for me, was the part of the garden that was devoted to Marie Antoinette.  She basically had become bored with her life as a queen, and decided to build a little village in the back of the gardens where she could pretend she was a commoner.  This village literally had everything that a real village had; a mill, a dairy house, livestock, and gardens enough to feed everyone.  As someone who still wanted a playhouse when they were sixteen (don’t judge me…I had a wild imagination that couldn’t be contained by age), I was absolutely in love.  It was a little girl’s dream world.  Well, I guess in me and Marie Antoinette’s case, a woman’s dream world. Ben and Cassie had to practically drag me out of this place.  Lucky for them, my boots were killing me and the rain clouds were rolling in.

We left Versailles and headed back into the city.  I think the one thing I was kind of let down about were the french dinners.  We wanted to try authentic french meals, but found those items on the menu to be fairly unappetizing.  So we ended up eating more Italian than anything else.  Cassie was extremely adventurous and tried fois gras which neither of us realized was literally duck fat that you just spread on crackers.  It came in slabs and looked absolutely revolting.  Cassie (who is a health nut…you know it’s true Cass) couldn’t bring herself to eat more than a few bites and then had to order another meal.  Unfortunately for her, she had already ordered the most expensive thing on the menu!  I tried a bit since I am trying to be a more adventurous eater, but it was a one time event for me.  I couldn’t get past the texture.  The taste was just odd, but the texture was so, I don’t know, just gross.  After this, we just went for menu items that weren’t quite as unfamiliar.

Our trip was absolutely amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat.  Paris was beautiful, buzzing with life and energy, and overflowing with tasty pastries and desserts.  We enjoyed long talks about marriage, good books, God, and how short ones shorts should be as a 27-year-old.  And I definitely won’t be forgetting anytime soon the elderly asian man with a mustache that walked onto the subway in knee-high socks, ballerina flats, a mini skirt, a women’s tweed suit jacket with pink fringe and a matching handbag.  Everyone on the subway was trying not to laugh out loud.  I have never felt so close to total strangers as I did then.  We shared conspiratory looks and hidden smiles.  Cassie and I barely kept it together.

So many incredible memories.  I loved every minute of it…well, minus the minutes that I had to swallow down bites of fois gras!


Melancholy Moment

Our suitcase is still in the floor of our bedroom only half way unpacked, and our laundry pile is spilling out of the closet it is so full.  On our counters we have American dollars, euros from Paris, pounds from London and enough coinage to begin our own coin collection.  The only thing that indicates that we actually live here and aren’t just checking out tomorrow, is that we finally have groceries…and by groceries I mean 6 boxes of cereal and five jars of nutella.  What can we say, there was a sale.  Despite having been back for four days, we find ourselves oddly unsettled.  Especially me.

After five weeks off from work, I find myself utterly exhausted at the end of the day.  Truth be told, I could really start wrapping up the day around 3:00pm.  Getting to bed at a decent hour and then waking up at a undecent hour just doesn’t feel quite right.  Normally we come back from holiday (british term for vacation…trying to embrace it) and I am ready for my routine, but not this time.  The last five weeks were some of the most memorable weeks of my life and I just can’t seem to get them out of my mind.  And it is because of those memories that I am having a hard time not feeling melancholy.

We ended our holiday and I have to tell you, the reality check was harder to swallow this time than ever before.  I chalk it up to two things.  First of all, I love to be on vacation.  Who doesn’t?  The thing is most people feel like they eventually want to head home and get back into their daily routines.  That is definitely how Ben is.  I think I would have even described myself that way, until now.  I love being on vacation, tiring as it may be.  Mostly that is because I love eating out and seeing new places and not having to do anything but getting to do whatever you want.  Isn’t that the life?  I think so too.  Though I do miss my bed.  I always miss my bed.

The second reason this return home has been so much harder is we left a lot behind.  We spent a lot of time with people that we absolutely love and adore (Ben would use far more masculine terms here…but I am writing and I get to use sappy words like adore) and saying goodbye is just a difficult thing to do.  God has blessed us with such amazing friends, mentors, and of course, family.  This leads to my current melancholy state.  I miss my family.

Ben and I have lived away from our families for the last six years (not including the three years prior to that where we were in college) and for the first time, this is really, really hard.  I am not saying I haven’t missed them before, but this is different.  Knowing there is a huge expanse of water and then a huge expanse of land between us, just makes it more difficult.  This realization hit hard this visit.  We watched Ben’s little sister get married in June and then just a few weeks later in July, my little brother got married.  They are beautiful and wonderful memories for me, but they were also bittersweet.

I knew that just at the beginning of their marriages, I would have to say goodbye.  I don’t get to go to coffee with Rachel and Stephanie and hear all about their honeymoons and well, you know…SEX!!  I don’t get to go to dinner at their place for the first time and watch them learn to cook together, or hang out late talking about how job searches are going, and how wonderful being married really is.  I am sad I can’t be there for all of that.  Our siblings are finally graduated from college, looking for jobs, and married, and I can’t be there to connect with them.  I know there is the phone, and Skype, but it just isn’t the same.  I want smiles and hugs and you just don’t get the full effect unless you are in person.

I know this has been a rather depressing blog entry, but this is where I am at right now.  Before I can get excited and write about all that has taken place the last five weeks, I need to grieve the absence of those I love most.  Ok, so that is a little much, but I am sure you get the point.

Zach, Stephanie, Rachel, and Alex, I hope you know how much we absolutely love you guys.  We had such an amazing time celebrating one of the happiest days of your lives with you guys.  You mean the world to us and we just can’t wait to live closer and really be a part of your lives.  Not like Everybody Loves Raymond close, but closer than this!  We hope you know how proud we are of you, and how excited we are to walk through life alongside you all.  We are always here for you and know that despite the distance, you are never too far from our thoughts.