Friday, October 30, 2015

Christmas Cards

Can't believe October is almost over and the holidays are right around the corner!!
Also can't believe how much it cost to book our flights home for Christmas..... ouch. It's worth it though! I am so excited for the first holiday season with my husband. We got to enjoy Thanksgiving together last year out in Washington, but we were apart for Christmas and T.J. had to work that day. This year we are taking some leave and heading back to South Carolina for the first time since we tied the knot! I am so excited that both sets of parents are in the same town, it makes it much easier on those of us traveling from far and wide.

I am also really excited to send out our first Christmas card as a married couple. My plan is to convince T.J. to take a photo with me this weekend in one of our favorite places nearby. We shall see how that goes...

My parents send out a card every year and most years they would send a letter along with it detailing the adventures of our family. I love reading old Christmas letters that mention violin practice, ballet classes, school plays, special family vacations. I love reminiscing about the growing up years in a cul-de-sac, followed by a journey across the pond, then on to university. They're a time capsule of our family history, you can see us growing and changing through the pictures and in the words recorded by my parents. Each year sister and I are a little taller, the cardigan with the teddy bear buttons (above) is no more, the violin was set down for a guitar, there are dad-jokes about the internet and Y2K, new characters (a new puppy) and places enter in and out of the letters.

A couple Christmases ago my mom compiled all our old letters and Christmas cards, plus our favorite holiday recipes, into a binder for me and my sister. I love to read back through them all and remember our lives back when. Not much has changed from 1995 it seems, I still love to write stories on the laptop at home ;)

I want to start that tradition for my new family as well. A record we sign, seal, and deliver to family and friends each year. Marking off celebrations, anniversaries, moving around the country, babies, the end of residency, new homes, settling down, growing up, adventuring together. It's so wonderful to dream about what our Christmas letters will detail over the years to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


After eight plus years of serving and loving, high schoolers, and being in my "comfort zone" as a Young Life leader,  God is sending me into a middle school. Duh duh duh!

I'm slightly terrified. Okay more than slightly. I've actively avoided this in my time leading Young Life. Nope not gonna do it. I'll leave that to someone more capable because middle schoolers are the hardestt, right? That's what everyone says, right? Can you really have those meaningful conversations with them about God, about faith?  Can they even sit still long enough? Honestly Wyldlife used to feel JV to the "varsity" Young Life. 

But when I moved to this new area and first reached out about leading, this was the obvious need. There might as well have been a flashing neon sign pointing to the school, you couldn't miss it. And I looked for other ways, other schools where I could fit in, and it just didn't happen.  It didn't make sense to join an established, organized team at one of the high schools already running smoothly without my help. And it didn't even make sense to lead at the middle school one block from my house with strong leadership and parent support.  My heart... it was drawn to this relatively forgotten school, often overlooked, and written off as less than. And the school responded better than I ever expected a public school to respond these days, eager and desperate for adults who want to serve and love middle schoolers. Come on in, they said.

So we're starting a new Wyldife club, in an incredibly diverse school.  Basically as far from my area of "expertise" (haha) as possible. Eight years of leading in suburban, mostly white communities, with strong financial support and involved parents, has not prepared me for this.

I am not qualified. At all. Not one little bit. I don't even have any other leaders with me... yet. And I don't want you to think I'm writing this down to say "look at me, look at what I'm doing." No, I'm putting it out there to force myself to feel bold, and to hold myself accountable.

I'm seriously scared to walk into that cafeteria full of middle schoolers I don't know.
And I am seriously excited to see what God does.

"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Monday, October 26, 2015

I confess

How about some Monday confessions for you all today.  I saw Susannah did something similar the other week and I feel like I have some things to get off my chest as well so here goes....

I confess that laundry is my least favorite chore. Sometimes I leave laundry in the dryer for a couple days until finally T.J. asks me where all his boxers are. 

I confess sometimes I leave wet clothes in the washer and have to wash them again. #worstchoreever #badwife

I confess that I re-read all seven Harry Potter books before my trip last week. And even though I've read them all many times over before, I still cried at all the parts that made me cry that very first time.
I confess that when I lose my patience with Hunley (every. single. solitary. day) I worry that means I'll be a snippy and impatient mom one day. 

I confess I have a list of baby names on my phone (no, I'm not pregnant) and T.J. discovered it and proceeded to ask me "what kind of a name is El-oyce??" a.k.a Eloise a.k.a that name is no longer on the list.

I confess that I use hot chocolate as a vehicle for lots and lots of marshmallows.

I confess I absolutely love getting all dolled up, curling my hair, putting on my highest heels,  and going out for a fancy dinner in NYC, or downtown Greenville, SC. The kind that lasts for hours, and maybe begins with champagne, and usually ends with a dessert that's been perfectly torched and is utterly decadent. It's one of my very favorite treats, the perfect night out.

I confess that I also like Red Lobster and Panda Express. So sue me.

I confess that I bought and hung up a faux gold deer head from Hobby Lobby and T.J. has yet to make a comment on it which I find very odd because it's faux gold deer head....
 I confess that I miss my long hair. And I don't care that everyone thinks my shorter hair is "so cute" or makes me look more mature, or blah blah blah,  whatever! I miss my mermaid hair, dang it!

I confess I ordered a leather arm chair and ottoman for our living room and when it arrived on Friday I was so excited to bring it in the house but when we finally got it through the front door it suddenly seemed totally out of place and like too much furniture. I had a minor breakdown worrying we'd wasted our money and you can't return custom pieces (especially when the dog has already nipped at the corner) but after T.J. talked me down I was able to do a little feng shui and I think it works! Plus it's really comfy and will be something we'll have for a while.  (full living room update coming soon)
I confess that I am terrified for the month of November. T.J. is going to be on call literally every 3rd night. I'm not even sure how that will work all I know is it's not going to be fun for anyone.

I confess that I am trying to get back into a better blogging rhythm. I feel like I've lost some of my depth here and it's been reduced to weekend recaps and lists. Need to find my "voice" again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Harry Potter Bachelorette Party Planning

When my friend casually mentioned going to Harry Potter World for her bachelorette weekend (see trip recap here) she should have known her equally nerdy friends would leap at the opportunity. So while we were all really selfishly excited for ourselves, I still wanted to make this about her, the bride. Once tickets were booked**  I got to work making fun surprises for the bride with a magical twist.

First I planned the typical bachelorette party trivia game where you ask the groom questions in advance and then the bride has to answer the same questions to see how well she knows her husband-to be. But this time we referred to the game as her "OWL's" (for those of you who don't know Harry Potter... I feel sorry for you) otherwise known as Ordinary Wife Level examinations. There were six categories of questions based on the Hogwarts school subjects:
  1. Potions (his cologne, favorite drink, etc)
  2. Transfiguration (what changes has she made to his condo, what would he change about her, etc)
  3. History of Magic (history of their relationship)
  4. Care of Magical Creatures (name of first pet, what would they name their pet, etc)
  5. Divination (what is he most excited for on the big day, how many kids does he see in their future, etc)
  6. Charms (favorite thing about each other, biggest pet peeve)
I made a little PowerPoint with the questions and added Harry Potter theme music and sound clips to the slides. I found a bunch of free Harry Potter fonts to use and cool graphics (like this Hogwarts parchment, these pretty illustrations, and these themed notebooks, which would make a fun favor or present for the Harry Potter fan in your life) and really had way too much fun putting it all together. (If you're interested in doing this for your own party, let me know and I can send you the Powerpoint template.)

For drinks I found little apothecary jars at Michael's and created a potion's label which you can download here. I also recreated this banner and made a candy bar with labels just like the "real" Honeydukes.
Finally I ordered our group these adorable tanks from Etsy (the bride got a white one) for us to wear in the park one day. They are super soft and comfy and I will definitely be wearing mine all over the place now. I thought the sentiment was appropriate for a bachelorette weekend, even though the naughtiest thing we got up to all weekend was sweet talking our way into the fast pass line for each ride.** 

Overall we had a blast celebrating the bride to be in the  most magical way! Now I think I'm going to go re-watch the Harry Potter movies to relive it all.

* There is an awesome military promo going on now through December where you can get 3 day park hopper passes for the price of a 1 day pass. Check with your post's Travel & Leisure office for discounts.

** When you get to the park be sure to stop at guest services and tell them you're celebrating something. They gave us buttons that said we were celebrating the bride and we were able to get on to the express lanes almost every time without actually have an express pass (which normally costs extra $$ each day). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Harry Potter Bachelorette Weekend

Harry Potter World may sound like an odd choice for a bachelorette getaway but we've all done the beach trip, and the clubs, and the bars before so I was super excited about a change of pace for this girls' trip. It just sounded like the most fun thing to do with my best friends, and if you know my friends, you know we shamelessly love Harry Potter. We've all read the all the books and we were first in line for the midnight double showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 back in 2011.
 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was high on my bucket list and I was not alone. So we booked flights and park tickets and rented an Airbnb house for this past Thursday through Sunday and slowly ticked off the days until we would be together in Florida.

I got in ridiculously early on Thursday, 5AM, but luckily my other friend had driven down overnight and had gotten us a hotel room to sleep off the jet lag until we were able to check into our house. While we waited for the other girls to arrive we got settled and went grocery shopping for the weekend, planning to have most our meals at the house and in the park.

We headed back to the airport in the evening to pick up the bride and another bridesmaid and then headed to bed knowing we'd have a really early start. Setting my alarm for 6:45 am I tried my best to not think of that as 3:45 am. Jet lag sucks but is totally worth it for these girls... and for Harry Potter. In the morning we dressed for a day in the park, grabbed chik-fil-a breakfast,  headed to the airport yet again to pick up the last arrival, and then finally we were on our way to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter World is divided into two parks. Diagon Alley (the newer bit) is located in Universal Studies Orlando, and Hogsmede/Hogwarts is located in Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. If you have the park hopper you can take the Hogwarts Express back and forth between the two which is exactly what we planned to do. We made a beeline through the turnstiles of Universal Studies Orlando and headed straight to the back and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of London and oh boy, the attention to detail is spot on. I texted this pic to my parents... I felt like I was right back at home.
 We knocked on the front door of 12 Grimauld Place and watched Kreacher peek through the curtains, we dialed MAGIC in the phone booth and spoke to the Ministry of Magic and then we snuck behind the Leaky Cauldron and were instantly transported to Diagon Alley.
Simply magical. Nothing was overlooked when they built this. It has all the cute stores where you can buy your Weasly Wizard Wheezes' products, your text books for next term at Hogwarts, a new broom, and of course your wand. We had so much fun popping in and noticing little things from the books and movies.
 Of course towering over the little wizarding village is Gringotts and it's dragon which breathes fire every so often. We headed inside the "bank" for the first ride of the day, and really the only actual ride in this part of Harry Potter World. Waiting in line for the rides is actually just as enjoyable because there's so many little details to notice and see while you move through the queue. 
We moseyed around a little longer before heading to Kings Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 and hopping on the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmede. If you go, definitely take the train both directions as you see different sites from the film outside your car window.
This little area is so cute, everything is "snow covered" and you feel like your tucked in the alps somewhere.  We grabbed lunch at The Three Broomsticks and candy from Honeydukes before heading to Hogwarts to tour the castle. This ride is so fun because you really feel like you're flying over the quidditch pitch and around the castle grounds. 
We also did the Flight of the Hippogriff and the Dueling Dragons roller coasters  before we declared ourselves too dizzy for any more rides and headed back to our house for the rest of the evening. We snacked and played bachelorette party games with a Harry Potter twist (I'll share more on these details in a second post) and had a little dance party before calling it a night.

The next morning I woke up at 11am and was sure everyone would be waiting for me but was quite happy to see I've chosen my friends well.  We took our time leaving the house and then headed back to the parks for round two. We planned to do our favorite rides again and then explore the rest of the park outside of Harry Potter.
After another fun long day we ended the night with a little lingerie shower, this was after all still about our bride-to-be. I am just so glad to have friends as nerdy as me!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


T.J. texted me on Thursday to let me know he found out he had off all weekend AND FRIDAY AND MONDAY!!!! The text might as well have said, "look, there's a unicorn dancing under a rainbow!!" He was about to walk into surgery so he didn't have time to discuss this wonderfulness but said "let's do something," and told me to investigate options.  He didn't care where we went, he just wanted to get out of town, escape for the weekend, leaving work and stress behind.

I jumped into action and called every dog friendly resort/hotel/rental property in Oregon and Washington. I had about 20 browsers open, I looked at Cannon Beach, I contacted the same hotel we stayed at in Columbia River Gorge, I searched the Willamette Valley wine region. Everything was booked, not surprising since it was the day before...

But finally after my eyes were blurry, and all the hotels and houses were running together,  I found a cabin on Airbnb in Mt. Hood National Forrest. We checked with our friends who were going to join us and I clicked request to book with little hope we'd be confirmed at this late notice. However, five minutes later I got the text saying we'd been approved, and the dogs too, further solidifying my love for Airbnb.

I scrambled around the rest of the night packing up groceries, and all the necessities for a relaxing mountain retreat, and the next day we were off. I rode the two and half hours with a nervous dog in my lap, worried we were going to leave him behind, and we were all so excited to pull up to our home away from home. We waited for the other couple to arrive before submerging ourselves in the hot tub and toasting to our great escape.

Saturday was for sleeping in, a yummy breakfast and a lazy morning, followed by a quick hike to a waterfall (of which Oregon has a surplus) and then settling in for Clemson football. Probably not that different from what we would have done had we stayed in town. But there's something about being somewhere new, somewhere away, that makes you feel refreshed and less guilty for staying on the couch and watching the game, reading my book, taking a nap,  because it's vacation after all.

I made pulled pork in the crock pot and later after dinner we played a board game and snacked on marshmallows, only disappointed that it was too rainy for a fire in the fire pit. The next day we took our time packing up and then drove deeper into the Mt. Hood National Forrest. We made a stop at Timberline Lodge, built at the foot of the mountain during the great depression. Living in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, like we do, made Mt. Hood seem a little on the whimpy side, but nevertheless awe inspiring in my opinion.
We grabbed lunch outside at Mt. Hood Brewing Co and then took the long way home, through our favorite Columbia River Gorge. We just couldn't be that close by and not drive through. We stopped to let the pup swim and to take it all in again
Honestly Oregon is just too much sometimes. There's too much to see and too many waterfalls to chase. We've now seen two of the seven wonders of this wonderful state and I just want to keep on checking them off. This was the most spontaneous vacation - planned and booked and on the road in less than 24 hours - and that made it even more special. In the past I might have said it was too last minute, and we should probably stay home, but now I've learned to just take those surprise moments we find together and GO! They are rare and beautiful. 

To rent our chalet (and to see more pics): go here
For $20 off your first stay with airbnb: go here