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23 Steps to Prepare Dinner

Alternative title: Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

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  1. Meal plan. Pour over your favorite cookbooks, magazines and pinned recipes. Create a flowery weekly spread in your bullet journal and use your very best lettering skills to document your meals daily. Draw a grocery basket full of root vegetables or a dining room table with place settings – as needed.
  2. Write your grocery list based on each recipe. Then from that list, rewrite your list based on each grocery department so you have all of your produce in one place and you don’t get to the the sushi side of the Buford Highway Farmers Market, realize you forgot your cabbage, and walk the 4 miles back to produce, only to be elbowed, have your cart hit, and realize you forgot the soy sauce. If you’d prefer to get your 10,000 steps in at a grocery store, skip this suggestion.
  3. Get home at 3:00 PM and realize it’s too late to start your crock pot recipe for your chicken. Move the recipe to next week, because obviously just switching it out with the recipe for tomorrow is crazy, and who makes crock pot recipes ON A WEEKDAY? (Everyone. Everyone makes crockpot recipes on a weekday except you.)
  4. Forget to put your chicken in the freezer.
  5. On the day you plan to prepare your dish, realize you did not plan ahead AGAIN.
  6. Pour yourself a glass of wine.
  7. Decide to boil your chicken instead of slow cook it, to get the nice, dry, flavorless shredded chicken dish everyone knows and loves.
  8. Take your chicken out the refrigerator. Ignore that fact that it’s been in there for 10 days.
  9. Pierce the packaging of the chicken to allow the putrid smell of salmonella (probably) to waft through your tiny, tiny kitchen.
  10. Boil water.
  11. Inspect each chicken breast, determine 3 out of 4 of them only smell slightly off and still look mostly pink, and throw them in the boiling water.
  12. Take the remaining chicken breast that smells like the dying insides of your dog’s bowels, throw it into the trash.
  13. Take the trash outside.
  14. Pray your neighbors can’t smell your shame.
  15. Prepare the rest of your meal, which is basically just chopped cabbage and a soy sauce based dressing.
  16. When your chicken is finished boiling, pull it out of the water.
  17. Notice the peach gray look, and unmistakable stench of death, destruction, and future diarrhea.
  18. Take a small bite.
  19. Immediately regret your decision.
  20. Repeat steps 12-14. 
  21. Look longingly at your cabbage.
  22. Refill your wine.
  23. Order food from UberEats.
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Speed Reads

I fell super duper far behind last year with my reviews, which is a shame. There are a few books I read that I absolutely adored, but I’m so far removed from when I read them that I don’t think I’d be able to write a detailed critique. Instead, I’m just going to provide a few thoughts here and tell you that I HIGHLY recommend the books listed below.

garden-spells Garden Spells: I LOVED this book. I read it in the middle of a south Georgia July, cooled by the shade of a porch and slow moving fans. Garden Spells is at once a love story to the south, a supernatural mystery, and a family drama. I admired the strength of the Waverly women, and adored the quaintness of Bascom, NC. I could almost smell the lavendar and rose petals from Claire’s kitchen, and I fell a little bit in love with the idea of gardening. If you grew up in the 90s loving Practical Magic like I did, you have to read this book. 5 Stars

the-veins-of-the-oceanThe Veins of the Ocean: Reina’s early life is tragic. My heart ached for her unconditional love of her brother, and the first several chapters are painfully sad. But once she seeks a fresh start, the novel comes alive. The narrative eventually unfolds into a very sweet love story between two people looking for a future while holding on to the past. With gorgeous prose set in the heat of the Florida keys and Cuba, this book reveals the distinct hardships and struggles that immigrants face coming to America, while also underscoring the universal desire for love and intimacy. 4.5 Stars

ready-player-oneReady Player One: Y’all know I love a good audiobook, and this did not disappoint. Narrated perfectly by Wil Wheaton, the book follows the adventures of Wade Watts, aka Parzival, as he competes in the virtual world of the OASIS to find a hidden Easter egg left by James Halliday. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part 80s nostalgia, part YA, when this novel isn’t dropping pop culture trivia it’s thrusting the action forward at breakneck speed. I found myself taking the long way home so I could listen to Wheaton’s narration as long as possible. Such a fun adventure with a truly satisfying ending. 5 Stars.

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My 9 Steps to Hygge

Hygge. Konmari. Minimalism. Wabi sabi. These buzzwords have been floating around Pinterest boards and blogs for the last several years. I remember sometime in high school hearing Oprah talk about owning only what you love. There is comfort to be found in intentional living.

I struggle with the American way of life. My own consumerism can easily get out of hand with an unexpected windfall. Now that I’m a homeowner, and we’re looking ahead to family planning, the financial burdens that come with consumerism are overwhelming and increasingly stressful. In my younger years, carrying a credit card balance seemed so normal. Now, I resent the monthly payments and kick myself for falling into the credit trap. I now owe money for things I “purchased” years ago, that I’ve probably already given away because I never used/wore/read it.

I’ve been drawn to the idea of minimalism for a while. I even wrote about it several times on my previous (and now defunct) blog. I spent days culling through books and tchotchkes,  giving away anything that didn’t bring me joy. I read about capsule wardrobes and the freedom of owning less. These ideas are still enticing, but there’s a sense of lifestyle that’s missing.

If you read about minimalism for more than 5 minutes, most people will tell you the definition can be very personal. It’s not about owning only 100 items, or living in a tiny house, or selling all of your belongings and living out of a suitcase. It’s about not owning things you don’t need or love.

So, I was in Cashiers last weekend, curled up by a fire, drinking wine, and reading. I had downloaded a book called The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge. There is a sense of minimalism and intentional living in hygge, but it’s not a restrictive concept. It’s about creating a sense of cozy living, which cannot come if you’re surrounded by clutter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t own trinkets and candles and extra pillows – in fact they help to achieve hygge. So does a warm, hearty meal, wine, chocolate, and good friends. So basically, hygge is my everything. (Insert heart eyes).

So how am I working toward a more hyggeligt life? Here a few steps I plan to take:

GET RID OF CLUTTER

  • Try a capsule wardrobe. My wedding is April 1. My goal is to pair down to 33 items (minus accessories AND MY WEDDING DRESS!!), and start the 333 Project Challenge during my honeymoon.
  • Shopping Diet. Starting when we return from our honeymoon, I’m putting a stop to physical purchases for 2-3 months as well. I love spending a Saturday afternoon on a brewery patio, or eating al fresco in the summer. I love entertaining people at my home. I love being able to experience things in my city. It’s difficult to do that when I’m spending so much money on things I don’t need – lipstick, clothing, linens, exercise gear. So upon our return, I want to spend a few months getting to know the things we already own.
  • Sell or Donate. Even without doing the 333 Project Challenge, there are items in my closet I know I don’t wear. I’ve decluttered enough that I don’t own many items that don’t fit or that I don’t love – at least in a hypothetical world. I have a uniform that I stick to pretty closely – skinny or straight leg cropped pants, button up shirts, flat shoes. I wear a variation on this almost every day. I have a few dresses and skirts, so on occasion I’ll change things up, but that’s about it. Just about every piece of clothing in my wardrobe conforms to this. And yet, there are pieces that I just don’t wear. I have at least 5 versions of this blouse in several colors and prints:blouseThey all fit just fine, and I wear 4 of them a majority of the time, but I never wear the white version. Why? I don’t know. I’m afraid to get it dirty. I hate that you can see my bra and/or camisole underneath it? I love the idea of a flattering white shirt over skinny jeans or legging, but just not this one. I’m planning to send several pieces to ThredUp to resell. Anything they don’t use, they will donate for me. I also have some big pieces around the house that I’d like to get rid of: a bike, skis, trunks, glassware. There are so many places online to safely sell personal items, there’s no reason not to anymore.
  • Discard, Discard, Discard! If you’ve ever been to my house, you know about 1/4 of it is closed off. We have TWO ENTIRE ROOMS full of things we should throw away. This is the first thing I plan to tackle, actually. Eric and I are unexpectedly free this weekend, and I plan to work through these two rooms to throw away the extra papers, ratty t-shirts, empty boxes, etc.

BRING IN HYGGE

  • Candles. This one is easy. I’m obsessed with candles that smell like fresh linens, but I want to branch out and see what kind of natural scents I like. Lavender and rosemary? Citrus and pine?
  • Plants. Succulents for my office. Large leaf greenery for the living room and bedroom.
  • Good food. I have 3 books by Yotam Ottolenghi. I often flip through them and admire the gorgeous food photography, but I’ve yet to make a single recipe. As I mentioned previously, the Whole30 diet forced me to try new spices and prep methods, and I think I finally have the courage to tackle these new dishes. My SIL has told me they aren’t complicated at all, but I’ve held back until now.
  • New textiles & furniture. This is a long term plan, and one that we’ve had since before I ever heard the word hygge. Our couch is pretty old and lumpy. It’s also a dirty olive green. Not my favorite. We plan to buy a new couch in the next year or so, a new rug, and maybe an accent chair. We also need curtains big time. Our bedroom is pretty much set, but I’m excited to move the living room rug in there and potentially do some DIY projects with the furniture and lamps we already have to pull the colors together. All of this will certainly happen AFTER the shopping diet.

SAY NO. AND SAY YES.

  • I love to travel. Eric and I have a trip planned every month between now and September. But other than that, I don’t want any crazy obligations. I want to run my races, drink my patio beers, and float down my river. That’s how I want to spend the next several months. That means saying no to concerts and movies, and saying yes to BBQs and house parties. There’s no science to it, but if I find I’m dreading an event because every weekend is filled up and there’s no time for spontaneity, I’m going to pull out. I’m not going to be afraid to carve out some time for myself.
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Whole30 Schmole30

Last November, on a whim, I decided to study up on the Whole30 and force my fiancee to experiment with this new diet starting in January.

I did a lot of reading – the book, the cookbook, reviews. You get the idea. The Whole30 promised a new philosophy on eating, better digestion, better skin, and some weight loss. Well, I won’t lie to you, the weight loss is what sold me. A diet where you can eat as much as you want, that requires no tracking, and promised healthy happy results? Sign me up.

I spent most of December indulging, thanks in part to the holiday spirit. The week after Christmas, Eric and I went a little overboard. There was pasta. There were tacos. There was meatloaf. We ate everything we knew we wouldn’t be able to have starting January 2. Was this the best tactic? Maybe not, but if I was going to go a month without cream in my coffee, BY GOD I WAS GOING OUT IN STYLE – WITH BAILEYS.

January 2 was my last day of vacation, and I spent it meal planning, grocery shopping, and prepping. I’d found several recipes in the main Whole30 book and corresponding cookbook. I shopped at the Buford Highway Farmers Market for my meats and veggies, Whole Foods for the weird stuff (ghee and coconut aminos anyone?), and Publix for a few canned goods like tomatoes.

That first week I chopped about a pound of celery, carrots and red peppers to snack on. Now, the Whole30 frowns on snacking, but I know my body, and I know if I get hangry, my body will betray me and turn against my friends. So – raw veggies were in my Week One playbook. Also in my playbook? Chili, sweet potatoes, a LOT of avocados (#basic), eggs, steak, salmon, and probably more. I always made enough to ensure I had leftovers for lunch, and I lost 3 lbs in the first week.

Oh. This is probably a good time to tell you that I broke some rules. Well. I broke a lot rules. I probably broke enough rules that one could say I probably shouldn’t claim to have done the Whole30 at all. And that would be totally fair. Here are 3 things I did right up front that would probably disqualify me from the Whole30 reunion tour:

  1. I weighed myself every Friday. Look – I had a dress fitting scheduled the second week on January and I had to make sure my body wasn’t reacting poorly to all of the extra protein and lack of everything else I always eat.
  2. I drank wine. Not every night, but certainly at least once a week.
  3. I built in several cheat days. The Whole30 recommends planning your attempt at the diet around your life – so don’t pick a month where you know you have a ton of happy hours or parties. That’s all well and good except with the wedding coming up, there is always something going on several times a week. I think I did pretty well scheduling only 3 cheat days. As noted above, I had wine a lot more than that, but food wise, I stayed on course except for the 3 special occasions:
    1. Christmas Dinner with my family;
    2. Our Wedding Celebration party in Louisville;
    3. The Hot Chocolate 5k.

So. The first week went swimmingly, and on Sunday I had my parents and family friends over for a belated Christmas dinner. I made mostly Whole30 compliant foods – a roast, smashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and a salad. I bought cheesecake for dessert and had a small bite.

The second week I took my meal planning to a new level, and even created a weekly spread just to track it in my bullet journal. Over the weekend, Eric smoked a port tenderloin for me and a ton of chicken breasts.I also made soup, shaksuka, steak and curry. Week 2 was definitely a “branch out and try to cook new cuisines if you’re going to survive this month” kind of a week. I think all of my recipes came from the Whole30 cookbook, and they were all AMAZING. Delicious and rich. I also lost another lb in week 2.

Week 3 I branched out into the world of Pinterest. I made some mouthwatering slow cooked buffalo chicken, fajitas, coconut chicken, more chili, a veggie hash with homemade meatballs, and some cheats for the Hot Chocolate 5k day.

Week 4 was the roughest week. Anytime you read about the Whole30, folks are going to tell you that it gets easier – and it did – until you hit a wall and you want to stop. I was tired, I didn’t want to meal plan. We had leftovers, Eric cooked another pork tenderloin to snack on for the week, and I bought more eggs, avocados, and sweet potatoes. But without meal planning, without having leftovers – there was barely anything to snack on. Cooking was a chore because I hadn’t prepared. We made it through and that weekend we had our Wedding Celebration party. To be honest, I didn’t cheat as much as I thought I would. I tasted the shrimp and grits, and ate plenty of raw oysters, but for the most part, we were too busy introducing ourselves to guests and spending time floating around the party to eat too much of what was offered. I made brunch the following day, and it was Whole30 compliant as well (minus the honey wheat cinnamon buns).

And then, there were 2 days left. And we didn’t grocery shop. If we stayed compliant, it’s only because we had nothing else in the house. We were basically done with it mentally after the party.

So, I’d say I’m a textbook example of what not to do. BUT. I will say that I got some really great benefits out of the experience.

  1. I lost 7 lbs total and have kept 5 off.
  2. I’ve found that dairy really does impact my sinuses and wheat really does impact my digestion.
  3. I had the burst of energy folks talk about starting week 2. I felt fantastic when I wasn’t cheating.

So. Where do we go from here? Eric loved that the diet required us to meal plan. We ate AMAZING food but it took a lot of work. It was impossible to eat out or enjoy a happy hour with friends, but we saved a ton of money by only sticking with our groceries. We would like to continue eating this way 80% of the time, and I’m okay with that too. I do feel like we eat a lot of meat on this diet, and I don’t know that I love that. I’m interested to see if I can find more vegetarian meals that are just as filling and flavorful.

Anyway, obviously I’m not a purist, but I do think this diet has some excellent benefits. I plan to take what I’ve learned about myself and my response to certain foods, and build healthier eating habits going forward. So 10/10 would (half-heartedly) try it again.

 

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Happy New Year!

Well hey there. Long time no see.

Alright, let’s get down to it. On a global scale, 2016 was objectively one of the most depressing years, between the insane political upheaval (both here and abroad), the very real and tragic loss of life (both here and abroad), and the loss of so many pop culture icons. It was shit. Facebook became a battleground, friendships were lost, and a general feeling of helplessness has surfaced in the face of what’s happening and what’s to come. 2016 was the worst. So long, asshole. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

But, okay. On a personal level, 2016 had its moments. My phone died (thanks, 2016!), so I don’t have a lot of pictures to share, but here are a few positive things I’d like to remember:

  1. Pop Culture hit peak-Jenny obsession with:
    • Hamilton
    • Wet Hot American Summer
    • Stranger Things
    • Gilmore Girls
    • Fuller House (do not you judge a girl raise in the 90s)
  2. Fancy Dinners:
    1. Rathbun’s Steak
    2. Bocca Lupo
    3. Cook’s Warehouse
    4. Cooks and Soldiers
    5. Great Wall and Sushi
  3. Wedding Dress Shopping: Everyone should do it. I felt so special and beautiful that day. Strangers compliment you, everyone seems so excited. And really, wedding dresses are made to flatter. To have my mom, Eric’s sisters, and some of my best friends there with me was a wonderful experience. For me, it was just So. Much. Fun. At one point, I thought I had found my dress. There were tears. Then Kate looked behind her, saw one more dress and suggested I try it on. It was perfect. It was everything I wanted. I won’t go into detail, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it’s the one. I cannot wait for Eric to see it in just 6 weeks.
  4. Galentine’s Day: Homemade sushi and ogling Ryan Reynolds with my BFF.galentinesday
  5. Roadtrip to DC: Eric and I took one of our very first vacations ALONE together – visiting family and friends, of course! We drove from Atlanta to Cary, NC to visit with Chip and Carrie for St. Patrick’s Day. Chip made an amazing corn beef and cabbage dinner. The next day we made it to DC, where we stayed with Sean (and Julie, though she was out of town for most of the trip). Their house was lovely, and they opened it to us and made us feel so welcome. We got to visit with Will and Sam, who are now groomsmen in our wedding, plus their gorgeous wives, Jill and Joelle, and little Eli. We went to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and even took an “Old Fashioned” tour of the city (we went to several bars and drank old fashions at each one – what did you think I meant by “Old Fashioned” tour?). We also took a few trips to visit my sister and her family. Me nephews got to meet Eric for the first time and I got to meet little Lucy, who is a bundle of curls and giggles. I also got to take Eric to Damascus, a place I still consider home. Jimmie Cone was already open, which I could not believe, so I had my first flurry in 10 years. I made Eric drive up and down some of the roads to show him where I used to live. It was a little sad for me, but I’m glad we went. I also spent a day just DC alone, having lunch with one of my oldest friends, visiting monuments, and just generally walking around one of my favorite cities. On our way back to the A we stopped in Goldsboro to visit AJ, Leslie, and Lilly for some grub, movies, and sleep. It was a jam-packed trip, and I’m so glad we were able to go.
  6. This spring night in Atlanta:springinatl
  7. Oglethorpe Class of 2006 10 Year Reunion: The reunion itself was a little bit of a let down, but it was SO good to catch up with old friends.alumni
  8. Jenny and Fauzia’s Day of Fun: 2 important facts about this day. 1) Eric and I were smack in the middle of our super stressful house hunt. 2) I asked Fauzia to be a bridesmaid…about 2 months after I asked my other bridesmaids. So Fauzia and I were talking one day about her bridesmaid status and how, even though we felt close, we’d never actually hung out just the two of us before. In desperate need of some fun, we decided to go for hike, look at a house, and drink beer. We did all of these things. As twinsies. Cause that’s how we roll. It was one of the funnest days of 2016, by far.jandfdayoffun
  9. Our engagement party: Again with the feeling special! My mom, Lisa, and Peggy threw us a really lovely party. Most of our immediately families stateside were able to make it, and the weather was just perfect.
  10. Our annual beach trip with the Agels: Every year we go to Holden Beach and stay Saturday to Saturday, enjoying each others company. This year was bittersweet. We all arrived that first Saturday, had a delicious meal, took our celebratory tequila shots/sips, and spent the evening on rocking chairs listening to Sublime and staring at the ocean. The next day around lunchtime, sandwiches and leftovers were being prepared, we heard the news that Eric’s grandfather, Fred, passed away. Fred had been battling various ailments over the last year, and we knew it was coming. Our vacation was made possible because of Fred and his wife, Cathy, and he couldn’t make the trip for the first time this year. From Atlanta, Cathy told us to stay at the beach, enjoy our time together, it’s what Fred wanted for everyone. Her son, Chip, went down to Atlanta and brought her back mid-week. The family spent a lot of time reminiscing, telling stories about Fred, honoring his memory. I spent a lot of time listening. I’m sad to say I didn’t know him that well, but I did love to visit with him. He seemed to be so proud of Eric – “Grandson!” he would shout whenever he saw him. Me? I was “Oglethorpe!” Fred was an alum of Oglethorpe as well, and we spent a lot of time talking about professors, the state of the university, the “new” President. He was an amazing man, who led an amazing life, and raised an amazing family. His presence was felt on the trip, and while there was sadness in the air, there was also joy and relief. Joy to have known a man who had lived such a full life, and relief that he was no longer in pain.I’m so grateful to him for welcoming me into his family, and I’m heartbroken that he’s gone. He will be missed.
  11. Our house: We bought a house! We moved out of our little bungalow in Summerhill to BUY our own home. It’s still so surreal.house
  12. July 4: My parents came down to Louisville for the first time. We spent a few days by the pool, and I “accidentally” bought “too many” fireworks. And my parents brought fireworks. And we had a blast. And no one lost a finger.
  13. My Birthday – I spent the weekend eating amazing food, lazily floating down a river, and seeing If/Then (starring my teenage crush, ANTHONY RAPP!) with my mom.birthday
  14. Lo’Vonia’s visit. This woman used to live next door to me. Needless to say, there is NEVER a dull moment when she’s around. We had a blast.lolo
  15. Once autumn came, we started to venture out into our neighborhood. There’s a park very nearby that hosts free bluegrass every weekend in the spring and fall – Wind Down Wednesday. We went as often as possible in October, with a picnic tote of food and wine.  We got to meet some neighbors and spend some time with our friends. I’m very excited for WDW to return in May.winddown
  16. That time I ate Tacos every day for a week. I ❤ Texas.
  17. That time we had 4 Thanksgivings.
    1. First with the Agels. Eric’s dad has this amazing way of making his house feel so warm and inviting. It helps that he has the softest blankets and comfiest chairs for napping.
    2. Second with my mama. She made a delicious roast, and we had a lovely dinner with my uncle, Jamie, his girlfriend, and our favorite neighbors.
    3. Third was down in Louisville with the Easterlin gang at the farm. Louisville is such a special town, and Eric’s mom does not know how to not make a big deal of her children’s homecoming.
    4. Fourth was a week later, when I hosted a family reunion for the Goldberg descendants.
  18. My mom works for Wal-Mart, and what that means is that for the last several years we haven’t spent Thanksgiving Day together. Sure, we always make time to have a holiday meal together, but where’s my greenbean casserole?? Where’s my turkey-soaked parsnips? Where’s my New England style home made dressing? Back in July, I had this idea that I would invite all of my first cousins down to Atlanta to celebrate the holidays. My grandmother passed away a few years ago, and it sort of felt like she was glue that bonded us all together. I was barely keeping in touch with my Indiana cousins, or my Florida cousins. It’s easy to see the Atlanta cousins, since they’re here, but even then, we’d only catch up once a year. So – December 3 I somehow fit 17 people into my house for a major Thanksgiving blow out. I cooked for 2 days. Mom made 2 turkeys. Every cousin, except the eldest, Andy, was able to make it, and even he was represented by his gorgeous wife, Amy, and their little one, S. We invited Kristy and Fauzia, since they are basically blood at this point, and we invited Eric’s sisters because family is important and we love them so much. It was a fantastic night, and I think my dad even put on real pants, so this definitely goes in the “WIN” column.
  19. Iliza Schlesinger – I was actually able to surprise Eric with tickets to see Iliza Schlesinger. I never get to surprise him! Kristy and Fauzia came with us, and we had such a blast. She was on her “Confirmed Kills” tour, and while we’d already seen her stand-up special on Netflix, and some of her jokes were the same, a majority was new material, and regardless, we were in stitches all night.
  20. Christmas. When I was very young, and my mother was still with my biological father, we celebrated Christmas. I have no memories of those years, but there are pictures of a very happy toddler Jenny opening presents, including one very cool Sesame Street book about Ernie cheating in an art contest. Then we moved to Florida, and unbeknownst to me, we struggled financially. We celebrated Chanukkah with my aunt and grandmother, and I always received at least one really cool gift, like a Puppy Surprise or a Magic Nursery doll, but there were no more trees, no more ornaments, no more Santa or Rudolph. I still believed in Santa, so obviously him ignoring me was soul-crushing. My mom scraped her way up, and in 4th grade, Christmas returned. I remember we lived in a townhouse, and our tree was right in front of the stairs. “Santa” came early to drop the presents off, and on Christmas eve, after a chorus concert, we came home to a tree overflowing with gifts. I was allowed to open one present that night – it was game for a Gameboy. I did not own a Gameboy, but I was about to. A few years later, my mom married my (step, but really just)dad, and Christmas continued. Sometimes the presents were more frugal, like the year we moved from South Florida to Maryland in January, and I got thermal underwear and sweaters, or the year we all went to England and I got British chocolates. But there were years that were bountiful too. And our trees got bigger and bigger. Then I went away to college, and they started getting smaller and smaller. My gift requests got more expensive – a Chi hair straightener, or an iPod. Finally, Christmas just stopped. Without kids at home, and with my dad being a self-proclaimed Scrooge, there was just no need for a tree. Now, that’s not to say my parents aren’t generous around this time of year. We still exchange gifts, but it’s been smaller, and there’s less Christmas magic and more “Happy Holidays”. This context, I think, helps to explain my fascination and wonder at how the Agels and Easterlins celebrate, and why I love it so damn much.
    1. The AgelHofs: When Eric and I first moved in together, I told him I wanted a Christmas tree. He told me no, that it was a waste of money since we don’t spend Christmas at home. The second year we lived together, I told Eric I wanted a Christmas tree, and that we were getting one – no arguments. We picked out a little 3ft pre-lit fake tree from Target, and some kitschy felted ornaments and red and gold bulbs. Over the next few Christmas’s I started amassing a more personal collection, like hand painted bulbs from Twisted Sisters. Lilli gave me a dill pickle last year. Lil gave me an oversized diamond ring. Lisa gave us a bulb filled with sand from Holden Beach one year. My cousin, Piper, sent me some handmade hearts. Even Eric got into the spirit and bought us a Spiderman and Avengers ornaments. Two years ago, half of the lights on our little 3ft tree died, and replacing a bulb did not fix them. So last year, we upgraded to a 6ft tree. Throughout the years, I’ve begged my mom to let me have our old ornaments. My parents hadn’t put up a tree since I graduated college, so it had been about 10 years since I’d seen them. She always told me I had to wait. Last year, she said I’d get them when I got married. A few weeks later, Eric and I got engaged. This year, I got my ornaments. We’d already put the tree up the Sunday after our big family reunion. We do this together, just the two of us, and I love the quiet, personal time during the holidays that it affords us. We wore our “ugly Christmas sweaters”, and I made Eric wear an elf hat, we drank Baileys, listened to the Pop Christmas Spotify playlist, and trimmed the tree. I got to see my toolbox ornament, where Eric had placed my engagement ring the year before. I may have teared up, realizing that this was something we’d cherish for every Christmas hereafter. A week later, I went to my parents’ and picked up another box full of ornaments. Wooden rocking horses, dolls from around the world, a partridge in a pear tree inside a glass pear, my “baby’s first Christmas” ornament, ornaments to commemorate my childhood pets. It was amazing to touch them, to see them and remember what magic we used to have at Christmas. I’m so glad my mom finally relented! But more than that, Eric and I are building our own memories and traditions. It’s hard to full express why, but it means so much to me. Putting our tree up every year is my absolute, hands down, favorite Christmas tradition.
    2. The Agels: This is my 8th Christmas spent with Rick and his kids. About 2 weeks before Christmas, we trimmed the tree and ate Mellow Mushroom. This is probably one of my top three favorite Christmas traditions with Eric’s family. Something about pizza and wine just always gets me, and watching Lilli expertly light the tree by herself is something to truly behold. “Christmas Day” with Rick is full of even more traditions. Almost every single one has involved mimosas with frozen OJ ice cubes and pomegranate seeds. He makes a delicious meal, be it brunch, lunch, or dinner. He lays out each kid’s presents on a different chair and won’t let us into the room to sneak a peek. Sometimes he wears a Santa hat. Always he is smiling, beaming at his children and what they’ve become. I don’t remember when, but one year, I had my own stocking and my own reserved space on a chair, and it’s been that way ever since. Rick has gone out of his way to make me feel included, ever since he realized I wasn’t going anywhere. There’s Christmas music playing, often on a playlist picked by Lilli or Kate. And like any time we visit with him, I try to sneak a nap on the chairs under the soft blankets.
    3. The Easterlins: Christmas in Louisville has started to evolve. For 6 Christmases, I knew the schedule like clockwork. Get in to town on the 23rd. Hang out at the farm. Christmas eve, hunt mistletoe, leave it in the car, forget to bring it to Mima’s. Start getting ready for Christmas eve service at 2. Attend service at 5. Go to dinner. Drink a little bit too much red wine. Fall asleep before anyone else. Christmas day is presents, Christmas casserole and mimosas, fancy dinner at Mima’s. This year, we got into Louisville late on the 23rd and spent some quality time catching up with his mom. Christmas eve we had a curve ball thrown, and I had to rearrange my plans to come back to Atlanta and pick up my puppy. We missed church this year, but had an amazing dinner hosted by Eric’s cousins in Augusta. While I could have been sad to lose some hours on Christmas eve, I actually enjoyed the alone time in the midst of the holiday madness, and as a bonus, I was able to spend Christmas with my dog, which I don’t think has happened in 8 years. Christmas morning we woke up to stockings and fresh brewed coffee. We had breakfast and waited for Ward to join us to exchange gifts. Lil was too generous, as usual, and Kate’s sloth tote bag 100% won best Christmas gift of the year. Eric and I did get to go mistletoe hunting, and we did leave the mistletoe in the truck again. We got to visit with baby William, who is by far the quietest, happiest baby I’ve ever met. We had a simpler (but still amazing and plentiful) meal at 801. I probably drank too much wine. And then we spent an extra day in Louisville just hanging out and seeing people. River played with my makeup for the wedding, and it was nice getting to know him a little better. So hard to believe he was only 10 when I met him, and now he’s graduating high school! There was ping pong at some point too. I vividly remember losing poorly to Frank at ping pong.
    4. We did have Christmas with my family this year, but it wasn’t until January, so it doesn’t fall under the great things that made 2016 bearable. I hosted, tree and decorations still up, and it was wonderful. Peggy and Mark, and Fauzia and Kristy joined us, and my mom and dad spoiled us with gifts, both super thoughtful and useful.
  21. Work: Work was soul-crushing this year, in many ways. It was one of the hardest years of my life, hands down. But I conquered almost every challenge thrown at me. I can’t say I did it with a lot of grace or patience, but I’ve helped my business a lot, and I’ve been rewarded. I was promoted to Senior Consultant over the summer, and given the opportunity to take on a leadership role within my current team. I don’t always love my job, but I love my company. I feel valued, and that’s an amazing blessing.
  22. Post Christmas to New Years Eve: I took so much time off of work at the end of the year and it was FANTASTIC. I logged off early on December 21(?) and didn’t look back. I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have the benefits and schedule that my company gives me, but believe me when I tell you that week and a half was NECESSARY. I had time to recharge. Eric and I spent a lot of time together, both relaxing and knocking things off our wedding list. I visited with my mom. I hung out with Kristy. I indulged in foods and drinks (in anticipation of the Whole30). It was glorious, and I went back to work on January 3 ready for new challenges.