Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Magic

 This weekend just became my very favorite Christmas ever. Brad and I have been plotting since September. We decided that our Christmas gift to the kiddos would be a night at the Biltmore, and we managed to keep it a secret from the kids!

 When they woke up Saturday morning, we told them to get dressed in the clothes we laid out and hop in the van, which we had decorated:

 It was hysterical. They were so anxious as first. They truly had no idea where we were going. They finally put the pieces together when we were about 30 miles away from Asheville. We started the weekend at our favorite crepe place in Asheville, and then we checked into the Village Hotel on the Biltmore estate. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and the whole thing smelled like pine and gingerbread. Every single person we met was unbelievably kind, including the staff member that stepped away from her counter to take this picture for us:
 Issa loved all of the owls in the trees, and I am so grateful for the picture since our selfie game was not strong:
 We spent Saturday afternoon exploring the Village. We found a few new wines we loved at the winery and joined the wine club, and we played many fun games from the turn of the century. The kids also wanted to take the traditional pictures with the statue of Cedric, the family dog:

 The kids were most excited about making their own Christmas poppers:
 After a fabulous dinner at Cedric's Pub, we were able to tour the Biltmore home by candlelight:
 The pictures just don't do it justice. I spent half the evening teary. It truly is magic and beautiful and perfect. Watching the kids' eyes light up as they saw the giant trees was amazing:

 There are 62 trees throughout the home:

 The mantles were all stunning, and seeing them in the firelight was remarkable:

 And the trees on the front lawn were not to be missed:
 The kids loved exploring among the trees:
 And we were all swept up in the magic:
 The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel and then went back to tour the home in the daylight. Issa actually kept a tally of the trees. We found all of them! We ended our time on the estate with brunch at Deerpark. It was an incredible buffet. The kids were delighted by the peel and eat shrimp, and Brad was thrilled to find prime rib. We are still trying to figure out how they made my herb-crusted turkey, and the stuffing was quite possibly the single best bite I've ever put in my mouth. Except for maybe the peppermint s'mores pie.

On our way home, we stopped by the Grove Park Inn to see the National Gingerbread Competition winners. We have watched the competition on tv, but to see it in person was super cool. This year's winner was very impressive:
 I loved the reindeer piece:
 And we are all still trying to figure out how they made this poinsettia:
We are very glad we saw all of the gingerbread--once. The crowd was insane--especially compared to the Biltmore.

This was one of those weekends that defied the rules of time. We were only gone one night, but we made so many memories. The kids thanked us over and over for the best Christmas ever, and we all agreed it was truly magic. The lights and the music and the time to just be--to soak it all in. Christmas perfection.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holly Jolly-ing

In the midst of everything else, we are really enjoying the Christmas season. Our elf brought us all footy pajamas to snuggle in as we do all things Christmas-y, and my very sweet husband took to posing ours:
Even our jammies kind of life each other. They really are some of the softest, coziest, loveliest pajamas:
 Evan is so hoping for a pajama day at school soon so can be a wookie all day.

Issa and I also decorated the tree last week:
 Our little table top tree is working pretty well for us! And we hung garland above the windows to hold all the lighter ornaments:
 I also love all the pine cones in my pineapple serving tower:
Last weekend, we finished our shopping and went to see a great community theatre production of Elf! This weekend, we will celebrate Christmas as our little family of four, and Brad and I can't wait to surprise the kids. More on that next week...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Legacy

"What is a legacy?
It's planting seeds in a garden you'll never get to see..."
--Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

I've been very quiet the past week and a half because I haven't had words. It takes a lot to truly leave me unable to write, but the Wednesday after Thanksgiving heaven gained my granddaddy, and I've been trying to find a way to live in a world without him in it.

Everyone keeps asking if his death was unexpected. Yes and no. He was 94, and although his mind and wit were as sharp as a tack his body was betraying him. That said, when we saw him at Thanksgiving we had a marvelous visit, and when I said I would see him at Christmas he nodded--no speech like there had been so many times in the past. No last words or wisdom. No last sage advice. No last "Heather Ann." So when I got the call, I was shocked.

Granddaddy is my hero. He was the first person I wanted to call when I was accepted into each of my degree programs. I waited to hear the pride in his voice when I called with good news. And when things were going wrong, I called my mom for comfort and my granddaddy to get it together. I've been struggling to find the right words to commemorate such a man.

Last night, the words that opened this post entered my mind, though, and I finally found the words. 

"What is a legacy?
It's planting seeds in a garden you'll never get to see..."

Those lines have always resonated with me, but last night I realized how very wrong they were about Granddaddy.

You see...I believe he saw his legacy. He wrote it--physically and metaphorically.

Physically, he wrote the book. After years of my nagging and threatening to come sit in his study until he told me every family story for me to transcribe, he gave us the greatest gift and wrote his memories. Each short story teaches not only about him but also about life. Who to be. How to live. It's a guidebook. It is a legacy of wisdom that I pick up when I'm lost or just need to hear his voice because it is in every page and every word.

He also saw his legacy grow in his family. These pictures of him will always be some of my most treasured:

The memories the kids have of the years of talking with him. Seeing him beam at them. Issa will always be his princess and Evan will always be his little man. Just as I am his legacy so are they. We learn from his example and his words and his love. We carry all of that forward with us and through us.

We have talked about him a lot the past two weeks. I was pretty deep in grief when Issa looked at me and said, "You know what Granddaddy would tell you: suffering builds character."

Yes...but the rest of that story is suffering builds perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope, and it is our hope which does not disappoint (Romans 5:4). And so we move forward in hope.

And we move forward as his legacy...knowing it is very much a garden he planted, saw grow, and will continue to watch and guide in the years to come...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

So Very Thankful

Despite the appalling lack of photographic evidence, we had a great Thanksgiving in Ohio.

We started the trip at Brad's dad's. He allowed Brad and I to do the cooking this year, and we had a blast. He also snapped this picture which is the only evidence we actually left the state:
 From there, we went to Brad's mom's, where we met her new puppy! The next day was spent playing with Rosco and the cousins. I never get tired of watching my two play with their cousins, and they can hardly wait for more at Thanksgiving.

Friday, we headed to Napoleon. After lunch with Papa, we went to Nana's for one last Thanksgiving. Saturday, we were able to visit Granddaddy before a cold took me out. We had plans to go to the zoo, but we ended up staying home to start the decorating. We were terribly amused as the kids arranged everything in conversational groups:
 I also love the Santa Wolf:
 On the way home Sunday, we picked up our tree: is short. We are going a different route this year and doing a table top tree. I'm adjusting. It was just easier this year. Brad is moving to a new office,  and we still have a puppy. The kids are in love with the idea, though. They are also thrilled that this guy is back:
He was waiting for us when we got home Sunday, and this appeared Monday morning. He hung Christmas light balloons in the doorways--super fun.

I'm still down with this pesky cold, but I'm so grateful we had time with family. Bring on the holly jolly!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Our Nation's Capital

We had a great trip to our nation's capital with a great group:

We arrived on Thursday and toured a really cool high school before settling into our hotel. After a brief break, we headed out to dinner and then took a tour of the monuments at night. FDR's memorial is so powerful, and we were all struck by how very much his words apply today. This depiction of his fireside chat was particularly powerful:
This was also my first visit to the MLK memorial:
And the Super Moon beside the Washington Monument was quite the view:
We ended our tour with Lincoln, which I always find to be such a powerful place.
Our guide was incredible, and this was such an interesting time to be in DC. In the aftermath of the election, there was something very compelling about watching government continue. Watching the city prepare for the smooth transition of power that has been our hallmark.

Friday morning, everyone scattered to various museums. It was one of my proudest moments when I watched them divide not but typical friends groups but by museum interests. They all ventured out in little groups and met back up in the afternoon for another great school tour.

I spent Friday morning touring the botanical gardens, which I had never seen before. The replicas of the monuments made from living materials were amazing:
They were also starting to decorate, and I loved the tiny Christmas tree beside the Washington Monument:
Friday night we went to see a play at the Kennedy Center, and then Saturday morning we hopped on the bus and toured Mt. Vernon on the way home. I took three terrible pictures, but Mt. Vernon was by far the highlight of my trip. Washington was such an interesting man, and to see how he designed his estate and the way he lived was fascinating. I learned so very much, and we ended our tour with a wreath laying ceremony at his grave. We performed the same ceremony that heads of states observe when they visit, and it concludes with someone reading Washington's Prayer for His Country:

"I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside in His holy protection ... that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation." -George Washington June 8, 1783

My student did a phenomenal job reading it, and I might have gotten teary.

I was home by dinner on Saturday night, and then we had our annual Thanksgiving for friends last night:
I continue to be so very thankful. Thankful for amazing students. Thankful for the ability to travel and the opportunity to learn. Thankful for good friends. Thankful to always come home to my family...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

On the road...

I'm writing from a bus on the way to D.C. with 15 future teachers. We will spend the next three days drinking in history and culture and education. We will tour schools and reflect. We will laugh.

And right now, I'm listening to the low hum of voices and giggles. Watching smiling faces. Loving life. Bring on the adventure...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Because We Need a Little Christmas...

We really try to take holidays one at a time at our house. is super stressful right now. The end of the semester always is. It makes looking forward to the holidays even more special.

I'm so excited for Thanksgiving next week! We can't wait to see family, and I'm already starting the prep for our Friendsgiving on Sunday.

And...we are starting to let a little holly jolly slip in. We've always had Christmas weekends in November. We do most of our shopping and creating and prep so we can slow down and truly enjoy December. And...I have discovered end-of-semester grading is much more lovely with Christmas carols. They might be playing in my office. I'll never tell.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Chicago Adventures!

We had a wonderful weekend in Chicago with Aunt Shannon and Uncle Jeff! 

We arrived Friday evening, and went straight to Eataly for dinner and exploring. I think both kids ate their weight in meat and cheese, and I am a huge fan of their pizza. After a little research, I have discovered he adds white wine to the crust dough, which I am quite certain is the reason it is so perfect!

The kids loved falling asleep watching the sky line, and I loved staying with Shannon and Jeff. Usually, Brad and I stay somewhere else and sneak in a date, but since this trip was so fast it was great to just have the time to spend with them.

Saturday morning, we went to brunch right across the street from Shannon's place, and the kids ate the best breakfast ever: pancakes with sprinkles inside, whipped cream on top, and syrup on the side. It was ridiculous. And they made a vanilla butter that Evan insisted on calling vanilla ice cream and would have happily eaten all by itself. 

Once we were all properly in a food coma, we headed to the Museum of Science and Industry to explore the super cool Lego exhibit there. I will have to get Issa's pictures of the actual Lego displays, but they were recreations of several architectural wonders, including the Colosseum and the Golden Gate Bridge. The whole exhibit was designed to help kids think like engineers and architects, and the giant pulley experiment was a clear favorite:

 They also loved building:
 Issa added her name to the wall:
 Evan made this:
 Shannon and I were excited to explore parts of the museum we remembered visiting. The baby chicks we remember as being part of the farming exhibit are now part of the genetics exhibit, which was a clear winner for Daddy:
 The new business exhibit was one of Evan's favorite. I've never thought of a business plan as a rock wall, but they made it make sense:
 We also got to tour the coal mine, which was just as cool as we remembered!

From there, we made the requisite trips to the Lego store and American Girl before going home to swim and make a feast from ingredients acquired at Eataly.

Sunday morning, we enjoyed very special donuts at Aunt Shannon's. Evan is still grumpy I didn't let him eat the entire two-layer sprinkle donut. We then headed out to the Art Institute to see the Thorne Rooms, and Aunt Shannon captured this great shot:
 Issa has read a series of book about the Thorne rooms, so we were all a little stunned when Evan enjoyed them more. He loved looking at the tiny rooms and trying to place them in history. Later, Issa explained that she loved the rooms she hadn't read about, but the others weren't quite as cool as her imagination. That's my girl! The glass paper weight exhibit was a huge highlight for both kids, which was another big surprise.

We ended our trip with deep dish pizza because...Chicago:

We are so incredibly grateful Shannon and Jeff allowed us to invade their world for the weekend. We made fabulous memories, and I will be forever grateful for the time...