Thursday, August 28, 2014

33: A Decade in Review

Dear 23-Year-Old-Kim,
You're 23! Happy Birthday, girl! You're about to embark on the craziest decade of your life (you've only lived 2 so far, but this one is going to be pretty nuts)! It's mostly going to be good stuff, GREAT stuff even. But there are going to be some really, really hard moments. Twenty-three is when you become an adult. This year is the catalyst to becoming a grown up, and you're ready. You've got this.

You're living at home now, you've been home from college for a few years, and moving home with no end in sight is a bit of a downer, I know you're sad a lot, and you feel hopeless, but you are going to be moving out, SOON. Just be patient. In a couple months you're going to get the call, offering you the option to purchase a condo right near downtown. You're very own place. That you OWN. By yourself. It's going to terrify you, the responsibility and the thought of being lonely.

You're going to love it. This place is going to be your resting place. Your sanctuary. Your shelter from the world. You are going to live here, laugh here, love here. You are going to cry here. You'll be scared. You'll be ecstatic. This will be your home base for all kinds of adventures. You will bake and cook and decorate and host all your friends. You will have several bible studies in your living room with all kinds of ladies.  This home is going to be one of the biggest blessings of the next decade of your life. It's a good one.

You're gonna get a puppy! When you get that call about the condo, the very first thing you do will be find yourself a dog. You already know this though, don't you? She's going to be awesome. She will be furry, and fluffy, and loving, and obedient...well, sometimes. She will get house-broken. She will bring you much joy. She will sit with you when you cry. Her eyes will look at you like you are her world. Because you are. And she is YOURS. You will go on adventures together. She will sit on the floor of your car ready to take on the world with you. It's going to be really, really fun.

As for the loneliness you worried about, you really aren't. Your life is so full of wonderful friends and family, that your home is a great place for you to recharge in the quietness. You're gonna find out, after all those years of extroversion, you're actually an introvert. Yeah, I wouldn't believe that either.

In a few short days, you're going to start a new job. You are super nervous leaving your old, secure job, but you weren't happy. And this one is going to be so much better. You think you'll just work there for a year (or two), and it is really going to be TEN (at least). Around year 5, you're going to laugh that you're still there. But you're going to laugh because you will realize how much really do love your job. You love weekends more, and you always will, but for a job, it's pretty awesome.  You're going to make some wonderful friends here. You're gonna love them. You'll spend every day with them for a DECADE (at least) and they will become like family. You spend the most of your time spinning in that same chair, in that same spot, but you will grow into an adult in that spot. It's going to be good.

You'll finish grad school this year as well. You'll be 23 and have a Masters Degree. I'm proud of you, girl. You'll never have to go to school again - as much as you really do enjoy it. The year ahead is such a big one, it kind of gets swept under the rug, but this is one milestone not to be overlooked.

And because of that job, you're going to be able to buy that home. And a car too. And pay your student loans. All on your own. It may seem silly to me now at 33, but I remember you 23-year-old-self, and the feeling that you'll never be able to do or afford anything on your own. But you will. This job is going to be one of the biggest blessings of your life. And you have no clue how much so.

You're going to travel. I know right now you have zero interest in seeing the world. I get that. I remember that. But, in about 5 years you're gonna SEE IT. You'll finally leave the continent, and head to Ireland, and get those first stamps in your passport, and after that, there will be no stopping you. You're going to go to 20 countries on three continents, and fill up pages of your passport. You'll kiss the Blarney Stone, go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, gamble in the Casino de Monte Carlo. YOU WILL PET A LION. You're going to go to Russia, and Croatia, Turkey, Estonia. You will go to several islands in Greece - they will be your favorite. You'll turn 29 somewhere between England and Denmark. You'll turn 30 in Barcelona, 31 in Florence. You'll go to SOUTH AFRICA. Yes, you will. I know, I'd freak out about it too.

You will travel across the country 4 times to help those who have lost everything. Three of those times you will go to the south, Mississippi to be specific. You will meet people who trust you immediately, because they need help, and love, and HOPE. You really won't do much, besides throw out waterlogged sheet rock, and sift through scattered photographs, but you will listen. And you you will cry. And God will use you. And HE will get much glory.

A few years later, after all the dust from the first hurricane has settled, you will go on that 4th trip, to New Jersey. You will step into a strangers home, and feel like you are walking into a familiar place. The sights, the sounds, the SMELLS. You look down at your feet, and see floorboards that were once carpeted. You will rip sheet rock off walls once more. Pull nails out of studs. You will find damp photographs in the dirt. You will wear gloves, and a mask, and get insulation in your hair again. And you will cry for all of the "stuff" your new friends have lost. You will be shocked to be standing the midst of such loss. Again. But again, you will be the hands and the feet of the Church. One word, on one page, of the story the Lord is writing in so many people's lives.

Speaking of the church, things are going to change. In a few years, you're going to leave the place you have known, and the halls you have walked for the past 23 years. It is going to be scary and awesome all in one. It is going to be one of the biggest leaps of faith you will take, but it will also be crystal clear. You will see the Lord leading like no other time in your life. He will open doors, and shut others. Figuring out what friendships and relationships look like after this will be one of the more complicated parts. Tread gently, be humble, give much grace. God is good, and He will guide you through it.

Your new church is called Hope Church. It will feel like home. It will be family. And the truth is, it's going to be really hard. And it's going to be really, really good. But really, really hard. But so much fun too. I'm 33 now, and in the midst of serving here. God is so good. And 4 years in, we are still just in the beginning. Something someone will tell you in the beginning is to "be faithful in the little". Remember that when you're cleaning out a 40 cup sludgy coffee pot for the 200th time in an elementary school bathroom sink.  Laugh at yourself a lot. Give much grace. And serve people well. Give God the glory.

You will also learn that the Church isn't just the people within the same walls and who you sing next to on Sunday mornings. It's the people who are faithfully gathering in their own pews, chairs, benches, floors around the world, praising the Author of all things. You're going to have so many opportunities to be the Church, with the Church. It won't always be what you expect, and that is a gift of grace.

I hate to tell you this, but by 33 you won't married.  You'll go on a few dates, some will be better than others. You will hate this fact, I know it. But trust me when I say this - you are going to get to do so much because of the freedom of being single. You will be able to book your next trip to Europe on a whim. You will get to go to Europe 5 or 6 times, because you can. It's going to be really good. Who knows where the next 10 years will put us, but enjoy these last 10 for all you do get to do, not what you don't.

Here's where things get real. You're going to lose one of your closest friends. Suddenly. You will be emailing and talking with her every single day, planning out the details of her wedding, including on a Friday afternoon at 4:30pm. And two days later, on a Sunday morning sitting in the pews at church, you will receive a call she was in an accident and is fighting for her life. You will fly to her bedside, and pray over her, with her. You will hold her swollen hand. You will touch her blood-soaked braid. And you will cry more than you have, or will in years. You will say goodbye, and hope it is just a "see you later". You will come home, and wait, and hope beyond hope. In prayer and pain. And a week later you will be told she doesn't make it.  This will be one of the worst years of your life. The darkness will not lift. The world will go on around you. While your heart aches and grieves over the loss of one of your best friends. The only person you will want to talk to is her, and you have SO much to say. But she will be gone.

But people will surround you. Friends and family. The sun will set each day, and rise each morning. And with each of those, the pain will gradually lessen. God is faithful. He will teach you much. You will learn to understand loss and grief. He will use you because of this. He will not waste anything.  He will get you through it. The hurt will never fully subside, but you will walk with it in your heart, a little more compassionate, a whole lot wiser and better because of it. And you will recognize, that though this was the hardest thing of the past 10 years, you have SO so much to be grateful for.

Twenty-three-year-old-self, if you can't tell by what I just told you, this next decade is going to be quite the ride. Hang on, say yes to things, and know you will get through it. You will be sitting here writing this letter to yourself in 10 years with a big grin, being so grateful for what the last decade has brought you. I think life will be different than you expected, but I think you'll like it.  Let's check back in in another 10 and see where we're at, (hello, future 43 year old (ouch) self)!  If it's even half as incredible as the last 10 we'll be in a good place.

Happy Birthday, Girl. I love you.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The French Post: Nice-ly Done.

My family arrived in Nice on the second night, a little later than expected and tired from their journey. But hey, we're in France, so let's get to it.

I showed them around town - a total expert from my one day alone - and briefed them on the next day's agenda. I had plans for them - the flower market again, the chateau again, and per my sister's request a quick dip in the Med. We also wanted to rent and ride bikes around town, if we could figure it out!

So off we went, there was a really awesome splash pad in the middle of town. And just as we walked up the fountains turned off for the night. It was warm, and humid, and you knew you were on the French Riviera standing right there. It was everything you'd want in an evening in the South of France.

We walked down the streets, full of people eating their late, french dinners.

And along the promenade, where waves were crashing along the rocky shore. It was hard to believe how they were so rough, and earlier in the day I saw tons of swimmers out there swimming along the shoreline.

And of course, the Casino! Mom was thrilled to take a peek inside!

In the morning, we were up and at 'em again. And I dragged everyone out of the hotel, straight to the flower market. There was no shortage of beautiful things present a second day in a row.

I was obsessed with those colorful flowers! Does anyone know what they are? I wished I could have taken them home!

We sat and had croissants and cafe creme at the same place I had enjoyed the day before, while kids rode bikes and bulldogs - of both the french and english variety - chased each other.  It was right out of a movie.

Then I took the family up the chateau - in the elevator that I discovered on my way down the day before - for the expansive and incredible views. Mmmm....Nice. I love you.

And by this point, my sister was itching to get in that water. I mean, look at it.  So we walked back through the market, and stopped in the prettiest pastry shop, where they had macarons displayed in the window. Everything inside glittered and sparkled of crystal and gold. We got some treats to take back to the room.

And so began our great macaron quest through France.

Back at the hotel, we changed and headed out to the waterfront. 
It is BEAUTIFUL, but it is ROCKY and ROUGH. The waves crash hard, and there's a big steep dip from the rocky beach onto the pebbly shore.  

It wasn't my favorite. So for the most part I sat my booty on the sharp pointy rocks and started collecting sea glass! There was so much all around, it was awesome.  And even more awesome, I found the most beautiful heart shaped piece of sea pottery. Which is a thing. I had no clue! One of my favorite treasures I brought home!

After our brief dip in the Med, we embarked on the cray journey of using the Velo Bleu City Bikes that are all around Nice. Let me just tell you, they don't make it easy for people who speak English, despite the English option on the kiosks. They also make the kiosks a little more complicated than they need to be. But thankfully, the people in Nice are actually nice, and after stopping two different locals we acquired three bikes!

We rode around a bit, but not too far. And after circling back, we met up with the Rapha Travel Team, which was kind of fun to catch. They had just finished a big ride all around Western Europe, and were celebrating right there in Nice. 

After our long day of cramming as much in as possible, we headed back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, and took our reading material to the hotel wine bar, for a glass of rose while we waited for mom to return.

It was lovely. We then headed back into the heart of town where the restaurants were bustling, and we could NOT get a table. Oh, because the World Cup was on. Every restaurant had a TV, and every single seat was full. Standing room only. It was actually really exciting to be standing around with hundreds of people who really did care how the game turned out. I couldn't tell you who played, but it was fun to be caught up in the excitement.

After the game ended, the tables cleared out, and we were able to get a spot to eat. They would fill up again 2 hours later for the next game. This happened every night. One game at 8, one game at 10.

We explored Nice at night once more, poking in all the shops, under the somewhat coolness of night.

In the morning, the Ironman competition was taking place along the promenade! The whole town had been buzzing and excited about the event. So many participants and their support teams were exploring alongside us the past couple days. We woke up early to head out and cheer them on.
It was really awesome to see these men and women, of all ages, some fairly old, just completing an intense swim in the Mediterranean only to do an entire gear change and hop on a bike to ride nearly 100 miles, followed by a marathon.

I was really proud of all these people. We didn't get out there first thing, so a lot of the men and women we saw weren't the fastest swimmers, but they had so much heart. We hung around until almost the very last swimmers were in, and the entire transition area had cleared out.

We then did our part, and had breakfast. None other than croissants and cafe creme.

And grabbed some quintessential french items, cheese, charcuterie, and a baguette, before taking the train out of town on the next leg of our adventures in Provence. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mug Swap '14: The Giveaway - WINNERS

I have to say, the Mug Swap is so successful many thanks to the wonderful sponsors who help create a lot of the buzz around the event by giving away some really awesome items from their shops. I am more than grateful for all their support and excitement about the Mug Swap! These ladies have my favorite shops on the internet, and if you haven't had a chance to do so, I highly recommend you check out their shops!

We have had 1164 participants this year. Yep. YEP. You guys are awesome. And each of you gets an entry. Then there were 747 blog comment entries, for a total of 1911 entries to the giveaway. I used the random number generator to select the two winners, so let's get to the good stuff...

And the winner is....

Giveaway Package 1

Giveaway Package 2:


I'll be in touch with both of you about the prizes and am so happy you won!!!

As for everyone else, if you haven't done so yet, you have until Saturday (yes, THIS SATURDAY) the 23rd to get your mug in the mail! Don't forget, you PINKY PROMISED. Also, if you - for some reason - have not received your assignment - please, PLEASE email me ASAP and let me know! This is very important, I have no way of knowing if someone is missing their assignment unless I hear from you directly!

And come back here on September 2nd, for a full blog recap, report and link up of all the amazing things that have happened during Mug Swap 14!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Something Blue: A Bridal Shower

My dear friend Ellen is getting married in just a few weeks! We have been friends since our days in the church nursery! The past few weeks have been full of celebrating her and her fiance, Joel! It has been such an exciting and fun time.  Ellen asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and what an honor it is! 

My favorite bridesmaid duty is absolutely throwing bridal showers. I love to throw a good party, especially for someone I love. The other fun part is being a bridesmaid with another one of your closest friends! I was lucky enough to get to co-host this shower with Ellen's Maid-of-Honor, and her sister, Cindy!

Together, we tag-teamed the planning and executing of a dreamy blue & yellow vision. 

Speaking of vision, the bride herself was glowing all day. 
She makes one beautiful, blushing bride! 
If she looks this gorgeous on her shower day, I can't even imagine how beautiful she will look on her wedding day! Joel, you are one lucky dude. Remember that.

We also had a mimosa bar. 
I firmly believe every shower should have a mimosa bar. 

There is no shortage of cooks and bakers among Ellen's friends and family. 
Each guest was sent a recipe card in their invitation, and were asked to bring it to the shower.
They were all put in this awesome recipe box Cindy gifted to Ellen.
She will be starting off her marriage with quite the collection. 

Ellen is so loved among her friends and family. It was the joy of these ladies to gather round and celebrate her! She also is very loved by some furry friends as well. 

Cindy made the most beautiful ombre layer cake. 
Girl had SKILLS. 
And, even better, it tasted as good as it looked!

All the lovely guests were sent home with something a little sweet, a little sour, 
to remember Ellen's bridal shower!
(Also handmade by Cindy!)

Tassel Garland: Here
Custom Cake Topper & LOVE Banner: Here
Invitations & Recipe Cards: Here
Paper Straws: Here
Paper Fans: Here
Lemon Scrub Recipe: Here
Ombre Cake Recipe: Here, Here & Here

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The French Post: Part 1 (Nice is Nice!)

I can blog more than on the 10th of the month. I really can.
I'm here to prove it.

Back in late June I went to France. FRANCE!

It was all kinds of amazing.

Usually, when I travel, I'm all about going to countries I've never been to before, or may never get the opportunity to go to again (Hello, Estonia. Hello, Croatia. Hello, South Africa). But France, is you know, France. Everybody's been to France.

Okay, I realize not everybody, but it is just a hop skip and a jump from the East Coast. I've seen a million Eiffel Tower pics, haven't you? But I'm here to say, France far exceeded my expectations. Sixteen days across the pond was truly a dream. And I'm so incredibly grateful for the ability to do these crazy international adventures!

This year, we planned our vacation around my sister's vacation schedule, she's a tooth janitor dental hygienist, so we went when her office was closed.

The best part, it coincided with the the Tour de France. For our family who is all about all things cycling, this was a dream come true.  So, our itinerary was planned.

Nice. Aix en Provence. Paris. Le Touquet. London.

Oh ya, we went to London too.
Which was also, amazing. London, I love you.

So let's get to it.

I flew into Nice a day early, since I was flying on airline miles, and there were no award flights the day the rest of my family was traveling. What a shame, right?

 I flew into the Cote d'Azure, which is quite possibly my favorite Cote on the planet. See that little boat down there, three down from the wing, closest to the harbor opening? I'm pretty sure I've seen it twice before.

One sweaty hour later (hello Mediterranean humidity!) I was checked into my hotel. And THIS was the view from my room.

I thought I was going to die of happiness right then and there.  Also, air conditioning. Hallelujah.
Jetlagged and ecstatic, I laid on the fluffy white bed for about an hour, before heading out on foot to explore Nice.

Let me just tell you, Nice is nice.
I explored the waterfront a bit. Finding a row of bolted in chairs, right along the shore, with wifi. I sent pictures to my family back home, to hurry up and get here. It was kinda cruel.

After a good amount of sea spray  showering my face, I headed back into the town, finding a nice outdoor table to sit at, with food I could recognize, praise the Lord for picture menus. And caprese salads. And rose.

I sat down to this masterpiece. And about 10 minutes later looked up to see an entire restaurant staring at me. I wasn't certain if I was just the strange American, or what was happening, until I turned around and saw my head was blocking the World Cup. USA vs. Germany, appropriately enough.
So I moved back a chair, and sat on the opposite side, to cheer on my people. Except not. No one was cheering on the US. I munched on a  bit of my baguette, paid my bill and headed back to the hotel.  I don't even like soccer anyway.

Oh, but Kim, you're in Europe. During the World Cup. You're gonna LOVE soccer whether you like it or not. So say the fans of Algeria at 3am celebrating in the streets below your hotel while you're jet lagged. 

The next morning, after an eventful night of sleep, or lack thereof, I woke up and headed out to explore Nice on my own, until my family flew in that night. A whole day to explore in a foreign country all by myself. Tres Chic!

I asked the hotel front desk where to go, and what to do (all those travel books, and I forgot to research, whoops!), and they mentioned something about a flower market, and a chateau, and pointed east. Okay, off I go!

So me, my big camera, and a handful of Euros, headed out to find this flower market. If there's anything I love, it's an open air market.

I will take all the pictures of all the fruit. All the flowers. All the sweets. Nothing will stop me.

Okay, one thing will stop me. Cafe Creme & Chocolate Croissants. 

I had to pull myself away from the market. It was time to find the Chateau. 
So, I set off again. Walking around the town. 

Exploring nooks, and crannies, wandering down cobbled streets too narrow for cars.

Looking up at shuttered windows, seeing and soaking life in Nice.

Little by little, circling around what ended up being the Chateau, and ascending up the back side. A quiet damp, shady path, passing the occasional local walking her dog. 

Looking back on the town below. And finally, at the top, discovering the expansive views of Nice below.

Looking East into the harbor. 

Looking West, along the coastline towards the airport.

Soaking in the south of France in all of its cerulean glory.
Rumor had it, the Chateau had a waterfall, and I had to find it.
I sat peacefully in the shade of the trees, listening to the roaring water of the manmade fall. 
And decided to test several of the settings on my camera too - they are one of my other favorite subjects to photograph.

After exploring this magical place, the jet lag was catching up with me. I found a shady table back at the flower market, and sat and had lunch. For a couple hours, French style and all. Before walking back to the hotel, catching a quick snooze, and waiting for my family to arrive in a few short hours!