December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

It's the end of another year that has gone by so quickly. As I reflect back over the past 12 months, one word comes to mind: thankful. Thankful for God's provision. Thankful for a loving family. Thankful for caring friends, a good job, a Godly church and a fun city.

Today, I meditate on this verse and these thoughts below:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it"

Isaiah 55:8-11 

"It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season-- like all the others seasons-- is a good time not only to tell stories of miracle,but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them."

Lemony Snicket, "The Lump of Coal" {via Real Simple}

Blessings to you in 2013!

December 17, 2012

Heavy Hearts filled with Hope

Believe it or not, the beginning of this post was sitting in my "drafts" section last week before Friday morning.  Then the Connecticut tragedy happened.

I have been noticing more sadness lately.  Whether it's facts about human trafficking, statistics about children going hungry or senseless murder, I feel like the news is everywhere and I cannot escape hearing or reading about it.

The Christmas Season seems to highlight the differences between and imaginary and snow-filled world with perfectly wrapped packages, iced cookies, glistening light and the reality of a world that is messy and filled with sorrow and hurt.  During this season of advent, how does the Christian find balance between idyllic carols that croon, "from now on, our troubles will be out of sight" and Jesus' words in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

God has placed the longing for perfection, light and peace in all of our hearts for a reason--so that we will be drawn to Him. When tragedy strikes, when people are abused, when evil happens, we justly feel anger and sadness.  Jesus was careful to explain to his disciples that they would face heartbreak, persecution and tragedy during their lifetimes and ministry.  However, he also encouraged them with one of my favorite lines in the Bible, "I have overcome the world."

You see friends, we know the ending.  Jesus wins.

During this time of advent, the celebration of Jesus coming to earth as a human, we can revel in the fact that the King of Kings came to feel our pain, share in our suffering and be one of us.  His love was (and is) so vast and all encompassing that he gave his life so that we could attain perfection with Him, forever, in heaven--a place where peace, joy and love will be the hallmarks of our days.  "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

So how does the Christian reconcile feeling the pain and tragedy that will inevitably come our way with this insatiable longing for perfection?  We look to Jesus.  We eagerly anticipate the future.  We weep with those who hurt.  We pray.  We share the good news and hope that we have found with others because we want them to feel the same peace.  We fight for justice.  We serve those who have less than we do.

And we sleep well at night knowing that Jesus has overcome the world.

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
John 1:5

December 14, 2012

The Fifth Annual Reading of the Polar Express

The Polar Express tradition truly began for me in college, when my campus minister, Les, read it during our annual Christmas party each year.

When I moved to DC, I was eager to carry on the tradition and thus began the "reading" and small Christmas gathering between our group of friends.  The first reading had 5 participants and it's fun for me to think back on that and appreciate how much my friend group has grown.

Jordan and Buck moved to a new house but were still kind enough to host us this year, along with their third roommate, Clay.

So now, please sit back enjoy a Kern Hoff feature film:
1080p from Emily Penn on Vimeo.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

Laine dressed the part!

Jordan, tending the fire.

Be merry, Buck!

For those who want to take a walk down memory lane, here are the readings from 2009, 2010 and 2011.  I don't have any photos from 2008!

December 13, 2012

Spread a Little Cheer

I've realllly tried to force myself not to buy any new Christmas decorations.  Not only do I need to save my money, but I have no where to store these new-shiny-lovely Christmas things.

So...I just worked with a few things I already had.  Since I'm not actually spending Christmas day at my house in DC, I'll get my fill of Christmas cheer, trees, lights and decorations in Mississippi.

I used my copper tray and filled it with greenery, fruit, copper painted Magnolia leaves, some festive balls and a little birdie.  Kind of wild looking, but hey--I'm digging the natural vibe.

This is my favorite nativity scene from childhood.  Gran Fran gave it to me and I got to keep it in my room when I was a little girl.  I loved the baby Jesus.  I remember picking him up and holding him.  I'm missing a wise man--but they don't make the set anymore.  I scour eBay every year looking--maybe one day!

Mason jar snow globes from last year, boxwoods with a red bow and a fun squirrel.

A cheerful city doorway

Do you have a traditional Christmas decoration (like my mini manger scene) that you put out each year?

December 12, 2012

Speaking in Public...

Because of my boss' involvement with the Congressional Internship Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, I was asked to speak on a panel at George Mason University's 2012 State of the ARt Conference on Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.

In 2010, Congressman Harper, the Committee on House Administration and George Mason partnered together to bring students with various Intellectual Disabilities to Capitol Hill to work in House and Senate offices.

As of this fall, 64 offices (House and Senate) have participated in the program.  It has been a huge success.  I was asked to speak on the beginnings of the program, the orientation process and best practices.

There were three other speakers: another Hill staffer and two students who had participated in the program.  This was my view from the front before anyone arrived in the room!

I was nervous!  I'm used to being "the person behind the person" and not the one who is expected to speak.  However, once we did a practice round I felt more comfortable and it was easier that I expected.

This program has touched so many lives--from the students who participate and grow professionally to the offices that welcome these young men and women with open arms.  It is a win-win situation.

It is also a unifying, bi-partisan effort--something that we need more of in Washington.  I look forward to seeing the program grow in the future and placing students in every Congressional office.

December 11, 2012

The Willard Hotel and the Round Robin Bar

DC is a lovely place to be during the Christmas season.  So many historical landmarks "dress up" for the month of December and I enjoy visiting year after year.

The Willard Hotel downtown is one of my favorite spots.  

Last year, Archer, Henry, Lee, John, Kern and I spent an evening at the Round Robin bar then walked around the outside decorations at the White House.  We decided to make this outing into a tradition and do it again this year.

The tree in the Willard is always breathtaking and bright.

Sweet girls: Archer, me, Lee

We got into the goodies inside my Cookie Box from the swap earlier that day...

Peanut butter buckeye, anyone?

So...funny story...they turn the Christmas tree lights off at the White House at 10:00pm.
We walked up to the tree at 10:03pm...just in time to miss the fun, but hey, there's always next year, right?

Since the Christmas wonderland was a no-go, we headed back across the street to the W Hotel bar for a little more merrymaking...techno lights and all!

December 10, 2012

Christmas Cookie Swap

It's always a treat to open a cute invitation in the mail.  And when that invitation is for a party where you will get to sample a wide variety of sweet treats while chatting with friends...well...what could be better?

Sally and Martha hosted the most thoughtful and adorable cookie swap I have ever been a part of!  

There were delicious Christmas punch options as well as a cream cheese/pepper jelly dip with gingerbread crackers--addicting!

The cookie spread: truly amazing!
I made the peanut-butter-chocolate-no-bake-cookies in the middle.
(recipe below)

Fresh bruschetta to counteract the sugar highs!

Archer, Sally and me

There were a stack of white boxes near the cookie display labeled "Cookies: share the love.  Sweet Treats to take home" for each person to pack their favorites from the party.

Each guest left with a box full of goodies and a cookie cutter for a favor.  A big thank you to Sally and Martha for being such kind and gracious hostesses!

So...these peanut-butter-chocolate-no-bake-cookies?  
Gran Fran used to make them for me when I was little I loved them--probably because they taste like fudge. They are very sweet, but the saltiness in the peanut butter and oatmeal makes them the perfect balance.

2 c. sugar
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)
1/2 t. salt
2 c. oatmeal
6 T. cocoa
1/2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter

Directions: Boil 1 minute together:  sugar, cocoa, butter, salt and milk.  Add remaining ingredients and drop from spoon onto waxed paper and wait for them to harden.

What is your favorite treat to bake during the holidays?

December 07, 2012

Christmas at the White House

"Joy to All" is the theme throughout the White House this Christmas.

Mrs. Nancy Reagan and me

The East Landing was dedicated to the Armed Forces.  There were tables set up where I was able to write a card through "Operation Honor Card" to a service member expressing my thanks.

A decorative mail box was provided once the card was written.
It is humbling to remember all of the military families that will be separated from their loved ones over Christmas.

The hallway to the East Garden room is full of pictures from past Presidents and their families during Christmas time.

There was a life-size replica of Bo--the First Family' Portuguese water dog in the East Garden Room.

The Library, filled with 2,700 books and decorated in classic red and green.

The China Room set with President Truman's china.

The East Room with the traditional crèche behind us.

The Blue Room's Christmas tree was filled with ornaments made by military children living on U.S. Military bases all over the world.  The tree is an 18 foot, 6 inch Fraser Fir from Jefferson, North Carolina.  The smell of greenery lingered throughout the entire White House.

The State Dining Room

The amazing 300 pound gingerbread house.  This has been a tradition at the White House since the 1960's.  Can you see Bo?

The Entrance Hall and Cross Hall

After the White House fun, we made our way to Kramerbook's Afterwards Cafe for a yummy lunch.  Unable to turn down breakfast, I enjoyed eggs benedict at 2:00pm.  It's never too late for breakfast!

December 06, 2012

"My Fair Lady" at Arena Stage

I've sung the praises of Arena Stage several times on this blog.  In the past few years, Kern and I have seen A Time to Kill, Oklahoma! and The Music Man at our favorite waterfront theatre.

For my birthday, Kern took me to see My Fair Lady.


I am constantly amazed and impressed by Arena--from the costumes to the clever sets to the talents of the actors and actresses--it always leaves me tapping my feet and humming a tune.

"I could have danced all night...I could have danced, danced, danced..."

If you live in the area, go fall in love with Eliza Doolittle all over again.  It will leave you with a song in your heart!

December 05, 2012

Celebrate...from coffee to Cava

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better with a fabulous early celebration with family, my DC friends family made me feel like the most important and loved person in the world on my birthday.

The work day started with an office party -- a special coffee tasting with lots of different gourmet options.  I had a mochaccino, cappuccino...and a regular coffee. 

I really love this photo...with Ty in it.  We took another one, but this was my favorite!

The machine was not messing around!  There were also 5 different kinds of mini cupcakes, chocolate chips cookies, and a double chocolate cake for me to take home!

With renewed energy due to an extreme caffeine high, I had a very productive work day.  That evening, several friends met at Cava Mezze for a special birthday dinner.

But the surprises weren't over yet...just as we finished out meal, two huge platters of cupcakes from Sweet Lobby appeared, compliments of Laine, Lee, Holly and Charles--I couldn't believe it!

I chose the one in the middle with the macaroon on top--heavenly!

We often talk about how our group of DC friends are family since most of us live so far away from where we grew up.  Last night was certainly a time where I felt so incredibly thankful for the people who are always there for me--even when it's not a fun moment like a birthday party.

Holly, Constance, Mary Ellis, me, Archer, Carolyn, Laine
Lee, John, Sean, Henry, Jordan, Charles, Kern

My girls!  They are the best.

Bombshelter: past and present

Sweet Carolyn
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