12/31/10

2010 in Review

On this New Year's Eve night with my mind cloudy from cough medicine and a family in the other room that I love dearly, this year in review is best and most efficiently expressed in photographs.

Because I've learned too much. Because I've loved too much. Because 2010 doesn't have room for verbosity.

January: I began my internship with CBS News.

February: I traveled to Miami to help out with pre-Super Bowl broadcasts, where I met a lifetime hero, Bob Schieffer.

March: I had a wonderful bridal shower with some of my favorite women in the world.

April: We had engagement photos taken by the talented Jerome Braga.

May: I went to Italy with the International Journalism Seminar.

June: I married my best friend and went down to Florida for our honeymoon.

July: Blake and I went into NYC multiple times to see shows and visit his college friend, Dave.

August: I went to Honduras during my employment as Production Coordinator for Wall Street Exodus.

September: Blake and I moved up to Boston for my last year of school, and we were tour guides for Not for Sale's "Free2Walk".

October: We were newscasters for Halloween. I was Katie Couric.
November: We went down to D.C. to visit my grandparents and share Thanksgiving with them.

December: We celebrated the Christmas season at our parents' homes.

Here's to 2011! May God bless you and keep you.

12/30/10

The Chair

A few years ago I decided to make a quilt with my Grammy. I assumed that an ability to sew would be genetically transferred from my two talented grandmothers - one who has made all my quilts since I was a wee one, the other who made dresses for every occasion since I was just as wee (and made the flower girl dresses for my wedding!). Sadly, I was a quilting failure. I destroyed the second row of my quilt, cried, and went running back to a grandmother who quickly and almost effortlessly corrected my mistakes.

And so, ever since that time, I've been searching for an artistic pursuit that would prove successful. I wanted to try making my own clothes, but my husband does this raised eyebrow you've-got-to-be-kidding-look whenever I mention it. I wanted to create art from the many engagement/wedding cards that I received, but I haven't gotten around to it. Then I decided that photography might be a good plan. But you need a camera for that. It's an investment I'll be more willing to make when/if I have more time for it.

But the perfect project fell right into my lap a few days ago...

As Dad was cleaning out the basement, he left this chair in the "dump pile".
I saved it with some help from my Dad and Grammy.

Matchy-matchy.

Steps:
1. Find a wooden chair.
2. Unscrew padding. Remove old fabric and beat out the cushion. Leave outside for an hour or two to air out.
3. Sand the wood.
4. Cover with 2/3 coats of primer. Be sure to stir the can. Turn the chair upside down to get every surface.
5. Repeat step 4 with white paint.
6. Let paint dry overnight.
7. Find a generous grandmother to get fabric from. Back the fabric and sew seams into the fabric. (Grammy did this with some of the fabric from our quilt at home. The chair will go in the bedroom).
8. Staple gun the fabric tightly around the chair cushion.
9. Screw cushion to the chair.

A big thank-you to Dad and Grammy!

Sickness


Among the gifts under the tree still left to send to faraway relatives, the chocolate almond biscotti baking in the oven, the piles of clean laundry to be sorted and the semi-king size bed that is not and may never be made (Blake pushed together two twin-sized beds because, well, I'm 5. And I get scared. And I really hate sleeping alone.), I can be found with a box of tissues in one hand and a large bottle of Dayquil in the other. You see, I'm sick. Sick as a dog. Sick as a fish stuck to the filter of the tank. Sick as a rabbit that runs repeatedly into the sliding glass door.

Well, not really. It's a cold. But, as stoically and valiantly as I can handle food poisoning or the swine flu, I do not do well with colds. I hate how I have to conceal a tissue in the back pocket of my jeans. I hate that I wake up with lips chapped and one nostril plugged. I hate that I can't run because running makes my nose drip uncontrollably. I hate, most of all that, as sick as you feel, you will never get the kind of sympathy for a cold that you will for anything (or, almost anything) else.

So I'll try to handle it with grace. I'll get myself out of bed, eat an orange, and take another swig of cold medicine. Because that's what adults do. Some of them. At least the classy ones.

That's how I found myself going out last night to celebrate Great-Grandma Panza's 94th (I think) birthday at a pizza parlor in West Haven. Blake always reminds me when we're in the area that his great-grandfather built many of the buildings. It's a testament to how long the Panza family (Blake's mom's side) has been around.

And the number of people at the restaurant, which was less than half of the clan, is a testament to how many Panzas there are. It took us ten minutes to figure out that the group in the corner wasn't related to us and were probably pretty uncomfortable with the stares questioning their relation. At one point Blake noticed the five-year-old at the end of the table and I had to remind him that it was his second-cousin, Will. It's confusing. It really is.

Then at goodbyes I maintained proper distance from all pregnant and elderly folk, because I felt as if I had been stricken with the plague. I looked about the same.

Stay healthy. Stay away from me.

12/27/10

Merry (Late) Christmas!


I haven't written a blog post in a week. I feel kind of bad about that. Not too bad, though, because we've been busy celebrating, spending time with family(ies), and eating delicious food (which I also feel kind of bad about. But not really, because I've worked out almost every day. Huzzah! [This, I'm pretty sure, is not the correct use of that expression]).

I'll stop being parenthetical and just get down to it. In list form.

Highlights of this week...

1. Singing Christmas carols downtown with Grace Community Church. After all, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.
2. Tea and homemade biscotti.

3. Last minute Christmas shopping with Dad - an unintentional tradition.
4. Finding two trees. Oh, excuse me...one tree. My parents went plastic this year. Blake and I have been busy developing appropriate episode titles if we ever decide to cinematize our life. So far we have "The Day the Evergreen Died", "The Christmas my parents decided to kill tradition for the sake of convention", and "What's that smell? Oh no, that's the candle behind our tree." Suggestions welcome.
5. Watching any and every Christmas movie without materialism as its message. We also eliminated a few that Blake thinks are stupid.
6. The Shoreline Christian School Christmas party that my mother hosts every year. I very much enjoy adult parties. Especially when they involve shrimp.
7. Jillian and Aaron's Christmas party. They have nice friends. They're not so bad themselves.
8. Christmas Eve brunch at my Grandparents-in-law's house. We're still having trouble naming everyone. So far I like "GrandMIL" and "GrandFIL".
9. Christmas Eve dinner at the Spadecenta's. More shrimp.
10. Christmas Eve pajamas. Blake's first year.
11. The Christmas Eve service at Trinity in New Haven. Everyone smelled like fish from dinner. Not in a good way. Can there be a good way?
12. The arrival of the Bittner grandparents from Virginia.
13. Christmas morning snuggles by the fire, followed by the opening of stockings and our "Santa gifts".
14. Christmas morning at the Walker's, where I received a Build-a-Bear, the Kardashian sisters' book and a pancake pen. Yes, you read me correctly.

15. Christmas at my parents' house and my grandparents' house. Lots of food. Some might say too much.
16. More food at the Walker's.
17. Singing the 12 Days of Christmas and making up stories using our stocking gifts.
18. The first blizzard of the season.
19. Going to see "Tangled" in the first blizzard of the season, seated in the third seat surrounded by seven other people, pestered by one 12-year-old boy and listening to the complaints of one very worried backseat driver.
20. Watching 3 hours of "Modern Family" in bed on a Sunday evening with Blake, gummy bears and a bag of popcorn.

Here's to hoping that your Christmas was blessed, family-filled and celebratory of Christ's birth!

Also, if these photos don't display that I have zero bodily-kinesthetic awareness, I'm not sure what will.

12/20/10

On Cleanliness


The house that I grew up in was clean. Clean as I imagine the house of Louisa May Alcott was clean. No half-drunk coffee mugs lying atop half-read books. No smudges of jam that would remain on cupboard doors and congeal into plastic pink. No Twizzler wrappers or lego pieces swept under the rug or couch.

And this, I think, is part of my problem today. I am torn between the mismatched world of Holly Golightly (sans promiscuity) and the home of my youth. In the book that I am currently reading, "Truth and Beauty", Ann Patchett remarks, "If I imagine the artists in Paris, I do not see them dusting. I believe they were probably too engaged in the creative process to wrestle with such lowly concepts as coat hangers." The visual is rather appealing: spending the mornings wrapped in thick white blankets, tea-stained and uncaring, furiously composing at a typewriter, ignorant of the piles of dirty laundry and stacks of dirty dishes encroaching. Oh, to be so engrossed in the creative process that the cares of cleanliness were overlooked!

I have friends who can live this way. I, while blessed with intense focus, was not blessed with the ability to overlook disarray. Cry me a river, right?

And yet, I'm beginning to understand that a well-ordered kitchen as a representation of a well-ordered mind may not be as wonderful as a cluttered kitchen in a creative, crunchy granola, Caenesque sort of lifestyle. But that's the Audrey Hepburn circa 1961 in me.

One day, I will live in two homes: one of order and the other of chaos. In the first, I will keep my books, collections and baking supplies - labelled and in alphabetical order. In the second, I will keep old quilts, notebooks filled with introductions to novels and poetry, and a closet of well-loved clothes that I'll never wear again but can't bear to give away.

12/17/10

Redundancy


You can't know the value of home until you've left it.

A few months ago when we were visiting at my parent's house, my younger brother said: "Stevie, I always thought that everyone (meaning the "kids") would live close by, but I think you're going to be the one who moves far away." And though he didn't mean to speak so poignantly to a conflicted heart, it stung a little bit. Because a part of me had thought that everything would go on as it always did. Part of me wanted everything to stay the same. And another, more vocal part of me screams, "chase something, even if it takes you away for a while!"

These days, with more than my own interests to think of, the battle between a love of home and a passion for adventure has become even more complex. In each passing year since I started college, homesickness becomes less present - as it should. But every once in a while, when I hear something that my Dad would find funny or see a group of sisters laughing, a hunger grows inside of me that no amount of phone discussion or email conversations can satisfy.

And then you get home and the hunger pangs are there again - not in the acute concentration of pain that is homesickness, but in a complete emptiness of expression for the beauty that surrounds you.

Friday afternoon I came home to a house of stillness, filled with the sounds of gentle music and familiar decor of Christmas. And when I tell you it was beautiful, I mean it took all capacities of composure to keep me from tearing up (I'm rather quickly moved to tears). Let me tell you about this farmhouse in beach-town, Connecticut that I so dearly love...

Growing up, there was always music in our home. Music from the piano played by my sister, from my violin, from my Dad's banjo or guitar, from Dan's year of saxophone and Christy's year of trumpet, from the country station on the radio, from the "Out of Africa" CD that became the soundtrack to my childhood - it was gloriously everywhere. This afternoon, the radio appropriately played "The Heart of Life" as I walked through the front door.

And the smells. Oh goodness the smells. My mother has emerged from my childhood days of Mac and Cheese from a box to a world of homemade wontons and biscotti. The woman is a marvel. Two nights ago the aromas of spaghetti and meatballs wafted up the stairs to find me in my room. And usually, it's not the smell of food-creating that gets to me - its the indescribable mix of scents that can only exist where all the experiences of home collide.

I know I've written about my home in the past, but its beauty is always rediscovered at Christmastime. And while this post may seem redundant, my struggle between home and adventure is best played out in writing, so I suppose you, my readers, must suffer the redundancy.

In other news, we went on a Christmas tree hunt yesterday with the Walker family - 4 of the 5 boys, a girlfriend, 2 parents and me. All with very different, very strong opinions. Each year after a few hours of standing in the freezing cold, listening to these opinions and feeling my Christmas spirit drain from my rapidly numbing fingertips, I tell myself "never again". Every year since I was fifteen. And yet, the following Christmas I find myself in the middle of a tree farm, surrounded by boys, warming my lifeless fingers and asking why. I'm starting to realize that I have a very selective memory. Also considering the whole migratory way of life. Florida sounds nice.

Stay warm!

Six Months

Yesterday after locking ourselves out of our apartment (it was bound to happen - I kept telling myself I didn't have the energy to copy those darn keys) we called the landlord to notify them of our error and headed off to downtown Salem for a six month anniversary dinner and Christmas shopping.


Now, if you're not from the North Shore of Massachusetts, you may think Salem is only occupied by witches and hooligan teenagers. And if it were Halloween, you'd be right. But, if you visit Salem any time other than October, you would enjoy the history and culture that this once harbor town affords. Bundled to the chin, we walked the brick sidewalks, visiting small boutiques and admiring the Christmas lights that dotted the trees.

We enjoyed dinner at Tavern in the Square, a great restaurant with large windows looking out onto (you guessed it) the main square.

And I think it's worth mentioning that the last six months have taught me the following:

1. Marriage is 10x more fun than dating.

2. Don't begin a weighty discussion after 9 PM.
3. Beware of the ways you take away the other's joy.
4. Hold hands. A lot.
5. Pick your battles.
6. Use your own toothbrush.
7. It's okay to be bad at cooking.
8. It's okay that he hates to clean.
9. Tell him you're proud of him as often as possible.
10. You will budget differently.
11. Don't look at his side of the closet. Just don't do it.
12. Say "I love you" before "goodnight".
13. Go through old pictures to see how far you've come.
14. Marriage is not about you.

I can't write the volumes on marriage that many of you can, but know that I read those volumes in the smiles of my grandparents, the words of my parents, the glances between my in-laws. Your examples are beautiful.

And for those of you who were wondering, we did get back into our apartment.

12/12/10

For the Love of Rachel


There is an old Japanese proverb that says: "When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends."

I'm blessed to be surrounded by people who define my life with grace, sincerity, and shared passions. If one were to look at the girls who have stood by me, listened to my fears and failures, and taught me that there are priorities above such worries, they would see my own character represented in the kindest light. I've passed moments with friends in which words were insufficient. I've passed moments in which joys could only be expressed through a smothering hug or an intentional glance. I've passed moments in which tears were dried, hands were held, and backs were rubbed. And, though we've held these moments in the palms of our hands and turned them like a well-loved piece from a glass menagerie, I think its rare that we ever see them for how beautiful they truly are.

When Rachel Hogue, my best friend of twenty years, moved to Montana, a small part of my soul became separated from the rest and watched the unfolding of our varied lives from a protectively distanced place. She has been my other half since before I knew that hearts came with counterparts. She's the one who taught me how to love poetry, how to accept middle school drama, and how to follow ambition. She's loved me when I least deserved it, told me when I've been wrong and watched me begin my relationship with Blake. She was the one I texted the moment before my husband pulled into the parking lot to propose. She was the one who gave me a knowing look before I walked down the aisle. When separation from her seemed impossible, she was the one who taught me that the most important thing is not that we're together, but that we learn how to keep our friendship while living apart.

Then, like an answer to prayer, God put another Rachel in my life. Drastically different from my childhood Rachel, Rachel Strasner has walked with me through the college years as only she can. We've cried on shoulders and stayed up all night talking. We've shared life experiences, birthdays, classes, a dorm, and my wedding. We've watched each other grow up and smiled through the scary parts. She's taught me to see beauty in the little things, because even small moments are too valuable to waste.

Last night I was reminded of this. In an engagement party for Rachel Strasner, I watched a close friend begin on the same journey that has left me feeling hopeful and blessed. As I sat among many wonderful friends eating, talking, and expressing the joys of these fragments of time that become memories all too quickly, I soaked it in. I thought of the friends who have changed me for the better.


L-R: Heidi, Carissa, Me, Hannah, Rachel, Christina, Diggy, Havilah


And those friends named Rachel? They're worth keeping.

(On a goofier note, please enjoy Christina and my rendition of Rachel and Brian's proposal):

Scene: Boardwalk at night, November 30th
Characters:
Rachel played by Christina Brandano
Brian played by Stephanie Walker

Brian: Rachel, has that thing always been there?
Rachel: What?

Rummaging for the ring.

Brian: Will you marry me?
Rachel: YES!

Pure joy.

Rachel needing to be carried because her shoes are too big.

Double Birthdays!

Today is an extra-special day: two of our favorite people were born on December 12th...

My Mother-in-Law, MIL, Candy, Mom (all the same person) turns 25 (not really, but she looks it).


What you should know about Candy Walker:

1. She can't dance without putting her hands in the air: see "Dance Like an Italian".
2. She makes the best barbeque chicken I've ever had in my entire life.
3. She likes anything that sparkles. Or comes from Disney.
4. She basically wrote the Disney World guides.
5. She loves the gym. And by "loves it" I mean we might need to run an intervention.
6. She could eat Panera every day for the rest of her life.

My Brother-in-Law, Taylor, turns 20.


What you should know about Taylor Walker:

1. He might be the most confident 20-year-old man in the world.
2. He's passionate about sailing and started this non-profit to get others involved.
3. He's afraid of birds.
4. He can befriend anyone in a matter of minutes.
5. He's not a great shopping buddy.
6. He's a wonderful conversationalist, and one of my favorite people to talk to.

Happy Birthday! We love you and can't wait to celebrate with you!

12/10/10

Dance Like an Italian

I married a fair-skinned Italian. In the time it takes for me to tan, he becomes a lobster. On our honeymoon, I quickly learned that I not only needed to remind him to apply sunscreen, but I also needed to help him cover the backs of his ears and sides of his feet - 2 or 3 times a day. And though his skin screams of his partially English heritage, everything else about Blake is Italian. The man gesticulates like a child on a sugar-high when he's angry. He refuses any additives to a pasta dish that his mother wouldn't have included. He is fiercely loyal to his family and enjoys a good cannoli. But nothing, and I mean nothing, speaks of Blake's Italian heritage more than his dancing.

I can't say I wasn't warned. I've been to family gatherings on Blake's Italian side that have made dancing the main event. These people can dance with the passion that translates into almost every other aspect of their lives. Not all of them well, but those with even an ounce of Italian blood in their veins can dance like their pants are on fire. All. Night. Long.
I think it took Blake a while to come into his own as a dancer. Sometimes you have to be manipulated into multiple dancing events before you can decide that you like being in a crowd of sweaty people, singing at the top of your lungs and throwing your hands in the air like you just don't care.

Which was exactly what we did last night after getting dressed up, meeting with a group of friends for dinner and driving to the Salem Old Town Hall for some last-day-of-class festivities. We danced. We clapped. We jumped. We took our dehydrated selves on a search for water. And then we did it all over again. Because at some points in your life, surrounded by people who mean the world to you, dressed to the nines and thankful for the life you've been given, all you can do is dance.

As I watched my husband throw his fist up in the air and break out his funny little smirk, I was reminded, once again, that only the lucky girls get the Italian boys.

L-R: Rob, Blake, Brian, Heather, Me, Melissa

L-R: Ben (and his Vera Bradley pants), Angela, Rebekah, Holly, Andrew, Sergiy, and Sam

Heather, Me, Melissa

Me, Rebekah, Heather and Melissa

Heather, Melissa, Me and Rachel

12/7/10

Tis the Season

It's that time of year again...

Time for a little bit of this:

A little bit of this:

And way too much of this:

Although I might be biased, it's also the best time of year for people to get engaged.
One of my dearest friends, Rachel Strasner, got engaged last week and I've been keeping it from the world of social media for seven whole days! Points for secrecy.

Here's the bride-to-be opening her first engagement gift:

Happy Christmas/Finals/Engagement Season!

12/5/10

Long Distance


Blake and I have done the long-distance relationship.

Correction: we've beaten the long-distance relationship to death, resurrected it from the grave, and did the long-distance relationship all over again. For those of you who are currently in a relationship that requires inordinate gas expenses, minutes of simply staring at each other to appreciate closeness and far too many goodbyes, I feel for you.

Blake and I met my freshman year of high school (Blake's junior year) a few months before my fifteenth birthday. As I wasn't allowed to date until I turned sixteen, our relationship toed the line. It also pushed the line, flirted with the line, and eventually crossed the line when my parents permitted a first date the month before my sixteenth birthday. I was a very good girl, enduring any reference to Blake up to that point as my "friend". Do friends exchange goofy, awkward love letters in school? Do friends spell out "I like you" in Twizzlers on the driveway? Probably not. But he was a boy and I was fifteen, so it was off-limits.

As soon as our relationship was within the limits, it became long distance. Blake graduated and headed off to Providence College, while I had two years left of high school. (Wisely), my Dad would not let me drive through the city of Providence to go see Blake. And so began the years of calling my now Mother-in-Law to see if she wanted to make the trip.

Two years later, it was my turn to go to go off to school. Gordon College is about the same distance to Providence as our hometown, but in the opposite direction. For the first month, Blake drove up to visit twice. That's when the long-distance came to a screeching halt. I was silly, young and done with what had become not only pedestrian, but also taxing. Now in college, I was convinced that relationships shouldn't be so hard.

Wrong. Relationships are always hard. They're hard when you're sitting there, arguing with each other about Chinese food, and you realize that this may be the dumbest argument in the history of arguments. They're hard when you're not as interested in Arvo Part as he is, and you're sitting through a four hour concert on a Friday night. They're hard when you budget differently. They're hard when you clean differently. They're hardest when saying goodbye happens far too often, and each minute that you're together is much too important to be wasted on Chinese food arguments.

Life without Blake is far more painful than any goodbye I've ever said. While true, that's not why we got back together and that's not why I married him. Blake and I decided to continue our long-distance relationship for another two years because we knew that God's plan was bigger than our own, and He had led us back to a place where we could trust that completely. Sometimes, if you're lucky enough, you meet someone who compliments your soul even before you realized that souls were created as companions. When you're blessed with something that special, you hang on to it.

I was reminded of such grace yesterday. We drove down to Providence College for the senior recital of one of Blake's friends. We spent some time Christmas shopping and going out to dinner with Blake's best friend, Dave. On the way back to Massachusetts, I turned to Blake and said, "we don't have to say goodbye." Unlike so many other trips that required a goodbye at the end of a long drive, Blake and I fell asleep next to each other.

That, my friends, is worth waiting and driving for.