Sunday, December 28, 2014

My favourite Christmas (2014)

I keep calling this Christmas "my favourite one of my whole life."

I do not believe I have ever felt such magic, such sadness, and such closeness to God during the holidays. 

The truth is, Graham and I have spent the majority of our time this holiday season thinking of and praying for our best friend, who has been suffering.

She is as strong as a warrior and as gentle as an angel. Going to Mass has a whole new meaning to us now. God's miraculous, healing touch is all we ask for (in addition to our eternal plea that He help us become the best versions of ourselves that we can be). We love you Sam, with all of our hearts. 

Christmas morning with my handsome man. Wearing my K initial necklace from my best friend.
Graham and I do not consider ourselves to be overly materialistic. Designer brands do not matter to us and we do not normally buy things without talking about it first. 

That said, we are - of course - not without fault. Graham becomes quite easily enamoured of watches and shoes. My eyes go starry when they cast upon a vintage camera...  And I've been lusting over a pair of Swedish Hasbeens for quite some time (forever). 

That said, this year, we decided to keep our gifts small and thoughtful. 

If nothing else, this past little while has shown us that what is most important is being there for one another. 

(My Swedish Hasbeens can wait...)

Gingerbread House Wars!
We both went pretty tropical. I think Graham's looks like a face...
Last Christmas Eve, Graham and I started a new tradition...
Gingerbread House Wars!
This year, it went a little something like this.
  • We gave ourselves one hour on the clock.
  • Graham nagged about my counterfeit (non-gingerbread house kit) materials.
  • Graham ate all of the pretzels.
  • I drank all of the eggnog. 
  • Graham scammed my "ocean" (blue) icing. 
  • We laughed the. entire. time.
We agreed that spending Christmas Eve just the two of us made it feel really special. Before we began our gingerbread battle, Graham read his Christmas card to me aloud. There were many tears...

We headed to 11 o'clock pm mass... because we're old and couldn't make it until midnight.

There, we prayed for Sam and thanked God for all of our blessings. We sang Christmas hymns and carols. And near the end of the Mass, I dozed off on Graham's shoulder (because I had taken so much Benadryl*). 

*I discovered earlier this week that I am severely allergic to mangoes (hence the Benadryl). My best friend has asked over and over again: "Who eats mangoes in the middle of winter?!" Not me (anymore)... 

Our little family. Yes... I match Eggnog. Everyone thought we were pretty cute ;-)
On Christmas morning, Graham and I rose early. We exchanged a few small gifts and revelled in our first Christmas as a little family (Eggnog's first Christmas!). He doesn't yet quite grasp the notion of  opening gifts... but he does love his new toy piggy from Santa ;-)

Our first "green Christmas" in Merrickville! Where's the snow?!
By 9:30 o'clock am, we were en route to Merrickville!

When we arrived, we were greeted by my incredible, smiling family. Graham and my brother (who is doing amazingly well in school!) played outside with Eggnog while I chatted with my mom about wedding plans (exactly 7 months away!). My dad was hilarious as ever. My mom said a very special grace before brunch and my dad told us about his plans to transform one of their barns into a "sleepover cabin" for Graham and I. We are so excited!

I love my daddy.
My favourite men!
But soon it was time to head back to the city and spend the afternoon with Graham's family.

Puppies!!! 
Christmas with the Nesbitt's is always a pleasure and one of the greatest highlights of our holiday season! They love Christmas. 

We spent the afternoon opening gifts, sharing stories, and anxiously awaiting Christmas dinner. Graham's mom loves to pick out clothes for me. She has two sons - Alas, I am her daughter ;-) - and she shares my love of vintage clothing. I am so lucky!

Once dinner was served, we each enjoyed two enormous helpings of turkey and all the fixings...

Our little Eggnog snuggling with Graham's parents' boxer, Nyla. So sweet!
Graham saved just a little bit of room in his tummy for Cannelloni. Before we knew it, we were off to my Nonno and Nonna's house.

(It was a busy day.)

There, we reunited with my parents, drank wine, ate torrone, and played briscola (a popular Italian card game). I partnered up with my brother. This was a big mistake (albeit hilarious). We aren't the best communicators...

Oh, and Graham ate a second Christmas dinner...

As you can imagine, we feel tremendously blessed.

Overall, Graham's favourite gift this Christmas was from myself, a book (1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die) written by 90 music critics. I did not expect him to love it as much as he did (he tends to be a little... "set in his ways"... when it comes to music). But he could not have been more thrilled.

We plan on reading it together, listening to each and every album (well... lol).

Each time we select a favourite (I'm a little worried there will be many favourites), we agreed to search for it at one of our favourite record shops. So fun! 

Being my excessively orderly self, I asked Graham if we could go through it in chronological order... He laughed... Then said no. 

My favourite gift this Christmas was from my parents. This year, they decided to start a new tradition. They did a good deed in mine and Graham's name. They made a donation that will purchase a pair of very strong glasses for a child that cannot see. This child would not have been otherwise able to afford these glasses.

My eyes tear up just thinking about it.

My mom asked that we continue this tradition when we have children someday. I promised that we would.

What a special Christmas it was.

Merry Christmas to you and your families! 

xoxo,
Kristina

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sundays are for...

Saying yes to the dress!

For obvious reason, I cannot share very many details... ;)

I will, however, share the following:

It was a beautiful day. I love my bridesmaids with all of my heart. My mom said I looked "perfect" (An adjective that so rarely escapes her lips... No exaggeration: We are anti-perfectionism!). My dad asked:
Kris, can you wear your hair down?
(His only request.)

During our appointment at the bridal boutique, while wearing (my soon-to-be) dress, I left the girls (and my parents) to find a quiet place. Away from their happy chatter (I am very fortunate), I took a moment to myself. There, I imagined Graham. I imagined him seeing me for the very first time... In this (my) dress.

My eyes welled up with tears (I did not expect this).
Sold.
A perfect day.
In other news, one of my biggest artistic inspirations, Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, recently followed me on Instagram. It quite honestly made my week... month... (longer). 

The reason I mention this is because today, she shared her new favourite podcast (called StartUp) on A Beautiful Mess. Only this past week, my best friend suggested that I listen to another (called Serial). Graham gave in; I - a podcast virgin - did not.

But when Elsie shared StartUp, I was intrigued. 

I'll listen to one... or two... 

I became instantly hooked. While I do not often write about my work here, I am a public servant by day, blogger by night (ha...). I am very fortunate to be employed by the Government of Canada and I have worked hard to get there. But one of my admitted (major) insecurities at work is...
I know nothing about business.
Graham, who often returns home from work completely inspired:
Let's open a cozy café! A small bistro. A swanky lounge.
(Ok... He has ever used the word "swanky" per se, but you get the point.)

Seems to have a never-ending chain of ideas whirling around in his mind.

I, on the other hand, can barely wrap my mind around their development (forget about their potential for evolution!).

So, during the first episode of StartUp... Spoiler Alert: When Alex meets (and pitches to) silicon valley "legend" Chris Sacca (investor in Twitter, Instagram, and Uber) and receives a variation of the following in response:
No. But this is how your idea SHOULD have been pitched. 2 minutes on the clock (please). 
It spoke to me (or... rather, it spoke to my lack of business knowledge).

Time to learn.

Hence, I am loving this series.

Happy Sunday!

xoxo,
Kristina

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree

Last night, we went on a mission: To pick out our very first (real) Christmas tree!
No more renting = no more artificial trees! (Until I jump on the white tree bandwagon... Never say never.)
Before Graham and I moved in together, my dad and I shared a special tradition. Each year, we would visit a Christmas tree farm and chop down our very own tree. (He would chop... I would take pictures.)

Needless to say, I was excited to share a similar experience with Graham.

We fell in love (at first sight) with a Colorado Blue Spruce...
"It's perfect!" We proclaimed in unison. Christmas music came on... Bells jingled (?)...
"That will be $100 please," said Scrooge.

There are plenty of fish in the sea...

We settled for... Just kidding. We fell in love, all over again (less than 90-seconds later... Love is magic!) with a hulking Balsam Fir.

Sold!

The nice man working at the Christmas tree lot (formerly known as "Scrooge") offered to lend a hand and help secure the tree to the top of my little car.

(You will notice a trend: Graham's car visits restaurants and goes on road trips; my car does manual labour.)

We arrived at home.

We realized (just in time... to grab the saw) that our tree was much too large to fit inside. I discovered (instantly) that I am hopeless when it comes to large cutting tools (thankfully, Graham is not). We realized (much too late... to head to the store) that we will require double (triple...?) the decorations that currently reside within our home.

Graham observed his fever rising (the return of the flu...). I (audibly) observed my stomach growling. We gazed upon our (barely) half-decorated tree.

We laughed (endlessly).
Dinner time. Let's give up and watch a movie.
Eggnog (the drink) was poured. Eggnog (the dog) was snuggled. Graham proposed (a hilarious) toast. I ate an entire bag of Lindor chocolate balls (oops). We kissed in front of our (giant) tree.

Eggnog's first Christmas!
To laugh in the face of a mishap. To celebrate (and toast!) petty defeat (tree: 1; us: 0).

A perfect moment was entrusted to us because of a minor setback.

And I could not feel more blessed.

xoxo,
Kristina

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sundays are for...

Scrabble and Wes Anderson films!  
Graham cost me 14 points when he wouldn't accept "pez"... Seems unfair.
It was a perfectly cozy Sunday.
Graham left for the store to pick up "survive-the-flu-essentials"... He returned with board games, jujubes, (so. much.) chocolate, arrowroot biscuits and Tylenol.

It was a good effort, don't you think?

After a long game of scrabble, we finally watched The Grand Budapest Hotel.


Ugh - Wes Anderson. His brilliantly creative mind. He never fails to wow me.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was eccentric (duh!), imaginative beyond any realm of comprehension, and perfectly-paced. (No surprise here): He managed to dream up an elaborate world that would be marked by both momentous tragedy and joy, only to be executed by the zaniest of characters! I am certainly not a film critic (nor am I interested in ever becoming one) but in my mind, this film was equally sophisticated (the narration!) and comical. Amidst its quirkiness, it had the nerve to be serious and thoughtful. Just enough spunk. A perfect balance (to me)... :-)

I also can't deny that it wholly rekindled my passion for his films. Once Graham and I wrap up our favourite Christmas movies (Home Alone 1 & 2 are next on our list), we have a pretty special Wes Anderson movie marathon planned for the New Year... ;-)

Before I wrap up, I can't resist sharing my favourite quote from the film:

M. Gustave: 
Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won't get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved and they will open up like a flower. 
Happy Monday! ;-)

xoxo,
Kristina 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thankful

Earlier this week, my patient, energetic, and (uncommonly) kind father came over to help us.

Graham was suffering a very high fever. I (as you know - because I keep telling you) have shingles (or some kind of skin infection).  

He made us soup from scratch. He cleaned up our kitchen. He ran around in and outside of our home. He repainted a wall. He picked out a new collar for Eggnog.  

And then, he was off to work. 
Daddy meets Eggnog for the first time!
Yesterday, he met me at the hospital.

My skin condition had worsened overnight. Graham had dropped me off in front of the Emergency Room (unable to enter, because of his fever). I was immediately taken to urgent care (my eyes were swollen shut - a scary sight). There, they gave me an IV of medication (steroids and Benadryl, I believe). Almost instantly, I was able to open my eyes (magical drugs...).

There stood my dad, laughing:
What are you doing here?!
(Pre-IV, I had instructed Graham (via text) to send him.)

He brought me home. He brought me tea. He brought me to my appointment at the Civic Hospital (Division of Dermatology). He brought me to the pharmacy, where I picked up the prescription that is healing my skin today.

Right now (and always), I am grateful for my dad. His kind, generous heart. His (hilarious) dislike for chips and candy yet insistence on emptying the vending machine (trying each flavour). And his generosity that knows no bounds.

I love you dad.

xoxo,
Kristina

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Old Photograph

Earlier this evening, I came across a photograph while scrolling mindlessly through Pinterest.

My first thought: Pin it. 

My immediate (but transitory) second thought: Do not.

Why?

Because I am a perfectionist. Because I am bothered by the fractured glass surrounded by filthy frame. Because the fan is off and the suit case has tumbled over. Because in my eyes, the plant may as well be dead.

But really...
Because I used to dream about it all the time. 
I notice the (familiar) muted sunlight. It seems to breathe life into a leaf that I only just deemed dead. The uneven, white stone; an unkempt, botanic quilt; the imagined breeze; a memory of travel... 

I realize what I already knew. That this photo, in its honest simplicity and gentle disorder, reminds me of myself. My old self, but myself nonetheless. 

I know that I have touched on this before. But I used to delete my social media accounts... I used to delete them all the time.

I remember the photograph above. 

I could never not remember it. 

I remember pinning it. I remember posting it on (one of my many) Tumblr accounts. I remember feeling dreamy and whimsical because of it.

And then I remember purposefully forgetting it. 

So when I come across it on Pinterest in my current state, I give myself a hard time. I am reminded of my old self. The small dreamer that was creative but confused. She would become overwhelmed and afraid, then proclaim herself "free" by giving up her phone, deleting her blog, and running away from her commitments... 
Click - delete. Sigh of relief.
She would deem herself somehow "above" the social medias she had once subscribed to, only to come crawling back, demanding (begging for) a new beginning.

She was persistently afraid and overwhelmed. The latter by all of the beautiful images she found online. The former of never being worthy of it all. Of never living a life deserving of taking a photograph within. 

I used to feel free when I was trapped: I was crippled by fear that my future self would never live up to my then-dreams. Today I am free and living my dreams. So why do I occasionally feel called to shun a photograph that I once delighted in? 

I employ my perfectionism. I find flaws in a photograph that I once loved (and still love!) in an attempt to avoid thinking about the girl that loved it too. A girl that didn't realize the beautiful life she had in store. Perhaps I do not want to be reminded of a time when I felt unworthy. 

But her memory is worthy of my thoughts, just as I am worthy of her growth (and her dreams that I am now living!). I will never be her again. But she will always become me. And I only limit myself (creatively and emotionally) each time I try and forget her - her musing and her struggles. For without my past, I am without my growth. And although she was broken, she made me whole. 

And so today, rather than pin or post this picture elsewhere, I share it here. And I pray that it will serve to remind me of a time when I would dream of freedom from fear. 

And that it will make me (so) thankful that I stand in confidence today. That I am living (or working towards) the dreams I once tried to delete. 

Have I lost you? Blame the shingles.

xoxo,
Kristina

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kriss Kringle (Brought me Shingles)

Seriously.

I have shingles...  Again.

There are worse things in the world; I know. Staying positive and laughing all day (while working from home).

Thankful for our little nugget, Eggnog, who is keeping me company.
Ready for a winter shopping day with my babe.
I love him so.
xoxo,
Kristina

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

When the Leaves Fall (2014)

Freezing rain, wet snow and temperatures below -10°C...

It is officially winter.

Alas, let us look back on our highlights from fall (2014).
Pancake "cake" for Graham's birthday.
For Graham's birthday (October 5th), I woke up (super) early to make the "best ever chocolate chip pancakes"... 

My first and second batches were... abominable, to say the least. (Which is why this is not a recipe post.) 

My third batch was... an extraordinary success! And a bit of a fluke. I can't quite remember the ingredients I selected (it was round 3 after all).

That said, I do recall combining them frantically. Hoping and praying that the scent of burnt batter had not yet wafted outside of the kitchen.

Three hours later than breakfast had been initially promised (Graham read the newspaper on his phone: twice)...

He was thrilled. The pancakes were delicious (and equally as important: really pretty!).
Ready for a perfect fall day at the pumpkin patch!

Isla & Logan (our ring bearer and flower girl). Missing: Logan's twin brother Lucas!
Best friends :) 
We spent the rest of October (weekends) outside, marvelling at the colourful leaves and enjoying the cooler weather (knit sweaters: yes please!). 

We headed to Millers' Farm & Market with our best friends, the Dunn family. Isla is my favourite little girl in the world. And the boys make my heart melt. It was the happiest day. I love you guys! 

Side note: Graham and Zac have been best friends since they were babies! Cute right?
Handsome. He still gives me butterflies.
Driving around & picking up take-out with my babe. 

Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus!
Jackie Moon, Axl Rose and Harry (Wet Bandits) from Home Alone!
Then came Halloween (my favourite!). I plan on being known as a costume legend someday... Just kidding (no I am definitely not kidding).

I forced my best friend Sam to dress up as the Magic School Bus to my Miss Frizzle. I plan on sharing a DIY post about our costume... Eventually (Christmas-mode for now!).

Background: Last year I went as ET and she went as Elliot. She owed me.

And our boys... How freaked out are you by their costumes?! Still can't get over Jeff's (Jackie Moon).

Love at first sight!
Meet our sweet boy, Eggnog!
Then came the #1 highlight of my year (after getting engaged). Graham surprised me by making all of the arrangements to bring home our first puppy!

He's a miniature dachshund. I named him Eggnog (Do you love or hate his name? My friends and colleagues are 50/50!). He's 5-months old and pretty special.

I remember wrapping him in a blanket and crying while we drove him home. I felt so overwhelmed with joy. Our first baby!

A few moments later, I learned - the hard way - that dachshunds are burrow-dwelling animals. He opted to burrow joyfully into my new jacket sleeve... while my arm was still in it.

I forgave him quickly.

He's pretty cute, don't you think?

Side note: Eggnog is completely and utterly obsessed with Graham. We're working on his separation anxiety...
Best Day Ever in Ottawa!
A photo booth with a glittery backdrop... In love!
In November, we went to an event called Best Day Ever at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. We took full advantage of the prettiest photo booth!
Best bridesmaids in the world!
I also went shopping at the cutest bridal boutique (The Handmade Bride) with my girls. We followed it with brunch (and mimosas). It was the most wonderful day. I want to remember it forever. 
My whole heart.
I'll wrap up with a picture of my favourite person in the entire world. My best friend and other half. I love her more than anything in this universe.

Until next time. 

xoxo,
Kristina

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Create: Bridesmaids Boxes

Thus far, asking my bridesmaids has been one of the greatest highlights of this wedding planning journey.

Immediately, upon becoming engaged (and... years before then), I knew exactly who I wanted to ask. Sam, Cara, Sandra and Laura. The most incredible girls I have ever known. 

Women who inspire me.

Women that I undoubtedly know will remain in my life forever. That love Graham and I unconditionally and wish for our happiness. Oh, love!

But I had absolutely no concept of how I wanted to ask.

When in doubt... Pinterest

Surprisingly, after searching through Pinterest for what felt like hours (and was probably minutes), I remained uninspired.

When in doubt... and Pinterest fails... Craft stores! 

I opted to drag Graham along with me, who happens to be the best partner for craft supply shopping (I am lucky). 

We wandered around. He suggested 10 ideas; I denied all 10. I needed to figure this out for myself.

Finally, my eyes landed on an entire aisle of wooden boxes (an entire aisle)! 
Aha. 
I chose a size I deemed small enough to fit inside of my shopping basket (Graham had ditched me) but large enough to accommodate a glass bottle of... juice (booze) inside of it. 

I spent the next twenty minutes choosing between variations of white spray paint (gloss white vs. satin white vs. flat white). Always satin. 

Among the wooden boxes, I found small wooden letters. I chose two S's, a C and an L for... Just kidding, you get it.

Because I could not stomach the notion of leaving the letters wooden and bare (the horror!), I added Martha Stewart metallic acrylic craft paint (in yellow gold) to my basket.

I picked up glittered, gold adhesive letters, some wedding stickers (I knew I had some at home - don't ask, blame the last sale at Michael's), and champagne confetti. 

To fill the boxes, I picked up ring pops, alcohol (gin for Sam, rum for Sandra, vodka for Cara and Laura... because you needed to know), Vinylux Nail Lacquer (in Bicycle Yellow - my favourite colour), and fresh macaroons (not pictured because they were in the fridge...).

Upon our arrival at home, our garage instantly evolved into my craft room.

Babe... when are we building a studio again?

I spray painted each small box, applying multiple coats (It turns out I needed 2 cans -  and 1 emergency trip to Walmart - to complete 4 boxes). I painted each wooden letter gold. And once dry, I adorned each box with glittered letters and stickers.

Then came the fun part: trying to force a glass bottle into each wooden box. Try to bend the wood. Try to bend the glass.  I do not recommend.

(Laura and Sandra's boxes do not shut properly as a result of the above mentioned exercise).


Then came the really fun part: giving them to my bridesmaids.

They were so happy! Success! 

Pictured: Sandra's, Sammy's and Cara's bridesmaids boxes. 

Not pictured: Laura's bridesmaids box (I ran out of spray paint). 

Love you girls more than anything. 

Kristina

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our Engagement Story

In Wabi Sabi: Finding Our Place, I introduced you to our most sacred place. A place that changed our lives.

On August 20th 2014, we returned to our place.

It was an ordinary Wednesday morning. And then it wasn't.

One week prior, we had taken possession of our first home. While I opted to work as a result of limited vacation time, Graham resolved to spend one week of holidays enjoying the process: moving heavy boxes, scoping out thrift stores and antique shops in pursuit of my *dream* couch (which we still aren't sure exists), unpacking the "boring" boxes, and playing a supportive role in minor (unforeseen) construction (see below).

Moving our washing machine down the stairs was tricky at best. We managed to make it work, at the expense of the drywall in our stairway. My dad repaired the damage.

A few days later, we purchased a couch for our basement (final sale). Graham was certain it would fit down the stairs. It did not fit down the stairs. We - my dad and Graham (while my mom and I, horrified, occasionally shrieked and shouted "be careful!") - were compelled to cut a large hole in one wall of the stairway, which would allow the couch to pass. My dad created a niche to facilitate its removal someday (I do not foresee it ever leaving). He repaired the damage once again. 

Note: While house hunting, proceed with caution if the basement belonging to your dream home is staged only with chairs. This is (potentially, or probably) because nothing else will fit into it... 
How to make your couch fit down the stairs... Apparently.
We feel hugely blessed that our family (Graham's side and mine) laboured arduously during this move. It is because of the help we received that we were able to promptly and gladly settle into our first home.

Returning to Away in the County 

It was a typical Wednesday morning in that I ignored my sounding alarm and clicked snooze four times, granting ample time to curl my hair and do nothing else (great.) or settle for looking mildly disheveled (but still presentable...) and grab a coffee. The latter. Always the latter. Top knots forever!

It was an unusual Wednesday morning in that Graham drove me to work. He had opted to act as my chauffeur for the week. This way, come 5 o'clock pm, he could pick me up from the office and we could venture to our favourite furniture shops (many of which are downtown) and continue our spending spree. (Buy all of the furniture!)

Who was I to complain? Free ride to work! I'll sleep in the car.

I slung my heavy gym bag over my shoulder:
I'll go to the gym on my lunch...
(I always say this. This never happens.)

And we were out the door.

I remember we drove in silence (Graham must have turned my music off) and I closed my eyes. Just a little nap until we arrive...

He pulled over into a vacant school parking lot. He parked the car.

I, visibly annoyed:
"What are you doing?"
He smiled.
"You aren't going to work today."
My heart stopped. Profound concern obscured my curiosity. My expression, shadowed. Graham must be sick, I thought to myself. I imagined him driving us to the hospital. He was smiling. Why is he smiling if he is sick? I am oblivious (and morbid when tired, apparently).

Finally, years (moments) later, he added:
"You won't be going back to work until Monday. We're going on vacation babe. We're going to Away!"
He had worked out all of the details. My Director was aware; my vacation time, approved.

In the beginning, I was almost (definitely) upset. Had he packed my bags? Am I prepared? Can we afford a little getaway? Are my colleagues comfortable with my departure? I haven't yet turned on my Out of Office! We have furniture to buy. We are mid-move... I would prefer this in a month.

A self-proclaimed control freak, I spent several moments in complete silence. I sought to grasp, and then accept, this grand romantic gesture.
Aren't you excited?
I looked up at Graham (I should have done this much sooner). He was smiling ear to ear. He appeared nervous, yet entirely contended.

I felt more excited than ever before.

In this moment, I should have known. 

We stopped for Starbucks and wine gums (road trip essentials), and began driving to Prince Edward County.

Nestled among the tranquil shores of East Lake, surrounded by natural gardens and magically overgrown fields, we revisited our place, the one we had found in the village of Cherry Valley.

I was the designated DJ for our drive. James Vincent McMorrow, the Arkells, and Van Morrison (on repeat).

When we arrived, we were greeted by Susan, Glen, and their Bassett Hound, Oscar. Their proven talents aside (impeccable carpentry, encaustic painting, delicious cuisine, and an attention-to-detail), Susan and Glen are authentic, generous, and kind. We were instantly reminded of their abiding generosity. They insisted on making us a dinner reservation (for later that evening) and helped us plan our (second) magical visit to Prince Edward County.

Graham had reserved the Gardener's Room; he had wished to remind us of our first visit. He could not have made a better selection. We entered our suite - its handsome quarters, familiar - and it evoked the greatest sense of calm. I recognized the picture window; I revelled in its expansive view. I felt nostalgic for the sunsets of our first visit, but hopeful for the sunsets of our second. I relaxed for a moment in the sitting area, marvelling at the high ceilings and gentle light. The fresh breeze felt cool and invigorating on my skin. The essence of flora, ever-present.
Delighted to be 'Away' with my sweetheart again.
Suddenly, we realized... we were ravenous! With all of the anticipation and excitement, we had skipped lunch. We headed to Vicki's Veggies, a small, organic farmers' market stand. It employs honour system purchasing (leave what you owe in the red metallic box) and I love that. Its ambiance, serene; its product, undisturbed. I have never experienced anything like it before. The natural light lingered in through ornamental, antique windows and felt soft on my skin. It was magical.

We stopped at a local shop and purchased a few more snacks. Then we headed back to Away.
All smiles at Vicki's Veggies.
I so vividly remember one moment in particular upon our return. I had climbed up onto our bed (literally climbed) and turned my music on. We were listening to Gotta Have You. Graham was playing with my Polaroid camera. I was laughing (possibly at nothing in particular). I noticed him look at me in a way I have never been looked at before. I recall almost crying, then smiling. And laughing more.

I had never witnessed anyone look so happy or so in love. It stayed with me and it always will.

Little did I know, he was uncommonly nervous. There was a ring in his pocket. He was waiting for the perfect moment to ask. To ask his tiny girlfriend, sipping cream soda and giggling in bed, to be his forever.

I will never again be looked at in that way. And I never want to be. I don't believe in perfect, but that moment was perfect.

In this moment, I should have known. 
Heirloom tomatoes and golden peaches from Vicki's Veggies. Old cheddar from Black River Cheese.
I prepared a picnic for us (to tide us over until supper time). We chatted, snacked, laughed and snuggled. Our entire life in a nutshell.

Later, I got dolled up and we headed to supper at The Hubb Eatery. We ordered truffled cheese curds, fresh shucked oysters, and tuna tartare (among other things). I sipped on The County Whiskey Sour. Nerves set in: Graham barely ate a single thing. Oblivious: I ate everything...

We rested early.
Ready for dinner!
Whiskey love.
Then morning came. The comforting, heated floors of our en suite washroom; the velvety soft and pebbled tile of the walk-in shower (that for some reason, always remind me of the ocean); the delicate, cushioned white robes that seem to almost embrace...

Getting ready for our day was an absolute dream. Everything at Away is a dream.

Before breakfast, I craved adventure (already!). I wished to wander the gardens that we had been blessed to overlook from our window. We happened upon (Okay... I knew it was there, but had lost exactly where) a hidden patio overlooking the shore. The waters were tranquil. The air, crisp and warm. The gardens, quiet. The sun was glowing but not yet intense. It offered its light to the dew-laden leaves of roses and willows. Our hands joined - as they so naturally do - and the scent of strong coffee drifted towards us. The elegant simplicity of our bed and breakfast came into plain view.

Breakfast was served on the screened in porch, the menu typed on the residence typewriter. We enjoyed fresh orange juice, local coffee, scrumptious muffins (still warm, wrapped in cloth), and strata (french toast and candied peaches for Graham) no short of divine. Glen's culinary success is field-to-fork in the most literal sense. Gracing our plates each morning were fresh, heirloom tomatoes and just picked berries from the AWAY gardens. Heaven.
This tasted like lasagna. My heart (and belly) were so happy.
Our day began by visiting 66 Gilead Distillery. Established on an 80-acre farm, the tasting room is situated inside the historic Cooper-Norton House. A selection of vodkas, gins, and Shochu (sake) are offered for tasting. I could not resist purchasing cherry bitters, pine infused vodka (the sensory experience of Christmas in a glass!... a very boozy Christmas in a glass...), a wooden crate, and a vintage apron. Self-control is a concept unknown to me.

We visited an antique shop (where I somehow resisted a set of vintage luggage) and Waupoos Estates Winery, where we purchased two bottles of chardonnay, dark chocolate covered sour cherries,  and a brick (I'm sorry there are no other word to accurately describe this) of white chocolate (a perfect pairing!).

Later that morning, we visited Sandbanks Provincial Park (home to the world's largest fresh water sand bar!). We swam, skipped along the beach (I skipped, Graham did not), and explored the spectacular sand dunes (veering wildly beyond the walking trails... naturally) until we were desperate for water and/or popsicles.
Sandbanks Provincial Park!
We were having an incredible time. So when Graham took it upon himself to cancel our dinner reservation, I was puzzled.

He explained:
We have spent hardly any time at our bed and breakfast. Let's stay back and have a picnic tonight instead. We can spend the rest of the afternoon shopping for local ingredients.
Sold. So sold!

We visited the Agrarian Cheese Market & Speakeasy, where we picked up fresh bread and charcuterie. We chose a roasted corn relish, pickled, curried yellow beans, and a selection of crostini. On our way back, we stopped at roadside farmers' market with rows of freshly cut flowers because, really... Who can resist all of the fresh and vibrant, colourful produce?!
Fun, crazy, silly LOVE! (Also dishevelled and sweaty from running around...)
And then... evening came.

I got dolled up again because... When in Rome! I took it slow (is there anything better than being on vacation?). I curled my hair. I wore my favourite dress.

Meanwhile, Graham prepared our picnic outside. Susan and Glen were out for the evening; we had the entire Away residence to ourselves! But Graham chose our private balcony, flawlessly positioned to overlook the sunset. He brought my laptop outside and turned our music on. (I cannot divulge the secret of the songs that were played... Wedding songs!)

He set up the tripod for my camera so that we could "take a picture together on the balcony" (aww!).

When I walked outside, he was pouring our wine. And boy, was it beautiful. It was the most dreamlike, romantic setting I had ever laid eyes on.

Being my cheesy self, I grabbed my glass of wine and began dancing around the balcony. Graham (strangely!) was fidgeting with the camera and did not join in. I continued being silly until I caught sight of the sunset.

I turned to face it.

The sun had fallen slowly below the horizon. The heat was (finally) giving way to the cooler evening air. I watched the sky above the shore embrace a blush coloured glow. I listened to Graham's voice:
Stay there. I want to take a picture of you watching the sunset.
I, a model (I'm kidding), complied. I patiently waited to hear the shutter of the camera.

But then the music changed. And a very special song came on.

And suddenly, I knew.

I turned (with tears in my eyes), to find him, down on one knee, reaching into his pocket to reveal a small white box.

I did not notice the flash of my camera as it captured this moment. I did not notice the melody of the piano coming to a calm. I did not notice the tears (and mascara) that were streaming down my cheeks.

I listened to his soft voice, certain and sure but somehow shaky. I thought to myself:
"Remember what he is saying! You need to remember what he is saying!" 
And I'm not even sure I feel worthy of the beautiful things that were said.

And when I heard: "I know that I am not the healthiest man," my heart stood still. I said yes before he was able to finish speaking. And I tried to take it all in.

And then we cried a whole lot more. We danced, laughed, and ate everything. Graham said he was still nervous. I laughed and said he was crazy.

And we enjoyed a few final, quiet moments of our engagement being "ours."

Saying yes to the man of my dreams.

On August 21, 2014, my best friend and soul mate got down on one knee and asked:
Be mine, forever?
And it was the happiest moment of my life. 
Pure joy.
I spent the next few hours looking at my ring, which was about a size too big (nice try babe!).

A devoted thrift shopper, I had always wondered if I would ultimately want a vintage ring. Graham and I had discussed it at length (years ago!) but I had asked him to follow his heart. "Choose a ring that reminds you of me," I had said.

Apparently this was easier said than done. He opted to have the ring of my dreams made for me. It will always and forever be mine. And I couldn't feel more special.

We returned to our suite, jumped in a mountain of blankets, and drank a bottle of wine. We laughed endlessly (Graham, less nervous now, and back to his hilarious self) and ate the entire brick of white chocolate I introduced earlier.

We began calling and texting friends and family. My best friend (and Maid of Honor) freaked out, cried, and sent me 100 texts (and pins).

We were completely overwhelmed by the love and support we received. We feel tremendously blessed.

And as we started to fall asleep, I told him that I was in awe of him. And he told me that he would love me forever.
The next morning, Susan and Glen played music on their phonograph and toasted us with champagne. We celebrated with Glen's renowned Eggs Benedict. (His hollandaise sauce may have changed my life...)

We planned our next visit (for winter 2015) and received a warm hug from each kind host.

We wistfully said our goodbyes.

And the rest... The rest is still to be written.

Cue the revolution of this blog! Welcome to... a spin-off of Style Me Pretty!

I'm kidding... I hope.

xoxo
Kristina

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Some History & Finding Our Home

I met Graham five years ago.
A few months after we met. Just friends.
It was love at first sight (for one of us). He was insistent:
"Someday, we will end up together." 
I was relentless in asserting the opposite.

I was only 19 years old. I was suffering. I was scared. And I was lost. I could barely look at myself in the mirror. I was a closed book of chapters that I truly believed would never be written.

I had never been in love. And at that point in my life, I didn't feel capable of it. I wished to be perfect before entering a relationship.

We became friends. He admitted his feelings. I denied mine endlessly. For a year, I would not go out on a date with him. He was advised by all of his friends to give up on me. But he didn't.

He thought I was perfect just as I was. I thought that was laughable. He offered to help me. I lied: I told him I did not need his help. He made me laugh each and every day. I made him sad at the same pace. 

After a year of being chased, I knew I was close to losing him. This frightened me more than the alternative.

I dove in. I gave him a chance. I held his hand. I never looked back. 

Without going into detail, I will say that Graham has since saved my life. I was completely shattered. But he loved me. And in doing so, he provided the support I needed to heal.
Three and a half years later, in August 2014, we bought our first home.

When I met it, I knew it was the one. But was I ready? My perfectionism reared its ugly head:
Should we look around? Are there greater opportunities for investment? Should I wait for a promotion at work? We are content. Should we be more patient? Do I really deserve such a beautiful home?
Graham and I have lived together for quite some time (renting, etc.). He knows me, and appropriately, has little patience reserved for my apprehension (compared to five years ago). He understands my perfectionism,  and he battles it when I can't find the strength to. 

He asked me to stop searching for flaws. He told me he felt we had found our home. I told him I believed him.

And so, we dove in. We bought our home. We held hands. And we never looked back. 
First night in our first home. No furniture? No problem. Picnic on the floor with my love.
We have never been happier before. 

I no longer recognize the girl Graham met five years ago. But I am so very thankful that God helped him love her when she gave him a chance. And I am beholden that now I love her too.

Instead of waiting for perfection, recognize that what you have is beautiful and will give you greater joy.

Kristina

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The St(art) of Not Starting Over

In many ways, I am a perfectionist. I find crumbs where most eyes do not bother to travel. I feel unprepared each time I click "publish" on a blog post or "send" on an e-mail. I write to do lists for items on my broader (agenda worthy) to do lists. Labels are my (closest of) friends. Every so often, I find it difficult to feel beautiful.

Still, sometimes, I feel beautiful (see: this post).

In some ways, I am a perfectionist. But in many ways, I am not.

Some time ago, I abandoned my most troublesome tendency.

For as long as I can remember, I have been an advocate of starting over. In University, if I received a grade I deemed subpar (generally, less than A+ would qualify), I would contemplate dropping the course. If a close friend betrayed my trust, I would sooner apologize for being hurt than attend to the maltreatment. If Graham and I found ourselves amidst an argument, I would beg:
"Let's start over! Let's forget this disagreement and promise to never argue again!"
(Evidently, I was behaving in a sensible and realistic manner...)

When I felt out of control or disorganized in the slightest (an expired license plate sticker, an inconsistent gym routine, a stack of books untouched, a missed Sunday mass), I would deem myself imperfect.

And thus commence the process of starting over.
Wait for a new day to arrive. Buy an(other) agenda or notebook. Start a new blog. Document your progress. Count each moment. Remind them. This is day 1, 2, 3, 4... Be perfect. Of course, you will never be perfect. But there is no harm in trying (of course there is harm in trying, Kristina!). Disconnect from the past. Let slip away all mistakes you have made. Forget all moments prior to this fresh start... they are insignificant
My mind did formerly operate this way. I consistently detected no falsity in disassociating my current self from my former (more "flawed") self. It was comforting to forget. The casual yet purposeful dismissal of my past heralded the onset of a new beginning. Forgetting was important, because starting over was everything. 

Naturally, it was an uneasy peace. Desperation oozed from my very pores. I questioned my (fuzzy) logic and understood wholeheartedly that I would never be as perfect as I wished I could be. But what choice did I have? To forget was to be free, and freedom from myself (my mistakes and imperfections) was all I had ever wanted.

Or was it?

This unhealthy exercise would ultimately deny my future self a past. And in doing so, I would revoke, from the Kristina of the future, the fulfillment that stems from growth. For with each fresh start, I would lose the memory of a triumph during which I battled my perfectionism and won. And with each fresh start, I would lose a mistake that I needed not to forget but to learn from. We cannot grow and change from nonexistence.

Not long ago, I went searching for an old photograph on my laptop.

Minute by minute passed. First, I felt concerned. Then, panic set in. The dark, incurable realization came upon me. A palpable sense of loss. A blow to the heart:
I deleted it. During one of my (many) fresh starts, I deleted the picture. I erased a memory.
I had fallen victim to my own harsh, impetuous deletion in the past. I knew this feeling all too well - Regret. My eyes welled up with tears.

Of course, it was not about the photograph, but the memory.

But then (suddenly!), there it was. Placed later in the stream of photos, outside of its event. Allegedly invulnerable to iPhoto and its classification by date. It was almost as though it had been moved. Almost as though, just this once, God had intervened.

Tech savvy individuals (Apple gurus, especially) would cringe - I'm sure - at the absurdity! Perhaps there exists an entirely logical explanation for why this photo was not where it belonged. But I do not need to hear it. Sometimes, we all need a sign. 

And so it occurred to me that I could no longer live this way. Erasing, deleting, forgetting... all in pursuance of flawlessness.

Unexpectedly, I found myself longingly remembering 24 years of imperfect memories. I wanted - needed - them all. As a wave of nostalgia overtook me, I found myself protective of each moment that had passed me by (and each moment I had tried to forget).

The truth is, my former blogs (The Imperfect Optimist, The Self Searchers) were figments of my fresh startism, but they are important parts of my journey.

I am no longer confined by a label (optimist) or a verb (to search), but I will not erase the words I wrote while I was. I accept my past, I am writing my present and I believe in my future.

I stopped starting over because starting over is a lie. My internal dialogue, once marked by discussion with my inner-perfectionist (a personal oppressor) - You ought to start over! - has shifted.

My inner-voice, now calm and gentle - but firm - as it guides me: You ought to find gratitude for the start you were given. You ought to remember it all. 
Our first apartment together. A hard year for my family. But we found love here.
And so I do. And so I will.

To never starting over again,

Kristina

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Recipe: Sweet & Sunny Lemon Bars

On Mother's Day, we (daughters, sons) cook. Or at least Graham and I do. Or try to.

I am blessed to have not one - but two - incredible women in my life, both so worthy of thanks each and every day (let alone on Mother's Day).

Graham and I have quite literally become apart of one another's families (a product of dating for several years).

My dad calls Graham more often than he calls me! We are very fortunate.

Next weekend, we will be celebrating Mother's Day in the country with my family. My mother is very special to me. She has taught me all that I know about Christ and faith. She is a true image of honesty, kindness, and generosity.

This weekend, I offered to cook up a storm (douse my entire body in flour and pray for the best) for Graham's mother, Marg, who is also an angel.

Her favourite flavour is lemon. Don't we all love lemon? (But it's no chocolate...)

And thus, it came time to inaugurate the battle of poppy seeds, fresh raspberries and shredded coconut in my mind...

Classic lemon conquered!
Wait. What? Yeah...
Someday, I promise to wow you! With brown butter, Dutch cocoa, and homemade dulce de leche...

But on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, after having spent the morning brunching and visiting the The Canadian Tulip Festival with Graham's parents, we made Classic Lemon Bars (with a cuter name).

And we had no regrets.

Brunch at our spot in Westboro!

Warning: I opted to use three types of sugar... Because I'm high-maintenance. Only the best for mom...

Sweet & Sunny Lemon Bars

makes 9 bars

Adapted from Joy the Baker


Crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced and softened to room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling:
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
dash of milk
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking pan with unsalted butter. Line the prepared pan with a sheet of parchment paper, also lightly greased.

For the crust, add butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream butter and sugar (granulated, brown, and confectioners') until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Beat on low speed. Add salt and flour, slowly, until dough is incorporated. The dough may not come together perfectly. Don't sweat it.

Sprinkle the dough into the prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom. Bake for 15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

While the crust is still baking, prepare the (warning: fragrant!) filling. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar. Once well combined, add flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and milk. Whisk until smooth.


Pour the filling over the crust (still warm). Bake for 20 minutes, until the filling is just set and slightly firm to the touch.

How delightful does your kitchen smell right now?
You're welcome.
Allow to cool to room temperature on a rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan.

Dust with confectioners' sugar and enjoy!

If you didn't opt to double this recipe, you made 9 scrumptious (delectable, if I do say so myself...) bars. Share wisely.

Happy Mother's Day!

Kristina