Where We Love is Home

My favorite types of homes are those that tell a story. Perhaps that is why I prefer older homes to newer and my favorite way to decorate can pretty much be summed up by put everything on the walls! Home is somewhat of a unique concept for our family. Our eight-year-old son has lived in eight different houses over the years and our four-year-old daughter has lived in four. I may not remember the full addresses of all the houses that Clay and I have shared but all of them have been called home at some point or another. Home is where the heart is…all those needlepoints can’t be wrong, can they?

Recently, I came across an Instagram account that highlighted her neutral-toned Christmas decor – complete with a white Christmas tree and beige ribbon. Another account featured a tree with all new ornaments purchased this year in order to fit with the rustic cabin theme in their suburban home. More power to them. Many find such decor aspirational. But looking at such images just bums me out, which is probably why I’m not an interior designer.

Give me color. Give me kitschy. Give me handmade. Give me history. Give me a story. And most of all, give me love. Our Christmas decor features items collected over our thirteen years of marriage from a variety of locales. We don’t have matching family stockings because I don’t dare replace the stockings I bought for Clay and me in our first year of marriage. Artwork done by the kids is taped on the closet door. And is it really Christmas without at least one paper chain countdown?

Our tree is filled with ornaments from the various places we’ve called home and traveled to over the years. This year, we let the kids put the ornaments on the tree so there are bare spots and it is pretty far from magazine-worthy but it is our tree. And for that reason alone, it is the most beautiful tree in the world in our eyes.

Christmas cards we received are promptly taped on the door. I love how the cards serve as a visual reminder that we’re not alone every time we leave the house.

When my grandmother passed away earlier this year, my dad and aunts ensured that her ceramic Christmas tree ended up in my home. Her mother (my great-grandmother) made them for all the women in the family in the early 1980’s and I’m thankful I am able to now display one in our home. I found the plaid runner in a North Carolina thrift store years ago and no vintage corner is complete without tacky lights around the banister.

On our kitchen table is an advent yule log we made together at church. The bay window holds some of our less-kitschy items but let’s be honest – there is nothing of value on display. If you’re looking for super classy Christmas decoration inspiration, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Our home is full of mismatched furniture, items collected from around the world, and things from Target – lots and lots from Target.

Only time will tell if this will be our only Christmas in this house we are currently calling our home. Our children may not have a childhood spent in one particular house but they will always have a home. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. stated that “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” We have loved in many places over the years and we have learned that a house is simply that – a house. Flashy appliances, expensive countertops, large bathrooms, two-car garages do not a home make. Home is us. Home is anywhere. Right now, home is a house in northern Virginia built in 1966 with basement laundry, a car port, and mirrored closet doors. And during this 2017 Christmas season, we couldn’t ask for a better place to love.

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A Little More Seasoned

Eight years ago today, the little guy entered our world. On the surface Clay and I were ready. We had been married for five years, we had been parents to our dog for almost as long, and we had gone through quite a number of difficult experiences unique to military life. We were seasoned. And like so many before us, we were woefully underprepared for the adventure known as parenthood.

No amount of decorating a nursery or buying diapers in bulk prepares you for the wave of responsibility, fear, and love that overwhelms you the first time you hold your baby in your arms. In the moments after the little guy was born, I was so happy (and not just because it was an easy labor), but only a few pictures exist that showcase a beaming smile on my part. Most of the pictures look similar to the one above – me staring at him with love, confusion, and apprehension.

Clay deployed shortly after Weston’s birth so for the first year of the little guy’s life, it was just me and him. We learned together. It was hard. But we survived. When Clay returned from Afghanistan, the little guy walked up to him at the airport and squealed. Despite the fact that our first year as parents was defined war and separation, we felt seasoned – or at least we felt a little bit more prepared as we ventured into new territory.

We eventually added a little girl to the mix and now here we are – eight years later – feeling like we have the hang of this whole parenting thing. Most days, at least. But a lot sure has changed since our son was first placed into my arms.

So happy birthday to my favorite little guy. Unfortunately, the Army took Clay away again but Weston is resilient. He understands. And that is one of his many amazing qualities. He will forever be our first baby and even though we feel more confident than we did eight years ago, we will continue to go into uncharted territory together. We’re still scared. But at least we’re a little more seasoned.

29th Parallel Coffee

Yesterday morning, I texted my dear friend, Jackie, to see if she was interested in grabbing a cup of coffee with me after our children were at school. I figure that since I am currently not working outside of the home, I might as well lean into the stay-at-home-mom-of-school-aged-kids persona. We agreed to meet at 29th Parallel Coffee in Fairfax Station and after throwing my hair up into a top-knot and putting on my best leggings (because stay-at-home-mom), I safely delivered the kids to school and drove to the unassuming shopping center where 29th Parallel Coffee resides.

I’ve heard people rave about this place and it is one of the highest-rated coffee shops in the Washington DC Metro area on Yelp so I was a bit taken aback by the outside appearance. I was expecting Brooklyn hipster vibes – not strip mall chic with abandoned dental offices. But guys? Once we got inside, 29th Parallel Coffee did not disappoint. At all.

My coffee snob tendencies were home. These were my people. Jackie and I chatted with the owner, Amir, and he expertly informed us all about the available coffee. Where the coffee was sourced, the chemistry behind the extraction process, and how the soluble flavors from the coffee are dissolved in the water. Jackie ordered a mocha that was made with fresh ground and tapped espresso on a machine that reminded me of the one I used while working at Harrington’s Coffee Company in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Like I said, I felt like I was at home. To this day, the hissing of an espresso machine remains one of my favorite sounds.

I opted for pour-over coffee. Also known as hand-drip coffee (as opposed to automatic-drip), pour-over coffee involves a kettle with a narrow spout, a special carafe, fresh ground beans, and patience.

I selected the REKO from Ethiopia. According to Amir, the beans had tasting notes of citrus, lemongrass, molasses, and ginger. As soon as he began grinding the beans, I knew I made the right choice and forced myself to be patient as he started the pour-over process.

My patience was rewarded with what may have been the best cup of coffee I’ve had in recent memory. Can you believe that I actually forgot to take a picture of the final product? I feel like I need to be beat with a blogging stick or something…bad blogger – bad!

I enjoyed my pour-over coffee with a splash of fresh cream. It was smooth, lush, and had absolutely no bitter aftertaste that is often present in even the most well-prepared cups of coffee. Jackie and I also each had a spinach and cheese quiche (which I also forgot to photograph but you can see a corner of it in the picture above of her mocha). 29th Parallel Coffee has a daily grind (pour-over), a daily drip (automatic-drip) during peak hours, espresso drinks, nitrobrew (cold strong coffee infused with nitrogen), assorted pastries, and seasonal items. Please stop it for yourself. Bring a friend. Have a chat with Amir. I promise you won’t be disappointed. We certainly weren’t.

29th Parallel Coffee

5616 Ox Rd
5616 Ox Rd, Fairfax Station, VA 22039

That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

view from our back deck

Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.