Black days of winter all were through
The blossoms came and they brought you
Clouds left the sky
And I knew the reason why
They made way for you and the blossom
-Nick Drake, Blossom
June 11, 2016 was my lastfirst date with Daniel and it was totally an accident. The night before Daniel and I were both at a friend’s apartment and found ourselves making small talk about cheese-making and the Richmond Kickers. It was random, not-flirty, and comfortable. When Daniel offered me an extra ticket to the Kicker’s game the next day, I said yes (probably after first calling my brother and best friend Melissa).
At the game, Daniel was totally in his element– drinking a beer, singing random Red Army chants, and commenting on the game. For the first time maybe ever, I really saw Daniel. I saw him for the handsome, kind, passionate man that he is. I started imagining what it would be like to give dating another go, and I realized I liked that image!
When the game ended, we walked to get pizza at Mary Angela’s. Once we sat down, I awkwardly realized a past boyfriend was at the table next to us. Soon after ordering food, I realized this guy was awkwardly being dumped by the woman he was with–it seemed like a nice reminder that the past was in the past.
While walking back to our cars, I realized I wanted to reach to hold Daniel’s hand. It just seemed right, especially since we had already gone through the first date motions the previous two summers. When we got back to our cars, we continued to talk with no urgency to go home. Finally, I just said something like “I can’t remember why I broke up with you. Tonight was so fun.” Daniel kindly said he also had a nice time.
With nothing to lose, I asked Daniel if he was interested in dating again. He responded by asking “Do you think we should discern this?” To which I laughed and said “No, I know I want to date you” and just like that we decided to hang out the next day. Now, two years later so much has passed.
In the last two years, we crossed milestones together and apart. Obviously pursuing marriage and homeownership were big leaps we took together. Individually, we each had several career advancements (a big job change for Daniel; licensure for me) and made solid progress in the world of adulting (getting excited about investment accounts, becoming NPR listeners, and learning to deal with car problems without our parents!).
The last two years have flown by and I can confidently say my life is better because we are together.
As my thirtieth birthday quickly approaches, I will be taking you on a journey through my twenties in the spirit of Neil Pasricha’s 1,000 Awesome Things blog.
1. Study Abroad– When I was 20 (which scarily was ten years ago!), I studied abroad in Florence, Italy for my Junior-year spring semester. For almost four months, I lived in an apartment blocks away from the Uffizi Gallery with four American students from various colleges. I studied Italian language and art history (in the city where the Renaissance was born); I ate pizza; I discovered skinny jeans; I kissed my Italian boyfriend on the most romantic bridge; made awesome friends; drank espresso; and took awesome weekend getaways. Those were the happiest four months of my life. I came home to America a braver woman, ready to take on the world.
2. College Graduation– As much as I HATED Mary Washington my first semester, it really grew on me. I made great friends (many from my freshman hall- “3M love”), became more confident in the classroom, and found the perfect job coordinating volunteer work on campus. Being at a small school helped me discover my self-worth and discover what I had to offer the world. Graduation was bittersweet—as much as we complained about how boring “Fred Vegas” was, it had become my first home away from home.
3. Becoming an Aunt– June 30, 2011 little August Elizabeth was born to my sweet sister and her husband. I remember holding her when she was just a day old, so tiny and soft. I remember babysitting her and realizing I forgot the words to nearly every lullaby so instead I sang the Golden Girls theme song. From sleepovers, to preschool concerts, to everything else—I truly adore being an aunt.
4. Moving to Richmond– I was raised in Northern Virginia and while my family moved a few times, I never moved beyond a five-mile radius. After college, I lived with my parents and worked at the same school as my mom—I’m glad my parents gave me a place to stay (for free!), but it was time to experience something new. In August 2011 I moved to Richmond, ready to start the Master of Social Work program at VCU. Moving to Richmond turned out to be a real slap in the face. Within 72 hours, I cracked my windshield on the highway, discovered a broken window in my new apartment, and locked my keys in my trunk. Fortunately, Richmond grew on me. My inner-hipster loved living in a town that loves food, art, and festivals. My family-oriented-self loved a few miles from my precious baby niece and having the chance to watch her grow. While I am sure I could have been happy elsewhere, Richmond was a good move for me at the time.
5. Fun Dating– For me, grad school was academically much easier than college giving me a lot of free time to enjoy hanging out with my fellow social workers and meet new people. I enjoyed going to concerts, trying cool restaurants, and pretending to be more put-together than I was. There is something to be said just for having fun, especially during the years of being “young and dumb.”
6. Graduating with a Master’s in Social Work– Grad school was quite different than college for me. It was easier to make friends (perhaps because I already knew myself by then) and easy enough to write papers, but it was hard to get used to all the feeling talks! When graduation rolled around, I certainly had a much better understanding of myself, my family, and my sense of purpose. A few days before graduation, I was offered my first job as a social worker, working at the sister location of the company where I completed my internship. I felt on top of the world walking across the Siegel Center stage—I had landed as a “real” adult.
7. Finding a Church Family– I was raised in a Catholic family and almost always went to church on my own. Around the time I finished graduate school, I realized I needed to force myself to join a church group. I was going to need prayers with my job search and I was going to need friends since many of my grad school buddies would be moving out of the area. Making catholic friends was weird at first, especially after two years of hanging out with my liberal, social work crew, but eventually it took. Having a young adult church family has given me amazing friendships, my future spouse, and a more solid understanding of my faith.
8. Acknowledging the Pain of Loss—I lost my aunt/ Godmother in 2013 and I lost my grandmother in 2015. These losses were painful journeys. For the first time I considered the reality parents would not live forever, and that life does not always go as expected. These times of grief taught me the wonders of therapy, where I learned to take care of my soul. Turns out my formula is something like: bubble baths + ice cream + long walks + good girlfriends = acceptance.
9. Teaching as an Adjunct Instructor at VCU- Truly, I will always be grateful to Peter Nguyen, who was one of my mentors at VCU, for pushing me to pursue teaching. Teaching Social Justice has been one of my favorite professional endeavors—it stretched me in new directions and introduced me to amazing students. To go from the quiet college student in the front of the classroom, to the person leading the lecture, was quite a transformation.
10. More International Travel– While studying abroad I visited Italy, Holland, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, and the Vatican. In 2010, I backpacked Europe for a month with one of my best friends, Emily. Together we saw Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and England. In 2014, I spent ten days traveling France with my brother. In 2016, I went back to Europe with my friends Emily and Ashley to visit France, Belgium, and Germany. I was so sad renewing my passport this go-around—I had some amazing adventures in my twenties.
11. Body-pump– This fall marks my five-year body-pump anniversary! Body-pump is a barebell workout featuring low weights and high reps—all set to fun music and lead by fun instructors. I started Body-pump the summer after I finished grad school. I had been so used to being busy, bound by school and work commitments, I felt lost the first few months out of school. Body-pump gave a new set of goals to achieve and it changed my relationship with my body. I’m proud of my muscles!
12. Living Alone– In the Summer of 2014, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a family or roommates—just me! I loved it! Being an introvert in a very social job (maybe the title social worker should have been a clue), made living with roommates tough since I just wanted my own space. I truly made my first home with my Sugarbush apartment and got to enjoy my first solo Christmas tree (there’s a funny story there), hosted my parents when they stayed in Richmond, and cultivated my sense of interior design.
13. Being Intentionally Single– Triggered by Awesome Thing #4, by 25 I realized I needed to take a break from dating. I realized I got in the habit of dating essentially the same person for five years; and wondering why the relationship never worked. Being single helped me get to know myself and discover what I truly need in a partner. Turns out many of the qualities I find attractive in men are great for early exciting stage of the relationship, but not so great for sustaining the relationship. It also gave me time to pursue my career, become a gym freak, travel, and cultivate many friendships. (side note: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb was a God-send for me).
14. Fubar* Dates—After a two-year break from dating, I decided to briefly give online dating a try. What a horribly fantastic experience! Between bizarre online conversations, weird complements “You won’t be on this site long,” and awkward first dates, I missed the ease of dating in my early twenties. It was much harder dating with the intention or hope of finding something serious. One of my favorite memories of this experience was designating a local coffee shop as a preferred first date spot. In a span of three months, I went on 4-5 first dates there. Whenever I go there now I laugh at my younger self!
* F***edUp Beyond Any Repair
15. Year of Yeast—Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I proclaimed 2015 the “Year of Yeast.” I love cooking and baking, but I had always been intimated by yeast. I decided to try one recipe each month, by the end of the year I made cinnamon rolls, breads, and pretzels. It was a fun challenge, one of these years I want to do a year of pie!
16. (Student Loan) Debt-free– I am very fortunate that my parents mostly paid my college tuition, but I had taken small loans for my undergraduate degree and larger loans to pay for grad school. I hate owing money and I was determined to pay my loans off early. I made bigger payments each month and made triple payments whenever I received a bonus or reached a personal savings goal. Truly, it felt like a bigger accomplishment to pay off the loans than the work I did to earn the degrees!
17. Accidentally in Love– Daniel and I went on a first date late summer in 2014—Daniel never told me it was a date and I wasn’t convinced we were a good match, so nothing came of it. After spending a long weekend at the beach with friends in the summer of 2015, Daniel and I started to became friends. We played badminton, watched Kickers games, and ate a lot of Thai food, but the relationship never took off as I just wasn’t sure about the relationship. After going back to being friends, I finally realized I could love Daniel while at a Kicker’s game. I asked him out that night, we ate pizza, and well, I have never looked back.
18. My Parents Moved to RVA– After thirty+ years, my parents moved from Northern Virginia to Richmond. Part of me was sad to lose a home, but also happy to have them in town. We have gotten to enjoy seeing Richmond sites, running errands together, and being able to drop by for dinner. Daniel likes to joke our lives are basically a spin off of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (well, he says Everybody Loves Kari).
19. Daniel Proposed– After a slow courtship (2+ years), I knew I wanted to marry Daniel about three months into the relationship. It took Daniel longer to figure that out for himself. On a beautiful summer day, Daniel proposed at the James River and I said an enthusiastic yes.
20. I Bought a House! Last summer I researched first-time home buyer grants only to realized financially I was more prepared for home ownership than I realized. After getting pre-certified with a mortgage officer, I started browsing Zillow. On a whim Daniel and I went to an open house near my apartment, and we fell in love. The house in many ways seems like the magical tent in Harry Potter—it looks like a quaint brick house from the outside, but inside there’s sprawling living space with a crazy 60’s den and huge bedrooms upstairs. We have projects to keep us busy for the next decade, but Daniel and I are in love with our city-country fixer-upper!
There it is, my twenties in a nutshell. I like to ask people the question, “In the story of your life, what would the current chapter be called?”
For me, my twenties included titles such as: “Young and free,” “Learning Lessons,” “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” and “Accidently in Love.” I wonder what my thirties will hold.
In the last two months, I have gained an entirely new appreciation for how my parents spend their time. Who knew maintaining a yard took so much work? Not this apartment-dweller!
I remember my relator asking me, “Are you prepared to handle this kind of yard?” At the time I thought, “No, but surely Daniel can mow the lawn.” Silly me, turns out there is a lot more to it. Just keeping up with the fallen branches and sticks is a chore!
The first few weeks of spring brought a terrible discovery–many parts of the yard were more weeds than grass. We had the ugly short purple weeds, the really ugly tall purple weeds, and worst of all troves of dandelions. I like to joke that the last owners wanted the yard to be a dandelion sanctuary; but as the house is under new management, I had no problems sending eviction notices to the dandies.
It has also taken time to revamp the front garden bed, which was sadly overtaken by… you guessed it… dandelions! After digging up nearly the whole front bed (and doing several subsequent weeding passes), slowly but surely I planted knock-out roses, pruned the butterfly bushes, planted a coworker’s old yucca plant, as well as several perennials. There is more work to do, but it is starting to take shape. It makes me smile when I walk outside and find a new bloom. One of these days, we will NOT have the worst yard on the block!
What I have learned about my self, through my first spring as a home owner, is yard work is good for my soul. So often I leave work “all peopled out,” and the perfect antidote is getting my hands in the ground. There is something oddly satisfying about pulling weeds and listening to the birds.
With the wedding quickly approaching, I have been on the receiving end of quite the shower of love from friends and family. My mom and sister hosted a lovely bridal shower, filled with many of my closest Richmond friends (and fabulous bridesmaids who made the journey). The house still features the after effects of this outpour of love– between lovely cards with more beautiful sentiments and flowers that still beckon the joy of the day.
In my work life, my coworkers continue to cheer me on, especially after several wedding planning snafus earlier this year. Many of my long-term clients, who have known me since my days as a young, social work intern, keep prying, “So when is the wedding? Are you getting nervous?” As much as I dislike being the center of attention, it feels good to have the support and enthusiasm of our friends and family as Daniel and I approach our wedding date.
I am reminded of several versions of a sermon given by Father Mike Renninger, which posits “How wonderful it is to see and celebrate love as it manifests on a wedding day.” How easy it is to love love when it is mutual, joyous, exciting and new. For now, my love for Daniel is that easy (most days).
Even while we slog through the boring tasks of homeownership, like picking dandelions, I relish having a life partner to share these tedious tasks and the small victories. The new responsibilities of caring for the house (and yard) leave me feeling exhausted most Sunday nights, and yet even in my tiredness my heart reminds me of the loneliness I felt during many parts of my early twenties as a single girl. I am grateful for Daniel, and I am excited for the future vision we are creating together.
Within this gratitude and excitement also lives the fear of the unknown– the unknown challenges which will inevitably fall upon our marriage. Because sometimes love is hard– it can call us to sacrifice our needs for our spouse/ family, it can feel more like a burden than a gift. Sometimes love ends. This reality especially rings true, as dear friends of ours had to face the unfortunate reality of moving into hospice after a failed cancer treatment. How could it be that the joyous friends I saw be married six short years ago now face death and despair?
I suppose Alred Lord Tennyson said it best, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Love guides us become our more perfect selves– it just does not always feel good. As Daniel and I finish our marriage preparation, I want to make an effort to be more attuned the joy of this moment in our relationship, while also honoring the suffering of our friends and family who are living in one of the harder seasons of love.
Spring is easily my favorite season, and it’s finally almost here in Richmond. This weekend we were able to finish a cosmetic makeover of our front porch and set up a fire pit in the backyard. I cannot wait to tell you more about these projects!
When we purchased the house, the previous owners gifted us a set of three plastic Adirondack chairs and a baby lawn chair. I also had a green plastic bistro table and chairs set from my previous apartment. When I moved, I simply dumped all the porch décor out front and decided to let it go until Spring. The porch looked cluttered but was not a priority since it was fall/ winter. After a few teases of spring weather, I knew I was ready to conquer the front porch.
First, we acquired hanging basket planters from Aldi. I love Aldi- simple $12 fix, that added some contrast to our green décor. From there, we found a free wicker settee on the Nextdoor app. This loveseat nearly fell out of the car on the ride home. We are fortunate that we did not get pulled over by the cops, as I am certain we broke several traffic laws. We also had a VERY good laugh on the drive home. The previous owners gave it to us for free, as the chair arms and backs were in rough shape. I went a little trigger happy with the glue gun, and an hour later, the wicker piece had a new lease on life.
Next, I upcycled a creepy chair I found in the attic. I simply unscrewed the back and seat cushions, and then used as a plant stand for our “Homeland plant.” Daniel and I are big fans of Homeland and I snagged this plant from the Habitat Restore once the show finished filming a couple weeks ago. It brings me great joy in knowing our houseplant probably provided some of the air Claire Danes breathed during filming!
Finally, we picked up new cushions and pillows for the settee. Together we settled on a floral pattern which repeated green tones from the bistro table, but also added reds, blues, and beige to the color palette. We grabbed a simple end table, to finish the space.
Total cost of the porch makeover: <$150. Not too bad!
Once the front porch was cleared, we moved the Adirondack chairs to the backyard on one of the flatter areas. We researched strategies to build a fire pit from pavers, but settled on purchasing a pre-assembled faux-stone fire pit. For a about the same price, we were able to finish the project in about an hour. It should be worth noting that a good 30 minutes of this project was picking up “gumballs,” so that our guests will not trip as they find their seats. Once the weather warms up, we will give the chairs a good hosing down, but for now they work just fine.
After we set up the backyard, we enjoyed sitting around the non-existent fire. We have reached the conclusion that we really have the perfect yard for introverts (like ourselves). The lull of the Powhite highway adds a heavy layer of white noise, and we have tons of critters that together make for excellent daydreaming. It really makes a great place to get lost in your thoughts.
There you have it, two projects in one weekend! Come on spring weather, we are SO ready for you!
Although many people have said it would be easier to go room-by-room through the house, we have taken the approach of starting several projects simultaneously. Originally this was accidental—literally every projected we started took longer than anticipated.
For example, changing the light bulbs in the kitchen ceiling fan lead to the discovery that the lighting portion of the fan is completely broken! That “quick” task turned into a hour of fiddling around, probably several F-bombs, and then eventually realizing we just need to replace the whole fan (which by the way is still on the docket). When things like that happened we started saying, “You win house!” Sometimes it feels like the house wins A LOT!
The other reason, we have working in a several rooms at a time, is that it has given me more time to “treasure hunt.” I absolutely love thrifting, yardsaling (yes, it IS a verb), digging through my parent’s rejects, and browsing Nextdoor for furniture, art, and décor. It honestly brings me joy giving a second life to a “reject,” and makes me feel like I am doing my part to keep things out of landfills. It has also helped to stretch the budget—remember moved from a one-bedroom apartment into a four-bedroom house! We have some serious space to fill!
So, while we have not “finished” any rooms lately, we have made a lot of progress around the house. The guest room is nearly complete (a post to follow!), the kitchen cabinets were re-arranged to better suit my cooking needs, and several pieces of art are now up.
Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite treasures:
Gold Inked, map of Boston. List price: $130, we paid $5 at the Habitat for Humanity Warehouse Sale + $25 for a frame at AC Moore.
Why I love it: The gold catches the light creating movement in the room and it reminds me of my summer as a camp counselor outside of Boston and several trips to visit my aunt and cousins.
Corner Cabinet. List price: unknown, paid $200. I could not find anything new on Target, Wayfair, or similar sites for less.
Why I love it: This piece has character, is solid wood, and was surprisingly light to carry into the house! The deep shelving provides a great place to display some of my favorite keepsakes: grandma’s pink luncheon set, crystal glasses from my grandparents, and our wedding china.
One of my requests of a home, was a separate dining space from the kitchen– I love the idea of having a more formal place to enjoy a nicely prepared meal (out of view from the dishes or kitchen mess!). This was one of the first projects we tackled after closing on the house.
When we purchased the house, the walls were wall-papered, then coated with a splotchy layer of white paint. The floors had recently been refinished with modern grey ceramic tile, which I disliked since they tiled over the original hardwood floors. On principle, I simply couldn’t support that.
This room was one of the easier projects to come together. Before closing on the house, we purchased a dining room table and eight chairs from a lady on “Nextdoor.” She shared the table had been her grandmother’s and been in her family for years. I loved the history of the set and its simple lines. Although I had planned to recover the chair seats, they ended up perfectly matching the sea-foam blue we picked out for the walls. The dining room set matched my secretary desk and we decided that could store our coffee maker and table linens. A few months later, we got lucky again with “Nextdoor” and purchased a corner cabinet to store China, serving pieces, and whatever else didn’t quite have a home in the kitchen.
We finished the room with some of my favorite pieces– my prints of Florence and Venice that I purchased while studying abroad, a mix-media map of Virginia, and Daniel’s first love letter to me (ironically a copy of Vermeer’s love letter with a little note).
Since updating the dining room, I’m proud to share that I’m working on establishing the tradition of actually DINING in the dining room. We tend to eat fast-casual meals in the kitchen, but sit in the dining room after preparing a more involved meal. To me, there’s few things better than enjoying a meal with friends and family in a beautiful space.
Although we weren’t seriously house hunting (yet), we stumbled upon our dream house at the end of September. We had gotten in the habit of scrolling through Zillow, looking at house listings a few times a month. That day we had some free time and looked up two nearby open houses. The first was unremarkable besides a killer yard and off-street parking. The second house we saw that day turned out to be a listing Kari’s realtor had showed her earlier in the summer (which she originally turned down).
When we walked into the house, neither of us was especially impressed. The driveway was in horrible shape, the entryway floor left a lot to be desired, and the paint colors were beyond odd (a lime green/ sky blue living room?). We spoke to the realtor working the event, and proceeded to explore the home. The more we walked through the house, we began to be swept into its charm– the hardwood floors throughout (albeit in rough condition), the knotty-pine paneling in the den, the spacious yard with raised gardening beds, and the room to raise a growing family. Still, neither of us felt confident this was the best first home, in that it needed A LOT of TLC (new windows, bathroom updates, painting, floor refinishing, all the things we couldn’t see). We showed my parents the listing and decided to look at the house the next day with my realtor.
The next morning, Daniel woke up feeling lousy– poor thing had a colonoscopy later that afternoon– but off we went to see the house. Upon second look, everything we originally liked seemed just as appealing and it became easier to look past the changeable flaws (paint, funky bathrooms, etc.). Just for good measure, we decided to check out a house that was at my max budget, but had everything on our wish list. When we got to the “perfect house,” we realized it wasn’t quiet what we wanted. The kitchen was updated, the bathrooms were in great shape, the carpeting looked good, and yet it didn’t have much character. It reminded me too much of the suburbs where I grew up, and I realized I preferred the fixer upper in the city. That evening I placed an offer on the house, and within an hour the seller accepted without conditions! Over the next month, we survived the home inspection, mortgage approval, home insurance plans, and just a month later we closed on the house on Halloween day!
In the next couple posts, I’ll catch you up to speed in the work we already have done to turn our new house into our home.