Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: The Memories

Christmas brings so many memories as it creeps closer and closer. And as it's almost here, all I can think about are Christmases past. I sort of feel like Ebenezer Scrooge when he's taken on a flight back in time, visiting the key Christmases of his life.

Most Christmas memories center around time spent with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. The best part is being reunited with people you haven't seen in months, maybe even a year or more. And when you're back together, it's like you picked up where you left off last time you were together.

My cousins and I have always had a good time together, whether sledding or getting into mischief or riding around on scooters and playing hide and seek. Our imaginations always took us to more exciting places than closets or basements or bunkbeds, but they were all we needed to have a good time. Of course we all loved getting presents and new toys, but when it came down to it, the best part was being together. After all, 20-some years later, that's what I remember most.

Not that I don't remember presents, especially the years that my relatives "magically" knew just what to get me. American Girl dolls and stuffed animals were some of the things I loved the most. Then when I got older it turned into books, CDs and clothes. The anticipation of what sat behind the multicolored paper and silvery bows was almost more exciting than actually opening them. Almost.

When you're a kid, you sort of expect Christmas to always be the same, but really it's always changing. We have our traditions and things we swear will never change, but the truth is, every year is just a little bit different, and sometimes a lot. Last year was our first year without Grandpa with us, and yet it's still strange not having him here. His wispy laugh and jolly eyes and generous spirit seem especially missing this time of year. It's almost like having Christmas without Santa (if Santa was real, that's still out for debate). We make due and press on, but it will never be quite the same.

Looking back, Christmas really has been the most wonderful time of the year. And though times will always change, we'll look back on the fond memories we made.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and a very happy and blessed New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: Picture This

I'm trying something new with Storify and photo sharing in the form of a slideshow. Last year, if you remember, I did my "Thirty-One Days of Photos" challenge throughout December, and while it was stressful at times, I kind of miss documenting the events of the holidays.

But! Thanks to Instagram, documentation is easier and faster than ever. So while I can't promise 31 photos in a row, I think delivering at least one snapshot each day shouldn't be too hard.

The great thing about Storify is that, as I add photos, it will continue to update the embedded slideshow below. If however, you don't want to wait for that, come check out my Instagram profile on the app (username is EliseLoyola, surprising, eh?) or view my photos online.

That said, merry Christmas and thanks for checking out my Christmas wrap-up!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: Traditions

Traditions. One of the best parts of the Christmas season. Whether new, or time-tested and long-lasting, traditions are what make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. They give us something to remember years past, a marker to set down with each passing Christmas.

Some of the best traditions are the most simple. Setting up and decorating the Christmas tree is one of my absolute favorites. I used to wait until the day after Thanksgiving, but since living on my own, I've been setting it up a little earlier. Call me crazy, but I like the idea of enjoying its beauty as long as I can. And when you travel around the holidays, you have less time to enjoy your tree. (Yeah, this is my reasoning.)

Our Christmas tree, filled with flowers and ornaments.
 Another tradition I love is hanging up and filling stockings. In my family, my brother and I each have a stocking that magically gets filled (by my mom) on Christmas Eve. It's the first thing we open in the morning, usually before breakfast. I'm excited to continue the tradition with Nick.

A new(ish) tradition that I hope to continue is participating in Operation Christmas Child. This year, Nick and I filled a shoebox with toys and other items for a little girl. Filled shoeboxes are collected by Samaritan's Purse and distributed to children around the world.

Jade with our shoebox.
These are just a few traditions that I love. What are yours? Is there something you do every year without fail?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: Cookie (Recipe) Exchange

Who doesn't eat/make/love Christmas cookies?! It's practically an unwritten rule that as many Christmas cookies as can be made and consumed, should be made and consumed. But honestly, some of them take so much dang time, who really wants to spend countless hours making and decorating cookies?
Stock photo / q83
Therefore I will now share with you a relatively quick (to assemble and bake) recipe that is also thoroughly delicious, both in cooked and non-cooked form. Yes, I'm a self-proclaimed cookie-dough-aholic. And I'm taking this moment to digress onto that subject...

When I was a kid, a musician couple, the Covingtons, came to our church in Dallas to give a small performance. One of the songs they sang was "Cookie" which has a chorus proclaimed, "The cookie can't compete, cookie can't compete, no! The cookie can't compete with the dough." All of us kids loved that song the best and always sang it after that. And though I only heard that song the one time, that fateful chorus is always stuck in my head when I'm snacking on cookie dough. Because, let's face it, the cookie can never compete with the dough.

Drop Sugar Cookies

This recipe my mom gave me makes about 4.5 to 5 dozen yummy cookies. :)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cub vegetable oil
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  1. Mix sugar, butter, egg and vanilla in a mixing bowl with a mixer.
  2. Add oil and dry ingredients, mix well.
  3. Chill dough for one hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Scoop out slightly rounded teaspoons and drop onto non-greased cookie sheet 1.5 inches apart.
  6. Press down on cookie with a glass dipped in granulated sugar. (I recommend green or red colored sugar!)
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: Current Events & Christmas

Christmas for a lot of people is a "feel good" holiday. It's all about warmth and cheer and families.

But, Christmas for a lot of other people is anything but a "feel good" holiday. It's a day to remember lost loved ones, hurts and brokenness. This is brought home even more in light of recent events. Everyone knows what happened, and the thought of innocent children being executed brings many to a state of desperation and uncertainty. Do we really live in so barbaric a world?

Yes. The answer is yes. And the truth is, it will never get better.

Maybe that sounds harsh and over-the-top, but the evil that exists in this world cannot be done away with by men and their laws. Banning guns may treat a symptom, but the virus will live on. We can never extricate evil on our own.

So what do we do? What's the answer to this problem? Is there even an answer or will we go on struggling with acts of terror and evil until this planet consumes itself?

The good news is, there is an answer. It is the truth I and so many others cling to in dark days like December 14.

This truth was very clearly expressed on Sunday by my dad at church, and I want to share his message with all of you. I think he conveys a message I could not, and I agree wholeheartedly with everything he said. If you have some time, please listen to this audio clip. It is truth and hope for the darkest, and the best, of days.

Click to listen: He is Christ the Lord / Luke 2:11 / Dec. 16, 2012 / Clinton E-Free Church

Please share your thoughts on this message. If you were in church on Sunday and already heard this sermon, what were your initial thoughts?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up: Holidaywear

This time of year, we're spending a lot of money. And while we all want something for ourselves (Like a brand new holiday outfit!), we're usually trying to figure out how much we can spend on gifts for our friends and family.

So a brand new party dress is probably the last item on your list of things to buy, but that doesn't mean you can't look amazing this Christmas.

After reading an article that listed a party dress as something to scratch from your shopping list, I subconsciously made it my goal to figure out how to get a new holiday look on a budget. It didn't start so well--I found a beautiful red lace dress at a department store in the mall a few days later, full price. After leaving it behind, I came up with a few things and eventually found what I was looking for, over $100 less.

Start in your closet

I love timeless pieces, those articles of clothing you can wear year after year. Basics like sweaters, button-downs and simple skirts can be resurrected time and time again. The same can go for dresses in classic shapes and basic colors. I have a black t-shirt dress that I've worn the past several years, adding scarves, belts and sweater tights to switch (and dress) it up.

A black t-shirt dress like this one by Mossimo is easily converted with accessories.
So before you head to the store, check your closet for something you can dress up with a sparkly belt or new jewelry. Repurposing something you already own will save your wallet, and make you feel proud of your fashion skills.

Shop the sale racks

I found my new holiday dress on a sale rack in the juniors department of Dillard's. The great thing is that it was probably a summer/fall dress, thus on the way out, but because of the color and fabric, totally convertible to winter.

When you're shopping the sale racks for winter dresses, look for darker solid colors or color-blocked dresses. Animal print is also very in, especially leopard, but avoid summery floral prints. You'll also want to look for heavier fabrics, or those that have the appearance of being heavy (usually with more shape and less flowy movement). Just remember that with the right pairings, you can make something intended for summer or fall ready for winter.
This emerald lace dress can be holiday party-worthy with a few additions.

The key to making any of the above options work is accessorizing. The right accessories can help your dress make the transition into the holiday scene. Think patent leather or sparkly belts, chunky jewelry and a coordinating clutch. Don't be afraid to go big on pieces you would normally keep small.
H&M rhinestone ring.

Patent leather belt from Lauren by Ralph Lauren.

Don't forget your hands and face

After you put your outfit together, top it all off with party-worthy makeup and nail polish. Don't be afraid to go darker with your shadow and create a smokey eye. (I really like Sephora's eyeshadow with micro glitter.) Finish everything off with a coat of gorgeous and totally in glitter nail polish.

Sephora Collection eyeshadow in Espresso Shot.

e.l.f. Essential Glitter Nail Polish in Golden Goddess, with a taupe base coat.

Find it Online Guide 
e.l.f. Essential Glitter Nail Polish

As a side note: I've been thinking about eliminating the "Style Editor" blog (not like I've really been updating it anyway), and putting my periodic fashion/beauty posts on this blog. My original intent was to not clog this blog up with those types of posts, for those who aren't interested. So I made a separate space where they could live and be discovered by those who are interested. BUT since I'm not blogging that much about style subjects, I was thinking it wouldn't hurt to bring them over here. Any thoughts on that? I suppose anyone who really hates these types of posts could just skip them to begin with.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The 2012 Christmas Wrap-Up

Christmas. The best holiday ever. (With Halloween being a close runner-up, and the Fourth of July after that.) And in keeping with my love for the day, I am going to do a special Christmas Wrap-Up here on my blog. Consider it a blogift (yes, that's a technical term) from me to you. :)

I will share stories, photos, recipes and more! And as always, I love to hear from my readers! Please share your favorite Christmas memory/photo/recipe/video or anything that makes you feel particularly in the Christmas spirit. (And if you don't celebrate Christmas, I'd like to hear what you do instead!)

To kick things off, here are some pics from last year.

Some of the decorations we set up at work in the newsroom.
We won the Christmas decorating contest. :)
Last year we spent Christmas at my Grandma's house, where we'll be again this year!
Michael and one of his favorite presents.

Me with my grandma and mom.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Food & Photos

It's here! You are now looking at my reading material for the rest of the month. (Well, I'm actually about half-way through it already because I skipped some parts. They said I could.)

I'm getting more excited for the Whole30, which as I wrote in this post, I'll be starting Jan. 2. I'm still looking for anyone who is interested in joining. It's not just about "dieting" and weight loss, but also about the lifestyle benefits. Not only is Whole30 designed to increase energy, it also helps with a whole list of other issues (like inflammation and diabetes). So if you want to give it a whirl with us (Nick is joining me, as well as several of my girl friends), you are cordially and officially invited. It lasts for 30 days, so come on, who can't try it?! :)

If you are skeptical and want to see how it goes for Nick and me, just keep checking my blog as I plan to post plenty of updates. (Especially when I'm struggling!) I'll try to get Nick to add some thoughts/guest posts too, so you can get a guy's perspective.

In other news, if you haven't seen them yet, my engagement pictures are here! I have posted some of our favorites to a rather "protected" Facebook album (to guard against those who have been a little too stalkery). If you can't see it, just shoot me a message and I'll add you to the viewers.

And speaking of photos, I think I found photography bliss. This is now on my "I kind of want this really bad" list. :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Life Revelations, a Few Years Later

Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

Sometimes they get a LOT worse.

I somehow got sucked into looking at old Facebook posts tonight on my profile. Thanks to the wonder of the timeline, it's easy to go back a few years and look at the silly things you used to write. Mixed in with the silly is the occasional meaningful post, or the post with an underlying message that the average reader wouldn't catch. But you know what's there, you lived the raw emotions, the moments of desolation, the secret fears.

I covered a lot of ground in the past 3+ years. Emotional roller coaster after emotional roller coaster. There were the highest highs and the lowest lows, and looking back, I remember many moments where I felt utterly lost.

I felt the most lost when I lived in Colorado and when I first moved back to Iowa. I know because I remember. I was reminded of that tonight when I crossed a few posts that said things to the effect of, "I wish I could figure out my life."

Okay, we all wish we could figure out our lives, because who really has it all together? But sometimes we're more lost and confused than other times. And that was my season, Denver to Clinton, I was so lost. That was the lowest of the low, when I hit rock bottom. I remember constantly thinking, where am I going and what am I doing? Life felt like a wilderness and I was wandering across it, not even sure if I was headed in the right direction, parched and looking for shelter.

One of the biggest things I learned was that life can take the steepest of downhill plunges before it even begins to get better. Looking back on that wilderness now, it seems so far away. Now, on this side where things are starting to make so much more sense and I have less of the "what am I doing?" feeling. Now it's like I can see again. And with 20-20, I know the past was the way it was for a reason. There was desolation, but there was also life and growth. The sand of the wilderness shaped who I am, who I am becoming.

Now I know that life sometimes reaches the point where you think you've come to the end of all things. Sometimes it feels like you've sunk so low you'll drown beneath the weight of everything crushing above you. Sometimes it feels like the wilderness is endless.

But if there is one thing I've learned, it's that life does get better. Maybe it takes months or years, but eventually we come to the end of the wilderness. And if we've learned all we needed to, we'll come out refined, purged, wiser, and able to see the path before us.

Here's to finding that path and following it wholeheartedly. Here's to remembering that when the worst comes, sometimes what's better is just behind that distant horizon. Here's to remembering that the wilderness is not endless.
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