West Virginia Christmas 2018

img_4476This year for Christmas, my family gathered here in West Virginia. Earlier this year, my parents moved to Utah from Virginia, where they had lived for over 30 years. I have a brother in Utah, a brother in Virginia…as of three days ago, and a sister in Virginia. At Christmas time, my brother who lives in Virginia was actually living in San Francisco. Needless to say, it was awesome that we were able to gather from across the country to be together for Christmas.

We started off the family Christmas celebrations the Friday before Christmas with a dinner at Maggiano’s (sadly, my brother from Utah didn’t arrive until Sunday). I love Maggiano’s and I love my family, so this was a win/win situation for me haha.

My brother from San Francisco spent the weekend before Christmas looking for housing in Virginia in anticipation for his big move across the country. My parents and my sister finished their Christmas shopping. John, David, and I laid low and hung out at home. We also FaceTimed with John’s parents and sister and opened up the presents they had given us and we had given them.

On Christmas Eve, we gathered together at our house with my Wagner cousins, my uncles Carl and Markus, and John’s Uncle David. I cooked a ham for the first time. It was super easy, but unfortunately the glaze got everywhere. (Note to self: Glaze the ham in the roasting pan, not on the serving tray). Since I was nearly seven months pregnant at the time, I couldn’t see that I had gotten glaze all over the bottom of my shirt. Thankfully my sister pointed it out before anyone noticed – ha!

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Annual Christmas Eve family photo.

Dinner was delicious. Everyone contributed and there were so many tasty sides. After dinner, we read scriptures from the Bible and Book of Mormon that talk about Christ’s birth. In between passages of scripture, we would pause and sing carols. I love this tradition. My family is a musical family, and I love hearing all our voices blend together as we sing songs about the birth of the Savior. It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Afterwards, we had our traditional White Elephant gift exchange. (Earlier in the day, John, my brothers, and I played Dance Dance Revolution. My parents had given us their two DDR mats and game before they moved. I haven’t played that game in years, but I still love it! I may consider it as an option for post-baby workouts haha).

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Group shot after the White Elephant gift exchange. Grace is not excited about her electric Spider Man toothbrush haha.

On Christmas Day, we kept things pretty low key. We all slept in (including David) and then opened presents. We had a late brunch, which included an omelette bar and Monkey Bread. That afternoon we watched the movie “Collateral Beauty.” The movie got terrible reviews, but it is one of my all-time favorite movies. It takes place at Christmas time, so even though it’s not a Christmas movie, it seemed fitting to watch it. That night my dad made baked Ziti for dinner, which was so good (I love Italian food!). And we ended the night with some games.

Some other fun things we did during the Christmas break were visiting the National Christmas Tree and going on a nature walk in Harpers Ferry. Below are pictures of these outings!

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So grateful for these two!

2017 Holiday Recap

Since we went to Iowa this year for Christmas, John, David, and I had our own Christmas celebration on the Wednesday prior to Christmas. We had a “red and green” dinner with sparkling cider, exchanged Christmas gifts, and then watched a Christmas show.

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This is the only picture we took during our family celebration in West Virginia haha.

On December 23rd, we drove 17 hours to Iowa (a drive that normally only takes us 13 hours). We rented an SUV since John had some free rental car days that were going to expire. John’s Uncle David came with us. Baby David was a champ. He didn’t get fussy until about the 15-hour mark. It was a long day, and to make things more interesting, we received a call from our security system company saying our house alarm went off (thankfully, our home was fine).

On Christmas Eve, the extended Longenecker family came over to my in-laws for dinner and a gift exchange. On Christmas Day, we headed over to John’s aunt and uncle’s house for Christmas dinner and an afternoon of games. It was a white Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which is something I’ve rarely experienced as a Virginian. The beautiful white coating on the ground made it feel extra Christmasy. At the end of Christmas Day, John, baby David, and I drove around looking at Christmas lights.

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Annual Christmas Eve family photo (without shoes haha)
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A tired baby on Christmas morning.
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David’s first Christmas morning!
Opening presents.

On the 27th and 28th, we headed to Nauvoo, Illinois so John’s family could participate in services at the LDS Temple (it’s the closest LDS Temple to their house). While they were in the Temple, baby David and I explored Nauvoo. It was fun to be back where I served as an LDS missionary.

Historic Carthage Jail.

On the 30th, we headed home. The drive back home didn’t take us quite as long as the drive to Iowa, but we did run into some snowy weather. Thankfully we made it home safe and sound.

On New Year’s Eve, we went over to my parents’ house for some delicious food (we’re a foodie family) and we played Telestrations. John, David, and I left before midnight. John and I watched the ball drop in bed on my iPad right before we went to sleep. On New Year’s Day, my parents and brothers, as well as John’s Uncle David, came over. John grilled brats and I made homemade potato chips. My parents thought he was crazy for grilling since it was FREEZING. When I told them I asked him to grill, they thought I was crazy haha. We had fun watching football and playing Hoopla. Sadly, I didn’t really get any pictures of our New Year’s celebrations 😦 I stole this one from my brother’s Instagram…

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Here’s to a new year! I hope to do a 2017 year-in-review blog post soon 🙂

Sinterklaas Day 2017

Because of our Dutch heritage, my family celebrated Sinterklaas Day during my growing up years. Each year on the evening of December 4th, we put out our shoes. When we awoke on December 5th, our shoes were filled with goodies from Sinterklaas.

John and I are continuing this tradition with our family. This year, Sinterklaas came to our house and David was given the book “Elmo’s Countdown to Christmas,” which we have read many times since, and an electronic copy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas Program with Sesame Street. He’s a little too young to enjoy these items, but we’re hoping they’ll bring Christmas cheer in coming years.

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You’re supposed to put your shoes by the fireplace, but we don’t have a fireplace. So, under the Christmas tree they went!

Another tradition associated with Sinterklaas Day in our family is a gathering with extended family members in the area. We have a dinner and then each person opens a small gift from Sinterklaas. These gifts come with a poem related to the gift. You’re supposed to read the poem and then open the gift. It’s fun to hear the different poems that “Sinterklaas” comes up with.

This year, we got together the Sunday prior to Sinterklaas Day at our house in West Virginia. This was the first time some of our extended family met the new baby. It was a fun and happy night.

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A group selfie of those in attendance.
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Wagner cousins and Melissa with the baby.
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They color coordinated 😉
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My dad’s Sinterklaas gift.
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My dad and mom wearing their Sinterklaas gifts proudly.
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Family photo – sure do love these guys 🙂
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John finished decorating his tree in time for the gathering. We opened the presents in the family room in the basement by his tree. I wanted to add this picture to the blog because I think the tree looks great!

December 2016 Moments

It’s officially 2017! I want to write a post that recaps 2016, but before I do, I felt I needed to update the blog with our Christmas experiences this past month. Truth be told, it didn’t really feel like Christmas for most of December because we were surrounded by moving boxes. My focus was so much on making sure everything was ready to go for the move on December 17, that I didn’t feel like I could fully get into the Christmas mode.

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Our annual Christmas Eve photo in front of the Christmas Tree (this year’s turned out blurry).

On December 16, we officially moved into our new house. We were supposed to do the big move on the 17th, but an ice storm was predicted to hit the area on the 17th. So, after work on the 16th, we rented a truck and loaded it up and headed to our new home. Thankfully, John had taken over lots of loads during the week since we closed on the house, so there wasn’t too much stuff to move. My parents and brother also came and helped us move. By 1 a.m., we were getting ready for bed in our NEW HOUSE.

Even though the move was a big focus this month, we still found time to participate in Christmas activities. The first weekend in December we headed to the National Zoo to see the Zoo Lights. We also attended a Christmas sing-a-long with my parents at Shenandoah University.

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Later in the month, we attended a Messiah Sing-A- Long in Ashburn. My dad played the trombone for the sing-a-long.

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This year for Christmas, we stayed local and celebrated with my family. On December 23, we went to the Kennedy Center with my immediate family for the annual Messiah Sing-A-Long. We gathered together on Christmas Eve with some extended family for a delicious dinner, caroling, and a white elephant gift exchange. That night John and I exchanged presents after returning home. The next day, Christmas Day, we went to church with my family, ate our traditional monkey bread for a late breakfast, exchanged gifts, FaceTimed with my brother Blake, who is serving as an LDS missionary in Arizona, and finished the day off with a turkey dinner.

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We spent the next couple of days after Christmas working on the house. We did manage to also spend some time with two friends who came over for lunch and an afternoon of games. We had an adventure getting to lunch because of a road closure, but ended up at the most unique restaurant called “John’s.” John and I drive past this restaurant on our way home from work. It’s a small restaurant on the side of the highway, and its parking lot is always filled with cars. The inside looks like an antique store and the food is all homemade. It was a fun lunch experience!

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In the foyer of the restaurant.

John’s family came into town on December 28 and will leave tomorrow. We’ve had fun doing Christmas activities with them, as well as with my family. My Uncle Kevin, Aunt Diana, and cousin Cory also came into town and stayed with my parents.

On December 29, we bundled up and headed to the National Christmas Tree. We walked around and looked at all the state trees and then took pictures by the National Christmas Tree. My dad has a picture of John and I by the Iowa tree, but I don’t think I’ve grabbed that from his phone.

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Sisters & Sisters 🙂

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On December 30, we headed to the Washington D.C. LDS Temple. We participated in a service at the Temple and then walked around and looked at all the Christmas lights. Inside of the Temple Visitors’ Center, there was a room full of nativities from all around the world. My favorite part of the evening was attending a hand bell concert. The McLean Stake Hand Bell Choir performs at the Temple Visitors’ Center every Christmas season. I’ve not been able to go the past few years and see their performance, but this year it worked out. They were great!

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John and I with my Aunt Diana and Uncle Kevin.

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On New Year’s Eve, we gathered at my parents’ house for food, football, and fun games. We chatted, laughed a lot, and I personally ate way too much food 🙂 Yesterday, New Year’s Day, everyone gathered at our house for dinner. It was fun to have our first family gathering in our new house.

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I don’t want to end this post about Christmas without saying how grateful I am for the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He truly is the reason for this season of joy. He is the reason I can have joy each day even when life is hard or challenging.

Day 54: 100 Moments of Joy (Christmas Carols)

Last night John and I stopped by my parents’ house to pick up some items. When we arrived, my mom was practicing Christmas carols with a friend. My family has a tradition of Christmas caroling each year. And this year, this friend of my mom will join in. So, John, my dad, and I joined them at the piano and sung a few Christmas carols. Singing songs about Christ’s birth with loved ones always brings joy to my heart.

This experience reminded me of last Christmas when my family headed to the Kennedy Center in DC to participate in the annual Messiah Sing-a-long. I love the power of music and the emotions music can conjure inside of me.

My sister's Instagram post from last year at the Kennedy Center's Messiah Sing-a-long.
My sister’s Instagram post from last year at the Kennedy Center’s Messiah Sing-a-long.

Days 46-53: 100 Moments of Joy

It’s been eight days since I’ve posted. Eight days. While that doesn’t sound like a long time, when you’re trying to blog daily, eight days feels like a long stretch.

Although I haven’t been recording my daily “Moments of Joy,” I’ve had at least one experience each day when I’ve thought, “This would be a great thing to write about on my blog tonight!” Alas, I never actually got around to posting those experiences. However, below are eight moments when I’ve felt joy over the last eight days (in no particular order)…

  1. Seeing a truly beautiful sunrise yesterday morning. I couldn’t take a picture because I was driving.
  2. Driving around with John to check out Christmas lights in nearby neighborhoods.
  3. Listening to President Uchtdorf’s talk from this year’s LDS Christmas Devotional.
  4. Reading about Jesus Christ in the scriptures by the light of our Christmas tree.
  5. Shopping for Christmas gifts and thinking about the people in my life whom I love.
  6. Receiving and delivering Christmas goodies.
  7. Relaxing on Sunday night with John and his uncle and playing “The Grandfather Game.”
  8. Looking at my wedding pictures.
Another one of my favorites :)
Another one of my favorites 🙂

Days 41-45: 100 Moments of Joy

I’ve missed posting the last five days. Life has been full and fun. John and I went to Indianapolis for the B1G Ten Championship this weekend (I’ll write about that in my next post), and we’re spending time soaking up the Christmas season. To make up for the five days I missed, I will write about five experiences that have brought joy.

1. Celebrating Sinter Klaas Day with my extended family – My great grandma came to America from Holland. Because of her and her heritage, we celebrate Sinter Klaas Day on December 5. We put out our shoes, and if we’ve been good, Sinter Klass fills them with little presents. Our extended Morgan family in the DC area usually always have a dinner to celebrate this day and sometimes “Sinter Klaas” makes an appearance 😉 This year was no different. We enjoyed yummy food and a special visitor!

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2. Seeing how happy John was to be at the B1G Ten Championship – John loves Iowa football and seeing them play in the B1G Ten Championship was such a treat. I loved seeing how happy he was to be there. Even though the ending was really sad!

3. Driving past houses decorated for Christmas – I love seeing Christmas lights on people’s homes. Seeing Christmas lights has brought joy and happiness to my heart.

4. Wrapping Christmas presents in front of the Christmas Tree – Last night I dimmed the lights in the apartment and let the lights of the Christmas tree glow as I wrapped presents. I am trying to do something Christmasy each day.

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5. Feeling peace and happiness while attending a Spanish speaking congregation – John and I attended a different church congregation than normal since we were out of town this weekend. We didn’t realize until we got to church that we would be attending a Spanish speaking congregation. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying for the most part, the spirit I felt as they shared their belief in Christ filled my soul with peace.

Days 34 and 35: 100 Moments of Joy (Black Friday and a Saturday at the Temple)

The day after Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s the first official day of the Christmas season, my favorite time of the year, and it’s Black Friday. My mom, sister, and I have the tradition of going to the outlets near my parents home at 8 p.m. to shop for Christmas gifts. By 8 p.m. most of the shopping crowds have died down, the stores are calm, and the good deals are still available.

The day after Thanksgiving this year was especially fun as it was Iowa’s final football game of the season. The game was at 3:30 p.m. We headed to my parents’ house and watched the game with them. The Hawkeyes won! Making for an undefeated season.

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Big smiles after the final game of the undefeated season.

Before the game, John and I pulled out Christmas decorations from the storage closet. By the time we left for my parents’ house, our living room looked like a Christmas store exploded. Friday was a day of joy filled with family, fun traditions, and memories.

On Saturday, John and I went to the Temple in the morning. I love the Temple, and I am so grateful how close we live to an LDS Temple. I felt joy being in the Temple and refocusing on what is most important in life, God and our families.

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The Temple on Saturday morning.

The afternoon was spent cleaning, running errands, and preparing dinner for the missionaries who serve in our church congregation. My favorite part of the day was relaxing in the evening in front of the Christmas tree. I love turning off all the lights except for the Christmas lights. I haven’t taken a picture of the tree yet, but will do so before the season is over.

Day 32: 100 Moments of Joy (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly)

Today I had joy as I listened to Christmas music  while working. One song in particular really touched my heart. It was an arrangement of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” by BYU’s Vocal Point. The words of this song are so powerful. Take a listen…

p.s. This song came on the Pentatonix Christmas Pandora Station. I highly recommend it!

Christmas 2014

Last Sunday, one of the members of my church congregation gave a talk (like a short sermon) on Christmas. She talked about how some of the things we use to adorn Christmas can actually take away from the true spirit of Christmas if we look beyond the mark. Do we sometimes get lost in the “glitter and glitz” of Christmas and forget its true meaning? I know that I sometimes do. This year I tried to exert more effort in remembering the true reason we celebrate – the birth of Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite Christmas activities this year was the Messiah Sing-a-long at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. My mom, Trevor, and I stood in line for two hours to get tickets. I would never classify myself as a musician. And even though I can sing, singing Handel’s Messiah is tough. To be honest, I probably only sang half of the time I was supposed to. The reason I liked this event so much wasn’t the musicality of it all, but I loved the feeling of singing songs about Christ’s birth with thousands of others. While I didn’t know anyone in the audience aside from my family, my heart was touched as I was reminded that all of us in that room were children of God. While we may all have different understandings of Christ and His gospel, His role for each of us is to be our Savior. I think we often cut Christ and religion in general out of our conversations, yet that doesn’t change what Christ did for each one of us. For this reason, my heart rejoiced when given the opportunity to proclaim through song with thousands of others that Christ was born and lived and died for all of us.

Reunited with best friends from growing up. I love visiting with friends who come back to Virginia for the holidays.
Reunited with best friends from growing up. I love visiting with friends who come back to Virginia for the holidays.
Last Saturday, I went to the Temple with my siblings and ward members. We met there at 7:30 a.m. At that time of morning, the sun was casting the most beautiful glow on the Temple. I tried to capture it with my iPhone, but it was cooler in person.
Last Saturday, I went to the Temple with my siblings and ward members. We met there at 7:30 a.m. At that time of morning, the sun was casting the most beautiful glow on the Temple. I tried to capture it with my iPhone, but it was cooler in person.
Morgan siblings in front of the Temple.
Morgan siblings in front of the Temple.
Waiting in line for tickets for the Messiah Sing-a-long.
Waiting in line for tickets for the Messiah Sing-a-long.
Picture stolen from my Melissa's Instagram at the Messiah Sing-a-long.
Picture stolen from Melissa’s Instagram at the Messiah Sing-a-long.
My parents!
My parents!
Modeling our white elephant gifts. A traditional Christmas Eve game at my parents' house. Poor Trevor…everyone kept stealing from him.
Modeling our white elephant gifts. A traditional Christmas Eve game at my parents’ house. Poor Trevor…everyone kept stealing from him.
Me and my siblings on Christmas Day.
Me and my siblings on Christmas Day.