Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Minnesota Musings


[one] I have a love/hate relationship with airports. I love to travel, but I hate to fly. Not because of any fear of flying, but because of the germs, waiting, inconvenience, uncomfortable chairs, etc. This trip I camped out at some deserted gates, saw my first indoor pet restroom, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when B was given the last standby seat on the way home…which also turned out to be the seat next to me!


[two] This trip was full of some sweet babies. Babies who are growing much to fast! Our friends daughter Aftyn enthralled Brandon and I one night when she climbed up between us on the couch and belted out “Let It Go” – complete with hand motions.

Henry, Hank, Henry-O, Hank the Tank

Just riding the stuffed horse together.

Aftyn and Henry just chillin together

Brandon is still working on getting over his baby-holding fears...Henry is a pretty "solid" kid, so he felt a little more comfortable :)

[three] We have some amazing friends. It was pretty amazing to see everyone who was able to fly in for the funeral and support Brooke and Jonah. We spent some really special time with a group of about 20 friends on Saturday night, swapping stories about Josiah, sharing some tears, and comforting Brooke. Oh how I wish we all lived in the same state!

Love and miss these girls so much!

[four] My mother-in-law is always sure to have a bag or two of Dove chocolate floating around her kitchen. This time she have this amazing mint chocolate – seriously to die for. Like mint chocolate chip ice cream in your mouth. Perfection.


[five] The funeral was beautiful. Bagpipes for Josiah’s Scottish heritage, a slideshow set to a recording of him singing “Here Comes the Sun,” and the most touching eulogy given by my husband.


[six] To end our weekend with a little excitement, we literally spent 15+ minutes searching for the gas cover button in our rental car. The handbook contained no mention of it and we were literally stumped until I stumbled on it while crawling around on the floor.

Sneaky little button...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Celebration of Life


On Tuesday I knew of 3 new little lives who made it into the world - on Wednesday I knew of 2 sweet souls who left it.

My facebook homepage has seemed like the definition of irony, with nearly half the posts dedicated to welcoming the new little ones and sending congratulations and well wishes to their parents, and the other half mourning the loss of those seemingly taken far too soon.


Brandon, Jonah, and Josiah - Just 3 months ago at our wedding

On Wednesday afternoon, our dear friend Josiah was welcomed into the arms of Jesus.
I’ve never lost a close friend before. Last year an acquaintance passed, and nearly 2 years ago we said goodbye to my elderly grandparents, but I’ve never lost someone this close to my age who I cared so much about. There is such comfort in knowing that Josiah was a believer and that he is now free from the pain he has suffered from for so long, but when I think about the wife and young son he left behind, my heart just breaks.

In 2006

We got the call on Tuesday night that things were coming to an end. Josiah was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago and although he went into remission a few years back that last year has been extremly hard. Brandon and I were ecstatic that he was well enough to travel to Michigan in January and be part of our wedding. Shortly after the wedding his medications started causing more harm than help and although he was technically declared cancer free, pnemonia and other lung infections kept him in the hospital.


Brandon and I cried and prayed with Brooke, Josiah’s wife, on the phone Tuesday night and then Brandon said his goodbyes to Josiah. I felt hopeless as I watched my husband try and stay strong while he told one of his oldest and dearest friends how much he loved him.
On Wednesday morning I dropped Brandon off at the airport to head for Minnesota. We had no clue whether or not he would make it in time to spend a few last moments with Josiah, but we knew he needed to try and to be there for Brooke and Jonah. Amazingly he made it and was able to spend a few hours with Brooke, Josiah, and 2 other close friends before Josiah passed. Brooke told Brandon that she kept telling Josiah throughout the night that Brandon was on his way - that he had to hold on just a little bit longer.

20-year-olds at Josiah's wedding - yes they wore kilts!

I know this is how life works - we celebrate birth, mourn death, and try and move on. But the cycle just seems so off when someone dies young. You still try and celebrate their life, but you can’t help asking why - why was it his time? Why now, when he has a young son who needs him, a wife that loves him, and so much more life to live?

Brooke and Josiah have been such an example to Brandon and I of what vows truly look like when you commit to stay together "In sickness and in health."

Brandon said yesterday - "If he was going to die from the cancer, why didn’t just God take him the first round he fought it? Why did he have to suffer for so many years?"
It’s a hard question, but then we realized something.

Because if Josiah hadn’t been able to experience that period of remission, Jonah wouldn’t be here.

And so the cycle of life continues.


We miss you already Josiah.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to Make the Most (and Enjoy) Out of Your Engagement

April 5, 2013

A year ago today B asked me to be his WIFE! Not only was it one of the best days of my life, but it was also the beginning of our lives together.

I had heard quite a few comments about the stress that can come with the engagement period - decisions, deadlines, opinions, etc. It is obviously understandable how there can be some finicky moments as you work towards melding 2 lives together.

But it doesn't have to be stressful! Brandon and I both agree that we really enjoyed the 9 months we were engaged and the wedding planning process. While we still had some ups and downs we moved through them fairly easily.

Here are some of the lessons I learned....

1. Length. Regardless of how smooth your engagement can be, for the life of me I cannot understand how couples can have such lengthy engagements! B and I both agreed that 9 months was even too long! But, with Brandon needing to relocate to Michigan, and my studying and taking the Bar, it just didn't seem realistic that we would be able to get everything done in time if we got married any earlier. That said, I would encourage you not to have an extensive engagement. If you are really ready to get married, the waiting is tough! We found ourselves ready to live together, be together, and start our lives together! On the other hand, my best friend only had a 4 month engagement and she did say that was difficult for wedding planning and finding a venue that was available.

2. Don't let wedding planning consume you. Your wedding is one day. Yes there are decisions that need to be made and planning that needs to be done, but be careful not to become bridezilla. It's a party, and being stressed, agitated, and short-tempered for months before is not going to have a positive effect on those you hold dear. I know you've been dreaming of this day your whole life, but remember that your groom probably hasn't, and that those around you have important life events happening as well!

3. Engage your groom. Find ways to get your groom excited about the wedding planning! If he is interested, find jobs he would enjoy, if he'd rather you take the reigns, keep him up to date on things - especially aspects that are important to him. Brandon loves music so he took care of finding a DJ and tracking down lighting and transportation. He also loved the food tastings and took care of planning the honeymoon! 

4. Marriage Counseling. We both really enjoyed our time in marriage counseling. We met for several weeks with one of my pastors and his wife. They are a couple about a decade older than us whose marriage we really admire. Not only were they a great source of encouragement, but they also challenged us and got us really talking about our goals and marriage ideals. Marriage counseling was also a great reminder to help keep us focused on the fact that the wedding is only the beginning....the marriage and lifelong commitment we were entering into is what really mattered.

5. Be organized. There are some great wedding books/magazines/websites out there that provide timelines and checklists. I found these to be really helpful. Not that I exactly followed them to a tee, but they helped me make sure I was leaving enough time to get things done, and getting things done on time. They also helped me remember tasks I forgot about - i.e. getting escort cards made, finding a videographer, etc. I also kept a running checklist of all of the dates payments needed to/had been made and a spreadsheet on what I was spending (so I knew I was staying on budget).

Picking out our reception hall. Because B was still living in MN during most of our engagement, when he did come into town being organized was key! I would have a list of what we needed to do/things I wanted his opinion on so wedding planning was accomplished, but didn't consume our time together.

6. Have some wedding free time. This goes along with not letting your wedding planning consume you, but remember, those around you, including your fiance and family, are likely not as into wedding planning as you are :) Talk about other things, do other things, care about other people! Remember, you need a break from wedding planning to! I can guarantee keeping this tip in mind will help keep you and those around you sane!

7. Relax. Everything might not happen as you had dreamed, but your day will still be perfect. Bridesmaid dress shopping stressed me out beyond belief, but we found on in the end, and even though the dress came in differently and several of the girls were falling out of it in the weeks leading up to the wedding, we managed to find seamstresses who creatively altered and pinned everything in place. Yes my parents house flooded and we lived in hotels for 2 weeks and then a construction mess for the 2 months leading up to the wedding - but all of the destroyed wedding presents and projects were able to be replaced. Even though we had a blizzard the week before and the melted snow caused our cocktail hour location to flood, we were able to move to another, better location. Even though there were some family upsets and last minute guest cancellations - I still married the man of my dreams :)

Taking engagement pictures was so much fun!

8. Enjoy the process. Have fun with this season of life! While Brandon and I were very ready to get married, there were some special moments during those 9 months I will always treasure. Doing wedding projects together, going to pre-marrital counseling, bachelor/bachelorette parties with friends, planning a ceremony to reflect our love for Christ, and spending precious one-on-one time with our family. Treasure the engagement period for what it is - don't just wish it away!

"Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning." - Anonymous

Happy Engagement!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cutting Costs: Wedding Edition

You just got engaged and are ready to dive into wedding planning. You've got a Pinterest board full of ideas to make your day perfect - but can you achieve that dream without breaking the bank? Here are some lessons I learned over the past year...

Before you start - have a vision.

This might sound a little cheesy, but before you even start the wedding planning process sit down with your groom and talk about what your vision for your wedding is. What do you want to highlight? What do you feel strongly about? Do you want something big and loud, or small and intimate? Not only will this help set the tone for your wedding planning, but it will also help you as a bride determine what is important to your groom (something that often gets lost), and will help you recognize what is important to you both, and thus where you want a larger portion of your spending to go.

In our case we chose 2 main goals - we wanted a celebration that reflected and centered around our faith and love for Christ and good food! We also decided we wanted to include as many friends and family as possible and we wanted a simple, yet elegant event. 

1. Have a budget and stick to it.

Money can be an awkward topic, especially when you are potentially dealing with multiple people contributing, but before you start planning figure out who is paying for what and what your overall budget is. Are your parents paying for it all? Are his parents contributing a lump sum or are they offering to pay for specific traditional groom items? Are you and your spouse-to-be covering the costs? The last thing you want to do is go out and put a deposit on an out-of-this-world reception venue that you can't afford, or spend what you later realize to be is 50% of your budget on flowers.

Once you know your budget - STICK TO IT. Don't fall victim to the little upgrades that are at every twist and turn. Remember that while going "just a little" over on a lot of little things can really add up. 

This is also where your prior "wedding vision" talk comes in handy. I mentioned before that Brandon and I wanted an elegant reception with good food. This meant that I put more of our budget towards the reception hall/food catagory and cut back on things like flowers, favors, extra decor, music, etc. It's all about prioritizing. You don't want to regret spending a large portion of your budget on something that really isn't that important to you.

2. Get married in the off-season

Reception halls and other vendors offer great discounts if you are willing to go with a non-traditional month or time for your wedding. January through March are typically considered the "off" months, but discounts are often available if you are willing to get married on a Friday night, Sunday, or really any other time other than Saturday afternoon/evening. 


This was one of our biggest assets in wedding planning! While there were several factors that contributed to us getting married in January (one of the primary ones being that we got engaged in April and really didn't want to wait a year to get married - 9 months was even too long in my opinion!), one of the biggest draws was that we would get a huge discount on our reception hall. Truthfully, we never would have been able to get married there during the on season - braving the cold was totally worth it! While we didn't have a ton of vendors that were able to offer discounts, we did have a huge selection of vendors to work with (since fewer weddings are happening in January), which allowed us to really do some extensive price comparisons and find some great deals.


3. Embrace your inner DIY

Some of my favorite elements of our wedding ended up being the cheapest. Pinterest is full of cute, crafty things you can do yourself to add personal touches to your wedding. Two of my favorite projects were a set of frames featuring some of our favorite love quotes/verses and our wedding favors.

The frames were a simple combination of garage sale frames and matting spray painted, and quotes we printed at a local print shop. Our church had a plethora of easels we were able to borrow to use as stands. The frames were great because we were actually able to move them and use them as decor around the reception hall as well.


The favors were my mom's homemade hot chocolate recipe (12 batches of it!) in clear party bags topped with a label I made and printed off at home and ribbon in our wedding colors. I think the total cost for these was something around 61 cents per favor!


I also made the escort cards, table numbers, our guest book, and various other small decorations.

4. Avoid the up costs

I'm petty sure anything with the word "wedding" in front of it costs more :) But seriously - be carefully not to allow yourself to get sucked down the up charge train....there is always more. For just a little more you can get fancier dishes, nicer chair covers, better uplighting, something personalized, etc. When you are dealing with a vendor, make sure you know what you are getting for your money up front.

Another suggestion is to look outside of the wedding industry for discounts - i.e. buy your bridesmaid dresses from a department store rather than a bridal store - the same goes for hair pieces and jewelry. Also, when looking to get your dress altered, be sure to check out the prices of other tailors in the area...don't just automatically go with the bridal shops seamstress (but be careful here, because if you take the dress out of the store, you are likely also giving up any protective coverage on the dress if something were to happen to it).

5. Shop used or borrow

The internet has opened up a plethora of essentially "thrift store" wedding shops. Keep in mind, many of the items being sold have only been used once or twice and are likely still in great condition. While I didn't buy anything second hand, I did do a LOT of borrowing from friends. From picture frames to votives, vases to my veil, I gladly accepted (and sought out) any offers from friends. 

Be sure to return the favor too! I have a friend whose granddaughter is getting married last month and I gladly passed on several items to her...it makes the money you do end up spending on items a little less rough when you know something can get used more than once.

6. Seek out help from your friends and family

You likely have a wide variety of talented friends who would love to help out with your special day. We had friends and family help us out with videography, invitations, programs, music at the ceremony and reception, and decorating. Many gladly gave their services as a wedding gift, while others were able to offer a reduced rate. This was a big help and made our big day even more personal with all the friends and family that were involved along the way.


A friend who does graphic design helped us out with our program design. She lived out of state but sent us the layout and we had it printed and cut at a local print shop for a nominal fee.


My awesomely talented brothers helped us out with the music at the ceremony.


7. Remember the purpose of the day

Above all else, remember the purpose of the day. With all the hoopla that comes with wedding planning today it is easy to get caught up in the over priced magic of a wedding....but remember, a wedding is just the beginning. You can have your dream wedding without personalized cupcakes or a 10-piece band, but spending $5,000 on a dress won't guarantee a happy marriage. 

Keep things in perspective - and keep Christ at the center of it all.

Happy Wedding Planning!



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Man-Approved Meatless

One of the things I've tried to incorporate in our weekly meal rotation is a vegetarian meal (or two if I can sneak it past B). This has been a slight challenge because my husband (1) loves meat, and (2) hates beans. But he also loves saving money and being healthy - hence my search for hearty, husband-approved meatless meals.

Here are my goals when looking for vegetarian meals:

1. Something hearty enough that Brandon won't be looking for a snack 30 minutes later.

2. Flavorful

3. Nothing too bean based. He will generally go for beans if they are incorporated in a dish, but has a strong aversion to them simply being used as a substitute for meat.

And so, here is my list of husband-approved vegetarian meals that leave my man not only satisfied, but also asking for more!

VEGETARIAN QUESADILLAS 

This one is our absolute favorite - whole wheat tortillas stuffed with cheese (usually marble cheddar), and sauteed red onion, zucchini, squash, and corn. I sauté the veggies beforehand (just toss some frozen corn in right from the freezer) and then add them to the quesadillas before cooking. We like to top these with avocado, cilantro, and salsa.

SOUP

I've been having a lot of fun trying different vegetarian soups. Two of our current favorites are Bean and Barley Vegetable (barley packs a lot of protein) and Potato (although you have to skip the bacon on this one if you are going strict vegetarian). Brandon also loved this Mushroom Barley recipe.

VEGETARIAN BURRITOS

Nice and simple. Using the same whole wheat tortilla recipe (it is our favorite - and the leftovers freeze great), we top them with brown rice, black beans (very light amount for B), corn, and roasted zucchini. 

BREAKFAST FOR DINNER

We have both fallen in love with whole wheat banana pancakes (which also freeze well)! Paired with some eggs and you are good to go!

Another breakfast for dinner option we love is egg sandwiches - I love to top mine with cheese and spinach or avocado. This is my go-to whole wheat bread recipe.

FRIED RICE

I've tried several fried rice recipes, but this one is by far the best and easiest! I've found that it works better if you cook the rice beforehand, or at least let it cool for awhile before adding it to the veggies. We also will occasionally throw some chicken in here on a non-meatless night (and it is even better :))

And for the record, my go-to meal when Brandon is not home for dinner, and absolute favorite vegetarian meal is grilled cheese on peasant bread. Seriously the best grilled cheese bread EVER. Brandon absolutely hates grilled cheese, which I do not understand and think is possibly un-American.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Love - Giveaway

Chelsy has a great give-away going on on her blog - the just released Growing Up Dugger! Be sure to head over to check it out, and then stay awhile because Chelsy is a great blogger herself - with some great insight and modest fashion ideas!

You "Do" Too?

Brandon and I headed to MN this weekend for a much needed visit with friends and family, and to attend our first wedding together as husband and wife!

I loved weddings before I was married, but I love them even more now that I have a husband by my side. Perhaps it's because our own wedding was just 2 months ago, but B and I both caught ourselves tearing up at the vows (which we both cried through saying on our wedding day!)

But since we're on a budget, we started this weekend adventure on Friday, when we drove to a hotel an hour away to prep to get up at 4 a.m the next morning for our flight out. Yes, staying at a hotel and parking our car at the airport was still cheaper than flying out of the airport closer to our house. Thanks to 3 hockey teams staying in the same hotel, we both managed to get about 3 hours of sleep before we were up again. Have I mentioned I am not a morning person? And that B loves to have deep conversations as soon as he wakes up? Even at 4 am?

We touched down in MN just after 6 am and spent our early hours at a coffee shop before we met friends for breakfast. B started out with a light appetizer....


(Chips, salsa, and fresh squeezes OJ) Before following it up with eggs, bacon, fried potatos and toast. We had been up for 6 hours by now...

The day flew by and before we knew it we were headed to the wedding - a fabulously unique event where the bride looked beautiful and carried a bouquet made of broaches collected from family members, where the ceremony was held in a pasta bar and the reception at a theater, and where I completely gorged myself on coconut shrimp and peanut butter chocolate pops.


The beautiful bride.


Piper's first wedding. She was completely entranced!




A glimpse of the decorated theater - which has award winning bathrooms (seriously) that make you feel like you've stepped into Alice in Wonderland.


Still getting used to this! :)


Their first dance - how cool is that lighting?!


Me and my man.


And then we tried to take a picture with Piper...


And since no trip is complete without an adventure, we learned your flight can be excessively delayed when the airlines has to track down paperwork for the new seat cushions they just put in. You learn something new everyday.