Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Night I Made Round Pizza



I’m often reminded about the seasons of life - the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow, busyness and serenity, predictability and uncertainty. Each season comes with blessings and challenges that help us grow - personally, relationally, and spiritually.

The last few months have kept Brandon and I on our toes. We’ve been out of town nearly every weekend, and the times we have been home have been full of spending time with local friends and family.

But the truth is, that even with the busyness, we have both had such a blast this summer. Before getting married, Brandon and I talked about the things we wanted to prioritize as a couple. The first was our faith, and the second our family, and the third was relationships with others. This truly has been a summer of relationship building! While we look forward to the joys of parenting someday, this summer has given us the opportunity to embrace flexibility and easily travel to visit family and friends. 

And so we watched fireworks in downtown Baltimore for the 4th of July, got soaked attempting to attend a Cubs game in Chicago, went hiking in Breckenridge, and sat by campfires around numerous Michigan lakes. 

Maintaining and strengthening local and long-distance relationships turned out to be especially key to us this summer because a lot of changes are on the horizon. Tomorrow I head in for my last day of work, and after a few days visiting some more wonderful friends, Brandon and I will start packing up our apartment for our next adventure - a new season.

But while change is looming, it's not here quite yet. And so I'm hanging on to these last summer days - soaking up every last moment. 

And one of those moments, as trivial as it may be, was last nights accomplishment. I finally convinced our favorite whole wheat pizza crust to morph into a somewhat circular shape. Amoeba shaped dinner? It's a thing of the past.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Planning to Say "Yes" to the Dress


Wedding season is in full swing! I mentioned to Brandon the other day that I was feeling kind of nostalgic - this is the first summer in a long time where I have ZERO weddings to attend! To be fair, we have been invited to 2 weddings since we got married, but the reality is that our single friends seem to be quickly diminishing.

This is really a disappointment because I love weddings! And so, I live on my wedding love via this blog and passing on my own wedding planning advice. 

Finding the Dress

I’d bet that almost every little girl dreams of her wedding dress at some point. I have pages stuffed into a scrapbook somewhere full of dress design doodles and various pictures of me trying on my mom’s wedding dress. And from a very early age I remember being exceedingly jealous at my Catholic neighborhood friends who made their first communion and got to, in my 7-year-old opinion, dress like a bride.


Actually shopping for a dress though may not be as easy as you once thought. In fact, my dress shopping included being rear-ended by a semi truck and a bridal store staying open late so I could have a last-minute Cole family wedding dress approval meeting (yes I needed my dad and brothers to help seal the deal). 

But there are some steps you can take to help your dress shopping adventure flow as smoothly as possible....

1. Make an appointment. Most bridal stores aren’t like any old clothing store - you have to have an appointment set up in advance. A consultant will meet with you, pull some dresses, and help you narrow down what you’re looking for. 

Think about the timing of your appointment when making it! My first appointment was on a Thursday morning (I think), where I was the only one in the shop, had the full attention of the 2 consultants working and the alterationist, and didn’t feel rushed at all. When I visited the shop on a later Saturday afternoon date, things were much busier.

Obviously there are tons of bridal stores out there. I found it really helpful to do some research before I made an appointment. I talked with local friends about their experiences, read reviews online, and spoke with a couple of consultants over the phone. Not every store is the same. If you have a lower price point, you aren’t going to want to head to a couture shop, and likewise, if you are looking for something completely unique, David’s Bridal probably isn’t the place for you. Finding a store whose consultants have a good reputation will help a lot as you begin your search!

2. Know your price point going in. You will be asked for a price point when you go shopping for a dress...and if you are wishy-washy, you are more likely to fall into the category of bride's who spend much more on their dress than they intended/could afford. It’s true what they say about stepping into a dress and knowing it’s the one - and if that dress doesn’t match your price point it is either going to be frustrating and disappointing as you try and find another dress you like as much, or you will end up caving and spending more than you should have.

I had a price point going in, but I also had a number of what I knew I would really be willing to spend (remember to take into account other dress expenses - see #3). I told the store about my original price point, but sure enough, I fell in love with a dress that was a little higher than that number, but still within my overall budget. 

Another tip along these lines - don’t try on any dress that you can’t afford. I loved several dresses by one designer - but they were also way out of my price point. When I had it narrowed down to 2 dresses I pointed out the dress I’d originally had my eye on to my consultant. She wisely told me not try it on because she has seen way too many girls try something on “just for fun” and then walk away disappointed because they fell head over heels but couldn't afford the dress. 

3. Be prepared for hidden extra costs. The cost of the dress is one thing, but unless someone is making the dress for you (and even then I could tell you an incredibly stressful story of how I stood up for a bride whose custom dress didn’t fit right 2 days before the wedding....), you will have a significant alteration cost. Many bridal stores will also have an alterations department - but they also tend to be more expensive. I did some shopping around and found several less expensive seamstresses, but in the end I really loved the alternationist at my bridal salon and really trusted her (plus my dress was still covered while it remained in the shop and I didn’t have to worry about what would happen if something went wrong during alterations). If you have a friend/mom who you trust to do the alterations - even better! (in my earlier story the bride’s mom someone managed to reconstruct the top of the bride’s dress in the 36 hours leading up to the wedding - amazing!)

Other costs to be prepared for - a veil, shoes, jewelry, any hair accessories, etc. Think about what you can borrow from family and friends or ask the bridal store what they might be willing to throw in or give you a discount on if you purchase your dress from them, pay the total cost up front, or pay in cash. I ended up borrowing my veil, and my earrings and shoes were a gift.

4. Have an idea of what you are looking for. Obviously this isn’t a necessity, but it can help the process. Yes, trying on wedding dresses is a lot of fun - but I also found it to be exhausting and overwhelming! I worked with an amazing consultant (Jessie at Bella Bridal if you’re from the Metro Detroit area) and ultimately fell in love with the first dress I put on. I came into the store with about 4-5 pictures of dresses that had elements that I liked (i.e. not strapless, lace, fitted, etc.). Jessie put the elements together and found my perfect dress!

Some things to think about as you start shopping:

- What are you comfortable in? For me this meant no strapless. I wanted something more modest, and I definitely didn’t want to feel like I had to be hiking up my top all night.
- What is your venue? A ballgown on the beach may not be the ideal choice...
- What is important to you? For example - are you a girl who wants to spend the night tearing up the dance floor? I’ve heard that mermaids/trumpets can be more limiting in movement.

5. Be flexible and willing to step out of your comfort zone. Unless you have some absolute nos, be open to what your consultant might suggest. You might not be aware of what style looks good on you or what elements you disliked on a model, but love on yourself.

Even if you started out with absolute “nos” don’t let them totally limit you - alternationists can do some amazing work to meet your needs!

6. Go with your gut. I bought the first dress I tried on at the end of 1 day of shopping. Even today it sounds crazy. But I just felt it. I tried on 15-20 dresses at 2 different stores, but ultimately returned for that first dress (and yes I was pulled into the “if you buy it today we will give you ‘X’ off” deal). But ultimately, I have absolutely no regrets.

Have fun!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't Say You Don't See Color

Perhaps in a response to counter the racist remarks of our ancestors, it’s not unusual to hear an individual state that they love everyone equally, as they simply “don’t see color.”

Now on one hand I can understand this. I look at my adopted nieces and I don’t think of them any differently as I do my biological nieces and nephews. I see two little girls full of life, smiles, love, and energy. I don’t hold them out as my “black” niece and my “biracial” niece. 

On the other hand, I could never say that I “don’t see color” because that would be denying a part of them. Their skin color is part of their identity, their cultural history, and will influence the trials they face and the women they become. 

Furthermore, can anyone actually not see color? I remember when the girls were little and I took them over to a friends house to play. The friends daughter (who was probably around 3/4 at the time) looked quizzically at Lexi and asked me - “how come she’s so much darker than me?” From an early age we notice differences. In a culture that claims to “embrace differences” why is there a desire to erase racial differences?

My guess would be that it would make people more comfortable if everyone looked the same. Racial differences and historic discrimination mean that many spend their time interacting in racially diverse environments concerned about balancing political correctness and making stereotypical judgments.

But what if, instead of wishing away color we started wishing away discrimination?

I see color - and I embrace it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is There a Benefit to Natural Consequences?

I’m not the type of person to get involved with politics on social media. I’d be happy to talk one on one and am not afraid to share my beliefs and opinions, but when it comes to facebook I think a lot can be lost in translation.

That said, last week I jumped on board with a few discussions following the Hobby Lobby decision (I did go to law school after all, and one thing I can’t stand is when people will spout statements as if they are facts when they are actually completely misinformed).

Regardless of my position on the matter, the topic got me thinking and spurred a multi-day conversation with Brandon’s sister and brother-in-law when we visited them over the 4th.

Are we creating a world that allows humans to avoid natural consequences?

Is this a good thing?

Lets think about this in the context of birth control. While there is always some chance (however small it might be), we have essentially reached a place of medical advancement where a women can choose when she wants to conceive.

Many would argue this is a monumentally freeing position. Women can now choose to prevent themselves from getting pregnant while they are single, pursuing an education or career, are in a financially unstable position, or simply don’t desire to become a mother - all without giving up sexual intimacy.

Honestly, I can understand the progress that seems to have been made with the advancements in birth control. A few months ago I was speaking with a social worker friend who commented that the number of adoption placements her agency had made in the last 6 months was drastically lower than that of prior years. When I asked her whether she thought more mothers were making the decision to parent she said she didn’t think so - instead she speculated that the decrease was due to an increase in the availability of birth-control and the morning after pill.

That’s a good thing right? Less “unplanned” pregnancies = progress, right?

Or does it instead play a role in breeding a culture of irresponsibility? Today a woman can seemingly be intimate anytime, anywhere without worrying about the “consequence” of getting pregnant. This is especially worrisome to me with young women and teenagers. Not only has teaching abstinence become faux pas, but we are stripping away any natural obligations of commitment that once accompanied intimacy. When birth control takes away the “risks” of sexual intimacy, what’s to stop casual sex to become as normal and acceptable as kissing? (assuming it hasn’t already)

Let’s try a different example.

Have you seen the cartoon that pictures a classroom from the 1950s and a classroom from today? In the picture from the past the teacher is sitting behind her desk holding up a paper marked with a “D” for the sorrowful student across the desk to see. The student’s parents are standing behind the teacher in support. In the picture of the present the teacher sits behind her desk looking sorrowful while the parents stand with their indignant looking child holding up the “D” paper - seemingly demanding an explanation from the teacher as to how she would dare give their extraordinary child such a poor mark.

While I’m not a teacher, I have heard stories of very similar situations played out by many of my teacher friends. I’ve also heard quite a few parents rant about such “injustice.”

How is this teaching our children to learn and to become hard-working, responsible adults? If parents choose to fight their children’s battles from the beginning, how will they ever learn how to work for something rather than simply expect it because they deserve it just for being them?

Unfortunately I’ve seen this phenomena play out with some of my peers. Upon entering the “real world” they believed they deserved the lifestyle their parents had always provided for them and the praise and commendation at work that they had always received. Instead they found themselves saddled with unnecessary debt from all their “must-haves” and struggling to accept negative feedback in the workplace.

As a child I remember hearing the fable about a world without rules. At first it seems like a wonderful place to be, but then you quickly realize all the pain and suffering that your parents rules protect you from. Could the same concept apply to natural consequences? If we begin to remove natural consequences from our lives or create a culture in which they can easily be avoided are we really improving our society or are we just degrading it?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Our Happily Ever After

Today Brandon and I are celebrating our 6 month anniversary! (yes we are newlyweds and still count the months :) ) In commemoration of this monumentous event, I thought I would document some of the things we’ve accomplished in our first 6 months of marriage.


In the last 6 months we’ve...

- traveled to Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana, northern Michigan, Washington D.C., and the Dominican Republic (and driven through a few more states)

- lost 2 loved ones who attended our wedding

- written hundreds of thank-you notes

- celebrated Brandon’s 33rd birthday (he says this is especially monumentous becuase he is now the age Jesus’ was when his ministry really began)

- paid off 2 cars and my undergraduate student loans

- survived the worst Michigan winter in both our lifetimes

- I ran my first 10k and Brandon trained with me and cheered me on

- made our first friends as a “couple” 

- became an aunt and uncle for the 6th time

- started and gave up on a 1,000 piece puzzle

- broke 1 complete set of our wedding dishes

- took dozens of walks around our cute little town
- learned to like green beans (Brandon)

- attended our first wedding together as a married couple

- acquired a new middle and last name (Julianne)

- laughed often

- cried together

- fell more deeply in love than ever before

We are both optimistic that this is only the beginning of something truly great!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Walking Away from "Screen Time"


When Brandon and I got married we decided that to help cut costs we were going to cut out cable. The decision was really two-fold, however, because we'd also read a lot about the benefits of eliminating/reducing your T.V. time during your early years of marriage. 

I'm not going to lie - I was a little nervous. Not that I watched a plethora of T.V. before, but I definitely had a few shows I followed religiously and was convinced I would miss horribly. But I had a bad habit of zoning out in front of the T.V. after work so I figured it was a good idea. Plus, we had a Netflix account so I knew I would still have some outlet! :)

The truth - after 6 months without cable I don't miss it at all. 

Brandon and I don't have any shows we follow and we are doing just fine. Our nights and weekends are filled with building relationships, cooking and baking (me), working (Brandon), reading, doing chores and running errands, exercising, crafting (me again), and enjoying music. We do watch around 45 minutes around 9:30/10 p.m. of either a documentary, Ken Burns "The War" (Brandon's favorite), or an old T.V. series we've borrowed from the library (or Sherlock/Downton Abbey if it's on!). Brandon still thinks this is too much so we are working on cutting back further. Occasionally on the weekends we will watch a movie that we get from the library or Netflix.

Along with realizing that I don't really miss T.V., I've also been really confronted by the amount of JUNK I was watching. Not necessarily anything inappropriate (although I think was can all agree on the overwhelming amount of popular shows on right now that are...) but more so time wasters. Now this is where BRandon and I would differ. He tends to lean more in the direction of feeling like almost all time spent watching T.V. is wasteful, whereas I don't think there is any problem watching a limited amount in relaxation. Sometimes I just don't want to read, cook, talk, etc. I just need to veg.

Recently I listened to a discussion on the radio between two men. One man was telling the other how he had just finished "binge watching" a show on Netflix (something like 3 seasons in 4 days). The man he was talking to lamented that it was too bad he "got on board" so late - he'd missed all the good water cooler conversations that'd gone on as the show aired. 

Do you see anything wrong here? The first man (who has a wife, 3 young kids, and a full time career) was choosing to spend his free time watching hours upon hours of a show promoting drug use, disrespect, and promiscuity, while the second man was only disappointed that the first had really missed on "bonding" with others over the show.

If pop-culture bonding is now defined as hours of screen time and mindless discussion of fictitious characters, I think I'll stick to the old fashioned way and spend my weekends taking walks with my husband and building friendships by caring about what goes on in my friends real lives.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Confessions of a Transformed Heart

I love to read, and I read a lot. But this past spring I read a book that shook my heart and brought me to my knees in tears....that doesn't happen to me very often.

The book was Confessions of a Transformed Heart by Nancy Sheppard. Nancy and her husband traveled to Liberia in the 1980s to work as missionaries. The book follows their missionary journey through war, hardship, celebration, and grief. Her words are simple, but her message and humility is profound.



While I could write an essay about my thoughts on this book, I'll leave you with the 3 areas this book most specifically challenged me in:

1. My Relationship with God

From the first chapter I was struck by Nancy's passion for our Savior, but even more so I was struck by her obedience and quest for improvement. Several times Nancy wrote about God calling her out on ____ or her need to improve on ____, and her subsequent journey in obeying God's call. I am not so good in this area. First, I often feel as though I act and then seek God's direction. Secondly, if I do feel God speaking to me, I often shy away from requests that make me uncomfortable.

While reading a certain portion of this book I felt immensely convicted about my actions and attitude towards 2 individuals. As awkward and uncomfortable as it was, I apologized. While I was immensely touched by the grace and forgiveness of these two ladies, I was even more overwhelmed by the pure joy I felt from obedience.

Nancy's continuous strive for improvement in her walk with Christ and life as a Christian was also inspiration. Not only would she seek out character traits to work on, but she went about such work with vigor and diligence. Far too often I find myself falling into a place of complacency - not examining where I need to improve or ignoring what I know needs to be changed.

2. My Relationship with my Husband

I've only been married for 5.5 months, but Brandon and I are already on the cusp of making some pretty significant decisions about our future - particularly where we will be living come this fall. There is a pretty profound point in the book where Nancy is dreading returning to the mission field. Due to civil war, her life in Africa and work on the mission field has become extremely uncomfortable and emotionally and physically draining - and she is ready not to return. At this point her husband tells her that if it is that she cannot return, they won't, but if it is that she simply does not want to return, they will head back to Africa.

It would have been easy for Nancy to say she couldn't. But she didn't, and the joy she talks about afterwards that came from following God's will and submitting to her husband's leadership is so powerful (and beautiful!).

At this point in my reading, the tears were flowing. I love my husband, but while my mouth was saying that I would follow him to the ends of the Earth, my attitude was screaming that I wanted to stay put! God has blessed me with an amazing husband, and he used this book to open my eyes towards and area where I was not respecting him or trusting his decisions. The conversations B and I have had over the last 2 months have been amazing.

3. My Relationship with the Things I Value

Nancy herself sums up my favorite final takeaway in an interview she gave with SharperIron. When asked what she hopes readers take away from her book she states:

"One by one God took away the many "idols" I was worshiping - security, friendship, affirmation, ministry, comfort, control, etc. etc. etc. All I had left was Christ. I believe he did so for a grand purpose. He wanted me to know-and tell others-that He is enough. If you lose everything, God is enough."

Have a summer reading list? Even if you don't, you should start one - with Confessions of a Transformed Heart at the top.