Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwing a Gender Neutral Baby Shower

I have reached that stage in life where I am surrounded by pregnant friends and newborns. Last year the trend seemed to be all girls, but this year almost every baby I know (in the newborn or in utero stage) is a boy!

We do have a couple of friends who are deciding to wait to find out the gender (which has resulted in Brandon an I having several in-depth conversations over which way is best). While I love the suprise element that not finding out brings with it, with gender reveal parties becoming the new norm, such a choice seems to be becoming less common.

Last week my friend Jess threw a baby shower for some dear friends of ours who are expecting their first child in December. I was given the job of being chief assistant #1. Jess contacted me about a month ago knowing that she wanted to decorate onesies at the shower (because the mother-to-be is an art teacher) but having little direction past that.

Once I found this saying on etsy - we decided to go with an art themed baby shower.

The decorations were simple, but fun. We stuck to different shades of teal/light green and grey for a neutral pallet and accented with animals (mostly birds and elephants) and art accessories (chalk, chalkboards, crayons). Jess brilliantly filled glass bottles with water tinted to match the color scheme and I snuck out of Home Depot with way too many free paint samples that we used as a table runner.

Our main activity of the night was painting onesies and bibs. I've heard of people doing this, but have never had the chance to actually do it myself. It was a blast! It was so much fun to see what people came up with and we had stencils for the less artistically inclined (ahem :) ).

We kept the menu to a heavy appetizer spread (meatballs, cheese, chip dip, veggies, fruit, olives, etc.) and iced the cupcakes to match the color scheme. Just in case anyone is wondering, 5 drops of blue + 3 drops of red + 2 drops of yellow= grey icing.

I loved this theme and it fit the mom-to-be's personality perfectly. While I loved it for a gender neutral shower, you could easily tailor the colors to be more gender specific.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food for the Soul

I. love. books.

Every once in awhile I forget this. Not forget that I love reading - but more so forget how much I love books

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.
George Martin

This realization was made most evident in our recent move. For two adults sharing a 2-bedroom apartment, I would say that Brandon and I own a fairly reasonable amount of stuff (clothes, furniture, kitchen supplies, etc.) but then there are the books.....filling every bookcase and shelf, stacking in tubs under the beds and in closets, not to mention the full bookcase left behind at my parents. Most of our conversations about said books begin with "someday when we have a library...."

Since we've moved I've had fun exploring 4 of the local libraries. Yes 3 (in 10 days). I just happen to keep ending up near a different one and figure, why not?

So far I've encountered:

1. The downtown library (Minneapolis). This is the largest and has the best book selection I've ever seen. However, given its location, it also tends to be the hang out spot for Minnesota's homeless population.

2. The closest library (Minnetonka). The second largest library in the area, the book selection here is fair. However, I had to fight for a parking spot since the library shares a building with the county court and apparently there are a lot of parking tickets that need to be taken care of...

3. The prettiest library (Wayzata). This was the first library I visited. The book selection is pretty awful, but it's located right off a lake and has a beautiful view. 

I'm choosing to add libraries as a point on the "Minnesota positive" list, and not consider it to be a reflection of necessary entertainment for the winter to come. :)

"Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose."
Neil Gaiman

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My First Post as a Minnesotan

It's been nearly a month since I last posted - and it has been a month full of changes.

After a lot of prayer, Brandon and I packed up our apartment in Michigan and relocated to Minnesota. Thus, the last few weeks have been very busy and full of transitions! While I lived on the west side of the state during college, I've never lived outside of Michigan - and so moving away from my family (and switching time zones) has been quite the adventure.

Our move happened a few weeks after my federal clerkship came to a close (the federal government is set up so that Judges typically have 1 "career" clerk, who is a permanent member of the chamber's staff, and 1-2 "term" clerks, who work for a 1-2 year term). Because of the move and some medical issues, I eased out of a full-time away from home position and into the role of stay-at-home-wife! While it's taken a little bit of getting used to, both Brandon and I love having me at home full time. God truly blessed us as far as timing in this area. With me at home I was able to do the majority of the packing and unpacking that has gone along with the move. Brandon's work schedule is incredibly busy and with me packing during the day, we were able to spend the hours he was free treasuring our last moments with our Michigan friends and family.

And so begins a new chapter. While I wouldn't necessarily have chosen the Minnesota climate for my new home state, our first week here has gone smoothly. We live about 5 minutes away from some of our best friends (the couple that introduced us), Brandon loves being back in the office (as opposed from working from home as he's been doing for the last year), our new apartment is unpacked and starting to feel like home, and I've already found a great bible study. True I need a GPS to go anywhere, and I've yet to figure out the grocery stores here - but God has eased the transition with 70-80 degree weather all week :)

And so since we have a guest room and you are all welcome to visit, I'll leave you with a few Minnesotan phrases that I've encountered so far....

1. Uff-da (Oo-fh da) - used as an expression of surprise, although I've also heard it used in moments of exasperation. Apparently it actually has some Norwegian origin, which makes sense given my plethora of new neighbors whose last names end in -son.

2. Hot Dish - you don't make casserole for dinner, you make hot dish. Brandon tends to use this as a lumped category as well, as in "I hate hot dish" not "I hate the chicken and rice hot dish." Thankfully his grandma did provide me with a personalized hot dish carrier for all my future pot-lucking events.

3. Duck Duck Grey Duck - what the rest of the world calls "Duck Duck Goose." I seriously am lost over this one....

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When Friends Become Family

Sometimes words just don't do justice.

I wish I could put into words how much I love this family. How much they truly have become family. How hard we manage to laugh together, and how edifying conversation with them is.

Because why not wear an Elsa dress to do dishes in (and play and sleep, etc.)?

But this time, words just aren't enough.

Working on Paisley's quilt!

Instead you'll have to imagine how great it is to wake up to coffee hour on the deck that can last hours, the delicious smells wafting from a true Italian kitchen, the warmth of hugs and snuggles from the little ones, and the beauty of realizing that even after 4 days of non-stop talking, you still didn't have enough time together.

If she's this cute in pictures, you can only imagine how sweet she is in real life! (unless you sit next to her at the table....)

Words can't accurately describe how hard this family fights for their littlest, how fiercely they love, and how passionate they can become :)

And words can't adequately express my thanks for their friendship - for the mentors Allen and Kathleen have been to Brandon and myself, for their hospitality, and for their generosity.

My first crab experience! (yes we ate like this every night!)

Brandon and the boys were heartbroken that he couldn't come along this time - so he sent a paper airplane book in his place and I returned home with numerous notes and planes for him and under solemn vow that I would bring him with me next time.

But the great thing about having friends like these is that sometimes you don't need words to convey feelings - you just know, you get each other. And if push comes to shove a real Italian hug will remind you that you're loved for life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life with Miss. R

This past weekend our little household expanded by 1! A few weeks ago my brother and sister-in-law mentioned they had to be out of town for a wedding and asked us if we would mind watching their 3-month-old daughter. Not sure of how....ready Brandon would be for a full-time infant, I initially replied that I thought we might be able to take her part of the time. Brandon however quickly piped up that we would be happy to have Reagan for the whole time!

We had a blast! This little girl is such a gem - seriously the most perfect baby. She sleeps like a dream, eats like a champ, and spends any awake time sharing her coos and smiles with the world.

Aside getting the chance to have some extra bonding time with our little princess, I loved watching Brandon with a baby. Reagan has reached the age where he is pretty confident that he won't break her anymore, so he welcomed the chance to snuggle with her and by the end of the weekend was serenading her with his guitar and whispering "I love you" in her ear. I think he was hooked :)

In just a few short weeks we will be moving out of state. Without a doubt, the number one thing we will miss about Michigan is spending time with my family. We are committed to staying involved in our nieces and nephews lives and welcome opportunities like these to spend a little extra one-on-one time.

"Children will not remember you for the material things, but for the feeling that you cherished them."
Richard L. Evans

Right before her parents were about to arrive home we were sitting on the couch with Reagan on my lap. Except, she only had eyes for Brandon! While he was on the phone, she practically dove off my lap in an attempt to catch his attention and send a smile his way!

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!