Saturday, February 14, 2015

Your First Year of Marriage Doesn't Have to be the Hardest

Just a little over a month ago Brandon and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Throughout our first year we were frequently asked how things were going, a normal question given our circumstances, but one that was often followed up by "our first year of marriage was so hard!"

There are all sorts of speculations as to what year of marriage is the "hardest" (I've heard 1st, 5th, and 7th fairly frequently), and it obviously depends on the couple, but I wanted to share some tools that I think helped our first year of marriage go by so smoothly.

Preparation

We worked incredibly hard to be as prepared for marriage as we possibly could (without living together). We hadn't known each other for incredibly long - we dated for 7 months and were engaged for 9, but during the time we dated and were engaged our time together was very intentional. Our entire relationship was long distance until about 4 months before the wedding when Brandon moved to Michigan. Consequently we spent a ton of time on the phone talking about anything and everything. One mistake I think couples can fall into is thinking that just because they've spent a lot of time together, they really know each other. But do you really know someone if you spend a ton of time in front of the TV or at the movies? Or if you are always talking about surface issues? It amazes me how many people I've met who never talked to their spouse about how many kids they wanted to have or what they thought about birth control before they got married.

At one point Brandon and I looked up numerous books and lists on the Internet that made suggestions about topics to discuss before you get married. This was a great resource and one we used during our dating days. Consequently, by the time we started formal marriage counseling 3 months before our wedding, there were really no "surprising" topics that ever came up. Marriage counseling with our pastor and his wife (whose marriage we really admire) was also very helpful as was spending a lot of time talking to our parents about what to expect and how to prepare.

Expectations

Brandon and I are both realistic people. While we both were SO excited to get married, we also knew that moving in together would require some adjustments. We talked (again a lot of talking!) a lot while we were engaged about what challenges we thought might come up and how we could handle them.

Honesty and Communication

One of the ways in which Brandon and I are really suited for one another is that we have very similar styles of communication. As 2 lawyers, you might guess that at times we probably overtalk things through :) But I love this about us! This has been a huge asset over the last year. When something was bothering one of us (i.e. it drove Brandon nuts that I left closet/cupboard doors open all over the place) we were really good about bringing it up and talking things through, rather than waiting and suppressing annoyances until we burst!

Ladies, please note that I am not saying it is ok to nag your husband about everything that drives you nuts! It is important to let the little things go - and remember that your husband is probably extending you grace in a lot of things you do that he is trying to get used to as well! But if something is truly bothering or hurting you - share it! Don't wait around expecting your husband to read your mind, this will only cause unnecessary frustration on both ends.

Instant Commitment

Brandon was the one to first articulate our commitment as husband and wife - and it completely set the stage for our journey together. Although our marriage has been strong, this past year has not been easy at all from a "life" perspective. One of the biggest challenges we faced was some major family drama only a week after we returned from our honeymoon. During one heated conversation with his family, Brandon firmly stated that it was not "him" and "me" anymore, it was "us," and that he would always be on his wife's side moving forward. 

To see my man take that stance so firmly brought me to tears. Even given all of the pain and frustration of the conversation, it was such a beautiful moment in our marriage. And when differences arose later with my side of the family, it was much easier for me to take the same stance.

Becoming one is not an easy thing to do. But it's essential to a successful marriage - and the earlier you commit to making the practice a priority in your marriage, the better.

Faith

Above all else, we both attribute our faith to the strength of our marriage. Our individual relationship with the Lord is the number one priority in both of our lives - followed by pursuing the Lord together as husband and wife. Our faith has pushed us to practice grace with each other, and offer love and respect when it might not be deserved. Our marriage is successful because Christ is at the center of it.

Remember....

"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living (and Thriving) as a Single Income Household

When Brandon and I got married (Jan. 2014), we were both working full-time. At that point, our plan was to put as much of our income towards debt as possible. Although we were both working, we really only "lived" on my income (the lower one) to be able to push towards our debt goals. Within 6 months we had paid off both of our cars and my undergraduate student loans - what a great feeling! 

In September my federal clerkship ended and we re-located to Minnesota. At this point, knowing that I had back surgery scheduled, I took a very loose approach to job searching and instead embraced being a stay-at-home-wife (which will get a whole post of its own another day - God truly blessed us with my months at home!). During this period our financial plan switched a little bit - now we really were living off one income, while still putting money towards debt, as well as saving for the medical bills we knew were coming our way.

Next week I'm headed back to working away from home. Again, God showed us his perfect timing and I'm going to be working for a local non-profit. Although we will essentially be a dual income household once again, our plan is to stick with our current budget while setting aside my entire paycheck for savings and a down-payment on a house. Someday, Lord willing, I will stay home with our children, and in the meantime we want to focus on making the most out of this season of dual incomes while still committing to living a one-income lifestyle.

Over the last year we have learned to embrace being a single income household. We have more than we need and have actually had a lot of fun figuring out how to make the most out of the gifts God has given us. 

Here are some of our favorite tips for living and thriving on a single income:

1. Budget

This is a no brainer. Brandon is the budget king in our household. I hate numbers and balancing the checkbook makes me sweat, so he has graciously taken on this task! One thing I have learned (as the primary spender on fluctuating expenses - food, clothes, gas, housing necessities, etc.) is to treat our budget as a max. Instead of thinking, "I can spend x$ on groceries this month" I like to think, "how can I spend less than x$ on groceries this month."

Additionally, continually re-evaluate your budget. After a few months of marriage, Brandon realized we were budgeting more than we really needed to in certain areas. Cutting back allowed us to have a little more wiggle room in other categories, and put more towards savings.

Tip: To make sure I'm sticking to my budget (and make calculations even easier), I like to take my receipts and highlight the items according to category (i.e. food, Julianne, Brandon, gas, household, etc.). This helps me know (and be able to easily see) where our money is going. I have found this to be especially helpful for when I shop at Target, which can often be a bottomless spending pit!

2. Meal Plan

This goes hand-in-hand with budgeting, but it has been such a great tool! Thankfully, my mom was a great example of this, so it was something I started doing from day 1 of our marriage. By meal planning, buying in bulk (yes even for just the 2 of us!), and shopping around the sales/seasons I can easily feed our family for less than what Brandon was spending on food during his bachelor days!

3. Avoid Making Comparisons

While we were engaged (actually even before that), Brandon and I talked a lot about our values and goals for the future. We knew that what was most important to us was living a life serving God and others and raising a family to love and seek the Lord. That mindset directs all of the choices we make for our family - including how we spend the money that God has entrusted us with. 

That said, it can be tough to avoid the "wants" or feeling sorry for yourself when money seems to be tight. Beautiful houses, fashionable clothes, exotic trips - some people just seem to be able to have it all. But if you are going to thrive on a single income - you have to stop comparing. Embrace where you are are what you do have, not what you don't. Focus on investing in things that are "free" - relationships and your spiritual walk.

Tip: I have a really hard time with this at times. One thing I do that helps keep me in check is to limit social media. While I want to be happy for others, jealously surfing through another's exotic vacation pictures isn't helpful when I need to get my heart in check!

4. Creativity

Need something? Is there a way you can get it without going to the store? I'm learning to love buying used, give homemade gifts, and finding out how to repurpose what I already have. 

5. Cheaper isn't Always Better

This is one of those lessons my dad taught me. When it came time to make a medium/large purchase in the Cole household the process was typically (1) research, research, research (2) purchase (3) use purchased item until it literally fell apart! From cars to clothes, I've learned that just because something is cheaper, doesn't necessarily make it a better option. Do your research, read reviews, talk to others, etc. before making a big purchase.

6. Keep Talking

Once a month Brandon and I sit down and go over our budget together. How did we do? Where can we improve? Are their any expenses we need to prepare for for the upcoming month? When we are on the same page, everything flows smoother!

7. Give

No matter what your income is, remember that everything we receive is a gift from above. We are only stewards of gifts that God provides. As stewards, it is biblical that we give a portion of what we have received - to the church and to others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Brandon and I have found that when we give back to God first, and with a cheerful heart, blessings abound. 

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 6:24

Sunday, January 11, 2015

One Year


1 year
12 months
52.17 weeks
365.24 days
8765.81 hours
525949 minutes
31536000 seconds
....and counting!


I truly have the most INCREDIBLE husband. We frequently get asked how our first year of marriage has gone. Truthfully, from a life standpoint, the year has been incredibly difficult - but our marriage has been amazing.


When I had surgery two months ago, I was blown away by Brandon (although I'm not really sure why...). His strength, compassion, tenderheartedness, and sacrificial spirit brought me to tears. 


Every day I just feel so blessed to wake up as Brandon's wife. Even this past week when I woke up in our Minnesota home to negative 10+ temperatures :) There is no where else I'd rather be.

I love you honey! Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Let's Toast and Eat Cake

While I was flipping through some of my old wedding posts, I realized that I had never posted pictures of our reception. Better late than never, so here are a few favorites and highlights - 2 days shy of our 1st anniversary :)



Heading from the wedding to the reception as Mr. and Mrs!



Brandon and I spent a few minutes taking some portrait downstairs in the library and then joined our guests for cocktail hour. This was where our one major snafu came in. We were supposed to have cocktail hour in the lobby downstairs - but a major snowstorm followed by 2 days of unusually warm weather had led to some flooding in the intended space. We were able to flip flop things and used the entrance area to the ballroom instead (which was where I had wanted to be all along, so things ultimately worked out just fine :)).











Oh the cake. 3 days before the wedding we realized we didn't have a cake stand. Well, actually we knew all along that we didn't have a stand, but I think it was about 3 days before that I finally realized the perfect stand wasn't going to magically appear. I was too frugal to shell out the $100 our cake place wanted to rent a cake stand so my mom spray painted a box at (literally) the last minute. I wasn't the biggest fan of the finished product (I feel like it would have worked a little better if the cake had been square), but hey, it served it's purpose.



This gives you an idea of how the room was set up - we had about 170 guests split between either side of the ballroom with room for dancing/the cake in the middle. There was a small stage opposite where the head table was where our DJ and his equipment/lighting set up. There was also a grand piano that we used for background music during the cocktail hour....which no one could hear (a downside of having to relocate at the last minute since there was a piano downstairs we were planning on using and the sound would have been much better).



Instead of waiting to do our first dance later on in the evening, as soon as our guests were seated and our wedding party announced, we did our first dance and cut the cake. We attempted to waltz to Ashokan Farewell (neither of us are dancers at all :)). Brandon was fully in charge of music choices and Ashokan has always been a favorite of his, plus to make it a little extra special, it was the first song we ever danced to!



When our wedding party was announced, we had them come in and make a semi circle in front of the stage area where the DJ was. This covered up the DJ for pictures :) and made for a fun atmosphere to have our first dance in - surrounded by the ones we love so much.



The final step before dinner was served was my dad's toast and prayer. This picture is one of my absolute FAVORITES. I love how I am watching the two most precious men in my life share an embrace.

As for dinner itself - we had a served menu of salmon, stuffed chicken, and a vegetarian option. When talking about a menu option with your vendor be sure to ask about the difference between plated and a buffet. I was convinced during a buffet would be less expensive, but at our reception hall it wasn't at all! So we went with plated, which, in my opinion is a more elegant option and was ultimately a better fit for our intended ambience  (we did a black-tie optional dress code for the evening).



My OCD kicks in a litte here. This is the guest book table at the reception and those vases (filled with Christmas ornaments and glass beads) were supposed to have the ties facing backwards... 


A table commemorating our grandparents.


This was a little seating area in the cocktail space. One of the ways we saved on decorations at the reception was by having our wedding coordinator move many of the decorations we used at the ceremony over the the reception hall - including the sign you see above the fireplace.

Sidenote - if you have a last minute change (like we did with our cocktail hour space), don't be afraid to ask what your vendor can do to accommodate the inconvenience. Our reception hall moved seating, added uplights and additional high top tables, etc. to make up for the relocation.


So we did play one game at the reception. When people started clinking glasses we had our DJ draw a name from a fishbowl full of married couples names. The married couple then had to demonstrate how an experienced couple kisses and Brandon and I would recreate the kiss. In actuality, our DJ had a list of preselected names of couples we knew who would be comfortable participating :) Above is our Master and Mistress of Ceremonies kiss (notice Jamie is pretty much horizontal) and below is our attempted recreation in my limiting wedding dress!





I wasn't going to let a wedding dress limit me from some cuddles from this cutie!


This was another kiss recreation where the wife's shoe had gone flying into another guests lap (a few tables over!). I just too my shoe off first.



After dinner our best man and matron of honor gave their speeches - and then my oldest brother got up and surprised us with an incredibly heartfelt toast.



Which made me cry :)



One last minute addition we made to the reception hall space was adding some uplighting. We just went with a candlelight color to warm up the large ballroom and it really came out nicely.



Father-daughter dance to My Little Girl.



Mother-Son dance.






Love those parents of mine!









We did homemade hot-chocolate as our favor for the evening. We figured the evening needed some law tie-in, so we decorated the table with a bunch of our old law school books and this fun light we borrowed from a friend. Earlier in the evening this was the table that held the escort cards.


I just wish would could go back and do it all again! I know I'm bias, but it really was the perfect night!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Look Back on 2014

I'm pretty sure this has been the most eventful year of my life. 2006 was pretty eventful - varsity volleyball, LEAD team, graduating high school, starting college, etc., but I think getting married trumps all of that!

So today Brandon and I sat down to talk about some of our highs (and lows of 2014):

The Best Parts of 2014:

- Getting married (can't believe we are only 12 days away from our first anniversary!)


- Going on our honeymoon (particularly given that last winter was awful and freezing)

- Committing to a real food diet (Brandon's high :))

- Visiting friends in Colorado, Maryland, Illinois and Minnesota


- Taking a family trip to Florida

- Moving 5 minutes away from some of our best friends


- Having another set of great friends move to Minnesota (from Colorado) a month after we did - yay for all living in the same state!


- Welcoming Reagan Grace


- Moving to Minnesota - this goes on the best and worst list - points for the adventure of moving to a new state and being closer to friends and Brandon's family, but challenges because we left a great church, friends, and my family back in Michigan

- Making some incredible new friends - we were especially blessed to join an amazing bible study at our MI church at the end of 2013

- Having back surgery - another one for both lists - its been a really tough last few months, but we are so grateful for finding a great doctor and that things seem to be moving in the right direction

- Finding a new church in Minnesota - and the start of new friendships

- Watching our nieces and nephews grow up (so sweet to hear "Uncle Brandon" and "Aunt Julianne" for the first time)


- Celebrating the 4th of July with siblings while watching fireworks over Baltimore's Inner Harbor and partaking in a seafood feast (Brandon has particularly fond memories of this night - can you catch a food theme on his end?)


- Being part of an incredible mentoring program (I joined...Brandon picked up with the student he had been mentoring before moving to MI)

- Running my first 10k

- Our first Christmas tree - Brandon asked me the other day if we should take it down over New Years....I said "why?" Brandon took a couple of seconds to think that over and then told me if it was up to him he'd leave it up until February. I'm not sure we will make it that far :)

The Hardest Parts of 2014:

- Moving to Minnesota and being 4 states away from family and friends

- Having back surgery 

- Losing one of Brandon's best friends - Josiah

- Dealing with an apartment in Minnesota that seems to be continuously breaking (i.e. they come to fix the dryer and break the washer)

- Having a particularly high number of friends struggle with infertility/miscarriages

- Job challenges

- Family drama


While this has ultimately been an incredibly adversarial year as well, we rest strongly in our faith and the blessings of our Savior. 

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morinign; great is your faithfulness."
Lamentations 3:22-23

HAPPY NEW YEAR!






Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Crafting: Pearl Ornaments

A couple of weeks ago I fell in love with these ornaments I saw on Pinterest:


But like so many things I find on Pinterest, this ornament was out of stock and overpriced (originally $12 at Anthropologie). Plus I figured I could easily make this a DIY project.

Materials

- styrofoam balls (go a little smaller than the size you want your actual ornament to be because the pearls will add width)
- craft pearls in different sizes (I went with 3 different sizes)
- hot glue gun and glue sticks
- ribbon
- an ornament hook


I simply glued the pearls to the styrofoam balls in a random order. When I got the the top I bent an ornament hook in a "u" shape and stuck the hook into the ball - leaving the loop of the "u" at the top of the ornament. I tread ribbon through the loop to use to hang the ornament on our tree.




Taking a DIY approach, these ornaments ending up costing me about $3 each - and I like mine a lot better than Anthropologie's!

     

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Crafting: Card Display

I LOVE Christmas cards! Let's face it, snail mail is rarely exciting anymore, and I love that the holidays bring an influx of "fun" mail and greetings from friends and family.

Brandon and I sent out postcard Christmas cards this year rocking a wedding picture and this more recent picture taken last month in Florida.



Since we don't have that many Christmas decorations (being our first married Christmas and the fact that we have no where to store off-season items in our current living situation), I knew that I wanted to find a way to display our Christmas cards as they arrived. 

As always, Pinterest is full of inspiration. Here were some of my favorites:




I decided to go with the third option because (1) our kitchen is open to the living room and provides a great display opportunity, and (2) our kitchen cabinets are hideous - and anything I can possibly do to distract away from their 80s decor is a pleasant relief!








This was an incredibly simple project. I used a measuring tape to estimate the amount of ribbon I would need (this will vary depending on the size of your cabinets), and bought 2 spools of ribbon (on sale + a 30% off coupon) and some clothespins from Joannes. 




To add a little more festiveness I decided to modge podge some Christmas wrapping paper onto the clothespins. 




How do you display your Christmas cards?