Friday, June 29, 2012

Tale As Old As Time

It started with The Lion King, I believe.  Three years ago, my friend Becca was suddenly watching Disney movies, going for walks, and spending hours talking in the chapel with a sweet, thoughtful boy who could play guitar and write songs like nobody's business.  Tomorrow they're getting married!  Is your life anything like mine right now?  As in, every few months you seem to have another set of friends getting engaged or tying the knot?

I love it.  A wonderful thing about college friendships, I've noticed, is that when you spend so much time together, you get to watch your friends fall in love with someone in an extra special way.  Boy, that sounded first-class creepy.  But you know what I mean.  It really is a joy to get to see someone you love grow to love and be loved by someone else, and to experience her excitement and trials alongside her in your own heart.  Also, my college was pretty small, so I tended to be friends with both halves of most couples I knew, not just one of the two.  It makes it all the sweeter when you finally get to witness them professing their love and fidelity to one another.

I guess it was around last September that wedding madness kicked in for me.  By the time this Fall rolls around, I'll have been to six nuptials within a year!  Maybe some people think every wedding is pretty much the same: you go to Mass, hug the bride and groom, eat a nice dinner, dance to that song about throwing your hands up in the air know what, though?  I've realized it never is exactly the same.

For me, there's always a moment that just opens up the heavens.  The quiet exuberance on the groom's eyes as his beloved walks towards him, the pure radiance she wears, the endearing quirks you're reminded of in a toast, the beauty of seeing a new husband and wife kneel before the Blessed Mother...nothing is generic.  Nothing is accidental.  The Lord, in His extraordinary love, wills and loves every single one of us into existence, purposefully and with great hope.  Of course no wedding is the same, because no person is the same.  It never gets old for me.  There is nothing like the wonder of watching two people so dear to you, whom you know scars, weaknesses and all, give everything they are to each other.  It's nothing short of a miracle.  You know when something sacred is happening before your eyes.  You know that every spiritual battle and every fall are redeemed when a couple just gives everything over to the Lord, with the joyful anticipation of knowing each other like they never have before.  It's a realization both as ancient as the Church and as glowingly new as if it were the first time anyone ever thought it.

Fulton Sheen wrote, "the union between husband and wife is not an experience that may be forgotten...Neither can live again as if nothing had ever happened."  As if nothing had ever happened.  It's all happening, and it's all glorious.  Join me in lifting Becca and her love, Clint, up in prayer this weekend, as well as all the couples they'll share their wedding date with!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lectio: The 7 Levels of Intimacy

{recommended reading}

Let's clear one thing up right away: this book is not about sex.  True, intimacy is an important part of sex, but by no means are they the same thing, although I guess most magazines would have you believe that.

If you haven't heard of Matthew Kelly, he's a speaker and writer from Australia who is huge on encouraging excellence and a search for meaning.  I've never been big on change-your-life kinds of things, but there's something about his approach to self-improvement, with its underlying desire to inspire holiness, that is so honest and truly motivating--he takes an Aristotelian, "be the best version of yourself" approach.  In this book, he proposes that one can't possibly have the most fulfilling life possible without deep emotional intimacy with another soul.  Whether it's with the Lord, your friends, or your fiance, it's true that we all have that longing, that genuine need, to be truly seen and known by someone who loves us unconditionally.

Matthew gets this, and rather than reading like a typical self-help book (although the back cover of my copy reads, "build the strong, powerful relationships you've always desired"), this feels more like a sharp observation of different ways human beings relate to one another as it encourages you to cast out fear and open yourself up to a deeper vulnerability and honesty.  But, getting to that point of honest intimacy takes time.  Hence, the 7 levels.  Each level, which I think could just as well describe different types of friendships (there's Aristotle again, talking about friendships of pleasure and utility) or different phases in the progression of a virtuous romance: two people relate to each other first in generalized cliches, and as time passes and their relationship deepens, they begin to speak in terms of facts, opinions, hopes and dreams, feelings, faults, fears and failures, and ultimately, perhaps, legitimate needs.  Obviously, no one lines up their friends and says, "oh, I speak to him on the level of faults, and to her only on the level of opinions," or relates to a single person in only one specific way (I can talk to some of my best friends just as easily about my shortcomings as I can about a new J. Crew catalog).  But, I think there really is insight to be gained in the way Matthew articulates the joys of each of these interactions, as well as ways you can overcome certain fears and hesitations to grow in intimacy with another person.  Nor is this book about building the strongest possible intimacy about your heart's deepest needs with every person you know.  It takes prudence as you're getting to know someone, and it's also okay to have more casual friendships and conversations--just because these are levels doesn't mean one is necessarily better than another.

It makes sense: you don't tell your future husband all your biggest secrets on on your first date, most likely.  Bringing up any wounds you might have and trusting someone to love you through them is a deeper sense of love and healing that comes with time.  As you prepare to spend your lifetimes loving everything about each other and imaging Jesus' total giving and forgiveness, this book is a great pick for your engagement.  You guys are probably pretty close already by this point, but it brings up some insightful ways to articulate things that are hard to say--apologies, admissions of your weaknesses, and your most honest desires.

Matthew wisely points out in this book that "we can never get enough of what we don't really need."  But what about the things you most truly do need?  It's not the answer to every question, of course, but this book is a fantastic guide to revealing the needs in your heart.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Eternal Question...

After he's popped the question and you've saved a date, I bet one of your biggest priorities is saying yes to the dress.  It's no small task, obviously.  As a Catholic bride, there are probably even more things you feel like you have to consider, modesty being one of the major ones. It was important to me to wear something modest and classy, but as I was dress shopping, there were a few subtleties and nagging questions that I still think about sometimes.  I figured I'd share them with you, and I'd love to hear what you think.

JPII said, "the dignity of every woman is the duty of every man."  Incredible, right?  I feel like so many issues surrounding modesty can be summed up by the idea that we're created in His image and likeness, and as such, possess tremendous dignity.  We women possess it in a special way- through beauty!  We long to be seen and be called beautiful, and men, in turn, long for that exact beauty.  It all fits together so perfectly.  Sadly, it's easy to see the ways beauty has been twisted, in both men's and women's eyes, by the culture, but it's something we can get back when we know and understand who we are before God.  So, both yours and your husband-to-be's dignity merit only one response: pure love, without any lust or selfishness.  As long as we're on earth we won't be perfect at it, but we can invite it in the best way we can.  The sacrament of marriage does this in such a real, amazing way.  Think about it: a bride veils herself, literally, not because her body's bad or because she has something to hide, but because it is so good, and she is so worthy, that she's not meant to be put on display.

All that said, how the heck does it translate to choosing a wedding dress?  There's lots to consider, and for me it came down to one issue in particular: strapless or strapped?  I pictured what I wanted right away: I wanted my dress to be clean and minimal, with no beads, lace, or trains.  It was finding something to match the image in my head that was the hard part.  Eventually, I fell in love with a gorgeous, and strapless, ballgown style with a pretty sash.  Right away I had a feeling it was the one, but right away I also panicked a little.  My biggest anxiety was that people wouldn't think I was a "real" Catholic if I was wearing something strapless.  Maybe that's weird, letting what I saw as everyone's expectations be the deciding factor, but that's seriously how I felt.  I did, after all, hope that our wedding Mass would be an opportunity to evangelize in a humble way- we offered confessions beforehand and had a litany of the saints as part of the music, but mostly I just hoped that without doing anything but be joyful at receiving the sacrament, we'd witness to the beauty of the faith and the contentment of having waited for one another.  A little later, I realized it was prideful of me to only choose a dress based on how I wanted people to see me, but I still really did want to wear something that would honor both Andrew and the Lord.

Then more anxieties crept in, of the more earthly variety.  Simply put, I wanted to feel pretty and not frumpy.  I was convinced that adding something to what I saw as the perfect dress would ruin the look of it, and that on a 105 degree day, layering anything on top would be impractical.  I wanted so badly to wear whatever I chose for the right reasons, not for selfish, superficial ones.  Ultimately, I did pick the dress I loved, and wore it without any straps or modifications.  I reasoned that I felt comfy in it and not overly exposed (you know how you usually know deep down if something is immodest based on how self-conscious it makes you feel?), I could get it tailored so I wouldn't be yanking on it all day, it wasn't skintight, and the neck was cut straight across, high enough to cover all of my breastage and most of my back.  I truly felt at peace with my choice, and not like I had to justify it to myself or others.  There's a big difference between those feelings, you know?  Sliding scales admittedly aren't the best gague of modesty, but I did feel like the neckline of my dress was higher than some other dresses I tried on, with straps or in halter styles, that were lower-cut.

I don't really know if there's a simple, black and white answer to the strapless question.  I mean, those super tight dresses with necks that dip low and make you look like a mermaid are kind of obviously out, but there really are ambiguous areas within good intentions.  I say if you don't feel comfortable going strapless, what with the possibility of constantly hiking it up, then by all means, skip it and you'll find your perfect gown in another style. On the other hand, within reason, it seems a little legalistic to me to make too many rules for yourself based on expectations.  Rules exist to cultivate true freedom, not suppress it--that includes freedom from anxiety and freedom from lust.  Wear what you know, in your heart, veils and radiates your beauty.  You'll be a blushing bride for a reason--reserving your body for your soon-to-be husband encourages the kind of virtuous shame that protects what's sacred.  The right kind of outfit magnifies your dignity, rather than diminishes it.

Ladies, toss in your two cents!  I hope I didn't come off as some total relativist in this post; my intention was just to offer my ideas about a balanced, virtuous approach to choosing a dress.  Tell me what you think!  What's your take on strapless?  And what criteria have you found helpful as you go shopping?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Love Notes: Letters to My Future Husband

{small ways to show great love}

It never gets old: no matter how easy emails and texts are, there is nothing in the world like a handwritten letter.  Nothing!  Even if it's the simplest, shortest sentiment, there's something so special about knowing someone took the time to put pen to paper for you and pour themselves out, uninhibited--after all, there's no backspace key.  The days leading up to your marriage feel like the perfect time to get some snail mail going.

In 8th grade, I heard Jason and Crystalina Evert give one of their chastity talks, and I was so struck by their message and their loving relationship (at the time, I had no idea that a fire was being planted in my heart for much later, when I'd spend a year as a chastity speaker myself).  Maybe you know Crystalina's story: as a teen, she incurred many wounds from empty sexual relationships and experienced a deep brokenness.  One day, not long after a retreat that would slowly convert her back to the One who loves so gently and unconditionally, she decided she was through with her current lifestyle.  To fight the temptation and ease of falling back into it, she wrote her first letter to her future husband, telling him that she hoped she could resist her struggles for his sake; for love of him.  She continued writing to this unknown man over the years, experiencing the healing mercy of the Father and growing in strength through His love, and ultimately through Jason's, as well.  The letters were a secret until their wedding, whereupon Crystalina could present her brand new husband with the contents of her heart from before they'd ever even met.

Beauty.  This story always stuck with me, and I wrote my first letter to my husband during high school, saying that I wanted so badly to meet him and that I hoped I could prepare myself well for whenever that first meeting would take place.  That first letter was pretty upbeat and hopeful, but as I continued walking around with that intense longing for love (up until college, I'd never even had a boyfriend), some were way more of the despairing, endlessly wondering kind.  Writing a letter to the man I'd one day marry was such a consolation to me through my first broken heart, my frustration that the Lord seemed to be taking his sweet time, my envy at watching my sister and my friends enter into happy relationships, and through joyful times, too--times I wished he could share in with me.  I still want to either cry or burst out laughing when I stop to think about how well I've come to know and adore the man He has entrusted to me.  For so long, I was just living my ordinary (but still wonderful) life, aching for someone I didn't even know yet.  I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this--for a while, in high school, I had an actual list of qualities I hoped my husband would have.  I am in total awe when I consider the ways the Lord prepared us for each other, and how Andrew possesses so, so many qualities that I never could've imagined would be so perfectly suited to me.  Love really is a miracle.

I decided, like Crystalina, to keep my letters a secret from Andrew until I gave them to him on our honeymoon (Side note: this was no easy feat, since I was telling this story in chastity talks all over the East Coast three or four times a week.  I kept almost spilling the beans!).  During our engagement, I continued to write to him, adding the letters to my old pile.  I wrote down all the details of our proposal so we'd remember, told him when I was struggling and upset with myself, and penned one last, anticipatory note a few days before our wedding.  He told me it was beautiful to know he'd been loved by me before I knew who he was, that he was sure he'd received graces against temptation and despair thanks to my prayers, and that he felt so honored.  It brought me such joy to give him a glimpse into my soul in such a special way.

So, what are you waiting for?  It doesn't matter if you don't have a stack of letters you've been working on since you were 15; you can start today!  Think how special it will be to record your memories of important days, your hopes and prayers for your marriage, and even to exchange notes you can both read as you're getting ready on the big day.  They're words that'll last all the days of your life and become such a treasure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Economy of Salvation: Dead Center

{creative ways to save your pennies on the most expensive day of your life}

Long before I got engaged or even had my first boyfriend, I was no stranger to The Knot and the occasional bridal magazine.  And yet, by the time I was actually planning my wedding, I still discovered dozens of things I'd never even heard of, all of which suddenly seemed essential to me: letterpress, chair sashes, programs with ribbon binding, and...centerpieces?  In hindsight, I realize I was absolutely mental to even consider half of that stuff, but one thing there's not much getting around is centerpieces.  They're not required, by any means (I mean, it's your wedding), but a little pretty on each of your reception tables can set a nice mood and add a lot to the room.

I swear, sometimes Pinterest and craft sites just slay me.  First they lure you in with pretty things, then they kill your self-esteem when you realize you will never have the talent, money, or resources to make most of them.  But, I will stand by the fact that it doesn't take a lot of cash or fancy materials to decorate your tables.  If you don't believe me (I'd be skeptical myself, probably, after flipping through so many glossy, perfect magazines), check out these pretty, and pretty cheap, ideas:

Tea lights are affordable and so pretty.  Float them with a few blossoms and you're set!  Big vases and tiny candles are great dollar store finds.

For you literary gals, old books from secondhand stores or your own shelves create a fantastic vintage display, don't you think?  I love how the flowers in this picture look like you could've just picked them from the yard.  Fresh blooms, repurposed jars, and found branches are such great accents to the books.

If you're serving desserts other than cake, let them do double duty by displaying them on each table.  It makes for easy self-service, too!

Okay, I know Christmas is months away, but I couldn't resist!  Simple, bright bulbs, which you can buy in bulk, add a perfect bit of festivity and color.

What do you think?  Do you have centerpieces planned out yet?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Veritas: Mark and Teresa

{real life love}

Every girl dreams of marrying Prince Charming, and in a sense, there are plenty of immensely blessed girls who really find him.  But I bet not all of their husbands actually look like Prince Charming.

This is the story of one of my very closest friends, and it's one I'm so happy to share with you.  Teresa tells it incredibly beautifully, so most of this will be her words.  Today, I'll just be the English major providing transitions from the wings.  When Mark and Teresa met at the beginning of the school year, having just transferred from other colleges, they'd both spent the past few years discerning- neither one was looking for a relationship, and they often hung out in the same group of friends (Mark quickly became famous around campus for what his wife calls his Disney prince haircut, which has since been crew-cut off):

During our second semester Mark discerned that he was not meant to pursue the priesthood.  I spent that Lent really focusing on my discernment.  I didn’t fully understand the married state and thought that being a nun was the only way for me, personally, to get to Heaven.  As I gradually realized how wrong I was, my time with Mark became more and more precious.  I needed to figure out what was going on and solidify my vocational decisions.  That spring, I had started to wear my Irish Claddagh ring again, turned inward to show that my heart was taken by God.  Over Easter, my Spiritual Director thought it would be reasonable for me to take a break from discerning the religious life and see what naturally progressed.  

At their school's Spring Formal, everything was sailing nicely, uncomplicatedly along until "Kiss the Girl," a song that's the subject of an inside joke between Mark and Teresa, came on:

Mark asked me to dance, but a joke quickly turned into something more.  I noticed something different in Mark’s eyes and, even though I tried to conceal my own feelings it was pretty apparent that something was changing (sappy, I know).  Surprisingly, after that moment I felt at ease and more myself.  

A few weeks and long talks later, the two of them admitted their feelings for one another.  Teresa says, "Later in our relationship, Mark told me that upon my arrival back from Easter break, the first thing that he noticed was my Claddagh ring--turned out, open, available--and it made him happy because he knew he had a shot."

One thing about dating in college is that you have to go home from college over the summer.  Sometimes home is across the country:

Our first real date was to see Iron Man.  I would drive him back to his brothers’ after each date and, with a quick hug, I hated to see him go.  Since Mark’s flight was set to depart a week before my birthday, my parents offered to pay for a nice dinner as a birthday gift to me.  After a wonderful dinner, we walked along the waterfront and took up residence on a bench.  He put his arm around me for the first time and I have never felt so much tenderness in a touch.  That night he told me he couldn’t leave without telling me that he loved me, and he gave me my first kiss. (You guys!  I know!)

Teresa knew early in their relationship that she wanted to marry Mark, but they knew that with a few years of school ahead, marriage was still a ways down the road.  They both spent a semester abroad in Rome, where they traveled to so many beautiful churches and holy places.  Consider this particularly memorable day in Paris:

We went to Sacre Coeur, the church of reparation for the atrocities of the French Revolution.  The church houses perpetual Adoration and we made it in time to hear the nuns' morning prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Sitting next to Mark, gazing into the face of God, I had to control my tears.  I realized this was what I wanted for eternity.  I was overcome by the beauty of the moment.

Tersea admits she hoped Mark would pop the question in some romantic European spot, but instead he waited until they were home.  At the bench where he first said "I love you."  On Valentine's Day.  In a snowdrift:

Neither of us are big on the mushiness of Valentine’s Day, but February 14th was perfect for our engagement.  We set off for a Valentine’s dinner at the Chart House, the restaurant we enjoyed for my birthday dinner two years prior.  There was at least a foot of snow on the ground.  However, Mark asked if we could walk through the park.  As we walked he pointed to a bench, saying he thought that was the bench where we sat the night he told me he loved me.  Still oblivious, I responded that it could be that bench or it could be any of the others under a snowdrift.  As I looked around he stopped, pulled out a little black box, looked at me and said, “I would kneel but there is snow all over the ground” (I always smile when I remember that line, because it was such a Mark thing to say). “Teresa, will you marry me?”  

After dinner, Teresa really had to use the bathroom, so from the parking lot of a Krispy Kreme, they shared their big news with everyone.  And get this!

What I failed to remember that night, and didn’t recall until days later, was an afternoon I spent in a church in Rome.  Our relationship struggled for a week and, during our worst few days, our class toured San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, where it was rumored that St. Valentine prepared couples for the sacrament of Matrimony.  I spent time in the chapel, asking St. Valentine to help us.  I never told Mark about that prayer until after we were engaged.  St. Valentine really came through!

They got married October 30, 2010, and though Mark and Teresa feared not being virtous enough for marriage, they can now testify to the tidal wave of grace you receive in the sacrament:

We could literally feel God pouring grace over us.  To be honest, as well as I know my husband and as much as we have grown, it still amazes me that there is never an end to lessons in how to be a better spouse.   And it is worth every lesson.  I am willing to admit my mistakes, forsake things I want, clean instead of throwing things all over the floor (that is a big deal for me), practice patience and discipline my daily routine.  Our strengths and weaknesses are so different that God must have known how well we would push each other toward virtue.  It really is beautiful how this leads to such joy in your spouse’s happiness.

With all that beauty, though, came no shortage of tears:

The “for worse” came very quickly for us.  Five months after our wedding we were in for my 20 week sonogram.  The doctors spotted several abnormalities and warned us that our baby may have a serious or possibly fatal genetic condition in addition to a heart defect that would require surgery.  Our beautiful baby James was born with Down Syndrome and a hole in his heart.  We spent several months in the hospital with monitors, feeding tubes and therapy.  We knew we were lucky to have so many people praying for our son, as we could not clear our minds enough to do so.  But, we could feel God’s presence more than ever.  

Mark was so great during our stay.  After work he would send me to get out of the hospital or give me a night off so I could get a good night’s sleep.  He was, and still is, a man so willing to sacrifice.  Even though we had little time together we felt very connected.  We adopted Saint Rita as our family saint (for numerous reasons) and we truly attribute all of James’ successes to her intercession.  We never would have predicted this life for ourselves, but God really does know best.  Our son is such an incredible gift, a beautiful little person who loves us unconditionally.  We have learned that our work is for God and that the crazy times are a great opportunity for sacrifices to aid our family in our journey toward Heaven.  With love, life is always good.

A man who lets the Lord gently, wisely guide both of you to your right vocations, treks through a pile of snow to propose, and lovingly cares for you and your baby who needs extra attention: if that doesn't sound like Prince Charming, in the best, most real and most human way, I don't know what does.

Want to see your love story featured on Captive the Heart?  Email me at!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Inspired: Tie the Naut(ical)

{wedding candy}

Our Lady, Star of the Sea
Let me just say right off the bat that I am so, so excited to share this post with you.  Having grown up near the Chesapeake Bay and U.S. Naval Academy and having always dreamed of having a boat at some point in my life, I had a fantastic time collecting these ideas for you!  In fact, I wish I could've used them for my own wedding, except for the fact that my wedding was on a mountain and that I don't actually have a boat.  Add some nautical flair to your day by mixing a crisp pairing of white and navy with a bright shade, like gold or coral, or with a more muted tone like khaki or gray.  Toss in a few gold or brass-trimmed accessories, too!

Anchor Earrings, Swell Caroline.  Metallic Topsiders, Sperry.  Fabric Knot Cuff Links, J. Crew.  Patchwork Madras Tie, Lands End.  

Subtly pick up the theme in your stationary and decor with simple, graphic statements-  did you know, for instance, that an anchor traditionally symbolizes hope and safety?  Keep everything shipshape, rather than beachy, with just a touch of stripes, nautical flags, and rope accents (click to enlarge):

Navy Stars and Stripes Invitations, Minted.  Rope bracelet favors, Etsy.

Do you love all of these as much as I do?!  What do you think?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Spirit Rejoices: Come Holy Ghost and I Wanna Dance With Somebody

{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}

Every year on Thanksgiving, my grandfather, our patriarch if you will, leads my family in grace.  "In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost," he says in his Baltimore accent.  When I was a kid, I thought him saying "Holy Ghost" was hilarious, for some reason.  I think it was a combination of the accent and the name.  I don't giggle during grace too often anymore, though, and the fact that Poppy still uses this old-school phrase is something I've grown fond of and used to over time.  

Why am I telling you this?  It hasn't been that long since Pentecost, and when I was thinking of songs about the Holy Spirit, that little family tidbit kept coming to mind.  It brought me to this, the song Come Holy Ghost.  In preparing for your wedding day, I'm sure you've prayed to many a saint, and when you're up there on the altar, you'll be professing your love and fidelity before all of Heaven.  Who doesn't want to garner as many prayers as possible in such a profoundly beautiful moment (not to hoard them, of course, but in the hope that they'll bear fruit in your life together)?  I mean, think of what you've got already: the Father is present wherever two are gathered, you'll consume the body and blood of Christ, and you'll dedicate your marriage to His mother.  This lovely old hymn is a reminder to call down the Spirit, as well.  Every line lends itself so well to the start of a marriage, in my opinion.  Like these:

Thou the anointing Spirit art
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart
Thy blessed unction from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love

You don't have to have a super charismatic spirituality to do it.  Ask to be set on fire, to profess love's truth with your marriage, and for the grace to be open to whatever gifts the Holy Spirit has to give you.  Ask for another Pentecost!

This one's for you, Poppy:

Often in this feature, I try to introduce you to songs by artists you might or might not already know, with the hope that they're original but still accessible (the indie, I'm-so-cool thing is so not me).  I'm proud of everything I've picked so far and I genuinely love the songs I've chose, but if we're going for full honesty here, I have to tell you that my tastes can also be pretty lame.  Example: family legend tells it that as a Michael Bolton-loving one year old, I politely, articulately asked my Aunt Nancy to play his music for me.  I still need a little dose every now and then.  You can laugh.  I have no shame left. 

Anyway, on to this week's musical choice.  In the well-known-but-not-lame category is one of my all-time faves, I Wanna Dance With Somebody.  If there is a better song to get people out on your dance floor, I would like to know what it is.  It's an important moment, you know?  Not to pressure you if it's not your thing, but I personally feel that having as many people dancing as possible is part of an ideal reception.  An upbeat song everyone knows the words to, like this one, is one of the best ways to kick it off (and check the ridiculous 80s looks in the video).

Don'cha wanna dance? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dating Again

By the time I got engaged, I figured I was pretty much finished with dating forever.  When I got married a year later, I was sure of it.  Then our life together started.

Don't you wish it was this easy sometimes?
Last week, I wrote about moving being another adjustment to make on top of all the other new experiences of newlywed life.  I discovered that with a new stomping ground, I needed to make new friends, but it's something I imagine lots of brides experience even if they're relatively in the same place after their wedding day.  That's not to say that you abandon all your longtime friends as soon as you get married, but what I noticed is that suddenly lots of married couples want to hang out with you, at least partly by virtue of the fact that you're married, too.

For us, it really did feel like we were "dating" these other couples- some you hit it off with right away, some you feel awkward around, some love sushi just like you, some hate your favorite board game...isn't it funny how there's almost an expectation to have married friends once you're married yourself?  There's definitely something nice about having people to go on double dates with, have a little friendly competition with, and spend one-on-one girl and guy time with, but sometimes it felt so darn hard finding couples we were compatible with.

This is probably starting to sound like an online dating commercial (and believe me, I wished a few times that I could just put out an ad for young, laid-back Catholic friends), but to me, at least, there were so many factors that played into the mix.  Having spent most of the last five years in a bubble of virtuous, holy friends, I was already feeling the adjustment of living in a more secular environment.  That's fine, to an extent--we aren't meant to hide from the world-- but both Andrew and I were hungry for a little more, you know?  Being young and married is kind of a unique state in life, since people our age are all over the map right now milestone-and-vocation-wise, and it's been a challenge to find friends in our area whom we can relate to well.  At daily Mass, the crowd consists mostly of college students and older people, who are perfectly nice, just not exactly on the same page as us.

We didn't really start hanging out with our closest friends whom we met since getting married until a few months ago- like any other friendship, stuff like this takes time, I guess.  We invited them over for dinner, they invited us to become NFP teachers with them, and right away everything was just so simple.  Friendships aren't meant to involve some intensive search or lots of pressure to be a certain way.  They're friends whom we can joke about the weirdest, sometimes most personal things with, have awesome conversations, some theological and others just everyday things, and be vulnerable and honest with- such a gift!

All this said, I don't mean to discredit your friendships with your single friends, at all.  Before my wedding, I was a little nervous that the dynamic with my girlfriends would change for the worse, but if anything, they've gotten even better.  Andrew is my best friend, but no way can he replace my closest girlfriends.  You need someone to be a little extra emotional with, go shopping with, and ask for advice from a woman's perspective.  I feel lucky, too, that several of my close friends have gotten married around the same time as me, and we've been able to grow into our vocations together.  Also, no one's pressuring you to only have married friends from now on- I hope I don't sound like I took all this too seriously, but it was just a bit of a difficulty that was at the front of my mind for a while.  Do what you both feel like, and know that new friends come with time.  Consider it an invitation!

Have any of you experienced the same kinds of friendship challenges?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Love Notes: Bridesmaid Gifts

{small ways to show great love}

This section typically centers around you and your hunky husband to be, but today I thought I'd change it up a little.  After your bridegroom, your wedding party are some of the most important people for your day, so why not thank your best girlfriends for who they are and for sharing in your nuptials?  There's always the standard route of bridesmaid gifts like key chains or charm bracelets, but I think a more personal, individualized present or a shared experience you can all enjoy is much more memorable.  It doesn't take much extra effort to show your gratitude, but it definitely goes a long way.  Check out these ways to show 'em some love:

  • As the bride, there are probably quite a few parties lined up to celebrate y-o-u.  Before things get too crazy around the big day, return the favor!  If you like to cook or bake, have your bridesmaids over for a cocktail party and whip up something special.  Dress up, make a pretty tablescape, and be sure to toast them!
  • Everyone loves looking at photos, and in my opinion, things like Facebook and Flickr are awesome, but they've kind of killed the printed photograph.  Most, if not all, of the girls in your wedding have probably been in your life for a number of years-- celebrate your friendship and sisterhood with each by gifting her with an album or collage.  Sites like Snapfish offer tons of photo gifts, but you can go the DIY route, too.
  • I'm crazy about monograms.  Completely crazy.  Admittedly, my tastes run on the preppy side, but monogrammed stuff comes in way more styles and forms than just tennis racket covers or whatever.  You can find personalized prezzies (with whole names, not just initials, too) in practically any imaginable form, at any price point.  Look!

1. Enamel Earrings (you can choose from tons of color combos!), Swell Caroline  2. Bicycle Note Sheets, Sweet Tea Paperie  3. Acrylic Tray, Design Darling  4. Burlap Pillow, Etsy

  • As much as I love to shop, I am actually embarrasingly cheap.  I scour Google 30 minutes at a time for coupon codes whenever I buy something online, order sparkling water when I go to bars (it's free!), and reuse drinking straws for a few days at a time (gross, I know).  That's probably bordering on tacky, but regardless, one thing I'm almost always willing to shell out for is fun, quality time- an experience over a material thing, you know?  I figure things like vacations, concerts, and dinners out with friends are a lot longer-lasting, memory-wise, than whatever sundress or bottle of nail polish I'm currently after.  So, if logistics and money aren't too much of a problem, treat everyone to a great time out, depending on what all of you like- think dance lesson, movie in the park, or close-by overnight getaway.  Living Social and Groupon offer discounts on incredibly original opportunities- check them out!
  • Speaking of cheap, my last suggestion is completely free- you can add it on to any of these.  Prayer is such a beautiful thing to give someone- you can create a spiritual bouqet for each of your maids, or even enroll them in the intentions of a meaningful religious order.  In the inimitable words of my friend Sara, Giiiffftt!

Do you have bridesmaids gifts picked out?  How are you showing the girls your appreciation?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lectio: By Love Refined

{recommended reading}

I like to think Andrew and I are a pretty literary couple.  We were both English majors who practically owe our relationship to the class discussions of Charles Dickens and Latin American folktales in which we first caught each other's attention, we talk often about what we're reading, and we send tons of dorky, wordplay filled texts during the day.  Still, when it comes to the intellectual life (which I enjoy but don't exactly aspire to, if that makes sense), we don't hold a candle to the von Hildebrands.  Dietrich von Hildebrand and his wife, Alice, are both pretty prolific theologians who've written quite a bit about love, marriage, and virtue.  I've actually never read anything of von Hildebrand the Mister's, but about a year ago, I did crack open this one by the Missus.

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This book, By Love Refined, is subtitled Letters to a Young Bride.  The setup is that Alice, writing under the name Lily, is responding to her beloved friend Julie's letters, containing Julie's reflections and questions about newlywed life.  It's a pretty clever way, I think, to discuss big issues like arguments, qualitiy time, and money in a wise, gentle voice- it's like practical advice disguised as a nice note.

Usually these posts feature books I've read and loved, which leads to inordinate raving.  Honestly, though, I have to tell you that I didn't completely adore this one (I do, however, think the title is awesome).  We are not a perfect couple (far, far from it, in fact), but I don't feel like I gained much advice that I wasn't already aware of- we've always been pretty calm, fair fighters, for instance, and have never felt particularly awkward talking about things like sex and money.  Maybe the fighting thing is just a reflection of our quieter personalities, during our engagement we read parts of the Theology of the Body while I worked as a chastity speaker, which made it pretty easy to be frank about sexuality, and we talked about spending early on, as soon as it became clear that my tendency to shop too much was at odds with Andrew's extreme (I really mean extreme) thriftiness (as a bachelor, he survived almost completely on cheap, horrible frozen burritos, eggs, and generic, fake Crunchberries).

I do realize, though, that every couple has one or two issues that need to be probed more than others, and that certain things come easier or harder for different people.  That said, I do think this book is worth a read- even if some of it is kind of old fashioned (example: "I want a dishwasher and he wants a stereo"-- I'm all about the housewife thing, but I've never really coveted large kitchen applicances), it's beneficial because through each letter, Alice calls your attention to aspects of newlywed life that you might not have anticipated otherwise, like loving ways to criticize, the uselessness of comparing yourselves to other couples who seem to have it all together, and the fact that you two might have different social schedules and preferences.

Have any of you read this?  Am I nuts for thinking it's not the greatest?  I'm open to changing my opinion, so I'd love to hear what you think!

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Place Like...

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Sometimes, I think the circumstances surrounding my marriage were pretty unusual.  At the time of our wedding last July, I'd just finished a year of service and needed a job.  I lived back at home for three remaining weeks before the wedding, then moved four hours away to be where Andrew was getting his Masters degree.  I guess most people find work, settle in a place to live (which is often closer to where they grew up, if that's what they prefer), and then get married.  If they wed shortly after college, it seems like they typically live and find work near their fiances.  It makes it pretty simple to see each other often, and although marriage involves a whole slew of new experiences, your work life and surroundings stay pretty much the same.  It's not uncommon for people to get married in grad school, I suppose, or for an academic's life to involve a lot of relocation, but I do think sometimes that I did this whole thing in reverse.

I don't regret a bit of it, despite the sacrifices of missing our families, constant travel, and my not getting a "real" job until 8 months into moving out to where I live now (little-known fact: this blog is the fruit of my unemployment!).  I'd much rather be married and struggling a little than not married and far away from Andrew.  Lots of couples do it more willingly than us, maybe, but in our case, one year of long-distance dating was plenty.

Given that we met in college, Andrew and I are lucky that at least our families' homes are in the same state and relatively close, although neither of us lived there during most of our engagement.  As hard as that was, I can barely imagine what it must be like to live so far apart while you're engaged that it's hard to see each other.  I can, however, identify with the scariness of preparing to pick up your life and transplant it to an entirely new place after getting married.  When I moved here, Andrew had already been at his university for a year, so he had friends, a parish, and knew his way around, which definitely helped me.  Still, on top of the adjustment of a more shared life, looking for work, and living with a boy, there was the adjustment of new roads, new faces, and even new weather.

It's taken a while, up until about two months ago, for me to feel at home, but there's one thing I'm so thankful for.  You know how everyone tells you the first year of marriage is the hardest?  Having curently been married for less than a year, I'm not totally sure yet if that's true, but the past 10 months or so have absolutely been hard.  The thing is, it hasn't been hard in the ways I would've expected.  Nearly every difficult thing we experienced, from my unemployment to the pain of distance from our friends to spiritual attacks (they weren't uncommon), was an external issue, not an internal one between the two of us.  As a result of so many hard days, I feel incredibly blessed to have fallen more and more in love with my husband.  A somewhat isolated living situation and a bit of a financial strain could've caused huge amounts of resentment and short-temperedness, I'm sure, but by His grace, all of the hard stuff helped us love each other better.  I know the Lord has been telling me something, and as our first anniversary approaches, I've been trying to figure out what that is.  So, so many times, He's asked me to trust that we'll be taken care of, difficult circumstances or not, and so many times I've clung to my desire to control things and make them happen myself.  You just want the peace of mind that comes from knowing what's ahead, you know?  I know in my head it doesn't work like that, and very very slowly, my heart is catching up.  It's Him who brings real peace and it's all about surrender.

I'll leave you with this: Fulton Sheen said, "Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is "timing." It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” Oh, how I am constantly learning this lesson.

What about you?  What will your living and location situation be after your wedding?

Friday, June 1, 2012

D I Y: Herb Boutonnieres

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Natalie Franke Photography

No joke, girls: wedding flowers are expensive.  I mean, far be it from me to construct the perfect hand-tossed arrangement or whatever, so I guess it's worth it.  Still, it's nice to consider what you can do yourself, and it doesn't have to be complicated.

Maybe they're right about necessity being the mother of invention...or maybe for me, desparation is the mother of invention.  Three weeks before my wedding, the flower contract fell through.  Cue panic and wild ideas for flower substitutes (pinwheels were on the table at one point, which actually might not have been too bad).  Amazingly, my mom and I were able to snag a great deal from Safeway.  I totally recommend this, by the way- run away from fancy floral shops and just go by way of your grocery store!  But, since time was so tight and since all the flora needed to travel an hour and a half to the chapel, in the middle of July, we decided to see what we could make on our own and came up with these easy boutounieres.  They are so simple and couldn't be more affordable.

To make one boutouniere, you'll need: 2-3 sprigs of any herb (I'd go with a sturdier one, like rosemary- the more delicate ones wilt faster and crush more easily), a 1-foot length of ribbon or strip of fabric, about 6 inches of thin floral wire, craft glue, and one corsage pin.

Start by trimming off the tops of your herbs so they end up measuring about 2-3 inches.  Don't throw away the extra, of course- find a killer recipe to use them in!

Pinch the stems of each sprig together at the bottom, kind of like you're holding a hand of cards.  Begin wrapping the wire around it, starting at about 1/4 inch from the bottom, covering and securing the end of the wire as you go.  Wrap about one quarter of the way up (keep the wired section small- you just want to secure the stems together, not cover them in wire wraps), then trim it and secure it by tucking in the wire end.

Center the herb bundle vertically across your ribbon or fabric.  Tie the ribbon however you like- a simple knot is fine, or get a little fancier with a bow, if you want.

That's it!  When you're pinning these babies on the groomsmen, be sure to stick the pin through the ribbon to give it something to hold onto.

I kind of doubt any man would object to wearing something leafy and masculine-smelling instead of a flower.


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