Friday, November 27, 2015

6 Tips for a More Peaceful Engagement: Introducing the Brides Who've Been There Q+A Series!

I'm taking a blogging break to soak up our sweet Lily Grace (and, let's be honest, to keep my head above water through this beautiful newborn chaos), so I asked some of my married friends to contribute in my absence.  Over the next few weeks, they'll be taking over to chat about wedding planning, bridal beauty and style, and sharing stories about their newlywed days, so with that I introduce to you the Brides Who've Been There Series!

First up, I asked these ladies what they wish they'd known about cultivating peace during their engagements.

Take breaks from talking wedding.  Since we were dating long-distance for the duration of our relationship, it was tough feeling pressure to cross lots of items off our to-do lists every time we were together.  Taking mental breaks really helps for staying grounded in the relationship that's bigger than just one day's events.  - Lauren

Lauren & Alex

If you have other friends and family members that are engaged, it can be so much fun to swap ideas, read magazines, and go to tastings and dress fittings together.  Don't let it be about whose wedding is "better;" really try to enjoy this special time in your lives.  - Andi

If you're trying to plan the Pinterest-perfect wedding, you'll probably end up disappointed.  Try to stay flexible and keep the big picture in mind--the main event is not the wedding, but years of a fruitful marriage that you have ahead of you. - Anna

Anna & Alex

You've probably already heard it, but don't sweat the small stuff.  I'm a year and a half out from my own wedding and can barely tell you what the centerpieces were, but I can tell you they sparked a sizable argument.  Focus on building a marriage, not just a wedding day.  - Amanda

There is so much to do to prepare for the wedding, and our culture offers a view of the celebration that is almost entirely materialistic.  But, the reality is that internal preparation is much more important than external details.  You are preparing to join your life with another human being.  You are preparing to have children together.  You are preparing to join hands, come what may.  That is huge and amazing and very sobering.  So to whatever degree you're able, give as much of the wedding prep work to those you trust and focus on keeping a quiet heart and mind.  I was able to delegate much of my planning to my three sisters, who were thrilled to help, while my future husband and I did our best to go to daily Mass together.  We prayed nine novenas, back to back, in the final 81 days before our wedding, asking the intercession of married saints like Louis and Zelie Martin, the Quatrocchis, and Anne and Joachim.  Our engagement ended up feeling like a deeply holy, silent time of preparing to enter into the grace of the sacrament. - Katie R.

Katie and her husband Devin prayed the Rosary with all of their guests before the Mass!
Looking back, there were so many details I handled on my own instead of asking for help.  My bridesmaids, who were my best friends, would have and could have happily stepped in; more importantly, I could've turned to my mother, but I left many people close to my heart out my planning because I didn't want to be a burden.  I wish I could go back and tell that girl her family and friends wanted to be involved, wanted to help her along the preparation path.  Wedding planning doesn't have to be stressful.  And our engagement would have been much more peaceful if I had prayed more.  Because I was a senior at Benedictine College when I was engaged, I literally lived down the hall from an Adoration chapel and could have spent time with Christ any hour of the day or night.  I was full of good intentions, but not as much follow-through.  I am grateful, though, that we started praying together while we were dating and continued through our engagement.  Stepping into the biggest decision of our lives, we needed as much grace as possible! - Katie S.

Thanks so much, ladies!  Tell me; what's been the biggest struggle of your engaged life so far, and how have you pursued a sense of peace?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Comfort Food and Finding Our Family Recipes: Guesting at Raising Barnes

While Emily at Raising Barnes is taking a few weeks off from blogging to cuddle her sweet new baby George, she's compiled a smorgasbord of recipes, and the stories behind them, in a Blogger Family Cookbook!  I'm honored to help her out and share with you my favorite chicken noodle soup, featuring a surprise ingredient.  Plus, links to a couple of our other true blues.

I was so excited when Emily described this series to me as a combination of food and stories.  Now that I am a wife and mom, I love coming across a recipe we enjoy enough to add to our permanent rotation--in other words, one where we feel like we don't have to keep chasing the perfect recipe for a certain dish…Read the rest of the post, and get the recipe, here!
Thanks so much, Emily!   While you're at it, be sure to check out the rest of the contributions, and join me in praying for Emily, her hubs Alex, and their boys as they adjust to being a family of four!

What about you?  Any tried and true favorites that have become a part of your life together?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Mary said, "I am the Lily of the Valley and the Lady of the Fields."  Meet Lily Grace Calis, born on Friday evening, November 13!  She took her first breath of air at 6:58 p.m; about 3 hours after we  arrived at the hospital and, by some miracle of mercy, less than 10 minutes after my water broke.  I'm thankful for what feels like a much, much easier delivery and recovery compared to Aaron's birth, and it's helped me enjoy our first days at home fairly peacefully.  Fairly!  But wonderfully.

I know you can't even see the baby in this one but I just find it hilarious.

Aaron's welcome home offerings to his little sis
Blurry because I couldn't stop crying enough to hold the camera still!
I'm taking some time off from my own writing to embrace all this newness, beauty, and exhaustion, but happily, I've asked some friends to contribute their own stories and ideas over the weeks to come and am so excited to share them with you!  Check back Friday for a guest post of my own, next week for the kickoff of a new blog series, and stay tuned for some upcoming guest pieces and all things holiday.

Meantime, you can follow our adjustment as a family of 4 on Instagram.  Please say a prayer for us during this transition!  The joy of all this, you guys.  Truly, it overflows.   


Friday, November 13, 2015

Worlds Collide: 5 Ideas for Introducing Your Bridesmaids to Each Other

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Natalie Franke Photography
Will your wedding party be bringing together close friends from different areas of your life?

Something I love about my former roommate Sara is that she's full of varyingly funny, weird, truthful, entirely endearing expressions that she'll just drop into conversations like they're the most natural thing. Among them is "worlds collide!," which she'd say anytime someone had a small-world moment, wherein people from different times in his or her past somehow connected or ended up in the same room together.  It really is a fun experience to witness, and I'm thankful to her for supplying me with the words to describe it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, your wedding day will almost definitely be a worlds collide moment. I was reading through old posts the other day and nodding my head at all of Stephanie's advice on things to consider for a big vs. a small wedding party and on how to choose your bridesmaids and groomsmen from among your friends and family.  That got me to remembering our own wedding party and the vibe I'd hoped for between my bridesmaids and I.

In Andrew's case, his groomsmen were his 2 brothers, 3 friends he's known all his life, and 1 close friend from college.  With the exception of our college friend, whom they became fast friends with, everyone was already familiar with each other, and it was nice that they were all on the same page with the Catholic faith.  As for me and my attendants, I'd invited my sister, my best friend, 2 cousins, and Andrew's sister and our sister-in-law to stand beside me.  Among the group, there were pockets of girls who knew each other well and some who were meeting for the first time, and the faith life among everyone was more across the board.  I love the six of them so dearly, and though I know bridesmaid duties don't necessarily mean everyone has to become best friends, I did hope they'd enjoy knowing each other and bond a little over the shared experience of taking part in our wedding.

If you have the same desire on your heart, to invite your friends and family members into each other's lives as they help you prepare for your marriage, read on for a few ways to do it.

1. Invite them out for a girls' day.  Simple and maybe obvious, but in my experience, having a set activity at hand can help minimize awkwardness and provide automatic, relevant topics for conversations between new people.  One friend of mine invited her bridesmaids to a dance studio for a hip-hop lesson that they eventually incorporated into a wedding party dance at her reception.  If you like the thought of stealing that idea, group activities from vendors like Living Social are a fun way to introduce your bridesmaids to each other; I'd just recommend keeping everyone's comfort level in mind when selecting an activity.  The pre-wedding-dance dance brings me to…

2. Have your bridesmaids help you with a wedding project.  Two birds, one socializing stone.  Since the bride typically does the bulk of wedding planning and reception prep (or, I don't know, I never asked Andrew but I didn't have the sense he was burning to design little labels for our favors), inviting your girls to help you shop for and work on a DIY project or two is great for chipping away at your to-do list and fostering a shared sense of purpose between you all.

3. Go shopping!  This can be as bridal, or as bridesmaid-al, as you want.  That is, you can invite your bridesmaids to come dress shopping with you (I went with only my mom and my sister, knowing that personally I'd be overwhelmed by having too many opinions flying around and by feeling uncomfortable being the center of attention in a bigger group--anyone care to weigh in on this?), but I think even better for helping these ladies get familiar with each other is to plan a day for everyone to browse for or buy accessories for their wedding-day look together.  I say this not for the sake of being a micro-managing bride, but because it's fun!  If, for instance, you have a specific shoe color in mind, it's fun to go in a group for each girl to pick hers out, and if they're wearing their own jewelry, you get the pleasure and insight of watching them choose pretty stuff that suits their individual styles.

4. Host a wedding stationary party.  Assembling and addressing our Save-the-Dates and invitations was no joke.  I invited my friend, sisters, and cousins to help me do the Save-the-Dates at my parents' house and we just chatted and ate some fancy appetizers while we wrote out names and looked up addresses.  It was the first time they all got together, and I enjoyed the low-key, but still festive, atmosphere of it all.  Since I was living a state away from most of my family and friends during our engagement, I actually enlisted the help of the women I worked with and a few other local friends to help with sending the invitations--it was my boss' idea and is still one of my most treasured pre-wedding memories!  We ordered takeout, put on the movie Roman Holiday, and just did a lot of girlish giggling, being Jesus' goofy daughters, while we put together each set of invitations, stuffed envelopes, wrote out guests' addresses (I didn't care a ton about the look of the handwriting, so long as it was readable and reasonably nice-looking, but if you're having yours calligraphed, you can just skip the writing step--one less thing to do!), and put on stamps.  What could have been a massive chore was instead incredibly fun and took only a few hours.

5. Do something spiritual together.  Like I said, the prayer lives of my bridesmaids were kind of varied,  which I was content with knowing nothing can or should be forced (though I do think striving to be a holy couple is a powerful witness alone), but I've heard beautiful stories of wedding parties making it a habit to attend Adoration, Praise and Worship, or holy hours together in the months leading up to the wedding--if there's a young adults' group in a parish near you, you can probably find scheduled gatherings that you all can attend together.  Or, if you don't all live near each other, touching base over emails or texts with prayer intentions is such a loving way to lift each other up during the months you'll be in each others' lives, united in getting ready for your wedding.

What do you think?  Have you experienced the need to introduce women from different parts of your life as your big day gets closer?  How did you bring everyone together?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fall Family Shoot and Life Lately

I met Claire and her now-husband Kevin during their engagement a few years ago, when Andrew and I taught them NFP.  The friend crush was mutual, but we didn't really get in touch again until about 2 months ago, when we did a postpartum NFP class with them after the birth of their sweet little girl.  In exchange for the teaching, Claire, who just started her beautiful photography business, offered to meet up for some family photos, and I'm so grateful to her and excited to share them with you!


In other news…

...I am 38 weeks and feeling every second of it!  Braxton-Hicks all day long, and though this is more of an emotional intuition than a physical one, I've gotten a strong feeling lately that this little girl isn't going to stay put for a full 40 weeks.  We are getting more excited than ever to meet her, and now that she has clothes and dipes and a cosleeper ready to go, I am more than ready for her arrival!  For now I'm just enjoying one-on-one time with Aaron, filling our freezer with meals for later, and trying to enjoy the surprising amount of sleep I've been able to manage!

…I just read this article revealing letters exchanged between St. Gianna and her husband, Pietro, from before they started dating.  She actually said 'I love you' first, and his response is beautiful.  Call me untraditional, but I think in the right circumstances, there is a holy boldness to that sort of spirit of truth and directness.  If you missed it a while back, here's my take on when and how a woman can pursue a man while still honoring each person's femininity and masculinity.

…I'm pretty sure Christmas shopping isn't going to happen unless I get it all done in the next few weeks, which is fine by my giving-happy self.  I love picking out presents for people!  For me, we've been saving up for this all year, and despite the permanent trauma inflicted on me by my Southern-born 8th grade Social Studies teacher, who thought bringing in her collection of furs--with animal faces and feet still attached--was a good way to teach us about the French and Indian War and the fur trade, I've recently gotten over my aversion and have really been wanting one of these.  What's at the top of your wish list?  

…Did you catch the cover reveal for Invited two weeks ago?  Check it out here, and be on the lookout for more news about the release soon.

…I've been trying to venture beyond the baked goods realm as pumpkin goes--having to go back to the blood lab for the 3-hour gestational diabetes test was enough to scare me, at least temporarily, into cutting down on all the muffins we'd been making.  I made this mac and cheese for Aarons's birthday and it's definitely getting added to our rotation.  Tell me your favorite not-sweet pumpkiny recipe!

I'm out for now.  Oh sweet anticipation.

Friday, November 6, 2015

PhD Wife Life and Advice for Grad School Couples

Any fellow grad-school fiancees and wives, holla.  This is for you today.
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Andrew and I had been friends for a while before we started dating, and I knew his dream was, God willing, to teach college English one day.  By the time I became his girlfriend, then his fiancĂ©, then his wife, I knew that dream would entail many more years of school, moving, and lower income.

We could've waited until he was further along in school to get married, but seriously, from the very first month I knew that boy would become my husband!  For a lot of reasons, including the prospect of years of long-distance dating and struggles with chastity as the alternative, we decided getting married before getting settled was where the Holy Spirit was leading our relationship.  To be clear, I absolutely do not consider us morally superior or anything like that for choosing to get married young (we were both 23) and relatively poor--in fact, I sometimes complain about Andrew's career path, the one he feels so strongly called to, way more than I should--but for our particular weaknesses and strengths in virtue, it's been a purification from which we emerge continually more joyful and in love.

Practically speaking, though, academic life for one or both spouses in a relationship is ridiculously hard sometimes.  Grad school applications are long and daunting, always with an element of uncertainty that sort of forces you into a willingness to move anywhere for the sake of a program and, ultimately, a career as a professor or researcher that's a good fit.  Some full-time students, like my husband, are also student teachers; one of those alone entails bringing work home each night and working far more than 40 hours a week, for measly pay, and the combination of both can involve even more.  And, since there's not really a way around the fact that grad school is a means to an end, there are periodic needs to write extra papers and travel for conferences and networking events.

I know every field definitely has its struggles and busy times of year.  But, if I can humbly try to shed some light on this particular field we're in, here's what experience (and our repeated failings!) has taught us can ease some of the burdens of academic life:

If and when you have to move to a new area, seek out community.  Following your love to a new state and new town, maybe miles from both your homes, can be isolating for both of you, particularly if the one of you who's not in school doesn't have a job lined up yet (looking at you, past Stephanie).  After a somewhat slow start in the town I moved to after our wedding, where Andrew was getting his Masters, we were blessed to make a incredible friendships with another young couple and a few families from our parish, and eventually got involved with the youth group and became certified to teach NFP.  Being able to share in ministry with my hubs from the start of our marriage was awesome, and even after moving away, we've been able to stay in touch and occasionally visit our friends.

For Round 2, aka Andrew's PhD, we were lucky enough that his school isn't far from where we both grew up.  Returning to our families and college friends has been such a gift, especially as we've started our family.  For that reason, along with the demands of having a baby, it took a little longer for us to find a community at our church this time, but in the past few months we've become friends with a few other young families, at the same time that the parish is starting a young families' ministry, and I recently started going to a mom's Scripture study that I'm enjoying.

Thinking you're in this alone is such a lie.  For me, cultivating relationships in our parish, at work, and in Andrew's program made a huge difference in my sense of contentment and belonging.  Here's more advice on how to get acclimated if you're relocating.

Expect the unexpected when it comes to your time, and find ways to fill it while you're alone.  Like any profession, I expect, academia sometimes means unplanned meetings and tasks crop up during the day, especially if your spouse is a teacher and students need to come talk about projects and assignments.  What that looked like for us was me expecting Andrew home around a certain time, only to end up angry when that ETA got pushed back by a few hours--especially in those first overwhelming months after Aaron was born.  Fortunately, I like to think we've become more flexible and forgiving about this over the last few years.

I also need to constantly remind myself that the difficulties with time aren't personal; when I strip away my pride and my temper, it's not terribly hard to remember that my husband would much prefer to be home for dinner on late weeknights or hanging out rather than grading on a Saturday.  And even with those responsibilities, he still finds time to chase Aaron around to the point of the kid practically going blue with laughter, to do a significant amount of our household chores, and to do some of his work early in the morning, sacrificing sleeping in so we can go to bed together most nights.  For us, I think our four years of marriage and two years of parenthood have sort of been a process of figuring out how to identify and enjoy the pockets of free time we have together, compared to being constantly let down by expecting long blocks of time to hang out during evenings and weekends.

Andrew's done taking classes now and will spend the next two and a half years taking comps exams and writing a dissertation, but I found out early on that grad classes are nearly always night classes, usually ending around 9 or 10 p.m.  Before babies came along, I decided to try using those nights to catch up on the phone with my friends and to be purposeful with my time.   "Purposeful" sometimes meant knitting while watching Dawson's Creek, but I enjoyed it, didn't feel like I was wasting time, and it was nice not having Andrew in the room commenting on every melodramatic plot twist.  Now that we have Aaron (and will soon have his little sis!), I try to spend time after he goes to bed putting away all the stuff I didn't put away during the day and just making our apartment a nice place for my husband to come home to and rest.  It doesn't feel sexist or terribly burdensome, just like a gift I can give back to Andrew in exchange for all the ways he helps me and loves me.

Slack off now and then. Seriously!  Andrew's mentor once described grad school to us as getting repeatedly whipped as you run through a gauntlet and, if you make it, they give you a degree at the end.  I know it's a constant struggle for Andrew to feel like there's always more he could be doing, which is probably true, and we're always working on (and failing a good amount of the time at) figuring out when continuing to work is good and important, and when just calling it quits for the day, either for the sake of his mental energy, our relationship, or our other responsibilities, is the best choice. It's sooo hard for me being the one without all the schoolwork hanging over my head--so often, I'm tempted to encourage Andrew to take breaks even when it's not for the best.

We probably should've figured this out earlier, but communicating about each of our game plans for the day, stuff like what time Andrew hopes to be home on a given night and things I might need him to take over around the house, has gone a long way in helping us will the best for each other and to not fight over little misunderstandings.  What's more, it's helped us figure out when we can hang out without thinking about work!  Because of the weird hours, like some longer nights and then other days when Andrew can come home in the middle of the day, we've figured out (or at least know more than we did as newlyweds) when we can fit in time to cook together, watch a movie, and just sit and talk.  Maybe it's easier on me than on him, but I'm so thankful my husband's willing to rearrange his sleep and his assignments a little so we can have that quality time.

Discern things a year at a time.  A few years ago, after an exhausting two years of his Masters program and a year of teaching six classes at two different colleges, Andrew was sure he wasn't drawn to earning a PhD.  Yet obviously, here we are.  Combined with the years he took off from school to work after undergrad and after his Masters, the total time he'll have spent working towards his end goal by the time he finishes his PhD will be 9 years.  Dude,  just typing that out is daunting.  The thing is, the paths we've felt called down in our life together have changed as we reach certain milestones, and we've tried to just constantly pray as we go that God leads us in the right direction.  For instance, I was offered a great job at the tail end of Andrew's Masters program, the end of which we'd expected would be moving back closer to family and Andrew looking for high school teaching jobs.  After so many false starts on the job front for me, and upon realizing we could grow our savings with that opportunity (until that point, we didn't really have any), we decided to stay in the area and lived there for another year and a half.  It was during that time that the idea of teaching college kept pulling on Andrew's heart, and we experienced such clarity from the Holy Spirit that applying to PhD programs was the right thing.

If, at the beginning of all these years of school, we'd decided it was PhD or bust, or if we'd gone into it with a just-get-through-it sort of mentality, I think a lot would have been lost from our spiritual growth and our sense of being present in our own lives.  In fact, every year or so Andrew goes through a sort of academic-calling crisis, worrying that his hard work won't pay off with a future job that suits him (locationally, personally, and financially), or that he's been selfish in pursuing a profession with many years of low pay and no guarantees at the end of school (which, for the record and even amidst all my other complaints, has never crossed my mind).

It might sound like I have nothing but complaints about our situation and while, in my weakness, I certainly get angry over it more than I should sometimes, I do have the abiding confidence that we are doing God's will for us and that these particular crosses are sanctifying us.  The truth is, I do have days where I think how nice it would be to be settled in a house in one semi-permanent place, knowing my husband would be working roughly 9-5 every day and be done with work when he left work, and not having to worry too much about money.  But experience and conversations with friends, some stay-at-home moms, some not, has taught me that academia isn't the only type of work that involves long hours and commitments we'd rather say no to--it'd be self-centered of me to think otherwise.  So we pray and wait on the Lord, and up to now, every question of our calling has been answered with the peace that Andrew continuing in school is the best thing for us and our family, at least for this point in time if or until God comes knocking with something else.  There's a true freedom in that.

What about you?  Will one or both of you be in school by the time you're married?  If you've been at it awhile, what's helped your marriage the most?  Like I said, whatever wisdom I have to offer comes from a place of deep humility and significant weakness; I would love to hear your own advice and be able to support each other!


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