#LoveBlog Reflections


#LoveBlog and the month of February is coming to a close today. For the last prompt, I'm taking the time to reflect back on the experience.

The #LoveBlog Experience

I did not discover #LoveBlog until two or three days into the month thus I had no plans for participating and no time to prepare posts in advance. In fact, I just kind of jumped in… I think I participated the first Thursday of the month, started a blog post for Friday that never got finished, and then we were into the weekend… I asked my husband "What should I do? Do I continue on with #LoveBlog? Do I stick to my current themes?" Inevitably, with me being sick, #LoveBlog won out.

Just because I decided to do #LoveBlog while I was sick does not mean that I anticipated #LoveBlog posts to be easier than any other blogging I've done. In fact, I expected quite the opposite. Yes, there would be days when I would throw a post together an hour before work, but there would also be days when I would spend hours (or even the whole weekend!) contemplating what exactly to say or how to respond to a topic.

Then, even beyond the simple prompt answers, I would need to step out of my comfort zone and be more open with my life experiences sharing how certain events made me feel. In other words, I was hoping to connect with you all. My experience + your experience = our experience. 

Emotions

Was I successful?

No.

And yes.

The first few days I was apprehensive about what to post. That's why I missed the first Friday post. I spent 3 hours (or more) writing and editing a blog post about the most meaningful gift I had ever received. I assumed I'd be able to pull it together before work that day. I clarified content, scratched out unnecessary fillers, and edited up my post until there were only minutes before I had to leave. As I went to press publish, I hesitated. Was I comfortable with this post going live? Should I edit it later in the day and post that night? As it turns out, showcasing your true emotions (or even defining a life event as pivotal) can be overwhelming and stressful. I decided to take the weekend and decide if participating in #LoveBlog was right for me.

When you blog, you run into problems like: "Is this post too journal-y?", "How much information do I really want to share with the internet?", and, for me, "What will my in real life friends think of my post?" There have been times when I wonder if I should simply change my blog and go even more anonymous (if possible) just to get away from the preconceptions that these people place on me. It's not like I want to lie in my blog posts, but it's more a question of how much do I want people to know about me? (Especially people I see and talk to regularly.) And what if I have a feeling towards something that they find offensive or hurtful? … I wonder if having real life friends reading my blog hinders my writing and limits the emotions I feel comfortable expressing on here… Should it?

My other focus, even beyond connection, was discovering ways to work emotion into real topics. Or re-defining the topics so that they worked for my blog. You know how your writing teacher (or any other teacher) would give you a topic to write about for a research paper and you would groan and be so bored writing on it? Well, your paper showed your boredom, I'm sure. One of the best lessons I ever learned was how to change a topic to fit my personal interest. My goal, anytime I have a prompt, is to make the topic personal to me. Was I successful with #LoveBlog in doing that? Meh. I've done better in the past. The key, I think, is not reading other's interpretations before writing your own. If you haven't decided how to respond to a topic, while other blogs may provide inspiration, you won't necessarily go into responding as clear-headed and focused as you ought. In fact, you may end up stealing someone else's interpretation. 

(source)

If I do #LoveBlog next year, what would I do different?

Well, for one, on day one, I updated my blog design. Accidentally, that is. I was sick and I wasn't actually planning on changing the look that day. Whatever. I did. And with that came a lot of HTML changes to make the look work … at best, temporarily. I'm still working with the design.

Then, with the updated design, came a fail in analytics. For 19 days this month, I have no idea how many visitors stopped by my site. I was hoping to learn how participating in a link-up affected my blog views. And now I have no idea. If I continue to write about topics you all aren't interested in, I blame my analytics failure.

What I'm saying: I won't change the blog design. Analytics will be more accurate. Hopefully I'll have updated pictures… (It's a goal, anyway.) And I'm hoping to have better, more focused content.

In Conclusion

#LoveBlog was a nice break from the ordinary. I enjoyed not reviewing for a time and also the challenge of responding to topics outside of my comfort zone. I would definitely consider taking part next year. :)

Firsts

Aww! True love!

Yesterday I got to hear the cutest story.

The little girl I watch, M, has a crush on a little boy in her fourth grade class. At the beginning of the month, she announced to me that for her birthday week, she wanted 1) to open her presents from her friends at school, 2) snow, and 3) for the guy to ask her to the Valentine's Day dance. Inevitably, he never got around to asking her (although she did get her other two wishes!). She was only mildly disappointed and considered making Mel's cookie recipe (which is a love spell, as seen in the Disney made-for-tv movie Descendants) for her crush this week. She never got around to it since gossiping about the poor guy with her BFF and watching tv claimed her time instead. But then yesterday, when I went to pick her up, she was in a glorious mood. Her class had had a party for their teacher (a baby shower, really) that day. As exciting as that is, when M and her crush got in line for food (with him being in front of her), there was only one muffin left and two kids that wanted it. M declared "I want the muffin!" to which her crush responded "I do too!" Oops. But then, just as quickly as the declarations had been made, Mr. C. (the crush, of course) told the teacher "I will take the scone" making Miss M very happy indeed!

Justin, ever the optimist, said (after I shared the story) that there was nothing C-man could have done wrong. If he got the muffin and gave it to M, she would have been happy. If he refused the muffin and let her get it, she would have been happy. It was a win-win situation all the way around.

As for me, this little story just made me grin from ear-to-ear. I fondly remember my first crush and how every little thing he went out of the way to do for me made me feel. (About like M felt yesterday.) Only unlike me, she actually had the guts to tell the poor guy of her crush. Thank goodness he's been super awesome about it. (Is he aware that her two older brothers will crush him if he breaks her heart?!?)

Anyway, in honor of the #LoveBlog prompt, here are a few more firsts…


1.Who was your first prom date?
Justin. Aww!

2.Who was your first roommate?
Stephanie

3. What was your first alcoholic drink?
Either a sip of rum and coke or a margarita. As for my first glass to myself? Maybe wine? Because I would sip on my parent's drinks when I was younger, the first drink after I turned 21 wasn't really a big deal and thus not worth remembering.

4. What was your first job?
babysitting.

5. What was your first car?
1991 white Plymouth Acclaim – first car given to me.*
2002 silver Chrysler Sebring – first car bought for me.
2014 black Mazda 6 – first car bought by me (and my husband) for me.

6. Who was your first grade teacher?
Mrs. Lowery, I think.

7. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane?
NYC! :)

8. When you snuck out of your house for the first time, who was it with?
Never snuck out. I was too well-behaved and my parents were too cool for that. I may have missed a few phone calls while out telling me to get home "or you're grounded!" but it's not like that ever happened… My brother was always more of a trouble-maker than me.

9. Who was your first best friend and are you still friends with them?
Tiffany and no.

10. Where was your first sleepover?
It was probably with Tiffany at her house.

First and foremost – coffee!

11. Who was the 1st person you talked to this morning?
Talk to people? In the morning? … I don't do that. ;)

Nah, it was probably Justin. :)

12. Whose wedding were you in the first time?
My uncle's. I was a "junior bridesmaid".

13. What is the first thing you did this morning?
Checked my phone – facebook, email, twitter, instagram, mint, so on and so forth.

14. What was the first concert you ever went to?
LeAnn Rimes. I was (and probably still am) lame.

15. First tattoo or piercing?
My ears. I was either five or six. My parents took me to the mall to see the Easter bunny. I refused and threw a fit declaring that I wouldn't see the EB until my ears were pierced. Was I spoiled much? nah… ;) I like to think that I just happened to know what I wanted that day.

16. First favorite celebrity?
Not a clue. I wasn't really into specific celebrities. I didn't tape posters to my walls or anything.

17. First crush?
Patrick (Sorry Justin! But you knew that already, right?)


18. When was your first detention?
Ummm … Does The Breakfast Club count? (Great movie! Must watch!)

So, share! Do you remember your first crush? What about any of the other firsts listed in this post? I'd love to hear your stories!

* Actually, it was this and a camaro, but stupid me turned down the camaro because it didn't have air conditioning. This only goes to show that ten year olds don't actually know what they want!
** Survey stolen from here.

A Bit of Advice…


A few years into dating, my husband transitioned from a die-hard protestant to a die-hard Catholic. Of course this resulted in conflicts of interest; could a protestant and Catholic marry?

Don't get me wrong.

Of course a Catholic and a protestant can marry!

But, if you happen to know any Catholics, you know that they have some rules you have to abide by … and some beliefs that are a bit hard for a run-of-the-mill Christian (by which I mean not hardcore protestant) to comprehend.

One of the biggest issues we ran into was that Catholics don't believe in the use of contraception.

ACK!

Do you know what that means?

No pills, no condoms, no surgeries…

I guess you can see why I was apprehensive.

And while there are many other complications to getting married to a Catholic, there has been one positive that has stood out to me most within the Catholic faith and that is… mass is very symbolic. Everything they do has meaning, from the 3 readings from the Bible to the kneeling during prayer. So, inevitably every mass is the exact same despite how crazy different they can all seem.

Prior to our wedding, Justin and I were suppose to decide on scripture for the mass. We decided against 1 Corinthians 13. I wanted something unique and not as overused as this verse. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to it. So, for today's #LoveBlog prompt, I have decided that 1 Corinthians 13 has been the best advice I have ever received with regards to loving people (and not just my husband).


I have tried to base all of my decisions around these words. When faced with a complicated situation, in deciding what is the right thing to do it is best to ask yourself: is what I am planning on doing loving? is it patient? is it kind? is what I want to do self-seeking? or fueled by anger?

No, I'm not always a saint and I do get things wrong. However if you are ever at a loss for what to do or how to handle a situation, I suggest always coming back to this verse. Make it your home. (Like in baseball or music.)

When my husband first became Catholic, I came to this verse feeling hopeless. What was I supposed to do? If I wasn't Catholic and wasn't ready for kids, could I actually marry this guy?

For me, it came down to 1 Corinthians 13 verse 8: "[love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." I would attempt to work things out no matter what, because that's what I felt God had called me to do; that's what it meant for me to love my significant other.

And really, I've taken the same sentiment toward friends. You will never see me directly end a friendship. I can't control what they do, but I can control how I respond.

So, there you have it. That's the best advice I have ever received. It may not be directly from a person, but it has helped me get through hard times and is non-specific enough that it can be used in almost any situation.

What's the best, most-loving advice you have ever received? Is there a Bible verse that holds special meaning for you? Or a quote that has shaped your relationships with others? 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T


When I think of respect, Aretha Franklin comes to mind. But there's more to respect than just the simple act, of which I have decided to blog about today. (No thanks to the encouragement of the #LoveBlog link-up.)

Justin was my first boyfriend. As it turns out, he would become my only boyfriend. I was just not interested in dating. Guy friends? Always! The desire for a husband? Definitely. But what is dating when you are too young to drive a car? My parents wouldn't even let me walk around the mall alone with a friend! At age 14! They certainly weren't going to drop me off at the movies with a guy…

One of the most important things I learned from my first dating experience, and really all interactions with guys (sorry girls!), is that you have to love people for who they are and where they are at in life. And expectations? You might as well throw those out the window!

Example 1:

I once went to the park with Justin (shock, right?). I can't remember the details, but we ended up in an argument. As I turned to leave (we had driven separately), I realized that I wanted him to follow me and apologize (like the guys do in the movies). You know what I also realized? … He didn't know that that was what I wanted; he thought I needed to get away and have some space to myself to think and reflect. Rather than getting in my car that day and speeding off (like I wanted to do – like the girls in the movies would have done), I turned around, told him why I was angry, and explained what I expected him to do about it. I was direct. Because I did that (rather than driving away and then being more angry when I wasn't followed), we managed to work through our differences and leave the park far happier than I would have been otherwise.

Engagement pictures from Kelly L Photography: 2011

Example 2:

Approximately 3 years into dating, Justin got up the nerve to break my heart. He said he was too busy with school and we were arguing too much… And people? (Which people? I don't know. I don't remember. Probably his fraternity brothers.) They didn't think we should be together. I cried. (These #LoveBlog posts are making me sound super emotional!) We spent approximately two hours afterward just talking. And then I asked: "Well, what do you want? Do you agree that we would be better off separated? … Because that's not what I want. Do you think we can work things out?" And that's when we put together a plan for how to fix the mess we had gotten ourselves into. As it turns out, being direct and withholding judgement can really make a difference in how you handle situations, and, in this particular case, was the difference between us breaking up or, eventually, getting married.

But as much as being direct, withholding judgement, and avoiding expectations can help with dating or in dealings with one's significant other, it also helps with friendships.

Example 3:

An online guy friend I had been talking to off and on told me he had a crush on me … only a few days before my 18th birthday. Gotta be honest with you – I cried (again). I mean – what do you say to that? I'm sorry. I'm just not interested. You're too old? (He was/is at least 10 years older than me.) When people say things like that, it's like – Crud. This friendship is over. :( Not that you really want it to be, but it just changes things. We are still in (minimal) contact (as in once a year, maybe? And friends on facebook), but he soon realized (much to my relief) that he actually liked a girl closer to his own age (and a mutual friend! Yay!). Kudos to him for being straightforward with me, but I don't think, without understanding, acceptance, and respect, we would still be friends (in so much as we are) to this day. He was actually very happy for me when I told him I was engaged to be married to my current husband. :)

Neuschwanstein, Germany: 2014

Example 4:

I have a German friend, who I am (or would like to think I am) pretty close to. We've been talking back and forth for years, and his English has improved dramatically in that time. Like OMG! How are you not an American? improvement. Seriously. But, despite that, we still run into cultural misunderstandings.

I'm sure there are many, but one in particular stands out. (Just because it was a more recent realization.)

Justin and I were invited to his wedding a few years back and also invited to stay in his home. Honestly I was trying not to be a bother (because wedding planning can be super stressful), so I asked a second time for confirmation: "Are you sure it's okay for us to stay at your home?". Or something like that. I was seeking confirmation, as you do in the states, that what I heard (read) was what was meant and not just a nicety. The response I received was of no help – "You can do whatever you want." (I remember because it made me think of The Princess Bride "As you wish".)

Not being European (or German), my heart was torn. What exactly did this guy mean? Did he really want us to stay in his home? … Or not?

I asked all around – my best friend, my parents, even other Europeans. No one could help me decipher.

Justin and I ended up staying at an AirBnb. The guy, whose home we stayed at, was super nice providing us with cereal and wine! Just the kind of person I would love to be friends with! (Not because of the free food, but because he was so interested in making our travel experience a wonderful one!) :) And his neighbor? A Charleston, SC native! How fun! :)

But even after I returned home I wondered if I had made the right decision. Was the American way of assuming I would be a burden the correct assumption? Was my staying elsewhere offensive?

Google revealed to me that maybe I had seemed a bit crazy to him … and possibly offensive. Germans, it said, are very direct … and not friendly. If you aren't friends with them already, they ignore you and, inevitably, come across as rude. So did Google mean, assuming you were friends and the person was being direct, that if you were invited to someone's home you were actually being invited … like, for real? Not being sure how much to trust Google, I asked my friend. I explained, with examples, what the last conversation was like, how it made me feel (Yay emoticons!) and what my expectations were. This time the response was more straightforward: this is what I meant when I said…  Woot directness! Now I knew what he meant.

Google isn't always right, but it made me feel good to be straightforward with my friend and get a direct answer.

2003

In Conclusion:

• Love people where they are.
• Don't hold unrealistic expectations over someone's head. Let them know what you are thinking.
• Be as direct as possible when uncertainty arises. Spell things out as best you can.
• Be patient. (It may be you that is misunderstanding!)
• Treat others as you would wish to be treated.

In my opinion, people tend to have your best at heart. They aren't trying to hurt you. Sometimes they just don't know any better; they don't know that what they are doing is offensive or hurtful. If you make your expectations clear, provide patience and understanding, and respect a person's values even when they aren't your own, you will be in a better place. After all, all different kinds of people can show and expose you to so much more than you could ever imagine. You just have to be open to them.

What do you think? Have you ever been a situation where you needed to step out of your comfort zone in an effort to understand what someone else was thinking? Do you see how respect is vital to friendships and relationships alike?

Family Intros

After yesterday's blog post you probably have a pretty good idea of who I am and what my marriage is like… The following are the people who have helped to shape mine and my husband's life the most and who have had the strongest influence on our marriage – the people we call family.

Justin's mother's mom and step-dad

my mom, her step-mom and dad

my in-laws

me, my husband, my brother, my mom, my mom's mom, and my mom's step-dad

friend that calls me his older sister, me, and my husband

me and my dad

my sister-in-law and her husband (shocker, right?!)

my brother, his fiance, and my nephew

husband's extended family (his mom's side)

my extended family (my dad's side)

We may not always get along, but I still count every one of these people as a blessing in my life.

Who are the people you call family? Are they all blood related? Have you gained any family through marriage or adoption? What about furry pals?


* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. 
Want to join in?

The Little Things

You know those posts on facebook where someone comments "My husband/boyfriend/significant other is better than yours!"? I hate those posts. I also hate when people get on facebook to brag: "I bought a house!", "I paid off my student loans!", "I'm going on a fancy vacation for the millionth time this year!", "I'm having a baby!", "I'm graduating!", "I'm the most special person on the face of the planet!"

Argh. Shut the facebook up. Does anyone really care? (Aside from your immediate family maybe?) 

I decided to fill out one of those Bill memes. You know the ones… 


Mine said something like "Mandy doesn't care about someone's nationality, skin color, religion, or ideas. Mandy just hates everyone. Don't be like Mandy." I wish I had gotten a screen shot. :) 

Anyway, today I am going to be that annoying person that I hate. Today I'm going to share 20 little things my husband does to make me feel loved. And you my friends? You will just have to deal. It's one day – I think you will survive. :)

1. Buying me cookies.

I am so not a cookie person, but if I'm going to eat them then they had better be good. Skor cookies provided from the start up restaurant located in my husband's office building, Girl Scout samoas and thin mints, and chocolate chip cookies from Rembrandt's in Chattanooga, TN all serve to make me a happier individual … especially when they are bought randomly and given to me as a surprise which my husband occasionally does. (Even better when I get all 3 types in one week!)

2. Waxing my car.

Actually I'm kidding myself if I think this is an easy or "little" job.

I have a black car with rock knicks on the front that appear white if you use white wax. It makes me sad since it is such a new car. As it turns out, black turtle wax minimizes the appearance of the knicks and makes the car look new again, which in turn makes me happy. :) Only downside? The wax turns everything in it's vicinity black … including hands, shirts, and the driveway. But at least my car is black again!

Never buy a burger in Europe.

3. Cooking for me.

After I first got married, my friends would hate it that I would be so determined to make it home for dinner on time every night. The way I see it is … he is making me dinner and I am appreciative. The least I can do is not waste his time (or our resources). Plus, he goes out of his way to make this picky eater happy. Yes, he is definitely a keeper.

4. Dealing with my nagging.

Clean this; clean that. I probably sound like one of Cinderella's step-sisters. And yet… :)

5. Working late with me.

Even when he has to get up at 4 or 5 am the next day, he will still babysit with me when I'm working until 10 or 11 pm at night. If that's not super sweet, I don't know what is.

6. Providing understanding.

Not always, but most of the time.

7. Invoking confidence.

Sometimes it's buying me new clothes or allowing me to get my hair done; other times it's the act of telling me or showing me something. Showing a photograph of mine (that I've spent a lot of time working on) and hearing praise from someone who knows what they are talking about can be more meaningful than simply outright saying my picture is worth a thousand words. (You could mean my picture is worth a thousand bad words!!!)

8. Supporting my dreams.

Even if I'm not sure what they are yet. 

Of course, this feeds right into providing understanding and invoking confidence. I married a fantastic guy. :)

No mall is too big…

9. Shopping with me.

He has an opinion on what I wear and I have an opinion on what he wears. Neither of us sit on the sidelines when our money is involved. (Of course it is only fair to mention that sometimes we buy things the other doesn't like; it really just depends on how strongly an item is liked or disliked by one or both of us.)

10. Accepting the fact that sometimes I just don't sleep.

When I don't sleep well, he doesn't either. Luckily, cutting out caffeine and reducing phone/computer screen time at night seems to be helping.

11. Befriending my friends.

It's not so much an issue now, but when we first started dating, he really had a strong opinion about two particular friends of mine. Understandably so, I might admit. One had a crush on me and the other was just plain rude. I'm still friends with the guy who is now happily married(!!!), but the girl … :( It turns out she didn't like my husband either. Or me, after I married him. *shrugs* At least my husband tried to be accepting of the people in my life with whom he didn't like.

12. Killing bugs.

Let's get back to the truly little things in life – like bugs. Specifically roaches, but any bug-killing will do. I'll watch the bug while he runs to get the shoe … or paper towel … or vacuum. Because ick. :)

"You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe
whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland
and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." – The Matrix

13. Taking care of me when I am sick.

Since getting married, I have been sick more than I ever was at any other point in my life. "Why?" I ask you. But if I need someone to make me chicken soup or lay in bed watching movies all day, he's my guy. Truly, he is the adult in this relationship. I'm not even sure I could take that good of care of myself … let alone him. (And yet, somehow, I'm a nanny? Explain this one to me.)

14. The hugs.

Sometimes I get cold… or sad… or feel lonely… There is no emotion a hug can't cure. :)

15. Opening doors for me.

I've always admired my aunt. She is tall (legs for days!), pretty, and confident – basically everything I'm not. My nail polish is always chipping whereas hers looks perfect. She'd happily jump on a motorcycle or go out drinking at a dance club; I will not. She dyes her hair and does her make-up so beautifully whereas I try to get by with as natural a look as is acceptable. (By which I mean I'm lazy.)

One story my aunt told me that always made an impression on me was that she once went somewhere with a date. Her date barged ahead walking straight through the door of the building and letting it swing right in her face. Rather than acknowledge that he wanted her to come inside, she stood outside of the building waiting until he realized she wasn't coming. She then informed him that he would need to hold the door open for her, that she was a lady. :) Needless to say, he was more polite afterwards. :)

Sometimes it drives me crazy when Justin tries to open all of the doors for me … and instead I race him. First person to get their hand on the handle wins! Other times I find it remarkably beautiful that he would be so kind as to open the door for me. I feel like royalty … or like I have the best guy on the planet. :) Of course there are also times when I'm lazy – I wait to get out of the car until he has walked all the way around to open my door for me. Am I spoiled much? ;)

No matter what I want (or when I want it), I have a very polite husband in this regard. It makes me happy (sometimes).

16. Getting me a glass of water right before bed.

It sounds silly, but since I don't drink enough water, it's just one extra little way he shows he cares. (And yes, I do drink it at night. And yes, it does make a difference in whether or not I wake up with dry eyes and feeling dehydrated … or not.)

17. Telling me he loves me before work every morning.

Sometimes it comes with a kiss, sometimes not. Either way, it makes me happy. Unless I'm upset that I've been woken up way too early … which also happens.

Sunrises and sunsets are the best!

18. Letting me have the window seat.

On planes and trains. :) Then again, who really wants someone leaning across them to take pictures looking out the window?

19. Doing things for my family.

Fixing headphones, reinstalling the IOS for an ipad that had been corrupted, rebuilding cars… Seriously my husband goes above and beyond to help, and I love him for it. Except when I want his time. Then it's more like … do you really have to help?

20. Recognizing my desires.

Sometimes he knows what I need or want before I do. Those are the moments when I truly feel loved and understood. There is absolutely nothing better in marriage then having someone understand you before you've even said a word.

So what are some little (or big, in this case) things your husband or significant other does to make you feel loved? Feel free to share in the comments or link me to your blog post. – Don't feel inhibited by my distaste for bragging! I bragged, so you can too! :) I give you permission. (Because you needed it, right?)

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. Want to join in?

Meaningful Gifts

No, I did not lose my ring in the snow … yet.

So … Funny story. :)

Before Justin and I got married, he had a laptop on life support. I mean – seriously. He was keeping it alive as long as he possibly could at my suggestion. I'm all about not buying things and saving money as long as you can until you become absolutely desperate.

Around the same time, we were talking about engagement. Nothing serious. More so, I told him (jokingly or not) that I wanted an expensive camera instead of an engagement ring. Every other expensive ring I had ever owned I had lost (unless I kept it in the box and didn't wear it ever); I simply didn't/don't like wearing rings.

That particular Christmas (in 2010), Justin had enough money in savings to buy a new computer.

You know what he did instead?



Guess.



He bought me not only an engagement ring but also a Wacom Tablet. (Do you know how expensive Wacom tablets are?!?)

Like seriously? … I tell you to save your money and then you waste spend it on me instead?!?! How does this even work?

I now joke that I am wearing a laptop on my finger. I've threatened to sell the ring a few times and buy something useful … like a camera. :) The jewelry store that cleans it though is always like "This is worth so much more now in 2016 than it was in 2010!" so I keep my mouth shut. I like when things go up in value. ;)

Needless to say when it came time to pick out a wedding ring, I picked out something sooo much cheaper. Like 10% of my engagement ring value. Eh … maybe 33%. I forget exactly.

Either way, I'm not allowed to take my rings off.** He's afraid I'll lose them. (I will.)

I look 12 in this picture, but I think I was like 20-something?!?! I guess
dolls will do that to you! #NoMakeUp #ForeverYoung #HomemadeDolls

Anyway, all of this leads me to say that I have a ton of family heirlooms (my grandmother's china, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls made for me by my grandmother, a homemade wooden doll bed made for me by my grandfather, Barbies from my mother's childhood, furniture my mother had growing up, etc…) that could be passed down to future children, but none of that matters as much as the people I love and care about and the stories behind these items. There is nothing quite as beautiful or wonderful as being told "I love you so much that I am giving you this … that I made for you/spent years saving for." Nothing is quite as beautiful as the love behind the gift. :)

Do you have any beautiful love stories about gifts or heirlooms given to you? 

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. Want to join in?
** (What he doesn't know won't hurt him.)

Boundaries, Trust, & Love

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Let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time I had a German friend (A) and a friend who was getting married (J) to a man who lived in Germany (J1). Anyway, I happened to be visiting A and his wife (A1) when I found out that J was coming to Germany to visit J1. J and A mentioned possibly meeting up, but they needed me to intervene a'la Whatsapp. So I did. 

The two never met up.

As it turns out, J1 was the jealous type. He was all like "why would you want to go meet up with this random man (A) that you don't even know all that well when you could be traveling around Germany hanging out with just me?" (I wasn't there. I don't know his exact words.)

And so she succumbed.

I mean – I get it. Why would you meet up with a friend of a friend with your boyfriend? #Awkward. But still. The more friends, the merrier, right? And it's not like A was really a stranger to J; she met him and A1 at my wedding. And J was the outgoing type – the kind of person to approach a stranger and make a friend.

Anyway, whatever.

The thing that stunned me though was how, when she got back, she said "I just said that I wanted to meet up with him (A) so that I wouldn't hurt your feelings." 

*sigh*

How would her meeting or not meeting up with A hurt my feelings? Why would I even care? It is none of my business. If they want to be friends … or more … or less … or whatever … I don't care!

But the story about J? She's not the only one. I've heard countless stories just like that from my friends and every last one ends up with the girl crying over how her boyfriend is hanging out with other girls (not necessarily platonic) while she is left on the sidelines and not allowed to hang out with other guys (platonic or not).

Dudes, trust your girls. Girls, trust your guys.

Dating does not have to be so complicated. Either you are in it together for the long run or you aren't. A lack of trust isn't going to get you anywhere.

Love is a choice. Make it or leave.

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. Want to join in?

Showing Love Through Service Work


One of my most memorable experiences of doing service work was going up to Asheville, North Carolina during a spring break retreat with my college's religious life program. In total, all nine of us, including the group leader, met for the first time that Saturday before going. We all crowded into a small van with no idea of what was in store for our week.

As it turns out, our school had located a large old house for us to reside in during our time in the Montreat College area just north of Asheville. As we settled in, each picking our own rooms, we met Aimee head of a local presbyterian church in the area.

She informed us that our next five days would go as follows:

• Wake up early (usually 7am or so). Eat breakfast (if you do) and pack a lunch.
• Service work until noon or 1pm, with what we were doing varying each day.
• Lunch.
• More service work depending on the day … or … exploring Asheville.
• 6PM Groups of 4 take turns making dinner for everyone or cleaning up.
• 7PM Group reflection time. Bible verse and story included.
• 8PM Free Time.

During that week we helped clean a dilapidated church in a run down community; played with kids at a children's home; painted (walls), cleaned, and cooked at a women's shelter; hung and organized clothing and toiletries for a store that provides financial assistance to a homeless shelter; and sorted through canned food for the hungry.

We were so busy that week I didn't even think about how I had no internet. I read a favorite childhood book Ramona Quimby, Age 8; sat on the porch swing late into the night chatting with friends from home; watched movies and explored the beautifully wooded college campus with the group (an unofficial, unguided tour); and more than anything, simply found myself in awe at how amazing these women who were giving up their spring break to provide to the community were. Plus. it was shocking to see how many ways there were to provide service to the community in a town a mere 4 hours from my home!

In the time since, I haven't taken the opportunity to provide nearly as much service as I did that one week. I know it's important, but we get busy and are trying to pay off debt… Really one excuse after another.

If you haven't had a chance to think about giving back to your community in a while, I encourage you to think about doing so today, this week, this month, or this year. There are so many organizations you could help out with … and even some that I haven't mentioned in this post. A family friend used to take blankets to the homeless in our city on particularly cold, winter nights. (Although I must encourage you to be careful doing things like that!) You could also donate to the church or provide used clothing (in good condition) to a shelter or Goodwill. I've even heard of people paying for the car behind them in a fast food line! (Making someone's day could be considered charity! Ever heard of the movie Pay It Forward?)

What are some of your favorite ways to provide service work for your community? Have you ever been on a retreat, like the one I shared about in this post? 

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. Want to join in?

Social Media

Where everybody is nobody and nobody is somebody.

Let's be real. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. 

FACEBOOK

I joined Facebook the second year it was available when you had to have a college email address to use it. I added everyone I even slightly recognized from classes. It was great because the platform was exclusive enough that you weren't worried about stalkers (or family) but inclusive enough that you could ask for the day's homework assignment from the random kid that sat two rows down from you in class.

It didn't take long though before Facebook was opened up to everyone. And then they started tracking you as an ad statistic. :( Unfortunately, if you leave, you struggle to keep with everybody you went to high school or college with. And then there are friends – Who do you get rid of and when? Facebook can make friendship that much more complicated.

TWITTER

I was all anti-Twitter for years and years and years. I joined for work and kept it because it was a much more exclusive platform. There is also something adorable about having a character limit.

As more friends of mine began to join Twitter, I started posting less. (Sorry friends!)

INSTAGRAM

Instagram is the one social media outlet that I couldn't wait to get my hands on! I had a non-smartphone far longer than I should have. I didn't want to pay for the upgrade AND I was afraid I'd drop it and break it. A lack of smartphone for years and years meant no instagram. Eventually my in-laws bought me a smartphone; instagram was the first app I downloaded. Oh – and it took me 3 years before I broke my first smartphone; I think I did pretty good. :)

PINTEREST

This was my chosen social media for wedding planning. I was one of the first to join. The biggest problem I found with it? I wanted to do all of the crafts and have the perfect wedding! As with anything I try to be a perfectionist at – I did not succeed at either of my goals. Time was too strained and even the best vendors fell apart on my day of. Oops. As they say, the important part is that we got married, right?

LINKEDIN, TUMBLR, SNAPCHAT, ETC

Somehow I've managed to avoid all of the other social media thus far.

TAKEAWAY

Overall, I love that social media makes it easy to keep up with friends and family, but there are many aspects of social media that I wish didn't exist. Like keeping up appearances. Or having my information used without my consent. Or being targeted for ads. Why can't social media just be simple … like the Yellow Pages used to be?

What are your thoughts on social media? Do you love it or hate it?

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. Want to join in?

#LoveBlog Challenge

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Today is day 15 of #LoveBlog and for my sanity, I feel it is important to be straight with you. While I love participating in link-ups, I usually don't go full in because I really like my daily themes. I like talking about food and travel … and …  But I also like challenges; I like taking on potential growth opportunities.

With #LoveBlog, I foresaw the opportunity to combine topics or transform a prompt into something I can relate to and provide commentary on. Were any of you around for last year's April A-Z blogging? One of my favorite blog posts was written during the A-Z challenge as I tried to work around the theme of "absence" and, also, fit in the fantastic story by Mimi Baird He Wanted The Moon in. It was a complicated topic with the blog post taking me hours to put together, but in the end it felt very rewarding when you and I alike had the chance to discuss the challenges faced by the mentally ill. That was goal #1 of participating in #LoveBlog this month.

For goal #2 I had the hope that, through participating in #LoveBlog, I would be able to get personal with you. Sometimes in writing blog posts, I distance myself. Food is only personal inasmuch as we all have to eat it. Clothing … well, I recommend not running around naked. In the US, you'd probably get fined and taken to jail. I guess I'm just saying that my typical blog posts and reviews aren't necessarily relatable. If I'm not relatable, what kind of writer or blogger am I? I was hoping that #LoveBlog would give me a chance to break new ground and become a better writer and blogger.

Unfortunately, 15 days in and #LoveBlog has me struggling. The topics tend to blow my mind. While I can typically think of some personal story to share, it's not always the most amusing or written in the best way. Then, to make blogging more complicated, I've been sick … beginning all the way back on day one. First it was a stomach bug, then it was sinuses. And now? This week I'm working crazy-long hours, so there will be no time to catch up if I fall behind.

Readers, #LoveBlog friends, I feel like I have, thus far, failed at participating in #LoveBlog nearly as well as I should be. Do I need to skip blogging on days I can't find a way to relate (like I did 2 Fridays ago on day 5)? Do I write and publish even on days when my blog post is limping along (like day 9)? Is just writing every day enough of a challenge to help me improve my relatability and flexibility in writing?

If you are currently participating in a link-up or have in the past (or are a writer, blogger, or reader of any sort!), I'd love to hear your thoughts… As it turns out, participating in a link-up is way more complicated than I ever thought it would be!

Mentors 101

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Over the last ten years of my life, my view on mentorship has vastly changed to the point where I don't trust people.

Immediately out of college I took on three consecutive internships and was burned three consecutive times. It really sucks when you commit time and energy to a project with the intention of connecting with people, learning from the best, and building your resume only to have them tell you that: 1) you should be committing more time to your unpaid internship rather than enjoying weekends with your boyfriend and family, 2) you will never be good enough to be paid, and 3) all of the work you have completed cannot be used in your portfolio because … because.

Lesson learned: Never do an unpaid internship in exchange for knowledge. People can be rude, unkind, and will only help you so long as they are bringing in money based on work you've done (aka breaking the law).

This is not to say that I haven't had positive influences on my life.

Oh no!

I have amazing family and friends who have always inspired me and brought out the best in me.

• There is my husband who was with me when I received one of those emails from an internship and saw me shaking and crying as I tried to respond with any amount of dignity. He held me together as I wrote the email and encouraged me to keep trying. I did – and got burned again, but that's another story. Of course – that's not the only time he has been an emotional support. That's what husbands are for, right? ;)

• My grandparents have also been a huge support in my life – both emotional and otherwise. They would pick me up from after school activities like orchestra and chorus; they bought me my first computer and installed games to help me with spelling and math. And then there was that Christmas when I received a big heavy gift under the tree. You'll never believe what it was! … A Webster's dictionary. It was both the most exciting and most boring gift I have ever received. But that shows you how dedicated to my education and seeing me succeed they were. <3.

• My parents have also been involved in my life. My mom checked over my homework every night making sure I dotted all of my i's and crossed all of my t's while my dad helped me with projects – anything from science to art. He encouraged me to be creative and think outside of the box. Unlike my mom, who I could occasionally get to type up a report for me, my dad refused to do any of my homework. In fact, he would show me how to solve a problem once and then go back to watching tv waiting for me to figure it out. In the end, it worked. Kudos to him for being more interested in television than solving my math problems for me. ;)

• And, oh, my friends. :) Email is how I first learned to type. You never know how fast you can learn to keyboard until you have something important to say. :) And the same friend that taught me to type always made the time to look over my English papers correcting errors and encouraging me to use active voice instead of passive. Meanwhile, another friend took my writing in a whole different direction; limited vocabulary meant I had to be simple and direct. (If only I had kept that up! Writing emails to him would take hours as I proofread and proofread again critiquing and analyzing every single word!) We won't even talk about emotional catastrophes and how these people helped me get through them.

• Finally – my teachers. In fifth grade I had a teacher that would always call on me during math class. I hated math; it was my worst subject. And thus? I hated her. :( But my math skills really improved under her guidance. She was the same teacher that said I had to read books from different genres by different authors. Looking back, she was a really great teacher. :) And then there was a college professor who related history to what was currently going on in the world. Justin disliked her and said she was full of it; I loved her. :) I got to write a paper on the history of Monopoly, the board game! How fun is that!

So, while my viewpoint on internships and mentorships is far from the best, I am definitely grateful for all of the people who have had a positive influence on my life. People who have encouraged me and told me that nothing I desire is out of reach; people who have chosen to be there for me through all of life's ups and downs.

Looking back on your life, who had the biggest influence on the person you are today? Was it mentors who provided career guidance? Teachers, friends, or family? Some of each? … Will you be taking the time to thank them for all they've done this Valentine's Day?

* I participating in #LoveBlog this month and you can too! Click here to see the prompts!

Perfect Date Ideas

It all comes down to love.

What is the perfect date? Seeing the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower? That one kiss where you swear you hear fireworks in the distance?

I'd like to argue that, for me, a perfect date is just spending time with someone you love. There is always something that could go better during a date, and isn't more fun when you are less stressed about everything going wrong and more interested in just having fun?

Justin and I have had a lot of fun date nights over the past 11.5 years. Some were more simple than others, but in the end I think what has always made the best nights stand out were the moments we spent together just talking and having fun.

Nevertheless, here are my favorite activities I've done with my husband; things I recommend you do with your significant other as well:

1. When Justin and I first started dating, I would always plan elaborate outings for our yearly anniversaries. The first one included brunch at the top of the Westin in Atlanta, a spinning restaurant where, over the course of an hour, you can see the whole Atlanta Skyline. Then, the next year, we went to the chocolate exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, had Asian for dinner, and finished our night off at The Oceanaire, a restaurant I picked because of the color you could see from the outside at night – blue. We had a delicious brownie, bigger than you can ever imagine, with the waitstaff only a finger lift away. We felt like royalty that night as we consumed our brownie and glass of milk. :) We spent our anniversary one year at the JAX beach in Florida, then another having brunch at Canoe, a restaurant that serves fresh made-to-order orange juice and eggs that come from chickens they have "out back". Finally, there was the year, I gave up the reins and let Justin plan. We went restaurant hopping (appetizer at one, dinner at another, dessert at a third) and then saw a theatrical performance at Shakespeare's Tavern.

Seriously, if you have the time and resources to plan elaborate dates like this where you can get to know your state or city better, I highly recommend it. It's so much fun and gives you great memories to look back on.

2. Justin and I don't always go all out for date-nights. Sometimes we do things more simply – like sitting on a front porch swing on a beautiful summer night listening to the crickets and talking, going star-gazing, watching planes fly in at Dekalb Peachtree Airport, picnicking while watching the sunset, or leaf-looking in the mountains.

3. During the cold winter months or when one of us is sick, it's sometimes better to stay inside. Ice skating at the local rink is always fun and I love going to see a movie… But reading a book together, watching a movie at home, or even cooking can be a delightful experience too.

4. One of the most exciting dates Justin and I ever went on was when we got in the car and followed highway 78 in Atlanta just to see where it went. We bought a Papa John's pizza, got in Justin's ratty old truck and just started driving. When we finally got to the end of 78, it was nearly 9PM. That's about the point when my cell phone rang; it was my dad. "Where are you?" he asked. "Umm… You don't want to know…" I told him. Given that we were walking on a beach in Charleston, I assumed he could hear the waves in the background, so I finally gave in revealing my location. I said "I'll be a little late tonight." :)

Yes, I also recommend being adventurous, following roads until you get lost, and taking a pizza for snacking on as you go. You should try it! – It's fun! :)

5. Finally, I'm always up for spending time with one another's friends and family. You can't always be alone! Things like bonfires, Thanksgiving, and watching the Super Bowl are always better with other people, no matter how much you like your spouse.

What are some of your favorite date activities to do with your spouse or significant other? Is there something specifc you would consider doing on a "perfect date night?"

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. See the prompts here if you would like to join in.

Deal Breakers

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Between the time I started dating my husband and the time I married him, we found ourselves facing a host of personality differences. There was only one (well maybe two) possible deal breakers that came up for me though. Because I'm of the opinion that I am not always right, I went to survey family and friends on whether or not they considered my deal-breakers detrimental to inner-workings of a potential future marriage. Of course, ninety percent of people did not agree with me. As it would seem, depending on how much I cared, I would be fighting my battle alone.

During that whole experience though I learned a lot about my friends. I mean – first of all, I learned never to go to them for relationship advice. They are awesome, but they don't know me or my relationship with my husband well enough to make decisions or pass judgements for me. The second thing I learned was that each person, with their different backgrounds, had a different view on the situation.

The most interesting opinion I received was that of a friend from another country who always had a way of providing refreshing and unique insights into my predicaments.

As it turns out, cultural differences really have an effect on your viewpoint and allow you to see things differently than you might otherwise.

Think about it. Would you use a fork in China? How many Americans do you know that would go out of their way to eat snails? And what about the importance of tea in Japan?

My first experience in Europe, we traveled between 4 different countries. Obviously there were big differences like language, but there were also smaller minute differences that were harder to spot unless you were in the right mindset. For example, as Americans we would naturally follow the speed limit from one sign to the next not even realizing that certain areas between cities had no speed limit! Autobahn, baby! ;) Then there was the whole issue of eating. You put the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right. Don't cut your food until you are ready to eat it. And go! (Argh! I hated it!)

But one of the things that caught me most by surprise, that I didn't read about until returning, is the way language is used in Germany compared to the US or the UK. For example, in German one might say "Clean the kitchen please", but in English, we would say "Could you please clean the kitchen?" One is very direct, straightforward and to the point (almost demanding), and the other is more lax and indirect. I have no idea if there is a more indirect way of asking in German, but, the article I read, suggested that the difference in speaking could easily result in miscommunication

The point I'm getting to is this: Don't judge people based on your first impression of them (or what they are doing). In my case, I had to talk out my differences with my husband to really discover if what we thought was a relationship deal breaker really was. And in the case of friendship with Germans (or anyone from another culture), you have to go into the experience realizing that you may not always see eye to eye. Or even more so, there may be miscommunication that is preventing you from understanding that you actually do agree even though you didn't think you did. (Maybe you were saying the same thing in different ways, etc?)

Don't let miscommunication or a lack of understanding prevent you from forming relationships with people. Don't be too quick to judge and assume you have found a "deal breaker" in someone until you have really gotten to know them. You may find that you have been sadly mistaken and miss out on the opportunity for a great friendship or relationship!

What do you think about deal-breakers? Do you think in some situations we are too quick to judge and assume bad things about others? Have you had an experience (through traveling or otherwise) where you've learned that a person's behavior is not necessarily what it seems?

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog this February. Click here to discover the prompts and join in!

Making The Most Of Your Time With Someone


My Best Friend's Wedding is the story of a woman whose best friend calls her to inform her he is getting married right about the same time she discovers she has feelings for him. She spends the entire movie trying to break up the couple with the help of her gay editor friend.

When the prompt "quality time" came up, this was what came to mind. Julianne has this perfect moment to tell her best friend that she loves him, but then that moment … passes by.

Don't be that person. Don't let that moment pass by. Tell people you love them – both friends and family. You never know when you won't have a second chance. <3.

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog! Join in?

National Marriage Week Questionnaire


For the month of February, I will be going through the #LoveBlog prompts and taking a "break" from my normal blogging schedule. As much as I love blogging about travel, food, money, shopping, and all of the things that make life "life", I think that February is a good time to take a break and focus on what really matters in this world – relationships and love. Don't worry though. I'll try not to get too sappy and emotional! :)

Today's blog topic is "national marriage week". Honestly, I didn't even know that was a thing.

One of the best ways I can think of to fill this blog post without writing a book is to answer a survey. I'll try to keep the answers short, simple, and to the point. Maybe you'll learn a thing or two about us?

On To the Survey…

What are your middle names?
Michael and Marie

How long have you been together?
We started dating 11 years ago and got married almost 4 years ago.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
8 years? We had the same 4th and 5th grade teachers. But we were only friends for about a year before we started dating.

Who asked who out?
Depends. Justin asked me to prom, and I said no. Then, right before we went away to college, I told him we were dating. Does that count as asking?

Whose siblings do you see the most?
Mine. – Right now my brother lives closer. That won't always be the case.

What about pets?
We currently live with SoCo (a German shepard) and Smokey (a cat). Neither of which are our pets. (Don't ask.)

Who does the cooking?
My husband. I once tried to cook spaghetti for him, but he took over. He said "you're doing it all wrong!" Now I occasionally help, but I refuse to outright cook a meal for him.

Who is more social?
Him. He's good at small talk; I am not.

Who is the neat freak?
Between the two of us? Me. But I hate cleaning, so there's that. If my space could be clean without my doing it, I would be very, very happy. (Then again, wouldn't we all?)

Who is the most stubborn?
Me? But that's debatable. We usually try to determine who cares more about a particular topic and go from there.

Who hogs the bed?
Me, definitely. Those memes where the guy gets like a quarter of the closet and/or a quarter of the bed are totally true in our household! I grew up with a queen bed all to myself, so I don't know how not to sleep in the middle! :)

Who wakes up earlier?
Justin. He is a morning person and I am not. Mornings are the absolute worst.

Where was your first date?
We already talked about that. :)

Who has the bigger family?
My extended family is way bigger than my husband's.

Do you get flowers often?
Not unless I buy them. :) Occasionally he'll bring me roses for my birthday or something, but the surprise is somewhat lost on me since I check the bank accounts way too often!

How long did it take to get serious?
It took 6 months from the time Justin asked me to prom for me to agree to date him. It took 6 years for Justin to ask me to marry him. (Is 6 our number? Do couples have numbers? Y'know … like songs?)

Who eats more?
Justin. In variety and amount.

Who sings better?
Ummm…

Who does the laundry?
It depends. It turns out I actually have a loving husband who will occasionally take on the task for me. He cares a lot more about making sure whites are washed with just whites, certain fabrics with certain fabrics, etc. Aside from wanting the clothes clean, I'm all about efficiency: "let's just throw everything in together and see what happens!" Yeah, never get me to do your laundry. ;)

Who’s better with the computer?
Justin, by far. He is a computer engineer; I'm just a lowly computer user.

Who drives when you are together?
Justin. I don't want him judging my driving skills; it's much better to judge his. "You missed the turn!" "You shouldn't slam on the brakes like that!" "Ahhh!"

Who picks where you go to dinner?
Mostly me. Sometimes I give Justin a few options – like Mexican, Italian, or American. He will eat almost anything; I'm the picky one.

Who is the first one to admit when they’re wrong?
I'm not sure we run into that problem too often. If it's obvious someone is wrong, they admit to it. We don't really talk about anything anyone can be right or wrong about though.

Who wears the pants in the relationship?
This is another situation where it probably depends on who you ask. I think overall, I am more opinionated, so Justin probably bends to my will slightly more than I do to his. It's cool though, when he wants to have an opinion, he makes it known.

Who eats more sweets?
me. Chocolate, candy, ice cream… I can turn down savory foods, but I have a much harder time controlling my sweet tooth.

Did you go to the same school?
Yes, we went to the same schools – elementary, middle, and high.

Who is the most sensitive?
It depends. Sometimes Justin gets angry for no reason, or at least it seems to me like no reason. He's sick, he's tired, he's hungry, etc… I'm not good at reading people, so all I know is that he has just yelled at me for no reason at all. And then for that same reason, that I can't read people's emotions, I consider myself extremely sensitive. I get upset thinking the problem is me when the problem is really outside of my control. So who is the most sensitive? It really comes down to your viewpoint and how you see the situation.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Lots of Mexican, pizza, and Five Guys.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
As in alone? Probably some city (town?) in Germany.

Who has the craziest exes?
I don't have any exes.

Who has the worst temper?
Justin will show his temper more. I just become quiet and quit talking. I can never think of what to say when I'm angry.

So tell me about you and your significant other. Are you married? Just dating? Are you celebrating Valentine's Day this year with friends and family instead? What do you think about the existence of "National Marriage Week"? Is a week really necessary for celebrating marriages?

Feel free to snag this survey from me (which I stole from here) and post on your own blog! I'd love the chance to get to know some of my readers better!