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How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

2015 February 19
by Laura

If this were two years ago, I would have celebrated V-day by wearing all black and scowling all day at happy couples.

Last year, boyfriend and I braved a snowstorm to get dinner at the Mexican restaurant where we first met, and Someone trudged through the snow to get me the beautiful bouquet he had pre-ordered.

This Valentine’s Day was a little more…real. And I loved it. No fancy dinner out — I went and bought us some crab legs and made a big seafood dinner. We drank wine, cranked the heat up and snuggled. We played Nintendo 64 and watched a movie on Netflix. It was cozy and perfect.

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We watched an old movie called The Piano. Have you seen it? We really enjoyed it. It was different and weird and haunting. Have you watched any old movies on Netflix lately that are worth watching?

I got chocolate, cheese, and roses. Perfect.

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My handsome Valentine took me to a restaurant for some gluten-free pizza:

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It was a fantastic day.

We’re super over winter over here — we’re over sitting on the couch, playing cards, and drinking. JK! We’re trying to make the best of it and we know spring is coming. It is coming, right?

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Oh! Wanna see my ring?

2015 February 9
by Laura

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1 big one and 76 small ones.

He did good.

On engagement and wedding planning

2015 February 5
by Laura

Being engaged changes things. Slightly at first, more in a “I have a different mind-set about us” way over time.

Ryan and I had a few weeks of more-often-than-usual bad days. Several things contributed to this: job stress, winter-ness, wedding stress. There are several big decisions to be made in the beginning of an engagement that are more-than-slightly stressful. Size, budget, location, date… big ones. It can feel very overwhelming. 

Stress for each of us independently put stress on us as a couple. But things…feel different now. It’s more of a long game, if that makes any sense. A bad day here and there doesn’t really mean much to me anymore when I look at the next 60-70 years of life. Eh, a bad Tuesday, but we’ve got time. Tomorrow will be better, and there will, god willing, be lots of tomorrows.

Another change? Money. We used to be very exact about who paid for what, who owed what to whom, and we made very sure to make things very even. Now? Eh, it’s all going the same place. I’ve definitely noticed a more lax attitude about paying someone back for paying that cable bill or buying Rennie’s food that one day.

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one of many beautiful and thoughtful cards we’ve received that are decorating our bookshelf and making us smile every day

 

Now let’s go back to that wedding planning piece for a few minutes.

[Disclaimer: I am planning a wedding, so I’m focused on that. But please don’t think I’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s about a marriage, and not about a day in my life. Every time this starts to run away with me I remember the M word, and not its evil W-word counterpart, and we get back on track.]

When I’ve spoken to my married friends about this part, they all laugh at me. “Oh! Hahahaha. Wedding planning sucks, honey. You thought it would be fun??”

Well, kinda? Pinterest certainly makes it look fun (and more later on the devil that is Pinterest). But those big decisions I mentioned? Lots of people who love you as a couple are invested in those big decisions, too. Determining the budget, the size of the wedding, whom to invite, and counting up everyone and their plus ones is very, very stressful. Not everyone will be happy with all of the decisions that are made, and that’s really hard for a people-pleaser like me. What matters is you and your future partner. “It’s your day” is thrown around a lot, and you just have to remember that wait, yes, it is. It’s our day.

On budgeting: Of course this wedding will not be a platinum wedding, and I don’t want it to be. (Really, really re-thinking the decision not to take the money and run…) But realizing just how much everything costs—from photos (photography?!?!?!!? seriously?!?!?!?!?!?) to the insane expense of, say, flower arrangements or invitations (IT IS JUST PAPER, PEOPLE!)—can be startling and upsetting.

It’s OK! You pick the few things that are most important to you and you go from there. I, for instance, don’t really care too much about shoes or the dress or the favors. I don’t care about paper programs or flower centerpieces. But it’s hard to parse that out because ideally, of course, we would all want all the things. All the lovely things from Pinterest. And ideally, it wouldn’t make me feel SO guilty to spend money on such temporary things.

I don’t mean to sound super Debbie-Downer about it, or “Wah wah first world princess problem” because it has really been a fun experience so far. I am planning the day when I marry my best friend! A celebration of love. We haven’t done too much yet (more on that later, too), but the decisions we have made have made me feel good and I’m very happy with the overall vision of the wedding. I cherish every one of our loving family and friends who are going to make the day so special for us. I appreciate everyone’s help and assistance so far and would be nowhere without the extra support.

And the best part? We get married one year from tomorrow!

Gluten free Special K

2015 February 5
by Laura

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Oh yes yes yes. This is the best.

I love Chex cereals, don’t get me wrong — I couldn’t be happier that the General Mills brand decided to invest in changing their recipes (only slightly, mind you) to make them completely free of gluten and full of taste. The rice and corn chex are in my monthly rotations, for sure, but sometimes I want a heartier cereal that isn’t dry and weirdly crunchy.

Thank goodness Kellogg’s got a whiff of the Chex success!

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I’ve missed Special K. I used to absolutely love whatever kind came with those freeze-dried strawberries in it. This gluten-free version features a hearty flake that moistens perfectly in your cold milk, which is lightly sweet with a brown sugar taste. I love it — I ate two bowls yesterday for breakfast and lunch and then went back to the store to grab another box at Safeway (while it is still priced at $2.99!)

I think it’s a cereal even you non-GFers would enjoy!

 

Kellogg’s nor General Mills pays me in any way for commenting on their products. Even though maybe they should. 

The Imitation Game

2015 January 28
by Laura

What a great film. I knew nothing of Alan Turing before this movie and actually kind of feel like an ignorant fool for not knowing about Enigma.

BUT: If you, like I, knew not much about this historical hero, do yourself a favor and DON’T google him before you go. The movie will be much more powerful if you don’t.

It’s got a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and we supremely enjoyed it. I sat in the theater for a good five minutes after it ended, getting myself together. Engrossing. Emotional. Important.

One of those stay-with-you-forever books

2015 January 28
by Laura

I am so sad that I finished this book in a little over two days. The way that Jandy Nelson writes is spellbinding. I cannot get over the language in the text — I feel like I just read a movie. It was so good that the day I started reading it, I read some passages aloud to Ryan so he could hear what I meant. He loved it, too.

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I’ll Give You the Sun is a book about two twins and a family tragedy they share. It’s a few years later, and they’ve grown completely apart, not realizing that both of them only have half of the story of what happened.

You will just love this book. I know it.

The proposal, part 2

2015 January 27
by Laura

Part One.

“Laur? Can you come here a second?”

I was in the bedroom, picking out my ugliest PJs because why wouldn’t I be wearing ugly clothes when I was proposed to? (Side note: I love that I was wearing my PJs when he proposed. It’s very us. I’m always wearing jamz. I’m wearing jamz right now. In fact, the other day I was wearing jeans and a sweater when Ryan came home from work and he got so excited and said, “You dressed up!” Ooops. Noted.)

Seconds earlier he was sitting in the living room with Rennie on his lap, so I asked, “What is it? Is it Rennie? Does she have a tick?”

Pause. Silence.

“Um yea….she has a tick.”

“I’ll get the tweezers.”

I will never forget that I actually walked up to my future husband on the couch with tweezers in my hand. Ryan said, “Hi,” as I sat down, and I looked at him quizzically. I reached out to pet Ren, and noticed something on the back of her collar. “What is this?”

[I won’t lie…at this point I knew something was going on. Either a big Christmas present or….a big Christmas present.]

Rennie had a playing card fastened to her collar. And not just any playing card, but a card that has some particular significance to it.

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[One time when we were on vacation I taught everyone this “cool card game” I made up a few years ago. The basic premise is that I can get the player to guess a card in only three guesses. It looks like this:

Player: Seven of clubs.
Me: Lower, same color.
Player: Four of spades.
Me: Correct suit, lower.
Player: Three of spades.
CORRECT! Best game ever. Everyone’s a winner.

That’s confusing, but all you need to know is that Ryan was doubtful, he kept saying it was the stupidest game ever, and I kept running around saying “Have faith in me! Have faith in us!” (Maybe I had some wine, whatever.) Finally, Ryan yells, “OK FINE.” And, on the first guess, he guesses the 5 of diamonds, which it was.]

(There were two witnesses to this event who both found it extremely eerie.)

SO, back to the story. The 5 of diamonds was on the back of Rennie’s collar, and it had instructions on it. “Walk into the bedroom and open the top drawer of my nightstand.”

Cue giggles. I walked (sprinted) into the room and slowly headed (beelined) to the nightstand. I opened the drawer and found several (fake) candles in the drawer, all surrounding a beautiful Christmas garland, perched on top of which was a…ring box.

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I picked up the box, smiled with all the brightness of the sun, turned around, and Someone was down on one knee. “Laura Sullivan…” he was saying. I think I said, “WAIT!” and thrust the box at him so he could be official. He fumbled, took it, and tried again: “Laura Sullivan, will you make me the happiest man alive and share your life with me? Will you marry me?”

I cried a little bit. I also barely remember what he said, so it’s possible I’m making that up and he actually said, “Laura Sullivan, you’re a fat toad.” But I do specifically remember him using my whole name. And I know I was nodding.

I jumped up and down. We opened the box and stared at the ring for a second. I was in awe. “OMG OMG OMG” I squealed, and both of us appeared to be waiting for something.

“Aren’t you going to…put it on my finger?” I asked.

“Oh! Am I supposed to?” SERIOUSLY?

I looked at Ryan like he was crazy. “YES!”

“Well jeez sorry it’s not like I’ve done this before!”

On went the ring. Smiles for everyone. Happy tears. Hugs. More jumping around. A selfie. (Eight.)

Ryan went into the kitchen and reappeared with a bottle of champagne (a super nice bottle) and roses. I told him promptly that we were way too tipsy to drink fancy champagne and we should wait. We laughed and kissed and smiled and I went to tell Rennie. “MOMMY AND DADDY ARE GETTING MARRIED!”

More details, and a reflection to come…in part 3. YUP. (Although I swear, I swear I’ll post it in less than a month!)

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I love this picture. I look horsey and elated and that’s how I felt.

On making oatmeal palatable, part 2

2015 January 18
by Laura

Next up in our oatmeal series: Peanut butter banana.

Almond butter works better here, but if you’re out, like I am, a good scoop of Skippy will do just fine.

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Prepare your oatmeal as usual. (If you usually use flavored almond milk, perhaps go for skim milk or water in this one). Drop a dollop of peanut butter on top and slice a very ripe banana into the mix. Stir, let it melt a bit, and enjoy.

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Almost enjoyable!

And, per MyFitnessPal’s nutrition estimator, this has 300 calories, 7 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. Should keep you full for at least 2 hours!

Let’s make oatmeal more bearable, shall we?

2015 January 16
by Laura

Ugh. OATMEAL.

Oatmeal, you are the bane of my existence. I know I need to eat you, and often. You’re healthy, full of soluble fiber (which helps lower LDL cholesterol), and in the scheme of things, you’re quick and easy to make and eat. But good GOD sometimes I gag you down.

Now that I need to wear a wedding dress in a 385 days, I need to watch what I eat more than ever. I was playing fast and loose with my calories around Christmastime—there are just too many delicious things to eat—and now I’m paying for it. Cookies! Dips! Tiny sausages! Cheese! Heaven!

MyFitnessPal and I are…well, frenemies again.

Here’s a great, nutritious breakfast that helps make oatmeal slightly more bearable. In fact, at the end of the bowl, I would have welcomed another bite or two.

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  • 1/3 cup quick cook oatmeal
  • 2/3 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 1/3 cup blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon pecan chips

Cook the oatmeal in a microwave safe bowl with almond milk for 2 minutes and 10 seconds. (Microwave times vary, especially if the milk is cold! Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t bubble over!)

Add the blueberries and pecan chips and stir. Eat. When heated, the blueberries plump up into delightful little things.

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No, seriously…on surviving winter.

2015 January 15
by Laura

I made some comments about January-ness in my last post, but it’s true: winter gets me down. Here are a few tips for making winter more bearable.

1. Let there be light. 

If you really may have seasonal affective disorder, get a light box. Seriously. I never feel anything while I’m sitting near the box, but around 2:30 p.m., the usual “I’m so tired I may just fall asleep standing up and also I hate life” blues do NOT set in. I have no urge for a mid-day cup of coffee and I feel like more energy creeps into my heart overall. Here is the one I use:

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It’s the NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp from Amazon. I am lucky if I get to spend two mornings with it a week, but even those have me feeling better, I swear. I get up, turn on the box, and go get a cup of coffee. I get back in my bed and read by the light of the box under the covers for at least 20 minutes, longer if I have the time. Check e-mail, do make-up, bring it to your work desk…do what you can. It works.  

2. Candles.

Every day around sunset I light a candle or I turn on a fake one that we have (a great investment, because many of them have timers that come on automatically each afternoon). When it comes time to shut the curtains at 4:45 p.m., I love having additional little sources of light and warmth around. Every little thing helps!

My favorite scented candles: Voluspa, from anthropologie.

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3. Music.

Afternoons and evenings can be long, quiet things. Sometimes, the TV noise gets irritating, and even though you love watching a series or show cuddled on the couch (see below), sometimes it’s nice to change it up. Listen to a Spotify playlist while you’re making dinner or cleaning. Turn it on while you have a date night with your boy.

Ryan and I were gifted with Sonos for Christmas, and it’s the greatest speaker system ever. With an app on your phone you can control the speakers and play music from tons of apps, such as Spotify, TuneIn, IHeartRadio, local radio stations, Pandora, and more.

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4. Go for a walk. Outside.

Ever since we got Rennie, I’ve spent so much more time than I used to outside. Obviously, I have an animal to walk. But seriously, I think the added vitamin D I soak in just through exposure of my face and hands to the sunlight is priceless. Yup, it’s cold. And yup, I have to wear fleece-lined pants and two pairs of socks, and Rennie has to wear her coat. But getting outside—even in the winter—is invigorating.

Remind me of this the next time it snows and I complain.

5. Speaking of outside…leave the house, even when you don’t want to. 

Yes, the couch is comfy and so are your sweatpants. I am all for staying in, especially after a hard week and in the winter when it’s cold. However, every week, we’ve been trying to plan a date night of some sorts. Last winter, we made a trivia team and went to trivia all four weeks in the month of February. It was fun and it got us out of the house on Mondays. Try to find out if there’s a karaoke night or trivia night nearby your house, even if it’s a stupid bar. Even stupid bars sell beer, after all. Start a book club. Start an exercise club. Start a WINE DRINKING CLUB, aka, me and my friends. Start something!

6. Find a great new show you’re excited to binge watch, or do some sort of challenge. 

Challenge yourself to make the couch and TV more exciting. For example: Watch every single Academy Award Best Picture winner from the 90s. Watch all the nominated films from last year. Watch the top 25 best documentaries on Netflix. Watch an entire series of a random show, or rewatch all the best seasons of The Office or Friends. Ryan and I recently picked up Cheers, and we’re loving it.

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Make your own popcorn at home and make a night of it. Dim the lights. Rearrange the furniture so it’s as comfortable for viewing as possible. Drag the comforter off your bed or splurge on a Pottery Barn throw like this.

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7. Water.

Several subparts to the water category: First, moisturize with good lotions and creams that smell delicious. Dry skin is a no-go for me, and I will spend money on good lotion to prevent it. Get a summery scent to remind you of better days ahead. Use Bag Balm on the cracks on your knuckles.

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Second: Drink it. A lot of it. We sweat less than in summer, sure, but you still need to hydrate, as that water is constantly evaporating off your skin and through your exhalation into the much drier air around you. Staying hydrated helps you fight germs and illnesses, too.

Third: Put it into your air. A few years ago I splurged on an ultrasonic humidifier (buy one at Bed Bath and Beyond with a 20% off coupon!). Best decision ever. I sleep better with the humidifer; the inside of my nose doesn’t burn and my eyes don’t get irritated and painful each morning. (We see lots of corneal ulcers and tears in the winter time in the ER because of dry conditions!) I used to have terrible eczema breakouts that are now few and far between, as the moisture in the air helps seal moisture into your skin. Someone (Rennie, obviously) snores less with humid air. It’s great for everyone!

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8. Wash your hands. And then wash them again.

Leaving the gym? Go wash your hands before you get in your car. Went to the grocery store? Wash your hands before you touch your food. Pump some gas? Keep a small travel-sized hand sanitizer in your car cup holder and use it before driving away.

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PSA from your friendly emergency room nurse: It’s flu season. People—regular, healthy people—are hospitalized because it’s so bad this year. The only thing that can make a bad winter worse is being sick for the majority of it. Some people get sick in January and don’t kick that cough until March or early April. Don’t be one of those people!

Wash your hands. Drink a glass of orange juice every day. Pop a multivitamin. Exercise. Take care of yourself.

9. Get a lot of sleep.

Because….there ain’t nothing else to do, right?

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10. Take a tip from Denmark: get some hygge.

I read an article about how Danes are the happiest, even though they have crazy long, dark winters. They have a cultural concept called hygge, which is basically a sense of comfort, coziness, and well-being. Read an article about it here.

From a Lonely Planet guidebook: “Usually it is translated as “cozy” but hygge means much more than that. Hygge refers to a sense of friendly, warm companionship of a kind fostered when Danes gather together in groups of two or more, although you can actually hygge yourself if there is no one else around. The participants don’t even have to be friends (indeed, you might only just have met), but if the conversation flows — avoiding potentially divisive topics like politics and the best method to pickle herring — the bonhomie blossoms, toasts are raised before an open fire (or at the very least, some candles), you are probably coming close.”

 

What are your winter tips?