In my mind, marriage is a spiritual partnership and union in which we willingly give and receive love, create and share intimacy, and open ourselves to be available and accessible to another human being in order to heal, learn and grow~Iyanla Vanzant

We did it! We got married! With all of the festivities that went along with this, it was a pretty busy summer filled with love, gratitude, family, friends and, of course, (positive) stress. After getting engaged January 22, we ended up with a wedding date of September 23. We really tried not to do too much over planning. I honestly did not start to feel stressed until about two weeks before the wedding. Of course, life didn’t slow down. We, unfortunately, ended up treating bed bugs (again, thanks city living) a month before the wedding (great timing!). This, combined with my little DIY projects for the day of the wedding, made things a little stressful. I figured this post could be a good guide for others who may be planning a wedding, looking to spend a little less, and/or are just curious about what we did during our engagement/planning the wedding.

Venue:

First of all, neither of us had ANY IDEA of what we wanted in a wedding, but we had a budget and a general idea of a guest list. We were curious if we would be able to plan a wedding in about 8 months…some people talked about how ridiculous the wedding scene is in terms of needing to book years in advance for venues, DJs, photographers etc… Since neither of us are picky or had our “dream wedding” planned, it seemed like aiming for the fall was realistic.

We found our venue in February. After visiting a few different spaces (everything from big banquet halls, to rustic outdoor venues where we could have been married and had our reception in a big ol’ tent, to restaurants) we decided on doing an outdoor ceremony in the gardens of Pilcher Park and to have our reception next door at the Barber & Oberwortmann Horticulture Center. This place had everything we were looking for. We were able to get married outside and there was a decent pretty back up (the greenhouse) just in case of rain. They cooked the food for the reception on sight, the reviews for the food were that it was unpretentious and delicious. Everything was included at a price per person rate (including open bar)…So we booked our venue!

Our photographer was awesome–Agnes from Visual Etiquette did a fantastic job (as you’ll see throughout).

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Bridal Party:

After booking, I asked my bridal party to stand by my side for the wedding. My sister Sarah, cousin Lauren, and life-time friends Emily, Sara, and Monica stood by my side as I married the love of my life. I asked Matt’s super cool niece Jill to be a junior bridesmaid and his other awesome nieces Kenzie, Emma, and Nola to be flower girls. This is how I asked:

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Essentially, I found the oldest/dorkiest pictures of us that I could and sent it to them with the “ask” in the mail. All said yes, all was well. I cannot thank what these awesome women (and my mom!) have done for me over the past 10 months. I’ll get more into it later, but they were INCREDIBLE.

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For their dresses, I just asked my bridesmaids to wear long dark purple dresses and ivory flats. It ended up looking great and everyone was able to find something that was super flattering. These ladies were beautiful!

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Matt asked his brothers Kerry and Mark, his cousin Kris, and life-long friends John and Rob to stand by his side.

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Everyone looked amazing!

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We, of course, could not have done any of this without our families:

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My Dress and Accessories:

I found my dress in March on day one of the David’s Bridal $99 dress sale. It was the first dress I tried on. I tried on other dresses afterwards, but went back to this one. It’s true what they say about finding a dress that you wouldn’t pick off the rack yourself. I thought I wanted more lace, but I just looked a little frumpy in those dresses. I was so glad that my mom, cousin, and sister were able to come with to help me find “the dress”:

My dress

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I decided to wear flats the day of our wedding. I’m already tall and I wanted to be comfortable. My “something blue” was painting the bottom of my shoes with blue nail polish. This meant that I need a 2″ hem in front and bustle points in back, but otherwise no other alterations. My awesome friend Paige gave me the hairpiece she bought for her wedding and ended up not using. It went perfectly with my dress and “theme” so I used it! I ended up changing it to a red carnation (symbolizing the transition from single life to married life) for the reception to include a bit of my Slovenian heritage into the wedding.

Shoes and Hair Collage

One of the few traditional things I did–Something old: my great-grandma’s watering can for our unity ritual. Something new: my dress. Something borrowed: pearls that my dad bought for my mom. Something blue: the bottoms of my shoes. The pearls were important to me to have a piece of my dad with me. I also wore my rose bracelet in remembrance of my amazing Aunt Nancy who passed away last year. They were both with me the day of our ceremony.

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For flowers, we chose to go with Floral Events. They were able to deliver the flowers the day of to the hotel, were very reasonable, and the flowers turned out gorgeous! I chose Eucalyptus, lavender (looking, since it wasn’t in season) and babies’ breath. Simple, as our venue was full of gorgeous flowers:

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For the flower girls, I made the baskets with supplies from Michael’s and my mom and sister pulled petals off of roses.

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Hair: 

The person that did my hair was someone that I grew up with in my neighborhood, Polly. Styles by Polly did an awesome job! She suggested a hair trial, which I so appreciated:

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She did both my hair and make up the day of, as well as my Bridesmaid’s hair:

My Hair

Make up

Bridesmaid Hair

Missing Jill and Monica! But they looked awesome too.

DIY Details:

Centerpieces

We decided to save wine bottles for centerpieces. We bought this bottle cutting tool and cut 1/3 of the bottles in half and 1/3 of the bottles short. We put the full bottles on a stick and spray painted them, then used chalk board stickers and a chalk marker to write table numbers on them. We set them on slices of wood (with bark) and added a sprig of baby’s breath. Centerpieces for under $100!:

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Wedding Favors:

For wedding favors, we did not want to do something that no one would like or that folks would throw away. However, we also wanted to thank everyone for coming. Matt and I love to cook and planned to take our honeymoon to Croatia and Slovenia. The islands in Croatia are where some of the best olive oil in the world is produced (my biased opinion). So, we decided to make an infuse our own olive oil as favors. We purchased 3.5oz jars that were onsale for $.12 a bottle at the Glass Bottle Outlet. We purchased the corks from Amazon. We used basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and some chives from my mom’s garden to infuse the oil and filled with bulk olive oil that was on sale for $15/101oz from Tony’s Fresh Market. We made our own labels with leftovers from our seating chart. They were totally a hit! I love how they turned out.

Olive Oils

Seating Chart:

After we did the puzzle that is assigning seating for our guests, we made a chart (inspired by Pinterest). We bought tags, twine, and mini clothes pins from Amazon and a chalk board from Hobby Lobby. My mom had tack nails, an easel, and vines to decorate and set the chart up at the hall. We printed clear labels (which were a PAIN IN THE BUTT to figure out formatting for…but Matt did it!) with guests’ names on them from OfficeMax:

Seating Chart 2017

Gifts for the Bridal Party:

For my girls, I gave a single pearl necklace with drop pearl earrings (I realized too late–the day AFTER the wedding–that there were no backs to these earrings…whoops) from Etsy store RBJohnson, a bath bomb from Lush (I’m sure they all needed to relax after all the work I made them do 😉 ), a personalized bag (I painted with fabric paint and a roller–spray paint was NOT a good idea without the rest of the bag being covered!), and a personalized bridesmaid/junior bridesmaid tank to wear the day of–a friend of a friend Kim made them and put the date and a ring on the back. They turned out so cute! I also decided at the last minute to make lavender candles out of the bottom halves of the wine bottles from the centerpieces for each bridesmaid. I purchased wicks and wax from Amazon and used my mom’s essential oils to create them:

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Matt gave his groomsmen particularly nice multi-use tools and a small bottle of Jack Daniels:

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For my mom, I decided to get her a nicer version of the pearl necklace and earrings, a mother of the bride shirt to get ready in, and a mother of the bride handkerchief (since I KNEW she would be crying all day haha).

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We can’t say thank you enough for everything that our bridesmaids and groomsmen not only did on the day of the wedding, but all the sacrifices they made to be in the wedding and participate in all the festivities. My heart is so full because I have you in my life!

Ceremony:

For our ceremony, we asked one of our friends from college who is now a Unitarian minister, Nic Cable, to officiate our wedding. Nic lived in Munroe Hall at DePaul with both Matt and I (before we were dating) our freshman year of college. Nic. Was. Amazing. We were so lucky to have him officiate! He offered counsel and structure for our ceremony while having us call the shots. It was the perfect balance. We wrote our own vows with the help of a vow writing exercise that Nic gave us. This ended up being so intimate and offered us time to reflect (individually and together) on our relationship and what we wanted to promise each other with our marriage.

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We had two readings and were able to include Matt’s Aunt Donna and my Uncle Buddy. Uncle Buddy read “This Marriage” by Rumi and Aunt Donna read “The Third Body” by Robert Bly. I’d read Rumi towards the beginning of college and fell in love with the poetry that was his words. Matt and I were only dating for a few weeks when we celebrated his birthday, so I purchased a book of Rumi poetry for him. We chose The Third Body because we believe in the here and now and embracing life in the moment. We felt the poem did a great job describing the realistic nature of relationships while simultaneously expressing the happiness and love that marriage brings.

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Matt and I love nature and decided that we would choose an element for our unity ceremony. We chose “earth” since we love nature and being outdoors together. We chose an indoor plant, as we currently rent in an apartment and other plants would not be able to survive until we have the sunlight or space for it. We had each member of our bridal party and our parents water the plant to symbolize that relationships take a community to work. Matt and I sealed our marriage by watering the plant together.

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Reception: 

At our reception, Matt and I had our guest book as a painted tree from Etsy store WeddingTreePrints. Guests signed the leaves and we plan on framing the tree. We were able to customize the color of everything and it was printed on high quality canvas:

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My awesome sister, Sarah, gave the sweetest speech wishing us a life time of happiness. Matt’s brother, Mark, gave a hilarious and thoughtful speech welcoming me into the Zarobsky clan.

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Matt’s Uncle Dick gave a blessing before we had our delicious family style meal.

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I thought it was hilarious that, sitting at a sweetheart table, Matt and I were given a full serving of each dish (like every other table). We didn’t do a cake cutting, but we did a sweets table. We wanted children to attend the wedding. In our opinion, kids make weddings fun! We weren’t wrong. The kids were hilarious and awesome dancing the night away.

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There was an outdoor space and it cooled off quite a bit by the evening. This space was definitely used! The greenhouse was open for most of the reception and provided a space of respite and a moment of peace for me with my mom. I’m so glad we did that.

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Music:

We decided to have fun with the music throughout the day. I walked down the aisle to Can’t Help Falling in Love by the Piano Guys. I couldn’t make a decision and started tearing up when this came on while I was trying to decide. I trusted my instinct. Our watering ritual was to “Sparkle” from Great British Bake Off. We love that show and wanted simple, clean cut music for this section. Our exit was a song that I grew up with at St. Joseph Church and is not available as a YouTube video or recording.

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Our bridal party entered the reception with “(It’s a) Departure” by The Long Winters. This is the My Brother, My Brother and Me Podcast introduction. We’ve spent hours on roadtrips listening to these podcasts together. Our first dance was to “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. Love Actually is a feel good movie for us and this song has always resonated. Matt danced with my mom and I danced with his dad to “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” by The Beatles. I wanted a piece of my dad at our wedding and this was it. He loved The Beatles and left me with that love too. It was a feel good song and we rocked it on the dance floor. Shout out to Men in Black DJ Entertainment for being awesome! (Yes, this was another kids from the old neighborhood referral).

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Even though there was record breaking heat, I am so happy with the way our wedding went. Having our loved ones with us was a huge deal to me. I am happy to have formally and legally joined my life with my partner. The generosity (both in time and gifts) was incredible. We are so lucky to have you all in our lives. Our honeymoon was amazing and you can read about it here. I hope this was an interesting enough read!

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Until next time,

Amanda

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Honeymoon adventures!

Matt and I were married on a Saturday and jetted off to Eastern Europe Monday evening for our 10 day honeymoon. Sunday and Monday were spent packing and arranging travel between cities upon arrival. We had our tickets to and from Zagreb and accommodations, but did not purchase our bus tickets between cities until the day we left. Whatever, we still got everywhere just fine! I figured it might be fun to create a post letting you all know what we did in each city. We went from Zagreb, Croatia–>Plitviče Lakes National Park, Croatia–>Rijeka, Croatia–>Krk, Croatia (day trip)–>Ljubljana, Slovenia–>Škocjan Caves, Slovenia (day trip)–>Bled, Slovenia–>Maribor, Slovenia–>Zagreb, Croatia. We were able to easily get to each place by bus (we took one train for the day trip to Škocjan Caves). We tried to spend time relaxing in each place and getting to know the culture, not just spend time in museums. As you’ll see, we spent tons of time eating awesome food, drinking delicious wine/cappuccinos/macchiatos, and seeing beautiful nature! We backpacked and did not get to bring back any souvenirs, but that’s okay. It was an awesome and humbling trip.

We arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday night and spent two nights there. The first night, we went to the grocery store for bread/cheese/wine/toiletries and relaxed on the rooftop terrace of the AirBnB we stayed in. It was a small apartment, but was clean and got the job done! The elevator was also small (see the first picture below). This was clearly a pre-independence/Soviet building (Matt totally geeked out over this).

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In Zagreb, we started the day walking around and grabbing baked goods (from Mlinar–we ate here often…seems like the Dunkin Donuts of Croatia/Slovenia but the food is WAY better!). Then we went to the Museum of Broken Relationships, a museum with artifacts from people’s previous relationships accompanied by stories (definitely the most interesting place!) and the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, a museum of art from folks with no formal training (really interesting and well done). See some examples below:

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We also went to an outdoor market, Grič Tunnel, Zagreb Botanical Gardens, the large miniature metal version of Zagreb, and generally perused the historic sights. The first place we ate dinner was underwhelming to say the least–it was a brewery, but the beer was meh (craft beer isn’t quite a thing there yet) and the food was also meh. It was close to our AirBnB and we had already walked about 10 miles after traveling. Not even photo worthy. We learned our lesson after that and went places with good reviews/that had lots of people in them:

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Zagreb was cool, but it was our least favorite city of the trip. Could have been because it was our first day, we didn’t know the language, and were generally a bit uncomfortable and exhausted. IT GOT BETTER. This was totally a worthwhile trip, it just took a bit to adjust to a new culture. We took the bus to Plitviče Lakes for the next night. This was one of our favorite days in Croatia. Essentially, this is a huge park that is made up of waterfalls. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site and was breathtakingly beautiful. We could have spent another day there if we felt like hiking a million more miles (6ish was enough).

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We lucked out and didn’t get hit with rain that was predicted. We were able to thoroughly enjoy the park before going off to our B&B. We stayed at Pansion Krizmanic, which was awesome! There aren’t really hotels near the park and this place had great reviews (particularly for the food). They have a huge grill outside that they use to prepare fresh caught fish. Matt had a whole trout and I had the biggest tuna steak of my life. This, combined with homemade Slivovitz and wine, made for the coziest evening. This was, hands down, the best meal we had in Croatia:

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Matt forgot to take a picture before he ate, hence the bones picture. We did have to walk about 1/4 mile from the park to get there on a busy road (see above) but left early enough in the morning that traffic wasn’t an issue. Next, we took a bus 3.5 hours north to Rijeka, Croatia, a little town off the coast of the Adriatic sea. Our AirBnB was super close to the bus stop and was above a bakery. This was an “emergency” switch, as we accidentally booked a place initially that was a 20 minute drive from the bus. Whoops! It all worked out and this place was great! Historic building with modern rehabbed units.

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We spent the day walking around and enjoying caffe culture. Caffes are open from about 6am and don’t close until 1-2am. People just kind of go and sit on the comfiest chairs and enjoy espresso based beverages, beer or wine for hours at a time. This is also where we learned that Croatians typically eat their biggest meal at lunch. We missed the memo and were some of the only people eating dinner at 7pm. Either way, we got homemade pasta with truffle sauce and fresh seafood. Also had some awesome pizza (Istria is very close to Italy, you know).

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We even were able to see the sunset over the Adriatic at the end of the night. Beautiful!

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The next day, we took a day trip to the island of Krk. This was another super awesome day. The weather was perfect, we had gelato, we saw olive trees for the first time in our lives,  had some of the best olive oil (dare I say?) in the world, we saw a gorgeous old cathedral, a child spearfishing (he caught one!) and a random seafood plate that was caught next door in the sea:

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Krk was awesome and relaxing. This was definitely a contender for best day of the trip. Super relaxing and delicious. And check out this view!

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After Rijeka, we said goodbye to Croatia and headed to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We LOVED this country! Seriously, the difference in the people was like night and day. People seemed more friendly in Slovenia and it had more of a central European versus Balkan feel (that Croatia had). Yes, Slovenia was also part of Yugoslavia, but it seems they’ve sort of embraced more European culture than Balkan. Our AirBnB was a bit further this time, about 25 minute walk from the city center, but it was so nice! The separate blankets thing is a thing in both Croatia and Slovenia and was pretty funny to us. The host was phenomenal. He gave us great advice on what to see and gave us a ride to and from the bus station when we got there and when we left. He also gave us homemade Teran, which was super tasty:

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We hiked up to the Ljubljana Castle, which had awesome views:

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We had roasted chestnuts (so tasty and the cutest thing), hiked up to see the Grajski Vineyard (next to the castle), and walked next to the canals:

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We had to try food similar to the food I grew up on, so we had smokies and stew, saw the Butcher’s Bridge (bridge of love–“Are you present?”), went to the market, and admired the graffiti (dudes, so much graffiti in both countries):

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Totally was digging the pedestrian only streets in just about every city we visited! After our day in Ljubljana, we went and took a day trip to the Škocjan Caves, which were freaking awesome. Have you ever seen a naturally occurring cave? If not, you totally should. I felt like we were headed to save the ring. Caves are cool. The trip to these caves involved a 45 minute walk, which was primarily through (well marked) woods (pretty neat!):

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After Ljubljana and the caves, we went north and visited the infamous Lake Bled. This was another nature day and it, too, was awesome. We stayed in Hotel Ribno, which was about a half hour walk from the town of Bled. I’d love to stay here again. It was right at the edge of the Triglav national forest, which I would have loved to hike in! Unfortunately, after spending the day at the lake, it started raining and we weren’t able to make it into the woods but had a beautiful view of them from our balcony. No matter, relaxing was totally necessary. We ate down the street at a restaurant out of someone’s home that was AMAZING. This was the best meal we had in Slovenia. We ordered the “tavern grilled meat plate” and were not disappointed. This was a great example of Slovenia borrowing food traditions from countries around it. Awesome Cevapcici (traditionally Serbian) and Schnitzel (traditionally German/Austrian). Of course, we also had homemade Slivo here:

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We ate Potica on the island (duh, had to try it there!), saw the church, hiked around the lake, and had espresso beverages. We took a Pletna boat out to the island and, sadly, because we had all of our belongings with us, Matt did not carry me up the 99 steps to the church. We also saw lots of no holding hands signs in both countries:

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And here is an awesome panoramic of the countryside by Bled!

 

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The next day, we traveled to the cultural center of the eastern part of Slovenia, Maribor. We thought it would be cool to go during the Old Vine Festival. Unfortunately, we weren’t there during any of the street festival portions of the festival, but we did get to drink lots of awesome wine (Maribor’s main economic venture). We stayed at Hotel Orel, which were dorm rooms turned hotel. We got to play student for the night. Maribor is also a college town so it made sense haha:

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We spent our time in Maribor walking around, seeing vineyards, drinking cheap but amazing wine. We saw the World’s Oldest Vine that still produces grapes for wine–it’s over 400 years old! And there’s a picture of it below:

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We were kind of out of gas by this point and were ready to go home. Our last night was in Zagreb and we went pretty late in the evening. Fun fact, when crossing the border from Croatia to Slovenia by bus and vice versa, you have to get out of the bus twice to go through customs on both sides of the border. When we crossed back, there were two people from India that they LEFT ON THE SLOVENIA SIDE OF THE BORDER. Apparently, you need a visa if coming from India to Croatia. This was a big delay for the bus (and I felt so bad for the couple!). We just had baked goods for dinner and got some sleep at Hotel Nacional.

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When we got to the airport, we found out there was a flight delay…of three hours. This meant we missed our connecting flight back to Chicago in Istanbul, Turkey. Turns out, you have to get a visa to stay in Istanbul. Luckily, they put us up in a hotel that was very nice and we got to see a country we wouldn’t have been able to before. Unfortunately, we were too far away to see anything cool and were only there until the next morning. It was a cool experience anyways (now, at the time we were ticked).

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Walking ten miles a day was great to balance out the rich foods/drinks we had the whole trip. We were so lucky to be able to take this trip and experience different cultures. Hopefully this is a start to more travel in our marriage! This was a great way to start our next adventure.

Until next time!

Amanda

 

Gratitude, love, friendship. Bachelorette Party and Wedding Shower

It has been pretty amazing to see the level of support we’ve received from our families, bridal party, and friends. We had three members of our bridal party come in from out of state to be in the wedding. I am incredibly aware of the sacrifices folks made to be a part of our day and the festivities leading up to it. One of my bridesmaids was having medical issues and accepted a temporary job in a different state, one is a broke college student, one is trying to get her career together/furthering her education, another lives 12 hours away, and the last was incredibly pregnant for the bachelorette party and had a newborn for the wedding. They all banded together and threw me a freaking awesome bachelorette party! My (now) sisters-in-law did quite a bit of planning and helping too.

Bachelorette Party:

Festivities started on Thursday night and my awesome friend Sara planned a dinner at City Winery (which they were able to keep a secret until the day before!) with all of my girlfriends. We had such a nice night. What is also incredible is that Sara built a “travel fund” box and asked folks to contribute to the honeymoon fund. This was able to cover most of our accommodations on the honeymoon which was incredible! Definitely cried when they gave this to me.

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We went to Galena, IL to stay in a cabin for two nights for the party. Night one was a Friday in July and everyone but my sister was able to make it (Sarah flew in for the second night even though it was crazy for her to do that!). The cabin belonged to a friend of SIL Kim. Kim coordinated a bunch of the weekend stuff and we had a blast!

Friday included a taco bar, games, drinks, jello shots, a quiz with my answers vs Matt’s, and a ghost tour:

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The next day was spent relaxing, eating, wine tasting, and enjoying each other’s company. We played a game where I guessed who brought which bottle of wine. Everyone’s wine was associated with a memory and it was so thoughtful and sweet!

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The ladies also organized a photo booth. We took silly ones and nice ones:

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Matt went to Nashville with his dudes for a Bachelor party and had a good time too–including touring Jack Daniels (I’m so jealous). Everyone did so much for him too for which he is so grateful.

Wedding Shower/Open House:

My mom so graciously opened up her home to our friends and family for the wedding shower. Instead of a traditional shower, Matt and I wanted to just have a BBQ where everyone could come–not something gender specific. My mom rented a tent smoked pork and got chicken chunks. Matt’s dad/Mel brought a ton of smoked brisket, baked beans, and collards. My bridesmaids/SILs all brought dishes. Sarah, Emily, and Lauren thought out the details of the day. Monica made gorgeous centerpieces. Sara brought amazing cupcakes (booze themed) that her mom made. Kim made awesome custom cookies (modeled after our invites). We ended up with PERFECT weather, delicious food, and a good amount of people showed up. We did not want to open presents in front of everyone awkwardly, so we did a no wrap/bows only party. We also asked that people give us recipes in lieu of a card. So excited to try all of the amazing recipes we got! (Can you tell a theme has been cooking?). Here are a million photos from that gorgeous day:

Shower

Shower 2

Shower 3

Thank you thank you thank you to my Mom, Kerry, Mel, Sarah, Lauren, Emily, Sara, Monica, Kim, Shannon, Jill, (& Kenzie, Nola, Emma), Kerry, Mark, Kris, John, and Rob for being so freaking amazing, supporting us, helping us, and celebrating with us. Thank you also for everyone that took the time to come out to any and all of these events and for supporting us! We missed everyone that couldn’t be there, but were happy for the positive vibes you sent. We love you all so much!

 

 

To see the Summer Sky Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie – True Poems flee – ~Emily Dickinson

Ah, the lovely weather that January promises. So happy that June is here even though it’s going to fly by. This is pretty much the busiest month of work this entire year (so far). Between trainings and new clients, I’m mentally ready for July. This will be the real challenging part of maintaining a consistent self-care regime. So far so good–I’m ready to start beach yoga for the season and joined a farm share (community supported agriculture) through Nichols Farm. What is CSA, you might ask? Pretty much, you pay a fee at the beginning of the season and, in this case, you receive 22 weeks worth of vegetables and fruit that are picked in peak season freshness. So far, so good and we’ve had the BEST strawberries.

CSA Post 2017

Spring is full of birthdays in this family. We spent time celebrating Lauren, Sarah, Matt and Mom’s birthdays. Here is the bacon bomb I made (modeled after Paddy Long’s Bacon Bomb) for Mom and Lauren’s Birthdays:

Mom and Lauren Birthday Dinner 2017

Who doesn’t love 2.5lbs of beef mixed with 2.5lbs of spicy pork sausage wrapped in bacon? Here are the real best pictures from that celebration:

Mom and Lauren Birthday 2017

Aren’t Lauren and her boyfriend the cutest? 😉 Here are some particularly good one’s from Sarah’s birthday. We couldn’t go bowling this year (waht-wah) since Sarah had ACL surgery (again). Poor thing. So we played Speak Out which was HILARIOUS. I’ve done Matt the courtesy of adding his picture to this collage, since he doesn’t read this anyways.

Sarah's Birthday 2017

Doesn’t my sister look awesome? Continuing on her weight loss journey. Easter was a thing that happened:

Easter Collage 2017

Matt carved the ham and I made him go with me to get Easter breakfast food blessed.  I also ate my weight in Easter sausage–it’s pretty much stuffing in sausage form sooo….see the picture on the top right. My mom even snuck some in her purse (bottom right).

Matt and I had a self-lead brewery tour around his birthday, stopping at Begyle and Dovetail:

Breweries 2017

We celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom, Sarah and Lauren (and delicious Middle Eastern Food from Middle Eastern Bakery):

Mother's Day 2017

Matt and I took quite a few walks and started playing D&D with awesome people again:

Activities 2017

One of our walks included the Montrose Bird Sanctuary, which was a neat little nature enclave in the city:

Montrose Bird Sanctuary 2017

Here are a few highlight photos from the past few months, including lovely smelling flowers, Galaxy Trucker, Matt baking “biscuits” after walking Great British Baking Show, and a beer flight paddle for a fundraiser at Empirical that I painted with girls from the drop-in.

April 2017

And Matt and I took engagement photos! I’ll put a silly on here:

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Cheers to new recipes, outdoor activities, time spent with loved ones, and generally summertime.

Amanda

 

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

WINTER IS ALMOST OVER. I can’t really complain, since we’ve barely had winter in the Chicago area. I’ve done quite a bit of cooking in the past few months and I’ve seen lots of family. One of my most awesome Christmas presents (from my awesome sister) was a seal-a-meal foodsaver. When we stocked up on meat in January, Matt and I used that sucker until it almost overheated. You start out with a ton of meat (TL), pick one to start separating into meal sized servings (TR), weigh it to make sure it’s even (CR), seal it up (BR), and stick it in the freezer with the date frozen and the weight written on the bag. You don’t want to forget what you have or when you got it, or you’ll end up with awful freezer burned meat that you find in a year.

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I’ve also spent quite a bit of time cooking (as usual). I made a copy-cat Pequod‘s recipe, but used a mixture of canned crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce seasoned up instead of the one in the recipe. Pequod’s Pizza is a Chicago based restaurant that intentionally caramelizes the cheese along the crust. AMAZING. The copy-cat (TL) turned out pretty freaking great! I made copy-cat Pizza Hut bread sticks too (TR) (I love many of the brown-eyed baker recipes). I made healthy(?) banana bread (no sugar, just honey)(CR). This easy crusty french bread, which I’ve now made twice and has turned out awesome (BL)! I definitely recommend the dutch oven method of bread making mentioned in the recipe. I made steak with very tasty Maple Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Cranberries (BC). And I ate (didn’t make) this freaking awesome Superbowl Pie with friends from Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits (BR).

image2The last thing I made was Paczki. Better this year than last! Here are photos of Brown Eyed Baker’s step by step. I’ve added Spiritus which really brought them up a notch:

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We celebrated Mardi Gras with the Paczki (bottom) and Jambalaya (TR) made by Matt. We then celebrated on Fat Tuesday at Empirical (our favorite neighborhood place). They are opening a BrewPub in Rogers Park and had the chef of the new place cook up a crawfish boil (TL)! It was my first time eating them and it was such a fun time.

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See? I told you I’ve been eating a ton this winter. Luckily, I balanced it out by completing a 28 day yoga challenge (I upped it from 21 days) through Yogadownload.com, which meant I did a yoga practice everyday in February. I felt great and hit some poses I didn’t think I’d get. I also went to a 15 hour continuing education training on trauma informed yoga, which was great. This is the only training I’ve ever been to where lounging about comfortably and coloring was encouraged.

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I went to support my mom at JJC’s production of Hair, which was so good! My mom is seriously one of the most talented ladies. Her  set design, in particular, was very cool.

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Mom, Sarah and I went and saw Sweeney Todd at the Paramount with our season tickets. That was such a well done show. I LOVED IT. Really great casting. I’m so excited for Jesus Christ Superstar in May. The other cool thing about this theater (which I’ve talked about in previous posts) is that they do themed beverages with each show. This one was blood red and fun.

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We celebrated Dante and Marlin’s wedding at the beginning of January (cousins of Matt).

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We celebrated Nola and Kenzie’s 3rd birthdays, Jill’s 11th birthday, and Emma’s first birthday.

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I celebrated Emily’s birthday when we went to get pedis and brunch:

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I spent time with these awesome chicks and Kaelie:

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I exercised my right to protest with one of my good friends, Annette, at the women’s march on Chicago in January. Because I care about basic human rights in this country.

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I felt so rejuvenated to see so much support surrounding these issues at the march!

Oh right, and then Matt and I got engaged. 🙂 He was planning on proposing on the day of the march, but decided against it since I was out to “smash the patriarchy” as he called it.

image9Instead, we took a lovely walk at the West Ridge Forest Preserve (mentioned in my last post) the day after the march. We took a break at a gorgeous space in the preserve and he asked me to marry him. I, of course, laughed for an inappropriate amount of time but eventually said yes. We are getting married in September! So excited. AND all of my bridesmaids and flower girls said yes to standing up in our wedding (even though I mailed them all just about the most embarrassing pictures of us that I could find). I’m so excited to start this next step of life’s journey with my partner. I love you so much, Matt.

Happy spring,

Amanda

 

Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.-Paul Theroux

Christmas wasn’t as magical as it usually feels. I was still lucky enough to see many people I love over the holidays and for that I am grateful. December was incredibly busy and January is looking like things will calm down soon which is great. Winter SHOULD be a season of recovery and preparation–I don’t think I could have found a more appropriate quote to describe my feelings about the season. It’s all the best time of year for soup and awesome rich foods, which I love.

During December, I spent time with family and friends pretty much the entire month. Matt and I won tickets in the lottery to see Christmas at DePaul which was so great! Shout out to Laura for killin’ it on the oboe:

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I was able to bake with mom, Sarah, and Lauren. It was Lauren’s first time making Potica! Not our recipe, but gives you an idea. The picture on the right is my mom instructing Lauren on kneading:

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My mom is AWESOME and was able to score tickets to Hamilton in Chicago. Mom, Tammy, Sarah, Matt, and I went to Christkindlmarket to enjoy some spiced warm wine then looked at the Macy’s Christmas window display before the performance. This show was so great. It’s really an introduction to a shift in musical theater. I am sooo lucky to have been able to see it so early. I didn’t realize how weird it is that I’ve always been able to do that growing up (Lion King, Wicked, Book of Mormon). #blessed.

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We went to Matt’s family Christmas Celebration and played 7-11 after the show. It was such a nice day! So glad to have been able to see everyone. I made Santa hat cheesecake bites (SO GOOD), but forgot a photo. The collage below includes a bunch of things from the Christmas season. Starting at the top left: Dan’s Candies (truffles & dark chocolate dandies/turtles), Nola playing with Emma at Zarobsky Family Christmas, A Festivus Pole at Empirical Brewery’s taproom, Snickers by the tree, Rob trying on an “old man mask” that he “won” in 7-11, The STOP-IT Team (minus Rachel) at our bowling work Christmas party, my mom’s tree, s’mores cookies (baked for my team’s Christmas party at my apartment), and the gift I received from my Reddit Secret Santa (yes, I’ve had a good experience two years in a row being matched with a stranger on the internet and exchanging gifts with them and others)(my Reddit Secret Santa got me a “travel kit” with which to visit Eastern Europe–ADORABLE).

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Here are some more photos from the season. Again, starting at the top left: Matt decorating the tree, Southwestern Pinwheels (for a Christmas get together at Andi’s), my gift for my Reddit Secret Santa, Christmas cards (best part of the season), my cozy ass apartment all decorated, Cranberry & Rosemary White Christmas Sangria (for our annual get together at Alec’s),  gifts wrapped and ready to go, a small cute “holiday survival kit” from the neighbors (truffles and chamomile tea to relax during the hectic season), and my Department 56 village.

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Instead of the zoo this year, my family took a trip to the Morton Arboretum Illumination (Light Display). It was fantastic!

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We spent Christmas Eve at Kim and Kerry’s house and my family came (Mom, Sarah, and Buddy). I made a Christmas Tree of garlic knots which was super tasty (Kim served homemade pizzas, so I went with the theme). Christmas is so fun with little ones around! Somehow, I didn’t get a picture of Kenzie, but here’s a few of the rest of our awesome nieces. We also tried to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, but fell asleep almost immediately after turning it on this year:

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Christmas Day was alright, mom got the stomach flu (which I then came down with the next day–what a nice break -.-). It was just a day of hanging out and eating, but we saw the family and went over to Uncle Joe’s to bring his gifts.

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I took a few really nice walks when I was on vacation (after the puking was over):

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Sara and Rob were in town for New Year’s Eve! I missed them so much! I’m looking forward to when they’re closer. Kindred spirits, you know? Sabrina hosted and we knew quite a few people at the party (special shout out to Annette and Nick!), so that was nice. She had all of the details planned out and it was so sweet! Matt and Rob started eating meatballs directly from the crock pot by the end of the night (top right).

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Sara got a sweet new camera and took some nice quality shots of Matt and I (thanks girl!). Of course, we screwed around for some of them but they turned out pretty darn cute:

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Great way to end the year! You know what was a great way to start the new year? With Matt brewing beer with his brother Mark and Shannon and I hanging with the girls. And of course, eating steak and lobster.

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The last fun thing I did to ride out the end of the holiday season (January 8–it’s close, the Epiphany ends the Christmas season right??) was to see The Little Mermaid at the Paramount with Sarah, Mom and Lauren. Such quality performances there!

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I hope you all had a great Christmas season and that you haven’t crashed TOO hard after the holiday season!

Amanda

 

 

The month of November makes me feel that life is passing more quickly. In an effort to slow it down, I try to fill the hours more meaningfully.-Henry Rollins

October AND November flew by! I can’t believe it’s Christmas time and we’re experiencing our first snow of the season. It’s fluffy and gorgeous–perfect back drop for writing Christmas cards to friends and loved ones.

In October, Matt and I took our annual trip to Michigan to see the colors change.  This year, we stayed in Twin Lake, MI. Unfortunately, peak color season was later than usual this year and we didn’t get to see too many leaves changing. It was also dreary and rainy while we were there (bummer), but we still made it out for a 3 hour hike in the mist through the Manistee National Forest (which was about half a block away from the cottage we rented). This place was seriously sweet–it was super cozy, had a private beach, a fire pit outside (with wood provided!) and a fireplace inside (for comfy evenings).

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Here are some of my favorite photos from our wet hike (which we took after waking up to no power in the house from the storms):

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We ended up stopping at Founders Brewery on the way up during their Harvest Festival. How perfect! It was gorgeous outside, so we had some fall beers and delicious food out on the festively decorated patio. The set up was really cool–you open a tab and can order from either their outdoor bar or indoor bar on the same account. This goes for food too, which is ordered separately. The bottom right photo was a raspberry beer that Matt accidentally ordered for me although I hate raspberry (he didn’t end up reading the description and just ordered a seasonal beer). We ended up sharing :). You can see the monstrous amount of sandwich and beer cheese dip we ordered in the top left photo below and you can see adorable Matt on the awesome patio in the bottom left photo:

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While staying in Twin Lake, we took an evening to head into Muskegon where we stopped at Unruly Brewing. They serve pizza from an attached restaurant. The deal was buy a pizza and cheesesticks and get another pizza free. We ate quite a bit of pizza, as you can see above in the top right photo. The beer was tasty too! I love flights–you get to try so many more beers without becoming a mess.

Overall, we had a really nice weekend away and intend on making weekend trips a priority for our relationship. We both love the time spent together.

Matt and I went to our buddy Chris’ apartment for Halloween weekend celebrations–I was Little Red Riding Hood and he was the lumberjack that saves her. Then, we went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (my first time in eight years or so, Matt, Emily and Alec’s first time ever!) at the Music Box Theatre.

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It was really cool to be in Wrigleyville during game 5 of the World Series (Chris’ apartment is there). Very cool atmosphere. I spent Halloween Day at home and Monica came to visit with Maggie. What a cute little banana she was!

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I made awesome bacon cheddar scallion scones (first time making scones!) and they turned out great. Great breakfast and great company for a spooooky morning. Matt, Alec and I went out to the local watering hole to watch the Cubs win the World Series on November 2. I’m a White Sox fan, but it was really cool to be out and about when they won.

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I, of course, voted:

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Then, I went to the Shared Hope International’s JuST Conference (a national conference on human trafficking). What a humbling experience, to be surrounded by so many experts in the field (survivors, clinicians, advocates, law enforcement, attorneys) who work towards ending trafficking everyday. It reinforced my love for the work that I do and made me believe I can make a difference.

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While in the area, I decided to go visit downtown Washington D.C. before my flight. This was on Veteran’s Day, so it was a powerful experience. The monuments and memorials were incredible to see! I was lucky to be there on a day with perfect weather:

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Incredible. The day after the conference, Matt and I hosted our annual Friendsgiving. The food was great and so was the company! I love that our friends bring side dishes and desserts that represent their own traditions–we had everything from Turkey to meatballs to green bean casserole to Buckeyes and had about 18 people come.

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So grateful to have so many awesome people in my life. We ended the night with a very traditional viewing of Thankskilling. Real Thanksgiving was also nice. We started the day at my mom’s house:

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Of course I took pictures of the cats (Shadow on the left, Snickers on the right). So good to spend time with my family and to eat awesome food. We went to Matt’s brother’s house (Mark) afterwards. We ate again and visited with his family (including the thousands of babies running around).

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The first picture is Matt playing with the nieces–this one is Nola. The second is baby Emma chewing on the side of the table (hilarious shot!). What a nice official kick off to the holiday season! I was also happy that I was able to see some great friends over Thanksgiving (Emily, Zakk, and Monica!) throughout the week I was in Joliet. Here is Emily and I and Lauren with Maggie:

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The rest of fall kind of fell into place too. I was able to catch a few craft shows with Mom, Sarah and Lauren. Although we missed Aunt Nancy, I’m really glad that we’re keeping this tradition alive!

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Sarah was running late coming from work, so she’s not in the picture :(. I’m glad to be able to see my family as often as I have and to have been able to take a whole week with them over Thanksgiving. I’ll leave you all with my two favorite autumn pictures from this season:

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Happy Christmas season! I hope you are all able to spend time with those you care about and that you are able to take a moment for yourself and relax in the glow of the lights for awhile.

Amanda