a poem for you

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To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and to endure the betrayal of false friends.

To appreciate beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,

or a redeemed social condition;

to know that even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

– Bessie A. Stanley.

p.s. photo here.

the tale of despereaux

I’ve been thinking about literature quite a bit recently, and so I’ve decided that it’s time to explore another book from my well-loved bookshelf. So far, I’ve talked about The NIght Circus, Mere Christianity, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Ender’s Game… today, I want to delve into a new genre: children’s literature.

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

“Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.”

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The thing that I love most about children’s books is their simplicity. So many novels are sweeping, covering huge distances and tackling one social-political-emotional issue after another, jumping from culture to culture and burrowing into everything from racism to sexuality to politics. Epics like The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or Middlesex come to mind. These books are incredible in their way, but sometimes, I find the greatest joy in a story that is stripped down to its core. Truly great children’s literature, in my opinion, is just that: it takes away all of the cultural references, and instead presents the reader with a story that is not rooted in some societal context, but borne along simply by its characters. The Tale of Despereaux captured my heart for just that reason: in it, a story about a mouse and a princess, a rat and a serving girl, becomes more profound than any tale that spans centuries or continents.

The book is divided into four parts, with the first three telling parallel stories focusing on main characters: Despereaux (a tiny mouse, different from other mice in almost every way, who falls in love with a human), Roscuro (a rat who envies a world of light and so determines to pull it into darkness), and Miggory Sow (a slave-turned-servant who only wishes, impossibly, to be a princess). The fourth and final portion of the book narrates how the three stories intersect, focusing on the consequences of each’s actions and hopes and dreams. The pages of the book have jagged edges that I find particularly romantic, there are beguiling pencil illustrations throughout the chapters, and it is finished with a lovely coda from the author. I cannot say enough good things about it.

One of my favorite things about The Tale of Despereaux was DiCamillo’s choice to address the reader directly, with narrative asides and all. She elegantly gives the impression that you are sitting in some hidden room in a library, listening to a wise librarian as she reads the story aloud for a group of children (“Reader, do you know what the word ‘perfidy’ means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure.”). Similarly, DiCamillo treats the reader with respect and honesty, refusing to dilute her story and instead stating the facts: that sometimes, people (and mice) are cruel, or they are a mixture of good and bad, or that our actions have consequences, or whatever other profound truth through which the story leads her. She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, taking a hard look at what sadnesses and injustices befall her characters, while still balancing the darkness with a celebration of love and light and forgiveness.

Ultimately, DiCamillo gently guides the reader through a story of prejudice, betrayal, child abuse, and parental abandonment, going slowly enough that the full weight of the topics can fall on the readers’ shoulders. She walks through the consequences of selfishness, or revengeful actions, or greed. She expores in detail the power of forgiveness, the fear present in courage, the wonder of being accepted. She tells the truth, both good and bad, about the world as it is today. And yet, somehow, in the midst of all the heavy topics, the book remains whimsical and playful, thanks to her narration style and her choice of words. DiCamillo has said that she sees darkness in writing as a place where readers can enter in, exploring it as a means to come to terms with their own personal darkness as well as a foil to the light in their lives. I, for one, must agree. This book has convinced me.

“And while the mouse slept, Roscuro put his terrible plan into effect. Would you like to hear, reader, how it all unfolded? The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.”

a taste of new orleans

As Part II of our honeymoon (Part I was a few nights in the gorgeous city of Charleston), Will & I road tripped from South Carolina to Texas, stopping to spend one lovely day in New Orleans. Neither of us had ever been there, and I had been sufficiently enchanted by the likes of the Princess & the Frog to be very much excited about our little adventure. We were ready to learn what all the talk surrounding the city was about. And, of course, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to cross another item off my bucket list24) Go on a food tour in a major city.

New Orleans is well-known for both its incredible cuisine and unique culture… and we were lucky enough to find a tour that blended elements from both. We settled on a walking tour (Tastebud Tours) lead by a former middle school principal, and followed him as he meandered around the city, painting a fascinating picture of the historical, architectural, and cultural landscape of New Orleans. All in all, we stopped at six local food spots. And let me tell you… we had an incredible experience at every single one.

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We began at the local deli Mike Serio’s, where Will & I both had our first muffulettas. Think bread + salami + mortadella + ham + mozzarella + provolone + olive salad= the biggest (and possibly the tastiest) sandwich you have ever seen in your life. The pictures below show quarter portions. This sandwich originated in New Orleans and is one of the city’s signature items… our tour guide reported that it was created in 1906, in response to the needs of the city’s Sicilian farmers who were attempting to get a lunch that would last all day in the hot sun. Obviously, it stuck around.

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Our next stop was Cafe Beignet, an adorable little hidden garden with live jazz and greenery all around. We were served the hottest, softest, most delicious beignets ever, and covered ourselves in powdered sugar as we tried to eat them gracefully. It beat our Cafe du Monde experience by far. And, of course, what would beignets be without cafe ole? (p.s. since we had been at Cafe du Monde earlier in the day, I didn’t take any photos at this stop. The ones below are from that morning instead.)

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After the cafe, we popped into a little spice shop: The Spice & Tea Exchange. This place was packed with every type of dried herb, spice, tea, and sugar and salt and pepper blend. Our time there was full of peeking into jars and inhaling deeply and saying, “One day, we’ll buy stuff like this”.

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We then strolled on over The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, which was established in 1894, and were greeted by the chef himself… a rotund, jolly man who wore the white hat and had an Yat accent fit for the movies. We listened to him passionately outline the difference between Cajun and Creole histories/ cuisines and quietly sampled both gumbo and jumbalaya. Cajuns, apparently, came from Acadia (Nova Scotia), displaced by the British to eventually settle in Louisiana. Creoles, on the other hand, are descendants of the French and Spanish immigrants who settled in Louisiana while those countries enjoyed control over the area (along with a sizable population of Africans and African Americans). Cajun cooking, therefore, is more “country,” as the Acadians learned to live off the land, while Creole cooking was more “urban” and was generally done by chefs hired by the wealthy, who blended their European cooking styles with local ingredients. As for us, we thought both dishes were incredible.

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We next went to Johnny’s Po Boys, for a famous roast beef po boy. These were served wrapped in paper in the back room of the shop, and we watched as people walked in and out of the kitchen. Po boys are famous for a reason, and Johnny’s is (disputably) the best in the city.

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And the final piece: Laura’s Candies, the oldest candy store in New Orleans. Here, our tour guide gave us a warm goodbye and left us to peruse the shop, where we were privy to free samples of everything from mississippi mud to peanut butter meltaways. And then, of course, we were sent home with a bag of famous NOLA pralines in hand. The perfect end, in my opinion, to a perfect tour.

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And what do you do when you finish an extravagantly delicious food tour? Go and eat more, obviously. Our one day in New Orleans was finished at The Three Muses, a little bar that served exotic foods tapas-style… our meal included (but was not limited to) Tempura Shrimp, Goat-Cheese Stuffed (and Bacon-Wrapped) Dates, Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, & Smoked Duck Breast Enchilada Pizza, topped with a Sunny Side Up Duck Egg. We finished with a Banana Empanada and homemade Nutella Ice Cream, listening to the live musicians as they sang about the wonders of New Orleans.

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The wonders of New Orleans, indeed.

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celebrating the body

1 Corinthians 12:12-26
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

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I should begin this post by saying that my “church” story has not always been a happy one. Like many of us 20-something Christians out there, I have had my fair share of anger, bitterness, and sorrow rooted in my local congregation. Christians are flawed, and the Church is broken. I am fully aware of this, and one day, maybe I’ll write more about that season of my life. There is a story there, and like all stories, it is worth telling in it’s way.

But for now, I simply want to celebrate the beauty of the bride of Christ.

The worldwide Church is made up of all Christians- through time and space- and identifies us in both our individuality and our communion. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the bride and the body of Christ, the children of God. It isn’t simply one congregation or one denomination, or even those who agree with each other on every point. It is mysterious and sweeping and invisible and simply incredible.

But also, my interactions in the Church are marked by the small things. In my experience, some of the most powerful and lasting images are memories of gestures, words, actions, and smiles. I love the singing and shaking hands and sharing coffee that comes with being part of this community. There is something about that shared belief, about having aligned experiences of faith, about knowing the same words, worshipping the same God, praying the same prayers that is incredibly moving. There is something so sweet, for example, about that moment in a worship service when the leader stops singing… and all you can hear are the voices around you. Or about reading Scripture out loud with other believers- either as part of a liturgy or simply in spontaneity- and hearing the Word of God spoken with power.

But my favorite, my truest celebration, is that of communion. The Eucharist, in its essence, is joining in the death of Jesus Christ… and when I take communion alongside other Christians, it is an incredible reminder that I joined into Christ’s death as a part of something bigger. It is a mark of community, of communal covenant, of partaking in something all together. For me, it is a promise that I will continue to live in the Church, continue to act in such a way that “If one part suffers”, then I suffer with it, or “if one part is honored”, then I rejoice with it… just as I join in the blood and the body of Christ.

And these moments build up into a shared life: one generation mentoring and teaching and discipling another. It means going to lunch together, or picking each others’ kids up from school, or celebrating birthdays and holidays and the victories of life with one another. It means mourning, too, and bringing meals and sending flowers and being there when someone else needs you. It is friendship with the spiritual bonds of family. And despite how flawed it is, how often I feel frustrated or disappointed with those who bear Christ’s name (myself, of course, included)…. I cannot help but see the Church’s beauty, and God’s grace, as more powerful than sin. It is good.

a snapshot and a recipe

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Today is a no-bake cookies sort of day.

Madi’s Almond No-Bake Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups instant oatmeal
2 cups white sugar
dash of salt
3 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
DIRECTIONS:
1. In a saucepan bring sugar, cocoa, shortening, almond milk, and salt to a rapid boil. Wait for a little over a minute.
2. Add oats, almond butter, and vanilla; mix well.
3. Working quickly, drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper (or in my case, a no-stick baking sheet), and let cool.
4. Enjoy!

relationship tidbits: silence and respect

Here is my rule, one that I very much believe in and do my best to live out and would recommend to anybody who is in a serious (and healthy) relationship:

Never speak badly about my husband.

When I made my vows, I promised to love Will, to seek goodness for him, to build him up and treat him with respect. I vowed to be his partner and his confidante, his faithful lover. I promised forgiveness and patience and gratitude. Complaining about him to my friends or my mom or to my co-workers… that is the very opposite of those things.

Yes, there are times when I feel tired, annoyed, or upset with Will. We fight (often). Sometimes, he makes me cry. Other times, his habits get on my nerves. We grate on each other, we annoy each other, we anger each other just like any other couple. But, instead of venting about those things, I choose to uphold my marriage vows. I cannot imagine how humiliated I would be if I overheard Will complaining about me to a friend…. and I would never want to place him in a similar situation. Instead, he deserves my honor and my respect. No matter how innocuous it may seem, I will not put him down in front of others. I will not place him in a position to be ridiculed. I will not lower somebody else’s (well-earned) opinion of him.

The two of us are tied together, with our lives and our beings and our desires intertwined… so much so that I cannot imagine pulling away from “us” to belittle him in front of others. If something needs to be said, it should be said between Will and I, not vented to a third party. If it cannot be resolved between just the two of us, it is time to go (together) to a mentor or to a counselor. Outside of those situations, venting is simply damaging. As I have said before, making our relationship public would not do anybody good.  Instead, my mantra: silence and honor and respect. Our relationship, I believe, is well worth holding my tongue.

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p.s. photo here.

p.s.s want more tidbits? try these.

the joy of toddlerdom

Let me preface this by saying that I do not have kids…

…But, I do work with two-year-olds.

Fourteen two-year-olds, to be exact. Little balls of energy who are constantly running into each other, getting stuck on things, taking toys from their friends, pulling off their shoes (and then crying when they can’t get them back on), throwing food on the floor, having tantrums, biting everything (and everyone) in sight, and just generally being little tornados of craziness.

And thus, I feel qualified to laugh when I read these websites. Because I understand. And I thought it might make a few of you nod your heads as well.

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Reasons Why My Son Is Crying

Reasons Why Kids Are the Actually The Worst

The Honest Toddler

46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might Be Freaking Out

It helps to have a little humor, right? It’s one of my favorite coping mechanisms, when I am trying to potty train, clean up after lunch, and keep them all from hurting each other at the same time.

p.s. Has anybody heard of this stuff? I’d love to see it in practice, but of course I can’t use it in a daycare. Pros? Cons?

p.s.s. Of course, I love children. I think that there is plenty to be said, too, about why kids act the way they do, and how to address said situations in a healthy manner. If you’re interested, here is an insightful article on why toddlers are so prone to tantrums. It helps (me, at least) to try to understand what exactly their little minds are going through.

humans of new york

Have you guys seen this site? I discovered it the other day, and now I can’t stop absorbing everything it has to offer.

“Humans of New York” is a photojournalistic effort to portray the humanity of those people around us- you know, those people who pass you on the street, who stand behind you in line at the DMV, who work in the office downstairs- the people you never think about. The photographer, Brandon, takes beautiful photos of people he sees around New York City, and then interviews them for a short quotation or story. The snippets range from heartbreaking to warming to laugh-out-loud-funny. It is absolutely gripping.

You see, I’ve discovered recently how often it is that we forget that other people are humans. Something about our society makes it acceptable, and we forget that the people around us have lives outside of the setting in which we interact with them. We don’t think about the fact that they have thoughts and dreams and hopes and stories. We see them only as they relate to us, and forget that they are the center of their own world, just like you are the locus around which all of your thoughts are oriented. When I worked in customer service, it was not uncommon for people to hang up on me, to berate me, to treat me as if I was some machine with no motivations other than the desire to take their money. They were rude and mean and sometimes even wrote bad things about me on the Internet. And I truly believe that it is because they forgot. They forgot that I had feelings. They never considered that I left work at the end of the day, changed into my pajamas, and laid in bed thinking about what they said and how they acted.

That, I believe, is why I love “Humans of New York” so much.

Because it’s a reminder.

And I think we all need to be reminded.

Here is a sample of his work:

tumblr_mq74l8gtFt1qggwnvo1_1280“Once, I was in a talent show, and at the end, everyone stood up and clapped!”

tumblr_mpk144ckjm1qggwnvo1_1280“I’m a chef.” “So tell me something you’ve learned as a chef that also applies to life in general.””…if you don’t eat, you’ll die.”

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“Why were you homeless?” “It just got to a point where my mom couldn’t maintain anymore. The sad part was that it was during high school. So I had to keep it a secret. Cause, you know, it’s high school.”

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I asked his favorite thing about his son, and he replied: “That he’s very loving.” Hearing this, the boy asked: “What about basketball?” The dad answered: “I like that you’re good at basketball. But my favorite thing is that you’re very loving.”

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“I’m going home to see my mother.” “Oh, is it her birthday?” “Nope. I just love my mother, and she loves flowers.”

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“We’ve been friends since we were 13.” “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had together?” “Oh, we don’t know…” “Well, what’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed together?” “Now you listen here! I want you to write down these questions you’re asking us, pull them out when you’re 85 years old, and see if you can answer them yourself!”

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“My town in Colombia is very beautiful. I don’t travel because I want to leave my home. I travel because I need to know why I’m staying.”

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“After this I go to work at a pizza shop. My wife and I were college professors in Bangladesh. I taught accounting. But one dollar in America becomes eighty dollars when we send it back home.”

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“She’s compassionate.” “Tell me about a time she was compassionate.” He took a couple minutes, then said, haltingly: “It’s not about a time. She’s compassionate toward who I am. Every time.”

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“It was easier than I thought it’d be.”

on wedding planning

I feel pretty proud about my wedding planning skills.

I mean, I certainly wasn’t perfect…. I had my moments of stress throughout our 15 months of engagement. But overall, piecing our wedding day together was an exciting, delightful, and deeply satisfying process for me. And when I look back at that time, there are a few select things that really made the difference between feeling organized & confident & put together, and feeling overwhelmed & underprepared.

Now, part of me is already rolling my eyes at myself, for putting together a list like this. Isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume that my advice can be of use anybody at all? But here is my blogging philosophy: if any of my tips or tricks or methods helps, even in the least, just one of you brides-to-be out there, well, then it’s worth writing about. So, here were my most helpful resources. The tools & the tricks, the needle and thread, that made my wedding possible.

1) Pinterest.com was, by far, one of my favorite wedding planning sites. I didn’t use it in a this-is-exactly-what-I-want-and-if-it’s-not-that-way-I-will-die sort of way. Instead, I simply pinned anything that caught my eye, without considering whether it was what I wanted. That was this board (and I began this process well over a year before Will & I were engaged). And then, once we got engaged, I organized it all into boards by subject…”the paper”, the flowers”, “the food”, and so on and so forth. And here’s the amazing thing: there were patterns. It turned out that I wanted an updo. How do I know this? Because every single one of my “the hair” pins looked exactly the same. I showed my “the cake” board to my baker during our initial consult: she took one look at it and said “So, you want a round, tiered, white buttercream cake with sugar flowers?”. Using Pinterest enabled me to identify what it was that I loved. And that took so much pressure off the decision-making process, because I already had confirmation that I could live with (and delight in) the choices.

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2) I found WeddingWire.com especially helpful for looking through vendor reviews. I used the site to find my incredible makeup artist and stylist, to consult about my caterer, and to confirm our decision on a photographer. I didn’t, however, use any of their other tools, mostly because I was perfectly happy with theKnot.com (see below)… plus, when I skimmed through them, I mostly felt pretty “eh” about it all. And I tend to trust my instinct on things like that.

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3) Speaking of  TheKnot.com… I  would highly recommend signing up as soon as you get engaged. I loved it. Specifically, I loved the individualized “My Checklist” and “My Guest List” portions. Plus, there’s a countdown feature on the homepage, which is always a happy thing.

– “My Checklist” appealed to my type-A, organized, cross-it-off-the-list personality at its very core. It is a detailed, exhaustive account of pretty much everything you could need to do before (and after) the wedding. Every other list I found was vague and spotty… with this one, I felt assured that there was nothing I had to remember, because it was all written down and organized, with all the “to-dos” in one place. It’s also totally customizable, which meant that I could add random things like “Pay 90-day payment to photographer” or “Buy sparklers for the exit” or “Make kraft paper signs for the reception”. And I could remove those things that didn’t apply to me, or move the order around as I saw fit. I should make a note, though, that it operates on a due date system, where it puts a little alarm clock beside all the items that you don’t check off “in time”. Brides: you will NOT do it all in time! As for me, I mostly just tried to ignore the clocks and see it as a general timeline.

-“My Guest List” was also a pretty incredible tool. All you have to do is input the guests’ names and addresses, and then you have a brilliant way of keeping track of the RSVPs, the seating chart, the gifts, and the thank-you notes (among other things). It was, truly, a lifesaver. Each time I got an RSVP in the mail, I simply logged on and pressed “Accepted” or “Declined”. TheKnot automatically kept track of how many people would attend the wedding and generated a customizable seating chart. When we received a gift, I entered it beside the person’s name, and then when I dropped the thank-you note in the mail, I just checked the box that said “Thank You Sent”. It kept everything clear and simple. And here’s the fact: even though I thought I would be able to remember it all (what kind of terrible person doesn’t remember whether her great-aunt RSVPed?), I couldn’t. And so, like I said, it was a lifesaver.

Another note about TheKnot.com: although the community boards can be helpful, I would make sure to put on a tough skin before you post anything. Many (many) of the regulars who post here are more than a little condescending and simply mean. I hate to say it, but I really feel like I need to warn you. I almost cried the first time they responded to one of my questions.

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4) The one thing that I couldn’t find online was a thorough, flexible budget application. So… I made one. Click here to download a draft of my Excel wedding budget. Obviously, we didn’t actually use all of the budgeted items on this sheet (no calligrapher for us!). But I figured it’s better, for these purposes, to include something than leave it off. So go ahead and make it your own: change the sections, hide rows, alter columns… whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable. Then,  insert your budgeted numbers, and let Excel do the rest.  I hope it helps!

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5) And last, but not least, I loved my handy dandy pocket accordion file. I picked it up on a whim from Staples, and ended up using from the first venue meeting it all the way until last week (when I sold my wedding dress). This was perfect for all the little pieces of paper that you gather when wedding planning: from random business cards to receipts of purchase to copies of contracts. I kept it in my car, so that it was easily accessible everytime I went to a vendor meeting and walked out with a handful of papers. Yay for organization!

 

So, there you go. There’s not much more to say… except, happy planning! I hope that your engagement is filled with all the goodness that the season has to offer. And may you always be checking things off your list.

her morning elegance

Yep.

Quite possibly the coolest music video ever. Love the song, love the title, love the stop motion wonderfulness. Watch and enjoy.