Three Years Ago…

San Francisco 019…Labor Day weekend, on a bench at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, Rick asked me to marry him.  No ring.  Not on bended knee.  No flowers.  Just a simple, “sooo, do you want to get married?”

After our several year discovery process (to use work terminology), it was time.  Time to move forward.  Time to commit our lives to each other before God. Time to close our current chapter and open a new one, together.  He asks me the question.  I say yes.  After much back and forth, we decided to elope.  Elope with five people: our pastor (a dear friend) and his wife; two singers (our friends, husband and wife); and Rick’s son, Zach.

Eloped we did, after our 7 week engagement.  An engagement that was not focused on the flowers or the guest list or the venue or losing weight or the perfect dress.  An engagement that was focused on each other, preparing our hearts for a commitment that in the world, fails 50% of the time.  But with God, can succeed 100% of the time.  This is what we hang on to.  We spent hours writing our vows for each other.  And just minutes on where we would have dinner and what hotel would we stay at.  We decided on a chef’s table at Quartino and a weekend together at The Peninsula.

Three years ago I said yes, with confidence and faith that God has a perfect plan and it just so happened that the plan was one Rick and I were a part of.  I said yes to the marriage.  Yes to spending my life, in good times and in bad, with Rick.  For that moment, the unromantic, yet oddly perfect proposal, I am forever grateful.

P.S.  I took this picture in San Francisco this past weekend, to no coincidence.  I love Rick more than all the stars 🙂

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Learning to Find Joy in the Midst of Pain: Scenes From a Woman Who Desires to Have a Baby

Note-to-Self-ann-written-notesEvery so often I share things I am going through on my blog.  Sometimes it’s easy and it comes naturally for me, being the open book that I am.  Other times, it’s harder.  Today is one of those times.  But, I am appreciative of Rick, who, this morning, said to me, “you should write about it.”  For one second I thought absolutely not.  And here we are, 10 hours later and I am writing.

As most of you know, Rick and I had a miscarriage a couple of months back (well, if you count the start to finish of that super fun process it was about 5 months ago from the start…not that I am counting).  Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was sad.  Yes, I had a ton of love and support.  No, I’m not over it.  Not that anyone expects me to be, but I suppose I put this 3,000 pound pressure on myself to dust myself off and get over it.  And usually I do get over whatever it is I am going through.  Well, this situation isn’t that easy. Why, you ask?  Oh, let me count the ways.

First, I have always said (quietly to myself with nobody around) that I would never be one of those women who after having a miscarriage would envy or feel anger when hearing of other women who get pregnant or have children.  Second, I have high expectations of myself.  Third, miscarriages and trying to have a baby is hard.  Knowing that, let me share with you a few scenes in my  life that. actually. happened.  (As a side, when I do the whole word. word. word. thing in my blogs it’s a way of emphasizing what I am saying.  Hopefully you have gotten that by now and if you haven’t, well, that’s why I am telling you.   Just now when I typed that way I realized it may not be obvious and you guys may think I just have no idea how to write. Which I suppose could be argued.  Anyways…)

Scene 1, Act 1: Ann’s First Ridiculous Episode Post Miscarriage

Scene:  My couch
Actors:  Myself and two close friends from my bible study (we will call them Cathy and Denise for this scene).
Script:
All:  “Hey, it’s so great to see you!” (big hugs happening, coats coming off, glasses of water being drank, getting comfortable on my charcoal gray Crate & Barrel couch)
Cathy:  “I’m so glad it’s just us for a few minutes before everyone gets here.  I have some news…I’m pregnant!”
Denise:  “Oh my gosh, Cathy, wow, this is amazing!” (or something like that, reaching in for an additional hug of joy)
Ann: Awkward facial expression (half-smile/half weird lip movement to prevent frown), lump in throat, “eeehhhh, ummmm…” (Ann starts to weep, apologizing for her completely rude response to her friend who just shared with her such incredible news.)

Okay, so that was a short film that clearly didn’t win any awards at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.  Yes, I did that.  I wept out of sadness for myself when my friend shared with me she was pregnant.  Let’s continue, shall we?

Scene 2, Act 1:  Ann’s Second Ridiculous Episode Post First Ridiculous Episode Post Miscarriage

Scene:  My couch
Actors:  All of the women in my bible study, including Cathy and Denise from original scene
Script:
All:  “Great to see everyone…what’s new, what are the updates before we dig into our study?”
Denise:  “I’m pregnant!”
Ann:  Same scene from above, but no crying and Ann held it together physically and later that night, she prayed/yelled at God and cried herself to sleep.

Are we having fun yet?  Oh, no?  Okay.  Let me continue on with this humiliation.

Scene 3, Act 1:  Ann’s Third Ridiculous Episode…No Further Description Needed
Scene: South Florida, hotel bar
Actors: Myself and two colleagues
Script:
Colleague 1:  “So, how are you doing with everything, Ann?” (and by “everything” she means miscarriage)
Ann: Starts weeping in front of her colleagues in the middle of drinking a Moscow Mule.  Classic.

Haven’t had enough of my meltdowns?  Okay, fine, I’ll share another.

Scene 4, Act 1:  Ann’s Fourth Ridiculous Episode
Scene:  My boss’s house
Actors:  Myself, my colleague (note, different colleague from South Florida scene and note, my boss was upstairs and missed this scene)
Script:
Ann:  Takes a conference call that didn’t go well, comes into the room with her colleague and starts…wait for it…wait for it…yep, crying.
Colleague 1:  “Oh my gosh what is that matter?!” (she comes in for the big hug)
Ann: Weeping, “I just had a bad conference call and it’s been a hard week and everything with the miscarriage and my hormones and WAH WAH WAH…”

Yes, that was me, AGAIN.  Thankfully my boss was in the other room and didn’t see that disaster.

You see, the last few months have been hard. And the harder issue is me trying to mask the pain, not talk about how I feel and think I am just going to be okay.  The reason I share these embarrassing, real stories with you is that in the last couple days, my pain has deepened and I have been trying to work my way through it and. I. can’t.  (There is the emphasis thing again.)  But, I am learning something very important.

I woke up Friday morning mad at God.  Saddened that everyone and their brother sister is pregnant and I’m not.  Even just typing that sucks.  I prayed and talked to God about it.  And do you want to know what I experienced the following morning? Get ready to laugh (or cry, depending).  Minutes after praying (literally), my phone rings and it’s an old, dear friend from NYC.  We catch up and talk about our holidays and the New Year and work.  And then she says those three fun words, “I have news!”  Yep, she’s pregnant (and has been for almost  7 months).  But something she said stuck with me.  She said, “After everything you went through, I didn’t want to tell you…I knew it may be hard…I wanted to be sensitive.”  She was the second person, second close friend, that has said something like this to me.  And for some reason this time it made me think.  And we hung up and a few small tear drops fell down my cheeks.  Why, God?  Why today?  Why amidst my heart hurting?  

My day went on and knowing I should continue to pray, I didn’t.  I medicated my pain with hours and hours of HGTV’s Love It or List It, wearing my house coat eating crappy, sugary cereal.  I have to admit, it did make me feel a little better. Rick and I then went to church and sitting within a three-foot radius of us were the following:  A cute couple with their one month old VERY cute baby.  Sting.  Another couple, wife with a big belly that she was rubbing and I could just FEEL her joy.  Ouch.  Cathy from scene above (again, my dear friend) and her husband and it was the first time I had seen her since her belly starting showing.  Double ouch.  Jeez, I wondered if I could have gotten pregnant just by being around all of these people!  Hmmm…

And as church began, another woman came in with her handicapped son, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, in a wheelchair.  I watched that mother hold her son (as he couldn’t walk or stand) and kiss him and the love she felt for that boy was pure, real love.  She held him and hugged him and smiled in his eyes.  He smiled back into hers.  A few more tears filled mine.

And then, God reminded me of a friend who recently lost her baby at 39 weeks.  And I was reminded of a couple who I don’t even know that I have been praying for that recently lost their baby at 35 weeks.  And then God reminded me of the amazing news that friends of ours just received a little girl that they had been trying to adopt for over a year.  And then He reminded me of my other friend who wasn’t able to have children and adopted a beautiful boy.  And I am reminded that God doesn’t call me to live from a place of what I don’t have, but from a place of gratitude for what I do have. And slowly, my heart started to change.  And when I think God isn’t listening to my prayers and when He has forgotten about me, He whispers, “I’m here, trust me.”

This is my journey right now that I am on.  A road that is leading me down a path of being honest with God, remembering that His plan is perfect, His timing is perfect and that while I am feeling sad or angry or hurt, I can also remember the joy, the gifts, the love I have.  And please, please don’t mistake my pain for the absence of joy I do feel for my friends who have gotten pregnant.  My heart smiles for them and I truly am happy for each of them.  And now, it’s time for me to focus on the blessings.  The massive amount of blessings that God has given me.  I can, each day, even ONE time a day, give thanks to God for these blessings.  I have said this before and I will say it again.  Life is painful.  Bad things happen.  Confusing things happen.  As humans, we long for love, for babies, for perfect careers, for perfect bodies, a large bank account, a clean home, respect and the list goes on and on and on.  And while longings are not inherently bad, the obsession of the longings can be bad.

Last night I went to bed, still in pain but with a changing heart and Rick said to me, “will you pray?”  I can’t tonight.  And he said, “well then tell me one thing you are thankful for.”  This warm, cozy bed on a very cold Chicago night.  My heart softened and I fell fast asleep.

As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.  

What I Learned in Two Thousand Twelve.

what-i-learned-in-2012Over the last week or so, I have been reflecting on this past year and preparing for the new year. It’s the time of year to do it, right?  And truth be told, I don’t do it enough so I am maximizing the time away from work, the time of calmness now that the holidays are over and the time alone.  And in true Ann spirit, I had to compile a numbered list (I frickin’ love lists) to highlight some things I learned in two thousand twelve. Enjoy…and stay tuned for my final blog post of two thousand twelve!

  1. Having God at the center of my marriage is the key to Rick and my happiness, joy and contentment together as a couple.
  2. To be an effective leader, I have to be humble, be honest, be willing to be vulnerabe and open to feedback (and then actually listening to and doing something with the feedback).  This is not always easy, but, I am grateful to be around people that do challenge me and help me grow.
  3. Vacationing, whether near or far, plane or car (enter Dr. Seuss), is critical to my well-being.  Time to sleep, time to read, time alone, time with Rick, time to learn about a new culture, time to capture moments on my camera, time to try new foods.  Travel is truly part of my DNA.
  4. Setting goals for the year is key for me to continue to grow and challenge myself personally.  I found that setting 3-4 (versus 20 which is where I think I started the year) worked for me and allowed me to achieve the goals.
  5. The work-hard, play-hard way of life rocks.  I committed this year (for the most part) to not working at night and on weekends and I am convinced it made me more productive during the day and made me more content in my personal life.
  6. Actions are around 100 times more important and more credible than words.  Words shmerds.  Don’t mistake this for me succeeding at this or doing this perfectly.  Trust me, I’m good with words and often times it’s a lot easier to say something than it is to do something.  But, I know that my actions are what #count.
  7. Suffering produces amazing outcomes.  Having gone through some tough things this year, namely a really rough miscarriage, the pain kills but the product of the pain is hope, gratefulness, new perspective and endurance.  This bible verse has stood out to me this year:  Romans 5:3-5 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
  8. I have a bit of an obsession with reading lifestyle and decorating blogs. But, in my defense, it’s where I brainstorm ideas, try to be creative, learn and enjoy some down time.
  9. When I trust God, He shows up bigger and better than I could ever imagine.
  10. The book, One Thousand Gifts, was the most impactful book I read this year; Julie and Julia follows that one as a distant second.
  11. Being thankful and positive is a better way to live than the alternative.  Easy?  No.  Ideal?  Yes.  #glasshalffull

What were some things you learned in two thousand twelve.

12 Months of {pretty awesome} Blogging

ann-uenoI’m delayed at O’Hare (no, that’s not a picture of me at terminal 3 in a strapless dress…it’s a picture of me making a ridiculous “I’m sneaky slash suspicious slash no clue” face at dinner a couple weeks ago) so I thought I would take a look back at some of my posts by month and share with you, my lucky beloved readers, the highlights. It’s been a really fun year of blogging with many milestones…can’t believe this year is almost over.  Insane in the membrane! (Say it with me…insane in the brain!) Did I just write that?  Hilarious.  Okay, anyways…I hit 20,000 views, was featured in The Chicago Life Blog, wrote nearly 60 posts, grew my following and had a frickin’ blast along the way. Enjoy the highlights and I look forward to giving you Ann Written Notes 2.0 (or two dot oh as they say in corporate America) in 2013!

JanuaryLoving on West Elm (obviously…is there a better way to start the year?!)

February – How to organize men’s ties (As a side for all you stat lovers, this post, to date, is my most popular post and gets the most traffic each day…I guess it’s helping some men out there.)

MarchHow to save a marriage…sort of.  Um, er…oh yeah, I know!  Take a weekend trip to Paris!!

April – Inspired by my trip, here’s a look at our French-inspired entryway.

May – As my Starwood office was under renovation, working from home was in order. Which meant doing a minor office renovation so that I could stay inspired while working!

June – I gave you gift ideas, a look at our guestroom renovation and more…too hard to choose just one here!  Check out my June blog posts.

July – Well, July was the month I found out I was pregnant…so, um, was a bit pre-occupied.  No blogs for this month.

August – I shared with you our story about losing baby Ueno.  Ugh, hurts my heart still but grateful to be able to share this with you in hopes of helping other women out there.

September – When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or, organize your closet.  Check out how to organize a closet.

October – I featured my first “Note to Self” which is a series of my graphic design artwork inspired by words that make me go “hmm.”

November – November was my busiest month blogging with 12 posts.  The feature on our anniversary vacation to Cabo San Lucas was one of my personal favorites.

December – Wow, a lot of awesome blogging things happened in December.  But, I have to say that one of my biggest accomplishments this year was managing my Starwood Chicago office space before and after renovation.

Which post was your favorite?  Do tell!

There is no baby.

“There is no baby,” the ultrasound technician said firmly, but with a heavy heart and sadness in her eyes.  “No!  No!” I said in disbelief as I covered my eyes and wept.  “No…” I kept saying over and over while the tears streamed down my face.  Rick grabbed my hand while the technician finished up.  She gave us a moment and said she would be back to take us to speak with the doctor.

This was not the blog post I had in mind when Rick and I found out in June we were having a baby.  Instead, I envisioned a creative announcement entailing a flirty city photo shoot telling the story of how God blessed us with the miracle of a child (it was an amazing story but God has since intervened and our story now has taken a turn).  And so, here is the different news I have to share.  And for those of you who know me, I do share.  Some people would keep something like this private.  For me, while I certainly don’t share every single thing about my life, I felt inclined to share this amidst my pain.  If I happen to touch or help one person, it is worth it.

Excited, nervous, anxious and filled with joy, Rick and I received the news that we were expecting a baby in early June.  We had been trying to conceive for exactly one year when the vivid positive sign on the pregnancy test had me in disbelief saying curse words (but ones of joy) in my bathroom, barely able to breathe.  The first few weeks were surreal and apart from being tired and peeing every 14 seconds, I felt great.  And then weeks 5-7 were really hard for me.  My hormones were beyond the point of having overtaken my whole body, physically, mentally and emotionally.  It was rough and I will spare you the details, but it didn’t feel good.  Around week 7, I had to go to the doctor for an emergency ultrasound as I was spotting.  It only happened once and not again and the results came back generally okay.  The technician was able to see the yolk sac (where the baby lives), my uterus was growing, I still had all the symptoms of being pregnant and while she couldn’t actually see the baby during the ultrasound, she said this was okay.  There was, however, a small leak of blood from the sac, which is common and occurs in a high percentage of pregnancies and because mine was so small and I had not bled again, both the technician and the doctor felt there wasn’t anything to be concerned with.   They would see me again in a few more weeks for the first big ultrasound.

I remember vividly waking up on Saturday, July 14 (almost 8 weeks pregnant) feeling 99% back to myself.  I couldn’t believe it!  The hormone takeover had exponentially subsided.  It felt amazing.  I had energy and my drive for life back.  In fact, I took a run (albeit slow) as I was feeling so good.  Oddly it felt as if I wasn’t pregnant.  For so many days of not feeling good to then waking up and feeling great, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat empty.  Right or wrong, I went onto a forum I had visited before and looked at what other women had experienced related to this (one day feeling so much better, but then not having the “pregnant feeling”).  And for the most part, the responses were that it was okay, and the women went on to have healthy babies.  Furthermore, the comments reaffirmed how crazy hormones are in the first trimester and your body is going through so many changes that any change like that is arguably “normal.”  I put the word normal in quotes because honestly nothing is normal in the first trimester and because every woman is different, it’s almost impossible to rely on any source of information.  Other women on the forum, a lesser percentage, did miscarry.  I, of course, focused on the positive and didn’t worry.

On Friday, July 27, Rick and I were 10 weeks pregnant as we went in for the big ultrasound.  The one where, if you can hear the heartbeat, you move into “safe zone” as they say.  Safe zone essentially is the start of the second trimester (recognizing I still had a couple more weeks technically until that point) where the risk of a miscarriage decreases significantly.  Yes, of course, things could happen post first trimester, but the stats are far more in your favor.  As I lay awkwardly on the table (no matter how many times you visit an OBGYN office, it’s so incredibly awkward) waiting for the technician to arrive, I looked at Rick and asked him if he was nervous.  He looked at me like I was nuts.  Meanwhile, I felt like I was going to vomit.  This was it.  We will hear a heartbeat or we won’t.  Something didn’t feel right to me.  The technician came in, greeted us and asked me “do you feel pregnant?”  That was weird, I thought.  I told her about how I felt awful and then felt amazing and ironically, no, I didn’t feel pregnant (though I still had some of the basic symptoms).  And moments later, the words “there is no baby” suffocated me and broke my heart.  I couldn’t believe it.  I actually thought for a second I was having a nightmare and that I would wake up.  How could that be?  I haven’t bled, I have had no cramping.  I still have symptoms of being pregnant.  But there is no baby.

As we spoke with our doctor, it was clear it was going to get worse before it will get better.  I, at that point, technically had not yet physically miscarried. And to spare you the details, what this essentially means is the physical aspect of the miscarriage is yet to come, either naturally or surgically.  The doctor did confirm that because of the abrupt change of not feeling well to feeling great (or how I described it, the feeling of “not pregnant”) while still in my first trimester, that was likely around when the development of the baby stopped.

When we learned we were pregnant in early June, apart from sharing the news with a few very close people in my life, I methodically thought through others we (okay, I) would share this news with.  You see, when you get pregnant, your immediate thought is not erring on the side of pessimism, it errs on the side of the optimistic and perhaps fear-based “I know that has happened to others, but it won’t happen to me.”  Which then leads to the unbelievable excitement to create a special moment with certain people in your life that you know will not only be equally excited about the news, but that will support and love you deeply along the way.

I have recently learned that the reverse is true.  Not only will those people celebrate with you in times of joy, they will mourn with you in times of sorrow.  It reminds me of a bible verse that says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  And I have to admit, prior to being pregnant, I perceived miscarriages as a sort of common occurrence.  Something that while is so sad and unfortunate, it is a reality and many women go through it.  Well, I guess my thoughts could be true.  But what you never really understand is that painful reality that a miscarriage is a death.  It is a loss.  One that is confusing.  One that requires grieving time.  One that shakes you.  One that hurts deeply.  One that requires those around you to weep with you.

And during this time of grievance, I do feel loved deeply and for that, I am beyond grateful and thankful to God for blessing me/us with an incredible community of people.  Those who rejoiced with us when we shared the news, also wept with us. A few specific moments stand out to me specifically:

I remember reading my daily devotional after I came home from the doctor on July 27 and the words “hope is a golden cord connecting you to heaven.  This cord helps you hold your head up high, even when multiple trials are buffeting you.  I never leave your side and I never let go of your hand.”  It was in that moment that I had comfort and security knowing God was with me during this process and while I didn’t understand why this had happened to us, I trusted God’s plan.

I had Rick holding me while I wept in his arms at the doctor’s office and his words of I love you meant more than I could have imagined.  The safety and security of a loving husband is truly something I do not take for granted.

My best friend, Eileen, was at my house even before I got home from the doctor’s office.

I received phone calls from friends where I could actually sense pain in their voices for me.

Text messages and emails came through with words that, in that moment, offered me healing:   “I’ll be praying for you.  Love you, God will bring you through this.”  “Lots of prayers your way and always here if you need to chat.”  “I am so sorry Ann.  I am here when you feel you want to talk.  You’re very loved…don’t forget that.”  “I am sorry, I am here for you.” “I love u.” “Let me know what I can do.” “I’m sorry.”

My sister was on vacation in Mexico and knew I had my ultrasound that day.  She called me from her trip as she could sense something was going on.  She obviously wasn’t sure what, but I found that to be truly one of those sister moments.  It was as if she could sense I was in pain and had to call.

The most special note came from my mom.  She wrote, “Ann & Rick, I can’t tell you how sorry your dad and I are about the baby.  I know it hurts terribly right now, but God usually has a reason for this even though you can’t see it now.  I am sure I told you I also had a miscarriage, so I do know how you are feeling and it will take a while for that feeling of emptiness to subside.  The good news for me was that 3 months later I was pregnant with you, so that was when I realized there must have been a reason for my miscarriage and was able to have you.”

Trials will come and pain in this world is inevitable.  But with friends and family and most importantly, faith in God, we are able to get through life’s toughest challenges.  And while the pain of our loss will likely be with us forever in some way, the love and comfort of people is what makes the pain bearable.  And I know that each day will get easier and with time, we will be able to see God’s story play out in HIS way, not ours.  And that is exciting…and of course, scary 🙂

Philippians 4:13 is what I am hanging on to right now:  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

How to Save Your Marriage.

Our wedding day. October 29, 2010.

If you’ve opened this and actually thought I would be giving you advice on how to save your marriage, I have done my job as a creative writer.  But, just like a lot of marketing in the world, the content doesn’t exactly match the headline.  But, don’t close your browser just yet.  Here’s a more accurate headline:  “One tactic on how to save your marriage…a marriage retreat!”  Or how about this.  “Want to save your marriage?  Start with a marriage retreat!” Here’s a good one and my personal favorite.  “Don’t wait to attend a marriage retreat until you are on the brink of divorce, start working on your marriage now!

And yes, we did 🙂  We attended our first marriage retreat this past weekend.  Why?  Why not?  I give 110% to my job.  My relationships. My extracurricular activities.  I give 110% to decorating my house, for crying out loud.  Therefore, my marriage should at least get 110% of my effort as well, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  Sound familiar?!

Now, I know what you are thinking and wanting to ask and the answer is no.  It wasn’t anything like the movie Couples Retreat with Vince Vaughn, but I did get a good laugh when someone asked me if it was going to be like that.

On Friday afternoon, Rick and I packed our weekend bags and headed out to our car at 5:30, 2 hours later than planned and right at the cusp of peak-rush-hour-meets-snow-starting-to-fall-on-a-Friday-in-the-city (awesome way to start a marriage retreat).  Our neighbors were also in their car with their two kids getting ready to start their weekend.  Mutaz, the husband and father of two asked, “Hey, where are you guys off to again?” My enthusiastic response was, “We are headed up to Lake Geneva for a marriage retreat!”  Mutaz rolled his eyes, chuckled and said, “God help you guys.”

And that makes for a perfect transition into the fact that yes, this was a marriage retreat through our amazing church, Park Community Church,  and needless to say, it was the G-rated version of Vaughn’s Couples Retreat and Mutaz’s comment was spot on 🙂  Rick and I are strong Christians and at the center of our marriage and before anything else is God, hence the decision to take a road trip to the lovely state of Wisconsin and spend our weekend with God and 140 other couples at The Abbey Resort on Lake Geneva.  Yes, this was a bit uncomfortable for us.  But if you know Rick and me, you know that uncomfortable is pretty normal in our relationship 🙂

The weekend had three parts:  connecting emotionally, connecting physically and connecting spiritually.  It truly functioned like a work conference with presentations, great music, break-outs, etc.  What I liked most about it was after each session, they gave you anywhere from 30-45 minutes to talk and digest the topics as a couple. And between the drive up and back and having both Friday and Saturday night free, there was ample time to reconnect with your spouse.

Here’s what I learned, was reminded of or ideas I took away from the weekend, in no particular order.  And yes, I recommend every couple doing this at least once a year, whether it’s through a church, a temple, another organization, whatever. The edification that can [and will] occur is remarkable and you will walk away closer to your spouse, having learned a thing or two and feeling reconnected on many levels.

  1. Every single marriage is worth fighting for.  In fact, statistically, 30% of marriages that were headed for divorce did not get divorced after 5 years of fighting and staying together.  Obviously that 5 years was hard and painful and took more patience that some people can’t even fathom while in a struggling marriage.  But, the stats speak for themselves.
  2. Spouse-ology is a fun game to play with your spouse, despite us not being too great at it 🙂
  3. Be a good listener.  James 1:19 says “…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.” Love that verse and frankly, applicable to all types of relationships.
  4. While in the session on connecting physically, people were throwing out ideas and one guy yells, “take more showers together!”  Yes, it was funny, but it actually seems to be a great tactic for couples, especially those with children.
  5. Be for your spouse.  Say that again with me.  Be for your spouse.  Nobody ever wants their partner to be against them.  Even if you don’t agree with your spouse, always remind them you are for them and support them.  And then speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
  6. Every day, ask each other the best thing about the day and one thing that is bringing him/her anxiety (or as the Kardashians do it, the peak and the pit).  If you want bonus points, pray for your spouse on these things.  And if you want extra bonus points, follow through the next day and ask how they are doing with whatever was making him/her anxious.
  7. Set one night a week for date night.  Protect it.
  8. Is your marriage time-starved?  One thing Rick and I committed to, albeit small, is having a cleaning service come twice a month.  There is never any arguing over who is doing what around the house and it frees up our weekends to allow us to put our marriage first.
  9. All men struggle with some level of sexual temptation and/or pornography.  I know, this is tough to swallow and your immediate response may be “not my husband!” Or, you may be more in the “it’s normal and I am okay with it” category.  Either way, this discussion resonated with me and here’s why:  pornography robs marriage of true intimacy.  Porn (and the like) is false intimacy that creates an expectation or a fairytale that cannot be attained in a real relationship and can lead to husbands feeling as if their wife cannot meet their fantasy-like desires.  It also causes a mans view of a woman to diminish because she cannot give him what he gets in the fantasy world of pornography.
  10. Although I didn’t visit this site, http://www.realrelationships.com came up as a resource so I plan to check it out.
  11. In the midst of a fight or tension, asking your spouse, “What do you need from me right now?” is a great place to start.  I liked this because so often I go into fixing mode and give Rick solutions in the moment when he may not even want solutions.  So, just ask your spouse what they need from you!  Groundbreaking, I know.
  12. Pray together every single day.  Say sorry and ask for forgiveness.  Offer grace to your spouse.
  13. Continue to be myself for Rick.
  14. What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of happy?  Love this question and 100% believe God did design marriage to sanctify each other.
  15. When one looks to a partner to fulfill their deepest longings and desires, the partner will fail.  Only God can fulfill those desires of your heart and soul.  This Chinese proverb sums it up well:  “If a man works at it, he can be a great husband.  But a lousy God.”
  16. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the example of a loving marriage between flawed people.
  17. Romantic love is like the Dow Jones.  Up and down, up and down. True love has a peace, a stability, even when the going gets tough.
  18. The marriage covenant is necessary for sex.  And sex is necessary to maintain the covenant of marriage.
  19. Do you and your spouse have the same view of the world, spiritually speaking?
  20. Real love is hard love.

Dinner is at 5pm. If You’re Late, Your A#@ is Grass.

As you may have seen from my previous blog, Rick and I spent Labor weekend in Montreal and Quebec City.  On our last night, our very generous friends, Imma and Chris, invited us over for dinner.  And by dinner, I mean feast.  And by feast, I mean crudites, chips and guacamole, Greek cheese bread (I’m sure there is a fancy Greek word for it, but I don’t know it), nuts, salad, spinach and shrimp in a tomato sauce, olives, chicken, steaks on the grill, vegetables, wine..ahem, decanted wine that breathed for an hour before we drank it.  Fruit and tiramisu.  Two servings of tiramisu for me (I didn’t want to hurt the grandmother’s feelings when she offered me another piece.  Okay, I lied.  It was insanely delicious and I couldn’t resist the temptation).  Cigars.  After dinner drinks.  Unbutton pants (oh come on, you know you’ve done it). This wonderful couple, the hosts with the mosts, know how to have a “Labor Day BBQ.”  Is your mouth watering?  Good.  I asked Imma how she learned to cook and how she finds the time. She is a wife, mother of two sons, she has a career and the list goes on.  Well, first, she’s Italian.  So naturally cooking and food is in her blood.  Second, she said when you have kids, you want to cook for them and you want to feed them healthy but delicious food.  Oh yeah, right, I thought.  Of course.  Just whip up a 5 course meal no problem.  This lady has mad cooking and hospitality skills!

My conversation with her got me thinking about my mom, who also has Italian in her.  My mom is a wife, a mother of two [adorable, smart, funny, talented…sarcastic] girls, a clean freak, a queen of organization and a career woman.  She worked a full-time job my entire life and still does.  And guess what?  She had dinner on the table at 5pm every single night of my childhood.  She would prep on Sundays, come home during lunch to prep more and when we heard her gray Pontiac drive up at about 5pm, we knew it was time for dinner.  She didn’t complain.  She enjoyed doing it (or at least had us fooled into thinking she did).  And two things stick out for me regarding our family dinners.  First, hand washing and drying the dishes every single night with my sister (I grew up sans a dishwasher, obviously).  I would do ANYTHING to get out of this.  And literally my mom never budged.  Occasionally my dad would fold and dry a few dishes, but that was a rarity. Second, when my mom says dinner is at 5pm, dinner is at 5pm.  If you are late, you might as well cry your way into the house because one thing my mother could not stand was ill punctuality, ESPECIALLY after she had worked 8 hours and prepared our meals with love in her ‘free’ time.  I think I can count on one hand how many times I was late for dinner in 18 years.  And believe you me, I can still smell the fear of facing my mom and dad coming in even 5 minutes past 5pm.

Between the “Labor Day BBQ” (I use quotes because it was more like a 5 star dining experience than a typical hamburger hotdog BBQ) in Montreal and taking a hike down dinner memory lane at the Bennington household circa 1990, I was craving the housewife domestication this week.  And while times are different today and Rick and I dine out often or have evening obligations, there is a very nostalgic feeling and sense of pride in taking the lessons and gifts I learned from my mom and using them as an adult.  And so, I share with my 2011 dinner-at-home experience from yesterday.

12:25pm – Text to Rick “Honey can I make dinner tonight?  I can have it ready when u get home.  Okay?”

1:54pm – Text from Rick “Sure…I will be home at 8:30pm at the latest.

1:54pm (note the punctuality) -Text to Rick “Okay!!  Xoxo.”

5:40pm – Ann leaves the office, takes cab to Jewel to buy groceries.  Her plan is to replicate a meal she recently had in Saugatuck as it was delicious, healthy and turnkey.  Special thanks to Cathrin Bowtell for her amazing recipes!

6:15pm – Ann gets home and starts prepping

7:05pm – Ann goes to gym (and indulges in US Weekly and Minute to Win It on TV)

7:45pm – Ann begins cooking

8:15pm – Cooking is done, table is set, Ann is hungry

8:17pm – Text to Rick “Are you on ur way home honey?”  Rick responds yes immediately.

8:38pm – Text to Rick “Honey where r u…” (purposely omitting rest of text as I have committed to my blog being PG/PG13)

8:39pm – Text from Rick “I’m home”

8:39pm – Text to Rick “No ur not”

8:45pm – Rick arrives, Ann prays to God that she doesn’t ruin this amazing meal by raising voice to Rick [or killing him] for his ill punctuality (hmmm, sound familiar?)

8:47pm – Husband and wife pray,  enjoy an amazing meal together, talk about their day, and  husband compliments wife on good meal.  SUCCESS!  See pics and recipes below.  And note, there are no specifics on the recipes because in true Italian fashion, I don’t measure a darn thing. I just throw it in, taste it before serving and hope for the best.

Hummus and chips:  Hummus (I use the plain hummus, any kind is fine), diced tomatoes and cucumbers, salt and pepper topped with crumbled feta cheese.  You can use tortilla chips for dipping.


Watermelon Salad:  Mixed greens, chopped mint, cubed watermelon, salt and pepper.  Top with crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar.  As Cathrin says, don’t be afraid of salt, pepper and balsamic!

Marinated Pan Fried Chicken:  I bought the chicken breast tenderloins from Jewel.  Marinate them for about an hour (while I was pumping iron at gym) with EVOO, salt, pepper, ground mustard, a little bit of lemon and balsamic.  I cooked in a wok (the wok is my best friend in the kitchen, next to my kitchen scissors) with about a teaspoon of EVOO for about 10-12 minutes.

Sticky White Rice:  Rick is Japanese so needless to say, 70% of our meals are served with rice (the other 30% with pasta).  And I have to say, the rice cooker is actually another BFF in the kitchen.  You put rice and water in the cooker, hit a button and 20 minutes later you have delicious and hot sticky white rice.  I would highly recommend one if you don’t have one already.  Write me a note for details!

Bon Appetit!

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