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Hope in the Valley

We are more than a month into 2017 and I can’t help but reflect on God’s provision over the last year. He provides every year – all the time, but looking back at the last year I have no idea how we would have made it without his guiding hand. Everyone says don’t talk about finances. It’s an uncomfortable subject, but we have to be uncomfortable, we have to show our humanity, and we have to admit our struggles in order to give God the glory. It’s not comfortable sharing something that makes us vulnerable, but when we do that’s when He can move. So I share this to give you encouragement and hope as well as a reminder to trust God in not only times of hardship, but at all times. He will provide uniquely for your situation.


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns — and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Matthew 6: 25-26


For the longest time, I was being stubborn and stuck in a selfish mindset that I wanted to be “comfortable”. The idea of working for someone else and not loving what I’m doing has always given me anxiety. I continuously called myself the exception and ignored the rule everyone else followed. My career plan didn’t turn out as planned. The curriculum for my degree was not what it needed to be in order for me to be successful and I lost direction. I was about to get married with no income, no career, and no concrete solution. It makes you feel like you’re less than adequate in today’s society. But blogging has been my passion, my solution, and my struggle. As I’m learning and as I’m growing, I’ve also been fighting through mental and emotional blocks. You know, the usual … depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, etc. It makes it hard to do anything. It makes it hard to blog and run a business on your own time.

Two months before we got married, Jonathan lost his job. He too didn’t know what direction he wanted to go in so he decided to focus on his business. Before long, he had racked up a good amount of debt and decided owning a business wasn’t for him … and then we got married. Two people unemployed and starting a life together. Tell me how that works. We struggled to pay the bills and ended up in even more debt. Jonathan started watching a lot of COPS and decided for the mean time he would take a minimum wage security job. And then, I found out I was pregnant. Amplify all of the depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation I already had on top of little to no energy and an emotional/hormonal pregnant woman and you’ve got a serious mess of a human. In my mind, we were not ready for a baby. We could barely take care of ourselves. How were we going to afford this? We had no healthcare let alone all the necessities and expenses a baby requires. I knew we would make it work – we had to, but I didn’t know how.

The security job wasn’t working out for Jonathan so we came to a crossroad. He decided to finally take up the calling he felt God had placed on his life years ago to be a police officer, but he would need to go to school and get a degree before he could go to police academy. It turned into a two year plan. Jonathan had always promised me that I didn’t have to work if I didn’t want to; he would provide. My one desire more than anything was to not have to work when I was pregnant and when I had a newborn. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t mind working from home, but I wanted to control my schedule so I can be there and available for my children. That wasn’t going to happen which made me feel even worst. We made the decision to send Jonathan back to school so he could follow his calling and I agreed to work in the meantime except I was still struggling with everything going on emotionally and mentally and couldn’t find a job that would pay enough to relieve the weight of our bills without the credentials or experience to back up my abilities.  I found myself in that dreaded catch 22. I finally got a temporary and part-time job as an admin at a university while the full-time admin was on sick leave. It helped us scoot by. By the time I left, I was in my third trimester. I didn’t work for those last two months before delivering. I had too much anxiety about finding a job just to leave it again. I would have been miserable if I had worked during that time and big props to those ladies who push through it and work up to their due date. Thankfully, we were able to work out a situation that allowed me to stay home.

We’ve hit 2017. We’ve got our baby with both of us happy and healthy. We have no medical expenses. We’ve never had to purchase or spend any money out of pocket for any baby-related items. We’ve never had our electricity or water shut off, although it’s come close. We don’t have rent or a house payment. Jonathan is currently in his last term and will start academy in the fall. How did we do it? I don’t know. We wouldn’t have without God’s provision. Financial aid covered all of his school and left us with enough to just barely live off of, we qualified for aid that covered our food for the month and the baby’s formula, healthcare that covered all of our medical expenses, our house was given to us as a wedding gift, we used the money from our wedding to renovate a room for the nursery  (which was not suitable or safe for a baby prior), and our baby shower literally showered us with everything we needed. We are surrounded by family who is so supportive. They are always there lending a helping hand when we needed help painting, emotional support, or needed someone to watch Landon while I started working full-time as of the new year. I was blessed to get the same position at the university I was in before after the other admin retired. We are making it and it took a while to get back onto our feet and we aren’t back to running yet, but we are getting there.

Jonathan was driving me to work the other day and we looked out the window and saw a man waiting for the bus. That’s not me. We may be down to one car at the moment, but even so that’s not me. I have a way to work, I have family who is willing to pick me up and take me home from work if I need it. Even with the hardships we’ve been going through, I am so so blessed. God’s hand has been in our situation from the beginning. He’s guided us, He’s provided for us, He’s blessed us. To Him be the glory.

 

 

Good Morning, 2017

As I sit here on my couch, I’m writing my annual new year’s post and I have no idea what direction I’m going to take it in this year. Of course, it will have my annual Year In Review Picture Show, but you’re also reading the birth of a thought – a thought that I need to hear myself and one that’s manifested as a result of other voices I’ve heard over the last few months. I’ve been reflecting on the past year, my life, how I want 2017 to go and what I want my life to look like a year from now. Isn’t that what we all do? Sit and reflect? Say this new year will be a better one because the past year wasn’t that great? We come up with resolutions to make our life better and then fall off the bandwagon a month or two or three down the road. Our year ends up looking like every other year … or maybe that’s just me.

How can we make this year different? And better than 2016?

Initiate the Boomerang Effect

When you look at people as a whole, we all just want to be happy and our happiness is derived from feeling loved, accepted, appreciated, healthy and successful. The best thing I’ve learned in my first year of marriage is to make the other person’s happiness become your own. And it’s hard because I’m a really selfish person and struggle with it, but when you put yourself out there for others before yourself, it ends up coming back to you. Kindness travels. Focus on becoming someone who is loving and kind to others. Focus on becoming someone who puts the needs of others before your own. It takes one person to start a chain reaction, but imagine how many more people could be reached if everyone made a change within themselves for the benefit of everyone. It would change the world.

You can’t force other people to love you, accept you, or appreciate you. Life doesn’t work that way. But if you do things for others that will make someone want to appreciate you and if you love and are accepting of others than people will want to return that not just to you, but to others as well. It becomes something like a boomerang; once you throw it out into the world it will eventually return to you – if not reaching other people before it does.

Start a Bucket List

Create a list of what you want to accomplish and do this year or even what you want to do over the course of your life. You can make a simple list or if you’re a visual person create a vision board.

I got to cross off three things on my bucket list/vision board in 2016. It was such a great feeling! Not because I necessarily accomplished something great, but because I’ve been able to say I’ve experienced something new that I wanted to experience. I did it in my lifetime and I can tell you about it. I can show you pictures from my wedding, tell you about my time in Ireland, or my experience being pregnant and giving birth to our first child. That’s so rewarding! What’s even more rewarding is saying you set a goal, worked hard to achieve it, and you did!

Get an idea of what you want so you can start setting goals to reach the really big ones.

Set Goals

You can’t get anywhere or do anything without goals. You HAVE to have them. You have to have them in order to be successful with anything. Even being healthy or financially stable requires goals. Our life is structured around it. It’s not just about becoming a millionaire or losing 100 lbs.  It’s paying the mortgage and healing from a cold. A goal is composed of an action and a time frame you need to complete the action in to achieve a certain result. For example: you have to do x, y, and z at work (the action) within 40 hours during a 5 day period (the time frame) in order to make x amount of money (the result). If you do that (the action) for 50 years (the time frame) then you get to retire (the result). It’s a formula. You can fill it in with whatever you want. Each result that you want gets broken down into smaller and smaller goals so it’s easier to achieve by focusing on something small one step at a time. The key is to figure out what you want out of life, get a game plan, take it one day at a time, stay positive and just do it.

You can’t rely on others for your happiness. You can’t hope for change and expect other people to make it. You have to do the dirty work. You have to become the best version of yourself. You have to be the one making a difference. It starts with you.

Final words of wisdom for the new year: You can’t control things that are out of your control. Make the best of your circumstances.

I love and appreciate you for finding your way here and reading this. I hope you have the best year yet in 2017. Reflect in the comments below and share with me your favorite memory from 2016, something you checked off of your bucket list in 2016/setting to check off in 2017, or a goal you’ve accomplished in 2016/set for 2017. Can’t wait to read your responses!

My Pregnancy Experience

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First Trimester

After mother nature decided not to visit me one month, I started noticing some small changes with my body. These changes made me feel like I wasn’t myself and I knew there was definitely something going on. Occasional cramping out of the blue that didn’t last very long, the girls became tender, I wanted to take naps more frequently, and all of a sudden I was visited by dreaded sciatic back pain that left me in tears a few times.

A couple positive pregnancy tests and appointments later, it was confirmed that there was a little bun in the oven. I was unsettled by the smell of meats and gravitated toward fruits and vegetables, but never had any morning sickness. I didn’t specifically notice an increased need to visit the loo at this point, but I started to become even more emotional than usual. So far so good. Normal pregnancy symptoms, but nothing that made me miserable. At this point, it was mostly getting used to the idea that I was going to be a mom.

Second Trimester

My first ultrasound came at the beginning of my second trimester right before we headed off to Ireland for a week and a half. Baby liked to curl up in a ball and play with its feet. Baby was also finicky and didn’t like to pose for pictures making it a bit difficult for the tech to see everything she needed to. It was on our trip that we found out the results of the Harmony test I had. Baby is a boy and perfectly healthy – no genetic issues. His name was going to be Landon Scott. It was on our trip to Ireland that I decided after seeing all of the sheep that we were going to incorporate them into Landon’s nursery theme. On the flight home, I felt him move for the first time. It was a very memorable trip.

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They say second trimester is the easiest and I would agree with that for sure. I was still tired a lot, but felt like I had a decent balance of being productive. I also had heart burn peek during this time. My sciatic back pain faded away with some chiropractic adjustments and I was back to eating meat. I felt pretty good for being pregnant. I still hadn’t popped at this point. In fact, often times people were surprised when I told them I was pregnant because they couldn’t tell.

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Third Trimester

My third trimester was by far the most challenging and difficult. I was swollen all over to the point where I couldn’t even wear my wedding ring on my finger anymore because it was too tight. I dealt with pelvic girdle pain making it incredibly painful to turn over in the middle of the night (in addition to it already being challenging with a baby belly that had finally popped) or get out of bed to accommodate my multiple nightly trips to the bathroom. I also developed pregnancy carpal tunnel at night so my hands would become numb and painful to move. (If you experience this, try to get wrist braces as soon as you can – life saver!) My energy was shot and I would cry for no reason. I didn’t have any weird cravings, but found myself binging far too often on Cookies n’ Cream ice-cream and pickles (separately), we went through toilet paper faster than a household of two should, and a good percentage of the time all I wanted to do was sleep. By the end, I couldn’t fit into my shoes let alone bend down to put them on, my tummy was protruding and round, and waddling around like a penguin is definitely a real struggle, my friends. I am extremely skeptical of any woman who says she loved being pregnant, but maybe that’s just me.

All in all though, the baby was happy and healthy. I was happy and healthy. All my tests came back with perfect results and my pregnancy was completely routine and normal. Throughout my entire pregnancy, I would say I had a good one. I wasn’t bed ridden and I didn’t have any complications with me or him. That’s the best kind of pregnancy and yes, it’s been a pregnancy so I’ve dealt with my body going through changes and creating a space for a baby human to grow and live in for 9 months. Those changes have been at times uncomfortable and painful, but it comes along with carrying a baby and being a mom. We spent this trimester renovating the baby’s room and other areas of our home for him. We put together the nursery, had our baby shower, and shopped for fun last minute items. The days disappeared and his arrival could be at any time.

Labor & Delivery

I was 37 weeks and already dilated to 3 1/2 cm and he was positioned head down and low. My midwife said she would be surprised if I made it to my due date. The next day I felt my body doing some weird things that made me wonder if I wasn’t heading into early labor. We took a trip to triage, but nothing came out of it and we were sent back home. Thirty-nine weeks rolled by and I had a membrane sweep, bounced on an exercise ball, walked, ate 3 pineapples and drank 42 oz of pineapple juice, went the whole nine yards with natural induction methods … and nothing happened. The night of my sweep, I had contractions regularly for three hours before I went to bed waiting for them to pick up intensity and get closer together, but instead they faded away. This happened the following week as well when I got a second sweep. At 40 weeks, I was dilated to 5 cm, almost completely effaced, and baby was in a 1 position, but not even Clary Sage oil could help me pick up any regular contractions. I could feel my body preparing for labor, but never got the consistent and regular contractions to carry me through.

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I was induced at 41 weeks on October 25th. We arrived at 9 in the morning and they hooked me up to pitocin. By 1pm it was upped to 7mL and I was finally starting to get stronger contractions. I was dilated to a 6 so I could officially be considered in active labor and they moved me over to the room I would deliver in. I decided not to commit to a decision on pain medication until I was able to experience how my body was handling the circumstances. I figured I would do some sort of pain medication, but wasn’t sure if I would go straight to the epidural. When I was 1cm away from it being too late to get Stadol in my IV for pain and knowing that the contractions were going to get worst, I decided to go for it because I wanted to have the most comfortable experience possible and didn’t want to deprive myself of that. My body was already stressed out and I had no idea how much worst it was going to get. Unfortunately, Stadol ended up conflicting with my allergy to codeine and it wasn’t an option so the only thing left was the epidural. I went for it.

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They had to insert an internal monitor to see how strong my contractions actually were since they weren’t translating well onto the monitor and then they broke my water and kicked up the pitocin to 9mL. This resulted in me shivering uncontrollably. When my contractions finally started to become more regular and increase in pain, they took me off the pitocin completely. I have no idea how much the epidural was actually helping. I have a pretty high pain tolerance and I can tell you that I wasn’t one of the women who watched the contractions rise on the monitor and not feel it. If it weren’t for my legs still feeling some sort of numbness, I’m inclined to think the epidural was wearing off. I found out why labor is called that. They inserted another internal monitor for a better reading of the baby’s heart rate. I was not as dilated as I should have been at this point so my midwife had me move around from position to position on the hospital bed to get baby better aligned. This is not an easy task when you have an IV in, an epidural, two internal monitors, numb legs, and painful contractions on a hospital bed that doesn’t seem very wide. By 7:00pm, I was beginning to experience contractions at their worst. The only thing that gave me relief was a cool, wet face cloth. For some reason the texture took my mind off the contractions and the cold water took the edge off. An hour later, I was still moving into different positions trying to work baby into the right one. The contractions were not cooperating with my body. My midwife wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and call for a c-section, but I was starting to stall.

labordelivery

She put me back on pitocin at 1mL to get me jump started again and then took me off. Half of my cervix was dilated to an 8 and the other half was dilated to a 10 so baby couldn’t get his head through. It left me with the need to push, but not the ability because if I had it would have damaged my cervix. So we played a game of rocking the car out of the ditch. I pushed while she held me at a 10 and as soon as the head was holding me at a 10 instead, we were good to go. My contractions were coming too close together and not allowing me to rest. This didn’t give me enough energy to push hard enough. I had to calm myself down and relax my mind and body so it wouldn’t tense up and cause a contraction which (surprise!) you do through breathing techniques. And I didn’t think I would need to use any of them. Ha! It’s all a learning experience. The little guy was so broad that I had to push for his head, shoulders, stomach, and hips, but he was finally born at 9:17pm, weighed 8.06lb, and was 20″ long. I was in labor for a total of roughly 8 hours and pushed for about 15 minutes which isn’t bad. It didn’t go as perfectly smooth or “painless” as I had envisioned, but I think that’s because I didn’t know exactly what to expect. In the end, I am grateful for a beautiful, healthy baby, a relatively short labor, and avoided a c-section which I’m convinced is all thanks to my midwife who knew exactly what to do to get me to progress and never gave up on me.

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The relief you feel to have that baby in your arms and the difference your body feels in a split second after delivering is priceless.

Welcome to the world, Landon Scott. You are our greatest adventure yet.

You can see more of his newborn pictures here.

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loveamanda

“I ♥ Fall” Tag

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What is your favorite fall lip product?

My favorite color to accessorize with in the fall for cosmetics is always a dark berry. My go to favorite lip product is the NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream in Copenhagen.

What is your favorite fall nail polish?

Jumping on the same color band wagon is my love for the Sally Hansen MiracleGel in V-amplified. Originally, it was the Mary Kay Berry Stylish nail lacquer which has been my favorite since it came out as a seasonal item last fall making it sadly no longer available. I would not have anticipated it to be one of my favorites, but the deep tone is super pretty and V-amplified is almost identical in color with a little more red and is a gel (bonus!).

What is your favorite fall Starbucks drink?

If I go to Starbucks, which isn’t very often, and it’s fall then I will indulge in a Pumpkin Spice Latte like the majority of modern day society. However, my favorite fall drink in general is my mom’s recipe for Hot Apple Cider Wasail. And if you wanted to try it, I snagged the recipe for you!

HOW TO: Hot Apple Cider Wassail
>In the base of a twelve-cup percolator put
1 part cranapple juice
5 parts apple cider (unpasteurized)
>In the percolator basket put
6-8 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 chopped lemon, including rind
>brew as you would coffee
*you can combine all ingredients in a stovetop pan or crockpot as well
>serve with lemon slice or cinnamon stick

What is your favorite fall candle?

I love the warm, rich scents of maple and hazelnut, but my favorite candle over all is Leaves from Bath and Body Works which reminds me of the smell of the cinnamon apple cider that I mentioned.

What is your favorite fall accessory?

It makes me so happy to be able to wear sweaters and jackets. My jean jacket is my go to and getting back into my boots is also a plus.

Would you rather go to a haunted house, haunted hay ride, or haunted corn maze?

Not much for haunted things, but I’d rather go to a haunted house from the selection and a corn maze in general because it brings back good memories.

What is your favorite fall movie?

It’s a tie between my childhood favorite and my adult favorite. Both of which are a must-watch during the holiday season. My childhood favorite would be the classic Hocus Pocus because it’s simply fabulous. My adult favorite is Beetlejuice because it’s probably one of the best Burton spooktaculars to date and you can’t beat Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder.

What is your favorite fall candy?

As a child, it was banana Laffy Taffy. I was one of the weird ones. Although, you know it was a good day if you got an actual brand chocolate bar – even the minis were gold. As an adult, I’m all about those Milk Duds though.

What are you dressing up as for Halloween?

Dressing up is my favorite, but I haven’t been able to commit to a fancy costume this year with a newborn so I will either join him and my husband in their Monsters Inc. costumes as Boo or try to throw something together that I already have a costume for.

What is your favorite thing about fall?

There are so many things I love about fall. I love the leaves changing, the crisp air, and getting to wear layers. I love the color staples and styles in the fashion, pumpkin carving, and corn maze maneuvering. I love that fall leads into some of the most memorable holidays, but my absolute favorite thing is the memories it brings with family. I met my husband in the fall at an orchard and gave birth to my son in October.

If you’re reading this, I tag you to do the “I ♥ Fall” Tag and share it with me so I can learn what you love about fall.

loveamanda

 

Landon’s Nursery Tour

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Before

This room was Jonathan’s hobby room from the time he moved in and he graciously gave it up to be his baby boy’s nursery. It needed a lot of work done to it. A previous owner had cats that used this room as their toilet and it reeked. We would need new flooring and along with new flooring figured we might as well paint to give everything a unified look.

 


After

We painted the walls gray and got this beautiful (although disappointingly NOT durable) hard wood flooring. We decided to go with neutral colors for our baby boy just so that if we were to ever have a baby girl down the road everything would transfer easily.

I made this hanging star wall piece for decor over his crib. It’s as easy as it looks. I just cut out different sized stars out of cardboard, coated one side in gold glitter and hung them from a stick with string that I also used to tie a loop on the stick so the whole piece could hang from a nail. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

After going to Ireland, where we got both of these little lambs and the beautiful green hills were spotted with SO many adorable little fleece fluffs, I decided that a counting sheep theme was what I wanted to go with for the nursery. There are so many little sheep around the room and you can see little star and moon embellishments here and there as well. The bigger sheep in this picture was a last minute snag from the Shannon airport before we headed home. Jonathan ended up lovingly carrying the sheep with him as a carry on item for the remainder of our trip home.

When it comes to expensive baby items, I can’t stress enough the importance of thrifting. And maybe not ALL baby items of course for obvious reasons, but seeing the price of a glider at Babies R Us is something that will take your breath away. My mother who is an absolute wonderful woman found this glider at a garage sale for five dollars. She then spray painted it white and reupholstered the cushions covering them in this beautiful, soft, gray fabric that matched the room perfectly. (She also thrifted our changing table and spray painted that white – go mom!)

The reading nook is my favorite part of the room aside from the crib which I am also in love with. We are starting to collect a bunch of baby books for Landon’s own little library. He will be a very smart cookie.

I did a little video walk through of the nursery that you can watch below if you’d like to see more details from the room. Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing more updates and posts in regards to Landon like maybe a What’s In My Diaper Bag or Baby Products I’m Loving.

loveamanda

The Fourth of July in Chicago

Jonathan and I had the opportunity to visit his sister and brother-in-law who live in Chicago for the 4th of July weekend. We tagged along with his parents and everyone had their dogs. There were a total of seven roaming around at once: five shitzus, a chihuahua, and a boxer. Puppy love and craziness! We went to a car show, enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Grand Luxe, watched the fireworks at Navy Pier, and visited Chinatown and Millennium Park. We had a wonderful weekend getaway with family and look forward to visiting again.

To view the rest of the pictures from our 4th of July trip to Chicago click HERE.

How was your 4th of July? Did you do anything fun for the holiday?

Mini Travel Guide for Ireland: An Account from the Dreamer of An Achieved Dream

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For years and years, the number one thing on my bucket list was to journey to the island of green hills. I thought if my feet could just touch the ground of Ireland, my spirit would be incandescently happy. I wrote stories, day dreamed, swooned over Irish accents, jammed to Celtic rock, and gleefully threw St. Patrick’s Day parties. I don’t know what started this passionate obsession with a far away land, but I know the movie PS I Love You and my crush on Gerard Butler skyrocketed it to the point where it felt like my heart would burst out of my chest if I didn’t get to go there as soon as possible. It was the feeling of this consistent itch that I needed to satisfy. When I became an adult, reality hit hard and suffocated the dreamer inside of me. The real world isn’t an easy place for dreams to thrive in. Worries, fears, concerns, and stress ate away at my passions, desires, and dreams. I’m still struggling to hold on to the characteristics that make me who I am and who I want to be. But then all of a sudden, I found myself married and somewhere in the midst of everything, I also found myself holding onto the possibility of a dream that meant so much to me at one point. Was it really possible, for our honeymoon, we would be going to Ireland? It was and we did.

It was one of those experiences where it didn’t feel like it was really going to happen. Something must go wrong. We wouldn’t actually make it. I think during our entire trip I was in this disbelief that I was actually in Ireland because none of it felt real. I had idealized this country so much that when I actually arrived, I was surprised by some of the things I discovered. Now, I knew and never expected this trip to go perfectly, but I thought I would share with you some words of wisdom, thoughts, and discoveries from my personal trip and experience that may entertain you or precaution you if you are traveling to Ireland or perhaps even another European country.

Time or Money?

Do you have a tight budget you need to work with and have time on your hands or is your time extremely limited and you can afford to put a little more money into your trip? If you can afford more money than time, I would definitely recommend meeting with a – reputable – travel agent to gain insight and options for your trip. They will make sure you are all set with your flight, hotels or B&Bs, transportation etc. without a care or worry in the world. It will cost a little more to book through them than to schedule everything on your own. If you can afford more time than money, I would still recommend meeting with a travel agent just to ask questions and find out information and options that you can pursue on your own. I was able to find the cheapest flight option doing research on my own. I was also able to find the cheapest hotel options that were exactly what I wanted and customized to suit my budget and desires. I was a little hesitant to use a third party booking site, in all honesty, after I heard some of the horror stories, but I didn’t have any problems. I used booking.com and really appreciated the ease of use. The site was really easy to navigate and I was simply able to confirm all of my information, price, time etc by emailing my hotels a month prior to make sure there were no hiccups in the plan. Fun fact though: if you’re going to southern Ireland you will use euros and if you are in northern Ireland you will use pounds, but the paper euro actually increases in the physical size as the value of it increases whereas any American bill of any value is the same physical size.

Avoid O’Hare Like the Plague

Our connecting airport that we would fly out of to head to Ireland was Chicago O’Hare. We arrived at the airport two hours before our plane departed due to our connecting flight from Detroit to Chicago as scheduled through the Aer Lingus airline. We had to get on a shuttle to take us to the international side of the O’Hare airport which wouldn’t have been a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that when we arrived, we additionally had to wait in an almost 3 hour long line to get through international security. People were bordering the deadline of when their flights would be leaving. They were tired, confused, and concerned. Even a couple fights had broken out. “Was this normal for international flights?” I asked a lady standing by us who had travelled international plenty of times before now. She said she had never seen this kind of chaos before. The problem that ensued in our situation was that every airline had scheduled their flights within 30 minutes of each other which created a throng of 2,000 travelers and only a few hired TSA people to work them through security. Thankfully, with so many people stuck in line for security, half of the plane was empty by take off time so the plane didn’t leave without us and we didn’t miss our flight. Although, it did put us an hour behind schedule. Maybe this was just a one time incident, but I’m not willing to take my chances flying internationally out of O’Hare again. If you are, I’d recommend arriving with plenty, plenty of time to spare.

Ireland Has Palm Trees

Yes, you read that correctly. I can’t even express how confused I felt by this. They had tropical foliage everywhere I turned. Granted, after researching a little bit, I found out they are called cabbage palms. They are native to New Zealand and are able to thrive in Ireland because of the warm ocean currents. Although, you won’t feel like you are in the tropics due to the temperature, you certainly will feel a bit disoriented seeing this unexpected Irish foliage.

The Cities Are Hit or Miss

Our first stop was Dublin. It’s the first city you think of when you hear the word ‘Ireland’ – a must see. It is a thriving, historical, and busy city. Did I mention, busy? I have to admit, I was warned it was “overrated”, but for my first trip to Ireland I still had to put it in our itinerary. Was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes, to be able to say I’ve been there and done that, but no, as in, if I go back to Ireland again I will not be visiting Dublin. In fact, I will make an effort to stay away from the majority of the popular cities. Why? The roads. The roads are terrible. Not in the Michigan sense with potholes, but in the “we are driving through an incredibly populated, busy, fast-paced city on our first day with three hours of sleep from the plane ride trying to remember how to drive stick-shift on the right hand side of the road and we are dealing with roads that are under construction, roads that are one ways, right ways, left ways, no ways, with small lanes, bus lanes, taxi lanes, bike lanes, where the people walk out in front of you when you’re driving, where bikes and motorcycles don’t hesitate to ride in between lanes, and you’re dealing with constant stop and gos for a miscellaneous sort of reasons” sense. Additionally, it is an absolute head ache to find parking anywhere and if you do, make sure you have euro coins with you because it is a city and you will have to pay … and pay probably more than you think is fair or necessary for parking (we are talking anywhere from 1-2 euro an hour which at our exchange rate was more than 1-2 American dollars). I don’t say this to discourage you. If you want to go, then go, see, and conquer, but perhaps consider doing it a different way. Maybe a tour bus or if you don’t mind walking, get a taxi into town and back to your hotel (although it’s aprox a euro a minute for drive time).

Carefully Weigh Your Car Rental Options

The majority of Europe drives manual cars. Manual cars are cheaper to rent by quite a bit. Unless you are confidently skilled driving manual, I caution you to spend the extra money to get an automatic. It could potentially save you a lot of headaches. I say this because we rented a manual and got a brand new Opel Insignia. We were the first drivers and even though my husband had experience driving stick, the clutch went out on the last day of our trip and we were without a car and had a huge issue with the car rental company we went through because they blamed the wear and tear on us since we were the first drivers. Our mechanic said the clutch was a common issue he dealt with on a day to day basis with other tourists who rented manuals. Save yourself time, headache, and potentially even more money in the end if you rent an automatic that you’re comfortable with. It will make city driving and mountain driving a little bit easier as well. Another thing to consider is the insurance. It costs a lot more and you get a lot less than you would in America. At 25 euro a day you only have to pay 1,750 euro if you total the car in an accident. The options are not the greatest, but if you are doing a lot of driving, which I would recommend to see the countryside, I wouldn’t risk going without any insurance.

It’s Rare to Have AC in Your Hotel Room or B&B

With the exception of our first hotel, we didn’t have any AC in our rooms. Ireland is not known for it’s warm weather so perhaps they think it’s not necessary. The rooms, however, seemed to be a lot warmer than it actually was outside and would make it feel like AC was necessary. Our solution was to open the windows and ask for a fan, which usually the front desk was able to provide.

See the Tourist. Be the Tourist.

Every city we visited you could find a Tourist Information building. I think we could say with certainty that we saw less Irish people and more people of every other ethnicity combined over the course of our trip. Natural and architectural Irish gems almost always were tourist traps that you had to pay to go see and there was always a gift shop nearby selling commercialized Irish baubles. Depending on how you look at it, the culture overload can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The World is Becoming Less Cultured and More Globalized

The first little grocery store we walked into, we were disappointed to find that we recognized a good majority of the brands. We found that the food the restaurants served was also familiar to us as we saw burgers, salads, etc. on the menus. There weren’t very many opportunities to actually eat a traditional Irish meal or, for that matter, find traditional Irish brands. It’s a bit of a shame because as our societies progress toward the future, we have brands that are becoming globally recognized and well-known around the world and as a result each country loses a bit of their own unique culture to support and provide the same brands as every other country.

Make Sure You Bring the Correct Adapter

I ordered two electrical outlet adapters that said they were good for the UK and Ireland. They weren’t. The main adapter in Ireland has three, hefty, rounded metal prongs. Thankfully, many of the petrol stations and convenience stores cater to tourists and provide the correct adapter for purchase if you made a mistake like I did. Being the tech savvy modern day 20-something that I am and traveling with my husband who is the same, we had a lot of electronics with us. Bring a power strip and you will have less adaptors you need to purchase.

The Rumors Might Just Be True

Have you heard what other countries say about Americans? They eat more and weigh more. You almost always have to ask for ketchup and salt. If it’s on the table, they are not catering to the Irish they are catering to the tourists. Instead of ketchup, they will use malt vinegar on their chips (fries). The portion sizes cost more and contain less. You will rarely see someone who is overweight and you will see a lot of people walking, running, or riding their bikes.

Ring Around the Rosy

If you are driving and are not already comfortable with roundabouts, you will become very comfortable after your trip. You will find traffic lights in downtown areas, but everywhere else you will find a roundabout at an intersection.

Learn the Signs

If you see a sign with an old camera on it, it does not mean that there is a scenic route coming up and that you should take out your camera. It means that there are speeding cameras around that will track how fast you’re going. Fortunately, we haven’t received any tickets in the mail as a foreigner.

You Are Safe

Ireland is generally a very safe place. You will rarely see a guard (police officer) around unless you are in Dublin. You pay for petrol (gas) after you pump. Very few people own guns in Ireland because the taxes on them are so high, but when it comes to protecting one’s self they’d argue you wouldn’t need one.

The Waiting Game

In America, if you don’t tip it’s considered a carnal sin and there’s a high expectancy that the waiter will be very attentive to you. Although the tip percentage in Ireland is 10%, if you are paying with a card, it will not leave a place on the receipt to add a tip. You have to leave a tip in currency … if you even want to. The service was far from being as attentive as we were used to in the US. At almost every restaurant, I had to track our waiter down to ask for a refill on water (and it was usually more than once).

Cheers

Ireland is a beer drinking country. You’ll walk into a restaurant to see the entire community with a beer in their hand. The priest drinks, the farmer drinks, the mother drinks. Everyone drinks and since everyone drinks the drinking age is 18 there so if you look older than 18 you will not be carded. We weren’t carded once. Legal driving limit is the same as in America. Coming from the state that has the most craft breweries in the nation, we were surprised to find little variety in the types of beer available. My husband, who I loosely call a beer connoisseur, was generally unimpressed by the taste of the beers in Ireland compared to the ones in Michigan. And in case you are wondering, Guinness in Ireland doesn’t taste any different than Guinness anywhere else.

Check With Your Service Provider

We use Verizon and for $10/day we were able to use our service internationally while we were in Ireland for talk, text, and data. I loved the data aspect of it because it allowed us to use the GPS on our phones to navigate where we needed to go. It also allowed us to call people in case of an emergency both in Ireland and back home. Life saver. The cool thing is that when my phone was roaming it would tell me the time back home and the time in Ireland. The only frustrating aspect we encountered was that our service would drop and I’d have to switch from one network to another all the while still paying for a service I wasn’t necessarily able to access 24/7. I’d be happy to give you a detailed explanation for how to do this, but I believe it’s different for each phone. All you have to do is call the international service number for your provider – which you can always reach – and they will walk you through how to solve the problem.

Download the Best GPS App

I’ve used MapQuest as my go-to GPS up until about a week ago when I found myself in Ireland and unable to get directions to where I needed to go. I downloaded several that I was unimpressed with until I finally went with the Google Maps app. It’s Google so of course it has no problem pulling up EVERYTHING and geo-locates you without a problem. It also has this wonderful offline feature so if you’re having the above said problem with your international service there’s an area in Google Maps where you can select an area and download it for offline use.

Don’t Hesitate to Try New Things

Of the things that are new and different, take a chance and try them just for the opportunity and experience. Try the black pudding in the traditional full Irish breakfast.  Get fish and chips and if you’re a little bit hesitant because you think they are too highly priced for your idea of what fish and chips should be priced at, get them anyway. It’s high quality, fresh fish and probably different than what you are envisioning. Although, if you really don’t care for fish then you probably won’t enjoy it.

Look for Tax Free

Ireland has a crazy sales tax upwards around 18% that is included in the final price making many goods and services quite a bit pricier than what you might be used to. Most all goods that you take back home out of the country within three months of purchasing are eligible for a tax refund. Look for the tax free sign on the side of stores and make sure to ask for a tax free form. You will need the form as proof that you are taking the goods out of the country. You will also need to find to get a stamp at customs before leaving the country. When adding up all the tax, you could be receiving a hefty lump sum back.

Must Brings

Some of the items that we absolutely loved and couldn’t have gone without on our trip are as follows:

  • an empty plastic water bottle that you can take through security, fill up before you get on the plane, and use for the rest of your trip so you don’t have to buy water bottles
  • an umbrella because you will inevitably encounter rain on your trip
  • portable chargers, a car charger (American cars have the same port as European cars so your car charger should work without a problem), and extra camera batteries
  • the correct adapter for your electronics
  • a small, stylish backpack instead of a purse so you can carry what you need without the hassle
  • a GPS with maps of Ireland either

Must Sees and Dos

  • Wicklow Mountains National Park
  • Glendalough
  • The Blarney Castle – Kissing the Blarney Stone
  • The Ring of Kerry – the entire coastal drive
  • The Burren
  • Cliffs of Moher

Must Buys and Tries

  • the new Guinness beer called Hop House 13 which is only available on tap in Ireland (as of May 2016)
  • a traditional Irish breakfast with black and white pudding
  • a Cadbury chocolate bar (my favorite was the cookies and cream one)
  • malt vinegar on your fries instead of Ketchup
  • Green Spot whiskey – only available in Ireland
  • a claddagh ring
  • a picture documenting you kissing the Blarney Stone
  • an aran sweater

Overall Ireland is a beautiful country with so much character in its natural structures and historic medieval architecture. The cities are quaint and colorful and the green hills are speckled with white fluffy dots. The sights are definitely something to behold and the Irish people we were grateful enough to encounter on our trip are genuinely the most understanding and kind human beings. It lived up to my expectations, but painted the reality of cultural differences in a clear light. I really enjoyed our trip, but it did give me a new appreciation for home that I don’t think I had before. Michigan has similar weather, similar landscapes (minus the cliffs, mountains, and castles of course), similar food, and better beer. Michigan is home and for the first time in 9 days when we walked into our house I felt like I could breathe and relax. There’s something about traveling abroad in a foreign country that – although I love and enjoy – has you a little on edge. I feel accomplished checking this off my bucket list and am so grateful for the experience and the ability to finally say I’ve traveled to where my heart was content.

You can check out more pictures from our trip HERE. Have you been to Ireland? What was your favorite thing to see or do? What countries are on your bucket list to travel to?

 

Getting Ready | Tying the Knot Series |

amanda's ring

jon's ring

My ring took forever to find. Jonathan searched high and low for the ring he knew I wanted: a single solitaire with a vintage feel and a lot of detail. His, however, takes on a much different feel. He was insistent upon having “The One Ring to Rule Them All”. So we embraced our inner nerds.

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dresses

My dress was perfect. It flowed with an airy gallant. The pearls and rhinestones bordering the sweetheart neckline sparkled. I love the Mrs. Rodden hanger I DIYed.

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amanda's shoes

These sparkly gold pumps peeked out from underneath my dress and were probably my favorite piece of the ensemble. I felt enchanting in them.

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Can we just take a second to appreciate the fact that we have the ability to die our hair wicked colors that make us feel happy? I fall in love with my hair every time I see it.

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Our wedding colors were teal and forest green with pops of sparkling or metallic gold. Our flowers, for the most part, were hydrangeas, white roses, and succulents. Looking back, I’m giddy with excitement for how perfect our wedding day was.

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Shout out to our beautiful and amazing wedding photographer who works magic behind a camera, Samantha Golda – check out her work.

Our Love Story | Tying the Knot Series |

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It’s been one month since my wedding and I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate by starting a little wedding series on my blog called Tying the Knot – filled with my experiences, suggestions and advice, and an inside look at my special day. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see. In this first post, I’ll [finally] be sharing our love story with you (yayy!!). So here goes … let’s dive in!

Jonathan and I met on an online dating site. Some of you may remember my Autumn Celebrations post from fall of 2012. Those photos were from our first “date”/meeting. We went to a local orchard and hung out in a corn maze. He had just come back home from college in Oklahoma and I was heading into my first year of college. Both of us were walking into a new stage of our life filled with growth. We connected on many different levels intellectually and with our beliefs, but aside from a friendship there was nothing substantial there and we needed to figure out some things in our lives on our own. 

A year later, I began praying to experience what it was like to live out a sacrificial love like Christ in a romantic relationship and to understand the love of Christ as the groom by having one of my own. Out of the blue, Jonathan contacted me to get together. I was going through some emotional turmoil at the time and he really listened and offered me support and friendship when I needed it. When he revealed his intentions to pursue something romantically with me, I was pretty skeptical. We hadn’t really spoken since the year before and at the time our friendship sort of just came to a halt leaving me in a negative place. He slowly nurtured our relationship and won my affection.

I had this stipulation in my mind that I would know who the man I should marry was if he asked my parents’ for their blessing to date me. I liked the old fashion idea and thought, a man who was so in sync with hearing God’s voice would hear from Him the desires of my heart. Long story short, that did come to pass and I felt like I had a green light to go ahead and date Jon. Typing this I have to laugh because I believed so much in signs at the time and put so much emphasis on making the right decision that sometimes I avoided making a decision at all unless circumstances made it for me. I don’t necessarily recommend that, but sometimes it’s a part of growth.

Our Frankenmuth date was a big turning point because that was when I started seeing him as the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We lived a good 40 minutes away from each other and he drove 40 minutes south to pick me up, an hour north to our destination and then drove me back home again. He spent more on dinner than I could fathom someone spending on a date period. He stood outside in the December Michigan chill to stargaze with me for my astronomy assignment. I could go on, but needless to say he really went all out and impressed me on that date.
08260c_7b1a4a8b74a54ad592b5633e39dcb54bWe knew pretty soon into our relationship that we were committed to our choice to love one another and had the intentions of marrying each other. As any girl in love would, I hopelessly and romantically started planning our wedding before there was a ring on my finger. Pinterest only fed my obsession. haha Our relationship pushed us to many boundaries that stretched our love and commitment. Our circumstances didn’t allow us to really get serious about marriage until a year and a half into our relationship. At that point, I knew there was a proposal coming, but Jon was still preparing to get a ring. On our two year anniversary, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. We had gone to Frankenmuth to celebrate and we decided to take a picture in the same spot we took our first picture together (one of our favorites). He put his arm around me and held the ring in view for the shot. I, of course, was oblivious to all of this. After being momentarily distracted by a text, I looked up to find him down on one knee. It wasn’t until we were driving home that he told me to look at the pictures we took and I saw the ring.

We had a lot of people wondering why we got married so soon. We had a date in mind six months prior to the actual proposal. I had my heart set on a spring wedding, but when the time came to actually book a venue, we couldn’t get one that fit our criteria. I so badly wanted a spring wedding, but even more than that we both wanted to get married in 2016. Since I had a good majority of things planned anyway, we decided to just eliminate the stress of drawing it out and we set our date for January 16, 2016, a month and half after the “official” proposal. There is some compromise and sacrifice involved, but it’s not an impossible feat. One of the those compromises was that our January wedding was just an intimate ceremony of about 50 people out of our closest family and friends, however that left a more laid back reception with a larger amount of guests that we will be having in the summer.

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All in all, marriage is wonderful. I married a man who is smart, charming, interesting, and sweet (just a few of his many characteristics). He’s truly my best friend and I have learned so much from him. He’s helped to shape me into someone who is much more independent and established in the way she thinks and lives. He’s someone who helps me grow and pushes me to be the best person I can be. I’m looking forward to sharing more from our special day with you and taking you with us on our adventures. If you want to see more with Jonathan, give a big shout out to him in the comments below and maybe we will bring a collab your way. What would you like to see?

Year In Review: 2015

I really liked the idea I had for 2014’s year in review by creating a video instead of just a blog post. I updated the feel of it to be more like watching a virtual scrapbook of my adventures instead of hearing me babble on about things. ha!

So I have some really exciting news at the end of this video. Go ahead and watch it. 🙂

That’s right … I’m [finally] ENGAGED!!! Yay! I’m getting married!! So the reason why I’ve been forever MIA is because I’ve been planning a wedding. And not just any wedding, but a wedding that is currently less than 3 weeks away! Ahh! I have my bridal look to share with you, wedding DIYs to walk you through, and lots of pictures and goodies coming your way. Hold on a little longer and bare with me as you will soon be flooded with wondrous and amorous things come February. In case you’re curious, our date is January 16th. (And also … my Twitter and Instagram handles will be changing soon as well to reflect my new last name).

Hope you all had a merry Christmas and have a HAPPY new year! Cheers to 2016!

Previous Year in Review:

2012

2013

2014

Talk to you lovelies soon <3