For the Love of “Ruff” 

There are several types of people in this world: those who have a dog and those who include their dog in their Christmas card picture. We are proud members of the second group.

We didn’t just consider Reagan to be “good practice” for kids when we got her—she was our first child. As soon as we were out of the puppy potty-training phase, she started sleeping on our bed. We planned weekend mornings around her dog park trips and happy hour locations based on dog-friendly patios. We worried about leaving her home alone too long and, like most new parents, probably took her to the vet more often than needed.

We even navigated our relationship differences and discipline ideas with her. There were days when my husband and I got upset at each other if he was too tough or I was too soft. What kind of discipline is warranted, for example, when she chews up my leopard flats? Is it really that big of a deal if she eats some table scraps every once in a while? At the time, these were major issues (oh, how our worries have changed!).

I worked from home when I was pregnant, which meant that Reagan and I were inseparable. I’d joke that I had the best co-worker in the world. Still, I knew that our little family life was about to change and she was in for a shock. Once our son was born, she was clearly apprehensive about it all. She has always been the sweetest dog, and she was just as gentle as we thought she’d be with a baby—from a distance. During those first few months together, she only reacted to him when he’d sneeze or scream. Who was this tiny human and why was he so loud?

Now, that baby is a crazy toddler who calls Reagan “Ruff” and regularly invades her personal space and suffocates her with hugs. He talks to her, kisses her goodnight and says “bye Ruff” every time we leave the house. She checks in on him during bath time and is there when he’s up crying at midnight due to double ear infections. She has overcome that initial distance and is fully comfortable licking him right on the face and, most importantly, sharing food. My heart aches every time I see their sweet interactions. To each other, they’re siblings; both integral parts of our family.

My husband and I laugh as we chase our toddler around, thinking about our “puppy parent” stress years ago. But we also recognize all that Reagan has taught us – and all that she’s currently teaching our son. She turned our selfish, young adult lives upside down with responsibility (in the best way possible!). It’s one thing to grow up with dogs and quite another to have your own; to feel the full weight of caring for someone who’s completely reliant on you.

A constant comfort for everyone in our house now, Reagan demonstrates unconditional love, entertains us endlessly and reminds us what matters. She didn’t hold it against me when her space shrunk to make room for another or my phone picture roll changed from all Reagan to all baby. Come to think of it, she’s the best model for forgiveness and selfless love I know. And we could all benefit from a little more of that in this world!

 

 

Grapefruit Bundt Cake

Your birthday cake choice says a lot about you, doesn’t it?

I can never decide between all of the sweet possibilities, so I try to maximize my day with a two-in-one choice: cookie cake. My husband usually goes less traditional: the last few years he’s requested an apple pie and donuts. My mom, on the other hand, has held strong with this grapefruit bundt cake!

She’s requested this grapefruit bundt cake for several years now, and it’s become a family favorite! It has a hint of citrus from the grapefruit, and a richness from the cream cheese. I don’t remember where the recipe first came from, but it’s become part of our story now! And aren’t the best recipes passed down like memories?

Along with birthdays, we also make it for other special occasions! So in celebration of Mother’s Day this weekend, here is one of my mom’s favorite desserts 🙂

Grapefruit bundt cake

Grapefruit Bundt Cake 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp grapefruit rind
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk (Any kind works! I’ve used skim, whole and almond milk)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Grapefruit Glaze

  • 4 Tbsp grapefruit juice
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare your bundt pan – instead of spraying it with oil, we recommend buttering the pan and then coating it with a light flour layer. In a mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar and cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, along with the oil, grapefruit rind, vanilla and milk and mix it all together. Next, add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt). Pour into the pan and bake for approximately one hour. Let the cake cool completely before taking it out of the pan!

To make the grapefruit glaze, combine the grapefruit juice and powdered sugar with a mixer. You can experiment with the amount of juice and sugar, depending on the thickness desired. The more glaze, the better!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Favorites: (Almost) Summer Book Review

It seems like just yesterday that I used to read books on airplanes. And by yesterday, I mean approximately two years ago (hey, Griff!).

I know that it won’t be long before he’s easily occupied while traveling, but right now, I’m the person on your flight stealing jealous glances at your book while I open the fifteenth applesauce pouch and catch a flying Hot Wheels car. My reading is currently limited to naptime and bedtime, which means I’m pretty picky about which books are “worth it.” And the following three definitely are! All of the stories below left me still randomly thinking about them weeks or months afterward — a definite sign of a good book!

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences

This book covers some heavy topics, but it surprisingly never felt hard to read or too depressing. I think it’s because the author writes in a fun, conversational and introspective style. With that said, I sometimes found myself skimming over some of the main character’s avoidance of reality and self-discovery parts to see what actually happens next! Clearly I’ve become more impatient with books the last few years 😉 Overall, though, I’d definitely recommend this one. It makes you think, but somehow still feels like an easy beach read (best of both worlds)!

You Me Everything

I just loved this book! I mean, what’s not to love about a well-written story, featuring motherhood and romance, that’s set in the French countryside? I thought the main character was super relatable, and the author did a great job unfolding her complicated past with her son’s father. Plus, I’m a sucker for most books set in France! It surprised me and left me smiling — which is basically a requirement now. I need happy books in the midst of all of the bad news around us!

Close Enough to Touch

We always see those crazy articles about unimaginable conditions — but what if that was your reality? This book follows a woman who is allergic to human touch as she tried to live a normal life as a librarian. It’s a unique story line that felt different from many books today. I loved the writing style and the way the author makes you completely understand how this woman became a recluse who is afraid of getting close to anyone (literally!). It’s a sweet book that provides you with a new perspective!

 

What are you reading right now? Educated is next on my list!

 

My Journey to Safer Products & Why I’m All in with Beautycounter

The EU has eliminated over 1,400 ingredients in their cosmetics while the U.S. has only eliminated 30. How is that possible? And has it really been 80+ years since Congress last voted to regulate any ingredients?

I’m naturally skeptical. But, when I was pregnant with Griffin, I started reading more health and beauty information – and I realized that I needed to clean up my act. I ate healthy food and worked out, so why wasn’t I putting the same amount of thought and energy into what I put ON my body? Facts like those above are not only true, they’re scary! I started by looking at my deodorant, shampoo and body wash after reading news articles about chemicals in those products and listening to a podcast with the founder of Schmidt’s deodorant. She is highly educated and started the company because we needed safer alternatives! I was so excited to try their deodorant, but a few days in I ended up with an extremely itchy armpit rash. As it turns out, my body was detoxing from the chemical it was used to (that’s normal!). I’m currently using Tom’s deodorant, but I have a different Schmidt’s deodorant and Primally Pure on my list to try next.

I began with the products above because they were easy changes that weren’t too expensive and would positively benefit my hormones and health. A few months after that, I began looking at my makeup. I had NO background knowledge on this, and had used random, cheap makeup most of my life, so I did what everyone else does these days: I turned to the internet. I read different articles from various sources. I listened to more podcasts and did some Googling. Regardless of the bias or company, everyone seemed to agreed: the beauty industry is unregulated and that can be dangerous.

I mean, toxins and heavy metals in makeup? That doesn’t seem right! As said in this Women’s Health article about clean beauty: “Since makeup sits on the skin for the day, it is important to select products that are free of chemicals that are questionable or contain irritants… Chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, PEGs, and synthetic fragrances are all linked to harmful health effects such as hormone disruption, cancer, and skin irritation.”

The first makeup product that made the most sense for me to change was my foundation. I slather it on my face daily and so my skin is absorbing whatever is in it. That’s where Beautycounter comes in. My sister-in-law has really sensitive skin, and had mentioned them before as a natural product option that didn’t irritate her eczema. I realized that an old friend from college had also talked about Beautycounter on social media, so I reached out to her to learn more. I browsed their website and searched reviews, and then ended up ordering their Dew Skin tinted moisturizer. I loved the feel of it – and that it includes sunscreen – but after using it for a few days, I decided that it wasn’t enough coverage for me at work (hi, breakouts in my late 20s!). I ordered Beautycounter’s Tint Skin foundation and haven’t looked back! I now use both the tinted moisturizer and the foundation, depending on the day and how much coverage I need.

Now, I’m all in – I completely support Beautycounter’s mission and love all of the other products I’ve tried too. In fact, I just signed on to be a Beautycounter consultant and advocate for safer beauty! That doesn’t mean I use them exclusively – I’ve been using that classic pink and green mascara tube for over a decade and haven’t been able to quit it yet! But I am focusing more on quality products and slowly cleaning up my makeup preferences. Once you’re aware of how bad some of the other makeup is for you, it’s hard to turn a blind eye.

From an armpit rash to discovering safer foundation, my clean product journey is just beginning! I continue to learn more every day. What kind of skincare and makeup products do you use? Are you willing to continue using them, even knowing that your skin is absorbing the toxins and it may be disrupting your hormones or leading to other health issues? I’d love to help you find safer swaps!

Beautycounter Quick Facts:

  • It’s not the kind of MLM you’re thinking of: It’s a direct retail company, which means you can go to their website and order whatever you want on your own! They also have a store in NYC and pop-up locations around the country. Our founder wanted to have consultants because she knew that women educating other women within their community is far more powerful than anything else. The benefits of going through a Beautycounter consultant include: education, product assistance and to support those who are advocating for safer beauty!
  • As a Certified B Corporation, Beautycounter is committed to using business as a force for positive change.
  • Since the industry isn’t regulated, we created the “Never List,” which is a list of 1,500 questionable ingredients we’ll never use in any products.
  • Beautycounter takes the nerve out of ordering makeup online: You can return anything within 60 days and get your money back! You can also switch out shades, no problem.
  • Every product is cruelty free, nontoxic and safe for pregnant and nursing women.

My Beautycounter Favorites:

Not sure where to start? This skincare quiz is helpful!

The Environmental Working Group is also a great resource to check the score of your current skincare and makeup products.

Giving up on Labels & Mom Guilt

Part-time, full-time, natural, real, easy, hard… where does it end? We put labels on so much in life to try to understand someone or categorize something. How many times have you been asked what you do or how you do it?  In motherhood, these labels seem to be taken especially personally.

In my relatively short motherhood journey so far, I’ve been a work-from-home mom and a traditional nine-to-five mom. I’ve experienced the judgement on both sides. Last year, I hesitated to say that I worked part-time because it felt like I was always working – when I wasn’t feeding or entertaining a little one, that is. We’re full-time parents first and everything else is in addition to that, regardless of how much help you have or how you spend those precious naptime hours.

Even though working from home was certainly challenging as my son got older, going back to work full-time was a completely different beast. I cried every time I dropped him off in the morning. Eventually, we figured out that it was best if my husband did drop-offs. I’m better at pick-up time; at scooping up my son and not letting him leave my sight. We all have our special talents, right? You might be a coding genius but I’m a needy mom.

Fortunately, as humans we’re adaptable and can fall into routines easily. It’s both a weakness and a necessity for survival that we gravitate toward the familiar. Anyway, it’s still not easy to leave him, but I’ve adjusted enough to keep the tears to a minimum. The first time I felt a sense of relaxation when I got in my car with coffee and a podcast in mind, however, I instantly recoiled as if I’d taken a sip of week-old milk: MOM GUILT.

I’m learning that mom guilt comes in many forms. Everyone, regardless of your “label,” experiences it. Mom guilt sneaks up on you like Randall in Monsters, Inc. (clearly a house favorite right now). When I worked from home, I’d feel bad for getting frustrated when my son was teething and wouldn’t nap or when I’d try to multitask when he clearly wanted my attention. And then I felt nauseous for weeks when I had to go to an office and leave him at daycare. Why am I paying someone else to watch my son? What if this isn’t the best choice for him? I’d wish for quiet and then for the exact opposite. My guilt morphed from one shape to another, as all of our worries and fears tend to do. You’re cruising along just fine and then BAM a camouflaged lizard (ahem, Randall) stops you in your tracks. You’re ok and then you’re not.

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Most days, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing – which, I’m also figuring out, is just part of the motherhood learning curve. I find myself harboring guilt for any number of strange things at any given time. A ball is certainly always at risk of being dropped. But then I take a deep breath and my toddler smiles at me in between unrolling the toilet paper and sticking his hands in the dog bowl, and I realize that it’s all in how you look at it. It’s cliché but true: gratitude makes a difference. I may not want to leave my son every day, but I’m lucky to have somewhere safe to take him. I may overcompensate on weekends and get frustrated when our limited time together isn’t perfect – but what is?

It’s all too easy to feel alone when we start comparing ourselves to other moms who are “part-time” or “full-time” and forget that grace reigns over guilt. We often build up the other side and idolize whatever we don’t have. How lucky is she to stay at home and enjoy her kids without having to worry about contributing any income? Or how is she so professionally successful in this phase of little ones when I can’t even find clean yoga pants? But at the end of the day, we’re all united by our uncertainty and our desire to get this – our most important job – right.

As moms, we’re always full-time everything. We may get sick days at work, but not at home. We’re all just doing the best we can: whatever we have to do for our families. And I feel like my various experiences across the working spectrum so far qualify me to safely put an end to the great debate: It’s all hard! You’re right and you’re right and we’re all just different sides to the same coin. Everyone is tired and trying to do too much all at once.

Time is a precious commodity. Motherhood is not easy. And even though this full-time life is exhausting, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After all, the benefits far outweigh the work: A full-time, forever love.

 

 

Favorites: Better Beauty Products

“The skincare product that Megan Markle swears by”

Who hasn’t fallen for a headline like that? Even if you aren’t as royally obsessed as I am, there is probably some other celebrity or athlete who piques your curiosity. I want to know their secrets! Of course, when they’re revealed, it often seems unrealistic – either the solution is a skeptical drugstore hack or it’s exorbitantly expensive.

Now, we don’t all have millions of dollars to spend on custom dermatologist-recommended regimes or weekly facials. Between watermelon masks and the latest CBD trend, the number of products and ingredients on the market today can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are safer, accessible products out there today that work well, have simple ingredient lists and won’t break the bank.

I first started looking into more natural skincare and beauty products when I was pregnant with Griffin. I was being so cautious about every area of my life, from exercise to food and vitamins, but I hadn’t realized the impact of my personal products. And our skin is our largest organ! So, I did some research and began learning about how ingredients in deodorant, lotion, moisturizer and more can affect our hormones and health – some have even been linked to infertility and diseases.

 

I first changed my deodorant (great resources on why here and here!) and then turned to my makeup. The one product that I wear every day? Foundation and moisturizer of some kind. So I decided that I should probably be more aware of what is being absorbed into my skin daily! In my quest for cosmetics that were clean but not completely crunchy, I found Beautycounter. It’s a safer beauty option that actually works! In fact, after using their products for a while and learning more about the company and their mission, I decided to join the Beautycounter team! And I’d love to explain more if you’re interested.

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Anyway, a few favorites that I’ve been loving lately include:

Dew Skin tinted moisturizer

Tint Skin foundation

Countercontrol clear pore cleanser

Thayers rose petal witch hazel

Tinted lip balm

In terms of baby products, we’ve been using Burt’s Bees or Honest Co. shampoo and body wash. I also LOVE Original Sprout lotion. 

EWG’s Healthy Living App is a great resource that I just discovered thanks to The Fitnessista – you can scan any product at the store or search for products in your house already to see the ingredient score and health rating! It’s a great place to start if, like me, you’re still in the process of trying to find better alternatives for items you use often.

What are your favorite natural products? I’d love any recommendations… especially mascara or dry shampoo. I haven’t been able to quit my Maybelline mascara or Batiste habits yet!

The significance of a sailboat skirt 

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“Just throw on a t-shirt,” my husband responds automatically any time I’m struggling to pick out clothes or questioning what I should wear.

He knows that is rarely my outfit of choice. I dress for my mood and associate clothes with feelings or events. Because of this, I can rarely pick out clothes in advance. What if I don’t feel like wearing that tomorrow? Before motherhood, this was occasionally an inconvenience or frustration, but it never had any ramifications other than a slow packing process or a late arrival. I always eventually figured out how to prepare and what to wear.

I wore a green dress for a major college internship interview, with a white blazer that never felt like it belonged on me. For my dad’s military retirement ceremony, I bought a blue lace dress that is still a favorite years later. Before my first date with my now-husband, I went with a go-to classic: my turquoise skirt with tiny white sail boats on it. I had just graduated from college, and it seemed to perfectly capture the lightness of the afternoon; the idea that this could be the start of something.

I felt like myself in that sailboat skirt, which is both a major feat and a laughably deep association for a piece of clothing. Still, I catalogue these outfit choices in my mind like tiny milestone markers representing a larger event or moment in life. They have significance to me, if no one else. The first thing I bought after learning that our baby was a boy? An airplane onesie. My dad is a pilot and it seemed like a fitting first purchase as I browsed through clothing racks and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to have a son.

During the last few months of my pregnancy, I lived in swing dresses and swim suits that were a few sizes too small. Fortunately, the latter was always worn in the privacy of my parent’s pool, so I didn’t have to subject the public to the fear of a chlorinated water birth. But still, this period of time taught me to let go of control – of my body, of my wardrobe, of my plans. He would come when he was ready and I would eventually stop waddling. I was limited to only a few outfit options that covered my giant stomach but didn’t suffocate me in triple-digit heat. I became both indifferent about my clothing and yet uninspired by my three repetitive choices. I missed my old jeans and at the same time I couldn’t imagine who I would be the next time I was in them.

As I prepared for motherhood, I often found myself standing blankly in front of my closet wondering what the mom version of me would wear. I had quickly given up on packing a glorious, Pinterest-worthy hospital bag, but I knew that I needed something in there besides socks and jolly ranchers. The summer my son was born was a scorcher and the heat seemed to fuel my anxiety. I might never care what I wear again, I thought, as the responsibility of caring for a tiny human loomed and reality set in. How was I going to handle this? Instead of googling more hospital bag lists or overthinking my labor wardrobe, I focused on washing his impossibly small clothes.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about choosing the best hospital clothes or bringing the right robe. Of course my outfit choice didn’t matter when it came to becoming a mom. I put on a hospital gown and was delirious for much of my transition into motherhood. It didn’t matter how I looked. It didn’t matter what I packed in my bag. He arrived in the midst of a million emotions and full of overwhelming love.

After a foggy newborn period, our infant phase was marked by stretchy black yoga pants and more uncertainty, while toddlerhood emerged with a newfound love for skinny jeans and a budding confidence. So, in this aspect of life, I choose nostalgia over minimalism. There are some clothing items I won’t get rid of, even though I rarely wear them. Others have obvious seasonal or practical limitations, but they still have personal value to me; like an old picture in a frame that you never update. Because sometimes in our quest to get rid of everything, we forget why we’re holding on and that who we used to be shaped who we are. The day Ryan proposed to me, three years after our first date, I wore another sailboat skirt as we walked by a marina on the California coast. It now hangs next to the turquoise sailboat skirt from college. My closet may be slightly more full – and certainly less organized – than others, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I look back on my first year with Griffin, there’s a tiny, applesauce-stained outfit next to mine in the mental timeline of events. From the light cotton onesies that got us through the Arizona summer to the cutest Hawaiian shirt he wore for a tropical wedding, his outfits are pressed into my memories along with his eating schedule, sleeping preferences, silly faces and so much more. He’s crazy and messy and perfect. Life is far less curated and much more wrinkly than it used to be. And I’ve never felt more significance in my choices than I do now.

Favorites: Book Review

“My book club only reads wine labels.”

That infamous Pinterest quote was actually my life during the first few months of motherhood — I wasn’t reading many books and I definitely felt the void. Now, I’m happily reading as much as I can to make up for lost time! Below are a few favorites!

I just discovered this author, and love her conversational style! This book was an easy, fun read and it covers super relevant topics today — from navigating working mom life to our obsession with the internet and perfection. I definitely recommend it! Her book Life and Other Near Death Experiences is on my list next.

This book was out of the ordinary for me, but my sister-in-law recommended it! I’m not usually a big mystery/thriller fan, but I ended up really liking this one. It’s a fascinating fiction escape that intertwines the stories of a journalist and a young widow, but it’s also scary to think that some of the political/financial scandals could be based on true stories. It’s a page turner and I’ve already passed my copy on to a friend!

 

This book was hard to get into initially, but I was hooked by the second half! It seems like a simple beach read at first glance — two long-lost friends are brought together again and so on — but I found myself still thinking about it a few days later after the story gets more complex. It would be a great book to bring on vacation this spring!

Foolproof Sugar Cookies

When I was younger, I made it a goal to have a recipe memorized. It seemed glamorous to have a signature recipe; to be known for a culinary creation that I could whip up at any point during the day, from anywhere.

Now that I’m writing that out, however, I’m actually not sure where or when I thought I’d be in those situations. Maybe I imagined I’d be challenged to a bake-off while traveling through a quaint town outside of Paris? Clearly, I’ve read too many chick-lit books set in the City of Love.

For now, I’m celebrating smaller milestones, like finally having this six-ingredient cookie recipe memorized. A win is a win, baby! Maybe one day my brain will have more space for a complex, impressive French dish… but right now it’s consumed with marketing work, diapers and cheerios. C’est La Vie.

Anyway, this recipe came from an old Mrs. Fields cookie book a long time ago. I don’t even know if I’ve ever made anything else out of it… my mom and I found this one and never looked back! Now, I make them for holidays and any time a little extra sugar is needed 🙂  I just made them recently for a baby shower I co-hosted for my brother and his wife. I rolled out blue fondant and cut out hearts to place on top for a simple, classic cookie.

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Foolproof Sugar Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Basic Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 t skim milk
  • 2-4 cups of powdered sugar, depending on desired thickness

Yield: 2-3 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add the flour and salt. Blend until combined. Gather dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk and wrap tightly in a plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least one hour or several days.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, roll the dough out on a floured surface. With cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, being careful not to brown*. Immediately transfer cookies with a spatula to a cool, flat surface.

To make the frosting, mix all of the frosting ingredients together, slowly adding powered sugar until you reach the desired thickness. (The measurements are loose on this one!) You can also add a few drops of food coloring. Frost and enjoy!

*To make sure they’re soft, take the cookies out as soon as they lose their sheen and have a matte top. Then, let them sit for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack. 

Easy love & hard-won happiness

“It used to be so easy,” my husband and I mused over margaritas and guacamole on a recent date night. We were checking in with each other and discussing how we’re feeling about work, stress, the future and so on. We never used to have to say “let’s check in” when we needed to vent or wanted to bring something up — life was a continuous date full of connection and conversational opportunities.

Now, we try to steal a kiss while tripping over our dog and catching the bowl of salsa our toddler is attempting to throw. We still text throughout the day, but it’s changed from debating the happy hour we’ll hit after work to questioning our budget (yes, I did need those shoes!), gushing over said crazy toddler and planning when we can chat in person. Life involves more bills and babysitters and less sleep and relaxation than ever. Our time used to seem endless, but now it feels like a constant, limited loop. It’s marked by work schedules and nap timelines and so much else we couldn’t have imagined back then.

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It’s taken us years (almost seven) to get to this point. We started out just as starry-eyed as everyone else. You don’t realize at first that you’re building the base for a big future full of marriage, babies and a mortgage. Dating begins with an indescribable feeling of possibility; a flattering pursuit. My husband and I met through mutual friends and he quickly convinced me that a first date would be worth it even though we lived in separate states. It took just one shared pizza to realize that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this.

I admittedly see a lot through rose-colored glasses, but I knew marriage wasn’t something to be entered into lightly. He gave me confidence. I was also fortunate to have an excellent example of what marriage could be. My parents always put each other first, above us. As a kid, I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t take our sides when one of them was (clearly) wrong. As an adult, I recognize the respect they gave each other and the hard work that’s gone into their 30-year marriage. They are always a team, and in many ways, they make marriage seem easy — which is the ultimate sign of partnership. I recognized similar partnership potential in my husband early on, which made it a clear choice. I could see us choosing each other again and again, whether that was picking a date night over a work event or backing each other up in front of our (future) teenage children.

“Shouldn’t this be the easiest part?” One of my best friends asked when struggling with a long-term relationship that didn’t yet include marriage or kids. I listened to her explanation and quickly realized that she was right. The reality of love is so different than we expect. I recalled that recent check in date with my husband (along with the planning and money that went into it) and agreed that it only gets more difficult to connect and prioritize. It isn’t always easy initially, but it certainly doesn’t get easier when you add more stuff and tiny humans into the mix. You need a solid foundation before all of that comes along; an infrastructure that’s strong enough to withstand all of the inevitable trials. Sleepless nights and colicky babies require a lot of grace for survival. We all have different courtships and stories woven together by our decision to choose love; to put another person’s happiness above our own.

So maybe love should be easy at the beginning, but there are too many variables and tests over the years to maintain that level of simplicity. It can set your foundation, and that’s it. Everything else is built in time, through a partnership comprised of obstacles and accomplishments that may or may not include: paid debt, achieved goals, happiness, unhappiness, moves, children, travel mishaps, broken A/C units (testing love and our civility!) and so much more. If marriage starts with spontaneous notes and weekend getaways, it’s sustained by intentional compliments and on-going, sometimes mundane, acts of love and commitment. Now, he fills up my gas tank because he knows I’m too impatient to do it. I cook for him because I know that otherwise he’d subsist solely on scrambled eggs. Life is full of sweet memories and difficult conversations. We’ve gone through college courses, career shifts and vacation disasters. We’ve had periods of more money and then less. Our love has changed, grown and solidified. We still have a lot to work through and figure out together.

It’s not easy anymore. But it’s hard-won, and it’s ours.