Body image, pregnancy, and keeping the eating disorder demons at bay

 

Disclaimer: I don’t think my past or present struggles with body image and eating are at all uncommon. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a woman my age who hasn’t struggled on some level with body image. So, even if you’re not married, not pregnant, or not even thinking of marriage or babies right now--even if you’re not a woman!--I hope you’ll find something here to help you move closer to healing and acceptance of your body.

For the entirety of my adult life, the thought of getting pregnant both fascinated and terrified me: on the one hand, I desired to have children and raise them in the knowledge of the love of Jesus, but on the other hand, the idea of gaining weight--even for something as beautiful as a baby--was scary. Historically, unhealthy weight gain for me has been a sign of depression, anxiety, and general unhappiness. Thus, it’s difficult for me to think of any weight gain as healthy and good, even though intellectually I know that it’s necessary for my baby to grow as he should in my womb. I know that the extra weight I’ve gained on my thighs and butt will be important during breastfeeding. I know that a large percentage of the weight I’ve gained is due to increased blood volume, amniotic fluid, and breast tissue. I know that I’m not gaining too much or too little weight--and that the daily exercise I do is setting me up for a (hopefully) easier postpartum recovery. And I know that all of the protein and healthy fat I consume each day is good for Baby J. I know all of this. But getting my emotional brain to agree with my rational brain is no easy task due to my still-healing wounds related to eating and body image.

All photos courtesy of an impromptu photo shoot last week with Kristian's friend/photographer, Erik Bello

All photos courtesy of an impromptu photo shoot last week with Kristian's friend/photographer, Erik Bello

Some background: The first time I remember thinking I was "fat" was when I was in fifth grade and noticed that my stomach wasn't completely flat when I sat down. When I was in high school, college, and my early twenties, I struggled off and on (mostly on) with an eating disorder. In high school, when my metabolism changed, my tendency to overeat for emotional comfort caught up with me. I lost weight my junior year of high school after having jaw surgery to correct my severe underbite, but I gained it all back--and then some--in college. By my junior year at Notre Dame, I was depressed, anxious, and about 20 pounds heavier. That summer, I joined Weight Watchers and while I did lose weight, I also learned lots of tricks that helped me to starve myself for weeks at a time, until I would freak out and binge until I gained some of the weight back. This yo-yo pattern continued for almost the entirety of my senior year, until a dear friend noticed my disorder and suggested that I get help. I started going to therapy, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I truly developed a healthy relationship with food and exercise. (I’m glossing over a lot here for the sake of brevity; I may write a future post on my eating disorder and recovery if there’s enough interest.)

And while I’ve learned to enjoy food, exercise for the right reasons, and (most of the time) embrace the goodness of my body, it’s still really, really hard to accept that my body will never be the same after having a baby. Even when I lose the baby weight, my hips will be probably be wider and other parts will have shifted around and I will just look different. My clothes will fit differently.

While the struggles I’ve had over the past few months with looking in the mirror, looking at myself in photos, and comparing myself to other pregnant women have convicted me of my vanity (and shown me just how much I’ve bought into societal standards of beauty. Grr.) and humbled me in new ways, I think my biggest takeaway is the realization of how resistant I am to suffering and sacrificing for the sake of love.

I still get a little freaked out when I pass myself in a mirror these days. I can hardly believe that that woman is me (and I don't necessarily mean that negatively...it's just weird.).

I still get a little freaked out when I pass myself in a mirror these days. I can hardly believe that that woman is me (and I don't necessarily mean that negatively...it's just weird.).

Obviously, gaining weight during pregnancy is not a suffering on par with what so many of my brothers and sisters around the world are dealing with right now. There are pregnant women the world over who can’t get enough to eat each day. There are pregnant women who have to force themselves to eat due to their hyperemesis gravidarum. There are pregnant women who are alone and scared and without the support that they need, and weight gain isn’t their top concern by any means. And there are so many women struggling with infertility who would gladly trade some extra fat around their thighs and hips for a baby. In many ways, it's a luxury to be worried about baby weight and postpartum workouts. 

All that being said, being pregnant/motherhood in general is a sacrifice, and one that involves suffering, no matter how you slice it. As excited as I am to hold Baby J in my arms in a few months, it’s still hard to give up my entire body/life in order for another life to thrive within me. It was hard in the first trimester when I felt perpetually sick and tired, and even though I'm feeling much better these days, it’s still difficult to look in my closet at all of the clothes I can’t fit anymore, and may never be able to fit again. It’s still tough to see pregnant women at the grocery store who look like they have a basketball stuffed under their shirt, but otherwise bear no signs of pregnancy-related weight gain. 

And it’s especially difficult to truly embrace the truth that my life, my marriage, my vocation to motherhood is not about me--and it’s definitely NOT about how I look. In the grand scheme of things, a few extra pounds is a small price to pay to bring a new life into the world. (Plus, Kristian is constantly telling me how beautiful my extra-womanly figure is, which is a big help.) 

And, because God loves me even though I’m as vain as a peacock, he’s made it so that pregnancy has been--in some ways--a healing experience for me in terms of my body image. While I’ve had my moments of struggle (usually related to comparing myself to other pregnant women, or to my own pre-pregnancy photos), I’ve also experienced so much freedom and enjoyment in eating during these past few months. The fact that weight gain is a natural and important part of pregnancy has given me the freedom to embrace my changing figure--and to marvel at what my body can do. I’m still in awe of how much my skin has s  t  r  e  t  c  h  e  d to accommodate Baby J, and can’t believe that there’s more stretching yet to come!

How cute is my husband?! 

How cute is my husband?! 


Special graces notwithstanding, I’m still me, and I still have days when feeling good in my own skin is a challenge. So, I have decided to continue a few practices that I adopted several years ago to keep my eating disorder demons at bay.

The first is that I never, ever weigh myself. I haven’t weighed myself since my senior year of college, and even when I go to the doctor I get on the scale backward and ask the nurse not to tell me my weight unless there’s something I need to be concerned about. This has been a huge help to me over the years. I can tell if I’ve gained or lost weight based on how my clothes fit, and that’s good enough for me. And even though the monthly weigh-in is a typical practice at most OB/GYN and midwife practices, my wonderful midwife has been sympathetic to my struggles throughout this pregnancy, for which I am so grateful.

Secondly, I don’t workout in a gym. This is not only due to the fact that a gym membership isn’t something we can afford right now, but because of 1) all of the mirrors and 2) all of the temptations to compare myself to other women. It’s so easy to fall into scrutinizing my body when I’m surrounded by mirrors and surrounded by other women who may be more fit than I perceive myself to be. I’ve disciplined myself to workout at home, and have been doing so faithfully for almost ten years now (I know that’s not possible for lots of people, and I am not against gyms on principle. I just know that the environment isn’t good for my mental health.). And when I do workout in public--at a park or on a trail of some kind--I’m vigilant about maintaining custody of the eyes. When I notice that I’m drifting into comparing myself to other women around me, I quickly say a Hail Mary and refocus on the beauty of my surroundings, or my breath, or the podcast I’m listening to. If I have to pray 20 Hail Marys during one walk, so be it. It really does help!

Thirdly, I don't follow lots of women I don't know on social media, particularly fashion bloggers and celebrities. I'm simply too weak to avoid the temptation to comparison when seemingly "perfect" looking women constantly pop up on my Instagram feed. 

Finally, when I notice the spirits of fear, anxiety, self-loathing, vanity, etc creeping in and trying to take over, I immediately renounce them in Jesus’ name. I literally pray, “Spirit of X, I renounce you in the name of Jesus,” and call on the Holy Spirit. It’s amazing how powerful it is to call these spirits by name and rely on Christ’s power to conquer them. If you want to learn more about renunciations, check out the book Unbound.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic after Baby J makes his debut, but for now I simply ask for your prayers as my pregnancy progresses, and I promise to pray for any of you who are struggling with body image-related anxiety or depression. I know how painful it can be, and my heart goes out to you. I hope you will do what is necessary to find healing, and if you need any encouragement, please send me an email.

Learning to Love: Lessons from the First Six Months of Marriage

 

It feels almost silly to write about what I’ve learned in the past six months of marriage, because, well, I’ve only been married for six months. I taught high school for nine years. I was a single adult for over a decade. Six months seems like a drop in the bucket in comparison. But when I reflect back on how my life has changed since Kristian and I declared our consent before the Lord, our family, and friends, it feels as if those six months were miraculously expanded to include several years’ worth of transformation, healing, growth, and joy.

Obviously, the biggest change for us has been our pregnancy, which wasn’t unexpected in the sense that we were hoping to become pregnant as soon as possible, but was unexpected in the sense that literally nothing can prepare you for how transformative pregnancy is to your body, soul, mind, and marriage. Some of our non-Catholic friends and family were incredulous when we told them that we were hoping to get pregnant right away. “Don’t you want to have some time together first?” they asked. And I get it. Part of me wishes that I hadn’t felt like crap on toast for three of the six months that we’ve been married. Part of me wishes that Kristian and I had been able to take a camping trip with all of the awesome gear we got as wedding gifts before I had to pee every five minutes (getting up in the middle of the night to go in the woods isn't an option in my world). Part of me wishes that we could have had years to take advantage of Kristian’s flight benefits (he works for Delta), travel the world together, and all that jazz.

Baby J getting blessed by the Holy Father during our babymoon/L'Osservatore Romano

Baby J getting blessed by the Holy Father during our babymoon/L'Osservatore Romano

But that’s not the best part of me, and I know it. I know that, at the end of the day, my life and our marriage is not about me--or us--it’s about being living witnesses of the love of a God who continually pours himself out to us. I also know that so many of my dear friends and family members would have loved to get pregnant right away, but had to suffer through years of fertility struggles, and in some cases are still struggling. I don't know why we received this gift right away, but I know that it is a gift.  And when I look back on the past six months, mild morning sickness and weight gain notwithstanding, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The first trimester, when I was sick and tired 90% of the time, was such a time of growth in our relationship and an opportunity for me to receive Kristian’s love and for him to serve me in a new way. Staying in more and socializing less gave us an opportunity to spend quiet evenings together that we won’t have again until our kid(s) are grown and out of the house. Knowing that our family is growing has given us more of an eternal perspective on things like finances, home ownership, etc. And watching Kristian snap into protective Daddy mode has been a total joy for me. I always knew he had a servant’s heart, but since we became pregnant, I’ve been blown away by his selflessness and daily sacrifices.

My (dried) wedding bouquet by Petals, ink, and print by HatchPrints. 

My (dried) wedding bouquet by Petals, ink, and print by HatchPrints

True, we haven’t entered into the post-honeymoon period yet, but I think the lessons we’re learning now will serve us well as we enter into the universally challenging years of parenting little ones. I know that the past six months have inspired greater trust in and admiration for the man that I married, and I can only imagine how much more I will fall in love with him as I watch him grow into his fatherhood.

I sometimes wonder what kinds of suffering life will bring our way...what struggles we will have in the future that will test our love like gold is tested in fire...what the periods of “dryness” in our marriage will look like...and then I hear the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart a gentle reminder to enjoy this time. And once again, I have to surrender all of my fears and anxieties to the Lord, because otherwise Satan so easily steals my joy.

How could I NOT love this man?!

How could I NOT love this man?!

Quite a few people have asked me if marriage is everything I hoped it would be. The answer is, as always, “yes...and no.” Yes, it is wonderful and freeing* and so much FUN to live life with your husband day in and day out. But I didn’t expect how healing and challenging and purifying it would be--even though many of my married friends told me it would be. Kristian has taught me to rest in his love, to receive love even when I feel unworthy of it, to stop interrupting and LISTEN before responding, to pay attention to the ebb and flow of his emotional state and learn the cues for when he’s hungry or tired and just needs a break. He’s also taught me to be more spontaneous, romantic, and joyful. I didn’t savor life quite as much as I do now, and that is in large part thanks to my dear husband.

So, there you have it. Nothing particularly profound, but for me, it is incredible that I actually wrote this post. Not just because I’m writing as a married woman, but because I am at peace. Even in the midst of all of the uncertainties of pregnancy and the growth of our little family, I am at peace. And that, my friends, is a miracle. Deo Gratias.

NB: It is true that there is freedom in entering into your vocation; Kristian and I have both experienced that these past six months. It’s paradoxically liberating to know that I am bound to my husband for the rest of our lives. But I am convinced that I wouldn’t be able to experience this freedom to the depth that I have if I hadn’t gone to therapy (and truth be told, I’m still going) and spiritual direction before I ever met Kristian. And yes, I am plugging therapy once again. It really is that important, folks. Don’t put it off!

Pregnancy Journal: First Trimester

 

In case you missed the announcement on Facebook and Instagram: I'm pregnant! Kristian and I are overjoyed (and a little freaked out of course) and so thankful that we didn't postpone trying to conceive. Now that I’m starting to feel more like myself (thank God for the second trimester), I thought I’d post a little pregnancy update for those who are interested. Ever since I got married, I’ve been fascinated by hearing about other women’s pregnancies, but I wasn’t so fascinated before marriage...so, I totally get it if this isn’t the post for you.

That said, if you ARE curious about how things in my first-time pregnant mama world have been, read on! I promise not to go into any gory details.

Due date: 11/6/17

But I doubt I’ll give birth on that date. How do I know that? 1) Most first-time moms do NOT give birth on or even close to their due dates, unless they’re having a planned C-section. 2)  If you chart your fertility using NFP/FABM, you can usually pinpoint a very small range of dates during which you may have conceived. The OB/GYN or midwife will date your pregnancy from your last period, but that’s not as accurate, for obvious reasons. In any case, based on my conception date, my due date is probably more like mid-November.

First symptoms:

Let me just say that when you’re just married, 33, and hoping to get pregnant, it’s really easy to interpret every single possible sign as proof that you’re in the family way. I tried not to do this, but I did think it was odd that when Kristian and I met up with my parents and sister/sister’s fiance in Utah for a ski weekend that I was dizzy the whole time. I also had a cold (turns out that’s a common symptom of early pregnancy since your immune system is suppressed to give the embryo a chance to implant and thrive), which I thought was maybe the reason why I had vertigo. When I complained to my dad (who is an ear, nose, and throat doctor) about it, he looked at me slyly and asked, “Christina, is there a chance you could be pregnant?” Of course, there was more than a chance, but I didn’t want to jump the gun just yet. I knew that I was still too early on for a home pregnancy test to pick anything up.

Little did I know that there were three people in this photo. 

Little did I know that there were three people in this photo. 

Date of Pregnancy test: 3/4/17

Shortly after we got back from Utah, I picked up a Clear Blue Easy pregnancy test from the grocery store, but had to wait till the next morning to take it (agony!). Kristian and I were both pretty sure that I was pregnant at this point, as I was late for my period, my basal temperature had been higher than normal, and I was feeling unusually tired...but you never know! The next morning, I took the test while Kristian was making breakfast, and when it flashed “pregnant”, I went into the kitchen and told Kristian he was a Daddy. We embraced and I felt a joy (and fear) that I thought would make me burst.

First Trimester Symptoms:

My symptoms varied from week to week, but I had the typical nausea (never threw up, thankfully) and extreme fatigue, especially during weeks 7 and 8. I have to give major props to mamas who work full time during the first trimester; there were days when all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and my gratitude for working part time from home was boundless. I also continue to have “super smell,” occasional mood swings (one day I cried four separate times), and sloooooooooooow digestion.

Food aversions/cravings:

My #1 craving, especially during my worst weeks, is TACOS. There’s something about the savory, salty, meat/eggs-and-vegetables combo that really works for me. Fortunately, I live in the land of novelty tacos, so I’ve had lots of options to choose from (Torchy’s is by far my fave). I haven’t craved anything sweet, and for a few weeks I didn’t even feel like eating super dark chocolate, which is normally one of my favorite foods.

Weight gain:

My midwife told me that eating small, protein-packed snacks throughout the day was the best way to keep the nausea at bay, and she was right. She also said it was completely fine to gain up to 8 pounds the first trimester just from snacking to keep from throwing up! Of course, I had to deal with all of my old eating disorder demons and freakouts about weight gain (more on that in another post), but when my midwife told me that I should consider NOT getting on a scale for the duration of my pregnancy, I felt an instant wave of relief. I’m learning to trust my body, and remember that weight gain during pregnancy is good, so long as it stays within a healthy range--and I trust my midwife to let me know if she’s concerned about my eating/exercising habits.

Exercise:  

Thankfully, I’ve been able to workout at least a few times a week for almost the entirety of my first trimester. I know that’s rare, and I chalk it up to the fact that my symptoms aren’t severe AND that I was already at a pretty good fitness level before I got pregnant. I definitely had to take more breaks and found myself yawning as I did my burpees, but working out (even if it was just a brisk walk) gave me a sense of normalcy that I very much needed.

My first baby bump photo, taken on a hike with Kristian in Orange County in late April. 

My first baby bump photo, taken on a hike with Kristian in Orange County in late April. 

Spiritual and emotional challenges:

The biggest bummer for me during week 10, which also happened to be Holy Week, was not being able to make it to the Easter Vigil--for the first time since my freshman year of college. I look forward to the Vigil all year, and at our parish it’s particularly beautiful. Kristian and I reflected on the fact that this was just the beginning of the sacrifices, big and small, we would have to make for our baby.

The biggest struggle for me by far has been the vulnerability that comes with growing a new life within my body. Never have I felt more susceptible to the dangers of the world: to all of the potential threats to my health or my baby’s health--to the threats to my family’s safety--to loss and disappointment. It is by far the most paradigm-shifting life change I have ever or will ever experience, and everyday I’m reminded of my need to surrender everything to the Lord. Because the reality is that I don’t have ultimate control over my or my baby’s health; I don’t have ultimate control over God’s plan for my family; I don’t have ultimate control over my fertility or my time or my body or really anything. And that is an important--albeit difficult--lesson for a control freak like me to learn. (And if ever had a difficult time understanding why a pregnant woman who felt alone and unsupported would be tempted to get an abortion, I don’t now. But more on that in another post.)

Other Highlights:

Baby J's first ultrasound at 6 weeks. Baby is the little white dot in the middle. I don't have the 8 week ultrasound photo, but it blew my mind how much Baby grew in two weeks. 

Baby J's first ultrasound at 6 weeks. Baby is the little white dot in the middle. I don't have the 8 week ultrasound photo, but it blew my mind how much Baby grew in two weeks

-Falling more in love with Kristian as he does so much to support me, especially when I’m too sick/tired to love him in the ways I wish I could. He never complains and is always ready and willing to make whatever strange meal my pregnant heart desires, let me sleep in (even if that means he’s up for four hours before me), postpone travel plans, and put our social life on hold for a little while. It’s uncomfortable for me to receive this kind of unconditional love, but it’s been such a gift and makes me appreciate even more how blessed I am to have him in my life.

-The first couple of ultrasounds. The fact that I could SEE the outline of my baby’s body as early as 8 weeks makes me incredibly grateful for modern medical technology.

-Finding a doula and midwife that I LOVE and can’t wait to work with.

-Hearing the baby’s heartbeat, which was the most surreal, humbling, overwhelmingly beautiful experience of my life. I was able to FaceTime Kristian into the appointment, so he got to hear it too. We both teared up and I think it’s one of those “firsts” that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

-Announcing the pregnancy on social media and being overwhelmed by the joy of so many people, especially my former students/spiritual children.

First Trimester reading list:

Note: I realize this is a long list. There are two good reasons for this: 1) I’m not working full time, and my part time writing work I do from home. 2) I’m a HUGE nerd and as soon as I found out I was pregnant I was so excited to read everything I could about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting, you name it. It’s like a whole new world of knowledge has opened up for me and I’m loving every minute of it.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (5 stars)

This book not only dispelled my fears about childbirth, but renewed my desire to have an unmedicated, non-hospital birth if at all possible. I’m praying that my pregnancy will proceed as normal and I won’t need a C-section or any other medical interventions. I plan on re-reading this during the third trimester.

Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel (4 stars)

Yes, I’m already reading parenting books. What can I say? I’m a huge nerd. This book is a great companion to the therapy I’ve already done (and continue to do); it addresses how to parent with love and logic instead of out of bad relational habits you may have picked up in your own childhood.

A Mother’s Rule of Life  by Holly Pierlot (5 stars)

I absolutely loved this book. It’s definitely written for moms who already have kids, but I found it helpful for my own life right now. I may never have as detailed a schedule as Holly adopted for herself, but I know that her discussion of the priorities of married life will influence the rhythm of my life from now on.

Then Comes Baby by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak (4 stars)

I’m not always a fan of Dr. Popcak’s writings, but I thought this book was super helpful, and I’d recommend it to any first-time mom. First of all, it assuaged some of my fears about having a newborn/being a mom in general. Secondly, there’s lots of practical advice on parenting babies in it that both Kristian and I appreciated. Thirdly, it’s an easy read, which is perfect for when you’re feeling a bit brain-dead from fatigue during the first trimester. I think this is one that I’ll revisit many times over the course of my pregnancy and Baby J’s infancy. (I gave it four stars because sometimes it’s just so cheesy I can’t handle it.)

Raising a Secure Child (5 stars)

I’m still reading this parenting book, but man is it good. It’s similar to Parenting from the Inside Out, but I’ve found it more illuminating in terms of understanding my own childhood and how it could impact the way I parent.  

Ongoing:

Meditations for the Expectant Mother by Helen Good Brenneman

This was given to me by a dear friend with five kids, and I’ve so enjoyed the short and sweet meditations. The author is Protestant, but I think the book is helpful for Christians of all stripes. It’s not organized in any particular way, so you can sort of read it at your own pace. A lot of the meditations are geared toward the latter half of pregnancy.

A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy by Sarah A. Reinhard

This is a week-by-week book that has helped me walk with Mary through my pregnancy. I love that the author also addresses practical things like gracefully accepting the changes that happen to your body while pregnant, especially if you have a history of an eating disorder (as I do).

The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Genevieve Howland

This book didn’t come out till the end of my first trimester, but I’m so glad I bought it. I love Genevieve’s blog/YouTube channel and this book is as thorough as they come. She covers everything from a healthy pregnancy diet to fetal development to how to choose a midwife/OB.

In the Womb by Peter Tallack

If you like to geek out on biology and find microscopic images of the goings on in the womb fascinating, this is the book for you.

Stuff I watched when I was glued to the couch: 

Nine months of pregnancy in four minutes (prepare to be blown away)

The Business of Being Born (available on Netflix/Amazon Prime Instant Watch)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (hilarious)

Juno (a classic)

Father of the Bride Part II (another classic)

All of the episodes of Parks & Rec related to pregnancy (obviously)

Call the Midwife

NB: this show not for the faint of heart, but I loved watching it while pregnant. It reminded me of how normal and natural childbirth is, and that women’s bodies are made to do this. It also makes me super grateful that women in labor aren’t required to have enemas anymore. OUCH.

Blogs that I’ve found helpful:

Mothering Spirit (I love, love, love her pregnancy prayers!)

Wellness Mama

Mama Natural

Lucie’s List

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Carrots for Michaelmas

Whole Parenting Family

Catholic All Year

Whew! That's all she wrote for now, folks. Expect another one of these (hopefully not as long though!) at the end of my next trimester. And please share any pregnancy advice you have in the comments! I'm all ears. :) 

How to Plan an Elegant Kid-Friendly Wedding Reception

 

Having been to over a dozen weddings in the past decade, I've seen it all when it comes to reception styles: from adults-only black tie affairs to super-simple potlucks where kids of all ages were invited. While I know that some couples are unable to invite children to their weddings due to budgetary concerns (completely understandable!), I think others are under the impression that it's impossible to have an elegant reception AND invite their friends' and family members' kiddos. I'm here to put that misconception to rest and share with you why and how I made our reception both elegant and kid-friendly. 

Note: Kristian and I are both older, and have LOTS of family members and friends who have young children. We ended up having over 50 kids under 10 years of age at our wedding! If you're getting married right out of college or don't have a lot of married friends/family, your number of kids to invite probably won't be as big. That said: if you can afford to invite all the kids, I highly recommend it! 

Why invite kids to a wedding? 

1. Because, in the Catholic understanding, the two purposes of marriage are the union of spouses and the procreation of children. It makes theological sense to celebrate your nuptials surrounded by kids! 

2. Kids make dance floors SO much more fun.

3. It's helpful for families with lots of kids who may not be able to afford a babysitter. I know that some of my friends wouldn't have been able to attend if they weren't able to bring their kids; especially my mom friends who are nursing! 

4. Read this post by my friend Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas about the fact that she regrets her adults-only wedding. This was what convinced me to take the time and extra effort to plan a kid-friendly reception. 

5. It's a powerful witness to your vendors, servers, and anyone at your wedding who isn't used to seeing a lot of big families. 

Tips for planning an elegant kid-friendly reception: 

1. Have designated kids' tables with NO centerpieces and LOTS of coloring books and crayons. 

I don't have a photo that really captures the layout, but we had two spaces that we used for our reception: the main ballroom and a pavilion that was right next-door. In the ballroom, we seated only adults. In the pavilion, we seated some families who we knew would want to sit with their kiddos and had five kids-only tables in the center of the room. These tables had NO flowers or centerpieces on them: just coloring books, crayons, and wedding-themed paper placemats that they could draw on. I got all of these items on Amazon; it's AMAZING how cheap bulk coloring books are! I made sure I had differently themed coloring books as well so that there was something for everyone. According to our guests, the kids' tables were a big hit! 

2. Provide supervision during dinner. 

I'm blessed to have several high school and college-aged girl cousins who were obliging enough to babysit the kids' tables during dinner. I checked with all of the parents who were going to be in the ballroom ahead of time to make sure they were comfortable with this, and my cousins did a fantastic job making sure everything went smoothly. If you don't have cousins at your disposal, consider hiring a few local high school kids (who come highly recommended, of course) to babysit during the reception. 

3. If possible: pick a venue that has safe outdoor space for the kids to run around in. 

Barr Mansion is not only a gorgeous venue, it's also fantastic for kids. While we had daylight, my nieces and cousins and friends' kids were running around on the lawn, climbing the trees (see photographic evidence above), and generally having a great time. It's out in the country, set back from the road, No one was cooped up, which I think is key to keeping the kids (and their parents) happy at any event. 

4. Have at least one kid-friendly item on the menu, and one kid-friendly flavor on the cake. 

We didn't have a kids' menu (ain't nobody got time for that), but we did have cornbread, a mashed potato bar, and a pork dish that even the kids enjoyed. The bride's cake had some funky flavors (like lavender apricot), but we also had kid-approved flavors like raspberry cheesecake and classic almond. 

5. Start and end at a reasonable hour. 

Neither Kristian nor I are night owls, so this was an no-brainer for us. Our wedding Mass was at 2:00 PM, our reception began at 4 PM, and we were out the door by 9 PM. Some of our guests with little ones had to leave early, but no one had to skip dinner or miss out on the toasts, which is really nice for parents who are used to missing the fun because of bedtime. 

When all was said and done, Kristian and I were both so thankful we invited children to our wedding, and that so many of them came! I can't tell you how much joy it gave me to see my nieces playing with my dear friends' children, even though they had only met that day. I loved seeing the little girls twirling on the dance floor and my baby-wearing friends and family dancing with their infants. Several of our guests thanked us for making the reception so welcoming to their families, but it was really our guests who did us the honor of being present--kids and all--at our wedding. 

I'd love to hear from y'all now: did any of you invite kids to your wedding? How did it go? Any tips/tricks to share? Please do so in the comments! 

All photos by Leah Muse Photography. 

 

 

Be Your Own Wedding Planner: The Details

Ah, details. While some brides may not relish in planning the little things, I had a blast doing so. My favorite part was, not surprisingly, the floral consultations, but I enjoyed being part of the design process for all of the other details as well. I can't recommend  Petals, ink. or Sweet Treets Bakery highly enough. A few notes about what I did/didn't do that may be helpful to any of my bride-to-be readers out there: 

1. All-white bride's bouquet. 

Originally, I wanted one of those trendy, huge, color-rich bouquets because, well, I love flowers. However, I noticed that in all of the photos I saw of brides who had bouquets like that, all I noticed in the photos was the bouquet. I wanted my eye to be drawn to the people in my photos and not to my flowers, so I went with an all-white bouquet. Gretchen at Petals, ink. did a fantastic job of making my bouquet gorgeous, sweet-smelling, and just the right size.

2. Low centerpieces. 

I've been to many weddings and seen many centerpieces in the past decade, and one thing I've learned is that low centerpieces are my favorite type. The huge, high, fountain-like centerpieces are beautiful and impressive, but for our space and crowd, I liked the low, whimsical-meets-romantic arrangements that Gretchen created. 

4. Flower crowns vs. bouquets. 

Originally, I intended to go with the typical bouquets for my bridesmaids, but when my sister Elisa told me that she'd love to have a flower crown to wear to the reception, I decided to buck tradition and just go with crowns all around. I'm so glad I did, because they were about the same cost as the bouquets, look fantastic in the photos, and the girls had a blast wearing them. I still have the wreath I wore hanging on my bedroom wall and can't wait for Elisa's wedding this summer when I will get to rock a flower crown. 

5. Why a groom's cake? 

This is a Texas/Southern tradition that some of my readers may not be familiar with: typically, the groom chooses a cake based on one of his hobbies, his alma mater, etc. It's nice for guests to have another cake flavor option, especially if you have kiddos who may not be excited about your apricot-lavender tier on the bride's cake. ;) 

6. When in doubt: candles, candles, candles. 

If you're trying to save money on flowers/centerpieces, a good way to do that is by incorporating candles into your decor. I love the tea lights and votives that Petals, ink. used to accent the floral centerpieces. They made everything feel more cozy and elegant. 

That's all she wrote (for now)! In the next post, I'll be sharing how I planned an elegant family-friendly reception, with over 50 kids under ten in attendance! 

All photos by the uber-talented Leah Muse Photography. 

Be Your Own (Liturgical) Wedding Planner: Our Nuptial Mass

Long before I met Kristian, I knew that the part of wedding planning I would most enjoy would be the nuptial Mass. An entire liturgy where my fiance and I get to pick ALL of the music, readings, and even write our own prayers of the faithful!? It was basically heaven for this former theology teacher. :) 

I know that's not exactly the case for many couples; even Catholics who take their faith seriously can feel daunted when it comes to planning a liturgy for the first time. That's why I wanted to share a little bit about our planning process, so that any brides/couples who need a little extra liturgical planning guidance won't feel so overwhelmed. 

Kristian and I spent hours prayerfully choosing our readings and the music, and I (with the help of a former-student-now-friend who is also an amazing graphic designer) designed a program that I hoped would help everyone at our wedding truly enter into the beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy. 

Our Mass was, in a word, heavenly. I know every Mass is a taste of heaven, but there are some Masses where you actually feel that reality instead of simply knowing it intellectually. That was how both Kristian and I felt during the entire liturgy; we both agreed it went by way too fast, and that the reception (as fun and joyful as it was) was almost anti-climactic after getting a window into the Divine for an hour and a half at the St. Louis chapel. I think the photos (taken by Leah Muse Photography) communicate well the joy that permeated the chapel on December 29, 2016, and that has taken deeper root in my heart than I ever thought possible. 

Below are my tips for planning your own wedding Mass, which I hope you'll find helpful. Also: stay tuned for a more detailed look at our program (which I'm SO happy with) on Spoken Bride ! 

1. Make the Mass your #1 priority. It always makes me sad when I go to a Catholic wedding and it is abundantly clear that the Mass was the last thing on their to-do list. Believe me: I get the pressures of planning an awesome party for all of your guests, but the sacrament is the thing, and you can't put too much emphasis on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I know that I experienced the most peace and joy while I was doing anything related to planning the Mass; I can't say that for any other part of the planning process! 

If you're worried about budgeting for musicians or paying for the Church, consider asking friends to do the music (I've been to many weddings where this worked really well), or go without flowers in the church/chapel so that you can pay the cantors or organist. I highly recommend getting married during the Christmas or Easter seasons so that you don't even have to worry about flowers; the church will already be decked out beautifully. 

2. Before you get engaged: think and pray about Scripture readings that are meaningful to you as a couple. 

Once you do get engaged, the priest or deacon who prepares you for the sacrament will likely give you a book with suggested readings. You don't actually have to use those! Feel free to think outside the box, and choose readings that have significance for your relationship and what you hope for in your marriage. For example, Kristian and I chose the Annunciation as our Gospel reading because we want to make Mary's "yes" our own throughout our married life. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Wedding at Cana or Jesus' teaching on marriage and divorce from Mark or Matthew, but know that you don't have to use those.

Note: If you get married on a major Solemnity, you are obligated to use the readings for the day. 

3. Think outside the wedding music box. Believe it or not, there are classical pieces you can use as preludes and postludes that go beyond Pachelbel's Canon in D. There are communion hymns far more beautiful than most of what you'll find in a Gather hymnal. If you're not musically-inclined, seek out a trusted musical friend or the advice of the choir director at your parish; I promise they'll be happy to help! Here's what Kristian and I chose: 

Preludes and postludes: Since it was a Christmas wedding, this part was really easy. We chose some of our favorite Christmas songs, like "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "Creator of the Stars of Night," and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I REALLY tried to stay away from cliche wedding music, but "Jesu, Joy" is so beautiful, so Christmas-y, and I asked the cantors to sing it to make it more special. Our postlude was "Joy to the World", because I couldn't think of a more perfect postlude for a Christmas wedding. :) 

Hymns: The newest version of the rite of marriage promulgated by the Church encourages couples to include hymns that the entire congregation can sing in their wedding masses. Ours was a Christmas wedding, so we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful" to start and proceed out to "O God Beyond All Praising" (my favorite hymn of ALL time). For the offertory, our cantors did a beautiful rendition of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and our communion hymn was "Ubi Caritas." And, I don't know if it was just that we have so many awesome friends and family or that we had Christmas songs as part of our liturgy, but I've never been to a wedding Mass where so many people in the congregation sang. It was a dream come true.

Mass setting: We decided to chant all of the Mass parts, some in Latin and some in English. This was in part because we both love chant and Latin, and in part because we knew the chant tones would be familiar to many, if not all, of our wedding guests. My recommendation is to decide on a Mass setting that you both love, but is also familiar to others. 

Marian meditation/hymn: I love, love, love the Catholic wedding tradition of offering a bouquet of flowers to the Blessed Mother after communion. Since we got married during the Octave of Christmas, Kristian and I decided to present our flowers at the Nativity Scene instead of the icon of Mary. We also chose to have the entire congregation chant the Hail, Holy Queen in Latin instead of having a soloist sing the Ave Maria. Don't get me wrong: I love me some Ave Maria. I just really really REALLY love the Salve and loved that everyone would be able to join us in singing it--and so many of our guests did! It was one of the most heavenly parts of the Mass.

4. Design Your Program with Care: I spent hours crafting the text for my program, because I wanted it to be a catechetical/evangelical guide to our wedding Mass. I put in explanations of each part of the Mass, quotes from the Catechism, quotes from the Church Fathers, quotes from Pope Benedict...there were a lot of quotes. ;) And, to my great delight, quite a few people commented on how much they appreciated it, especially those who weren't Catholic/ super knowledgable about what makes Catholic weddings so unique. As I mentioned above, I'll be sharing more details about my program on Spoken Bride, but if any of my readers is planning their wedding Mass currently and would like a copy of my program to use as a template, please feel free to email me at theevangelistaa@gmail.com

5. Consider incorporating the Croatian tradition of holding a crucifix during your vows. After reading this article years ago, and seeing friends of mine hold the crucifix during their marriage rite, I knew I wanted to do the same when I got married. Thankfully, Kristian was on board and we went in search of the right crucifix to use. We ended up buying one at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City when we were there for a friend's wedding in October, and it was perfect. I can't exaggerated the profundity of holding onto the crucifix and each other's hands while vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our life. We now have our crucifix hanging in the living room, and whenever I pass by I either touch or kiss Jesus' pierced feet as a reminder of the fact that Kristian and I promised to die for one another, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives. I'm certain that in the future, when the inevitable difficulties of daily married life surface, that crucifix will come to mean even more to Kristian and me. 

Flowers by Petals, ink. Photos by Leah Muse

Be Your Own Wedding Planner: The Dress

I loved, loved, loved my dress.  Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography. 

I loved, loved, loved my dress.  Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography

If you're new to the blog, you may not know that I got married about a month ago (December 29th, to be exact). My wedding day was truly a gift from heaven, and the planning process was a lot less painful than I thought it would be, even though I was basically my own wedding planner. I did have a day-of wedding coordinator, courtesy of the reception site (more on that in a future post), but all of the other planning was done by yours truly--with some help from my husband Kristian, my parents, my siblings, and a couple of REALLY generous friends. 

I wanted my first planning post to be about the Mass, since that's THE most important part of the whole wedding-planning process  (not to be confused with marriage preparation, which is even more important). But I'm not getting my professional photos back until the end of this week, so that post is going to have to wait. So, I figured I'd write a post about the first wedding-planning related thing I did: shop for and buy a dress. 

The dress is by no means the most important part of non-Mass related wedding planning, but I think that, next to choosing flowers, it is the most fun part. :) 

Full disclosure: my first trip to the bridal salon was in Arizona, before Kristian and I were engaged, and before I had even moved back to Texas. My girlfriends in Phoenix knew that Kristian and I were 99.9% sure we were called to be married and that we'd get engaged after I moved to Austin, and they wanted to be part of the dress-shopping process. We figured it wouldn't be a problem to schedule an appointment with a fancy bridal salon in Scottsdale and just try dresses on so I could get a feel for what I like. Turns out, that was a really good idea (thanks Michelle!) and it made my real-deal dress shopping in Austin a lot easier. 

Here are some (really crappy) iPhone shots of the dresses I tried on in Scottsdale. The light was really yellow in the showroom, so it's difficult to see that all of these dresses is ivory. 

Pretty dress, but I didn't love the silhouette, and it was super revealing in the back. No go. 

Pretty dress, but I didn't love the silhouette, and it was super revealing in the back. No go. 

Tip #1: Go into wedding dress shopping with a clear idea of what you DON'T want, so the consultant will have something to go on when she's pulling dresses for you. They love it when you have a Pinterest board ready to go. 

I told my consultant that I did NOT want the following: 

1. Strapless (so annoying when you're trying to dance)

2. Mermaid/tumpet silhouette (because you can't dance freely in those silhouettes)

3. Super low-cut 

These requirements definitely limited the dresses I tried on, but as my consultant reminded me, you can get boleros or straps sown on to pretty much any strapless dress. 

Tip #2: Keep an open mind. I originally thought I'd go for a more Jane Austen-y looking dress like the ones from the Jenny Packham 2014 collection , but when I tried dresses on in that style (unfortunately I don't have any photos of the ACTUAL Jenny Packham dress I tried on), I wasn't in love. They were pretty, yes, but I didn't feel like a bride in that style. Observe: 

I loved the lace on this one, but I did NOT love that it was COMPLETELY backless. Like, so backless that I don't feel comfortable putting a photo of it on the internet. 

I loved the lace on this one, but I did NOT love that it was COMPLETELY backless. Like, so backless that I don't feel comfortable putting a photo of it on the internet. 

First problem: it's strapless, and would look weird with straps sown onto it. Second problem: it looks like an evening gown, not a wedding gown. Third problem: it was $5,000. 

First problem: it's strapless, and would look weird with straps sown onto it. Second problem: it looks like an evening gown, not a wedding gown. Third problem: it was $5,000. 

In case you can't tell from my expression, this was a joke dress that one of my roommates insisted I try on. Definitely not my style. 

In case you can't tell from my expression, this was a joke dress that one of my roommates insisted I try on. Definitely not my style. 

This was one of the first A-line dresses I tried on, after I realized that I didn't really like the sheath look. It was a no because it reminded me of SO many of the wedding dresses I've seen in the past few years. It also wasn't the best fit on me. 

This was one of the first A-line dresses I tried on, after I realized that I didn't really like the sheath look. It was a no because it reminded me of SO many of the wedding dresses I've seen in the past few years. It also wasn't the best fit on me. 

This one was lovely, but I didn't actually like how it looked with the bolero. 

This one was lovely, but I didn't actually like how it looked with the bolero. 

The front of this one wasn't anything to write home about, but how gorgeous is this back?! 

The front of this one wasn't anything to write home about, but how gorgeous is this back?! 

Nowwwww we're getting somewhere (note: the lighting makes this dress look yellowish, but it was really ivory). This was the first dress I tried on that fit me *perfectly*. The only problem is that it was too low-cut and I didn't like the spaghetti straps. But then we added a jacket: 

Nowwwww we're getting somewhere (note: the lighting makes this dress look yellowish, but it was really ivory). This was the first dress I tried on that fit me *perfectly*. The only problem is that it was too low-cut and I didn't like the spaghetti straps. But then we added a jacket: 

So pretty, right??

So pretty, right??

The beadwork was exquisite. The problem: all told, this would have been $3,500, and (budget notwithstanding), I simply couldn't justify that kind of price tag to myself. Also, I wasn't ready to buy a dress and didn't know when Kristian and I would be getting engaged, or if we would be having a winter wedding (which is what I think this dress-jacket combo was made for). I'm really glad I tried it on, though, because it gave me a sense for what I was looking for: an A-line/ballgown skirt with a sweetheart neckline and a cinched in waist. 

The beadwork was exquisite. The problem: all told, this would have been $3,500, and (budget notwithstanding), I simply couldn't justify that kind of price tag to myself. Also, I wasn't ready to buy a dress and didn't know when Kristian and I would be getting engaged, or if we would be having a winter wedding (which is what I think this dress-jacket combo was made for). I'm really glad I tried it on, though, because it gave me a sense for what I was looking for: an A-line/ballgown skirt with a sweetheart neckline and a cinched in waist. 

The only other wedding dress shopping I did was a few weeks before I got engaged. I know, I know...I was definitely jumping the gun. IN MY DEFENSE: Kristian had just asked my dad for permission to propose, so I knew it was coming. ALSO: my sister/maid of honor Elisa was in town from DC that weekend and I knew she wouldn't be able to come back to shop with me later. So, off to Second Summer Bride we went. 

Tip #3: Before spending an arm and a leg at a fancy bridal salon, consider buying a dress at a consignment store. Second Summer Bride has locations in Austin and San Diego, and gets most of its dresses straight from the designer--many of them (my dress included) are samples that haven't been worn before. At Second Summer Bride, their dresses are usually 50% less than they would be in a typical salon, and since wedding dresses are already insanely overpriced, it doesn't hurt to at least look at a consignment store. 

Since I already knew what looked good one me shape-wise, it was easy to filter through the wide selection at SSB. My sister-in-law actually ended up pulling the dress I chose, which was the second one I tried on (out of four) and originally had a blush sash, which I later removed and had replaced with an ivory sash. 

You can tell from my smile how great I felt in this dress. 

You can tell from my smile how great I felt in this dress. 

3 out of 4 of my bridesmaids and my mom were able to come with me. Such a fun experience! 

3 out of 4 of my bridesmaids and my mom were able to come with me. Such a fun experience! 

This dress is all tulle (which made me feel simultaneously like a ballerina and a princess--win,win) and was designed by Eddy K. It fit me perfectly, with no need to alter anything except the sash color and the hem (it had to be taken up since I decided to wear flats). I didn't have to wear any special undergarments or feel like I needed to diet before the wedding (don't even GET me started on how ridiculous I think the pre-wedding diet trend is).

All told, I think we were in the salon for about 45 minutes, and I only had to go into the tailor (I used a tailor who I'd already had positive experiences with in the past) a couple of times to make sure the hem was short enough. Other than that, my dress shopping/fitting experience was simple and painless. 

I think my favorite thing about this dress, aside from the fact that it was SO FUN to dance in (the twirling!), is that Kristian loved it. He called me his principesa (a la "Life is Beautiful") during our engagement and this is definitely a princess dress. I also loved that all of the little girls at my wedding were obsessed with it--they wanted to touch it, take photos with me, and twirl on the dance floor with me. And when I think about it, it's probably the dress I would've chosen when I was a little girl.

Note: My parents paid for my wedding, dress included, so while budget was a consideration, I didn't have to worry that much about it. That said, my dress did end up being less than half of what the dresses at the fancy salon cost. 

Straps? Check. Ballgown silhouette? Check. Sparkle? Check. Sweetheart neckline? Check. Cinched in waist? Check. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography. 

Straps? Check. Ballgown silhouette? Check. Sparkle? Check. Sweetheart neckline? Check. Cinched in waist? Check. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography

You can *sort of* see the back in this photo, but not really well. As soon as I get a good photo of the back, I'll add it to this post. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography. 

You can *sort of* see the back in this photo, but not really well. As soon as I get a good photo of the back, I'll add it to this post. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography

A close-up of the neckline/sparkle. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography. 

A close-up of the neckline/sparkle. Photo courtesy of Leah Muse Photography

Your turn, ladies: what advice do you have about wedding dress shopping? Please share in the comments! 

Honeymooning off the beaten path: Guacalito, Nicaragua

A week after we got married, Kristian and I got on a plane and headed to Guacalito, Nicaragua. If you're like most people we told about this, you're probably scratching your head and wondering why Nicaragua? I mean, it's not exactly on a lot top Honeymoon destination lists. But, as I discovered in 2015 when my brother got married in Granada, Nicaragua, it's a beautiful country well worth visiting.

My sister-in-law's family was gracious enough to let us use their *gorgeous* beach condo in tucked away Guacalito for the week (thank you, thank you, thank you, Lacayos!). I didn't anticipate returning to Nica so soon, but we couldn't turn down a free place to stay in a country just north of (and very similar to) Costa Rica. In short, it was a magical week: I was anticipating the adjustment to married life being a LOT more difficult, even while on a romantic trip, but it ended up being almost perfect, thanks be to God. 

Kristian and I both agreed that the best part of the honeymoon (that I'm willing to write about in a public forum) was having an entire week without a schedule, during which we could just be with each other--pray, cook, eat, go for walks on the beach, explore the country, watch the sunset, and not have to worry about the calendar. A week was just enough time for us to enjoy the rest and be ready to go back home. 

In case you're looking for an outside-of-the-box honeymoon destination or just want to explore central America on your next vacation, here's the lowdown on honeymooning in Nicaragua: 

The good:

1. The food: nothing beats the meat in Nicaragua. Seriously. Some of the best steak I've ever eaten. Plus, we had fresh fish on the beach in Tola (as in, the waitress went and got the fish from a fishing boat on the beach and brought it back to the kitchen where it was prepared).

2. The drinks: not only are they CHEAP, but I had the best mojito of my life while we were there. Kristian highly recommends Flor de Cana rum.

3.  The people: Nicaraguans are a warm and friendly people, who love the Lord and his Mother and love to show off their beautiful country.  

4. The faith: Every church in the country has Eucharistic adoration on Thursdays. Yep: EVERY CHURCH. Also, the Sunday Mass we attended in the little village of Tola on our last day was one of the most faith-filled I've ever experienced.

5. The accommodations: We spent our first night in the colonial town of Granada at a colonial mansion-turned-hotel for a whopping $40.00. Loved it. Then, we got to spend a week in the lap of luxury at the Mukul resort (see photographic evidence above). While we couldn't afford to take advantage of all of the cool stuff offered by the resort, it was still a magical experience to even be there.

6. The prevalence of butterflies: they are EVERYWHERE and I loved it.

7.  The weather: unlike the humidity and heat that you'll get if you visit Nica in the summer, "winter" there is windy, with plenty of sun and highs in the low 80s every day. Perfection.

8. The beauty: between the jungles and beaches and volcanoes and lagoons and colonial villages, Nicaragua is a feast for the senses.

The unpleasant: It was so windy on the day that we drove to the beach that a HUGE branch fell off a tree and hit our windshield. Thankfully, the only damage done was to the windshield, and aside from a hefty rental car bill, we were fine. The crazy winds (we're talking 20+ mph), combined with the pollination of a plant called pica pica led to crazy amounts of itchiness. It's difficult to describe, but I heard the sensation compared to shards of fiberglass coming into contact with your skin. Fortunately, the power of the pica pica was exhausted after our first day there, and apparently it's a freak occurrence anyway (a few of the Nicaraguans we spoke to had never even heard of it before). Getting a couples massage that day definitely helped distract us from the pain. :) 

The heart-wrenching: Honestly, the most difficult thing about vacationing in a place like Nicaragua is coming face to face with abject poverty and trying to remember that by patronizing local businesses (unlike Costa Rica, most of the hotels/resorts in Nica are owned and operated by Nicaraguans), you are doing something to help. If you do vacation or honeymoon in a developing country, I recommend carrying protein bars and such with you to give to those you encounter who may be in need. 

That's a wrap! Did any of you honeymoon in an unconventional location? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 

Photos in order: 1. The grandeur of God at Playa Gigante, Tola. 2. The most incredible sunset I've seen, viewed from the top of a little hotel on the beach in Tola. 3. The lobby of the resort where we stayed in Guacalito, Nicaragua. 4. We're married. :) 5. We were the only two people on this gorgeous beach. 6. The cutest church in San Juan del Sur. 7. Wedding rings with a view. 8. Sunset on our last night at the resort. 9. The best mojito EVER, and it was $2.50. 10. Sunset in Granada, on our last night in Nica. 

 

Goin' to the Chapel: My Wedding Morning

After a surprisingly restful night of sleep (my sister Elisa spent the night with me a la Anne-and-Diana and we watched Sense and Sensibility...obviously), I headed over to my parents' house to begin the getting-ready process. Elisa and I picked up NIcole, my dear friend and makeup artist for the day, on the way and prayed a rosary together as we drove across town. I couldn't believe how calm and joyful I felt; no jitters, no cold feet, just peace. God is good. 

My bridesmaids were off getting their hair done at Blo, while I got the royal treatment from a Blo hairstylist in my Mom's bathroom (thanks, Mom!). Let me tell you: getting your hair AND makeup done with the knowledge that you're getting married to the one your heart loves is pretty freaking awesome. I loved that Nicole did my makeup, because she's a friend, and it made the whole wedding morning feel more intimate. I'm also glad that my hairstylist, who was a total stranger, got to be privy to all of the super-Catholic conversations in the bathroom re: not living together before marriage, looking forward to the wedding night, how excited we all were for the wedding Mass, etc. I think it's safe to say she wasn't quite used to hearing the bride (and bride's mother) say "Praise God!" every ten minutes or so. ;) 

My bestie Simone (also Nicole's sister) came by to get ready with us and--in my favorite moment of the morning--lead us in a rousing a capella rendition of "Goin' to the Chapel" by the Dixie Cups. Elisa (aka my Maid of Honor) helped me put my dress on, my sister Lianna (aka Matron of Honor) made sure my ADORABLE flower girls got their dresses on, my cousin/honorary sister Rachel and SIL Maya both did their part to provide me with supplies like a super-cute day bag (which I used on my wedding day to tote all of my stuff around, and came in handy on the honeymoon as well), Trader Joe's 85% dark chocolate (aka the BEST DARK CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD), and all of the words of affirmation a girl could ask for. I can't tell you how thankful I am that all of my sisters were there to help me prepare for the Sacrament. 

I didn't feel pressured by anyone to answer last-minute questions, we had plenty of time to get everything done, and all the while my sweet friend Susan took the gorgeous photos above for us. (I only had eight hours with my wedding photographer, so I asked Susan if she'd be willing to do the getting-ready photos, and she graciously said yes--and as you can see, she's super talented and totally spoiled me.)

All in all, it was practically perfect in every way; I can't imagine a more stress-free, smooth wedding morning. When I told Kristian this as we were driving away from our reception that night, he laughed and said, "Well, that explains my morning." He then proceeded to tell me that soon after he picked up my dad's BMW convertible/the getaway car, he had to pull over because the Beamer had a flat tire. Aaaaaand the spare was flat. Not only did he have to get the car towed to a shop, but he had to buy two brand new tires, get a groomsman to take him back to the house so he could get ready, come back and pick up the car, wash it by hand, and get to the church on time. At no point in the morning did he even give me a HINT as to what was going on, because he knew how much it would stress me out. What. A. Man.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how incredible both of my parents were that morning: My mom not only let us completely take over her bathroom, she spent the entire morning making sure that I was happy and had everything I needed--all the while getting her beautiful self ready. It was such a blessing to get ready for my wedding with her, after so many years of coming to her with my hopes and dreams and disappointments and tears regarding relationships. I love you, Mom, and I'm so thankful for everything you've done for me throughout the years. 

My Dad was, as usual, the most placid person in the house--keeping everyone calm, playing with my nieces so they wouldn't get into everything, letting us borrow his car for our getaway, driving me to the church...the list goes on. Thanks, Daddy, for your love and generosity. I love you! 

If I had to distill my experience down to tips for a stress-free wedding morning, this is what I would say: 

1. Pray before you do anything else. 

2. Limit the number of people getting ready with you to family and your closest friends. 

3. Make it clear to everyone beforehand that you do not want to be pestered with last-minute logistical questions (delegate that responsibility to your MoH or wedding planner, if you have one). 

4. Sing "Goin' to the Chapel" or at least listen to it while you're getting ready. Trust me. 

5. Give yourself PLENTY of time--like more time than you think you could possibly need--to get ready. Things will come up and you'll be so thankful you did. 

Stay tuned for a recap of my wedding Mass and reception, and a series on Catholic wedding planning (which is in the works)! And if any of my married readers have tips for a peaceful wedding morning, please do share them in the comments! 

Photos by Susan Reue.