Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Survive Your First Holiday With the In-Laws

It's the middle of November, and the holiday season is just around the corner. Department stores have had their Christmas inventory out since August, Thanksgiving plans are already set in stone, and those of us who are in college are beginning to experience pre-mature graying due to the stress of our upcoming final exams.

And for you newlyweds (or those of you with a new fiance/significant other/etc), you also may be preparing to celebrate a holiday with your darling spouse's family for the first time.

Last year, Justin and I spent Thanksgiving with his family, and Christmas with mine, so thankfully, we've already got that milestone under our belt! So I thought, with some help from a few wise friends (thank you, ladies!), I'd put together a few tips and tricks to surviving that first slightly awkward holiday with the "other side" of the family.

If you'll be a guest...

This may be the first time you'll be with his family while they're all together, and it's probably safe to say that there's going to be at least a few relatives you haven't met yet in attendance. And on top of all that, you don't have the comfort of experiencing it on your own turf. It's okay to be a little bit terrified. Just take a deep breath, and some of this advice, to heart:

"I think a big thing is just forcing yourself to keep calm. After all, it takes two people for an un-enjoyable moment or conversation to be a big fight." -Nikki, Pennsylvania

Keep calm. Easier said than done, but good advice, none-the-less. Thanksgiving last year was terrifying for me. I suffer from pretty severe social anxiety (due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder...but that's for another post), and my husband has a big family. Mine may be twice as loud, but they're mine, and there's half as many. Being in a completely new environment with completely new people was very trying for me.

Look to your spouse if you start to feel overwhelmed. You may feel all alone in the crowd, but your spouse is your link to everyone else in the room. Just make sure that if you're feeling shy, that your spouse is going to take initiative by making introductions, etc.

And when it comes to those touchy topics that always seem to pop up during family dinners: STAY OUT OF THEM. You may have a great, insightful opinion about politics, or the Westboro Baptist Church, or global warming, but this is not the time to shine the spotlight on your platform. If you end up being incredibly insulted, let it go for the time being, address it with your spouse later, and move forward from there. Even if you end up dealing with some ridiculous irrationality, at least you know that you came out as the bigger person in the end.

"Never show up empty-handed." -Your Grandma

Bring a small dish of a holiday favorite of yours, or a bouquet of seasonal flowers. This small gesture not only makes you look super sweet, but shows the host (and your spouse's family) that this is important to you. Showing genuine interest and enthusiasm towards the festivities is a great way to keep yourself under a flattering light. I can't tell you how many times a simple floral arrangement or a batch of cookies have helped cool down the ice for me or a friend in awkward family holiday situations.

"Don't ignore the kids!" -Ellie, California (yes this is me :p)

It may seem silly and frivolous, but this one is perhaps one of the easiest ways to ensure the celebration goes smoothly!

You can bet that at Thanksgiving, I was on the floor playing Tic-Tac-Toe with Justin's five-year-old cousin, Derek. Because of how uncomfortable I was meeting so many new people at once, I had something to do with myself between random bursts of small talk while waiting for dinner to start.

At Christmas, my nephew Zach, and my niece Allison, instantly took to their (at the time) future Uncle Justin.

Justin was incredible with those two little barnacles. Even though they hung all over him the entire day, he was extremely good natured about it. He entertained them, kept them out of the kitchen, and even helped them sing Christmas carols to all of the parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents at dinner. You can bet he earned major points with my sister and the rest of my family for that!

If you'll be hosting... 

You've got the home field, so use it to your advantage!

"Don't over-dramatize the little stuff...make it a fun, loving holiday." -Lillian, Iowa

Another one that's easier said than done, but if you want to keep your sanity, don't write this one off as a "Yeah, I know".

The centerpieces, the place settings, the presentation are all extremely important (and if I didn't acknowledge that, my mother, the Queen of Hostesses, would be on a plane to California to set me straight faster than you can say "napkin rings"), but as a hostess, what's most important is making sure that everyone is enjoying themselves. If you've got snacks (or a grazing table, as my family calls it) and a good conversation area, you're already off to a good start. So give the roots of your hair have a break from all the pulling!

"Remember to incorporate your own traditions!" -Lauren, Massachusetts

Whether or not family from "your side" will be present, don't feel like you can't celebrate your own traditions that make the holiday just a little more special to you. And if you decide to use any family traditions your in-laws aren't familiar with, you'll end up with your own personal unique and original factor without even trying!

That being said...

"I will have family from both sides coming. I decided to get recipes from both sides. I will make some from each side, and also make one or two that are unique to our house." -Laura, New Mexico

Try to come up with a way to let everyone who wants to be involved, be involved. Be it by sharing recipes, incorporating multiple traditions from both you and your spouse's sides, or being willing to delegate tasks to those willing and able when you're starting to feel a bit worn out.

And if all else fails...

Plenty of ladies suggested staying home together as a couple. For us personally, this isn't the first choice, but in some situations, it may be the right move for you!

If you've got too many family members from one too many corners of the world wanting you for more holidays then there are to go around, sometimes staying home for a year and starting your own traditions together is the way to go!


So whether you travel halfway across the world, or across the house to your own kitchen, I hope these tips can help make that first holiday go just a little more smoothly!

Have a great start to your holiday season!

What suggestions do you have for surviving the holidays with family, new and old?

Much love,

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Little Treat

...for all our mommy and soon-to-be-mommy friends. :)

This is our arrangement of the Irish lullaby, The Gartan Mother's Lullaby. It will be one among many songs performed at our junior recital in mid-April (Ellie on voice and flute, Justin on guitar, Sadie on howls...just kidding) at Concordia University Irvine, so if you're in the area, come join us as we make some music!

Sleep, O babe, for the red-bee hums
The silent twilight's fall:
Aibheall from the Grey Rock comes
To wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy,
My love and heart's-desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby
Beside the dying fire.
Dusk is drawn, and the Green Man's Thorn
Is wreathed in rings of fog:
Siabhra sails his boat till morn
Upon the Starry Bog.
A leanbhan O, the pale half moon
Hath brimmed her cusp in dew,
And weeps to hear the sad sleep-tune
I sing, O love, to you.
Faintly sweet doth the chapel bell
Ring o'er the valley dim:
Tearmann's peasant-voices swell
In fragrant evening hymn.
A leanbhan O, the low bell rings
My little lamb to rest
And angel-dreams, till morning sings
Its music in your breast.
Sleep, O babe, for the red-bee hums
The silent twilight's fall,
Aoibheall from the Grey Rock comes
To wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy,
My love and heart's-desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby
Beside the dying fire.

We look forward to singing this to our own children in the future, and we hope you (and your little ones!) enjoy it now!

Blessings and Sweet Dreams,
Justin and Ellie

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day: How We Should Handle the Results

Congratulations! We made it to Election Day!

Too soon for congratulations, you say? Can't celebrate until your candidate wins, you say?

Sure you can!

You live in a country where you have a voice in choosing your leadership, instead of having it chosen by blood or by force (or by both), and today, you got to use that voice to take a stand on what you believe is right. That in and of itself is a reason to celebrate.

I'm not going to lie and tell everyone reading this that I'm being completely objective, or that my political views don't influence what I'm about to write in some way, because honestly, they do!

So, in case you are wondering, I am a registered Republican, with a lot Libertarian views, but I believe in certain causes from BOTH the Democratic and Republican parties, so long as they are implemented conservatively. If that makes sense. So there. That's where I stand. And no, I don't want to debate with you, but thanks. :)

Anyway, though, here's the deal: Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose. People are going to cheer, and people are going to be devastated. However, at the end of this election, we will be preparing for the next presidential term, and whether President Obama remains in the White House, or Mitt Romney moves in, a Commander in Chief will be chosen.

When the results come in, whether you're thrilled or nauseated, the most important thing is that the man with the most votes will be our president. Just that fact alone, no matter what you agree or disagree with, means that as an American, you should respect and support his position as our president. No, you don't have to hold his hand and tell him that he's doing a great job if you don't agree with his choices, but if you want to, in good conscience, call yourself a true American, respect the fact that he is your president, whether you like it or not.

When the results come in, bickering, rioting, screaming, cursing, and ripping your hair out accomplishes nothing. Nothing good, anyway. Just more animosity and arguing, and let's face it: aren't we all a little sick of the constant debates flooding our social media newsfeeds, the television, and our daily conversations?

When the results come in, and you're this close to ripping somebody's throat out because of their ridiculous right-wing/left-wing/whatever-wing views, think about this: For all that passion you have for your cause, for all the love and devotion you have for your party and its platform, that person probably feels the same way about theirs. And even if they don't agree with you, don't you think its pretty epic that we live in a country that not only has so many dedicated and passionate people, but also that we live in a country where we can EXPRESS that dedication and passion?

Earlier tonight, Mike Huckabee said "Put your country before your party." That really resonated with me, and I hope it does with you, too. I challenge all of us, including myself, to take that statement to heart, and put our love for our freedom, our love for our blessings as United States citizens, our love for the U.S.A., above all of that.

Even if our political views clash, even if we can't always agree with each other, even if we're dying to gouge out someone's eyeballs with a spoon, it's our belief in, and love of our freedom that brought this country together in the first place

Because, after all, we are the United States of America.

Blessings to all of you, and God bless America.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dirty Doodle: Bath Time!

This morning we had one stinky labradoodle on our hands, but Justin came to the rescue to get our furbaby squeaky clean.

She was not amused.

Keeping a dog clean is hard enough, but then add long, wavy, light colored fur, and a love for the back yard to the equation, and it goes from hard to nearly impossible! As a result, poor Sadie Lou tends to earn an all expenses paid trip to the bathtub more often than your average four-legged friend.
How dare you subject me to such nonsense!
I really don't feel sorry for her, though. I think she has it pretty darn good. When I was growing up, my family always had a large and loveable Airedale Terrier around the house. From before I was born until I turned seven, Charlie (affectionately known as Chazogalopagos Hound) reigned over the day to day functions of the Hemmingson household. After Charlie, came Michal (affectionately known as Michal'ster Our Pal'ster). Keep in mind, the awesome Airedale is a pretty big dog. The average female weighs between 40 and 45 pounds and stands about 23 inches tall, and the average male is weighs between 50-65 pounds and stands about 24 inches tall.

Charlie weighed in at 80.

Chazo and Michal'ster most often had their baths on the driveway with cold water from the hose and whatever shampoo was lying around the house. Miss Sadie Lou gets nice warm water, oatmeal shampoo, and a full body massage with her bathtime. Actually, she gets two oatmeal shampoos. With all the bunny chasing and rolling in dirt, she needs it.

She fusses and tries to jump out of the tub like any dog, but once she calms down and realizes there's no way out (mwahahahaha), she's relatively cooperative. However, she still maintains the classic "Pouty Snouter" face.
But the real challenge is when the bath is over, and the instinctive "shake, shake, shake all over the place and get everything covered in bath water and fur" takes over. On the rare occasion that Charlie got to take a bath inside the house, my dad had a very detailed system that involved the whole family: The minute he turned the water off, he threw the biggest towel we had on top of Charlie and got him as dry as he could. Then he added another towel draped over his back like a saddle, and yelled for all of us to keep any door on his path to the backyard open, as he ran with the 80-pound King of Terriers through the house, and out the back door. All before that first massive shake could drench the entire house. Charlie usually stayed out there for an hour or so, pacing back and forth in agitation and shaking water off of himself every few minutes.

We use a modified version of this for our little fluff ball. At 16 pounds, her shakes can still destroy a whole room, so the minute the water stops running, the towel goes on. We recommend an oversized beach towel: You won't ruin your nice towels with fur and wet-dog smell, and the extra material means you can dry more dog without having to grab a new towel half-way through, risking a shake-off. We also try to keep her in the tub until she's dry enough that she won't do too much damage if she inadvertently creates a hurricane with a shake.

Are we DONE yet?
Why yes, she does look pretty irritated. Thankfully, Sadie is not a grudge holder. As soon as she's clean, dried off, and out of the bathroom, she's back to her old wiggly, cuddly self...
Until she hears the word "bath" again.

Justin, Ellie, and Sadie Lou

Do you have any great tips for getting through doggie bath time chaos-free? We'd love to try them out! Share them below!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Live, Laugh, Love: Jellie's Tips for the Newest of Newlyweds

Tomorrow we will have been married for three months, a whole quarter of a year. Whoa! 

She may have us beat in the world fame and fortune, but so far, in the land of wedded bliss, we are kicking some serious Kardashian booty. But who's counting?

I really can't attach a single adjective to our first months together as husband and wife. So many events have occurred, and so many new experiences have been thrown our way. Its been quite a journey so far, and we can't wait to see what lies ahead. But for now, we'd like to share with you a few of things we've learned along the way to one of the earliest of the newlywed milestones, in a nifty "Live, Laugh, Love" format. Cute, huh? :)

Photo by Miss Lane Photography
Live: So many of us spend massive amounts of our lives waiting. Waiting for a great promotion, the beginning of a relationship, the start of the New Year so we can go to the gym to "fulfill" our New Year's resolutions for all of one week...

As newlyweds, you probably spent the last several months (or years) anxiously awaiting your wedding day. Now that it has come and gone, you may find yourself waiting for the next big life-changing step, like your dream house or a baby. Our advice to you? Stop waiting for life to happen, and make it happen! This is your life! Right now! You may not have a white picket fence and the standard 2.5 kids at the moment, but what you do have is each other. Work together as the fantastic team that you are to build your life together right now! You don't have to drown yourselves in debt this instant splurging on a house you aren't able to afford, and you don't have to get busy in bed if you aren't 100% ready for a baby, but you should take little steps towards those big hopes and dreams you have for your future, and you'll get a few steps closer every day!

Hoping for a baby sometime soon? Take a pre-natal vitamin to prepare your body for the changes and needs of pregnancy, and invest some time into researching other ways to make yourself, and your home, ready for a baby.

Dreaming of mansions and beachfront properties? Jump start your savings by figuring out where you can trim down your budget. Every little bit helps.

Want to take over the world? Take a course in neurobiology so you can begin designing your mind control device prototype with knowledge-backed confidence!

Laugh: Just because you're married now doesn't mean you have to take on every characteristic of "maturity". Its okay if you still like to have your teddy bear by your pillow at night (I know I do!), or if you and your spouse enjoy Disney movie marathons on a regular basis. Yes, getting married comes with a greater need for maturity, hard work, and all that other fun grown-up stuff, but don't be afraid to get a little goofy and let out your inner-child every once in awhile. Or little bit every day!

We enjoy coloring pictures for each other, playing board games, and baking cookies together quite frequently, and it does wonders for our relationship! Inexpensive (or free), low intensity, fun activities. How can you go wrong? Its a great way to reconnect after a long day in lieu of watching our favorite TV shows on Netflix. Not only do we get to spend time together in a relaxing way, but we also have the benefit of being able to have a good conversation in the process.

We also spend a lot of time being big kids outside of our home, too. The Orange County Great Park in Irvine is one of our favorite "date spots". There's a giant helium balloon to take rides in, a Merry-Go-Round, and tons of sports equipment and games to use...and its all free! So go head out to a cheap amusement park or carnival, or take your furbaby to the dog beach (Huntington Dog Beach is our favorite!) and play in the waves!

Love: Seems like a given, right? Wrong! When you've been dating someone for a while, the romance can start to fade a little. Its usually not because one partner cares less for the other, but because couples settle into a routine, often a routine that includes waiting for life to start (see above), and forget about each others' needs in the now. Then, when you get married, you get that surge of lovey-dovey, eternal honeymoon feelings and all is well...until the romance starts to fade again. Just like when you were dating, and even more so now that he put a ring on it, you've got to put effort into your relationship to get the fire to burn brighter and brighter. You've got to put effort into your relationship just to keep the fire from burning out!

Be intentional about taking at least a few minutes out of each day to show your love for your spouse, emotionally, physically, however. It doesn't have to be anything big, or sparkly, or epic (but it can be!), the little things make a difference, too!

An idea we stole from Pinterest has helped us accomplish this regularly, despite our packed schedules: Print or write "I love you because" on any style paper, stick in a frame, and use a dry erase marker to leave a note to your spouse with one of the many reasons why you love them. This one is much cuter than ours, but its the same basic idea. :)

This easy little craft project has become such a blessing to us. We don't always think or remember to remind each other of how much we appreciate the littlest of things one does for the other. Walking into our bedroom and seeing a thank you message for letting Sadie out at 3 A.M. or cooking dinner alone when the other wasn't feeling good has made both of our days on multiple occasions. We know the other cares, but sometimes, being able to see that love and appreciation right before our eyes, can make a world of difference.

It really is the little things.


Congratulations to all of us newlyweds (and not so newlyweds!), and God's blessings to us all as we continue down the incredible path He has laid out for us.

Justin and Ellie

What are some of the most important and treasured pieces of wisdom you've gained from your marriage, and how has it helped your relationship grow?

Friday, October 12, 2012

First Blog Posts...

...I really despise them.

In that 

Wait...what in the world am I gonna say?"

kind of way.

The first post on a blog is an incredibly accurate metaphor for my life: An attempt to be witty, and fun, and cool. A shot at making outsiders think you're uber epic and amazingly fantabulous, but just coming across as ridiculously awkward.

The bright side? If you're willing to stick around long enough, my awkwardness can become endearing, and sometimes, all wrapped up in those gooey layers of randomness and disorganized ideas, I might have something that actually is uber epic and amazingly fantabulous to say.

My amazing husband, Justin, was one of the brave ones who walked faithfully by my side through miles and miles of the Awkward Forest known as my thought process, and eventually (quite possibly due to his own internal awkwardness), found me endearing enough to buy me a princess-cut diamond and ask me to be his wife.

One of our engagement pictures. Need I say more?

So this blog is about him. And me. And our miniature labradoodle named Sadie. And everything that comes with us: the crazy, the hilarious, the wonderful, the not-so-wonderful, and the doggie baths that turn the bathroom into a high risk combat zone. This blog is about our tests and trials, the happiest days of our lives, and the God that brings us through it all.

And this blog is also about you: you learning from our mistakes, you snatching up some good ideas, and you laughing at the stupid things we do. This blog is about us spreading the gift of love for each other that God has given us, to you. And if you have one, your own miniature labradoodle, too.


Justin, Ellie, and Sadie