Engagement Photos at Old World Wisconsin

I hate having my picture taken and I hate being the center of attention. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
Being a bride is probably not going to go well for me. hah!
Somehow I managed to survive having our engagement photos taken by our talented friend, Carly. It definitely helped me to have Carly take our photos instead of a stranger, but it still took me a while to warm up and get comfortable.
The best photos of the day were definitely the ones where I stopped trying to do anything but enjoy being with Bryce at Old World Wisconsin. It was the perfect place to have pictures done because we had a wide variety of locations and enough to do and see that spending the day there didn’t get boring. Tiring maybe, but not boring.

This picture is my absolute favorite. Mostly because I didn’t even know Carly was taking our picture at this moment. I know, it looks totally posed and that’s what is amazing about it. Turns out I just really like Bryce!

The “residents” locked the barn door after we left. I guess they didn’t like us playing with their pitchfork.

We helped make sauerkraut!

Carly did an amazing job, right?! She is a guest at our wedding so we have hired Daniel LaBelle Photography for the big day. He is incredibly talented and we can’t wait to work with him!

Wisdom From My Grandma

My grandma was a woman of many talents and many flaws – as we all are. Some of those flaws feel unforgivable at times, but I must say that I’m proud to have inherited some of her talents.

When she passed away at the end of November 2011 my mom and I flew down to Florida to attend her funeral and wrap up some loose ends. She had the above sign in her kitchen and that’s when I realized even though I didn’t feel I ever really got to know her, I was definitely my grandmother’s granddaughter.

My grandma was a vegan nutritionist decades ago when it seemed really insane. She would take her clients on grocery store tours and explain how to shop, what to avoid, what to buy. She drove my mom completely crazy, but every once in a while my mom mentions a delicious recipe of my grandma’s that she wishes she had.

The doctors said my grandma was a miracle after she fought off breast cancer for the umpteenth time. They said her healthy lifestyle saved her life over and over again after a late first diagnosis. In the end her last rigorous cancer treatment caused more harm than good when the radiation on her brain (the cancer had spread) left her in a nursing home, unable to walk, and pissed off at the nasty processed food she was being served.

At some point during all of this she wrote my brother and I a list of life lessons. My mom gave it to me about a year after she passed away. Grandma asked that she give it to us when we were “ready”. With my brother preparing to leave for the Air Force as I get ready to be married, she felt it was time to pass it along.

Here are some of my grandmother’s words of wisdom. It was a long letter so I’ll just share my favorites!

I have lived many years and made many mistakes. If I had not made those mistakes I would not have learned valuable lessons. I decided to put my pen to paper to respectfully pass this information on to you. It is my hope that some of these points will help you to navigate through your journey. I sincerely wish a happy, fulfilling life for you!

Some things I learned the hard way:

1. Never diminish another’s pain. You cannot know of their life experience or exactly how they feel. Try to be empathetic if you are able to do it.

2. Try to teach not preach. Do this by example.

3. Each day make at least one person feel good about themselves.

4. Think well of someone until there is a reason to doubt them.

5. Never underestimate the power of kindness.

6. Actively encourage all the good you see in others.

7. Never miss an opportunity to help someone if you are able.

8. Learn to trust your instincts. Your inner sense will guide you properly.

9. If anger arises in you – before you act or open your mouth – take a moment to reflect on the outcome. Could this be handled in a different manner? Own responsibility for your own words or reactions. Do not place blame on another for your feelings. Only you can change you. No one else. Your reactions depend on your ability to clearly see all sides of a problem.

10. Never miss an opportunity to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” Those words can initiate the power of healing.

11. Seek joy every day. Joyful people are likelier to lead healthful lives.

12. Discover what your passion is and pursue it! You will recognize it when it comes along. Give everything to it and you are sure to succeed. Don’t give up on yourself or your dreams. You will hit a few rough spots on the road, but learning how to conquer them is part of a greater journey – the journey of your life.

13. Talk less. Do more, listen more. We were given one mouth and two ears for a reason.

14. Take time to appreciate and cherish the natural world at least once a day. Study insect habits, raise a butterfly garden and breathe clean air.

15. It’s never too late to make a fresh start.

16. Remember that violence solves nothing and begets more violence. Love is the only answer.

17. Forgiveness, while never easy, is doable. You can forgive, but you do not have to forget. We humans are a pretty resilient species.

18. Stand up for your beliefs and support them – seek others who share your views.

19. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh at your own shortcomings.

20. Rejoice in the accomplishments and successes of others who have earned your respect.

21. Be mannerly. Good manners and respect never hurt anyone.

22. Try to read great works by authors who have survived the decades so that you will learn more of human nature and life. Authors like Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackery, Maya Angelou, etc. It will also give you more of a command of the English language. Never underestimate the power of using language properly.

Believe in miracles. There is order in nature. Think about it. The seasons are orderly. An oak leaf will not grow on a dogwood tree.

Prayer is powerful. Pray for love, light and healing to replace violence and hate.

Brunch at Simple Cafe

My mom and I have a yearly tradition around the holidays of spending one whole day shopping and eating. We always end up just buying presents for each other so it’s actually a pretty unsuccessful holiday shopping trip, but it is always tons of fun.
This year we went to Lake Geneva and we started the day off at Simple Cafe. My mom had been before and she was excited to take me. They have a menu full of jazzed up breakfast foods like Savory Korean Pancakes and Mashed Potato Omelet. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to going back whenever we made the trip out to Lake Geneva again.
Well I didn’t have to wait for a trip, Simple Cafe came to me! I got brunch with my friend, Julie, this past Saturday and decided we should try out the new restaurant that opened up within walking distance from my apartment. I somehow didn’t realize that this Simple Cafe was related to the one in Lake Geneva until I looked up the menu the night before.
I was crazy excited (I may have screeched a little) and they did not disappoint!
I ordered green tea and it came in a cute little pot.
Julie ordered the butternut squash and tofu hash with rye bread. She just came back from 1 1/2 years in Denmark and was upset that her bread was American rye. 
 
I don’t know what that means, but she made me laugh!
 

I ordered the Apple Crumble French Toast with Cider Infused Maple Syrup. Good gravy, I can’t remember the last time I had french toast that good.

Long story short, I am incredibly excited that Simple Cafe has moved into my neighborhood. I highly encourage everyone to eat there. You can say hi to me – I plan on spending as much time as possible eating their food!

Grapefruit, Mint & Lime Sorbet

Bryce and I had game night with friends at our place on Saturday so I made some food, but more importantly, I made dessert. I wanted to make something that wasn’t incredibly unhealthy so I whipped out my ice cream maker for this Grapefruit, Mint & Lime Sorbet.

Making sorbet is very, very easy, but of course no Ashley cooking adventure is complete without a ridiculous screw up.

I don’t know if you know this, but you need ice to run an ice cream maker.

We had no ice in our freezer. Honestly, I can’t understand how that even happened. Our ice maker is the bane of my existence.

I had already prepped all of the ingredients and poured them into the ice cream maker when I made this discovery so my wonderful fiance ran to CVS to get me a bag of ice. Oh but they didn’t have any.  And neither did Walgreens. Thank goodness for the two bags of ice left at the gas station or I would have been majorly SOL.

If you have an ice cream maker, make this. If you don’t, get an ice cream maker and make this. It’s so refreshing, sweet yet tart and it makes me happy.

Grapefruit, Mint & Lime Sorbet

2 Cups of Fruit Juice from about 2 Grapefruits and 4 Limes
2 Tsp. Grapefruit Rind
1 Tsp. Lime Rind
2 Tsp. Finely chopped mint leaves
2 C Water
1 C Sugar

Um, make sure you have ice.

Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened up a bit. Cool completely and in the mean time juice and grate the grapefruits and limes. Chop up the mint and combine the juices, zests, and mint.

Add the sugar syrup to the juice mixture and follow the directions for your ice cream maker.  Stick the sorbet in your freezer until you are ready to dish it out.

Then make a boozy slushy, realize you’re a light weight and make your fiance drink it for you!

First, get some awesome gin like Death’s Door.

Then add some fantastic giant round ice cubes to your shaker.
Shake your gin until it’s so cold it turns white and you can’t feel your hands.

Stir in the sorbet.

Make it look pretty.

Drink only two sips because it’s too strong for you. 
No seriously, this actually is delicious, I’m just a big baby.

Manie

I smell really good. This is my story.
I work in a consumer relationship department at a large company and I’ve learned that consumer testimonials are very important for product development. I have always been amazed by the number of contacts we receive. I’m not talking about complaints, but good testimonials of what people enjoy about the products. 
I never really understood what would make someone contact a company just to tell them that they like what they’re making. Who has time for that?
Well, apparently I do because I contacted Caldrea and told them that I am in love with their new Aromatherapeutic Body line and I pretty much bought everything (okay, I still need to buy the soap, body oil, other soap, other lotion…). I just want them to keep making this line so badly! 
And so I get it now. Maybe this will make me better at my job.
Caldrea has three new fragrances in a variety of body products.

Scent No. 3

Coconut Fig Leaf

I’ve been wearing this roller ball perfume every day and I purchased the body lotion which is the most perfect consistency. Not too thick, not too thin. Goldy locks would love it.
Being a coconut fragrance I thought it might be a little bit too tropical, but it’s actually a very warm and slightly masculine scent.

Scent No. 2

Tea Olive Lime

I bought this perfume for my wedding day. I read that you should buy a new perfume to wear for the first time on that day so every time you wear it after that it will remind you of the big day. It’s also my “something blue” in it’s cute blue patterned bottle!
It’s a very light, refreshing and exotic scent. I think it’s the perfect fragrance for a bright, happy day.

Scent No. 1

Aloe Water Apricot

This is such a beautiful floral scent. It’s probably the most traditional and my least favorite, but I still love it. I just don’t tend to be a floral girl, but I bought a few of this scent as gifts because I think it is the favorite fragrance of most people. You can’t go wrong with this line from Caldrea. I love the packaging for everything – look at the back of those perfume bottles! Love them. 

How I’m Saving Money On My Wedding

I’m not sure why Bryce was making that face. At the time we were having a lot of fun drinking free cocktails after a meeting at the Iron Horse Hotel, but it actually is the perfect face to describe how I often feel about planning my wedding.

Particularly when it comes to paying for it.

I really had a vision for what I wanted our wedding to be – not necessarily down to the details, but I knew there were certain things I couldn’t do without. Because of that, I also knew we would either need to find a get-rich-quick scheme or I had to figure out how to save money on the wedding anywhere I could.

So here’s what I did and maybe you could try it too:

1. Schedule the wedding for a Friday night.

Having a weeknight wedding isn’t appealing to everyone, but if you want to save money it’s the way to go. Not only do you save some nice moolah on the vendors for your actual wedding night (the biggest payoff for us was our DJ), you save money on any pre-wedding activities too. With a Friday night wedding the rehearsal is on a Thursday. Getting a private party room on a Thursday night is CHEAP (even at my favorite restaurant).

We are having a fairly small wedding. I have a teeny tiny family so they had already planned on spending multiple days with us and the same goes for some of our bridal party. Which night the wedding is on becomes irrelevant at that point. Most of Bryce’s family and our friends live close enough that they wouldn’t have to do anything more than leave work a little bit early on a Friday afternoon to make it. Not that I want to make anyone leave work early, but I really hope our wedding will make it worth their time!

2. Book an all-inclusive venue.

Pick somewhere that includes bad ass decor and refreshments!

More often than not, having an all-inclusive venue is cheaper than say having a tent in a park. Bryce and I had our hearts set on the Iron Horse Hotel for a long time, but we worried that it was just too much money and tried to find a better option. I did a lot of research and started to play with the idea of reserving some park space and renting a tent. The thing you have to remember when going that route is that you need to bring absolutely EVERYTHING in yourself. Oh, and they don’t usually have nice bathrooms. I don’t know about you, but the idea of my wedding dress in a port-o-potty was enough for me to nix that idea.

Well, that and the fact that once I added everything up it cost the same amount of money as the Iron Horse and didn’t include any of the perks like a free hotel room for the night or fantastic package deals from a five star restaurant. Not to mention that I would need to hire people to take care of that “absolutely everything” we’d be bringing in and at Iron Horse it will all be done without me giving it a second thought.

3. Shop smart online.

I bought my wedding dress online. Yep, I’m one of those crazies.  But let me tell you, I’m so glad I did because I saved $3,000. Three-freaking-thousand-dollars.

I knew what kind of dress I wanted (and what size) and every couple of days I would check sites like Preownedweddingdresses.com for the right one. When I found it I called my mom freaking out to ask if I should buy it right then and there. She said I should, so I did and all it needs are some minor alterations. Let’s face it, every wedding dress needs alterations no matter how you buy it. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted and I was even luckier that it was being sold online, but had never been worn. Those options are out there! You just have to be diligent about looking for them and be open minded about getting your dream dress in an unconventional way.

I also bought my designer shoes on sale from bluefly. Oh and I bought my headband from BHLDN on Black Friday…bought my spanx online with a coupon code…bought my cake platter & server online from ruelala

Should I keep going? I can’t even begin to tell you all of the money I saved by shopping online. I usually shop on sale days with coupon codes and I usually manage to find free shipping. It’s so easy. Just do it. Always remember to keep your vision in mind so you don’t get swept up in the excitement of cheap prices and buy something you don’t actually want!

4. Shop smart in person.

Bryce and I spent a couple of months going to a different Goodwill store every couple of days. We stocked up on assorted sizes of clear glass vases to use for centerpieces and almost every single vase was $2.00.

The exact same vases at Marshall’s were $10+.

Shop outside the box! I also needed 3 very tall vases and I found those at Target. I waited until they were on clearance and I scooped them up.

Then we went to Ikea and found some of what I needed to put in those tall vases for $10 total.

If you shop in the right places, buying is cheaper than renting. For example, that cake platter and server I bought at ruelala was $50 with shipping. To rent a cake platter from a bakery is $45 and that doesn’t include the cake server we would still need to buy. Plus, it’s a fairly simple platter that I can use over and over again after the wedding.

5. Get quotes & make reservations early.

When I contacted Iron Horse they quoted me at their 2012 rates, but by the time we actually had our meeting to book the space it turned out that they had just come out with their 2013 rates. I didn’t say anything in the meeting when they told me the price and it seemed high so that I could go home and confirm the quote I was given. Once I did, I sent a polite email back just asking about the price difference and told them I understood if the prices went up and I was happy to pay for the new rate but I wanted to check. They said that their rates went up for 2013, but honored their quote and saved us $1,000. It happened again when I went to block hotel rooms. They told me I could block 10 rooms originally and when I went to do it they said I could only block 8. Once I asked about blocking 10 they honored the quote.

I booked my hair and makeup appointments very early and just in time for the salon to comp me tickets to Milwaukee’s fanciest bridal show. Bryce and I went, got free swag & champagne, talked to a couple of vendors and left after 30 minutes. I had already been the year before, but it’s such a VIP experience that I would never pass up a free ticket!

Be an early bird. A very polite early bird. Which leads me to my last piece of advice…

6. Be nice to everyone. 

I am really nice to people. Poor Bryce is the one who has to deal with my mean side (thanks for putting up with me!). 
My point is, I’ve found that things get done a lot faster for me when I am nice, helpful, and provide as much information as I can to make things a little easier for whatever vendor I’m working with. Why wouldn’t you be nice anyway? Making friends with people is the fastest way to bring down wedding stress. People want to help friendly people, not bridezillas! People also want to give free things to friendly people.

Not that getting swag should be your reason for being nice! Geez.

A Green Tea Gin Hot Toddy I got after making a friend!

Occasionally I get upset about spending so much money on one day so I remind myself of what this is actually about – celebrating the first official day of the rest of my life with Bryce. When it comes to making decisions about spending more on a photobooth or extra thing we really don’t need (but I think we should have because I’m worried about guests being happy), I try to remind myself that this day will be beautiful and exciting no matter what I do and that money will probably be better spent on a boat tour to watch whales with my new husband.

Sometimes planning your wedding can suck, but getting married is pretty awesome.

Air Force Going Away Party: Invitations

My “little” brother has joined the Air Force and he is leaving for boot camp in less than a month. I definitely can’t say I’m looking forward to it. It’s funny how your relationship with your sibling changes so drastically as you become adults. I’m 3 1/2 years older than Sean so I think I had juuuust enough time without him to hate his guts for a while when we were little (when he got older he hated mine too…don’t worry). My dad works nightshift so he was home but asleep during the day so every summer it was really just me and Sean. We wanted to kill each other every single day, but once in a while I could get him to play “school” or “restaurant” with me and looking back I’m glad I had a playmate.

We have finally gotten to the point where we genuinely like and care about each other. He texts me when our parents are driving him crazy and I call home to distract my mom or get the scoop on what’s happening so I can report back to Sean. Once in a while he stays with Bryce and I on the weekends and he’s probably the best house guest you could ever ask for.

For some reason I always knew Sean would join the military. Both of my parents did and though they were both out before Sean and I came along, we have definitely always been a military family. I guess I’m the oddball!

I’m so proud of my brother. I know he is making the right choice for his life. When he was in a high school I tried to guide him down a similar path to mine, but it just wasn’t right for him. He found something that’s right and I know that he will be great.

I’m terrified for him, but I’m excited he is starting his life.

And so, we are throwing him a going away party and Bryce and I made some kick ass invitations.

Just to clarify they’re mini military files…in case you don’t get it.

I cut up manila folders, printed labels with a typewriter font and stamped them CONFIDENTIAL. Too bad I don’t have a CLASSIFIED stamp.

The front of the “paperwork” and a headshot for his file.

The back of the invitation – a clue to the party theme.

Sooo, funny story. When Bryce re-designed the front of the invitations he kind of left off the date…

and then I didn’t notice…

but thank goodness my mom did…

Let’s just pretend my date stamp fix was on purpose because it looks cool instead of just being a band-aid for our goof up. Mmmkay?

We are planning some exciting things for the party so stay tuned!