6 Things That Keep Our Marriage Strong

There is no perfect marriage secret but there are good habits that contribute to stronger marriages. While I am by no means a marriage expert, today I wanted to share a few habits we’ve adopted that help keep our marriage strong.

Go to bed at the same time. I can probably count on one hand the times we haven’t gone to bed at the same time, as this has always been important to me. Ending the day together gives us a solid connection.

No phone in the bedroom policy. This has been a game-changer for us. I’m normally ready for bed before Loren is and used to just scroll through Instagram while waiting for him to come to bed. Now, instead of having that distraction, we chat about the day or just goof off during that time.

Journal every night. I wrote a full post on this here, but Loren and I write a short note to each other every night. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes serious, and sometimes it’s just a recap of a wonderful day spent together.

Date nights. This might be a given for some, but date nights every week are so important. Whether it’s out for ice cream, a movie, exploring a new city or dressing up a little nicer for dinner, carving out that time (phone free!) to focus on each other is a fun way of reconnecting and showing commitment to each other.

Prayer before work and sleep. Before Loren heads out the door for work in the morning, we pray together for the day. These few moments set us off on the right foot and in the same mindset. Along the same lines, one of the last things we do before falling asleep is pray together.

Hold hands whenever possible. In public and at home! There’s a sense of protection, love, comfort and connection. Take pride in that ownership!

What are some of your marriage tips?

Five on Friday [fall style edition] // 10-21-16

Now that we are in the middle of fall and it’s actually turning colder, it’s time to pull out all the fall outfits! Here are some of my favorite must haves, courtesy of my Pinterest page.

Stripes are like a neutral, they go with everything // Shop similar pieces on Effinshop.com xx: ONE // Neutrals (+ stripes.) I feel like most articles of clothing in my closet are some form of neutral. Can’t go wrong with black, grey and taupe! I recently got this sweater that I plan to wear all fall and winter.

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TWO // Olive vest. I finally found this olive vest and there are just so many ways to style it! Definitely my current favorite piece of clothing.

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THREE // Dress, scarf, vest (or cardigan) and boots. This is the perfect way to style those summer dresses in the fall.

Today's OOTD! You might say we're a little excited for fall fashion.: FOUR // Chambray shirt and colored jeans. I wear my red jeans at least once every week (similar here) and often pair it with a chambray shirt for a simple, classy look.

Make room in your closet, these transitional booties will be your best friend this fall! This simple and chic style features a faux suede upper, western-style paneling and stitching detail, size zippe:
FIVE // Booties. ALL DAY EVERY DAY. I bought this pair a few weeks ago and I’ve worn them practically every day since then. They are so versatile and match pretty much everything. I’ve almost forgotten about the other pairs in my closet!

What’s your most important fall fashion piece?

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I Wrote My Husband a Note Every Day for a Year…

…here’s what happened.

img_2992About 9 months into our marriage, I read about a couple who, at the end of each day, wrote a one-sentence note about how they appreciated/loved the other person that day. I thought this was a great idea, and we gave it a try. Loren and I already had a journal where we would write longer letters to each other on special occasions throughout the year, but little love notes every day sounded even better! Now, about 1 and 1/2 years and two journals later, we don’t ever plan on quitting.

Here is what we have learned:

Neither one of us can ever keep it to one sentence. This is the hardest thing for us. I can probably count on one hand how many times we’ve actually just written one sentence. This is not a bad thing – the more you appreciate or have a funny or sweet memory from the day to share, the better!

There’s ALWAYS something good to write about your spouse every day. Even on days we barely see each other, we can always come up with something. Those dishes he washed for me – I’ll thank him for that. Those funny texts he sent that made my day- I’ll recap that. That parting kiss this morning – I’ll mention that. His support when I’m having a hard day – I’ll focus on that. You never know what acts of love will be noticed and appreciated.

We’ve learned to verbally appreciate each other more. In the beginning of our dating relationship, I had a hard time expressing my feelings to Loren. We’ve come a LONG way, and writing out my feelings towards Loren has given me daily practice in this area. We also recently started reading out loud to each other what we’ve written. Makes it even more personal! As a result of this verbal appreciation, I’ve become less shy about expressing my emotions and feelings to him in person.

Loren has better handwriting than I do, even when he changes his style. If you opened up our journal, you could easily see which handwriting is mine, because it’s consistently awful, even when I try to write nicely. Loren, however, has beautiful manly handwriting and likes to switch it up, so sometimes it looks like 4 different people are writing in the journal. Don’t worry though, it’s just the 2 of us.

It’s hard to stay mad at your spouse when you have to write something good about them. I honestly don’t think Loren and I have ever really gotten mad at each other, but sometimes we do get pretty annoyed. So when the note writing time comes around, we pretty much HAVE to kiss and makeup. Talk about not letting the sun go down on your wrath!

Mundane days can be just as fulfilling and special as fun-filled days. I like to think that we aren’t boring people. Weird, for sure, but not boring. Sometimes that weirdness is hilarious. Like making up songs while getting ready in the morning, coming up with ridiculously impossible hypothetical situations, dancing, new inside jokes, things I say in my sleep, etc. Records of this weirdness are always very entertaining to look back on after a few months or years.

Writing to my husband every night before bed has now become more than a cute little idea (now routine) that I wanted to try out. It’s a visible, tangible and reliable record of our relationship’s past and an exciting opportunity to see how it continues to grow in the future – memories that are forever documented for us to look back on for years to come.

What do you do to strengthen your marriage?

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Slow Cooker Black Beans & Rice

Growing up, we used to eat black beans over rice about once a week. We would pile on the salsa, sour cream, cheese and other toppings and shovel it in with tortilla chips. Cheap and delicious and the closest we came to burrito bowls over in Germany. The cheap factor (and I love all the flavor!) is one reason I serve this meal in my home now about once a week.
About once a month, I make a big 2 lbs. bag of black beans in the slow cooker and freeze meal-size portions in sandwich bags to use throughout the month. I like to also use the beans for chili, quesadillas, turkey & bean pitas, spaghetti sauce and a number of other things.

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Slow Cooker Black Beans w/Rice

Ingredients:
2 lbs black beans, rinsed & drained
12 cups water
1 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp salt

Directions:
Rinse & drain the beans, sorting out any small stones, broken, wrinkled, or otherwise misshapen beans. Place all the ingredients except salt in a slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours (high for 3 hours). Add salt, stir well and let cook for 30 more minutes. Serve over rice and add toppings of choice.

Toppings:
cooked rice
shredded cheese
salsa
sour cream
fresh diced tomatoes
scallions
shredded lettuce
roasted peppers
tortilla chips

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Enjoy!

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Cincinnati Coffee Crawl

Over the Christmas holidays, we joined Loren’s siblings for a fun coffee crawl around Cincinnati. Marcus compiled a fantastic list of coffee shops all over the city to visit and compare. Since we didn’t want to get too much of a coffee high, we generally all split a couple shots of espresso and a latte at each place to get a taste of the flavors and quality of the coffee.

* note: all these opinions are mine and may differ from other participants of this coffee tasting *

College Hill Coffee Co.

First stop. Not a favorite, but it had great seating and a quaint little country store that reminded me of Cracker Barrel. The coffee was pretty mellow and tasted like dirt and the latte was watery. So probably a 3/10.

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Sidewinder Coffee

I gave Sidewinder a 6/10. The espresso was rich and fresh. Heather got a lavender mocha latte, which I had never tried before and wasn’t a huge fan, but some of the others liked it.  Not a whole lot of seating, but cute little setup and tasty bakery items.

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Coffee Emporium 

This one was my favorite. Easily 10/10. The building itself was simply adorable, and the drinks were the best. The balance and flavor of the coffee was perfect – smooth, yet bold and slightly acidic and the lattes were foamed to perfection.

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Lookout Joe

Lookout Joe wasn’t too shabby, either. Lots of different coffee blends and flavors to choose from, ranging from mellow to bold. The coffee I tried here was a little nutty and sweet. 7/10.

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Awakenings

Awakenings is a high-end coffee and wine shop, and therefore a little more expensive. I only tried an espresso from here, which was pretty bold and acidic, scoring at 7/10.

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A very fun experience that I would love to try around Indianapolis sometime. Anyone want to join? Or have suggestions of where to go?

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Does This Make Me a Morning Person?

Getting up is hard for me. But since I started working full time a couple of years ago, I think I have become more of a morning person. I never thought I would say that. But here is my routine which I think contributes to this morning personess:

1. Go to bed at a decent time. We try to go to bed between 10:30-11 p.m. Any later and it’s pretty regretful the next morning.

2. Don’t hit snooze. I often fail with this one, but when I do get up the first time my alarm goes off, I normally feel more awake than on the mornings I hit snooze.

3. Drink a glass of water. This helps hydrate and wake me up at the same time.

4. Open windows. There’s just something about good, cold fresh air in the morning.

5. Work out. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to get up the nerve to start my work out. But I never regret it after it’s over! I’ve learned that if I don’t do it in the morning, I never will. Working out in the morning gets my blood rushing and I have discovered that it helps me stay awake (normally) at work.

6. Take a cold(ish) shower. If I take a hot shower in the mornings, I tend to stay in the shower way longer than necessary and get sleepy. A quick, colder shower is key!

7. Eat breakfast. Usually coffee and eggs, fruit, pancakes, or cereal. I can’t make it to lunch without eating a good breakfast. Also helps kick in my metabolism and gives me energy.

8. Pick out your outfit the night before. I fail horribly at this. But it always turns out well when I do pick out my outfit (at least in my mind) the night before.

And now you have the tried and true formula to becoming a morning person.

What are some ways you kickstart your mornings?

Crisp Living: 11 Uses for Coconut Oil

I discovered the many magical powers of coconut oil about a year ago. I’ve never really used makeup remover because it’s expensive. I stopped buying frizzy hair tamers because they didn’t seem to work. Now I just buy one product that I use for multiple purposes, with better and healthier results than using so many other products.
Here are some of the ways I use this liquid gold:

1. Baking/cooking – substitute 1 cup for 1 cup of vegetable oil.

2. Frizzy hair calmer – with your hands, run a dime-size amount of coconut oil
 through your hair, mainly getting the ends.

3. Makeup remover – I normally wash my face with soap, then rub on some coconut oil to get whatever’s left. Don’t get it in your eyes!

4. Face moisturizer – dab a little coconut oil all over your face before going to bed (I now look ten years younger!).

5. Lip balm – I like to rub on a little when I moisturize my face.

6. Acne controller/scar smoother – Loren has been using coconut oil on his face to control acne and smooth scars, and it has helped so much.

7. Shaving cream – use just like you would shaving cream. My legs feel smoother after using coconut oil than after using regular shaving cream.

8. Insect Repellent – mix oil with peppermint extract and rub it over exposed skin.

9. Sunburn relief – apply as you would aloe vera. I have found this works way better than aloe. It’s not sticky, you don’t get itchy, it keeps your tan, you don’t peel, etc.

10. Dish soap – just kidding.

11. Teeth cleaner – known as “oil pulling”. I tried this twice and gave up because you have to swish the oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes and I’m just not that patient. But I hear several people have had wonderful results from oil pulling.

Do you use coconut oil? What for?

Road Trip Ready: 11 Tips

If you’ve caught on by now, you know that we love taking road trips. From last minute 1 hour trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic (when we lived in SC) to trekking from TX to IN to pick up a car, we love it all. 
Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years:
1. Make a list of everything you need to take (phone chargers, contact solution, snacks, sunglasses etc.).

2. Bring a spare car key. 

3. Bring a good diverse mixture of music, podcasts and audiobooks (Hoopla is great for this).

4. Between listening to your audio choices, play car games (interviewing each other is our favorite!).

5. Bring good snacks. Not just candy–that tends to just make one drowsy. Crunchy snacks like chips, pretzels and veggies are preferred in our car. I’m also a big fan of gum and Hot Tamales.

6. Coffee. And water. Lots of water.

7. Make your pit stops count. Fill up the car AND use the restroom AND get your meal AND coffee all at once. Side note: we try to bring our own lunches as much as possible to save money.

8. Switch off drivers every couple of hours to not get tired.

9. Make sure you have emergency necessities: blanket, jumper cables, tire changing tools, flashlight, etc.

10. Carry cash for tolls. We learned this the hard way. Twice.

11. Take pictures to remember the fun.

What are some of your road trip necessities?

Crisp Living: 10 Budget Date Night Ideas

Date nights. Everyone loves them. Naturally, we do too! Most of them are pretty simple and budget friendly: dinner at home and then a movie at the dollar theater, taking a walk around our complex and somehow ending up in the fitness center lifting weights, spending the majority of a Friday night listening to podcasts….

Here are some of our favorites:
1. Picnic. Pack that basket and grab a blanket! We’ve already been on a few picnics and they just keep getting better as the weather turns warmer.
2. Fancy Dinner Date at Home. This is one of our favorites. We cook dinner together, set the table a little more formally with lots of candles, dress up fancy (down to the shoes!), dim the lights, turn on some romantic music, then go out and come in the front door and pretend we’re dining at a 5 star reserve-a-table-a-year-in-advance restaurant. Sometime we interview each other like we’re on a first date. 
3. Art Projects. We don’t do this very often, but the few art projects we have done together have been a ton of fun! The projects can be simple, like painting or making necklaces, or more complicated, like building a pallet headboard (on our someday to-do list). Make something you will use to decorate your house, give as gifts or sell.
4. Bike Ride. Get out there and discover new trails together! Like that one bike ride we took when we first moved here. The trail started off nice, then as we kept going, the area got sketchier and sketchier. Who knows where we ended up before we turned around. We’ve explored some new bike trails at some state parks recently and can’t wait to find more!
5. Sight See. We love to explore new places and there are normally lots of free things to do and see in most cities. Just this past Sunday, we spent the evening wandering around Indianapolis and taking in some of its sights. Also check out our recent trip to Chicago

6. Coffee Date. If you haven’t already caught on to this, we both really like coffee and discovering new coffee shops around town. Especially on days when Loren doesn’t have to study and we can actually chat while we sip coffee. Sometimes we make up stories about the people we see in the coffee shop until the stories get really out of hand.

7. Drive-In Movie. This is probably the most fun if you have a truck, an air mattress and lots of blankets. We have yet to make it to our local drive-in theater (thanks, rainy summer), but we will!

8. YouTube Dancing Lessons. This is totally free. If you don’t know how to dance, like us, look up a basic dancing instruction video first. Once you get the hang of that, try out different styles. This was our date night a few weeks ago, and it was a hilarious blast. 

9. Pool Day. We haven’t been to our pool yet, but I definitely want to very soon with a slushy, a good book and the best company (yes, I mean Loren)!

10. Photo Scavenger Hunt. Get some friends together, maybe another couple or two, make it a double or triple date and go scavenging around the city. Make a list of items to photograph and see which couple works best together getting pictures!

And of course during the summer, it’s necessary to end your date night with ice cream.

What are some of your favorite date night ideas?

Crisp Living: Budget Phone Plan (Ting Review)

Loren and I have both wanted to get smartphones for a while. Life really is fine without one, but they are also super convenient and helpful for SO many reasons. But we couldn’t afford them with our current phone plan. We were paying $60/month (for two phones) for talk & text, which isn’t bad, but we didn’t want to go over that in paying for data. 
A while back I had heard about this cell phone service called ting and about how great it was. I quickly forgot about it, since everyone has “the best” phone service plan. But then I came across it again on a “life on a budget” blog (Frugality Gal) and did a lot more research on it. After researching and convincing ourselves to try something new, we switched over to ting,  got smartphones and are now living happily ever after. 

It works like this:
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From ting website
You can either bring your own device (must be Sprint) or buy one from ting or cheaper places (we used Swappa).

We’ve been using ting for about 3 months now and it has been wonderful. No problems with coverage, billing, etc., and the customer service is top-notch. We haven’t paid more than $50/month (mostly under $40) for two phones with talk/text/data.

If this is something you are interested in, use this referral code and get $25 credit (which goes a really long way) when you sign up!