Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas Card 2015

A bit late because, when we ordered prints, they didn’t turn out right and then computers were left at home when we traveled to California for Christmas. Anyway, here it is. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Harrisons! May 2016 be full of grace and blessings.

change of season

2015 11 autumn

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It’s been a busy season for us. We’ve both been working six days a week and learning through experience that sometimes being an adult is just plain hard. It’s a season though. This has been a season of learning how to manage our time and our finances and make plans while everything is up-in-the-air and our future is uncertain. Then to have those plans changed and realize that God knows what He’s doing and there is a reason for everything. A few days ago, we took the time to go to our favorite local coffee spot to have devotions and make our to-do lists and it was a quiet reminder that, when you’re busy, sometimes a quiet moment is what you need. It centers you and grounds you and allows you to know who you are when you’re in the world, once again, facing the things you can’t control. We’re settling into our home as autumn ends and winter begins. Autumn was a busy time with a lot of uncertainties and, to be completely honest, some disappointments. We’re looking forward to winter, though. A winter of knowing where home is and getting to see our families and put down our roots in the Chicago area for a while longer. Autumn was a time of incredible growth for both of us and we felt those growing pains. We’ve come out of it stronger, though, and more resilient, and ready to face whatever winter has in store.

exploring chicago

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Not long after the wedding, Naomi came to visit and she and I spent a few days exploring downtown Chicago together. We took the train in the morning and would spend the entire day walking around the city. Adventuring with Naomi is the best. We both prefer meandering and just stopping at anything that catches our interest. And also our energy levels match so we both feel ready to slip into a coffee shop to sit and rest for a bit at exactly the same time. Anyway, those days of exploring the city together were pretty near perfect and it was the introduction I needed to get a feel for this new city.

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Beautiful theatres. Love.

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[obligatory tourist-y selfie at Cloud Gate]

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This is where we drank coffee, ate waffles, and charged our phones.

5 stars for comfy couches and mismatched random mugs.

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The highlight of our time together was our evening at the theatre seeing the Broadway Tour of Once. Naomi and I had always hoped to go to the theatre together and we jumped at this opportunity. There’s nothing else quite like the magic before a show starts. It’s this amazing energy of knowing that anything can happen.

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The show was an wonder. Unbelievably beautiful and the music touches you in incredible ways. This is why I love musical theatre. It reaches audiences and shares emotions in ways that no other medium can.

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I will always remember the rush of leaving the theatre, walking the city streets at night heading toward the train station. The way the lights reflect of the water and the buildings glow. Talking on the train or just sitting in silence watching the world fly past. I adore city life and, after being born and raised in Los Angeles, getting the chance to live so near Chicago is new and exciting. There’s still a lot to experience and many things yet to see, but having an unfamiliar city to explore is an amazing thing.

13.1 – fox valley half marathon

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On the morning of Sunday, September 20th 2015, after training all summer, I ran my first half marathon. This is something I had wanted to do for years, but never thought I would ever be able to cross it off my bucket list. It was such a beyond-amazing experience and I feel so blessed than I had the opportunity to run and also the strength and perseverance to train well so I was ready to do my best on race day.

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It was pouring rain on the Friday before the race when Austin and I drove an hour in a thunderstorm with flash flood warnings after work to go pick up my packet at the expo. Thankfully all went well and I was able to pick up my packet and bib so I’d be ready for Sunday.

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My alarm went off at 4am on the morning of the race so I could have time to shower, eat, and get ready without feeling rushed. As we drove an hour from our home to St. Charles, IL, I was excited, but not nervous. I knew I had trained well and that I had set myself up for success. I was just ready to finally conquer this after the nine months I had spent knowing it was coming after signing up.

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The starting line was right by the Fox River and it was such a beautiful morning. Weather was in the 50s with highs in the 70s for later that day. Perfect.

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As I waited with my pace group, I chatted with some other runners and texted my parents and my grandparents. My Nana had been my running coach all summer as I trained and she and my Poppop were running their own half marathon that morning in Maryland so we could do it together.

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I am so amazed by the running community. Everyone there was supportive and encouraging. So many people woke up early to be out to volunteer and hold signs. Kids were giving high-fives to passing runners and the people passing out water at the hydration stations were such a welcome blessing. Seriously. The running community is the best and I am so thankful to be a part of it. Shout out to Fox Valley Marathon for putting on a fantastic race. It was well-organized and ideal for this first-timer.

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Soon we were at the starting line and it was time to run. I stuck to my plan that I had made while training – tried and true. I had my hand-held water bottle with me and my Cliff Shot Bloks. I brought my iPod with a new audiobook for just-in-case, but I didn’t end up listening to it much. I was too preoccupied taking in all the new sights and making small talk with some of the other runners.

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I cannot begin to say how gorgeous and perfect the course was. (Except for the dead raccoon on the side of the road.) We ran through Downtown St. Charles, along the Fox River, and through beautiful Japanese Gardens. The course was mostly flat with only a few tiny hills. The scenery kept changing which kept the run interesting.

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While I was running, I was surprised by how easy it felt. It felt just like one of my long training runs and I had to remind myself that this was the real deal. Around mile 4 I stopped and waited in line for a bathroom break and at mile 6 I got a side stitch – but once I walked it off I was fine and it didn’t come back.

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I was so excited to see the 10 mile marker! I stopped and texted Austin and my family to let them know I getting closer to the finish.

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By the last mile, I was starting to feel tired and I was ready to be done. I pressed on because I knew I would be there soon. When I had about a quarter of a mile left, I saw the Harrisons standing by the course with signs. It was crazy. I had no idea they were going to be traveling up for the race and after running the entire race seeing people with signs, it took me a moment to recognize them and realize that these were for me! Best surprise and exactly what I needed to be my final push across the finish line.

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…and I finished! :D

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A volunteer placed the medal around my neck and I was surrounded by other finishers and everyone was congratulating each other. I was so unbelievably happy as I made my way over to the food tent to grab some water and a banana. Once I found Austin I stretched and we made our way back home so we could go out to lunch with his family. It was such an amazing day and I could not have asked for a more perfect first half marathon experience. The whole thing felt like a dream and I had to keep reminding myself that it had actually happened. I ran a half marathon!

My goal was to finish with an ideal time of 2:45. My official time was 2:44 and that includes the time I spent waiting in line for the bathroom. God is so amazing! He gave me the courage to undertake this challenge and the discipline to see it through. Everything about this was outside of my comfort zone and it was certainly an adventure that I will never forget. I am so thankful for perfect weather and the strength I needed to persevere and for the friends and family who supported me and cheered me on along my way.

throwback : my first 5k

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Just less than a week ago, I ran my first-ever half marathon and it was amazing. Like more amazing than I could have ever anticipated. That blog post is in the works and will be coming soon. However, so many people have been asking me how I got started running that I decided to repost what I wrote on my old blog after my first 5k in January. On January 10th 2015, I ran my first-ever 5k race and the following is what I wrote…

Let’s go back to the beginning. Running has never been easy for me. I was never one of those people who could just go on a two-mile run with it being no big deal. I never thought of myself as a runner. I’ve always wanted to run, though. Somewhere imbedded deep within my loathing, was this admiration for anyone who laced up their running shoes and hit the road and I wanted to be able to do the same. I tried running when I was thirteen. It was harder than I had anticipated so it didn’t last long. Years later, when I was seventeen, I decided to give it another shot and see if I could train for a 5k. No such luck. I tried running twice that year and each attempt only lasted about a month. I had actually made progress having gone from being hardly able to run around my block without stopping to walk to being able to go for a mile, but it didn’t last. I came to the conclusion that I could not run and I would never be a runner. Maybe I just wasn’t built for it.

Then, at the end of October 2014, I decided I finally was going to do this. In the midst of wedding-planning, I knew that I needed a different and completely unrelated goal to work in the months leading up to the wedding to help keep me sane. I needed something for myself that could give me a break and provide personal accomplishment. Enter running. At first I fought it. No. I had already tried running. It just doesn’t work for me. Come on, find something else. But I also didn’t want to find something else; I had always wanted to run and this was the perfect time to do it. I would run a 5k before the wedding. As a result, one early morning in October, I downloaded a Couch to 5k app on my iPhone, put on my running shoes and headed outside. Starting that day in October, I began waking up at 5am three mornings a week to go out and run. The program started me with intervals of running for one minute and then walking for two minutes and helped me gradually improve. On Thanksgiving morning, about a month after I started, I felt like a runner for the very first time when I ran for a full 20 minutes without stopping to walk. I had never been able to do that before. Once I hit that milestone, every run was a joy and I found myself smiling every time I was out there.

I hit a roadblock in early December when I injured my knee. After seeing my chiropractor, I had to take two weeks off from running and he made me custom orthotics so I could train again. Those two weeks off were terrible and I spent every morning wishing I was running. Once I got the “okay” to run again, there was no stopping me. By God’s grace, I was able to run again pain-free for a month and, on January 10th, I ran my 5k.

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It was a gorgeous morning at Dockweiler Beach for the the race. I was excited and ready to cross this 5k off of my bucket list once and for all. My goal was simple. Run the whole thing without stopping to walk. I knew I could do it, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be easy for me.

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My amazing parents came with me and walked the course while I was running. They are the best support team. Seriously.

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The route for the run was simple but beautiful. A faint rainbow appeared in the sky before we headed out and it started lightly raining in the middle of the run. I was able to keep my pace fairly consistent even though I started out a bit faster than I should have. The last mile hurt though, and my lungs were burning and my legs aching and I wanted to stop, but I knew that I could do this. It was during that hard stretch of road that I had to remind myself that running is a gift. God had blessed me with the strength to run and the desire to finish and I was resolved to honor Him with the opportunity He had given me. Once I conquered those mental barriers, I was able to finish strong and I was smiling when I crossed the finish line. I had done it.

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After the race, I walked and stretched while I waited for my parents. It was still barely raining and I felt amazing. I had wanted to run a 5k for years and had never believed that I could. That day I proved myself wrong. God had sustained me when I felt like I couldn’t go another step and I am so thankful that I was able to conquer this run.

That was nine months ago and last weekend I ran 13.1 miles. I still can’t believe how far I’ve come and I am so excited to share my half marathon story with you all soon.

 

favorite running gear

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I’m currently nine weeks into training for my first half marathon and it has turned out to be a lot more complicated as my training runs get longer. There’s a lot more to think about than just lacing up your shoes and heading out the door when your runs are longer than three miles. In the past (almost) year of running and the summer of training for this race, I’ve discovered some of my favorite gear and want to share my finds with all of you. (Note: I was not paid or sponsored to do any of these reviews. My thoughts are my own and I just sincerely desire to help new runners discover great gear.)

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New Balance 990v3

First and most important are my running shoes. When I first started running, I went into the New Balance store and they had me fitted for these since I have flat feet and severely over-pronate. Since then, I’ve gotten custom insoles from my chiropractor to deal with my knee and shin splint problems. My shoes are heavy, but I run pain-free. Getting good running shoes may be expensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment and can help you avoid injury. I’d recommend going into a specialty running store and have your gait analyzed so you can make sure that the shoes you buy are right for your feet.

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Garmin Forerunner 10

My Garmin GPS watch (aka my best running friend.) I had wanted a Garmin watch for a while since I didn’t like having to carry my phone with me and tracking my run on my phone would completely drain its battery. However, I also didn’t want to spend $130 on a running watch. After watching eBay for a while, I was able to get mine for $50 and it was in practically new condition. Mine tracks distance, time, splits, calories, pace, and more. And I don’t have to charge it after every run. Now I can’t imagine running without it.

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Fuel Belt (Sprint Palm Holder 10 oz)

When I started running more than six miles, it was time to start taking water and fuel with me. A hydration belt seemed superfluous to my needs since my half marathon with have water stations at each mile so I got this smaller hand-held version. I love how comfortable and easy to hold it is and I usually find a water fountain along my route so I can refill mid-way through my run. I use the pocket to hold my fuel (Clif Shot Bloks.)

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Clif Shot Bloks

My Nana (who is also my amazing running coach) sent me some of these to try when I started training. I loved them so much, I haven’t felt the need to experiment with other running fuel options such as GU, Energy Gel, or Sport Beans. The Tropical and Black Cherry flavors are my favorite since they have caffeine in them and it works well for me to take about three bloks at the end of miles three, six, and nine. They give me just a bit more energy to keep going for longer runs.

(Note: I am not happy with the ingredient list. For this race, I decided to just use what works, but, in the future, I’m going to experiment with making my own homemade version with more natural ingredients.)

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Essential Oils

I use Young Living Essential Oils every day as part of my life and running is no exception. They promote health and wellness and, as a result, they fit right into my running and recovery routine.

A few drops of Lemon in my water before I head out to wakes me up and energizes me. It’s also great for detoxing after a workout.

Peppermint helps me with respiratory function and an unsettled stomach. It can also be used to energize and invigorate. All I have to do is smell it to feel more alert.

Stress Away is a blend of lime, vanilla, copaiba, ocotea, cedarwood, and lavender. All of these oils work together to help induce relaxation and it is so helpful to use before a race or long run that I’m feeling nervous about.

Grapefruit is a natural energizer that can also help with weight loss, healthy digestion, circulation, and inflammation. I love to put a few drops in my water.

PanAway is my favorite post-run pain relief. I don’t take ibuprofen because I have this amazing little bottle of oil. It’s a blend of wintergreen, clove, peppermint, and helichrysum and, when rubbed topically onto aching muscles, it can help promote recovery and decrease discomfort.

En-R-Gee is also a blend of several oils that may improve energy and mental alertness – both of which are vital to success in running. It contains rosemary, juniper, lemongrass, nutmeg, balsam fir, clove, and black pepper.

The Orthosport Massage Oil contains wintergreen, peppermint, and eucalyptus, and thyme. Not only does it small amazing, but it also helps with relaxation, aches, muscle pain, and joint pain.

If you have any questions about how to get started with oils yourself, please don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll be more than happy to talk with you.

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iPod Shuffle

I didn’t like bringing my phone with me so I got this tiny clip-on iPod shuffle for about $30 on eBay. It’s lightweight and perfect for bringing my music with me while I run.

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Audiobooks

When my runs started getting longer, I started hating my music. It made me anxious and bored and my running playlist was getting really, really old. That’s when I decided to give audiobooks a try and they have been a lifesaver. I’ve found that miles fly by when I’m listening to a good book and I enjoy them so much more than listening to music while I run. Audiobooks can be expensive, though, so I just borrow mine from the library. Load them onto my iPod, listen while I run, then, when I return the CDs to the library, I delete the files from my computer. Easy. Amy Poehler reading her book Yes, Please has been my favorite so far.

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FlipBelt

I tried the FlipBelt and I used it a lot when I was training for my 5k. I loved it for a while and will probably use it again in the future. It doesn’t bounce and it’s comfortable, but mine kept moving around and riding up. Maybe it was a sizing problem or just because of the slippery material of my leggings, but, either way, I stopped using it once I didn’t need to carry my phone anymore after I got my Garmin and iPod shuffle. However, once my long runs started getting, well, long, I knew I had to take my phone with me for safety purposes. Enter my Banjee wrist wallet.

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Banjees Wrist Wallet

My mom got this for me before I started running and I never used it until I randomly found it again right when I was looking for a way to carry my phone with me on my long runs. I have the 2 Pocket Phone Banjee in Black and it is awesome. My phone fits in one pocket and I still have the other for a key, some cash, or extra fuel. It doesn’t bounce or bother me and it doubles as a way to wipe the sweat off my face. Win-win.

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Sweaty Bands

Speaking of sweat, I absolutely love Sweaty Bands. I got these headbands when I first started running and now I never go for a run without one in my hair. They keep the sweat from running down my face and they don’t slip. Seriously. I love that I don’t have to adjust them while I’m running and they come in countless fun designs and patterns and colors too.

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Road ID

Safety is important and that’s why I always wear this when I go running. My Nana bought it for me and I love the peace-of-mind of knowing that if something were to happen, the necessary information is on my wrist. Blurred out for privacy reasons, mine includes the city I live in and also the names and phone numbers of my husband and other emergency contacts.

So, there you go. Some of my favorite tools that help me have a good run. Hopefully they will prove themselves as I attempt to cross the finish line of my first-ever half marathon on September 20th. I’m excited and just hope that I’m able to stay consistent with my training as race day approaches.

Do you run? What’s some of your favorite running gear?

summer days

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 It’s been a remarkable summer so far.

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Our first summer together has been wonderful. I got a job at a local theatre as a Box Office Concierge / Administrative Assistant and it is absolutely perfect. God provided the opportunity right when I was ready to stop my search and everything fell into place in a way that I know it was Him orchestrating it and not me. I’ve gotten to work during rehearsals, shows, tech weeks, independent film festivals, and more. I love it. And the theatre is close enough to our apartment so I’ve been able to ride my bike to work and that has made me so incredibly happy.

In other regards, we love being married and we’ve spent our free time together riding our bikes to the library to borrow movies, exploring Downtown Chicago, drinking espresso, cooking, baking, swimming in the apartment pool and getting frozen yogurt after, traveling to friends’ wedding, riding the train, and watching Big Bang Theory. For Austin’s birthday, I surprised him with tickets to a Cardinals vs. Cubs baseball game. Naomi and Drew visited us and we ate pizza and played chess and walked around the city. Taste of Chicago was a crazy unforgettable experience. I’ve been running a lot to train for my half marathon that’s coming up in September. My weekend long runs have reached eight miles and I am just amazed by how far I’ve come and am excited about how much further I still need to go. (13.1 here I come!)

Long story short, life is good and we’re really happy. (Living with Austin the best) Our summer has been full of all sorts of adventures so far and the next few months are looking to be just as exciting as the past ones have been. Married life just keeps getting better and that’s an all-around amazing thing.

throwback : bridal shower

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My bridal shower was five months ago. However, my best friends and maids of honor did such an outstanding job and it was so beautiful I knew that I had to share the photos eventually. Even though the busy time before the wedding kept me from making this post then, I’m finally doing it now.

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On the day of my bridal shower, it was a randomly rainy day in March. It hadn’t rained in months and this was the day it poured (there was even hail – a great rarity in southern California.) The party was hosted at a local coffee shop – one that is owned by my best friends’ family. When I arrived and saw how beautiful it looked, I was completely blown away. Every little touch they had chosen for the decor had a special meaning and it was amazing.

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Emily and Hannah are my best friends and have been ever since we were little kids. They threw me the most perfect bridal shower and they rocked the whole worlds-best-maids-of-honor-thing. Gosh, I miss them. Every day, I miss them.

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So many of the important women in my life were there. My grandmother. My godmother. My aunt. Family. Friends. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many women I admire and who were there to support and encourage me.

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Even Austin’s mom, sister, and grandma drove from Illinois to be there. (Which is out-of-this-world incredible.)

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 Do they know how to throw a party or what? (the correct answer is YES.)

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I have the best mom and mother-in-law. These women are my role models and I love them both more than I can say. Being able to learn from their examples of how to do marriage well and honor Christ as a wife is such a gift.

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 One of my favorite pictures from the night. Not glamorous, by any means, but so full of memories. Hannah, Emily, and I had spent many hours talking while washing dishes there over the years after countless parties. Getting to do it again after my bridal shower was surreal.

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It had been an evening of being showered by love by the women who mean the most to me. Yes, it was emotional. Yes, it has been challenging to leave that community behind me. However, it has been so worth it. Marriage is awesome and having those memories of so many wonderful women supporting me and encouraging me and inspiring me to do well in this next season of life is something I will cherish. Always.

where we dwell

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Ever since we got home and settled in, people have asked to see the apartment. It’s small and cozy, but it’s absolutely perfect for us and the season of life we are in. Our apartment is in the suburbs about an hour north of Downtown Chicago. It’s an incredible location and it’s quiet, but still close to everything we could possible need. There’s even a Trader Joes here. That still makes me happy.

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There isn’t much natural light in our apartment, but I worked with what I had for these photos. Our entryway is simple.
And there’s my bookcase that my man had waiting for me when I moved in.

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 Our main living space. Characterized by the following: Soft blankets. Comfy couch. Legos. Board games. TV. Work bench.

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 Yes, we decorate with lightsabers.

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 I love our kitchen. It’s small, but we still manage to find ways to cook together and that’s the best.

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Our coffee station. Eventually I want to make a coffee cart, but floor space is too precious right now. For now we keep our keurig, espresso machine, and milk frother on the counter with our cappuccino cups and milk and sugar.

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 My parents gave us a Vitamix. I’m still excited about it.

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My Azure Sky KitchenAid Artisan Mixer was a gift from Austin’s family and I absolutely adore it. I had wanted a blue mixer for years for that “one day” when I have a home of my own. Now I have it and the color is gorgeous and perfect and I know that it’s going to be my baking companion for years to come.

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I would be lying if I said that this was where we ate dinner. We don’t eat dinner here. We eat on the couch.

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 We have Star Wars hand towels in our bathroom. #unashamed

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 I have plans for the bedroom. Plans involving picture frames, a duvet, and lots more pillows. For now, though, I’m content with what we put together. I have a man who is patient enough to hang lights for me when I change my mind as he’s putting them up. Yep. He’s definitely a keeper.

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So, here’s a little welcome to our corner and the place we currently call home. We’ll only be here for about a year, but I want to put down roots – even temporary ones – because life is too short to not invest where you are and to not live beautifully and to not love fully and to not eat ice cream every chance you get.

illinois reception

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Not long after our honeymoon, Austin’s family threw us a reception at their farm in Illinois. Because our wedding was in California, most of Austin’s people weren’t able to attend. This reception was the perfect opportunity to celebrate with his family and friends. (Photos in this post are credited to  Katie Santarelli at Katie-Did Photography)

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We had an ice cream bar. Be still my heart.

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We loved our wedding atlas guestbook so much, we used the same one for this reception. And, goodness knows, there’s still plenty of room to collect more messages over the years. If you come and visit our apartment, it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll ask you to sign the guestbook. and, if we don’t… just ask. We plan to be collecting messages in our atlas for the rest of our lives.

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 Testing out the photo booth…

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 These cuties. Gosh.

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 See this? My people from California (and Naomi too) traveled to Illinois for the party. They’re the best.

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 Once it got dark and everything was illuminated by twinkling lights, there was swing dancing.

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We played Tangled for the kids.
(Well, not just for the kids. If I hadn’t been busy meeting and mingling, I totally would have watched it too. Kids totally have more fun.)

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I met so many new people that night and was welcomed into the Harrison family with dozens of open arms. Austin’s family had worked tirelessly on everything and their efforts paid off. It was a magical night and so full of love and laughter and I could not have asked for a more perfect way to celebrate our wedding in Illinois.