A Sunday Stroll Through the Park: The Oshawa Peony Festival

Tis the time of the year for one of my favourite local summer festivals – the Peony Festival! This year’s festival was held from Saturday June 10th to Sunday June 11th. Chris and I had a busy weekend, but I knew that I wanted to squeeze in a walk through the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens for the big event so we made time on the morning of Sunday June 11th.

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Photos spontaneously captured by Rosenlee Photography – just good timing!

The location of the festival is special to me: oddly the gardens are outside of a small arena that I used to frequent for hockey practices in my youth (Children’s Arena); my family had lots of fun and took photos there before my parents divorced; and lastly, Chris proposed to me in these gardens a year and a half ago (they put a garbage can in the exact spot where he knelt [we laugh at the “romantic” spot now]). The paths and gardens represent a lot of happy memories for me and the Peony Festival celebrates the parks beauty, Oshawa’s beauty.

edit.jpgChris and I were excited to bring Summit because it’s held mostly in a public park, there are elements held in the arena, but why would you want to go inside on such a beautiful day? Parking was a bit crazy which I think is wonderful because it means that the festival is an ongoing success! Luckily the neighbourhood has many side streets that quickly filled with parked cars. We walked the short distance from our car to the park grounds and people had already started to compliment Summit on her beauty – I am a shamelessly proud mother.

collage 1.jpgThe festival includes: manicured gardens with over 300 varieties of peonies; dozens of local art, artisan, and food vendors; contests; live jazz music; and people enjoying the walking trails. Chris and I first stopped to view collected bugs in glass cases that was surprisingly fascinating. It was neat to see bugs from Malaysia too, Chris says that he hasn’t encountered them which is good because they were pretty damn big!

We continued to browse vendor booths along the walking trails and I especially loved Fancy Fellows who makes bandanas, bows/bowties, and other fashion accessories for dogs and children! They sold out of the Star Wars selection so we are planning on Photo 2017-06-11, 11 24 01 AMordering a custom one from her online! She has some really great fabric patterns so be sure to check out her page!

We met with the committed creator of What’s on Oshawa, a local online supporter of my hometown community that I have followed online for a long time! Creator Anna Huk was a joy to meet and I recommend you follow them online to keep up with cultural events to attend if you live near by! What was so fun was that Anna also recognized Summit from her Instagram account, she asked “is this @summit.the.sweetheart?!” and my proud-dog-mom heart grew four sizes. Chris laughed because he knew it would only encourage my commitment to our dog’s Instagram shenanigans.

collage 2.jpgWe took Summit to the water to get a drink and walked the rest of the trails. I also met a lovely En Plein Air painter working by the river. Her name was Judy Harper and she mentioned that she was looking forward to painting in this coming September’s Plein Air festivals in both Millbrook and Belleville. It’s a lot of fun to watch the live painting process so even if you don’t paint I recommend going to see artists in action. Keep your eyes peeled to see her work!

Photo 2017-06-11, 11 05 00 AM.jpgOur morning was filled with beautiful nature, friendly festival goers (so many people stopped us to talk about Summit and loved hearing her St. Berdoodle breed name), and a long healthy walk. Summit had a great time and it was really nice to expose her to socializing with that many people since her past wasn’t an easy one and she was once much more scared of people than she is now. Chris and I love spending time together at free events like these and it was the perfect Sunday morning activity.

I hope you keep in mind free local events like these in the future! They are incredible mini-day-dates, make for fantastic family photo back drops, and you can meet some wonderful people while you’re there! Oh yeah, the flowers were pretty nice too.

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Experiencing Mystical Landscapes in a City Centre

(I did not take photos of the paintings and the ones I am using do not do the colours or texture of the real things justice – this exhibition is a must see)

cropThis past Tuesday, Chris and I had afternoon plans in Toronto so we decided to make a bit of a day out of it. We live approximately an hour away from the city and don’t go downtown very often. I am someone who really loves her hometown and usually visits small town antique stores rather than busy city boutiques – this only makes my treks to Toronto all the more special.

Since late October, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has been hosting an exhibit called Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more. I hadn’t been to the gallery in over five years and was so excited to see the temporary collection, I was also thrilled to be going with Chris who had never gone before. We caught a train into the city just before 10:00 am and did a crossword together for the majority of the ride.

Fun Fact: I love crosswords and keep a pen in my purse just in case I happen upon one.

When we arrived at Union Station, we went upstairs to the Pilot Coffee stand where Chris bought me a hot chocolate (a child at heart) and a coffee for himself. We took our warm drinks and headed to the subway to save time. We rode the University line to St. Patrick and walked the short distance to the AGO.

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Chris and I pre-Mystical experience.

After getting our tickets and checking our coats, we climbed the stairs to the Mystical Landscape exhibition. We chose not to opt-in for audio headsets; although the audio files are educational, I find that they can take away from the viewing experience. Instead, Chris and I moved to the paintings at our own pace, viewed them in our own order, shared discussions, and read the descriptions of pieces that we liked.

The spaces were dim with picture perfect gallery lights that highlighted the masterpieces that were hung on the wall. It was incredible. The rooms were packed with art lovers, listening to their audio sets, and taking in the different forms of expression. I was so excited to see pieces that I had once studied in art history books displayed right in front of me. As soon as

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Vision of the Sermon (1888) – Paul Gaugin

we walked in, I saw Paul Gaugin’s Vision of the Sermon (1888) to our left and couldn’t wait to see more. The first room really started the collection off with a bang, there were famous paintings that I recognized every few feet. Claude Monet pieces were outstanding, I hadn’t imagined them to be so large! as a fan of impressionism, I couldn’t get enough of the colourful shading in person, you could really see the flecks of warm colours mixing with the blues and purples to represent

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Haystack, Sunset (1891) – Claude Monet

shadows – no use of black. Two of Monet’s haystack paintings were there and were a favourite of mine, but they also had some water lilies and two of the Rouen Cathedral series (allowing us to see his practise of painting the same building at various times of the day for light and colour study).

One section featured four or five different artists that depicted scenes from World War I (WWI) – Chris deemed this the Battlefield 1 display. My favourite WWI themed painting was Frederick Varley’s Gas Chamber at Seaford (1918) and Chris’ was Felix Vallotton’s Verdun (1917). It’s always fascinating to see artists’ drastically diverse interpretations, as well as how subjective viewer’s tastes are. I really enjoyed seeing which pieces Chris liked and thought about how great it would be to study a person’s psychology based on artistic preferences. If this already exists, please lead me to a link for further reading!

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Left: Gas Chamber at Seaford (1918) – Frederick Varley | Right:Verdun (1917) – Felix Vallotton

Without a doubt, the most anticipated and most enjoyable painting to see was Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles (1888). It was incredible to stand mere feet away from the colourful textured strokes

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Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles (1888) – Vincent Van Gogh

that are much more beautiful in person than they are in any art history textbooks. I pointed to the man and woman in the bottom right corner and told Chris that they were us and we should paint our dog Summit in. We made sure that we really allowed ourselves to take the piece in because it’s quite likely that we’ll never get to see it in person again.

If you are in or near Toronto before February 12, 2017 (the last day of the exhibition), I strongly encourage you to see Mystical Landscapes. You will not be disappointed, it was truly exceptional.

Other favourites (see below) between Chris and I were: Henri Sidaner’s Moonlight, Bruges (1900); Eugene Jansson’s Dawn over Riddarfjärden (1899), Edvard Munch’s The Sun (1909); Lawren Harris’ Decorative Landscape (1917); and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Hills, Lake George (1927).

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Moonlight, Bruges (1900) – Henri Sidaner
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Dawn over Riddarfjaren (1899) – Eugene Jansson
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The Sun (1909) – Edvard Munch
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Decorative Landscape (1917) – Lawren Harris
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Red Hills, Lake George (1927) – Georgia O’Keefe

Struggling with SAD-ness: Blue Monday and Maintaining Mental Health

(Today’s featured image/header is a self-portrait painting I did in highschool when I was 16, acrylics on canvas)

As “Blue Monday” has come and gone this week, I think about the significance of maintaining one’s mental health.

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Blue Monday formula above.

The term Blue Monday was actually coined in 2005 by Sky Travel, a company looking to boost sales for destinations with warmer temperatures. It is believed that Sky Travel hired a university lecturer to come up with “a pseudo-mathematical formula to pinpoint the most depressing day of the year: he combined weather, debt, time since Christmas, motivation levels, the need to take action, and time since New Year’s resolutions were made.” There is no actual scientific evidence that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year, but maybe that’s okay.

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Self-portrait I painted as a teenager when I was feeling down.

Although Blue Monday is somewhat of a recent notion, it doesn’t make it any less of an annual tradition – people still celebrate Valentines Day, Labour Day, and in Canada we now have Family Day in February! As time passes, people will likely start to care less about the history and more about the positive associations and memories that come with Blue Monday. The label encourages people to put effort into their happiness and check in on one’s mood. Sometimes being reminded that other people are also experiencing hard times can make someone feel better – feel less alone. Mental health is a difficult thing to measure in quantifiable terms, so finding scientific evidence of the most depressing day of the year would prove to be difficult as well.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder
“Weather often affects people’s moods. Sunlight breaking through clouds can lift our spirits, while a dull, rainy day may make us feel a little gloomy. While noticeable, these shifts in mood generally do not affect our ability to cope with daily life. Some people, however, are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For them, the shortening days of late autumn are the beginning of a type of clinical depression that can last until spring. This condition is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD.” – Canadian Mental Health Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) acknowledges what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which could realistically be connected to the origins of Blue Monday. Approximately 10% of Canada’s population is affected by the reduction of sunlight in our winter months. This means that Sky Travel’s creation of Blue Monday was capturea brilliant PR move – a quick solution to combat SAD is to hop on a flight to an all-inclusive beach resort and soak up some rays. However, taking a last-minute vacation isn’t in the cards for everyone, especially after an expensive December.

Like the capitalist society that we are, other corporations have jumped on board the Blue Monday bandwagon. Discounts, sales, or one day deals actually help us afford to treat ourselves, even if it’s something small. For example, I got an email from Cineplex last week informing me that my Scene points would be worth double (get a movie ticket for half the amount of scene points) for one day only, for Blue Monday.


collage1.jpgI asked my mom if she wanted to come see
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with me (second time for myself, first time for her) and she was an obvious yes. We ate dinner at home, picked up some grapefruit coolers for after the movie, and went to check out of reality for a couple hours at the theatre.

We did girls-night right:

I think that it’s important to live a balanced lifestyle, or try to at least because I don’t know anyone who has actually mastered this art. We all have a lot going on and you need to remember that as amazing as other people’s lives may look on social media, they’re not perfect either. That’s why this particular capitalist-created day of the year isn’t all that bad. Embrace the concept of taking care of yourself, there are many affordable (or even free) ways to actively work at keeping happy. Start a pinterest board that you can go to when feeling down, one of things that make you happy as well as ideas of free ways to cheer yourself up!

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Sacchan the mysterious and overweight japanese dog from my favourite video.

What are some small things that you do to make yourself smile and maintain your happiness? For me, I look at an excessive amount of dog photos and videos. I’ll finish this week off with my current favourite dog video, enjoy!

 

 

Bad Holiday Movies that You Actually Love: Netflix Canada 2016 Selection

Scroll down for a list of 16 ‘bad’ holiday films on Netflix

Remember those bad ‘made for TV’ movies that your mom used to watch when you were growing up? Somewhere along the line, somehow, my sister and I ended up loving them too and there are a lot more to choose from now compared to when I was a kid. Thanks Netflix Canada!


A Brief Reality Check:

Hallmark Channel (yes that Hallmark) seems to be mass producing low-quality Christmas rom-coms – they actually released 22 holiday TV movies just this year alone. Adrienne hallmark-storeGibbs, of Forbes, wrote it best when she said that the channel is “capitalizing on Christmas,” not a surprise when you think about the card company in context with every other holiday or celebration of the year.

So why do I watch these movies when I also acknowledge how awful they can be? People may think that it’s a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine, but I don’t feel shame in my enjoyment. I, like everyone else, think that I have incredible taste in quality media productions; however, again like everyone else, I like to watch meaningless bad television and movies from time to time. Hallmark Channel movies are no better or worse than the average reality television show

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Screenshot from Once Upon a Holiday (in the list below).

detailing the latest fad occupation (i.e. Shows about being a baker, a stay-at-home pageant mom, an ice truck driver, etc.). Both genres have productions that are: often poorly scripted; predictable; funny without being intelligent; cringe worthy; good to be on the background while you’re doing something more important; and lastly, they frequently star nostalgic actors and actresses who we haven’t seen since the 90’s or early 2000’s.

I’m not telling you to not expect more out of Hallmark movies though – they should still be held accountable for their white-heteronormative plot lines that consistently push the need for a prince charming and feature an insanely low percentage of racial diversity in their cast. We as an audience need to voice our want for more depth and options as white heterosexual women are not the only viewers. There is likely a very diverse audience that wants to watch low quality holiday love stories. If Hallmark Channel is making as many as 22 films for just one season, why do they all have to feature single white women looking for Mr. White – er I mean Right – as their Christmas wish? They don’t. The demand is out there so supply it to us you capitalistic card company conglomerate!


Back to my ‘So Bad It’s Good’ Holiday Movie list:

holiday-favouritesPhew – got that out of my system, so now let’s list the selection of bad-holiday-rom-coms on Netflix Canada 2016. I’ve already watched a bunch, but you may need some background fluff to put on the TV while you finish the last of your gift wrapping or while you get ready for Christmas with the family.

Here they are (not ranked), feel free to click the links below and watch the trailers ahead of time! You can type the title into your search bar or browse for these in the “Holiday Favourites” category on Netflix.

PS. I’ve watched the first seven
PPS. As an atheist I often just choose to ignore whatever religious undertones come with Christmas movies as it’s the original basis for the holidaymovie-collage

  1. Dear Santa 
  2. Holiday Engagement
  3. A Dog Walker’s Christmas Tale
  4. Merry Kissmas 
  5. Christmas Crush
  6. Once Upon a Holiday
  7. My Santa 
  8. A Christmas Kiss II
  9. Christmas Belle (not an actual trailer)
  10. Naughty & Nice
  11. Back to Christmas 
  12. Christmas in the City 
  13. Small Town Santa 
  14. Santa’s Little Helper
  15. How Sarah Got Her Wings 
  16. Angel of Christmas 

Whether you watch these low-budget productions this holiday season or not, I hope that you enjoy yourself (celebrating or not celebrating Christmas)! Be safe, be smart, be merry.

A Festive Front Door Facelift: How to Redo a Wreath

I put our Christmas wreath together a couple of years ago and was happy with it back then, but I knew that I wanted to give it a facelift this year.

This project only cost me $10.00, here is the before and after:

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I used the existing wreath, gold ribbon, and green sprigs from the first design. I set aside the bronze ribbon to be used when wrapping presents or making ornaments this year. The berries had once been a deep burgundy, collage-onebut over time they faded to purple and chipped so they found their way to the garbage.

After bringing the wreath back to its naked state, I thought about what I might want to do next. I knew that I wanted a more simplistic design with classic colours, but what to actually do? This can be an intimidating question when staring at a blank wreath and lacking confidence in crafting. My biggest recommendation is to just try because practice and making mistakes is how you stumble upon your own creative greatness. To quote the great Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Here’s how my process went…

I covered my dining room table in a fitted sheet to protect the wood from potential wreath scratches and any ‘shedding.’ I then laid out my new materials, a classic plaid ribbon and some new red berries. An important step is to put on a holiday film in the background to
help you have fun with a more festive atmosphere. If you’re looking for a less cheesy-Christmas-special feel, I recommend the Australian comedy series A Moody Christmas – it has a follow up season called The Moodys that is less holiday oriented too (these can be found on Netflix Canada).

collage-2Like most women in their mid-twenties, I am an active Pinterest user (here is my DIY Holiday board) and had done some research on wreath styles and DIY bows. I decided on a more simplistic bow – the bow tutorial that I took inspiration from can be found on the Mommy Suite site. The only changes that I made to the tutorial were doubling the bow ribbons, my use of pipe cleaners (I recommend using a colour similar to your ribbon [I clearly did not]), I needed to double the length of the bow knot (from 4” to 8”), and a staple for extra support.

After I had completed my bow, I set it to the side while I weaved mini lights through the frame of the wreath. I had already owned these battery-powered mini lights from my DIY wedding earlier this year. I found them for a really great price on Varage Sale! If you’d like to include lights in your wreath facelift I suggest that you hunt on your local buy and sell websites to find deals near you too.

collage-3The pipe cleaners that I used for the bow actually came in handy to keep it secure, I was able to weave another pipe c. Since this is front door decor, I thought that it would be best to make sure gusty winds don’t blow any pieces away! I weaved a pipe cleaner through the back of the bow (under the pseudo knot) and tied it to the metal frame to keep it secure.

The fun part was next! Placing the sprigs and berries around the branches is similar to garnishing a plate of food that you’re going to be proud of! I bought more berries than I needed because I split them into smaller pieces – I ended up only using two bunches. With a ton of leftover material, I plan on having more crafty fun this season.

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Overall, I am very happy with my updated wreath. I’ve been feeling nostalgic about past Christmases and I love the classic Christmas colours that add to a cozy environment. The wreath will welcome our friends and family into our home during the holidays – now I’m proud of that first impression!

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I hope this post may have inspired you to do your own overhaul or even start from scratch. If you are thinking about taking a stab at it, here are some more DIY wreaths to fuel your yule!

I Won, I Shopped, I Conquered: One of a Kind Show 2016

Remember that I mentioned my love of contests in an earlier blog? About one month ago I entered an online contest to win two tickets to the One of a Kind Show as well as $200.00 to spend while there – I won the grand prize! I was insanely excited as this meant that I would finally be able to go to the large classy craft fair that I have always heard such amazing things about and that I could actually have some extra money to spend on items without worrying about putting the money toward groceries!

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The One of a Kind Show is held twice a year, once in the spring and again in the late fall. The show has been running since 1975 and encourages the tradition of gift giving to include supporting artisans by purchasing handmade products. With Christmas around the corner, the Enercare Centre at the Exhibition Place in Toronto was filled with beautiful twinkling lights, decorated trees, festive decorations, and a ton of potential presents to purchase from a long list of impressive vendors.

 

The show continues to grow in popularity and hosts over 800 Canadian vendors this year, with 137 of those being new participating shops. This is an almost intimidating number of shops to browse in one day, but you don’t have to. The One of a Kind Show provides a stamped form to fill out at the exit, this is to be used as a re-entry pass in combination with your ID for another shopping day. Pay once and go twice!

 

 

My friend Natalie and I decided to take the Go Train to the Ex to avoid any Toronto driving trauma. If you also forego driving, I recommend that you bring warm winter outerwear as it is approximately a ten-minute walk outdoors to get from the train stop to the Enercare Centre building (there is a coat check for $3.00). Neither of us had been to the One of a Kind Show before so we weren’t sure what to expect. We went yesterday afternoon (Monday November 28th, 2016) to beat the weekend crowds which worked out well as we never had to stand in a line.

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When we walked into the immense convention hall, we were greeted by a beautiful tree that towered above us and was surrounded by past show favourite products on display. I adored the collection of pillows and an ottoman adorned in Toronto city skyline silhouettes. Natalie liked the golden goose sporting fashionable earmuffs, this type of headwear is a Nat-approved style this winter.

The show never slowed down in customer foot traffic while we were there from approximately 1pm-4pm, but the lanes were rarely overcrowded. We walked the entire floorplan and backtracked to pick up items that we had waited on earlier. Our legs and feet were killing us by the end of it all which made the train ride home a nice break before driving.

photo-2016-11-29-11-52-55-amAll the walking and perusing was well worth it as there were so many amazing finds to hunt for. I had planned on mainly buying Christmas gifts for loved ones on our list, but without definite ideas of what I was looking for I found myself feeling a bit unsure of what to buy. This was quickly remedied by seeing a million things that I liked for Chris and myself. I bought one gift for a friend’s birthday and the rest of the $200.00 went to fun house décor and a pair of earrings!


My Handmade Haul:

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  • My first purchase of the day was a tea towel with adorable illustrations of animals from films! Claire Manning, the illustrator, hand prints her designs onto 17” x 27” tea towels as well as pillowcases. I enjoyed the design too much to pass it up; it combined my love of animals with my love of movies AND my love of original illustrations. A triple threat tea towel is serious business!
    Visit this vendor at Booth R31.

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  • Next I bought an illustrated beaver pillow with a red and black plaid underside from Sparrow Avenue. Barbara, a former children’s book illustrator, now enjoys screen printing her characters onto textiles and selling them to animal lovers like me. This playful little guy officially sits on our couch and adds a fun style to our eclectic modern décor taste.
    Visit this vendor at Booth S53.

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  • I am extremely pleased with the large print that I purchased from a very charming artist from Montreal. Baltic Club was founded by Melanie Ouellette and Brice Salmon, their pieces maintain a joyful quality whether it be found in the illustrated prints, cards, or pins that they sell. My husband and I really appreciate the country that we live in and I am so excited to show off our new watercolour print featuring province-relevant animals and produce – the artist admitted that he couldn’t think of a specific animal for Saskatchewan so he drew some corn! I am currently working on hanging it above our mid-century bar.
    Visit this vendor at Booth U24.

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  • I was excited to find Double L Décor before we finished our rounds because I saw their geometric planter designs online before heading to the show! The engaged Hamilton couple, Laura Jaschke and Lucas McLellan, work together to design various modern shaped concrete planters that come with potted succulents and air plants. I purchased this geometric one for our dining table and an unseen surprise planter for a friend!
    Visit this vendor at Booth A08.

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  • My last purchase of the day was all for me which is really nice to do sometimes! Another Montreal based brand, Femme Mecanique Designs sells elegant jewelry with a strong modern design element. I purchased a pair of minimalist earrings, but I really fell in love with the dozens of choices in their ‘helicopter seed’ pieces – you know the seeds that flutter to the ground from maple trees (apparently, they have a real name that I do not care to learn)? You must visit their website to see these pieces of jewelry that are definite conversation pieces.
    Visit this vendor at Booth R46.

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I had a wonderful time at the One of a Kind Show this year and will definitely return for future fun.

I suggest picking up a vendor map to circle booths that you’d like to return to, this would have been a huge help for us near the end of our adventure.

Don’t forget that if you can’t make it in person (this show runs until December 4th) and you can purchase many products online through the One of a Kind Show online store!


 

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Left: Judi Patson of Even Design. Right: Stephanie Cheng.

Other favourite vendors that I’d like to give a shout out to are:

 

 

 

Did you go this year? Who was your favourite vendor?

Adult Girls-Night-In: Planning a Pyjama Party

 

About one month ago, a friend of a friend of mine (Freaky Stories phrasing flashback) started a group Facebook message to see who would be interested in

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Collection of  photos of how our decorations turned out!

throwing our friend a belated surprise party. Our girlfriend had planned a birthday celebration for herself a couple of months ago only to have her mother suddenly pass at a young age just one week before. Obviously, her party was cancelled and her birthday was the last thing that she felt like celebrating.

We wanted to show her how much she means to us and celebrate how awesome she is! Her husband was going away for the weekend, we were given the go ahead, and we knew the key pad code to their house so the surprise was underway and party planning commenced!

I was so excited; I love planning events and themed parties especially when it’s going to make someone I care about happy! I quickly created a secret Pinterest board so that she couldn’t see what we were pinning and I invited the other girls to the group (I have since made the board public). We all agreed that being comfy was key which is how the pyjama theme was chosen. These are a small collection of pins that initially inspired our party:

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Together, we decided what we would all need to bring. We had a bit of a potluck snack table and we asked everyone if they were able to bring a bottle of wine, sheets, blankets, and img_8528pillows. Our plan was to make her living room into the comfiest place that we could – similar to a fort, but as if the fort collapsed and you just laid on tons of blankets and pillows! Since I live next door, we used many of my throw pillows (see Chris, I knew there was a reason we own so many), rearranged a bunch of her own, and made great use out of the sheets that the other girls brought.

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My friend’s Morkie Tank, the only male in the room, thoroughly approved of all the comfy pillows!

Earlier that morning I blew up 31 balloons to make multiple ‘balloon bunting.’ I blew up a balloon and used scissors to cut a small hole in the tied end of the balloon. I then fed a long string of yarn through the hole and continued this process in patterned colours. It is so much easier than sticking balloons to the wall individually and cheaper than purchasing a helium tank. I got the idea from this pin that I didn’t end up using for my wedding (I wish I had because I loved how they turned out).

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Until I was ready to bring them next door I tied the ends of the yarn together and hung them on my basement door in bundles (prepare for minor tangles).

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We started decorating her house at 3:30pm and the other invited women were to start arriving at 5:00pm. Surprisingly quickly, the room came together and surpassed our expectations – we couldn’t believe that it actually looked like examples that we had seen on Pinterest! The place transformed into a slumber party wonderland with tons of pillows, blankets, old sheets, a lot of balloons, three small strands of mini lights, vanilla tea lights, some banners, plastic table cloths, and streamers from the dollar store! This look was created by three girls in about an hour and a half – a very doable feat for you readers out there.

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Playing Catch Phrase

After our guest of honour arrived, our total was complete with seven women. The wine began to flow and we played games including a few Minute to Win it challenges, Catch Phrase, and Cards Against Humanity. There were lots of great conversations and laughter as we ate our delivered pizza and snacks. We ended the night with a very enthusiastic dance party to nostalgic songs from artists including Spice Girls, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Backstreet Boys, and Aqua. The dance party made sure that I was hurting the next day in more ways than one, but it was all worth it because:
A. it was so much fun and
B. our friend was happy!

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Don’t be intimidated to try throwing a similar party yourself! It is easier than you would think and you definitely won’t regret the effort that you put into making your next girls-night-in extra special.15060256_10154762812352834_199752290_o

 

 

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Remembrance Day in Canada: Intergenerational Storytelling

(Photo in the Header image provided by Sam’s great-uncle from WWII)

Tomorrow is November 11th and Remembrance Day is important, but many of us (young people especially, including myself) don’t truly understand and appreciate this day of memorialization. We learn a moderate amount from textbook stories in secondary school history classes, but how impactful are facts without personal connections?

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Two posters I drew and entered into a Remembrance Day contest when I was 11 years old.

I grew up looking at the faces of soldiers or concentration camp prisoners in captioned photographs and felt incredibly bad about what they went through. I cannot, however, imagine the emotions that these photos must evoke when those faces represent one’s friends and family – it’s this special link that I find fascinating.

The thing about history books is that they often generalize or focus purely on overall facts which can dehumanize the tragedy that is war.

This is why I wanted to reach out to my peers, to see if they could share stories that have been passed down to them, share their personal experiences with Remembrance Day, and to share something about their loved one that had nothing to do with the war. I ended up only needing to talk to two friends who had expressed interest because they both provided me with a surplus of material. They are wonderful young women and I thank them for providing all of the photos in this blog as well.

Two soldier’s lives are to be featured today: one who is still alive and one who died in combat overseas.


Poppies for Poppy

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John (in the middle) and his two brothers Walter and Nick.

My friend Sam is 22 years old and she is lucky enough to have learned a lot about her grandfather John (who she calls Poppy) from the man himself as he is still alive and well at age 89.

John joined the army at 16, he was quite a bit under the age requirement, but the war was coming to an end and the Canadian army needed more men. He was to join his three older brothers who were already fighting in WWII.

“He went to basic training, and, as he tells it, he had the time of his life,” Sam comments, “he absolutely loved it.” Apparently, John really enjoyed the training schedule, the camaraderie, and the physical activity. Sam states that “he often speaks about his time in the army as the best time of his life.”

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John’s army class.

By the time that John finished training, but before he was deployed, the war had ended. He was one of the lucky ones. His three brothers Nick, Donny, and Walter all made it back home to Canada with photos depicting the innocence and youth of their fellow soldiers overseas.

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A collection of photos from WWII that one of John’s brothers took while overseas.
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Sam’s family has kept these two historical documents from the time: Ration Cards and a Prayer Book.

John’s wife Isla, Sam’s Nana, also had three brothers who fought in the war. Unfortunately, Isla’s family wasn’t as lucky as John’s – two of the three brothers died in combat. Isla’s WWII memories differ from her husband’s quite a lot. “She lived in Scotland, and had a much harder time than my Canadian-born Poppy. When she’s speaking about that time, she most often talks about rationing – and we actually still have some of her rations cards that she saved.” Sam recalls that even today, her Nana “never puts more on her plate than what she will eat, and all of her grandchildren are frowned upon when we don’t finish.”

After the war, John and two of his brothers started a moving company that they sold while Sam’s dad was still in high school.

“I can’t say that I have ever really spoken to my Poppy directly about Remembrance Day,” Sam confesses, “though when I was younger my father took me over to grab a bunch of Poppy’s war photos for me to take to school. It is around this time where he most often speaks about how much fun he had during training.”

Sam’s take on November 11th is honest and similar to what I would guess many other millennials experience. “Remembrance Day is kind of just another day to me – it’s actually my boyfriend’s birthday so it’s not exactly a focus, as bad as that may sound. I participate in the moment of silence every year, and am completely aware of what it represents, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever have a lasting impact on me.”

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John last Easter at age 88, showing everyone how it’s done!

Fun fact about John: “My poppy love love loves hockey (and being active in general)! My youngest brother is the only one in my family who still plays competitively and not in a beer league. My Poppy often goes to his games. My Poppy himself played hockey until he was 80, and I actually had a supply teacher in high school recognize my last name because he knew my Poppy and uncle for that fact.”


Descendants at Dieppe

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Hanna (one of my bridesmaids) and I at my wedding.

Hanna and I have been best friends since we were 11 years old and she’ll be turning 26 this month! She broke our childhood pact to visit Europe together, but it was for a good reason – for a life-changing university history trip! Hanna’s relation to her great-great-uncle may sound distant, but her connection to him and her family’s history is admirably strong.

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Left: George Sr., Margaretta, and their children Rennie, Mac, and Jimmie. Photo take in 1927. Right: Jimmie Burnett’s picture in the paper “Those Lost at Dieppe.”

Jimmie Burnett was 19 when he was killed in combat, but he had enlisted when he was only 16. In order to do so, his dad helped him lie to the Canadian Military and said that his son was 18 years old. Private Jimmie Burnett’s tombstone at Dieppe, the Normandy beach town where he was killed, says that he was 21 when he died, but it is actually two years off.

“He was my grandfather’s uncle on my dad’s side, Papa was named after him (Jim) and was born in ’42 about a month before the family got any confirmation that he had been killed.” Jimmie Burnett was killed on August 19th, Hanna explains that “the allied forces tried to gain a stronghold and failed miserably in 1942 (trying to create a second front and alleviate the eastern front where Russia was struggling to hold off Germany).”

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The original telegraph informing Jimmie’s family of his death and a sympathy  note from Buckingham Palace.

“I first started to learn about him when I got accepted into this History class in university that studied war and memory and particularly how we memorialize Canadian efforts in WWI and WWII. Papa had started doing some family research and when I got our assignments for the class, which included a soldier biography, I hit the ground running. We got hold of his military records and chatted with his youngest sister who was just a kid when he went to war, Margie.”

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Jimmie Burnett’s military records. Left: Letter written by George Sr. confirming his son’s falsified age. Right: A list of Jimmie’s personal effects.
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One of Hanna’s photos from her trip.

On the aforementioned European university history trip, Hanna was able to discuss the battle of Dieppe with her classmates while standing on the same beach where her great-great-uncle had been killed. At this point, she was knee deep in research and very connected to Jimmie. “I just remember bawling my eyes out when one of our profs asked ‘how do you feel being here?’ Dieppe was a huge loss of life – I think the casualty rate was like 95% – and I couldn’t believe that the allies had chosen such an easily defensible place to attack the Germans.”

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Hanna was also able to visit Jimmie Burnett’s grave site the next day. Luckily, her peers were very supportive. The combination of a number of emotional moments on her trip contributed to her feeling closer to her family than ever before. Hanna admits that she felt a stronger connection to our collective history and had never felt more patriotic than she had during that time of her life. She discloses that she felt especially “patriotic because the war ended a terrible evil in the world and was fought with purpose. Jimmie, like his brother, his sisters, and mother were a part of that.”

The pride that Hanna has in her family history coexists with her general heartache over her family’s loss. “I was so proud but also endlessly sad – my brother was 19 at the time. Could I imagine him going to war?”

When I asked Hanna about how she felt about Remembrance Day before and after her research, she told me that her family had already taught her that “it was a day worth really respecting.”

“You wear the poppy and you’re told as a kid that Canada has this really great reputation as a peacekeeping nation and between that and a number of wars, many people have given their lives in service of our country. But to form that connection and to become a part of someone’s military story, that changed me. I think about Jimmie and his sacrifice every day, but particularly around Remembrance Day and August 19. I have had it memorialized on myself with a tattoo so that I never forget not only his sacrifice, but also just him. Jimmie the 16-year-old kid who protected his family and loved his siblings and was this unique person. My Papa never got to meet his uncle but feels this huge connection to that lost part of his life. I now feel the same and on Remembrance Day get to share that sense of loss, respect, admiration and support with others all across the country.”

Fun Fact about Jimmie Burnett: Hanna discovered some personal anecdotes when talking with Jimmie’s sister Margie. “We found out some amazing stuff – like how he was this devilishly charming guy with a reputation for the ladies, even as a 16-year-old and he went AWOL a whole bunch of times during basic training because he kept sneaking off to hook up with chicks.”

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Jimmie Burnett (on the right) and his two high school friends who tragically all died in combat at Dieppe.

I believe that oral story-telling and passing down personal documents is the most important part of historical education. We all get the overview of what our nation tells us happened in textbooks, but it’s the individual experiences that will further the appreciation of Remembrance Day for younger generations.

Do you have connections to anyone who has felt the harsh reality of military pursuits past and present? Let me know in the comment section, everyone’s story is important – no matter how great or how small.

The Gift to Thrift: $8507 Wedding Budget Breakdown

(Scroll to the end to see screenshot of my Wedding Wire Budget)

I first started this blog by briefly introducing the internet to my August 2016 wedding. As I said then, my fiancé and I are really proud of how much money we saved by doing the whole thing for $8507.00. Today I thought that I’d breakdown the budget for you and give you some helpful tips when planning your own wedding for under $10,000.

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Tip #1: Before you start, buy a ‘coupon holder’ from the dollar store.
I used this to organize all of my receipts and the companies’ business cards – it was extremely helpful.

Our wedding was in Brooklin, Ontario Canada. We looked for venues within the Durham Region that weren’t typical wedding venues so that they wouldn’t come with that dreaded wedding price tag. Since our wedding was to host approximately 75 guests, smaller venues were an option and we actually found quite a few that were less than the one we ended up with. We just fell in love with the community centre’s modern architecture and windows.

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Our venue was the Brooklin Community Centre and Library, multi-purpose room.

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Tip #2: Sign up on Wedding Wire’s website.
I actually accidentally got started on the American version of the website rather than the Canadian one, but it worked out fine. Either site is recommended because of how helpful they are. Wedding Wire hosts multiple online services in one place. I personally used the budget tracker, personal wedding website, RSVP counter, and vendor reviews.


Three Highest Costs

The main chunks of our wedding budget went to catering, venue rental, and alcohol.

  • Catering = $3,393.68      
  • Venue Rental + Insurance = $1,215.57    
  • Alcohol = $890.00 (after returns)

Our catering price was actually approximately $2000.00 above what we had initially planned for. Chris and I are pretty laid back and had actually wanted to hire a local pulled pork place and use fancy looking paper plates. Due to ‘objections’ to our super casual dinner plans from both sides of our families we reluctantly upped the budget to get a caterer with better quality serving ware. This is one of the only things that we budged on to please our parents. What I’m saying is, if you’re up for a really casual dinner, you can get yours for about $2000.00 – just do your homework locally!

Our venue rental went through the city of Whitby’s permit coordinating services which was made more difficult by employees switching positions halfway through planning (the first woman was a joy to deal with and the second was not). They provided the tables and chairs without any added price which was great too, our caterer had linens.

We probably bought close to $2000.00 worth of alcohol for the wedding. Chris wanted to be overprepared and if you get help from an LCBO employee that has worked with a bride and groom in the past, they will help you buy the right amount and right size of bottles to help make returns a lot easier. We were very happy that people drank quite a bit, and we didn’t run out of anything. Our bar tender (from the caterer) worked hard that night, yet we still brought back half of what we bought!

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Tip #3: Feel lucky.
Yes, I won my wedding gown, BUT (and this is a big but) someone was going to win and it could be you. The wedding dress doesn’t have to be a big price listed on your wedding budget. You should go to every boring/tiring bridal show you can to enter their contests. Even if you don’t win your gown, there are a ton of other options to save money here. With accessories and alterations, my ‘free’ gown cost me just under $500.00 which was my dress budget before winning anyway.

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I had planned on wearing a gorgeous gown (colourful or not) from an expensive dress store like Melanie Lynn, Laura, BCBG, or The Bay. Do we really need to wear white on our wedding day? I think not. I would have had just as much fun in a bright emerald green dress.

I had also considered buying a used wedding gown – I’ll be selling my own once I get it dry-cleaned. Women only wear these things for one day! ONE DAY – that’s nothing! I wear vintage clothes from the 1960s that have been worn many more times than these gowns that need new homes. Adopt don’t shop applies to both dogs and dresses!


Biggest Cost Savers

Four of our biggest cost savers were using grocery store flowers, not hiring a DJ, having a friend do the photography, and having nimble fingers for DIY projects.

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Have you heard of the cost of flowers for a wedding? Too much to spend on things that cannot be reused. I pre-ordered the flowers that I wanted for my wedding from Sobeys to be ready to be picked up on the morning of the wedding. Our flowers cost $158.28 – total, for centrepieces, bridesmaid bouquets, and one bridal bouquet. We arranged them ourselves and the guys really didn’t care about having boutonnieres. It’s all about considering what is actually important to you.

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One of my favourite photos from the wedding: Chris and I after the ceremony, walking out to Beat Your Heart Out by The Distillers.

We asked one of our best friends to help us coordinate the music that I had carefully downloaded for the night. We used our iPad to have a dinner music playlist, a dance playlist, and separate areas for important cued songs including those used during the ceremony, first dance, father-daughter/mother-son dances, etc. My only suggestion here is that you use a computer with iTunes instead of the iPad. The tablet device didn’t provide the option to fade into songs which as a perfectionist bothered me. Our closest friends and family enjoyed themselves and danced a bunch! My step-mom was actually impressed enough to ask me to provide the music for her parent’s 50th anniversary this past October.

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This is a personal favourite of mine

When we started looking for photography I wanted to ask people that I knew first. Amazingly, after asking my friend Caitlin Currie how much she would charge, she offered her services to me for free out of kindness and friendship. She did us a massive favour and we love our photos, we wanted to give her at least a little something though so we gave her $200.00. What we love most about our photos is how candid some of them are or the way that they look real compared to how overly Photoshopped some wedding photos are these days. They are us and she did a wonderful job.

Things that I did myself/with the help of friends and family:

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  • Cut and assembled paper decorations (bunting and paper airplanes on yarn)
  • Made our cake topper (Dollar store dinos with crafty clothes)
  • Partially personalized bridesmaid gifts (hangers and embroidered makeup bags)
  • Invitations and Guest Coaster favours (Used an easy editing site called PicMonkey.com and then used my own designs when ordering them off of Vista Print’s website when they were half price)
  • Candy Bar bags (bought brown paper bags from the dollar store and stamped 100 of them with mom)
  • Grey table runners with iron on hems (Thank you Heather Luckhart for holding the scary iron)
  • My makeup

 

Tip #4: Thrift shops, thrift shops, and more thrift shops.
When I say this, I don’t only mean storefronts, but also wonderful resale apps like Kijiji and Varagesale. I bought so many of our decorations used and for half or less of their original price. Varagesale became a personal favourite of mine because of their glorious Holidays-Wedding category in which users consistently posted barely used decorations from their own weddings. Often times, you have a large gap between getting engaged and getting married, the key is to always be on the lookout for deals and to convince your fiancé that a wedding item storage room is necessary (half of our office was dedicated to this).

So with a ton of hard work on not only my part, but the efforts put forth by my friends and family, we were able to keep our wedding under $10,000! We loved our special day without spending the price of a house down payment and are happier for it!

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Last bunch of Tips:
#5: Don’t have one set image of how your wedding should be.

#6: Things don’t have to match to work – we used an assortment of different sized glass vases for flowers.

#7: Pinterest and budget blogs are your best friend for DIY ideas, have confidence in yourself.

#8: What matters is that you enjoy your wedding, stop trying to impress people by going big.

#9: Let parental figures have the occasional win, but this is your wedding, they already had theirs and I bet they wanted it their way too.

#10: Have fun. Things will never be perfect, that doesn’t exist. Your attitude is really important in creating one of the happiest days of your life.

 


Finally, here is a screenshot of my Wedding Wire Budget page:

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Baby-Shower-Talk: What Other Husbands Don’t Do

(Warning: I had a lot of fun with GIFs)

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Friends S8 E20 “The One with the Baby Shower.”

I recently went to a friend’s baby shower. The decorations were beautiful, the food was incredible, one of the games was television oriented so I actually won, the mom-to-be was delightfully spoiled, and the conversations were very informative. Baby and bridal showers are like office water coolers of female friendships; these are the events that women love talking about their spouses at most.

Some of the discussions were eye opening and actually reminded me why I married Chris – he is a great guy.

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Many of the women that I spoke with told me that their male counterparts did not help with the laundry. This shocked me. Not as surprising, the same men who avoided doing laundry, didn’t like to help with cooking or cleaning either.

How could these men not be helping with household chores in 2016?

The women that I spoke to are admirable as they all worked full-time jobs yet they had these added responsibilities at home that their significant others didn’t. Even if you enjoy cleaning, I’m left wondering whether or not you would later resent your partner for not helping.

I’m friends with a lot of men and I know that many of them would help with chores – not all men leave this to be ‘women’s work’ (a terrible term). Chris is living proof that some husbands believe in sharing the unassigned home-work-load.

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What is wrong with these other guys? Do they want wives or moms?

The thing is that I know that the women who I spoke with didn’t love doing all of the housework because they were talking about it at this baby shower. The weird thing is that it was almost less like complaining and more like bragging about whose partner contributed less – it wasn’t funny to me.

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I know that Chris’ overly clean tendencies aren’t exactly typical, but it’s not just keeping a clean house that makes him a quality spouse (accidental rhyme).

 

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We take on jobs equally at home: we take turns going up and down the stairs to switch the laundry loads and both do the folding; we cook and then wash the dishes together; we both work on exterior landscaping; we renovate the house together; and while I scrub, he vacuums – we are a well-balanced team.

Knowing how the other person behaves as a live-in-partner is so important to me which is why I’m a firm believer in living together before marriage. Not only do you learn whether or not you want to kill the other person, but you also learn their habits and beliefs.

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If Chris hadn’t been as great as he was, he wouldn’t have been chosen to be on my team.

Although we have barely been married for 3 months, we are going on living together now for 3 years and I’m very happy with our system.

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If you are happy with your system that’s wonderful, but I’m just trying to let other women know that players get traded from professional teams all the time – sometimes there are better fits, sometimes there are better team-players who want to play for you.

Until we have Rosie-Robots in our lives, finding an equal partner to love and share your home with is an important standard to keep. Wife does not have to mean maid or mother to your husband, it means that you have a best friend (male or female) to help make life a little easier.

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