My Simple, Unorthodox Acceptance Practice

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I’m an optimist, a dreamer, a believer—that things change, people change, miracles happen, the impossible is possible. This positive bent is a gift to me and to those around me…but sometimes it gets me into trouble down here in the real world. As you well know if you also live in the real world, sometimes things and people don’t change, miracles don’t show their sparkly faces, and the impossible stays firmly out of reach. Those of us with high hopes have further to fall when disappointment inevitably strikes, and the force of that blow can instantly replace our passionate optimism with an equally hefty amount of cynicism and despair. But it’s not our nature to stay in that hopeless state; thus we begin again to climb upwards. And while I love riding roller coasters at theme parks, those of the emotional variety make me sick and aware that I need to get off this thing.

While there’s still room in my life for staggeringly great expectation and deep grief, I’ve been working on growing where I’m lacking, which is the middle ground between the two extremes—acceptance. Acceptance is not flashy. It deals with situations exactly as they are and encourages me to welcome into my life every angle, which usually includes a dash of hope and a sprinkle of disappointment. Acceptance leaves me room to dream of a brighter future but gently reminds me that this life is hard, while remaining a firm emotional footing on which I can stand. Thus acceptance is a quiet friend I’m inviting over more often these days.

To cultivate acceptance I’ve developed an unorthodox practice that’s simple, quick, and fun. Why unorthodox? Well, it’s a three-step process which includes a mindfulness posture, a prayer, and a country pop jam session—an atypical combination, I know. But, hey, sometimes you’ve got to think outside the box to find your secret sauce! I'm happy to lead by example. I do this five-minute exercise when I notice myself trying to control an uncontrollable circumstance or becoming very emotionally attached to a particular outcome. Are you ready for it?

1. Open your hands.

Nope, not in the theoretical sense--I told you this was easy, remember? Physically open your hands, palms facing upwards. There’s something about making tangible in our bodies what we want to happen in our spirits; an outward shift becomes a catalyst for an inward shift. As you open your hands release your expectations and bravely welcome reality.

2. Pray the Serenity Prayer.

I bet you’ve heard a version of the first few lines of the famous Serenity Prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Recently I read the prayer in its entirety and loved it. Pray it with me:

"God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

"Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

"Amen."

There’s so much good stuff here, but I’ll just mention what has been meaningful to me recently, which is the last two lines of the prayer, a beautiful reminder that Jesus-believers can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with God forever in the next.

3. Listen to “Meant to Be.”

You’ve oriented your mind towards acceptance. It’s almost time to get out of your head and back into your boots-on-the-ground life. To groove through that transition listen to Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s country pop hit, “Meant to Be,” an upbeat song that will get stuck in your head and help you maintain a chill vibe all day long. Trust me.

That's it! I dare you to try it.

Did you try out my quirky method? How do you cultivate acceptance and stay off the emotional roller coaster? Let me know in the comments below.

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Secrets for Successful Missions: Give God Credit

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Our journey with Abraham’s servant is almost at its end. He’s given us two secrets for successful missions—pray in faith and stay laser-focused—and today he’s got one final secret for us before we part ways. Let’s re-orient ourselves in Genesis 24. Abe’s servant’s mission was to find a wife for Abe’s son, Isaac who meets these criteria: 1. She must be a relative of Abraham’s. 2. She must be willing to go. He’s traveled to where Abe’s relatives live and stopped at a well where he asks God to single out Isaac’s wife by fulfilling a specific sign. A young woman named Rebekah fulfills this sign and reveals that she is a relative of Abe’s—check that off the list! The servant is invited to stay with her family overnight, where he tells of his quest and Rebekah’s completion of his desired “sign.” Her family agrees that she should go and become Isaac’s wife, so he sets our to return to Abe with Rebekah the very next morning. Her family would like her to stay with them another ten days, but he insists that they not delay.

Here we pick up the narrative in verse 57. At the servant’s desire to head back home with the bride-to-be ASAP, Rebekah’s mother and brother call Rebekah and ask her if she’s ready to go. She says, “Yes, I will go.” Her willingness to go checks the second item off of Abe’s prescribed must-be list for Isaac’s wifey—in case there was any remnant of doubt, the servant’s mission has been 100% successful! They head back to Abe’s place, meeting Isaac in the fields on their way. The servant retells the whole story to Isaac, and the chapter ends with this sweet verse: “And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her very deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother” (Gen. 24:67). In a time of arranged marriages, I imagine that deep love and “special comfort” like Isaac and Rebekah experienced were icing on the cake! Once again we see God going above and beyond in blessing His children.

Now let’s double back and zoom in on the third secret for successful missions, something that the servant has done numerous times throughout this venture:

Give God credit.

Though Abraham—a human—has entrusted this awesome mission to his servant—another human--one cannot read this story and walk away with the impression that the success of this mission belongs to humans. On the contrary it is blatantly obvious that God is the real hero here, in part due to the providential way that circumstances unfold and in large measure because of how frequently and intentionally the servant gives God credit. I see him doing so in two primary ways:

          1. He worships God. The text specifically tells us that the servant “bowed low” or “bowed down to the ground” and worshiped the Lord at two times—once when he realized that the young woman who had fulfilled his requested sign at the well was indeed his master’s relative and once when Rebekah’s family agreed that Rebekah should go with him to become Isaac’s wife. Both of these times the servant stopped right in the middle of a conversation with other people in order to physically bow down, to acknowledge God’s provision, to humbly thank Him, and to give Him the glory for how things were falling into place. I’ve never been in a conversation which was interrupted by someone actually bowing down in worship to God, but I have been around those people who lift a hand in the air and say, “Praise God,” in response to a good report or answer to prayer that has been shared. Whatever it looks like physically, I think that the posture of the heart is one of expectancy—awareness that God is the giver of all good gifts and the only one who can truly fix life’s messes, asking Him for help, and then looking for His provision with anticipation.

          2. He tells other people what God has done. Before the servant asks Rebekah’s relatives for their blessing to take Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife, he tells them in great detail the whole story of his initial commission by Abraham, his prayer at the well, and his subsequent encounter with Rebekah there. This retelling takes up fifteen verses of the chapter (Gen. 24:34-48), and I think the repetition is somewhat comical! Why did the servant spend so much time repeating every detail of what happened, and why was it important that the reader also revisit these details? Couldn’t those fifteen verses be replaced with one verse that said simply, “The servant recounted to them all that the Lord had done?” Sure, but here’s why I believe it is the way it is: Greater detail, more nuance, and sharper specificity give God more glory because with each additional occurrence of God’s providence, no matter how “little,” the chances diminish that humans could have accomplished this on their own. I wonder if the servant’s lengthy account of distinct “serendipities” influenced Rebekah’s family’s response: “The Lord has obviously brought you here, so there is nothing we can say. Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed” (Gen. 24:50-51). And I wonder if this amazing story also influenced Rebekah; in 24 hours she went from going about her daily activities among her family to willingly leaving all that behind to move to a different place and become a man’s wife. I can’t help but think that she too was convinced that this was “as the Lord has directed” in part because of the servant’s amazing story. Verse 66 of the chapter tells us, “Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done,” and I guarantee you he reported the whole detailed thing to his master, Abraham, as well. He gave God credit, and I bet everyone who heard it received an infusion of faith. That’s the thing—when we give God credit by sharing in detail what He’s done in our lives, we’re not only giving credit where credit is due, but we’re also pointing other people to Him and challenging and encouraging them on their own faith journeys.

Check in with your own “mission.” How are you doing at giving God credit in the midst of it? Sure, sometimes it might look like nothing is happening, but I challenge you to—like the servant—get in the habit of looking for God’s provision even in small ways and worshiping Him for it. Then tell someone about it! The more detail the better, and it will encourage them and you too! I’m praying God gives you great success in all your missions.

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Secrets for Successful Missions: Stay Laser-Focused

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Last week we began journeying with Abraham’s servant as he seeks a wife for Isaac. He’s traveled to the town where Abe’s brother lives and has just stopped at a well where the local young women are coming out to draw water. Here he takes a moment to pray in faith, the first secret for successful missions. He asks God to lead him to Isaac’s wife in this way:

          If he asks one of the young women at the well to give him a drink and she says, “Sure, and I’ll water your camels too,”

          Then she’s the one God has chosen to be Isaac’s wife, and this is how the servant will know that God has made his mission successful.

Before he’s done praying he sees Rebekah, and here we resume our story beginning at Genesis 24:15. The text goes ahead and tells us that she is a relative of Abraham’s—one of Abe’s requirements!—but the servant doesn’t know that just yet. All he sees is that Rebekah is very beautiful and old enough to be married. We’re not told that physical beauty is on Abraham’s list of must-haves for his son’s bride-to-be, and it doesn’t enter the servant’s prayer regarding the situation, at least not that we’re told. I like to think that just as the servant expects God to answer his prayer, he also expects God to go above and beyond in blessing those involved. He’s observed God’s faithfulness to Abe’s family for years and likely experienced it in his own life as well. It would be just like God to not only provide a relative of Abe’s willing to go and become Isaac’s wife but also a very beautiful one at that!

Whatever the reason Rebekah stands out to him, the servant runs to her and asks her for a drink. Just as he’d hoped, she gives him a drink and then waters his camels as well. She has fulfilled the sign from God he requested! As she’s working, the servant watches her, the text tells us “wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission” (Gen. 24:21). I see myself here in the servant’s musings; he’s asked God for something specific to happen, that specific thing has happened, and he’s wondering if God really did it or if it’s a coincidence or something that would have happened anyway.

Remember, the servant still needs to confirm two crucial matters to determine that Rebekah is the one God has chosen to be Isaac’s wife: 1. She must be a relative of Abraham’s. 2. She must be willing to go. He wastes no time in gathering the next piece of info—“Whose daughter are you?”—and finding out if her father would be willing to host him and his traveling companions overnight. She names her family and affirms that they would be glad to have them as guests. The servant’s response is to bow down in worship to God because Rebekah’s family is none other than Abe’s relatives!—another confirmation that Rebekah is very likely God’s pick for Isaac.

Rebekah runs home to tell her family about all this, and her brother, Laban, runs back to invite the servant to come stay with them. (Have you noticed that there’s been a lot of running going on?) He does so, Laban gets the camels settled, and the servant and camel drivers wash their feet. Then a meal is served, but Abe’s servant says, “I don’t want to eat until I have told you why I have come” (Gen. 24:33). We’ve arrived at the second secret for successful missions:  

Stay laser-focused.

You know the feeling the servant must have been having in that moment—it’s been a long, eventful day, you’ve just gotten cleaned up, and a hot meal has been placed in front of you. Ah, finally! Yet he is so laser-focused on his mission, determined to perform his part with excellence, he doesn’t taste a bite until he’s moved the needle forward on this endeavor. Wow! I’m impressed by this guy’s single-mindedness, being unable to imagine very many conversations I wouldn’t postpone for the sake of a hard-earned supper!

Why push the issue? Wouldn’t it have been offensive to his host and fellow diners to make them wait to eat? What would be the harm in relaxing a bit and then returning to the business at hand? The text doesn’t tell us the servant’s motives, but I suspect that one or more of the following truths influenced his decision:

          1. There are no perfect circumstances for action. I bet you’ve noticed this while on your own various life missions as I certainly have. Suddenly you’ve got clarity regarding what God wants you to do next or at least a general sense of the direction you should go, and just as your heart begins to beat faster with the thrill of a new mission, it drops as you notice the 27 obstacles in your way—time, money, naysayers, etc. Circumstances will likely never be perfect for you or I to take our next step, but as the servant did, we’ve got to do it anyway.

          2. There is wisdom in “picking your moment.” Though there are no perfect circumstances for action, I do believe that there are better and worse circumstances for action. The servant chose to have his needed discussion with Rebekah’s family while they were likely hangry—yikes! This is definitely not a preferred mood to which to introduce a weighty topic! However, after dinner they might have been sleepy due to the big meal or slightly intoxicated by wine—even worse conditions in which to attempt to cement a betrothal, I’d say. A moment of prayer and thoughtfulness can help us to pick our moment wisely.

          3. Delayed action often becomes partial action or inaction. Been there too; how about you? I know I need to have a hard conversation with a friend, so I set up a meeting with them. When we’re together I know it would probably work best to get the tough topic out of the way, but I decide that we need to “catch up” for awhile first. I’m enjoying my friend’s company, and I’d hate to disturb the peace, so I convince myself to modify my original spiel so it’s not so abrupt… Soon I’ve talked myself out of it entirely! It would have been better if I’d brought up that difficult thing right away. Perhaps the servant knew this tendency in himself as well, and that’s why he forged ahead.

Whatever his reason, the servant laid out his mission to Laban and Rebekah’s father, Bethuel, while the food sat there getting cold on the table. We’ll look at this part of the story in more detail next week, but for now we’ll simply say that after the servant re-told of his conversation with Abraham, prayer, and exchange with Rebekah at the well, Laban and Bethuel acknowledged God’s hand in all of this and agreed that she should go with him to become Isaac’s wife. The servant gave presents to all of them, and then—finally!—they ate their meal.

We see the servant’s laser-focus again as early the next morning, he’s ready to take Rebekah and go! Her brother and mother wanted her to stay with them for another ten days, but the servant said, “Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master” (Gen. 24:56). Once again we’re challenged by this fellow’s steadfastness.

We’ll wrap up this tale next week, but for now consider that mission you deeply desire to be successful. Are you laser-focused on it? If not, how could you become more single-minded? Whatever it is that you believe God wants you to do next, I challenge you to pray for wisdom to pick your moment, realize circumstances won’t be perfect, do it anyway, and do it right away!

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Secrets for Successful Missions: Pray in Faith

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I’d like all of my various missions in life to be successful—wouldn’t you? For the next few weeks we’re hanging out with Abraham’s servant, a lesser-known Bible bro who’s got some secrets for successful missions to teach us. What current “mission” of yours are you most passionate to see successful? Keep that in the back of your mind, open your Bible to Genesis 24, and let’s go!

Our story starts with father of the nation of Israel, Abraham, (hereafter referred to by his favorite nickname, Abe) laying out a mission for his servant. We’re not told much about the servant, not even his name, but only that he’s Abe’s oldest servant and the man in charge of his household. His mission? To find a wife for Abe’s beloved son, Isaac, through whom God would make Abe into a great nation. Regarding the future wifey, Abe gives two qualifications:

          1. She must be a relative of his. Why? Abe is taking seriously to the nth degree God’s  promise that He’d give the land to his descendants.

          2. She must be willing to go. The servant would have to travel to where Abe’s relatives lived in order to fulfill this mission, and Abe wanted to clarify that Isaac should not go and live among his relatives for the sake of marriage, but rather she should be willing to leave her family in order to come and be Isaac’s wife.

So Abe’s servant sets out on the long journey he must make to the town where Abe’s brother settled. When he arrives, he stops beside a well outside the town, where the women are coming out to draw water. Then he does what I believe is the first secret for a successful mission:

Pray in faith.

Abe’s servant begins by acknowledging God as Lord and asking Him to give him success on his mission. Then things get interesting as he sets forth a very specific if/then type of request for God’s guidance:

          If he asks one of the young women at the well to give him a drink and she says, “Sure, and I’ll water your camels too,”

          Then she’s the one God has chosen to be Isaac’s wife, and this is how the servant will know that God has made his mission successful.

I find this prayer fascinating, primarily because—spoiler alert!—things go down exactly as the servant has petitioned. Note with me several elements of the servant’s prayer:

          It’s specific. He gives a detailed request for God’s leading, not a general “direct me.”

          It’s bold. He states unapologetically what he’d like God to do; he’s straightforward and to the point.

          It’s humble. Though bold and specific, he’s also reverent. We don’t get the sense that the servant is making a demand of God but rather that he highly respects God and is committed to performing his part in this mission well because of his deep love for his master, Abe, not because of self-interest.

          It’s faith-filled. As we’ll see next week, the servant runs to complete his part of the if—to ask a woman at the well for a drink—indicating to me that he fully expects God to come through for him.

Wow! What a power-packed prayer! I believe there’s a beautiful hand-in-hand relationship between these four elements of prayer. Boldness without humility is demanding, specificity without faith is babbling, and so on. I’m challenged to examine my prayer life and ask God to strengthen me in the areas in which I’m weak. How about you? Which of these characteristics do you sense God wants to grow in your prayer life? By the way, if you’re thinking that you’ve got to get all the elements “right” before you speak a word of prayer to God, think again! Because God’s Spirit lives in those who believe in Jesus, prayer is dynamic! So the way to mature in prayer is simply to pray. Show up and engage in conversations with God, and He will guide you to a deeper prayer life.

Now we come to one of my favorite parts of this narrative. Before the servant even finishes praying, he sees Rebekah! If you’re familiar with the story, you know that Rebekah is the one who will become Isaac’s wife. So God brings the answer to the servant’s prayer right in front of his eyes while he’s still praying! Most of the time I’ve had to do some waiting (sometimes a lot of it!) for God to answer my prayers, but on a few occasions He’s answered my prayer while I’ve been praying or immediately after I finished praying, and let me tell you, those moments are faith-builders that make me want to do a happy dance unto the Lord.

We’ll pause the story right there and return to it next week. For today I’d like you to consider that mission you’d really like to see successful; how might praying in faith influence the outcome? What are you waiting for? Start praying about that mission today, and see what God does.

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The Day Hike in Switzerland that Did Not Disappoint

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In true tourist fashion, my husband and I tried to cram as much as possible into our grand European expedition, topping off Milan, the Amalfi Coast, and Austria with a hot second in Switzerland. Alps! We wanted to be among the Swiss Alps! So we headed to the Bernese Highlands (Berner Oberland in German), a high-elevation area in west-central Switzerland near the city of Bern. Though we only had one full day to explore the area on foot and via cable car, that day did not disappoint! The area was ridiculously beautiful.

We stayed in Wengen, a car-free ski town, at the Hotel Bernerhof, which was nothing fancy but got the job done. Its vintage 1970's lodge feel somewhat made up for its teeny closet-turned-bathrooms. We soon realized that dining in the area was spendy! One night we enjoyed a delicious pasta dinner out on the town, and the next we made ramen noodles in our room.

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We started our day hike by walking from our hotel towards the center of Wengen, passing blooming window boxes and neat piles of firewood, all while admiring the imposing mountain landscape just beyond the town.

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Leaving Wengen we hiked down towards the valley in which the town of Lauterbrunnen is nestled. Several waterfalls make their way from the mountains to the valley, causing this view to be an impressive and famous one! J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings, visited the Lauterbrunnen Valley and modeled his fictional elvish village of Rivendell after it.

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We hiked upwards from Lauterbrunnen into the mountains, and at this point I began to feel a bit like Heidi.

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Soon our focus turned towards the mountains peeking through the trees. 

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After a few hours we arrived in the cheery town of Murren, which was hoppin' because this was the day of the Inferno Triathlon, a feat of athleticism I can't even conceive of, which has a height gain of 3.4 miles! Can you imagine?

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Having decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, we took the pricey cable car from Murren to the Schilthorn, the highest mountain in the area and the location of Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant which served as a filming location for the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We enjoyed our "007" cappuccino...

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...and the fantastic view! It had gotten a bit cloudy by this time, proving that no day this side of heaven is absolutely perfect, but we were still able to peer down into the valley below and to enjoy a bird's-eye look at the surrounding peaks. 

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The Inferno Triathlon I told you about was completed at the base of Piz Gloria, so we really enjoyed watching runners cross the finish line--when the restaurant had revolved to let us see that location, of course! The runners were spread out quite a ways from each other, to the point that I don't think most could see another person while they ran the final steep ascent. It was very moving to me to watch them because they arrived in our line of sight obviously spent. They ran slowly and looked down at the trail...until their family members came into view! Their faces broke into big smiles at the sight of their spouses, children, and friends, and the cheering of their people seemed to give them new energy to speed to the finish line with heads held high. They ended triumphantly and were met with big hugs from their proud people. The power of our people encouraging and supporting us cannot be overstated!

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We had some tomato soup (I know, very exciting.) and rode the cable car back down into Murren, where we took a train back to our home base of Wengen. What a celebration of natural beauty and the human spirit! Well done, Switzerland!

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Skip Right Into The Sound of Music!

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I grew up on The Sound of Music, sitting in front of my TV and singing along with Julie Andrews while I wondered what it would be like to live the life of a nun, to be sixteen-going-on-seventeen, and to flee over the mountains from the Nazis. Anyone else? My husband also watched this classic film as a child, so it was a no-brainer to add Panorama Tours' Original Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg, Austria, to our Europe itinerary.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

Our half-day tour began in central Salzburg. Our guide was very informative and entertaining (and actually looked a good deal like Maria! Coincidence?), and this was a singalong tour! We listened to the Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack and sang while we drove.

One of the first sites we drove by was Nonnberg Abbey, a working convent where the historical Maria was a nun and also married Captain von Trapp. We also drove by Frohnburg Palace, the yellow villa which served as the front of the Von Trapp family's home in the movie.

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Leopoldskron Palace was the filming location for the back of the Von Trapp residence. The boating scene and garden scenes took place here. Lovely view!

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Nearby at Hellbrunn Palace was the famous gazebo which was the rendezvous point for Leisl and Rolfe's night-time romantic meeting and the spot where Maria and Captain von Trapp shared their first kiss.

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We headed out of the city and towards the Lake District. At one point our bus driver continued to circle a roundabout until everyone on the bus was loudly yodeling! Here is the town of St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang, which can be seen in the opening shots of The Sound of Music.

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We spent some time in the quaint town of Mondsee...

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...where the wedding of Maria and Captain von Trapp was filmed at the Mondsee Abbey Church. It's grand exterior--with chevron detail added before chevron was chevron!--was not seen in the movie, but its ornate sanctuary provided the perfect backdrop for Maria's slow and reverent trip down the aisle in her long dress to the sound of organ music and nun's voices.

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We spent a little time sitting by Lake Mondsee eating a scrumptious apple struedel. 

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Then we headed back into Austria to the stately Mirabell Gardens. Pictured here are the famous "Do-Re-Mi" steps.

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We reenacted scenes from the movie to the best of our memory as we explored the gardens, and this concluded the official portion of our excellent guided tour.

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But we continued to explore on our own and identified another bridge on which the Von Trapp children frolicked in the film, and we also found the Residenz Square Horse Fountain, where Maria sang "I Have Confidence In Me."

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Feeling as though we'd stepped right into one of our favorite movies was simply the best, but we enjoyed some of Salzburg's other sites as well. We hiked up to Hohensalzburg Castle...

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...and enjoyed the view of the city below.

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We'd chosen to stay in the town of Grodig, nearby Salzburg, at the cutie Hotel Sallerhof. Aside from an unfortunate do-we-leave-the-windows-open-and-get-eaten-alive-by-mosquitoes-or-keep-them-closed-and-burn-up dilemma our first night there, we were happy with these lodgings and especially with breakfast! And providentially our second night at the Sallerhof, it rained!--no mosquitoes. 

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What a lovely little town! Isn't my husband the cutest sitting on that heart-shaped bench? (I'm not sure "cute" is what he's going for, but nonetheless...)

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I've got two words for you: wiener schnitzel. This is a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet served with lemon and parsley, famous in Austrian  cuisine. As in the case of my delicious dinner pictured here, pork is often substituted for veal. (Whew! Not so hot on the whole veal thing.)

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Our final day in Austria we decided to hike a section of the Untersberg, which separates Austria from Germany and served as the filming location for Maria to sing "The Hills Are Alive" and for the Von Trapp family to escape over the mountains "into Switzerland" in The Sound of Music. Little did we know as we set out that we'd see more of these "staircases" than we ever cared to on our three-hour journey to the top. The climb was taxing, and we saw few other people, lending an air of mystique to our adventure. 

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The view from the top was amazing! We were on a bit of a schedule, so we happily took the cable car back down to Grodig, where we grabbed our luggage, ran to catch a bus, hurried to find the next bus... But that's a story for another day!

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Hello, Ravello!

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The legendary Amalfi Coast consists of thirteen towns nestled in the seaside cliffs of southern Italy, giving  tourists endless options of itineraries through this breathtaking region. Greg and I were very happy with the three days we spent in the area several summers ago, having chosen to stay in the higher elevation and less tourist-oriented town of Ravello. From there we took a half-day hike to a monastery and the town of Minori, date night to lively Amalfi, and day trip to the breezy island of Capri. Hop on the back of my Vespa, and let's go!

 

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Rooming in Romantic Ravello

The small town of Ravello had charmed my husband on a business trip several years earlier, so he was excited to take me there.

 

We'd had quite the day's journey from Milan to the Amalfi Coast, including a train stop at a platform surrounded by trees and not a human in sight! We hiked with our luggage down into the town and then faced another challenge--to locate the bus that would take us down the coast. We finally noticed a tiny sign in front of the pottery shop advertising bus tickets (Because that makes sense, right?), and we were soon on our way. (See photo--would you have noticed that little sign?) Our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea dazzled me, but when we stopped in crowded Amalfi for a piece of pizza and another bus ticket, I admit that I was less than enchanted. The surroundings were beautiful, but the place was packed and unfortunately felt a bit like Oceans of Fun on Memorial Day. 

So when we stepped off the bus after our ascent to Ravello, I breathed a sigh of relief. People milled about and admired the gorgeous view of the coastline, but it felt slower-paced, more peaceful, and more authentically Italian.

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We'd debated staying in a number of hotels but had decided to go with a property we found on Airbnb, which was less expensive than many of our other options and ended up being simply delightful. It was a bit of a walk from the bus station and main part of town, but we didn't mind this and appreciated that the neighborhood was quiet at night. Check out the amazing view from our window!

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Several rooms shared this cozy patio overlooking the ocean, and our host served us pastries and the most wonderful cappuccinos for breakfast each morning.

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The most prominent feature of Ravello's town square is its cathedral, which held mass each evening as we walked by; one night we watched a Catholic parade while we ate at an open-air restaurant. This part of Italy is known for beautiful hand-painted pottery and lemons, and there's an abundance of both in Ravello, including these lemons as big as grapefruits!

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We visited the Giardini Caffe Calce several times because of its pleasant garden and delicious pizza--cheese for Greg, artichokes for me. Though we waited until 8:00pm to venture into a restaurant for dinner, we received some funny looks...because the rest of the town didn't begin their feasting until closer to 9:00pm! (Don't tell them we usually eat at 6:00pm!)

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The Mysterious Monastery in the Clouds

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At the suggestion of our host we decided to take a half-day hike to a location I'm calling "The Mysterious Monastery in the Clouds," so named because since we've returned from our trip, I haven't been able to track down any information on this place! It was once either a monastery or convent and is now simply an enigma. We could see this old structure from the entrance to our B&B, so we set out on our journey with a simple map and some lunch.

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On our way we gawked at local agriculture, including green beans, grapevines, and tomatoes drying in the sun.

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Once out of town we encountered no one on our hike until our descent into the town of Minori several hours later. Well, we did run into a fluffy, white stray dog trotting along the path, and we invited him to join us, but he was on a mission and couldn't be deterred.

We sat down to enjoy some lunch. No PB&J's for us--we'd stashed one of those mouthwatering pizzas in our backpack!

Revived, we continued on our way and arrived at our destination! We explored the area around the old monastery...

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...and admired the birds-eye view of the town of Minori and the billowy clouds that seemed almost within reach.

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We headed back into the woods and hiked down towards Minori, admiring the lovely greens all around us. Soon we were joined by a pack of pesky bees--not the sting-you-till-you-scream kind but rather the latch-onto-you-and-give-you-the-heebie-jeebies kind. We decided to try to run away from the bees, but they swarmed ferociously right along with us! I felt like I'd witnessed this scene in a cartoon.

The bees left us alone as we reentered civilization. Whew!

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I loved seeing the pretty mosaics and carved doors as we walked through Minori's streets with a nice view of the town of Amalfi and the sea.

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Here we are with Minori behind us, loving the sea breezes coming our way!

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I had to get my picture taken next to this wall of brilliant purple morning glories, but immediately after I'd been photographed, a black snake slithered out of the wall right where I was standing! Yikes! Time to move on down the road!

We stopped to admire Minori's basilica and eat some gelato while we watched locals drive by on their motorbikes. Then we began our climb up the many stairs towards Ravello.

 

 

 

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We peered into an interesting cemetery along the way and soon saw Ravello's famous umbrella tree ahead, assuring us we were almost home. We were exhausted after all those stairs when we finally reached our home base, but we'd had a wonderful adventure!

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Date Nights in Italy Eat Other Date Nights for Breakfast

One evening we took the bus to Amalfi for a date night! I'm happy to report that though the city was bustling, this was a pleasurable liveliness, not the overcrowded theme park feel of several days earlier. We walked around town, picked up some fruit, bread, and fresh mozzarella, and admired Amalfi's imposing cathedral.

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Our dinner of spaghetti with lemon garlic sauce, pappardelle with bolognese sauce, arugula salad with tomatoes, and crusty bread was truly fabulous. After dinner we walked out onto the dock to gaze at the twinkling city lights before heading back to the bus stop.

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The Beachy Island that Turned Out to Be Big

I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the dreamy island of Capri, so we caught a ferry in Amalfi for the roughly two-hour ride to Capri, stopping along the way at several of the coastal towns to pick up more travelers. Look at that turquoise water!

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All of the towns along the Amalfi Coast seem to have expanded entirely upwards, especially Positano!

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When we arrived at Capri, we were greeted with brilliant colors, an awe-inspiring view of Capri's famous "three rocks," and hoards of people. Though I hate to admit it, I think I'd gotten caught up in a travel blogger's idyllic descriptions of the island's beauty and mystique and failed to focus on logistics! It was indeed gorgeous, but it was much bigger than I thought it would be, so it took a long time to get around. (I guess that's the power of the pen, and may we writers steward it well!)

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Nonetheless we enjoyed hiking across the island. The first public beach we investigated had about three beach towels occupying each square yard of beach, which is quite simply against my beachy religion!--one must have personal space at the beach. So we located a less-crowded "family" beach and floated in the water there for the rest of the afternoon with Mt. Vesuvius as our backdrop. All in all, it was a day well-spent and completed our Amalfi Coast experience.

 

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Meandering in Milan: Piazza del Duomo in Pictures

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I'm in a travel state of mind these days, reminiscing about a dreamy European adventure my husband and I took several years ago. Our journey began in Milan, Italy, where Greg was speaking at a conference held at the University of Milan. The university and our hotel were just a brief stroll away from the center of the city, Piazza del Duomo: "Cathedral Square." I entertained myself while Greg was conferencing largely by walking around this magnificent piazza and eating gelato. Join me on a brief pictorial jaunt, and make plans to meander through Milan yourself!

When you emerge from the Milan Metro at the duomo stop, you'll be met with the stately panoramic scene you see here--the cathedral in front of you, the monument of King Victor Immanuel II on horseback on your right, and the entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on your left.

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The square's most impressive feature is, of course, Milan Cathedral, the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world.

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The duomo's intricate Gothic details are impressive! 

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Saunter by the cathedral at night to get a different feel for this impressive structure.

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For a fee tourists can wander around the inside of the cathedral, which is impossibly grand with its huge pillars, marble floor, and beautiful stained glass windows.

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When you're satisfied with your exposure to the duomo, head into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy's oldest shopping mall.

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The galleria is vaulted in glass and hosts numerous upscale retailers...

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...and a variety of restaurants! My mouth is watering at the memory of this black olive and mushroom pizza, and I also immensely enjoyed the pesto gnocchi and salad with prosciutto and artichokes that Greg and I tried at a deli.

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Grab a cup of melt-in-your-mouth gelato to eat while you stroll. Gelaterias exist around every corner, with a variety of tempting flavors to sample. My favorite find was lemon basil...

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...while Greg insisted on chocolate every time. Piazza del Duomo and the galleria were full of tourists when we visited, so there was also no shortage of street entertainers, from spray paint artists to people performing interesting acrobatic feats, like these men.

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The streets surrounding Milan's piazza are home to numerous buildings and statues of historic and architectural importance. See if you can find yourself in front of the Church of San Fidele or the Statue of Leonardo da Vinci.

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Looking for a fun day trip from Milan? Check out my account of the charming town of Varenna here.

Let me know what you discover during your own Milan meandering!

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Pioneer Woman for a Day: 10 Things To Do at the Merc

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If you’re a fangirl of all things Pioneer Woman like I am, you simply must partake in the ultimate immersive Pioneer Woman experience, a trip to her mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. I journeyed there with one of my besties last spring and again with my mom and aunt this fall, and I’m already scheming for my next visit. Today I’m channeling my enthusiasm into this scavenger hunt-style list for you. To maximize your enjoyment of The Merc, I recommend the following ten things:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

 

1. Chat with some friendly Okies while you wait in line.

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No, that's not a friendly Okie; it's my bestie, Shannon. We arrived at The Merc after our two-hour jaunt from the Wichita, Kansas, area at about 10:30am on a Friday and hopped in line for lunch immediately, having heard tales of long waits. Our time in queue passed quickly, due mostly to the friendly Merc employee who chatted with us and entertained the crowd with her big personality. In our zeal to get this party started we'd neglected to dress warmly, so our new friend wasted no time in wrapping us both in a giant shawl and giving us gloves to wear while we stood in line. This set a tone of kind hospitality that was maintained throughout our day of interactions with Merc staff--how delightful! We ended up being seated for lunch at about 11:30am; I hear that an hour-long wait is average for a weekday, but weekends can get quite a bit busier.

Plan to wait in line, get cozy, and make some new friends of the Okie variety. You'll be glad you did!

 

2. Satisfy your stomach with Tex-Mex.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at The Merc, and if you're in a hurry, grab a tasty to-go meal from The Deli. The Merc's menu is extensive, and everything sounds delicious, but fortunately you've got some time in line to examine your options carefully before making a mouthwatering selection.

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You're in Oklahoma, so when in doubt choose Tex-Mex! I was extremely happy with both of these--chicken and beef enchiladas with cotija cheese and black beans and steak quesadillas with guacamole and pico de gallo. Yum!

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3. Pick up something fun for your kitchen.

Now that you've revived yourself with pico and guac, you're ready to get your shop on! The Mercantile feels like what I imagine a store of its kind might have felt like fifty years ago; it's bright and cheery and offers a colorful variety of dishes, kitchen tools, home decor, fashion accessories, books, and toys. You can purchase items from The Pioneer Woman line originally introduced in WalMart and unique things you'll only find here, all at a variety of price points.

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Though The Pioneer Woman brand has expanded to include all sorts of products, let's not forget that this all started with home cookin' and good eatin'. I bet you do a decent amount of those things in your life too, so why not pick up something that sprinkles the process with a little fun?

My favorite find at The Merc is these plates, which look like china but are actually tin, making for a low-maintenance take on a fancy family tradition.  (Win-win!) These are commemorative patterns used among English royalty, and the story of each is written on the back of the plate.

(Psst, you can find some Merc merch online as well!)

 

4. Elevate your cowgirl style game.

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If you're an aficionado of Tony Lamas, jewel-tone tops with floral embroidery, leather bags, and the like, you've probably noticed that Ree Drummond, Ms. Pioneer Woman herself, has her cowgirl style dialed in and on point. She's shared a bit of her style aesthetic with us at The Merc, which sells clothing, jewelry, and purses fit for a rodeo queen. This turquoise necklace, worn by Merc retail gals, is extra long and can therefore be styled a variety of ways. (And you know I couldn't pass up the green version!) 

Snag a PW accessory and channel your inner cowgirl.

 

5. Complete your library of Pioneer Woman books.

Many of us owe our fond feelings of familiarity with the Pioneer Woman to the fact that she's so often with us while we cook, providing us with delicious but simple recipes, showing us what the dish ought to look like along the way, and entertaining us with clever quips and gorgeous photos of ranch life. The pleasant mentorship I'm speaking of comes via cookbook, and you can find all of her cookbooks, children's books, and autobiography at The Merc. Purchase one, and she just might be around to autograph it for you! Here are my favorites from the PW book collection:

 

6. Sip the best darn iced coffee drink of your life.

When you're all shopped out, head around the corner or upstairs to one of two coffee bars for an Oklahoma-style caffeine boost. If your taste buds enjoy a bit of a kick, order yourself a Spicy Cowgirl, a delectable iced mocha with chile syrup and cayenne pepper. You'll be over the moon, I promise. (Ree has done us a favor and shared this recipe with The Food Network here!)

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7. Watch and wait for a glimpse of your girl, Ree.

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While you're sitting and sipping upstairs in the sunny bakery area, keep your eyes peeled!--Ree's office is also located upstairs, and she occasionally steps out to say hello to her adoring fans, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.

The stars aligned for Shannon and I to be seated in the bakery on one such occasion, and we loved getting to meet Ree! She was just as sweet, charming, and down-to-earth as she seems on TV.

 

8. Pretend you’re a Food Network star at the Lodge.

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When planning your visit to The Merc, you might want to check out this webpage to see if your visit coincides with a day on which visitors to The Merc can also tour The Lodge, which serves as the Drummond family's guest house and the production location for Ree's show on The Food Network. I've not yet had this distinctive pleasure, so I asked Shannon to send me a few of her pics and helpful hints. (She too returned for another visit to The Merc with her mom. Are you seeing a theme?) Lodge tours are free and can only be obtained the day of the tour at The Merc. Simply ask a Merc employee for a ticket and directions--you'll need them as The Lodge is a bit of a drive out of town and requires a several-mile jaunt down gravel roads. Shannon suggests heading to The Lodge earlier in the day to avoid crowds, as most people spend the majority of their day at The Merc and then head to The Lodge closer to closing time at 4:00pm.

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9. Grab a blueberry scone to-go.

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Before heading out to begin your trek to The Lodge, grab a blueberry scone or other culinary delight from The Bakery. Take it home to indulge in the next morning while you reminisce on your dreamy day. (And I won't judge you if you eat it on the way!)

 

10. Pose for an iconic PW Merc pic.

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Don't forget to ask your bestie or your mom or a friendly Okie to snap a photo of you in front of The Merc with the Mercantile sign visible in the background. This commemorates your trip and ensures that your Facebook friends can easily tell where you've been while they're scrolling through similarly-posed pics of people standing in front of Magnolia Market. (See, I've thought of everything for you!)

Above all else have a fantastic time! You deserve it!

 

I’d love to hear about your trip to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile! What would you add to my Merc to-do list?

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The Beaver in the Basement and Other Unexpected Pitfalls of Marriage

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When you’re young and in love and looking forward to marriage, people who have been married for awhile flash you a knowing smile as they warn you about some common post-honeymoon irritations--men leaving their socks on the floor, women nagging husbands to take them to the ballet, and the like. But there are some things they don’t warn you about. I’ve gathered here for you a collection of unanticipated pitfalls of matrimony, based on three and a half years of field research, i.e. marriage to my husband, Greg. You may find comfort in identifying some parallels to your own experience, and if you’re not married and would like to be, knowledge is power, my friend. To be fair I’ve given an equal number of “his” and “hers” trials and tribulations, aided by my assistant, Greg, of course.

1. Hers: Backhanded Compliments

While discussing women and makeup, my husband says to me, “Your no-makeup face is a joke!” I blinked. Do I want my face to be a joke? Is this a good thing? Should I say “thank you?” He means, of course, that he thinks I look great without makeup. It just takes a bit of generous listening and suspension of offense to get to the actual compliment.

2. His: Food Sharing

When we go out to eat, no matter what I order—steak, pizza, tacos, pasta—or how hungry I am, she wants to taste it. “Could I just try a little bite of that, please?”, she asks sweetly. “You can have a bite of mine!”, she adds enthusiastically, as if that makes up for it. In what universe is a bite of arugula salad with goat cheese for a bite of bacon cheeseburger an even trade?

3. Hers: Startling Noises

I’m minding my own business, lost in a quiet reverie, when a noise so ear-splitting it has to be an explosion cuts through the silence. I’m so startled I immediately burst into tears (a reaction to sudden fright I’ve only experienced since being married, by the way). A split second later I realize that our Kansas home is still as it ever was. My husband sneezed. I hear that men’s sneezes grow louder and more powerful as they age, and I’m more than a little concerned about where this road ends for me.

4. His: Safety Precautions

My normal turbo speed work mode is hampered by her insistence that I wear chainsaw chaps, “put on some leather gloves if you’re going to be moving tree limbs around all day,” and “be careful!” She says she’s prolonging my life, but these safety shenanigans are costing me time in the present, so I guess it’s a wash.

5. Hers: Under-communication

He says in passing, “Hey, Babe, are we good to go on that thing I signed us up for/thing I need you to make food for/thing we’re going to?” “Huh? This is the first I’m hearing about it!”, I say. “I told you about it,” he says confidently, and then realization dawns on his face as I bore holes into him with my eyes…He did tell me…telepathically.

6. His: Over-communication

She’s talking, and I’m listening. I’m interested in what she’s saying, but I’m trying to determine if there’s a main point here, something I should be latching on to. My eyes are starting to glaze over, and she raises a skeptical eyebrow at me, letting me know she noticed and that there will be a test at the end of this monologue. I refocus in hopes of passing the test, but there are just so…many…words…

7. Hers: Strange Possessions

Thanks to my husband's lengthy childhood Daniel Boone phase, I am now the proud owner of a giant taxidermy beaver, who was most assuredly roadkill in his former life before his fortune changed and he became a much-loved Christmas gift. Justin Beaver, as he has been affectionately dubbed, lives in the laundry room, keeping me company while I work and terrifying unsuspecting guests who open the door to throw their sheets in the washer.

8. His: Personality Fluctuations

She might be the sweetest girl on the planet, but if I accidentally wake her up in the middle of the night, I meet her evil twin. She’s spitting mad, and sometimes I’m tempted to flip on the light to make sure this is the same woman! But that would send her through the roof, and it’s just not worth it. I hold my breath and hope she’ll go back to sleep soon.

9. Hers: Extreme Heat

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in an arid desert.

10. His: Extreme Cold

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in the Arctic tundra.

11. Hers: Tone of Voice Misinterpretation

On the rare occasion that I call him at his office, he answers the phone with such a somber tone of voice that I’m instantly preparing to receive really bad news. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”, I ask, gathering steam. “Did something happen?” He chuckles, and I realize—again—that nothing is awry; he’s simply using his “office tone of voice.” Apparently the animated and affectionate tone with which one greets a beloved wifey is different than that used to greet a farmer who’s calling his banker. Go figure.

12. His: Wardrobe Takeover

Despite her insistence that she’s “expanding my color palette” by introducing shades of jade, emerald, and chartreuse, I know what’s really going on here: She’s replacing the pre-existing variety in my wardrobe entirely with her favorite color—green.

There’s one more aspect of marriage I didn’t see coming, and that’s how absolutely wonderful it is to share life with my husband! Our differences keep things interesting, amuse us, and make us one heck of a great team. There’s no one I love, respect, and like more than my husband. Even though there’s a beaver in my basement.

Did you identify with any of our pitfalls? What would you add to this list? Want more day-brightening content like this from me? Subscribe to my email list here.

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