Tag Archives: Life

Come Gather at The Well 

4 Oct

For the last year and a half, I have had unbreakable evening plans for the first Tuesday of every month. You see, during this hour and a half block of time, I gather at The Well with women of all seasons of life who are each experiencing a uniquely different relationship level with God. While we don’t meet at an actual well that pumps water to drink, we meet at the spiritual well where the water runs deep. 

Where does that name, The Well, even come from you might be asking. It comes from biblical times when women would gather at the well, often in the morning, to draw water for their families. Without water they wouldn’t survive. In John 4 we read about Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She was all alone, choosing to come get water in the evening when the other women had gone. This alone speaks volumes – she was not accepted by the other women because of the lifestyle she had been living. BUT GOD still loved her. He still pursued her. He still wanted to give her his living water:

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” ‭‭John‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Our church’s women’s ministry was established by two women who felt God calling them to share their journey of building a relationship with Him with other women. It’s not always hearts and flowers – we dig deep, exposing fears, regrets, anguish, the lies we believe about ourselves, our hurts and hang ups. Many times there are tears. This living, running water, which is moving within each of us, reminds me that I’m not alone. Someone out there, another women, has felt, experienced, and grown through similar troubles. 

Each month our time together centers around a different theme. Last night we examined friendship. Our two hosts had invited their four best friends to join them on stage for a “round table” discussion. Picture this – stunning, long wooden table with six elegant and Godly women seated together. They were a beautiful group. Love radiated from each women as she spoke about their special bond of friendship, which was born out of a need to connect and rally around one another in times of heartache and pain, and is strengthened by each women’s individual love and relationship with God. 

As evident by the friendship that was before us, life was not meant to live in isolation. We need close companions and friendships. And those extreamly close relationships they likened to a table with limited seating. 

They asked us to reflect upon our own lives and think about the following questions:

  1. Think about your life’s table. How many seats are available and who is sitting in those seats? 
  2. What prerequisites do you have for those who occupy those seats? 
  3. What fruits are the people at your table bringing? 
  4. What conversations are you partaking in?
  5. Who do you trust with your life? 
  6. Who’s truth do you value the most? 
  7. How are you growing from this relationship? 
  8. What are YOU giving to this relationship?

The enemy wants to isolate us. We are easier to attack when we are lonely and I can personally attest to that. This stage in my life I would describe as lonely and because of that, difficult. Yes, I have my family, boyfriend, and some friends out of state to lean on, but I don’t have a friendship rooted in God’s love. 

The six friends described their friendship as a place of:

  • Trust
  • Depth (friendship and spiritual level)
  • Encouraging
  • Honesty (Ephesians 4: 2)
  • Real
  • Sacrifice 
  • Love
  • Willing to get uncomfortable
  • Fortify (Protect/strengthen against attack, provide, surround)
  • Patient
  • Steadfast
  • Guide in wisdom
  • Rejoice
  • Grieve together
  • Vulnerable
  • Interceding on their behalf in prayer
  • Permission to speak truth and love – I seeing you doing X and I love you too much to keep doing it, to keep ruining your life

Those women are willing to bare the scars of pain and uncomfortableness for their friendship because that’s when they grow. We were encouraged to be very selective of the friends we are relying on for the most strength and reminded the best relationships are made up of the best forgivers. 

We were reminded of the many women’s groups available through the church to meet fellow Christian women – MOPS (Mothers of preschoolers), Mom’s Next (mother’s of elementary school children), Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning/Sunday Morning women’s bible study groups, and so on. I struggled with this part because I don’t feel like there is a group of women my age, who aren’t married, who’ve never had children. I’m too old for the young adult class and not a mother (where the majority of the women my age are meeting). Yes I attend the Wednesday evening bible study when I can, but even in that class, I’m one of the youngest. I often find myself wondering where I fit in at church? Where are the other nearly 30, single, non-mothers like myself hiding?

We all need an honest, insightful, God-speaking friend, who in times of trial, will remind us,  “You can have your moment, but you can’t stay there.”

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” Romans‬ ‭12:9-13‬, ‭NLT‬‬

Listening to their stories, there was one woman who described herself as an introvert and I could see myself in many of the things she was saying – difficult to meet friends, never felt 100% accepted by other women, always quiet, searching to fill a void. In my seat my heart was screaming – that’s me! I feel that way right now! Her next words stopped my mental anguish – “I prayed for God to send me a friend and I was blessed with five women who are extroverted. My life is a lot more fun now.”

Pray for a friend? Really? Could it be that simple? That innocent? Could I be that open, honest, and raw? It can. Surrender it to God. He will give you more than what you could ever even think to ask for.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians‬ ‭3:20‬, ‭NLT‬‬

 I’m going to be braver than I’ve ever been before. Tonight, Lord, I ask that you open my eyes to the people around me. Help me to form and kindle relationships with women who will be able to draw me closer to you through their friendship. Lord, teach ME how to be that friend for someone else. I am lowering my walls, Lord, so that your truth, light, and spirit may fill my heart and soul with a deeper peace, love, feeling of acceptance than I have ever known. Lord, I don’t want to do life on my own anymore – guide me to my tribe of women would will fortify me and I them. You know the plans you have for my life and I know that includes friends. Show me, Lord, where to find them. 

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Ms. DIY

10 Jul

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a crafty nature. As a small child, I loved to color and draw, although just like my mother, I soon discovered I was not artistically inclined. Still, that has never stopped me from creating little doodles on scraps of paper or along the edges of my school notes. Writing came naturally to me, which is probably what prompted me to begin journaling and writing fiction stories at the young age of eight. Over the years I’ve discovered other creative outlets as well – scrapbooking, photography, gardening, and music to name a few. 

This past week I have enjoyed a much-needed staycation. During this time off, I discovered yet another creative pass time I enjoy – home projects! I don’t know why exactly, but there is something so satisfying about creating something new out of dozens of mismatched looking pieces.

I had two big projects and one small decor project to tackle. In the year and a half of living in our apartment, I have used plastic shelving to store all of my clothes and felt it was time to upgrade to a more functional and astetically pleasing solution. So I ran to Walmart and found a four drawer Sauder dresser in espresso and a Better Homes & Garden eight cube storage unit also in espresso. Single-handedly (and quite awkwardly) I maneuvered those long, heavy boxes from our parking lot, up a flight of stairs and into our bedroom. 

Then the fun began – assembling each unit.       


Others, who are more furniture assembly inclined, probably would have been able to put the units together much faster than I did. In my defense, this was my first go round, and I had never before seen a hidden cam and cam dowel, let alone had any idea how to instal them. Luckily for me, my instructions came with detailed step-by-step pictures and links to online tutorials. I also looked up assemble reviews on YouTube, figuring I could learn from the wisdom and mistakes of other who have assembled before me. 

In the end, the dresser took me just under four hours to complete. The most time consuming part – the drawers! I tried to build two at the same time, doing one step on each before continuing, but that seemed to slow me down even more. The eight cube storage unit only took me about an hour and a half, thankfully! Hardest part turned out to be keeping the cross sections connected and straight while adding and fighting the side pieces. In the end, I am very please with how each piece turned out and I love the clean, finished feel they add to the room. The next big decision is what kind of curtains to get, but that’ll have to wait for another day!


My decor project is one I’ve had planned since Christmas. I saw a photo of a Roman numeral clock with the flying silhouettes of Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, Peter and Michael in an Etsy shop. Rather than spend $30 – $40 for someone else to make me the clock, I decided then and there to make my own! It took a few months to track down the right clock and the one I found had a gold rim that I decided to spray paint black. When it came time for the silhouettes, I lucked out because my mom has multiple Disney Cricket cartridges and had all of the characters in the positions I wanted. I even opted to add a tiny Tinker Bell to my design. We cut the characters out of scrap paper to get the sizing right before cutting the final pieces out of black sticky vinyl. The end result gave me chills – I think it looks like a clock you’d find in a Disney gift shop!

Look around at my projects, each piece, the colors, designs and shape help to express who I am as an individual. Already looking for new projects to occupy my time during my next chunk of free time (last week in August when my summer class ends and right before fall semester begins). What projects have you worked on lately?  

Wellness Wednesday – Vegan Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 Jan

The past few days we have done very good about avoiding meat and dairy products. I was even off to a great start this morning with my bowl of oatmeal and a banana and a lunch filled with a veggie “chicken” patty, cucumber, carrots, and apple slices. Before I left for work I even had in my first 20 oz of water for the day.

However, things went south when I got to work and learned we were celebrating two birthdays with a pizza party and chocolate fudge brownies. Being only 4 days into this lifestyle change, I caved. I told you I’d share the good, bad, and ugly and here it is.  I had two slices of Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza and a brownie square and another 20 oz of water. A few hours later, however, I was regretting that choice. My stomach was in knots and I felt like I needed to temporarily move in to the bathroom because I was visiting it so frequently they were going to start charging rent! Okay, enough of that.

For dinner tonight I knew I needed to get myself back on track. So I looked though our refrigerator, jumped on Pinterest, made a shopping list and went to work creating a new masterpiece.

Tonight I present you with vegan stuffed bell peppers. However, I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly to fit our needs.

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The original recipe called for a-couple-kinds of cheese, I eliminated those along with the cilantro because we don’t like the flavor of that herb. Another change I made was switching out quinoa for white rice and chopped up in the food processor. In addition, I substituted corn with a half bag of mixed vegetables to add a bit more color, crunch and flavor, and replaced petite diced tomatoes with halved cherry tomatoes. I kept all of the spices the same, however I didn’t have onion powder on hand so I just left it out.

As for as the taste – this dish has a mexican feel to it. I’ve decided to use the leftover stuffing for burritos, enchiladas or quesadillas later this week. The stuffing could even be warmed back up and eaten as a dish by itself, it’s that good! One thing I can tell you after devouring this meal, this stuffed pepper stuffs you! My tummy is happy and content and feeling a million times better than lunchtime.

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In thinking to the future and making this dish again, I would probably use a bit more spice – the flavor was good, but I personally like a bit more punch and pizzazz with the flavor. Switching out the ingredients in the stuffing could be fun as well – garlic, summer squash, sweet potato or even different kinds of beans may taste good.

Let me know if you decide to give these stuffed peppers a try! What alterations would you make to the recipe?!

There’s always something to be thankful for

25 Nov

Today much of the country participated in Thanksgiving, a day dedicated to sharing and acknowledging the many ways we have been blessed. Many families woke up this morning and started their festivities with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by a dinner of turkey and all the fixings. The number of people sharing in the festivities isn’t important, but rather it is who is there that is important. 

Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember, probably because I am blessed to be part of a family that is extremely close, not just in distance from each other, but in our relationships. It is not uncommon for my family to get-together as a large group multiple times a year. We just love being together – there’s laughter, joy, stories and fun. WIth open arms we accept and adopt friends, neighbors and anyone who needs to be loved, which if you think a about it – that’s everyone. And that extends to our Thanksgiving table as well. Over the years there have been any number of new faces who have joined our celebration and we embraced them as only my family can!

This year, I will admit I struggled with Thanksgiving. It’s the first major holiday we’ve celebrated since Scott and I moved into our apartment (for the purpose of this blog, Forth of July and Halloween aren’t major holidays). Last night, there was no smell of pumpkin pies, pumpkin logs or mincemeat pie baking in the oven. I woke up this morning and there was no parade to be watched (we only have Netflix) and there was no arguing with my sisters over who would get to use the bathroom first to get ready. It felt like any other day of the week to me. Scott and I got ready and drove out to meet my family. I hoped that once we were all together, I would find whatever was missing this year. 

Once at the church (there are just too many at our Thanksgiving dinner to fit in a house, we counted 42 this year!), even the setup was different. For my entire life, we have all sat at one table and passed the dished around. This year, it was buffet style. Honestly, my first reaction was that the tradition was ruined. But in the end, it ended up allowing everyone to sample a little bit of everything (in years’ past, there were dishes that never quite made it all the way to the other end of the table) and everyone was eating much sooner. 

    

One tradition that remained is the olive finger photo – my sisters, cousin and now her son, and my aunt, always put black olives on our fingers and take silly photos during dinner. This has happened ever since I was a small child.


The other tradition that remained firmly in place was that of going around the table and one-by-one sharing the things we are most thankful for. Listening to everyone always fills my heart with joy as I hear their touching words – some spoke about challenges with health, car accidents, the loss of loved ones, but what they all ended with was the strength of this family that has continued to pull them through. 

While I started the day feeling as if today were nothing special, I end the night reminded of what is most important – faith, family, friends and memories. It was not easy letting go of tradition, but today is truly about creating a new tradition and memory every year. 

This was the first Thanksgiving Scott has gotten to spend with me and my family. He has been such a blessing to me as we made the transition to living together away from our families, and continues to be my rock as I have gone back to school to get my master’s degree. He has embraced my family and they him. I could not be surrounded by a better group of people – just check out the photos!

This Thanksgiving was also special because we got to spend part of it with my cousin, Erin, who will be enlisting in the Air Force in just a few days! We are so very proud of her and will miss having her around, but know she will be where she needs to be, following in the footsteps of others in our family who were absent from the table this year, but who are always with us in heart and mind.  

I’m a plant grandma!!

25 Aug

Back in April, one of my great-aunts brought aloe “pups” to our annual spring family scrap (scrapbooking event) as her giveaway for the table. Since I had to work an event that weekend, I was unable to go. However, my Aunt Nita knew her plant wouldn’t make the long journey home, and so she lovingly gave it to me! He was so tiny and frail in his little styrofoam cup – I couldn’t wait to plant him in a sturdy pot!

I wasn’t sure if he’d survive. During my lunch hour I researched “how to care for your aloe plant.” I watched YouTube tutorials and read gardening blogs. I discovered my little plant was pretty hardy and only needed to be watered every two weeks.

Each morning I would check on my little plant, talking to him and encouraging him to thrive in his new environment. Scott thought I was crazy talking to the plant, we even gave him a nickname, Al. I became a proud plant momma when he showed signs of new growth! Over the last few months he has tripled in size, with new little shoots growing every-couple-weeks.

And within the last month or so it finally happened – our aloe plant grew three “pups”! A pup is a new plant that grows from the roots of the mother plant. According to all of the research I’ve done, the pups need to be separated from the mom, because sooner or later they will start to compete with the bigger plant for nutrition and space.  I’ve been meaning to separate our three pups, but I just kept putting it off.

Tonight, I was at WalMart and on a whim decided to see if the gardening section was on Clarence yet. As luck would have it, I bought gardening gloves for $1, a small pot like the one our plant is currently in for $1.50 (I think the original price was $7) and two medium size pots for $2 each. And luckily we still had a few bags of potting soil left over.

I was confident that after watching countless videos and reading numerous blogs I could divide the pups from the mother with no problems.

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After a little bit of digging and fancy maneuvering, the mother and pups came free from the pot. I lost a few roots in the process, but I wasn’t overly concerned. From my research I learned aloe don’t need many roots to survive when transplanting. Thank goodness for that! Then it was just a matter of putting everyone back into his or her own pots. The big plant moved to a larger pot so he’ll have a chance to stretch and grow some more.

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From one plant to four – the story of how I became a plant grandma in a matter of minutes. It’s so exciting to have a new generation of young plants to watch. Once again I pray they each thrive and grow and enjoy their home in our hallway window garden. I love having so much green in the apartment – apparently aloe purifies the air and brightens one’s mood. Can’t get any better than that!

Are you an aloe parent, too? What are your plant tips and tricks?!

Becoming a Butterfly

31 Mar

Spring is a time of change. The snow melts. The days start to get longer. The trees bloom and the flowers awaken. And in no time at all, there will be butterflies.

I’ve always been fascinated with butterflies, not because of their colors or their grace, but because of the amount of change they endure in such a short lifetime. Within the span of a-couple-months, a Monarch butterfly will hatch from an egg, spend its days consuming leaves as a larvae (caterpillar), attach itself to the stem of a plant or branch as the pupa (while it undergoes 10 days of change in the chrysalis), until it finally emerges as an adult butterfly with mere weeks left to lay an egg to ensure the survival of the species before passing away.

Change does not come easy to me – it never has, and it doesn’t matter how big or small a change may be, it causes me to over think, over analyze and over worry. I would be a terrible butterfly. I’ve hatched from an egg all alone in the world. Is this plant I’m on safe to eat? What if my chrysalis detaches during a storm? Will I be strong enough to break out of this thing when it’s time? How will my wings know how to fly without being taught? What if I fall? Now I have to produce the next generation – that’s a lot of pressure!

It’s a really good thing I’m not a butterfly – I may have never made it out of the egg!

Just like the butterfly, I find myself in a season of change. I am taking steps to return to school to further my education, a goal I set for myself when I watched my mom graduate with her Master’s degree, the first in her family and the best role model I could have ever asked for.

Scott and I are also apartment hunting. Together we’ve looked at two apartment layouts at one complex, he looked at a different complex today before work, and I’ll look it over on Saturday. I’m ready to have our own place, but I find myself on a rollercoaster of emotions from excitement  to totally terrified.

More often than not these days, I wake with knots in my stomach and a pounding headache after nights of stressful dreams. I know I’m worried about finances and finding an apartment that is clean and in a safe neighborhood. But I’m also worried about me. Living in Florida for a year while on the Disney College Program was one thing, I knew when it ended I would be returning home, to my room, to my safe haven. Now, that’s not an option.

I don’t know who I am outside of these blue bedroom walls – they have been my sanctuary since I was 10 years old (but I should mention that when we built this house I was all about the pink frilly life, so the walls were baby doll pink). This room has seen me change from pre-teen to an adult woman. I have slammed the door after arguments with my parents, shared my deepest, darkest secrets with friends, and cried my heart out in here when a boy carelessly broke my heart. This room has seen many late nights finishing homework or finishing a book that I just couldn’t put down. I do my best thinking and writing from this spot on my bed, staring out the window at the post office and the great void beyond.

My room has changed with me, always adapting to my needs. From pink to blue, from Barbie dolls to mountains of mystery and romance books, and my embarrassing love of Billy Gilman to my new love of running races.

But as I look around, I notice how the room doesn’t feel as big as it once did. Maybe that’s because I share it now. Most of Scott’s belongings aren’t even in here, they are sitting in our front room downstairs waiting for a place to call home. Or maybe it’s because, like the butterfly who knows when 10 days have past and it’s time to emerge, I know the time has come to move on.

I doubt the butterfly ever thinks about what happens to the chrysalis it left behind. I, on the other hand, think about a time when this room will no longer be “my room.” One of my sisters will move in here. They have always shared a room and have been chomping at the bit for me to pick up and leave already. I can’t blame them, it is nice having a space all your own in the house. Whomever moves in will change the walls, redecorate and add her own personal touch to the space. I will be erased. Just a memory of yesterday. My safe haven claimed by someone new.

It may be silly to feel so attached to a room, but we are each unique and have our own quirks. Maybe you are attached to a specific coffee mug, car or jacket. Called it an adult version of a security blanket, it’s that one thing you can count on being there to pick you up and warm your heart. And soon, I will be walking away from mine. I think I will feel lost for a while, unsure of my footing in my new room. But I hope with time I will feel comfortable there.

Change is never easy, but in order to progress through life it is a necessary evil. And so it is at these late hours of the night I find myself praying that my wings will know how to fly because whether I want to or not, I’m changing into a butterfly.

Do you live for change or does every cell in your body fight for things to remain as they always have like me? Tell me your best tips and advice for surviving a season of change! I don’t know how many more rough nights and anxiety starting mornings I can take.

Bridal Shower, Wedding Prep and the Chicago Skyline

12 Mar

Last weekend, Scott and I had the chance to spend two and a half days with his family in Chicago celebrating the upcoming wedding of his younger sister, Abbey.

After a six and a half hour drive through two states that started at 6:45 a.m. Friday morning, and a (terrifying, for me) journey on the Chicago Skyway, we’d arrived. Thankfully Scott was driving when we hit the city because 1. They are crazy drivers coming at you from every which way and 2. It was necessary that I take as many photos as the bumpy road would allow since the only other time I had been to Chicago, I’d flown, and it was an overcast day, which blocked the beauty of the skyline.

But before seeing family, being the hungry-driven travelers we were, we made a quick stop for food at Portillo’s. This was only my second time eating there, and it was just as delicious as I remembered. You MUST try the beef and cheddar croissant… as Scott once told me, it’s something you cannot visit chicago without trying.

Portillos food in Chicaog

Once our bellies were full, there was no rest for the weary! After quick hugs and hellos, we were put to work, the reason for this trip after all!

I had the honor of being asked to do Abbey’s hair for the wedding, along with the bridesmaids, so we started practicing all the different styles she’s sent me over the last few weeks. We tried two different updos and a half updo with curls. All three were beautiful on her, but as we were putting in the last style, I just kept telling her how it was going to be my favorite, and as it turned out, her favorite, too! But I’m not telling what it is until her wedding day, even though her fiancée, Dan, saw her Friday night with the style in. (He approved, too!)

After hair and a yummy dinner, it was on to cutting purple tulle and decorative ribbon to decorate balloons at Saturday’s bridal shower, followed by folding invitations while Abbey and her mom addressed the envelopes. With three of us folding (Dan, Scott and myself) it took no time at all! And not long after that it was thankfully time to hit the hay, I mean pillow!

Saturday morning started with Scott and his mom arranging a sweet photo collage of Abbey and Dan that included baby photos and pictures of the happy couple through the years! I loved seeing all the old photos! Then it was off to Party City to pick up some special balloons and then off we went to the church to decorate!

The room turned out lovely decked out in purple and silver, the wedding colors, and Abbey’s mom did an amazing job arranging cupcakes to look like a wedding dress!

The shower was a blast – she received many lovely gifts and we all had a wonderful time laughing and talking. I felt so at ease and at home and comfortable with these people, which was so special for me as it was only the second time I’ve been around Scott’s family, and he wasn’t even with me at the shower, because, ahh-hem, no men allowed, minus the groom of course.

Scott’s family is a lot like mine, on more than one occasion there were those no-so-subtle comments about when he and I would tie the knot such as “maybe we’ll be celebrating you and Scott next” or “have you thought about what colors you’d like for your wedding?”

Before we go any farther, yes, we have talked about it, yes, it will happen someday, no, I don’t know when that will be, no, we aren’t already secretly engaged, and yes, I have thought about what that special day will look like, what girl hasn’t?!

Now that we have that out in the open, I love knowing that his relatives are excited about me joining their family one day! And to answer one of their questions, I have thought about it, a lot actually, over the years, and it’s entertaining to me to see how my mental picture of that day has changed since I was a little girl.

As we’ve kept it no secret, Scott and I met while working at Walt Disney World in 2010, so naturally, people expect us to have an EPIC Disney wedding. Take a quick look at my Pinterest album, and you’ll see all the parts and pieces of a fairy tale wedding are there waiting to come to life!

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Bet you can’t tell what my favorite Disney movie and Princess is….anyways, the Disney ideas are endless! There’s the overall Disney wedding, the themed attraction wedding, or limiting it to the specific locations we’ve worked, or limiting it still to Disney’s Animal Kingdom since that’s were we met! The cake could even be “dino themed” since we were working at Dinoland all those years ago! Or maybe, we recreate our first date and do an EPCOT themed wedding with all the countries represented! How fun would that be!  Of course there would be hidden Mickey’s everywhere and how about Dole Whips for everyone, one of our favorite Disney treats!

And thank goodness there are sites like Paperless Post that provide dozens of invitation ideas – browsing quickly I found these two which screamed Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast! And of course, they also offer the option to create a style using your own photos, what’s not to love about that?!

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As you can see, so many fun ideas out there should we decide to go the Disney route when it’s our turn to plan a wedding. The only thing I know for sure that I want Scott to be the one standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me to get to his side. Nothing else matters, not the month, colors, theme or the cake. Just the two of us madly in love ready to start living our own happily ever after.

 

Thank you to Paperless Post for suggesting I dream about my future wedding for this post. I was not compensated in any way. All thoughts and opinions are my own.