Friday, August 28, 2015

On How We Met, and 5 Things I've Learned About Marriage

Fragmented light filtered through our kitchen's newly-installed French doors, as I sat down to write a couple nights ago. The warm glow reminding me that the sun was getting ready to set. I watched Ken outside playing with Penny, our pup, in a rowdy game of fetch and smiled. Meanwhile, Ruby napped peacefully in her nursery, exhausted from dinner out, and I hoped that by her gearing up for bed an hour early, she'd welcome a full night's sleep sooner.

In that moment, I decided to step away from my computer and take everything in. As I've learned from these past few years of marriage, there are times to write and reflect and times to experience and engage. Both have their place. I snapped my macbook closed, and stepped outside. The warmer Alaskan evening felt refreshing. Penny saw me almost immediately and bolted toward our patio doors. She then threw herself into our half-filled kiddy pool before attempting to bear-hug me. Surprised by how quickly everything took place, I barely registered that our 45-lb border collie was trying to climb on me before it was too late. I was soaked. And felt gross, instantly. How long has that water been sitting there? I asked Ken, as my mind considered what parasites I might now be host to, thanks to Penny. 

As I played fetch and tug-o-war with our wild beast of a dog, I started to think about what a unique blessing this season is. In having an incredible, life-giving marriage, a healthy and strong baby girl, a cozy home, an energetic dog, the hope that we'll someday start sleeping at night again (perhaps in the near future), and an unshakable joy from knowing that God loves us and is for us and will take care of us, even if we didn't have these things. We are safe in Him. He's our ultimate hope and peace, and source of all good things. We are so very, very blessed.

Today is a special day. Five years ago, Ken and I were married at the Haiku Mill, a beautiful wedding venue that once housed an old sugar mill on the island of Maui, just a few minutes from where I grew up. It was my dream to get married in those ruins of a time long ago, and we were incredibly blessed by that opportunity. Here are a couple photos from our wedding day.

How We Met...

Our story begins a couple years prior to these photos, in October of 2008, the year after I graduated from college. I was 22 years old, on the cusp of my 23rd birthday, living on Maui when my cousin, Isaac, decided to pay a visit home during his military deployment to Korea. Isaac is my cousin who I'm closest to in age; he's like a brother to me. He was living overseas at the time with his best friend, Ken. The two of them were on leave together when I met up with Isaac at the County Fair, that fateful October evening. Immediately, I noticed that Isaac had a friend in tow, although he had never mentioned his friend coming to Hawaii as well. (Cue smiling, here.) 

Photo from the County Fair, 2008

Ken and I hit it off right away - kinda/sorta - in that, I pegged his sense of humor as "caustic" and quickly offended him, when in actuality, I didn't realize that my choice of words wasn't the best way to start a relationship. Ken forgave me, thankfully, and after our week of hanging out, he and Isaac got back on a plane and left. Unsure of what the future held for us, I said goodbye and yet struggled to get Ken off my mind in the following days and weeks. I was living on Maui, working at a hotel on the beach, while Ken was in the military, and could be sent anywhere around the world at any given time. What could really happen between us? I'd think to myself. 

Not long after the two boys left, Ken contacted me via Facebook and we started messaging each other. One thing led to another, and within a couple weeks, we moved on to actual emails and then phone calls. I was so ridiculously nervous in those early months of our blossoming friendship. But once we started talking, I felt like time stood still. We could talk on the phone for hours at a time. All my cell phone minutes were depleted by talking to a boy who lived halfway around the world. He was as remote as I could imagine, I thought, until one day he told me that he was getting stop-lossed and sent to Iraq. They needed him for intel work, he said. Scared and uncertain, I continued to pursue our friendship even though I feared that he could get hurt, living in a war zone. God met us both in those times, and challenged me to live in faith and pray for this guy that I was starting to really like. 

One of my favorite things about our relationship at the time, was in how Ken pursued me. He met me on my level and wrote me hand-written letters on a weekly basis, which spoke deeply to my heart. I love writing, and his stories were encouraging, affirming, and thought-provoking. Day-to-day adventures of life in Iraq fascinated me. I'd hang on every word, and then grab a pen and paper and write Ken back almost immediately. I loved running to my mailbox every day when I got home from work, just to see if I got another letter from my friend around the world. 

You can probably imagine what happened next. Our friendship turned into dating and then when Ken finally returned from Iraq after an extra year in the military, we got engaged and then married. We lived in Seattle for the first few years of our marriage and then moved to Alaska once Ken graduated from college. Our marriage has been a wonderful adventure, full of travel and exploration. We've visited nine countries outside of the U.S. together in only five short years. And beyond that, we've grown together through multiple challenges - along with a healthy degree of conflict - as we have learned how to love and serve each other well. 

In reflecting on our first five years of marriage, I compiled a list of things I've learned that stand out to me. These are things that I'm constantly learning and relearning. Marriage is a safe place where Ken and I are able to fail at any number of these and find grace and forgiveness, as we seek to glorify God through our relationship. 

5 Things I've Learned About Marriage:

1. Love is Worth Fighting For. Marriage is worth fighting for. This is something that my husband helped me realize early on in marriage. If we were ever going to make it in those first couple years, we needed to commit to fighting for each other, rather than against one another. We are partners, allies, and best friends. I am committed to respecting my husband and trying my best to build him up and not tear him down, especially in front of others. My husband is not the enemy - rather, sin, when it gets between us (either my sin or his), must be brought out into the open and named for what it is and asked to be forgiven of. So often, I'm in the wrong and choose to place blame on Ken, when in reality, we both really need Jesus. Communication, transparency, humility, and forgiveness are vital. 

2. Seek First to Understand Before Being Understood. Most of the time, the reason conflict escalates between my husband and me, it's because we're not on the same page. I'm not really trying to understand him; I just want to be heard. Once I sit down and really quiet myself and listen to what he's trying to say, suddenly so many of my insta-responses aren't worth sharing. I realize that in my defensiveness, I've failed to hear - really hear - what Ken is saying. I care about him, and I want to know him. What he thinks is important and valuable, and worth listening to, even if we don't agree.

3. Do the Small Things. This is something that my husband daily blesses me in - doing the small things. So much of marriage is doing monotonous tasks together (cleaning, cooking, bill-paying, etc.) and Ken does these things with so much love. Chivalry is not dead, contrary to that modern phrase. My husband still holds my hand when we walk together, opens doors for me, and stops what he's doing when I have a question. He shows me his love through action - "small things with great love," as Mother Theresa would say. 

4. Invest in your marriage. Within our first year of marriage, Ken and I were struggling with heated misunderstandings and conflict. Our "baggage" from the past kept coming to the surface and influenced our actions, causing tension. Together, we made the decision to start attending weekly marriage counseling. We committed to making our marriage a top priority, and spent the same amount of money on weekly counseling sessions as we did on groceries. I can say with confidence that this was money well-spent. Although many sessions included lots of tears and frustration (mostly mine), God enabled me to work through some very painful memories from my childhood as well as unhealthy patterns that affected our marriage. Praise God for showing me that life could be so much better than I ever imagined. I learned, perhaps for the first time in my life, that I could be responsible for my actions and choose to live a better way. For myself and for Ken. 

5. Be Present. In the end, it won't matter how many Facebook "likes" my profile picture got, or whether I made-it-big, or if I'm popular on Instagram -- what matters is how I treat the people in my life, the people that God has placed along my path and blessed me with. I want to be a great spouse, an amazing mom, a loyal friend - the kind of person who you can call for encouragement, rather than someone who finds out your most important news via social media. A great illustration of being present is how Ken encourages me to put my phone down when we are having quality time, in order to focus on each other - to savor the moment and the conversation we get to partake in, without the whole world listening in. There is a time and place for sharing as well as treasuring things with your spouse and family.

What a marvelous journey we're on!
Happy Anniversary, Babe! 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Our 30-Day Grain-Free Challenge!

Sweet, aromatic flavors waft through our kitchen. A subtle spiciness hangs in the air. Coriander and cumin and cinnamon, with a hint of cayenne. I feel as though I could walk out onto our deck and find myself a few stories about the bustling streets of Marrakesh, breathing in the sights and sounds of people meandering through their open markets, sampling delicious street food. I'd love to go there someday. Until then, I plan on creating as many Moroccan-style meals as I can get my hands on.

Today was one such day, in that I experimented with my first recipe from Danielle Walker's Against All Grain web site: Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken with chopped almonds, apricots and cauliflower "couscous." Recipe here. Warning: this dish is amazing and you will most likely forget that it's completely grain/dairy-free while partaking of it. If I was asked to describe the flavor profile, I'd peg it as buttery, rich and bright - the chicken is initially seared before being placed in the slow-cooker, and then the use of dried apricots, which plump up in the almondy-garlicky-oniony sauce, rounds out the high and low notes. In short, this dish is sumptuous and satisfying. The side of "couscous" is simply shredded cauliflower that's sautéed with handfuls of fresh basil and cilantro and spoonfuls of dried cherries with lemon zest. Incredible - in that way where you want to keep going back for seconds or thirds or spoonfuls or lickfuls. You get the idea. I had our crockpot simmering all afternoon so that when Ken got home from work, we could sit down to this special meal together. The smells were hypnotizing, and helped motivate me through an afternoon with my usually happy 4-month-old who unfortunately, decided that today was not a good day for napping. Mama, on the other hand, would've loved a nap. 

I digress.

Today, I wanted to share some news with you. Ken and I have decided to go on a 30-day Grain-Free Challenge! You see, everyone we know is on some sort of diet (can't eat this or that) and well, that whole "since our friends are jumping off a bridge, we decided to as well" thing - Just Kidding! Er - kinda, sorta. Actually, my older sister and her husband have been living the paleo lifestyle for years and recently, Ken's dad chose to go completely grain-free, and in seeing how great it's been for each of them, we decided that it'd be good to try this thing for ourselves (yet again.) 

For some background, a couple years ago, Ken and I did the "Whole 30 Challenge," a stricter-Paleo diet/cleanse. We meal-planned and cooked tons of meals focused solely on meat and vegetables (see cute picture of me cooking paleo here) and while it went great for the first few days/weeks, I got super, super sick and ended up losing weight mainly because I got tired (and grossed out) by eating so much meat (mainly red meat, sometimes chicken) and then didn't want to eat all. One thing I should share at this point is that my body is not wired for lots of meat consumption. I do much, much better when I'm eating more vegetarian/vegan meals and have meat as a once-a-day thing or every-other-day thing. The same goes for dairy. I can have cheese and dairy products in moderation, but if it turns into a regular thing, my allergies flair up and I just feel icky inside. I guess that my main problem or issue that I struggle with as far as food goes, is my intense love for all things bread-related and sugar-related (and while we're on the topic, cheese-related and bacon-related. Hehe.) I love dessert. I see it as serving a very real purpose. A quick "hit" of sugar and I feel like I can get through the day after not sleeping well with baby. But I can so easily become addicted to sugar once I start having it. It's a drug for me, a coping tool, a comfort, and a dear friend. 

But Sugar and I need to break up for awhile. Go our separate ways, in the hopes that I won't allow it to define my eating patterns. And that is why Ken and I are embarking on this 30-day Grain-Free Challenge. We want to give up processed foods (within reason) and added sugars (again, within reason) and focus on more vegetable-centric meals and snacks. I like a lot of what the Primal Diet says in how to go about that. 

Anyway, all that to say, I would love prayer and support for me/us the next 30 days, as Ken and I try to get back into more healthful living. For those of you who know us well, we have always eaten pretty healthy and enjoyed all things in moderation, but recently we noticed a trend in the wrong direction and want to correct those behaviors. We want our trajectory to change. For me, I want my focus to stop being about what my next treat is (i.e. cookies, ice cream, all-things-yum), and more about what God is doing in my life and how to better steward this body I've been blessed with (by making wiser decisions about what I put in it.) Health is a gift, and I want to take care of myself so that I can better take care of my family. 

Our game plan is simple: no grains (breads, pasta, rice, oats, etc.) and no added sugars (this will be harder since sugar is added to almost everything). Veggies, fruits (in moderation), nuts, oils, meats, and some dairy is A-Ok. We can have one "cheat" meal for special occasions (for example, we're planning on getting sushi for our anniversary next week) or once/week, but we can also choose to go without these things. We're committed to trying this approach, and recognize that in Christ, we can find grace if we fail at any point. Our hope is to succeed at trying this for the whole month!

I plan on blogging about this next month's victories, challenges and my overall progress. I'm curious to see if I can actually 1. stick with this challenge and 2. not eat cookies and stick with this challenge. Haha! 

Check back often on how we are doing and to hear what I think of the grain-free lifestyle, whether the principles are something that we'd like to continue or simply learn from. Also, please feel free to share your favorite grain-free dishes in the comments section or send me a message. Cheers!

Monday, August 10, 2015

4 Months and Counting!

 Hello, my sweet 4-month-old! I proudly whispered to baby girl today, as I cuddled with her in bed, breathing in her fresh scent of milk, and tracing the outline of muscles forming along her dimpled arms and cherubim-like legs. She's growing stronger with each passing week.

Ruby's latest developments include her current obsession with turning over - or trying to, as much as possible throughout the day. The other night, Ken watched baby girl turn over twice. And then yesterday afternoon, Ruby was able to turn from her back to her stomach nearly five times in a row. She isn't quite sure how to get from her belly onto her back again after the initial turn, so I assist her in returning to a comfortable starting point. Baby girl is very active, and tries to put everything in her mouth these days. Rattles, toys, fingers (hers and mine), bibs - everything around her seems equally tasty. I keep checking for teeth but there's no sign of them yet.

Our little one loves to smile and makes all sorts of fun noises throughout the day. Ken and I refer to one such noise as 'the pterodactyl', which is a high pitched scream. Ruby enjoys our daily walks to the nearby park and seems to focus on the trees swaying in the summer breeze. Green might be her favorite color.

Baby girl's hair has changed from light brown to blonde, and her eyes are now a more pronounced hazel-green, with blueish-gray edges. We are so curious to see what color her eyes and hair become and eventually stay, by her first birthday hopefully. She is such a beautiful little girl, loved deeply by family and friends.

This past month, we've been blessed by Ken's mom in coming to watch Ruby for intermittent date nights. Being a mom is a unique and wonderful blessing, and I recognize that in order for me to be great at this new role, I need downtime to recharge and rest (when possible) as well as quality time with Ken. This space during dates has allowed Ken and me to dream together, and consider our goals for the future. Where we might live next, what we'd like to pursue vocationally, and travel ideas - there are so many fun things to discuss as we consider our vision for family, community, and living intentionally.

As Ken and I prepare to celebrate our 5th anniversary in a few weeks, I can't help but praise God for this special season of our lives. We became parents this year to a very special little girl. Ruby, we love you so much.

*In sitting down down to finish this blog entry (writing is something I come back to throughout the day as Ruby allows), Ken got home from work and surprised us with a slice of dark chocolate raspberry cake from one of my favorite bake shops. What a treat. He knows me so well!

Happy 4 months, baby girl!

Monday, July 20, 2015

First Family-of-Three Road Trip: Salmon Fishing on the Kenai!

Spontaneity. A word I've felt far removed from in becoming a parent and yet, with a little forethought and preparation, Ken, Baby and I - along with our rambunctious border collie, Penny - embarked on our first family road trip this weekend! We got wind that "the salmon were running" along the Kenai River and decided it'd be really fun (and potentially challenging with a baby in tow) to try our hand at fishing, specifically dip netting, which is open only to Alaska residents. In a spirit of adventure, Ken put in extra hours at work Monday through Thursday, and we hit the road roughly five hours later than planned on Friday morning. I mentioned that we were bringing our 3-month-old, right? We eased into the drive by grabbing our favorite Starbucks beverages (mine: a tall coconut-milk latte, Ken's: a tall Americano with room, despite the fact that he does not add anything extra into his cup), and filled up our gas tank. Our giant dip net and extension rod firmly tied to the roof of our car, along with countless baby supplies, sandwich fixins', and camping needs stuffed into our car, and we were ready to take on the road ahead. 

The mouth of the Kenai River where we planned to fish is about a three-hour drive from Anchorage with no traffic, and miraculously, baby girl slept the entire drive there, so we made it in about that time. Ironically, that same distance took us about six or seven hours on the way home, as Ruby did not sleep much nor did she enjoy being fastened in her car seat. To accommodate baby, we stopped along scenic lakes and took breaks as needed. 

While in Kenai, we were blessed to stay at our friend's parents' house. We relaxed each evening in the comfort of our room and cooked meals in their lovely kitchen. It felt like a home away from home. It's hard to imagine what it would've been like trying to camp on the beach after so much traveling and fishing, with a baby. Thank you again to our generous hosts! 

I had a blast watching Ken catch his first salmon in the Kenai River, and was equally impressed at his skill in cleaning and filleting the fish he caught. My Alaskan husband! Ruby was very proud of her daddy as well, and enjoyed the extra quality time we got as a family this weekend. Meanwhile, Penny's favorite part of the whole trip was most likely swimming in the lakes and catching sticks. She's easy to please in that regard.

Here are photos from our road trip! The views on this trip were breathtaking. 
(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

3 Month Mark!

Happy 3 Months, baby girl!

Ruby turned three months old last Friday and we marked the occasion by celebrating a friend's wedding. Baby girl is blossoming into quite the talker and on the way home from the wedding, she kept chatting - perhaps in an attempt to share how much she enjoyed herself! She is growing and developing dramatically these days. She loves to smile and clasp her hands and just last week, started giggling. I love her laugh! In the mornings, after her first diaper change, I like to blow raspberries on her belly. She gets such a kick out of that. Ruby has dimples just like her mama, and is growing into a bubbly and social little girl, very curious about the world around her. She also loves to put things in her mouth and suck on her hands, occasionally guiding my hands into her mouth as well. So funny. 

We are curious what color Ruby's eyes will be, as they have changed from blueish gray to a more pronounced green. Her hair has also lightened from medium brown to a light-brown-blonde. She is our little beauty!

Here's a video of Ruby's first father-daughter dance I posted on Vimeo. Click on the underlined link or go here ( and make sure that your volume is turned up. :)