Our Humble (and Temporary) Abode

I mentioned a couple of posts back that my husband Matt and I are living in communal housing that is provided by his employer. I thought I'd give you some more deets about this interesting situation.

As I said previously, it's a decent-sized older home in deeply rural Illinois. The property is located several miles away from main roads, and the house itself sits in the midst of a gorgeous, wooded, natural preserve. Lush green trees canopy the front yard while the backyard and the forest converge into a peaceful retreat perfect for birding and thoughtfully sipping tea.

It's pretty perfect.

Aside from the communal part. And the fact that we can't decorate the interior however we want. Oh, and and the cable and Internet do go in and out unreliably.

Anyway, since it is communal, we're currently sharing the house with two other guys, both of whom are ornithologists, like my husband (He's the crew leader; the three of them head out around 5:00 each morning to survey the birds in a few nearby state parks). Having four people in the house isn't bad, but of course, we have limited privacy. The wonderfully serene silence of the house unfortunately enables everyone to hear every word, cough, or poot emitted within its walls.

But hey, the kitchen has two refrigerators. That's pretty awesome.

Matt and I share one while the guys share the other. So it's kind of like having our own place.

And though the other guys have bunk beds, we are fortunate enough to share a full bed in our own bedroom. This was the photo I posted before:

We've gotten more settled since then and have crammed the tight little space to capacity:

My side. A homemade soy candle, a framed engagement pic, and IKEA artwork make it feel homier.
Matt's side. The plastic drawers by the nightstand show just how thoroughly we've utilized every available nook and cranny for maximum storage ability.
A window curtain, a $3 bird print from Walmart, a case full of books, and personal photos and mementos make it ours. As does Matt's insane board game collection.
It's quite a short commute to our home office. 

That's it. Our wall-to-wall tour. As you might assume from these photos, it is often a challenge to move from one side of the room to the other (so many knee and shin bruises from running into the bedposts). But who cares? We have a comfortable, rent-free, shared living space. We're together. It's our first bedroom as husband and wife. So it really has that going for it.

But, like the post title says, it's only temporary. Matt's job is through August. There's a chance the university could renew him for another year, but we won't know until his current post ends.

So. Yes. That puts us in a weird and uncertain place. We have no idea where we'll be at the end of the summer, which makes it very difficult for me to pursue work at this point. I don't want to begin the tedious process of obtaining an Illinois nursing license if we're only going to be here for two more months, you know? And there is always non-licensed work, but the pay will be around minimum wage, and the long commute from the house to the nearest town may not be worth it. It's easy for me to stress over this, but I'm trying to stay calm and trust that God will open up the right doors for us soon.

Matt had an interview in early May for a more permanent job in Missouri (a three-year crew leader position with benefits!!!), but we're still waiting to hear something. And I admit, as the wait continues, our anxiety rises. In the meantime, we've locked away our credit cards, composed a strict monthly budget, and put a cash envelope system into practice for our spending. Hopefully we'll find work soon, but if not, we want to be as financially prepared as we can be.

That's it for now. Keep us in your prayers as we seek steady employment!

Wedding DIY: How I Saved Mega Dollars on Wedding Flowers

Just after Matt proposed (on December 25, 2014), one of the first and most important decisions we made together was that we would not go into debt just to put on an elaborate show for our wedding day. 

As preposterous as it sounds, in 2014, CNN reported that the average American couple spends nearly $30,000 on their big day. Since the majority of these people are likely young recent graduates with a pile of student loan debt and no solid career, it is safe to say most couples don't have $30,000 stashed away somewhere to be doled out freely on an extravagant wedding. Therefore, to live up to the American "standard"- a $2,000+ dress, large wedding party, catered reception, live band- everyone simply swipes the ol' credit cards. And consequently digs a pit of financial despair from which their marriage will struggle to recover from Day #1.

This thought sickened both of us. We are both practical, level-headed people, and the last thing we wanted was to begin our life together with a new mountain of debt, especially when the primary reason for doing so was to keep up with Joneses.

We wanted our wedding to be a real, simple reflection and celebration of who we are as a couple, and from the get-go, we had a strong desire to include as many personal and handmade elements as we could. Once we began looking into the actual prices of wedding stuff, especially venues and photographers, we realized, painfully, that the DIYs we initially desired to do were now a necessity

So, we went through a list of all the wedding "requirements" and selected the things we could tackle ourselves. One of these: flowers. 

TheKnot says you can expect to spend about 10% of your wedding budget on flowers. If you're throwing a $30,000 soiree, that's $3,000. For flowers. That sounds like a stretch, but I checked with our local florists, and the bride's bouquet alone will run you about $200-$350. And this was in small-town Alabama. 

I had never done any kind of floral work before, but I suddenly found myself fiercely determined to do all of my wedding flowers. And instead of experimenting first with something small, I jumped into my bouquet. 

First, I hit up Pinterest for ideas. Knowing my colors would be green, white, and brown, and that we were doing an earthy, nature-themed wedding, I searched for "natural green and white bouquets". Of the dozens I pinned to my secret wedding boards, here are the two I used primarily for inspiration:

After reviewing my "Flowers" board, I made notes of what kinds of flowers I tended to pin repeatedly. I found myself continually drawn to white hydrangeas, baby's breath, white ranunculus, eucalyptus, dried lotus pods, and willow, so I made a list of those. 

Then I waited for Hobby Lobby's 50% Off Floral Stems Sale. 

Sure, I got a bit of judgment from family and friends when I told them I had decided to DIY my bouquet with artificial flowers from Hobby Lobby, but again, I was determined to succeed. Hobby Lobby has some very natural-looking individual floral stems, but they typically run about $4.99-$8.99 per stem. This is why it's important to wait for the 50% sale, which happens every other week.

Admittedly, I didn't  know how many individual stems I needed to make a bouquet, so I just picked out several and got started to see how far they went. I found lots of greenery I liked, and some other white fillers, and real dried lotus pods. I also got floral tape and wire cutters, and altogether, the supplies were around $120. Then I took everything home, spread it out across my bed, and got to work.

Since, as I said, I had no experience working with flowers, I found a couple of video tutorials on YouTube that gave me a place to start. I also pulled up my inspiration photos on my laptop screen for reference.

Even with this guidance, I didn't know what I was doing, so I just kept building my bouquet, wrapping it with tape, sighing with frustration, and taking it apart to start over. But I was pleased with the results on my fourth or fifth try. 

Since the wedding was still months away, I put it in a vase to keep it upright, and I covered it with a plastic Target bag to keep it from getting dusty. 

Later, after waiting for Hobby Lobby to mark their ribbon 50% off, I wrapped the stems of the bouquet with ribbon and inserted pearl-topped pins to hold it in place. I also found this adorable TARDIS charm on Amazon for $8.99 to be my "something blue", a special, significant little detail I loved since Matt built me a TARDIS and gave me the key in place of a ring

All in all, my bridal bouquet cost about $60, and it was exactly what I wanted. 

I didn't stop with my bouquet, though. Using the same technique- and the leftover, unused flowers I'd purchased for my bouquet, I made a small bouquet for my maid of honor (We didn't have bridesmaids or groomsmen; just a maid of honor, my sister, and a best man, his best friend). 

I planned to stop there and consult Etsy for the corsages for the mothers and grandmothers and boutonnieres for the groom, best man, fathers, and grandfathers, but holy poop, even the least expensive ones on Etsy were $12 each. That would have been almost $200, when I knew, after making the bouquets, that I could do the corsages and boutonnieres for less than $50. 

But actually, I had enough clippings left over from my bouquet to make them all without buying more flowers. So, the total cost for my wedding flowers was around $120

Groom and best man boutonnieres
My handsome groom wearing his boutonniere

Aside from the saved money, there are two other notable benefits to using artificial flowers: 

1) you can work with them months before the wedding (no worries about wilting or stressful bouquet-making the day before or, heaven forbid, the day of!)

2) your bouquet is already dried and preserved forever! 

I would highly recommend DIYs like this one to anyone out there who is crafty, creative, and looking to save some money on her big day. There are plenty of tutorials and inspiration out there to guide you along the way (and who knows, I might even put one up eventually). 

On the other side of my wedding day, I can truthfully say that the things I love most about our wedding were the things we spent hours crafting ourselves. These details were the things that made our wedding ours, and remembering the time, effort, energy, and creativity we had put into them made them so much more meaningful.

Keep that in mind if you decide to tackle this yourself!