Freckles in April

Monday, January 15, 2018

Less But Better | Brand Recommendations for Quality Clothing

I'm two weeks into a six month spending fast which has made compiling this list a very real test of my fortitude.

Not buying things (and even the prospect of not buying things, since I started thinking about this in November and December) has made me think a lot harder about what I really want to make space for in my home and in my life.

I'm at the point where I want a smaller wardrobe of nicer, well-fitted clothing that will last through years of regular wear. I'm done having babies so I don't expect my size and shape to change much like it did over the past decade of childbearing. I have a little more disposable income so I can shell out for something a little higher quality than your average Forever 21 top. I'm solidly comfortable in my sense of style and have worn essentially the same colors and shapes for several years now.

I want less but better.

(side note: how do you tell if clothing is higher quality? Go through this list! Or this one.)

With this in mind I asked on Instagram what brands people would recommend for higher quality items that were worth a higher price point. I got a lot of really great suggestions as well as requests that I share the list so here we are:


Everlane

I went hard on Everlane when they first opened and then kind of stopped wearing tees for a while and I guess forgot about them? I give my brother-in-law a gift card to Everlane for Christmas and birthdays but never browsed much for myself.

HOWEVER. Everlane is a rockstar combination of quality and good labor practices and they've waaay expanded their offerings. Their small collection of t-shirts has grown to include jeans, dresses, cashmere, shoes, bags and more. They carry solid, classic basics that you can get years of wear out of. There's a LOT of good stuff and I'd really like to try some of their newer options.

Making my credit card fingers itch: this wine colored silk v-neck tank



AG Jeans

Many years ago Reachel Bagley recommended AG Jeans on her blog and I made a mental note. When they showed up on Hautelook (a flash deal site associated with Nordstrom) a few months later I snagged a pair for $74. It was the most I'd ever spent on a pair of jeans and I felt slightly sick about it (I couldn't fathom paying the full $130 price tag) but they have been the best pair of jeans I've ever owned. They were my only pair of jeans for a while and I wore them almost daily. I bought them in April of 2012 and they finally developed a hole in one knee late last year. I added a few more holes to make it look intentional and I'm still wearing them. They haven't stretched out or lost their perfect fit- they still make my backside look fantastic and they look amazing with everything. Quality denim matters.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Farrah Skinny Ankle




Lucky Jeans

Several people mentioned how devoted they are to Lucky brand jeans. I've never tried them but there are stories in my DMs of jeans worn for a decade that still look basically new. Definitely worth giving a try.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Ava Legging



Patagonia

When we were in Tahoe last year we poked our heads into a Patagonia store, choked at the price tags and quickly walked back out. Then Aaron listened to an episode of the podcast "How I Built This" featuring Patagonia's founder and he was so impressed with the company's ethos that we started looking at Patagonia with fresh eyes. They strive to make higher quality products and then they stand by them- they even resell secondhand Patagonia stuff because they want to be environmentally friendly. Their style is pretty different from mine (I only wish I was that outdoorsy) but I'm keeping my eye on their site anyway- at some point I'd really like to pick up one of their fleeces.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Bottom Turn Bikini Top



Boden

There was a woman at church a couple years ago who always wore THE best dresses. One week I finally stopped her in the hall and said, "Ok, all of your dresses are fantastic...where do you shop??" She told me she's addicted to the Boden sale section. I'd heard of Boden but had zero experience with them. Their stuff leans toward the professional but I think there's a little something for everyone. Their dresses are particularly good.

Making my credit card fingers itch: the Jordana Jersey Dress



eShakti

I did some research for this post and eShakti showed up several times as a higher quality brand with good labor practices. I love eShakti- I've worked with them in the past as a blogger and I've also spent my own money on their dresses. Their stuff really is just so so good. I have like 10 of their dresses in my closet and they all look brand new despite a lot of wear. I think their jersey and pima cotton are particularly good, but I've never had a dud from them. Plus: almost everything they make has pockets and you can customize the sleeves, neckline, length, etc. You do have to do some digging to find the good pieces but there's gold in there.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Trapeze Hem Cotton Knit Dress (with 4 neckline, 6 sleeve and 5 length options)




Michael Stars

This was an IG recommendation and one that I'm not personally familiar with but it looks like they carry solid basics. No crazy prints or cuts here, just well-cut pieces that won't go out of style for a good long while.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Short sleeve soft v-neck with pocket



Ann Taylor

I've actually never shopped at Ann Taylor and know very little about it but a handful of people recommended it. In the past they've carried more professional pieces and I haven't worked in an environment that required anything fancy from me wardrobe-wise in....ever. But looking at their website it appears they've branched out a bit and there's more variety in their offerings.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Knit Pencil Skirt



J. Crew

I think J. Crew technically counts as fast fashion, which makes me hesitant to include them but honestly their quality is generally pretty great, even if they're not the most ethical or sustainable brand. J. Crew is really accessible and has product reviews on their site, which I always appreciate. If I'm going to spend $100+ on something then I'd really like to know if other people thought it was worth the money!

Making my credit card fingers itch: Striped short sleeve button-up shirt



Amour Vert

Another brand I have no personal experience with but the fabrics sound divine. I like quite a lot of their tops and I'm dying over most of their jewelry.

Making my credit card fingers itch: the Ariel Top and Gold Bar Necklace





Bead & Reel

A little boutique that carries pieces from 60+ independent designers and focuses on eco-friendly, cruelty free, and sweatshop free styles.

Making my credit card fingers itch: dark blue midi skirt




Banana Republic

Like J. Crew, the Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic empire is definitely more in the fast fashion category. But BR is generally pretty decent quality- their button downs and trenches are particularly good.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Satin Ballerina Criss-Cross Flat



...and sometimes Gap

Quite a few people recommended Gap and every single one did so with a caveat. The Gap is hit or miss- some stuff is really great and some is more along the lines of Old Navy quality. I have a jacket from Gap that I paid full price(!) for almost eight years ago. I wear it constantly and it's still in fantastic shape.

Paris, 2013. It was a couple years old at the time and I still wear it regularly now.

However, in the time I've owned it I've burned through a LOT of other crummy things from Gap. So just be really discerning when you pick up anything from Gap- go through the quality checklist and be picky.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Softspun open-front cardigan





This is obviously by no means a comprehensive list but it's a start if you, like me, want to start accumulating "less but better" clothing. If you have a favorite brand I missed, please share in the comments or through email!
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

2018 Resolutions



For some reason my social media right now is hating on making New Years resolutions (something about living in the now, according to one tweet) and I don't get it. It probably has something to do with my love of lists but I LOVE making resolutions and I look forward to it every December. 

I made resolutions for 2017 and I think I accomplished all of them except one (did not get another piercing due to my current piercings getting all unhappy- I will spare you gory details but my ears are absurdly sensitive).

Here's what I'd like to work on in 2018:

1. Read to my kids more

I've never been good at this but in the last month or so I've started reading aloud to them most evenings and it's amazing how much it improves my kids' overall behavior and also how much we all enjoy it. We're currently reading The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (he wrote the Percy Jackson series) and even my husband is interested in what happens next. It's crazy how often we DON'T have time to read thanks to other commitments but we think we can hit at least 3 evenings a week and hope for more.


2. Keep to our schedule

I'm already good about getting to bed early and waking up early to go to the gym but Aaron recently read The Power of When by Michael Breus and decided he needed to do better as well. Our oldest son struggles with a bit of insomnia so we decided to implement some changes for our whole family to help everyone sleep better and have better days. Starting at dinnertime (6pm) we dim all the lights. We eat dinner by candlelight and, after dinner, I read aloud to everyone (see above) rather than turning on a show. Everyone has a warm shower and kids are in bed by 8. Eliminating bright lights and screens in the evenings has made it so Aaron and I are both pretty ready for sleep by 9:30 at the latest and then we have no problem getting up around 5 and starting our day. We really love this schedule- we crave the quiet and the cozy candlelight of the evening and we look forward to getting so much accomplished in the early morning hours. We got out of the habit while we had company in town for Christmas and we're dying to get back to it. 


The Christmas tree didn't hurt the ambiance at all

3. Go on a spending fast

Every time we go through our finances we cringe a little at how much money we spend. I decided (and made everyone else get on board) that for 6 months we are only going to buy things we have consumed or used up and need to replace. I want us to think a lot harder every time we reach for our credit cards. Plus this will allow us to save up for a summer trip we're trying to plan.


4. Reach out to far-flung friends and family

I made a list of six people I love who live far away. Once a month I'd like to send something small to one of them in the mail. So each person will theoretically get two things in the mail over the course of the year that let them know I love them and I'm thinking about them.


Like these two- my sister and my nephew


5. Take time to be creative

I've had the creative itch for a while but haven't found an outlet. I looked into taking a ceramics class but it was a bit pricier than I wanted. I need to make time and space to create and draw and color and write and photograph to scratch that itch. I have plenty of tools- I just need to use them!


6. Be consistent

I didn't write about this in my original resolutions post but I had a watchword for 2017: Discipline. It's like the least fun thing ever but I wanted to "do things that need to be done, when they need to be done, regardless of whether or not I want to do them." Sometimes this meant gritting my teeth and repeating "discipline discipline discipline discipline" while I did laundry or cooked dinner or got up early to go to the gym. Before too long, however, discipline became a habit. It became natural to just do the things that needed to be done and it took less mental energy to make myself do things. Discipline, for me, was the key to an organized and happy life in 2017.

This year my watchword is consistency. There are some things I'm really consistent at and they're mostly things that have to do with taking care of my own self: I consistently work out, eat healthy, go to bed and wake up early, etc. I am less consistent in: my parenting, my housekeeping, tracking our finances, and probably a lot of other things I haven't thought of yet. The ideas and systems are mostly there but I'm not consistent about implementing them. For example, Aaron and I worked out a system of consequences for our kids a long time ago (mean to your brother? do an act of service for him) but I always forget it's there and end up just yelling at them instead which is obviously SUPER effective. So I'd like to be a more consistent person- consistent in taking care of myself, consistent in taking care of my kids, consistent in my laundry, consistent in doing good things that improve our lives and help us all to be healthy and happy.


Are you a resolution maker? What are you hoping to accomplish in the new year?


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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

9 Pretty Christmas Dress Options for Women

I haven't bought myself a Christmas dress in ages but this year I got the itch and I've been online window shopping like crazy. Here are nine (+3!) options for a variety of tastes and budgets:

Velvet Crush

To be honest I wasn't on board with the velvet trend until I started shopping for Christmas dresses and then I was like SIGN ME UP. When I sent screenshots of velvet dresses to some friends, opinions were decidedly split. Some are super on board and all kinds of heart-eyed over it and others are like, nope did this when I was 8 hard pass. So if you fall more into the former camp than the latter, here are 3 I love:
1. Shop Henly | This deep cranberry wrap dress is to. die. for.
2. eShakti | Dark floral is perfect for Christmas but still works all fall and winter long.
3. ASOS | I can't pull off kimono style dresses despite MULTIPLE attempts but gaaah I adore the silhouette and this color.

I ordered this one from SheIn to try. My expectations are reeeeal low but the reviews are good and the price was right so why not. I will likely report back on my IG story.


LBD Forever

I have a couple friends who wear exclusively black. They always look super chic while openly admitting that they're just really lazy and an all-black wardrobe makes life easier. If you're of the opinion that black is perfect for all situations at all times of year, or you just really like the ease of a LBD, here are a few options for you:



4. eShakti | Apparently statement sleeves are like A Thing right now. Mostly I'm meh about that idea but these bell sleeves caught my fancy. I love that they're on a shift, which is theee best style for hiding the food baby we're all carrying around this time of year.
5. ASOS | tbh I love tuxedo anything. I'd 100% wear this dress with its structured top and drapey bottom and perfect satin lapels and I'd look dang good doing it.
6. SheIn | For people who are like I AM NOT ASHAMED OF MY FOODBABY. But seriously, I love the clean, classic shape and tall lace at the hem. A classy dress for classy broads who like paying only $15 for their holiday wear.


Plaid is Rad

Plaid (and buffalo check) is my jam. I've had this one red plaid shirt for years (it's appeared here a bunch but, because I am terrible at labeling my pictures, I can't find it) that I still get a TON of wear out of. I just love the way it looks with jeans or a leather skirt or, lets be honest, my sweatpants. Anyway, if you are similarly enamored, here are some lovely plaid choices:



7. eShakti | It's like DRAMA but in PLAID, you know? Also, if you haven't bought from eShakti before you may not know that you can add sleeves, change a hem or neckline, etc. I have no fewer than TEN of their dresses in my closet. The quality is fantastic, the fit is excellent, I am a super fan. They are not paying me to say any of that- legit unsponsored raving.
8. Shop Henly | Basically pajamas and I am here for it.
9. J Crew Factory | A woman from our church wore a super similar dress last week and paired it with a cream colored tasseled scarf and sparkly jewelry I probably scared her with how quickly I grabbed her arm like WHERE DID YOU GET EVERYTHING YOU ARE WEARING. Her dress was old from Anthro but totally doable from other, less pricey sources.


BONUS: I prefer skirts, TBH

I got you, boo.



10. Gap | My thoughts on sequin skirts: I got one on clearance a few years back because I couldn't bring myself to pay full price for something that I would only wear a few times a year. But I gotta tell ya- I LOVED pulling that skirt out around Christmas and NYE. If you fancy a sequin skirt, my dear, you should get a sequin skirt.
11. ASOS | Remember the Bride Seen Around the Pinterest World in her white tulle wedding dress with a plaid shirt on top? Do your own take with this ethereal little number (or really, just go look at allll the pretty tulle skirt options on ASOS right now and think of all the dreamy outfits you could create)
12. SheIn | I've come back to look at this skirt a handful of times. I love the windowpane print. The fuller shape makes it a bit fancier. It'd be perfect with a crisp button down, a glittery bracelet and some killer black heels.

Honorable mentions because I forgot how much time it takes to put together images for posts like this and I want to go do something else: ModCloth has some really good plaid skirt choices this year. I don't love lace but I'm pretty into this textured number from Called to Surf. Amazon kept recommending this Gatsby-esque dress and the more I look at it the more I like it so there's a fancy option for ya.

I think there are some pretty big gaps in the market though- very few good options in Christmas green or in a large scale classic red and black buffalo check, BOTH of which I am interested in (and was last year as well, to no avail). Get on it, clothing makers!!

Are you getting a Christmas dress this year? Let's see it!

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow What Could be Done Today. Or, How I Stay Sane During the Holidays

From our 2013 visit to Chicago and the Christkindlmarket


I spent years feeling vaguely discontented by the holiday season. Since I became an adult it feels like I have never had enough time to really get into the spirit of it. The Christmas activities I really wanted to do often got dropped just because we never got around to them. I often thought about things a hair too late to actually get them done (looking at you, neighbor gifts). It all seemed rushed and unsatisfying.

When my oldest was a baby I decided it would help a lot if all the gifts were bought and wrapped by the time December rolled around. I've gotten really good at this over the years- I have a spreadsheet with everyone I need to buy for that I re-use every year. I start keeping my eye open for gift options in July and usually have half my list covered by the end of October. I finish the rest of my Christmas shopping in November and get it all wrapped before December 1st. It takes a lot of the stress off! But it didn't go quiiite far enough.

with the siblings at the Mesa temple lights. Which we didn't even get to a couple years ago because..it just never happened.


At some point I started using the first week of November as my holiday planning and prep week. This makes the entire holiday season SO MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE for me. I'm not stressed. Everything gets done. I get to do all the extras I want to do. It's amazing how much it helps me get in the right groove.

Here's how it works for me:

I sit down sometime during the first week of November and write two lists: things that I need to do for the holidays and things I want to do. I break each item down into individual to-do lists and then I do as much as humanly possible that week. Could it be done later? Sure. But why put it off if I can get it done now when life isn't as crazy?

Here's what my list looks like this year-

NEED TO DO
Thanksgiving
-email families- who is hosting? [me]
-plan menu [created Pinterest board]
-make side dish assignments for parents and in-laws [check!]
-plan decor [went to Michael's, got garlands for 80% off]
-Ask mom about china

Family Photos
-Schedule with Aaron [doing these Saturday!]
-Coordinate outfits [we had almost everything, only had to buy a sweater for The Caboose]

Christmas Cards
-Send out address request [I use a google form and sheet to collect addresses every year. I post the form on FB, people fill it out and it auto-adds their info to my sheet. It makes life easy]
-Get family photos done
-Order cards
-Order Christmas stamps  [we're doing Snowy Day this year]
-Address and mail by Dec 1

Gifts
-check spreadsheet [I use the same spreadsheet every year so I can see what I've done in years past and what I've traditionally spent on each person/family]
-gifts still needed: [made a list of the people who still need gifts]
-Shop! [between Amazon and a local fall boutique, I'm almost done! Just a couple people left]
-Buy gift wrap (TJ Maxx?)

Christmas Meals
- Get together with parents and in-laws to figure out who is doing what and where [this can wait a bit...I already bombarded them with Thanksgiving related emails and they need a breather before I attack them with Christmas Eve and day meal planning. But it's on my radar!]


WANT TO DO
Outdoor Christmas movie?
-ask Aaron if technically possible [still figuring this out]

Schedule Christmas Activities
-temple lights
-Favorite things party with Alta Mesa girls [scheduled!]
-Train park lights with neighbors [scheduled!]
-Christmas Performance of some sort [Found a local Nutcracker performance, bought tickets]
-Kids ornament making party [scheduled and got a Pinterest board started!]
-Aquarium with cousins when they're in town [scheduled!]
-Look into service opportunities

Neighbor Gifts
-Get molasses cookie recipe from mom
-Make list of neighbors [done!]


I did 90% of this during one naptime. If you look at the list, most of it involved a little focused computer time and some texting with friends and family. A few things need their own dedicated to-do lists before they happen but at least I've gotten the ball rolling and I won't be scrambling at the last minute to get things done (or have to cut something out altogether). I feel totally ready to enjoy the heck out of this Thanksgiving and Christmas season and I'm really looking forward to the things I have scheduled.

Do you have any special tips or tricks for making the holidays go more smoothly? Share in the comments! 




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Monday, July 10, 2017

Marriage After a Mormon Faith Transition

Twelve years ago today a tall, skinny, smart guy (totally my type) asked me for my email address after sacrament meeting at church. You can read more about that here but in honor of the anniversary of the day I met my husband I thought I'd share this post.

My college friend Celeste has an excellent blog devoted to marriage and several years ago she asked me to write a guest post for her about how my marriage survived my change of faith. I had been out of the church for about a year at that point and finally felt like we had reached a happy place. I stand by the post I wrote back then but I've updated it a bit to reflect a couple more years worth of experience and the "new normal" we've settled into. 





When I went through my faith transition I think the thing that scared me the most was that I might lose my husband. We went into our marriage being on the same page and then, over the course of a year or two, it's like I jumped into a completely different book. When we were talking about getting engaged I clearly remember him asking me if I could commit to a life of service to God in our church. At the time I though, "Well of course! I mean, what else would I be doing?" I was raised in our church and couldn't fathom that my faith would ever change.

But my faith DID change. I went from a fully believing Mormon to a questioning Mormon to an agnostic ex-Mormon over the course of about 4 years. It wasn't until the last 6 months of my struggle prior to leaving our church that I even talked to my husband about it. I wasn't sure where to even START and I had heard too many stories of couples in similar situations who ended up divorcing. I was terrified. 

Fortunately I married a good man who loves me even though I couldn't hold to that promise I made so many years before. He told me that it would be silly of him to expect me to never grow and change from the person I was at age 20.

One of the most important things we've done to maintain our marriage during my faith transition is TALK. I try to explain why I find certain things painful or uncomfortable, or I explain the ways in which my understanding has changed, and he listens and asks good questions. He tells me about the good and positive things he sees in the church while I listen and acknowledge that good. We've always been decent at communicating with each other but we've gotten really good at it in the past couple years. 

Aaron's nonjudgmental listening and question-asking are the best things he could have done for me as I struggled. I was feeling so tender and raw and he was earnestly trying to understand where I was coming from rather than convince me of his point of view or change my mind. I knew he was hurting from my changes in belief but he never put that on me or pointed fingers. He has defended me and bolstered me all along the way.



Conversely, I try to be supportive of his continued belief. He finds peace and joy in the church and I have no desire to rob him of those feelings by pushing my own agenda. I attend sacrament meeting with him and our kids every other week. I haven't pushed my beliefs on him and he hasn't pushed his on me. We've let each other be and focused on love. We're far from perfect at it, but we are really trying.

To other couples in a similar situation, this is my advice:

1. Practice GOOD communication. This means no accusing or blaming. Try to understand your spouse before you try to make them understand you. Make your peace with the fact that you probably won't change each other's minds. Talk with the goal of understanding, not converting. Find common ground wherever possible. 

2. Remember that life goes on...and it will look pretty much the same. It may feel like a monumental shift has happened in your home but then you'll realize that you're still going about your day-to-day life and watching Parks & Recreation together while eating Oreos and it's all fairly normal. If you're worried about how much things are going to change you may find comfort in the fact that things probably won't change that much. 

^I got a lot of pushback on this point when my post first went up over 2 years ago and I'd like to edit and say that individual mileage may vary. I heard a lot of stories about spouses who lost their faith and became alcoholics and adulterers. In those cases I'd like to refer to point number 3 below. 

Also, commenters made the point that the husband leaving the Mormon church affects the family a lot more than the wife leaving due to no longer having the priesthood in the home. Side-eye at institutional gender inequality but yes, I understand that point as well and how that adds an extra layer of complications. But, unless your husband was the type to give daily priesthood blessings or something, I'll still argue that your day-to-day won't change much and I think there's a lot of comfort in that. The big days (baptisms, wedding, etc.) will be hard but they're not easy at our house either (maybe someday I'll write about the weirdness of my son's baptism day). Please check out point 4.

3. It's ok to seek professional help. Aaron and I managed to wade through and figure things out on our own but I kept the number of a marriage therapist handy just in case. Going by what I've seen in my interactions with other people who have left the church but have believing spouses, therapy is pretty common and extremely helpful. [edit: I ended up going on my own]

4. Find your balance. Compromise. Bend. Find middle ground together. We have Family Home Evening as often as we ever did (which is to say, not often) but we have it on secular topics like "how to identify and handle your emotions" and "conflict resolution." Scripture and prayer still happen most nights but it's usually just Aaron and our 7-year-old who participate. My family attends church regularly and I go to sacrament meeting with them every other week. Aaron goes to the temple once a month, usually in the early morning hours so he's not leaving me alone with crazy kids at the witching hour after work, which would definitely make me resentful. Set boundaries for what's ok and what's not and make sure that you're being reasonable. No one ever wants to give ground but if you want your marriage to work then you're going to have to. This might mean attending church sometimes with your believing spouse or not freaking out if your ex-mo spouse goes out for a drink with friends occasionally. 

I'd like to point out that this takes time. Possibly a LOT of time. I left the church over 3 1/2 years ago and our balance took a long time to settle. It still shifts occasionally when someone's needs change or there's something we think we can do better.

5. You CAN make it work. I think one of the most helpful things for me was seeing that other people had come through the same thing and were happily making it work. It was proof that we could do it. You're going to have to discuss and compromise and reevaluate and then discuss some more but you'll get there. Finally, at some point you'll look at your spouse and realize, "Hey...we're doing this. And we're ok!" It will always require that you work together, but isn't that the very heart of marriage?

Edit: Sadly, both couples that I was referring to in my last point have since divorced. However, I'm past the point of needing to see other couples making it work in order to have faith in my own marriage. WE are making it work. Honestly, we're about as happy as we ever were before when I was a believing Mormon. We have rough patches but they're the same issues we dealt with before that are mostly due to the fact that I'm prickly and he's a bit clueless. Normal marriage stuff unrelated to religious conflict. We've gotten to a point where church doesn't come up much anymore. He quietly lives his faith in the same way he always has and I barely think about church at all except for when I wake up every other Sunday morning and realize I should probably wash my hair. I'm respectful of his faith and we've been able to find compromise and common ground when it comes to issues that pop up. 

My point is: it's doable. If you're still at the beginning wondering how on earth you're going to make it work, I want to reassure you that you can. It gets easier. Feelings become less raw. Expectations adjust. Everyone sort of settles in and makes some sort of peace with the situation. It takes time but if you're both willing to work at it then you can get there.





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