We are millennials, storytellers, and wedding photographers. We are high-school sweethearts who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. After college we moved to Baltimore and eventually started a photography business now called Liz & Ryan. Almost six years later, with more than 100 weddings captured, we realized that there is a lot of hype surrounding weddings, but not a lot of hype surrounding marriages. With hopes of putting a little more attention back on marriages and love stories, we created the Amazing Life Together website. It is now a platform to share love stories and open the lines of communication about marriage, celebrating the good times and acknowledging the challenging times from which we can learn so much. Throughout this year, you can find us traveling the country in an RV as part of our Amazing Marriage Adventure, a mission to document and share as many stories of real couples as possible throughout the country and the world. We start our adventure with four local couples at various stages of life and marriage.
Emily Wolf & Kristine Salerno
Wed: July 19, 2014
What is your love story?
Emily: We met while Kristine was working at a nursery school in the city, and I was a nanny during graduate school for one of her students. I would come in and get the daily report from Kristine. It was about a year later we were out separately with friends at a bar. I saw her and went over and tapped her on the shoulder.
Kristine: We’ve been together ever since. I always thought I should end up in a relationship where you think fate brought you together. We met once and were brought back together, so in my mind we were meant to be.
Emily: We had both talked about getting married. We both knew that was something we wanted. There wasn’t really ever a question about not being together.
What is your favorite thing about being married?
Emily: It is very important to us that we live in a time and place where we were able to legally get married. We recognize that not everyone has this same opportunity and will continue to support marriage equality for everyone. At this point, though, it has been amazing to experience the love and support we have received from family, friends, and even strangers as we made this life-long commitment. I think one of the things that has been important to us as we got engaged and did all the planning and were able to get married was talking about how important it was that we could be legally married. And, on top of that, we had so much support. We talked to every vendor and we never had an issue whether they would work with us.
Kristine: That was always something that was in the back of my mind, and, luckily, we had an amazing experience. We were welcomed everywhere we went, and that was really refreshing and supportive.
What has been the biggest key to the success of your marriage so far?
Emily: We have always been good at communicating with each other. It’s not always perfect, but we can usually express ourselves and listen to each other in a productive way. Also, we love to laugh together!
Tell us a little bit about your wedding day.
Kristine: For me it was just such a blur, and I remember sunlight, and flashes of color, and then seeing her, and then trying not to look out into the crowd to see all our guests. Afterwards, we had so many people tell us that they were just bawling the whole time, so I am glad I didn’t look out into the crowd or I would have just lost it.
Emily: We also wrote our own vows and it was a little bit nerve racking, and it took Kristine some convincing.
Kristine: Convincing was . . . ‘Are we going to write our own vows?’ And then, a little while later, she came back and asked, ‘Do you still want to write your own vows, because we kind of have to, because I already wrote them!’ But I am glad we did.
What is the one moment that stands out in your mind as the best moment of your day?
Kristine: Just before the father-daughter dances, the DJ got on the mic and said, ‘Your father needs a little bit of practice.’ So I thought, ‘Okay this is weird, are we going to practice dancing?’ I had played softball my entire life growing up, and my dad was my coach, so he pulled a bag out from behind the DJ’s table, and it had my childhood glove and hat and his glove and hat, and we had a catch before the dance.
Has the start of married life been different than you expected?
Emily: Honestly, neither of us expected there to be much of a change in our life once we were married, but we were pleasantly surprised by some of the ‘newness’ to our relationship. It is hard to explain, but we both agree that being married has deepened our relationship.
What has been the hardest part about combining your lives?
Emily: One of our challenges has been making time for both of our families. Since we celebrate holidays and vacations together, we have both had to sacrifice some of our personal family traditions and plans in order to accommodate both families. It’s not the worst problem to have, just more people to love.
THE NEW PARENTS
Tony & Stevie Oliver
Wed: April 5, 2013
How did you meet?
Tony: I was working on the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and was in charge of the art department. We were in Baltimore building a home in the summer of 2010. Stevie was chosen to photograph the families involved in the episode. The whole crew loved her so much that they asked her to participate in the next build a week later. We didn’t talk much during either of those builds, but I definitely noticed this cute girl walking around set with crazy red hair and a big-ass camera around her neck. Three weeks later, the show did a build in Nashville, and Stevie was asked to come to that one as well to photograph the family. The last night we were in town, we went out on our first date.
Stevie: And got tacos. From there, he flew to California, and I flew back to Maryland.
Tony: We dated long-distance for nine months until I took the leap and moved to Maryland.
What has been your biggest challenge as a married couple?
Stevie: We are both self-employed and have our own businesses, which makes it really hard to separate work-life from personal life. So we both feel like we are always working, and it’s hard to turn that off and just focus on each other.
What has been your happiest or most exciting moment as a married couple?
Stevie: Our baby girl, Rosie, was born on February 13, 2014. She has turned our world upside down in the most wonderful way. We can’t imagine our lives without her.
What does married life look like now?
Stevie: It’s crazy. We were practically newlyweds when Rosie was born, so we are still trying to get the hang of it and learn new things every day. We stay up way too late, working after Rosie has gone to bed.
Tony: So our evenings end up being us sitting with our laptops doing e-mails next to each other.
What is one story you would want to pass on to your future grandchildren?
Stevie: When we had our first apartment together in Havre de Grace, we sat on the porch while it rained harder than I had ever seen it rain before. Tony grabbed my hand and said ‘Ready?’ and then we jumped off the porch into the rain and ran through the empty street. We were completely soaked in five seconds and it was the kind of rain that was so hard it takes your breath away. We could barely see, but we laughed so hard. I want to be able to tell our grandkids when we are old and arthritic . . .
Tony: . . . that their grandpa is crazy.
Do you have any other fun stories to share about your marriage and life together?
Stevie: We have had an exciting time together through Tony’s TV jobs and our many travels. It will be fun to talk to our kids and grandkids about overnight train rides from Germany to Paris and having lunch with Oprah.
What is your best advice for young engaged or newlywed couples?
Tony: Talk about finances. Get on the same page with your debt and financial goals immediately. We talk about money a lot, and it’s so nice to be able to work together as a team.
What has been the biggest key to the success of your marriage?
Stevie: Laughter and communication. Hands down! Tony is the best listener, and he really helps me put it all into perspective when we talk it all through. And being able to laugh at yourself is so important.
What is one thing about being a new parent that you wish you knew before becoming pregnant?
Tony: I complain that parenthood is so idealized and stylized in the media. Nobody tells you how hard the adjustment is. I thought I was the most patient guy in the world, and it turns out that’s not true. Our relationship is really strong, thankfully, and we both encourage each other when we see the other person needs it.
Stevie: I wasn’t quite prepared for the adjustment of being a mother and how quickly you are expected to adapt to your new role and jump right back into regular life. I wish I had been a little more prepared for post-partum depression and anxiety and to remember to make my own well-being a priority.
What do you do to keep the focus on each other and your relationship in addition to being new parents?
Stevie: We try to make each other laugh. A lot. Having a sense of humor about all the new challenges has really helped us feel closer. And we try to remember that we are a team first.
THE GOLDEN YEARS
Donald and Brigitte Manekin
Wed: June 26, 1976
How did you meet, and what is your love story?
Donald: It really is an incredibly special story to tell. Some very good friends of mine had an au pair for the summer. And they called one evening and said, ‘We’ve had this incredible young woman with us for the summer and she is leaving in a week. Would you like to come over and have dinner?’ So I went over there for dinner, and we went out two more nights that week. Brigitte went back to France and we became pen pals, and we wrote to each other pretty regularly. Brigitte came back a second summer, and we had made these great plans to live together in another year. And sometime after Brigitte left, I received a ‘Dear John’ letter. I was absolutely devastated. And then she continued to write these pen pal sort of letters. I responded, ‘It’s a little hard after being lovers to be friends.’ Then Brigitte said, ‘Aren’t you coming to France at Christmastime?’ So I jumped on a plane, and we spent two weeks together in France. We got married in June. So the courtship was about 45 days in total over a two-year period of time. These long courtships . . . I don’t think they are necessary; I think you know pretty quickly.
What were some of the things you did when you were dating?
Donald: Dating was fairly impromptu. I had a little yellow Volkswagen at the time, we drove out to the Green Spring Valley and parked under the trees and watched the stars and connected. There wasn’t a lot of time. We just had to do as many things as we could because it was a ticking clock until Brigitte would have to return to France.
What was your wedding like?
Brigitte: We got married in France, on the hottest summer ever at the time. It was a very small wedding, only 15 Americans had come. It was absolutely beautiful; we got married in our garden under a hazelnut tree, near an old well. And then my mother and father took everyone traveling for a week through France.
Donald: In her village, there’s maybe 700 people, everyone literally paraded around town, and all the people that lived in the town were out on their steps watching. We went into the justice of the peace and signed this document and then went back and family and friends said vows for us and we said our own vows . . . I really feel like we were married by all the right people . . . family and friends who we had grown up with . . . my father and Brigitte’s dad. It was really very special.
What did the early stages of your marriage look like?
Donald: We didn’t waste a lot of time between being married and having children. We wanted to have a big family. It was remarkable because this was really what Brigitte’s gift was, to raise a terrific family.
Brigitte: There was an adjustment. I had given up everything that I knew, and I was very young.
What are some of the values in your marriage that you’ve tried to pass down to your kids?
Brigitte: We wanted them to have faith in themselves—to be kind to others. That they don’t come first. That the world is not just what they see, there is something beyond that, there is other culture.
Donald: We weren’t really lecturers to our kids about how to live life, they learned by our examples and the examples of our friends. I don’t think there was a lesson plan, it was just how we lived our lives and how we spoke to each other, how we spoke to the kids, how we spoke to the neighbors, how we reached out to the larger world.
What were some of the biggest challenges in your marriage?
Donald: Over the years, there have been some different illnesses that have affected us. In that particular case, you are in that moment. Your life changes, it becomes a different priority, a different focus. I think those are the pieces that separate good marriages from great marriages. When you can say there is something here that is beyond our control.
How have the stages of life shaped and changed your marriage?
Brigitte: We have not yet stepped into the empty nest syndrome. We have bypassed that all together and are now full-time grandparents helping parent our grandkids. And that’s the beauty of life! For me, being a mom has been the easiest thing I could have ever done and has given me the most joy. And as a couple, it’s the joy of having done that together.
Donald: We are remarkably fortunate because all of our children and grandchildren live in Baltimore. One of the pieces that we talk about often is that there are so many places to see and enjoy. I do think that Brigitte and I are now in the place to discover so many places in the world. Our kids are in great places, and they have great children of their own. Our worlds have been centered around our children and grandchildren until this point.
How has life as a married couple been different from what you expected?
Brigitte: I was so extraordinarily young. I went from being a student for a couple of years to being married. And stepping into this role was just easy. It was my temperament, I believe, that made me have no struggle with it. The biggest struggle was adapting to the language and culture that I had to learn and embrace.
Donald: I’m not sure I could have done what Brigitte did. To literally pick up and leave everything that is familiar to come to a country where she had spent only 45 days with the person she was going to spend the rest of her life with. I am not sure I would have had the same backbone. Having said that, I am so happy that she did.
Brigitte: There is something so special about the beginning that is so fresh, so enchanting. There is a world out there for you that you are going to build. And being so aware of it and in touch with it that you are crafting it moment by moment. And then, as the years go by, to not lose that, everyday is new. In this new moment today, what is fresh?
What is your best advice for engaged couples?
Donald: As you go through those stages in life of work and play and children . . . don’t ever lose the piece you started with. Holding hands, walking from place to place together, accepting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There will be so many things that change, but don’t lose the character and blessings that you had in the stage when everything was just totally blissful, it will get you through some tough times.
Brigitte: Remember where you come from, there is a foundation, this is not a sandcastle. Go back to it when it is hard. Otherwise it’s so easy to just throw your arms up and say, ‘This is pointless. This isn’t the same person,’ and give up.
Donald: And the beauty of it is, this isn’t the same person. You work through your biggest fears and figure out how to get through it. The little pieces that remind you where you started from are really special.
LIFETIME OF LOVE
Albert Joseph and Giovanna Maria Aquia Blattermann
Wed: October 30, 1964
How did you meet?
Giovanna: We met in Little Italy where some of the boys wanted to form a girl’s softball team and, during the course of the formation, they asked Albert to come manage and coach the team. I ended up becoming his second baseman.
What are some of your favorite dating memories?
Giovanna: We all hung out together; you didn’t know who was with each other. It was a lot easier for us in those days because we didn’t have vehicles like the kids have today. So we had to do everything around the community and with our friends. It was a simpler time, a date could just be sitting on the step.
How did you propose?
Albert: I just asked her to marry me; it was very simple.
Giovanna: This is funny. Boop . . . I was pregnant! He kind of didn’t have a choice. In those days, wow, you got pregnant, it was kind of like The Scarlet Letter.
Albert: Her mother went bananas! ‘Oh my god, what are the neighbors going to say!’
Giovanna: When we got married, I have to tell you—because god forbid you got married in white if you are not a virgin—I wore a blue suit. And you have every damn old lady hanging out their window looking at you. Oh my god, I can’t begin to tell you . . . that was the happiest day, but also the most dreadful day because I had to walk to the church under the eyes of all these old ladies. We didn’t have cellphones but who needed them. In 35 seconds the whole neighborhood knew.
Albert: And here we are 50 years later!
What has been your biggest challenge as a married couple?
Albert: Staying married . . .
Giovanna: The death of our first child at three-and-a-half years old. The marriage itself, when we hit 15, 20 years, we kind of got on each other’s nerves. But the trial we had early on strengthened, at the very least, the foundation of the marriage. I think one of the most important things about us, is all of us, and that would be our whole family. It’s a lot easier to walk away from something than it is to hang in there and go through it. But it’s much, much more rewarding at the end if you hang in there and go for it. That’s what we did. Today, of course, our biggest challenge is Albert’s cancer.
What gave you the strength to hang in through those tough moments?
Giovanna: Family, the kids. Honestly, if we didn’t have such closeness to our families, we wouldn’t be here now. In our case, we married the families. That wedding day was like I take you, all of you, for the rest of my life, and the same with him, he took my family for the rest of his life.
What is your best advice for young engaged or newlywed couples?
Giovanna: Get to know your partner’s family. You may not like all of them, but the foundation will be family. There are times that will be difficult, times you may not like each other, or think someone else is better. You may think you don’t love each other. Love takes many forms, and if you travel down the road, even with detours, eventually you will get to the destination in spite of those detours.
Albert: Communicate, talk to each other.
What does married life look like now?
Giovanna: We are now at the beginning of the winter of our lives. And things do change. Our community is changing.
Albert: There was a time when hardly anyone would lock their doors down here. You can’t do that anymore.
Giovanna: When we were younger, our space and the people that we knew, we touched each other. I had this goofy theory. I think that air-conditioning was the ruination of our country. I just remember, in the summertime, you didn’t have air-conditioning, you were forced to go outside and breathe the air and meet your neighbors. Now everyone runs from an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned house into an air-conditioned office into an air-conditioned movie. And nobody touches either other anymore. And I think that is what I miss the most. I miss that personal stuff.
Albert: People used to sleep on their benches outside at night to get air. Nobody bothered anybody.
Giovanna: When I first moved from Italy, it was at a time that nobody moved around, and my family moved 3,500 miles. I haven’t moved 200 feet since. Some people may think that’s boring, but we could write a book. It’s been a beautiful time, a beautiful life.
Share more about what you mean about ‘the winter of your life.’
Albert: Well, I didn’t expect this. I was always healthy, athletic. I played softball and track in high school. I just thought it was something simple. When I went to the doctors, it didn’t turn out that way. But a lot of people are pulling for me, so we will see what happens.
Giovanna: Well, this is how I see it. You get to a point in your life that the important thing is what you fill your life up with. And I am so glad that you are here. I am so glad that we are here . . . and I don’t know what is going to happen, but . . . it’s together. The way I see life is this way, you take what you get, take it the best way you can get it, and only God knows what’s there. Nobody can predict, I can tell you that, because he’s still here, I’m still here, and I expect us to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary October 30.
Albert: Do me a favor . . . no surprise parties. I get embarrassed, I just can’t help it.
Sadly, Albert passed away from pancreatic cancer in August 2014, two months short of his 50th wedding anniversary. We are so grateful to his family for letting us share this interview