Thursday, January 31, 2013

Real Talk: To-Do Lists.

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Rach wrote an awesome post yesterday about grace. This is by no means a post about how awesome I am at being organized. See it instead as a very shiny way to keep all (or most) of the balls in the air, especially in weeks when I feel over committed.

A lot of women that I work or volunteer with swear by their paper calendars. I adore all of these women, and they are usually at least as busy as me. But I have to disagree about the paper calendar. iCal has revolutionized my planning for meetings, at work and volunteering, and it changed the way I think about my weeks. I'm a huge convert, and I love that I can be on my work computer, at home in my office or on my iPhone, and instantly access my calendar. And I love that Siri will read me my upcoming appointments.

But I could not make the switch to virtual to-do lists. I needed a way to keep organized - and I mean my whole life! So I invented a little system that I named "Organize my life." Really creative, I know.

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It started really simply. I made a form for the week in Microsoft Word. I'm a big fan of the "Word Publishing Layout" for easy to make tables and word box formatting. I printed them two to a page, made some graph paper for lists in the back of the spiral, and I was set.

I included some pretty basic categories: errands/around town, meals for the week, blog posts, RV Parties orders/designs, someone to send a card to, around the house, pray for, and the long view. Work to-do lists fill page after page of a notebook at school. I try not to get too mixed up in that list because it actually is never complete.

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The spiral notebook worked great, and it was cheap! The guys at the UPS Store down the road are good to me. But it got pretty beat up in my purse and backpack, and the grid papers in the bag filled up with notes and lists. I used it for almost three months before I switched to this little binder from Russell+Hazel that I purchased at The Container Store online. Mine is gold and SO pretty. Instead are the same printed pages, just a little wider. I put the files here if anyone really wants to download, modify and use them.

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But the best part about the new binder are the page protectors. Inspirational quotes, Bible verses I should commit to heart, address labels, dues cards, blank all gets tucked into the binder. It's part decorative and part really really useful.

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I also ordered the grid paper from Russell+Hazel. I just really like grid paper because I really like things to line up. And if there are any other printables that I want to add to my binder, I just print at 65%, and they are ready to go. I've been using the binder for nine weeks, and we're very happy together.

I still don't get everything done. But I do feel a little bit more organized.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chacko's Eatery.

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If you want to go out to lunch, there's a good chance that I will suggest Chacko's for two reasons. One, it's delicious. Two, it's exactly one mile from my house so I can be there in like two minutes. It's pretty unassuming in a strip along Johnson Drive, but it's my favorite lunch place in town. There, I said it. I don't think you can get a better homemade lunch anywhere in town.

They make their own bread, people.

Well, they make their own everything, I just think that fact is particularly awesome.

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When Tara and I planned to meet for lunch, I gave her two options: Chacko's or Clocktower. Tara, who is also a devoted fan, obviously picked Chacko's. It was her second time of the week, and it didn't even matter. We love this place. Tara likes to say that even when she was past her due date with Fiona, she still left the house for Chacko's. They made Fiona's baptism cake too, and Tara knows the names of all the nice women who work there. That's my next goal.

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We both ordered the lunch box which includes a sandwich (so many to choose from!), a side, and a dessert from the case. Tara's sandwich was one of my favorites, the chicken salad with cranberries. I had the tuna melt, and it was amazing.

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Look at all the options in the case for dessert! Tara ordered the monster bar, but I'm a sucker for the Chacko's cookie. Two perfectly prepared shortbread cookies with frosting in between. They aren't open in the evenings, but sometimes I'll drive by on the way home from school and think to myself, I should just see if they have any Chacko's cookies left before they close. Thankfully, I usually talk myself out of it and have only stopped twice.

They do excellent catering as well, and last fall I took a bunch of half sandwiches to a Junior League Meeting. My friend Annie liked them so much that she did the same thing in January for our meeting. They have great specials, beautiful baked goods, and friendly family service. This post is a wholehearted endorsement for the goodness of Chacko's.

If you haven't been, let's go to Chacko's real soon, okay? I might make it my goal to be a regular there this summer, stopping in for a coffee and a cookie, and you'd be welcome to join me.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I Did When I Wasn't Blogging.

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Welllll hello! It's been a week or so, huh? I didn't intend to take a blogging break until it was already happening and then I committed to it. Go big or go home.

Mostly I just stayed home. Which was awesome. Here are some notes from the week I didn't blog on other things I did...
  • Spent a chunk of time wishing I was at ALT Summit in Salt Lake City with Rachel and the rest of the internet. Well, not the whole internet was at ALT. Some people went to CHA the week before so they probably couldn't go to both parties. Anyways, I was sad about it until I saw this piece of news about Salt Lake City and felt a little better.
  • Talked myself out of leaving the house for ice cream or candy on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. On Saturday morning, I caved and bought the worst Valentine sour gummies at Russell Stovers on my way home from UMKC. Fail.
  • Read a lot of E Tells Tales. Rachel warned me not to start, and then I couldn't stop. I also reread the comments on Rach's baby blog posts five times because there were no comments on my own blog.
  • Studied (kind of) for a test I took on Saturday so I can add a certification to my license to be an ESL teacher. No amount of cramming could make up for what I didn't learn that one semester of lingusitics.
  • New designs! The one above is in the shop PLUS this one now too. I also did three custom designs that came out awesome. The creativity was flowing elsewhere, especially since it wasn't flowing here.
  • Went to the gym and walked Belle. Nice weather in these parts!
  • Text my mom on her iPhone. Yes, she texts now, and it's awesome. Mostly because now I don't have to interrupt her day with a phone call to tell her one little thing. Really, I'm doing her a favor.
  • Picked out a birthday cake I'd like to make Erica in the February Martha Stewart. A-MAHZING. Her birthday isn't until April, so I don't know if I can wait that long.
  • Ate brown sugar from the bag and Erica's grandma's apricot jelly from the jar. It's because there wasn't any candy or ice cream. Or flour to bake cookies. 
  • True story about the brown sugar: on the same day I was eating it from the bag, my sister text me to tell me that she got a tummy ache from eating too much brown sugar. FAMILY.
In review, here's what I did NOT do in the past ten days...
  • blog
  • eat ice cream

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tuesday Night Book Talk.

Tuesday night was a good one! My friend Ann found out in December that Jojo Moyes was coming to speak in Kansas City, and we had to go. Ann originally recommended her book, The Last Letter from Your Lover, which turned out to be the book I recommended more times in 2012 with more rave reviews than anything else. Her new book, Me Before You, was recently released in the United States. I knew I had to hear her speak!

It was a pretty small crowd at Unity Temple on the Plaza, but an enthusiastic one. Jojo Moyes has had more books published in the UK than the two we've had stateside. The woman in front of us had found many of her other books on the internet, imported them and was a diehard fan.

Here are some of my favorite Jojo facts I wanted to share with you...
  • National Velvet is one of her favorite books because she loves that the main character is a strong young female and lamented that is hard to find today in teen lit. (Besides Katniss obviously.)
  • "Last Letter" was born from a conversation in a coffee shop. Jojo listened to a group of women analyze a text message that said "Later X" for twenty minutes. That was all it said. It made her long for the long ago times of love letters. 
  • Her seven-year-old son only wanted her to bring home "drawing pencils" from America. Even though drawing pencils are also available in the UK.
  • If she doesn't cry while she's writing it, she doesn't expect anyone will cry when they read it. So she cries a lot.  
  • Her family lives on a six acre farm near Cambridge. This fact made me instantly envious.
  • She says "posh" and "daft" in real life. Probably because she is British. 
  • Vivian Jennings of Rainy Day Books has a book club with mothers and daughters that has been together twenty years. She said the new book "Me Before You" was one of only two books over the years that everyone loved. WHOA.
The review in the NY Times was extremely positive, and I'm super glad to report we're reading it for book club in February. Go ahead and read it with us or check back for the full report. 

And more book related news, Susan Cain is coming to town! She wrote Quiet, the book I'm always telling people about because I am not an introvert. She'll be here February 12th. We're totally going so let me know if you want to go too! We could grab dinner first, go to Paper Source and do extroverted things together.

As soon as I found out, I started calling/texting/emailing all the people that I've talked to about this book. Most of them are introverts and were overwhelmed by my enthusiasm. I can understand this because I've read the book. You should too.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

13 Cookies: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.

I make a lot of sugar cookies. A lot. But that doesn't mean there aren't other cookies in my life. So I set a goal for 2013 to make thirteen new cookies. Here's the catch - the recipes have to be from my collection of cookbooks or the three food/home magazines I get each month. Not the internet, pinterest or someone's blog. It dawned on me in December that I'm always collecting magazine articles and cookbooks, but I rarely use those as my sources for new recipes to try.

Many of the cookbooks in my kitchen are ones that I had to have or gifts from dear people in my life. I already made cookie #1, ate some, and gave the rest away to rave reviews. I'm excited to share it with you too! It's from Christopher Kimball's cookbook that is no longer in print, a gift I received from my dear aunt Kathi. I was reading it one time when I was visiting their house in Delaware, and we went to the bookstore to try to buy me a copy. Out of print, but thankfully we were able to find it on the internet for a very reasonable price.

I just had to have it because it reminded me of her. And then I never opened it again. Eighteen months later, I decided to make something out of it. It was a successful first trip into the cookbook!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook: Chris Kimball modified the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe for this gem. 

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 sticks  (1/2 pound) butter, softened but still firm
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces chocolate chips
4 ounces grated semisweet chocolate (I processed more Ghiradelli chips in the food processor)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts (I only had about a 1/2 cup pecans but they were awesome)

1. Heat oven to 350 egrees. Places oats in a blender or food processor and blend until very fine.

2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and both sugars until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat 20 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat for 15 seconds to blend.

3. Whisk together the flour, processed oats, baking powder, and salt. With a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, blend the dry ingredients into the butter mixtures. This will be tough since the batter is stiff. Add the chocolate chips, grated chocolate, and nuts.

4. Form dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 14 or 15 minutes on the middle over rack or until the bottoms are lightly browned. The cookies look/feel a bit soft at this point. They will not spread much and will look undercooked. Do not overcook or they will become hard and dry when they cool. They will harden as they cool. Remove from oven and let cookies cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing to cooling racks. Cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

PS. I added 1/2 up coconut to half of the cookies because I love coconut. It was good.
PSS. My staff RAVED about these cookies. Rave review about chocolate chip cookies are hard to come by so I was pleased.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Soup Swap 2013.

We had a Soup Swap on Sunday afternoon at my place, and it turned out a total success. Super easy to do, very little set-up involved, and every guest now has a freezer full of homemade soup. Perfect because it's still very cold out there!

Keep reading all the way through - I'm including some of the recipes and all the files used in the planning - including the invitation you can edit and send out yourself. (It's red & gray ikat, and it's free!)

First, pick a charming co-host who also thinks this is a good idea (Erica for me!), and then invite all your friends. Well, not all of them. My little home only held about half of the people I wanted to invite. But we did a pretty good job friend mixing. The first four people had never met each other in real life before Sunday!

We mailed invitations because that's kind of my thing, though we could have done an evite just as well. They were in perfect matching gray envelopes with ikat labels on the front. (Also included in the download.) 

Second, plan a super low maintenance menu with a couple sweets or savory treats. I found the sparkling cranberry brie bites here and loved them. (She lied about how much cheese - you'll need almost six ounces AND you need to shake the cranberries in a ziploc, not roll them in bowl.)

We also served pomegranate cranberry punch (double for a group of more than 15), red candies, my sugar cookies done in colors to match the theme, and wonderful jalapeno cheddar crackers that Erica made.

Next make room for the soup! We had 18 soups to exchange in quart size containers - that takes a lot of space! Kate ordered these round containers from Amazon (a great find!) and many of the guests used those. I grabbed the Rubbermaid 5.1 cup containers from Hy-Vee. People also used bags and cute canning jars - it all worked out great! We arranged the soup containers around the kitchen, and people labeled them with the printable tags (included at the end of the post.)

I attached these freezer labels to each of the invitations I mailed out. I have been using them in my freezer for about 8 months, and I love how durable they are. They don't peel off in the freezer and are pretty cute. My freezer is kind of ridiculously matchy and adorable with these labels.

One of the biggest questions guests asked was, "How will we pick!?" Of course I had a plan for that! I made each guest answer a quiz about soup! (It's in the bundle you can download.)

The most correct anyone got was 6, so don't feel too stumped. Then I made everyone line up by the number correct and gave them a number sticker, kind of like the NFL draft. And when there were 8 people who got 4 correct, I just gave them their numbers in alphabetical order. Make sense? I thought about having them rock, paper, scissors it out, but there wasn't really enough room for that in my house.

People milled around talking, and then I would yell out a number set - "1, 2, 3, 4!" "5, 6, 7, 8!" You could only pick ONE of each soup and ONE at a time. Everyone brought their soups in reusable grocery bags so they just filled their bags back up. We didn't tell them to bring the bags, they just did it. So very green! I wanted to buy cute bags and make labels, but I'm so glad I didn't!

I've already finished the leftovers from when I made my soup, and I'm working on Melinda's Chicken Curry Soup with Cherry Apple Chutney right now. The recipe is in the PDF pack and worth the download alone. It's heavenly, and I want to eat it all the time.

For couples and single people like me, it's a perfect party. Four less meals for me every week for a while! And for the moms in the group? They loved it too. Something grown up to eat while the kids eat frozen chicken nuggets. Everybody wins.

You should really have a soup swap. Download the files and make it happen! Included in the pack: customizable invitation - use Preview or Adobe Reader to customize, 2 x 4 label pattern, soup swap quiz and answers, food tents for the party, and recipes from some of the guests of our soup swap!

Recipe links from the web
Cassie's Wild Rice and Mushroom (love Bake Your Day recipes!)
Chicken Tortilla
PW's Perfect Potato Soup (Kate says, "Double the flour, increase cream by 50%, use mix of stock and broth, and be careful not to shred the tip of your finger with the potato peeler.")
The Absolute Best Tomato Soup I've Ever Had (Steph made it from Nato's blog!)
PW's Zuppa Toscana - Sausage, Potato, Kale (Vic - made almost exactly like recipe, a little thin for me, but awesome flavor. Tara - took out the spice by using milk sausage, added bacon and no red pepper)
PW's Chicken Corn Chowder (Anne says, "I added meat because hubs thought it needed more meat!")
In the download: Taco Soup (two variations from Lucinda & Carly), Chicken & Dumpling (Leah) and Chicken Curry Soup (Melinda)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Holiday Minibook, Part Three.

Here are the last nine pages of the minibook! (You can see part one here and part two over here.) There is one major difference for these last few pages, and it's where I sourced my photos. I needed a lot of photos for friends, family and finishing this book, so I uploaded everything to Persnickety Prints. I am a huge fan of printing at Walmart - it's not perfect but cheap and three minutes from my house. But when I need/want the quality to be a little nicer, I'm definitely wooed by Persnickety. The photos upload easily and are easy to share - Jennie and her family were able to download and print anything they wanted from the wedding.

Another great thing about Persnickety is the sizing options. They have several different choices for instagram prints, and I used quite a few finishing up the album. I also ordered the 4x6 photos from PP and even tried their little wallets. Which are actually REALLY little - see the tiny pics of my family in the second photo above?

The rest of the items are pretty simple. Ticket stubs from movies and the Field Museum, a favorite photo from the photo booth at Jennie's wedding, and lots of journaling finish out the book. I didn't buy one single thing to fill the book besides the photos.

I like that minibook helped make a shift for me. I don't have to blog everything that ever happened to remember that it happened. For example I love love love the photo of me with my friends and Sue the dinosaur at the Field Museum. So I posted it on facebook, discussed the merit's of double denim with the world, and tucked it in here. Done. It doesn't need it's own blog post.

This is part of a change I'm making in recording for 2013 that I'll share with you in a couple of weeks. It's sort of a little more behind the scenes work, but I'm pretty stinking excited about it. I'd also love to do another minibook, and I'll keep watching this new one over on Elise's site. I'm six months out from that big birthday celebration, but I think it would be a fun minibook to do to document THIRTY and all the awesome things that I'm sure will be happening. For the love of 30 seems like a great theme for a minibook.

PS. Not endorsed by Persnickety at all, just a fan. Use the code document20 to get 20% off Persnickety 4x6s before January 31. You're welcome.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Art from Jane.

My office is without a doubt my favorite room in the house. It's neat, the natural light is great in the mornings and early afternoons and it's my favorite space to work on my computer or craft it up a little bit. I love it even more lately, and I hurry to get work done in the kitchen so I can come play in my office. And now there is some new art up on the walls!

Last summer at Jennie's shower, her mother Jane painted two wall canvases especially for the event. They were so cute! I was also admiring Jane's paintings of the family pets. They are always so realistic and just like the beloved pup.

Lucky for me, Jane surprised me with a perfect canvas of Belle when we went to Chicago for the wedding. I'm so happy she included sunflowers as well! I've always treasured a small postcard Jane painted for me with sunflowers on it in 2008 or 2009, so this goes perfectly with that little card.

Jane was nervous because she's never met Belle, but I think it's pretty spot on. Puppy (almost never) looks at the camera because she's busy doing other things. And that soft white fluff on her neck really is as cuddly as it looks in the painting.

Jane's art was also featured on gifts for the women in the wedding - these lovely scarfs! She painted the Chicago skyline and transferred them on to the scarfs. We were all so delighted to receive the gift - what a special memory from a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite families of all time in one of my favorite cities of all time!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Holiday Minibook, Part Two.

Lest you think I stopped doing my little holiday book while recovering from sinus surgery, I have another update for you! There will be one more update because I finished the last pages last night while watching Downton Abbey. The wedding! The debt! Edith is so annoying!

Anyways, back to the mini book. I love putting this little book together, and I still didn't buy anything to complete it! Except for all the photos I had printed to tuck in the page. My favorite size of photo comes from the Walmart up the street. Their little wallet prints are super cheap and fit perfectly on a page. The instagrams I open up in photoshop, put them in a 4 x 6 white doc and save as a jpg. Pretty quick, and I can just trim the edges after they are printed.

Last time I estimated that it only took me about an hour to put the pages together. My mother points out this didn't include any of the photo time, and she's right. That takes a little bit longer. Choosing sizes, uploading on my very slow connection and picking up from the store does take a bit longer.

I love that I can tuck in other stuff that wouldn't be on the blog or in a blurb book - ticket stubs from the Nutcracker and Home Alone, my hospital bracelet in the little envelope. The rest are rub-on letters, stickers and embellishments from my old supply of scrapbook materials. Love this little book.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Toast to Jennie and Joe.

I start a little nervous and sound like my "teacher leader" self. But it gets better I think, and actually looks better than I remember it. I was the first toast of the night... (If you'd rather watch than read, click over here. My sister did a nice job with the iPhone camera.)

It's so good to be with you tongiht and be celebrating Jennie and Joe. I have confirmed this, and I am Jennie's oldest friend that is here tonight. Not like in age, but we've been friends the longest (Andrea later contested that fact.) And to really set the stage for the beginning of our friendship, you should know that we met in middle school. I did the math and 1996-1997 is the like the first official year of our friendship. That's 8th grade.

Jennie, in 8th grade, was very pretty and very nice. When I was in 8th grade, I was about this tall and had glasses, braces and a terrible fashion sense. Terrible. (I wanted to say I wore overalls a lot.) But Jennie, being very pretty and very nice, still wanted to be my friend. We met doing something really really cool, our first official thing as friends together was competing in the National History Day Competition in the 8th grade. I may not have been as pretty as Jennie, but I did beat her in that competition. I think it's because I am a pretty convincing Eleanor Roosevelt if you can imagine in the 8th grade.

So Jennie and I are at this competition and someone takes a photo of us - Jennie, very pretty, me, Victoria in 8th grade - and we're huddled up next to each other. Jennie took the photo and cut it out in a circle and put it in a frame and above it she wrote "Forever Friends." Right there in the 8th grade she picked me to be friends with for the the rest of our lives. I feel pretty lucky, still, all these years later,  that she picked me to be her forever friend.

We were set from there. We were friends all through high school; college took us to different parts of the country - I stayed in Kansas, Jennie went to California where I got to visit her several times. We have done a lot of different things together. And one of the things we love to do together is plan, and we have been planning things forever, and we will  probably still be planning things forever. And we are definitely meant to be forever friends.

I made Jennie a list for her wedding of all the things we have done side by side. Planning, traveling, and the list goes on. I came up with over 70 things Jennie and I have done side by side. It covers the map and over 15 years of friendships. We have traveled, laughed, cried and planned together for a long time. Planning side by side is actually really fun for us.

When I met Joe, it was a very big deal and I think that's because I was the forever friend meeting the one that could be forever. And Joe was kind of nervous and I was kinda nervous It happened on a snowy day in Bucktown. And I really liked him, and I knew that Joe was the one who would make Jennie happy forever.

It has been an absolute delight to plan with Jennie AND Joe for this special day. Joe is the perfect guy to stand side by side when I can't stand next to Jennie. I look forward to being side by side, even from Kansas, for the rest of their lives. It has been an absolute honor to stand by your side today as the maid of honor. Please raise your glasses and toast to the two of them and FOREVER.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Four Books of December.

I read four books IN December (finishing the 5th on January 1st!). This brought the 2012 total up to 48 books, which is two more than 2011. I don't really have a goal to read more than that in 2013, but my friend Ann W. inspired me to consider more nonfiction. Maybe even one book a month! We'll see how that goes. It's slower reading work for me, so I'd have to give up on my big numbers goals a bit.

This is How You Lose Her was a finalist for the National Book Award and no joke. I mean, parts of it are pretty light, but it has as much cussing in it as most HBO television shows. Sometimes I read these books because I want to know someone else's life story, and that's what happened here. I have no idea what is like to grow up with Dominican and Puerto Rican backgrounds in New York. So I read it. I think if it were assigned reading, I would have had to read parts twice. Sometimes I got a little confused, and it's definitely intense. This NPR story is good if you are interested in reading the book, and it's worth listening to because Diaz calls Steve Inskeep BRO.

Holidays on Ice was supposed to be our "light" follow up to Gone Girl for book club. Some parts were laugh out loud looks at the holidays, and David Sedaris's stories from Santaland are my favorite. I've heard him perform it on This American Life, and it is classic. But it's a mixed bag. I think the important thing to remember with Sedaris is if you don't like the story, skip to the next chapter. It may make you giggle.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train was recommended to me by my grandma, Virginia. I love all things Great Britain, and I thought this book was just fine. We agreed there may be one too many characters because all of their back stories get overwhelming. But we liked the premise. What if the queen just decided she was done with the drama and got on a train out of London? It's sort of an ensemble piece, the queen uses twitter and does yoga, and it made me want to go back to London. Tomorrow maybe?

Caleb's Crossing is by Geraldine Brooks. If you haven't read anything by her yet, PLEASE read Year of Wonders. It is by far her best, and a book club book that everyone loved. Yes, it is about the plague. But read it anyways. Brooks does a good job with Caleb's Crossing about a Native American who leaves Nantucket Island and graduates from Harvard in the 1600s. A long long time ago, and it is based on some historical truth. She tells a good story, and I enjoyed it. But you should still read Year of Wonders instead.

The first book of 2013 is really the one I wish I was telling you about. My friend Ginny already did. Oh dear, it's just delightful. I loved it to pieces.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wedding Weekend with Real Photos.

Here's a play by play of the wedding weekend events, as documented with my real camera. Thursday night, Jennie and Joe hosted a hot chocolate welcome party at their condo. Family, friends and out of town guests gathered to kick off the weekend.

Bridesmaid Gaby and I helped get everything ready, and we made way too much hot chocolate. The real problem was that Joe made homemade eggnog that was incredible, and there was also a chocolate fountain. We were constantly returning to the table to dip bananas, strawberries and marshmallows in the chocolate.

At the end of the party, Andrea's dad came to pick her up and drove me back to my hotel. It was pretty much just like freshman year of high school except that I was staying in a hotel instead of my mom's house.

Friday night, rehearsal and dinner at the very festive Carnivale! The rehearsal was short and sweet, but it felt longer because the bartender was muddling mint for mojitos right behind me. I tried to focus on the instructions for the ceremony, but the mint was so distracting. The mojitos later were worth the wait - so good! The food was also incredible, and we loved our beet salads and steaks.

Jennie's mom painted the Chicago skyline that is featured on the scarfs. I took some close up pictures to show you later, but they were a beautiful gift from Jennie's family for the bridesmaids.

I'm a huge fan of Jennie's family. Jennie is an only child, and we were often tucked neatly into each other's families. Jennie went on senior spring break with Mom, Lu and me. The Marbles took me to see Wicked for the first time in Chicago. I have several notes saved that we signed to each other with "sis." Joe's parents are in the back row, and Jennie's mom, dad and aunt Donna are in the front.

The main event on Saturday was just incredible. It was a special day spent with wonderful people. Jennie and Joe had planned a black tie affair, and it was so fun finding the perfect dress. I found mine very early from J.Crew (you have to watch the sales!). After looking everywhere and asking everyone, I ended up pairing the dress with a Stella & Dot necklace that Jennie owned. I felt a teeny bit bad getting compliments on it since it belonged to the bride! I love the color on Mom's dress because it brings out her eyes - her skirt was long and black.

Lauren's dress was a rental! She tried out Rent the Runway to get this very pretty dress for the event (you should see the back!). When she was done, she just mailed it back to them. It's a pretty crazy system - she actually received three dresses in the mail and picked the one that fit the best. She looked through tons of dresses to pick those three, reading reviews and trying to figure out what to order. Lu had a credit which helped because the Runway is still expensive.

Again, I have to point out my bouquet. I loved loved loved it. It was so pretty and had a very wintery look to it. Last year when she asked me to be her maid of honor, Jennie mailed me a beautiful handkerchief that I wrapped around my bouquet on the big day.

Andrea and Gaby also looked amazing. Andy's dress was from another website you should know about, Modcloth. It's totally her style, and it's easy to get sucked in to spending a ton of time perusing through their dresses.

After we stuffed ourselves on a four course meal, we began the party! I have some great snapshots from the photo booth, and there was a band which means there was tons of dancing. They could play all the classics but also a little Lady Gaga and Call Me Maybe. Brilliant.

Later in the evening, there were little shots of milk with WARM chocolate chip cookies and little bison burger sliders. When the band played the last two songs at midnight, there were still tons of people crammed onto the dance floor. I drug my feet walking back to the hotel because I didn't want the party to be over.

I kind of want to do the whole thing again. That's how much fun I had.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas Cards 2012.

I loved the photos that my mom took for Christmas so much that I had to design two cards this year. I tried not to do it, but I couldn't stop myself. I needed both of these cards.

This was the "main" card - I ordered 50 of this 5 x 7 card from MPix. For $2.50, they rounded the corners on all the cards for me. I made a much friendlier list of check boxes so there would be less controversy about what I checked. (Read about the small scandal here!) I was a little nervous about sending a big card with just a picture of me and Belle, but I think it was pretty well received. I love the houndstooth pattern but knocked the opacity done a bit so it wasn't too bright on the back.

My mom did a brilliant job with the photography. She noticed that the glass door was creating a glare, so we propped it open with a pumpkin that I later photoshopped out. I set up the camera while she stood on the front step, and then we swapped places and posed with the ever uncooperative Belle. She hates looking at the camera as much as Rachel's kids. Maybe she taught Finley?

I made the "MERRY" sign on my Silhouette Cameo and tied it together quickly with some twine. After the photo shoot, I hung it with some garland in my kitchen and loved it all holiday season.

There was also this card which I printed as a small foldover card, only ordering 25. This was the first time I've ordered MPix foldover cards for myself, and they were incredible. Their paper stock is super heavy, and I think the photo printing is pretty great. Price wise, it's definitely very similar to Tiny Prints or Shutterfly. I just like the added control of doing my own designs.

Again, Mom did a brilliant job controlling the focus on the camera. I love the merry banner and the bright red shirt that I found at JCrew Factory. I rarely wear red, but I have loved wearing this all winter. I might go put it on right now for happy hour actually.

Honestly, if you got one card or the other, don't over think it. I sure didn't. Sometimes I chose this card for people who might think I was weird for sending lots of photos of myself on the 5 x 7 version. Or for my Aunt Kathi and Uncle Ted because I wanted to write them a longer Christmas letter.

Would you be surprised if I told you I already had an idea for the 2013 card? I'm so excited already. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Five Days in Chicago.

I was in Chicago for most of five days, Thursday through Monday morning. This was my fourth trip to Chicago during 2012, and I love this town. All year we've been building up to Jennie and Joe's wedding on Saturday, and it was incredible! I have some more photos to share but here is a snapshot of the long weekend.

Instagram is so easy to share a story, and between Lauren and I we had a lot of fun telling this Chicago story! It was almost to the point if we didn't instagram it, it didn't really happen.

A quick rundown and review...
  • Thankfully the Palmer House was still decorated in Christmas decor. Beautiful!
  • Walking with Gaby to the El in the morning, we stopped outside Marshall Fields. I know it's Macy's now. Whatever.
  • Rehearsal dinner! Besides the awesomeness of being maid of honor, I also got to spend four days with my bestie from Brooklyn, Andrea.
  • After the rehearsal dinner, we paused in the lobby to take another photo. 
  • The hair dryers came from the ceiling at the salon we got our hair done.
  • Me with the bride. At this point, we are getting nervous.
  • Ready! Two other sweet bridesmaids, Lauren and Karen.
  • Looking good with the bride and groom. Or cold. Down by the Chicago River, Wabash and Michigan to be exact. Jennie rented the parasols for some very fun pops of color.
  • Little sister Lauren was along for all the fun. She was dressed very warmly and in charge of Jennie's dress.
  • Here's Lauren pretending she is Pippa in downtown Chicago. Cracks me up.
  • The ceremony and the reception were held at the School of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. It was gorgeous and totally perfect for their classy wedding. 
  • Two bouquets. Jennie's is on the left and cascades down. Mine was beautiful as well.
  • After my toast I relaxed a lot more. I also love this picture of me with the bride and groom. Just love it.
  • My sister standing in the middle of Michigan Avenue. It was after midnight, so pretty quiet.
  • Sunday we went and saw Sue the dinosaur at the Field Museum. My sister hates dinosaurs and double denim. Thankfully, I'm wearing double denim in this photo. Did you know people call that the Canadian Tuxedo? I think that's hi-larious.
  • We also got to spend a lot of Sunday with our pal Dereck. He drove us around a bunch and took us to see his new Chicago place. This is the view from the 42nd floor sun deck. It's amazing and pretty chilly this time of the year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thoughtful in 2013.


Everyone is picking a word for the year these days. Thoughtful came to me while i was in Chicago, and I was pretty sure it was the right word for 2013. I can be a touch impulsive, so being thoughtful was easy goal for that. Maybe I'll overreact less to plans that others graciously make, and I can't control. At work and play. I think I could make a difference doing my job thoughtfully, responding to the needs of teachers and students carefully and with love.

I think thoughtful could also be about managing finances, time and commitments. Including here on this blog - three or four thoughtful posts a week feels like a better goal than the strict schedule I kept in the fall of five posts a week, even if they felt pointless. Also online, I want to make thoughtful goals for the future of RV Parties, not impulsive moves to redesign stuff Rach and I have lovingly built for three years.

Thoughtful also works so well for the current place I am in my faith. Any of these resolutions to be more thoughtful are impossible without a good dose of faith that His plan is better.

I think thoughtful is a pretty good place to start the thirteenth year of this century. This is my 900th post, a number that blows my mind. Thanks for following along with me, responding to my writing and sharing your lives with me. Happy happy 2013 friends!

Photo from the roof of my friend Dereck's place in Chicago on Sunday. And yep, I updated the blog slightly with the Pantone color of the year, Emerald, which I love. And in the process I unintentionally used the same piece of tape that Rachel has in her header. What can I say? I love her style.