Family Matters

10406674_10100196214636431_2783218514481787142_n

Are y’all okay if I spew a little mush on the blog today?

Seriously…just a bit? A tiny bit?

Oh wait. This is my blog. I DO WHAT I WANT.

AN-yway.

About a month ago, Joey and I decided that not only did we want to take a “babymoon” before our little lady’s imminent arrival, we needed to.

Think about it: A baby is forever. After she’s born, it will never be just the two of us again. Sure, one day she’ll grow up and move out and get a job and her own life and whatever. But really, it will never, ever be the same as it has been for the last four years.

So, even though we are in super-saver mode these days, we ponied up the cash for two tickets to my grandparents’ condo in Florida. Of course, we weren’t being totally reckless. Staying at my grandparents’ place is significantly cheaper than booking a hotel or an all-inclusive resort (the dream), and we would have our own kitchen, meaning we could save on at least a dinner or two and all of our breakfasts and most lunches. And while we would have loved to take a 10-day trip, we opted to extend our Memorial Day weekend an extra day to preserve my precious few vacation days.

Though I will admit that I sprung for the slightly more expensive plane tickets that would give us direct flights to the most convenient airports in both locations. Because what’s the point of taking a relaxing vacation if the trip home is going to get you just as rattled as you were before?

The result of our plans? I don’t want to overstate this, but the trip was, in a word, perfect.

I’m always a little irked by those people who put #blessed in their Instagram captions because, to me, it seems like a fairly overt humblebrag. But after that trip with my husband, I have a hard time describing my feelings any other way. I’m so humbled by the way my husband loves me. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity and the means to get away from regular life now and then to reconnect. I’m filled with awe by this tiny life growing inside me.

God is so, so good to us, and I hope I can hold onto these feelings even when things aren’t going so smoothly. Because while I don’t feel #blessed, I do feel blessed to live the life I do with the people I love.

So now it’s back to “real” life, with jobs and bills and schedules that don’t include things like “morning swim in the pool” and “leisurely lunch by the ocean whenever we feel like walking to the restaurant”. But you know what? The trips to the beach may be over and my tan has probably already begun to fade, but I think this fullness in my heart will last a while longer.

On this day, April 30th, 2015, four years after marrying my husband, I have officially amended the last vestige of my maiden name: my PayPal account.

Did you guys have any idea how difficult it is to change your name on your PayPal? It’s pretty dang difficult. Even when you have a legitimate reason, like a marriage, you have to provide PayPal with a copy of your marriage license and a photo ID showing your new name.

My bank didn’t even require that much paperwork. (Actually, it might have. But it was FOUR YEARS AGO and I don’t remember.)

Suffice to say, I put it off. For almost half a decade. But after PayPal mistakenly sent one too many packages to Justine Blanchard, prompting the mail carrier to refuse to deliver and me to have to take an inconvenient trip to the post office, I finally decided to bite the bullet and just get it over with.

Plus, I had to provide my office with a scan of my marriage license for benefits anyway.

It took over a week to officially process (I’m assuming a real human being has to verify your “proof”?), but as of this morning, Justine Blanchard is no more on any of my accounts.

I feel like this should feel more momentous to me than it does. But, to be perfectly honest, I never felt that much of an emotional attachment to my last name. (Not to be confused with my family — I am quite emotionally attached to them. The name just didn’t represent anything that crucial to me.) I had always planned on changing it when I got married, and I like how Joey and I have become our own, united unit.

In fact, I often feel this weird sense of detachment when I see my maiden name in print. Like, “Oh, yeah…that used to be mine. That used to be me.” Weird, right?

It could be that I was never really one of those people who went by their last name. In college, a handful of friends took to calling me Blanch, and shortly after graduation, a few workmates dubbed me JLB because I used my full name for my byline. But in general, I’ve always been just Justine.

(Side note: Trying saying “Just Justine” ten times fast without spitting. It’s really hard. See also: “This is Justine.” Answering my work phone is a nightmare.)

But anyway. Instead of feeling sad, I actually feel more complete having this last bit of Blanchard officially transitioned over. I can’t believe it took me so long. I guess it has to do with how I feel like I’ve really come in to my own identity in the last couple of years.

It’s nice to know my Amazon orders will also know exactly who I am.

Did you change your name after marriage? How long did it take? Do you have any last traces of your old name hanging around?

How to Plan an Anniversary Party

My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. By any standard, that’s an accomplishment. My parents always had the kind of marriage that made me want to get married, too, so it was important to me to help them celebrate this milestone. I planned a party in my mom’s home state of Ohio for the whole family. Here are all the details of where and how we partied.

The Location

DSC_2606

DSC_2615

DSC_3032

DSC_3036

DSC_3087

Their anniversary was in June, but the soonest I could get everyone together was August (close enough, right?). The party was in my aunt’s backyard (my mom’s sister), which turned out to be more than perfect. Not only is her backyard beautiful with giant trees and a huge hydrangea tree that created the perfect backdrop for photos, she also has a huge deck where we could put the tables. And, obviously, it was more budget friendly than renting a room at a restaurant — and it gave us a lot more freedom to customize the space.

We started the night on the patio where we had arranged cocktail tables and a drink table. On the deck, we arranged two long tables for dinner and hung string lights for a bit more ambiance.

The Flowers

DSC_2568

DSC_2588

To save money, I arranged my own flowers for the party. My friend Cynthia is an event planner, and from her I learned not only how to arrange flowers, but also about the company Global Rose, which will deliver fresh bulk flowers (for incredibly reasonable prices — free shipping!) almost anywhere. I ordered 50 peachy-pink roses, 10 white hydrangeas, and bulk greens to fill in the arrangements. That gave me enough flowers to create eight mason jar centerpieces and two smaller arrangements for the drink table. The flowers arrived in perfect condition and held up beautifully for days. I recommend having your flowers delivered at least a day in advance so the roses have time to open up a bit more. (Note: Hydrangeas aren’t as hardy, so don’t order them too far in advance and keep them in water constantly so they won’t wilt.)

The Stationery

DSC_2573

DSC_2579

DSC_2601

DSC_2812

I designed the menus in Photoshop and printed them on Kraft paper. For the gold “menu” at the top, I printed the original text in a light brown and then traced over it with a gold marker. I used the same marker to hand-write the place cards on Kraft paper tags.

To display the place cards, I made holders out of wine corks (I always save them). To create the holders, you’ll want to steam the corks for 4-5 minutes before using an exacto knife (or a bread knife if you realize you don’t have an exacto knife…that happens to some people). To keep the corks from rolling, I super glued a metal washer to the bottom of each one.

To finish off the tables, I printed black and white photos of my parents over the years and displayed them in simple white frames along with glass lanterns with candles.

The Food

DSC_2765

DSC_2773

DSC_2787

DSC_3073

DSC_3103

DSC_3109

The food came from a local caterer, BOSS Corporate Catering. And, you guys? My only regret is that this company is in Ohio and I can’t use them anytime I want to have a party in New York. The food was so good, and Crystal, the owner, went above and beyond, helping us move the food into our chafing dishes and arrange it for the party. She was also extremely responsive and accommodating during the planning process, which took a lot of stress off of me. We had Sicilian skewers and goat cheese bruschetta for appetizers, then dinner was chicken marsala, penne alfredo, zucchini and summer squash, strawberry arugula salad, and fresh dinner rolls with honey butter. Dessert was a lemon berry mascarpone cake and a chocolate espresso cake.

The Drink

DSC_2597

DSC_2611

DSC_2789

DSC_2739

The signature cocktail of the evening was an Elderflower Blush.

Ingredients:
Fresh strawberries
Fresh basil
Gin
Elderflower Liqueur
Seltzer
Prosecco or champagne

To make by the glass, muddle strawberries and basil in a glass and add 1 oz gin and 1 oz elderflower. Top with equal parts of the bubbly stuff. (We made ours for a group, so Joey muddled the strawberries and basil in drink dispenser and added equal parts gin and elderflower and about two cups of seltzer. We filled the glasses half full with this concoction and then topped up each with Prosecco.) Garnish with a strawberry and basil leaf.

The night came together beautifully. It was so great to spend time with my family that I don’t see that often, and my sister took the loveliest photos of us all. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

DSC_3012

DSC_2673

Sources:
Photography by Figment Art Photo
Food by BOSS Corporate Catering
Flowers from GlobalRose.com
Glass lanterns from World Market
Paper and frames from Michaels
String lights from Target
Rentals from Sun Rental

My mom is pretty great.

In the last couple of years, she’s dealt with the stress of marrying off two of her children, the addition of multiple grandchildren, and being diagnosed (and beating) cancer.

Like I said, a pretty awesome lady.

So a few months ago, I decided I wanted to do something nice for her. I thought about flying us both somewhere, but ultimately decided I couldn’t afford it. Then I remembered I live in a destination city. Why not just fly her here and have a little “stay-cation”? (For me at least.)

That’s exactly what I decided to do.

With my dad ensuring she didn’t make plans on the weekend I had in mind, I set out making reservations, buying show tickets, and generally planning the ultimate NYC weekend for my momma.

A week and a half ago, I sent her a package of five envelopes:

IMG_4045

As she opened each envelope, she found a clue as to what her surprise was. (Spoiler: It was that she was coming to New York. Have you really not been paying attention?)(yuk yuk yuk)

Once she got the packages, we only had to wait a few days before her visit. And now I’ve decided to share our weekend with you! Here’s where we stayed, what we ate, and what we did.

FridayMy mom got in on Friday around noon. Joey and I both took the day off to pick her up and keep her entertained.

That night, we headed into the city for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, The Smith.

IMG_4105

Fun side note: The Smith is actually where I first heard of my favorite drink, the French 75. So obviously it’s near and dear to my heart.

My mom had the trout, I had grilled shrimp with jalapeno grits (AMAZING), and Joey had the moule frites. It was all pretty great. We ended the night with the Quarter Pounders, three homemade chocolate chip cookies. If there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that there is nothing in the world I would prefer to warm chocolate chip cookies. So…yeah. I liked the dessert.

Saturday
Saturday I had planned the New York-iest day I could think of for my mom. We started out by heading in to the city early in the morning. After dropping off our luggage at our hotel (more on that later), we headed to Union Square. After a quick breakfast (at Panera…not every meal can be fancy!), we took part in a little retail therapy.

IMG_4159

I mean, is it really our fault that our first appointment was on 5th Avenue? No, no it is not.

Speaking of our first appointment, it was at a little place called Drybar. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically a salon that specialized in blowouts. (Which you know I love.)

IMG_4163Within minutes of arriving, we each had a drink (mimosa for my mom, champagne for me) and were on our way to incredibly voluminous hair.

IMG_4124

Next, we headed to Bloomingdales (because why not more shopping?), and then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner.

We stayed at The Sanctuary Hotel, which was conveniently located near Times Square. The rooms were…compact, but not in a way that felt claustrophobic. More like, in a way that made you feel like you were in a well appointed New York City studio.

Post-primping, we hopped in a cab to dinner at The House, a restored 1854 carriage house in Gramercy Park. We started off with drinks (I had The Ellington, my mom had a gin martini) and a deviled egg tasting appetizer, followed with the tile fish and the sea scallops. For dessert, we had a cookie sundae topped with fresh berries.

IMG_4131

IMG_4154

IMG_4153

And, you guys. It was so good. Like, ridiculous. We couldn’t stop talking about it.

Then it was time for the highlight of the evening: Newsies!

IMG_4147

IMG_4151

We both loved it — the singing/dancing is pretty awesome. Plus, the cast is made up of cute, talented boys. Definitely a good choice to take your mom to. (In case you were wondering.)

SundayThe next day, Joey’s parents and sister joined us for a late brunch at The Thirsty Koala, which I’ve told you about before.

IMG_4168

My mom and mother-in-law had The Three Sisters sandwich, my sister-in-law and father-in-law had burgers (one beef, one kangaroo), Joey had an omelet, and I had a spinach salad with shrimp. We all had mimosas. Because it’s brunch, you guys.

Then it was time to take my mom to the airport. (Sigh.) The weekend was over too fast, but we definitely made the most of it. Can’t wait until we’re together again!

IMG_4169

On my way to work each morning, I pass three elementary schools. Invariably, I end up crossing paths with parents dropping their children off in the morning.

Without making it too creepy, I always try to catch a snippet of what they’re talking about. I feel like you can tell a lot about a person and their family based on what they decide is the most important thing to leave their child with before dropping them off for the day.

Sometimes I hear an older dad sharing an odd bit of trivia. Sometimes it’s a young mother repeating, “You know Mommy loves you very, very much…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about having children lately. (As a concept…still not pregnant, sorry.) Several of my friends have had babies in the last year, and the topic seems to keep coming up even amongst my childless friends. (Sure sign that I’m getting old.)

The scariest part of having kids to me is the pressure. I feel like there is just so much to teach and pass on — it’s completely my fault if my kid turns out ignorant or a psychopath or awesome, right? (Okay, probably not right, but you know what I mean.)

Even aside from the “what kind of person will he or she be?” bigger issues, sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all the knowledge little kids have to learn. How can I make sure they learn about the water cycle? Or different kinds of dinosaurs? Or what the largest land mammal is? Or long division? I mean, sure, okay, they’ll go to school, but what about all the little bits you pick up along the way? That’s up to me, right?

Obviously I’m stressing out a bit (okay, a lot) preemptively. And getting sympathetically stressed out for all those parents on the sidewalk isn’t helping.

But I can’t help but wonder: If you only had a 20-minute walk to share something with your kid, what would you say?

I make no secret of the fact that, in general, teenagers scare me. They’re usually loud, obnoxious, and rude. THEY DON’T ANSWER TO ANYONE, YOU GUYS.

But seriously. I avoid most of them.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule. One of my favorite exceptions? My adorable niece Cameron.

Cams is 14, but still sweet, smart, and friendly — not to mention incredibly polite. (She’ll write a thank-you note that can break your heart.)

And she has a really big event coming up that I wanted to send her a present for. But when I went to buy something, I found myself a little stumped. I mean, my other nieces and nephews are pretty easy — the infant-to-six crowd is not hard to please. But a 14-year-old that I don’t hang out with nearly as often as I’d like? That’s a little tougher.

I finally found what I think is the perfect gift, but it occurred to me that I might not be the only one who struggles with buying for the tween/teen crowd. (I mean, sure, we all know they probably just want money, but I like to put a bit more effort into gifts.) So I put together a little gift guide to get you inspired.

And, yes, Cameron’s real gift is on here. But I’m not telling which one!

Gift Guide for Teenage Girls

J Crew knit top
jcrew.com

Juicy Couture yellow gold bracelet
$81 – vanmildert.com

Kate spade
katespade.com

Essie nail polish
discountbeautycenter.com

 

What do you think? It also occurred to me that I would happily accept any of these gifts. So…I’m a teen girl. I can deal with that.

Hope everyone enjoys their time off of work and school!