Life Lessons

Welcome to Part 2 of the list! If you missed yesterday’s post, get caught up here quickly. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

Okay, ready? Let’s get to it.

6. You should know how to travel alone.

I vividly remember the first time I took a plane trip without my family. In a way, it was kind of scary because you’re entirely on your own to get through security, get to your gate on time, find your luggage, etc., but similar to moving, being utterly on your own is incredibly empowering. Now I kind of relish when I can travel by myself, if only for how efficiently I can get from place to place.

7. “You should know your de-stressers and then use them whether — its yoga, Call of Duty, running, Ben and Jerry’s fro yo, or cleaning.” –Annie Schunicht/soon-to-be Breitinger

Annie has been my BFF for most of my life, so it shouldn’t be any surprise I would turn to her when compiling this list. I mean, she has graduated law school, moved to Florida, and she’s marrying the love of her life this September. Plus, she did this with me:

She’s kind of awesome. And one thing we both have in common (besides the ability to take an amazing photo) is that we can turn into crazy people when under a lot of stress. Fortunately, as Annie points out, part of being an adult is learning to deal with that tendency in a healthy way. The point is, we’re getting too old for temper tantrums and utter meltdowns. When things seem to be falling apart, go for a jog, stuff your face, make a list, and then get on with it.

8. You should know how to send a proper thank-you note. (And actually doing it every time you receive a gift or go on an interview.)

I mean, I don’t really need to get into this again, do I? If you’re 25, you’re officially too old to get off the hook for this.

9. “You should own least 3 professional outfits (read: no hooker heels with suits).” -Annie, again.

10. “You should know that what you may have thought of as failing or giving up might just mean making a necessary change. Be prepared for life to fall apart and come back together many times. Even many times in one day!” – Michelle Rose Abraham

Michelle often tells me she wants to be me when she grows up. Which, to me, is so funny because a.) I feel like I’m still figuring so much out and b.) there are so many things I admire about her. She’s super talented, smart, funny, and incredibly nice. She’s truly brave (yet another of my friends who moved across the country from everything she knew to strike out on her own), and I’m so happy to have her in my life.

I also love that she can speak so candidly about realizing something isn’t the right choice for you. That cross-country move I mentioned? It didn’t work out exactly as she had hoped. But rather than simply flailing and giving up, Michelle was able to pick herself back up and start out on a new journey. At this point in our lives, I think it’s crucial to know how to deal when something doesn’t work out — and how to figure out what to do next.

Hooray for Annie and Michelle! We’re almost halfway through the list folks. See you tomorrow!

My 25th birthday is five days away.

I don’t celebrate birthdays (so this isn’t me fishing for cards and gifts), but I wanted to talk about this particular milestone because, well, it is a milestone.

When I was a wee little Justine, I used to have this mental plan that went something like this: I’m going to get married at 20 and have kids at 25.

Okay, so…we’ve learned that wee little Justine was kind of a psycho. Or at least vastly overestimating how quickly she would get her life together. I mean, seriously, you’re still very much in college at 20. This is why we don’t take life advice from 6-year-olds.

But the point is, from the start, 25 has always signified something big for me. Twenty-five is the age (in my brain) that I was supposed to be completely and utterly grown up. Settled. Life was supposed to be figured out.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happened.

I mean, to my own credit, I have some things figured out. The marriage thing? I’ve figured the crap out of that one. The job thing? The where we want to live thing? The money thing? Eh…that’s what the second-half of your twenties is for, right?

But for this commemorative post (available for two easy payments of $39.95!!)(I’m the only one that thinks of infomercials when I hear the word “commemorative”? Okay, moving on.), I wanted to focus on the stuff I can check off. More than that, I wanted to get input from some people who I really trust and admire on what they think is important to check off before you hit 25. So I sent out a Facebook message to a few people who fit that description and compiled their thoughts with my own. Some of these are silly things. Some of them a bit weightier. But they’re all 100 percent true.

And just in case you’re already overwhelmed at the thought of reading all 25 in one sitting, I’m splitting this post into five parts. Check back over the next five days for the rest!

So without further ado, here is the first half of our list of the 25 things you should know by the time you turn 25:

1. “You should know how to host a dinner party without completely freaking out.” – Madison Mayberry Hofmeyer

This is probably kind of a weird thing to say about someone who I’ve only met once before, but Madison is kind of one of my favorite people in the world. (Yup, I’m putting it all out there, Madison.) Not only is she insanely nice and smart and funny, she’s also a pretty fabulous cook. (You might recognize her from when she won Rachel Ray’s “Hey, Can You Cook?!” competition in 2008.)

And while you might think, “Sure, a girl like that could easily throw a dinner party,” I think Madison’s thought is incredibly valid. Because a dinner party doesn’t have to be a fancy sit-down event for 20. I think what she means is that you should be able to entertain guests for dinner without losing your mind, and I can completely get behind that.

2. You should know how to use a public restroom.

Okay, this one is from me. And what I mean is, you should know to check if there’s toilet paper before you’ve disrobed and sat down. And you should know to make sure you flush the toilet properly. And you should know to put some paper towels in the stall if you’ve used the last of the toilet paper. And you should know how to wash your hands without leaving soggy paper towels clogging the drain in sink. And for the ladies, it should go without saying, but for the love of all that is holy, you should know not to leave used tampons in the toilet. It’s disturbing to discover.

It never fails to shock me how many grown-ups still have not learned how to do this properly.

3. “You should know how to write a grammatically correct cover letter. That’s inspired by a resume I just read that included, among other hilarious things, ‘An understanding of chivalry’ listed under ‘Honors and Awards’. –Joe Thuente

Joe and I have been friends since the seventh grade when we rode the bus together twice a day every day. I don’t tell him this enough, but he’s someone I’m insanely proud of in terms of what he has accomplished in the time I’ve known him. He has checked off making a major move, getting a graduate degree, and getting his dream job from his life’s to-do list, and I consider it an honor that he’s kept me as a friend this long.

But enough mushy stuff. The dude also knows a thing or two about applying for and getting a job. (Plus, his anecdote is hilarious.) The fact is, it’s never going to be cool to sound uneducated. Learn yourself some basic grammar, folks. And, seriously, have a trusted adult friend read over your cover letter before you turn it in. We don’t need any more of these guys.

4. How to survive away from your family.

5. “You should know how to give a good handshake. And, for God’s sake, if you are male, you should know how to tie a God damn tie by this point.” -Joe T., again.

There’s nothing to really add to that, except I would say that ladies of the world should know how to tie a GD tie at this point too. You never know when you’ll be called on to save a male friend/boyfriend/husband from embarrassment.

Thank you to Madison and Joe from your contributions! See everyone tomorrow for the second installment!

I consider myself a fairly decent cook. I mean, I’m not getting super fancy on anything. But Joey and I are always fed and almost always happy with what I make.

More importantly (in my opinion), I’m pretty capable at taking a bunch of random ingredients and throwing together an entree and a few side dishes on the fly.

I’m not kidding. The recipes I “invent” are literally discovered through the thought process of, “Well, I like {insert food} and I like {insert other food}…so I would probably like them together? Maybe?”

Most of my favorite recipes since I started cooking for myself have been happy accidents, where certain foods that I knew would taste okay together have wound up tasting AMAZING. ON ACCIDENT. I love that. I very rarely follow recipes (unless they’re from my momma) beyond glancing at the ingredients to get a general idea of other combinations of food that work for other people.

I guess that’s the difference. I just look at all meals as a combination of food instead of a recipe. Maybe that’s what makes it less intimidating?

The point is, while there are definitely MUCH better chefs and bakers out there (this girl, this girl, and this girl, to name a few), I think I have a couple of super basic tips that any just-starting-to-cook person can appreciate.

1. The only spices you really need in your cabinet are cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.
Are salt and pepper considered spices? (I told you, I’m not an expert.) I don’t think they are. You should have those too.

But in terms of straight up comes-in-the-spice-rack spices, the four aforementioned spices will be enough for just about anything you’re going to make regularly. Especially the last three. You can add them to veggies, meat, rice — really any savory food — for flavor you didn’t even know you were capable of. (You can also use them to replace taco seasoning packets, which are made up of basically the same mixture plus tons of sodium. You’re welcome.)

And cinnamon is just good on almost everything. Fact.

Occasionally you’ll probably run into a specific recipe that requires something else, but for the day-to-day-I’m-just-going-to-whip-something-up-out-of-whatever-is-in-the-fridge cooking, these four will do ya.

2. The easiest way to cook vegetables.
I have a friend, who is married to my other friend. He love vegetables, but she does virtually all of the cooking and, for whatever reason, is intimidated by cooking vegetables. I’m intimidated by making meatloaf and potatoes (AFTER THE WORST KITCHEN DISASTER IN MY HISTORY OF COOKING), so I don’t judge. We all have our things.

But the thing is, vegetables are quite possibly the easiest thing in the world to cook. Especially if you know how to roast them. Want to know how? Okay, pay CAREFUL attention.

First, set your over to about 375 degrees. Wash your veggies and either cut or slice them into whatever shape seems normal (for example, cut broccoli into chunks, cut tomatoes into slices…but honestly, you can’t mess this up). Toss the cut-up veggies with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or garlic salt). Spread on a baking sheet and bake. THAT’S IT.

For most veggies, you only need to roast them about 15 minutes. Denser vegetables, like beets or potatoes, can take up to an hour. Check on them a few times to determine the best length of time for your oven.

3. The easiest meal to cook ever.
Are you ready for this? Grab 2-3 vegetables out of your fridge. (Almost anything will work…broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, green beans, spinach, kale, swiss chard, WHATEVER.)(Ok, just not potatoes or beets…as I said, they need special treatment.) Wash and chop them.

While they’re draining, prepare a pot of quinoa or rice or pasta on the stove. Let boil/simmer.

Back to the veggies. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add the veggies and saute for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cumin, and paprika (told you they’re helpful!) — however much you want, but a couple of shakes of each should do the trick. Or you can get really fancy and throw a few chopped garlic cloves into the mix.

When quinoa/rice/pasta is done, and the veggies are fragrant and soft (but not mushy), combine everything. Add hot sauce or lite soy sauce (for quinoa and rice) or a bit more olive oil (for pasta) if you like. If you want protein, throw in a scrambled egg, pre-cooked chicken or shrimp, or even a tuna from a can. EAT IT.

Speaking of hot sauce…

4. When in doubt, add hot sauce or cheese.
You guys. How did I not know about the wonders of hot sauce until, like, three weeks ago? YOU GUYS. It’s really, really good, in case you didn’t know. And better than that, it covers a multitude of sins.

If you’ve whipped up virtually anything, and the flavor just isn’t doing it for you, add a few drops of hot sauce or a couple tablespoons of feta or parmesan cheese. I don’t know why this works, but it has never failed me. One of those three ingredients has saved many a bland dish in my house. Make sure you always have them on-hand.

In general, the best way to get comfortable cooking is by, well, cooking. Once you’ve cooked a fillet of fish, you know how to cook almost every fillet of fish. Once you’ve learned how to cook vegetables, you know how to cook almost every vegetable.

Remember, you’re just combining foods. Don’t be intimidated!

Okay, opening the floor to people who actually know what they’re talking about. What are your super basic, super general cooking tips that you didn’t really learn until you had been cooking for a while? I wanna hear ’em.

I decided to make my own bread yesterday. After reading one-too-many articles about all the nasty stuff they’re putting in pre-made bread (preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) and learning that making your own bread is a fairly straight-forward process, I decided to go for it.

I don’t know what’s gotten into me either. Apparently not washing my hair for a couple of days has turned me into an all-out hippie.

Anyway. I’m not going to worry about repeating the recipe because I basically just followed this one exactly. Instead, I want to talk about the lessons garnered from the experience. Here is what I learned from the experience of making bread. Because yes, actually, it is an experience.

First things first, I completely understand why I have just always bought my bread in a bag at the grocery store. And why my mother and my mother’s mother have done the same thing.

Know why? Because while making bread isn’t hard, it is involved. There are a lot of steps. And a lot of downtime. As in, a lot of time where you are literally just waiting around for the bread to be ready to be baked.

Raw dough is terribly needy and insecure.

From start to finish, the process takes just over three-and-a-half hours. Hours. And it would take even longer if you don’t have a stand mixer.

{dough, kneading}

When you consider that I rarely make a dinner that takes me more than half an hour to throw together, this is a major culinary investment. You definitely need a mostly open afternoon (though it helps if you have other chores to fill in the gaps with) to bake your own bread. I worked from home yesterday, so that’s the only reason why I could get this accomplished.

Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s okay to take the easy way out if it makes the rest of your life more efficient. On the other hand, sometimes you just need to attempt making your own bread.

In a different but similar vein, baking bread requires patience. Like, a lot. Three and a half hours, remember?

You have to wait for the yeast to dissolve in the water. You have to let the dough rest. You have to wait for the dough to rise. Twice. You have to let the dough rest again. You have to wait for it to bake. You have to wait for it to cool before you cut it. (Otherwise apparently you run the risk of it coming out gummy?)

Basically, you have a lot of time to re-think why you ever thought baking your own bread would be a good idea in the first place.

I am not a particularly patient person. But because I was pretty sure rushing any of these steps would lead to disaster (and therefore a wasted three-and-a-half hours along with several cups of flour), I had to force myself to fight back against those impatient tendencies.

So I tried to appreciate the time. I got a lot of other things done. I did a full day’s work, organized the two big closets, photographed the clothes I want to sell and opened a Threadflip account, tidied up the bedroom, ran a couple of errands, and cleaned the kitchen and dining room. All while also baking bread. (Get multi-tasked.)

And you know what? Baking bread is a chore similar to laundry. You do a bit of work, but most of it is waiting time when you can get a lot accomplished.

Lesson learned: Maybe it’s okay to slow down enough to make your own bread now and then.

{bread, baked}

Finally, it has to be said, there are few things more satisfying than cooking entirely from scratch.

This is kind of related to my post a couple of days ago about how I want to be able to do just about everything for myself. I like being self-sufficient. I like knowing that I can do things. I like creating and working with my hands. There’s something soothing about making food from very basic ingredients. (Plus, if you don’t have a mixer, I hear kneading bread is a great stress-reliever.)

Besides, you can’t beat that first bite of homemade bread.

{bread & nutella breakfast}

Lesson learned: You just can’t beat accomplishing things by yourself.

So, I know what you’re thinking. How did it turn out?

Not bad, I say. It’s quite a bit denser than bread you buy in the store, and it could maybe use a little more salt, but assuming you add a spread or use it for a sandwich, you’d probably never notice that.

The recipe makes two loaves, so at least I know I won’t have to make bread again for another couple of weeks. (One is keeping in the freezer.) But I think I’ll stick with it. Maybe next time try to be a bit more patient so the dough can rise even more.

Have you ever made your own bread? What was your experience?

There are so many things I wish I knew how to do.

I wish I knew how to make clothes. I wish I knew how to design websites (like, really knew, without feeling like I’m going to make something blow up if I insert the wrong code). You already know how I wish I knew how to upholster furniture, but you might not know I also wish I knew how to build furniture. You know. With saws…and…stuff.

Sometimes I think back on the school and education decisions I’ve made, and I think, dang. You couldn’t have squeezed a shop class somewhere in there? Or taken that second semester of home ec where they covered the basics of sewing machines?

I mean, I’ve obviously managed to get by just fine. I even taught myself to use my sewing machine (as long as all I have to do is sew straight lines). And it’s not like I have been held back career-wise because I opted to take that 8th writing class.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I would be happier if I could do these things.

Being self-sufficient has always been a big deal for me. I hate asking for money. I hate needing other people to do things for me. I hate waiting around for help, which is part of why I’ve learned to do so many things myself. (The list above obviously excluding.)

Which is why I’ve decided to take a stand on this.

The fact is, I’m almost 25. I’m not almost dead. There is no reason why I can’t still learn to do all of the above.

I’m going to start with the one I consider to be the most basic: sewing. Because there’s a big, wide world of non-straight lines out there. And I’m tired of having a specific dress or skirt in my head and not being able to find it in a store.

Fortunately, there are a couple of places near me that offer sewing classes. So I’m signing up! First class is August 1st.

Because you’re only old when you’ve stopped learning, right?

What have you always wished you knew how to do? What’s stopping you?

I spent the first two years after graduating from college working for a wedding planning website. It’s not really important which one, but it’s worth noting that it’s the “#1 online wedding destination.” So…yeah. The people who work there know quite a bit about this whole wedding-planning thing.

I was even working there while I was planning my own wedding. (Weddings were my life for a while.) And I like to think that I was able to go into that process a little better prepared than I would have been if I had gone in cold because a large portion of my job was to, well, plan weddings. Plus, I managed our message boards, where brides from around the world aired their complaints, bragged about their details, and begged advice from their more experienced peers.

And now I want to pass the lessons I learned on to you. Here are 7 things working at a wedding planning website taught me about planning a wedding.

{father-daughter dance}

1. If they pay, they get a (very large) say.
In short, the only way to have complete control over your big day is to pay for every single thing yourself. And, honestly, even then you’ll have to deal with a lot of opinions. If I had a dollar for every bride who went on our message boards to whine about over-bearing parents (who also happened to be footing the bill), well, I could have covered all my own wedding costs. Knowing this fact, it’s important to enter wedding planning with a lot of communication up front. Make sure you and your parents or future-in-laws are on the same page about what you want. And if you just don’t want to deal with it, scale back your wedding and pay for it yourself. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of headaches (and possibly a wedding you hate) down the line.

{man of honor & bridesmaids}

2. Be nice to your bridesmaids.
It should be an honor to be asked to be in someone’s wedding. You should be asking people you love and who have been a big part of your relationship to be part of one of the most important decisions of your life. You shouldn’t think that the second they agree they have signed a contract to be your personal slaves.

Your bridesmaids really don’t have to do anything except wear the agreed-upon dress and show up on-time and relatively sober. So no, they don’t have to plan or attend every pre-wedding party, they don’t have to construct your bouquets the night before the wedding, and they don’t have buy you a lavish gift. But if you’re as nice to them as you were before you got a ring on your finger, they might actually want to do those things for you.

{bridal party}

3. Don’t be a burden.
Speaking of that bridesmaid dress, you really don’t need to have the $500 brand name to have a beautiful wedding. Either consult with your girls (one-on-one) before making a choice so you know what everyone’s budget is or give them a choice based on a color palette or style. And don’t demand an exotic bachelorette party or that they stay in an expensive hotel the night before (unless you’re buying…and even then, ask nicely). They’ll have a lot more fun at your wedding (and helping you plan) if they’re not tormented by a credit card bill along the way.

{my dress}

4. Once you buy a dress, you really need to stop looking at dresses.
You know why? Because there are always going to be more/prettier/trendier dresses out there. Trust me. Bridal Fashion Week happens twice a year, every year, and that fact isn’t going anywhere. You will only drive yourself crazy if you keep scoping out your options after you’ve made a purchase. The same is true for reception halls, color palettes, and, well, spouses.

5. Engagement season lasts from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.
Wedding season is technically from June to October, but even that’s broadening every year. Translation: You are not allowed to get upset when someone else gets engaged or is getting married around the same time you are. Prepare for the onslaught of “We’re getting married!” Facebook updates and back-to-back save-the-dates, and don’t expect your friends’ lives to stop for a full month or year just because you’re hitting a major milestone. Because, trust me, they won’t.

{one of my favorite photos of my mom and me before the wedding}

6. You are not the first or the only person to deal with that issue.
So stop the pity party. I promise you that no matter what your story is, I have heard crazier. There are people out there with truly insane (and sometimes dangerous) family situations, horrible diseases and financial burdens, and virtually any other issue you can think of. The second you start letting your problems be your excuse to misbehave or treat others poorly is the second you become a bad bride.

Don’t be a bad bride.

7. Sometimes, even those really pretty weddings fall apart.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I got an email from a bride who had been featured on our website asking me to take her wedding down. Her husband had cheated on her only three years after they said “I do,” they were now divorced, and she would prefer if every Google search of her name didn’t bring up that pretty little reminder of the happy day they had shared.

The fact is, you can get every detail exactly right. Your color palette can be exactly on trend, you can be exactly the weight you want to be, your bridesmaids’ shoes can complement their dresses exactly, your flowers can never wilt, and you can even provide favors people actually want. But that doesn’t mean life is going to be perfect when the last of the confetti is swept away.

In turn, not everyone will love their wedding. Sometimes weddings just aren’t the fairy wonderland of perfection and joy that the wedding industry makes them out to be. Sometimes they’re just a big, complicated event that bring out the worst in people you thought you knew and you’re just happy the day is finally over. So if the cake is knocked over and the DJ plays the songs on your do-not-play list and your mom gets drunk and throws a temper tantrum, it’s important to remember that the wedding isn’t the important part; the marriage is.

{the walk down the aisle}

The rest? Well, the rest is just cake.

{all photos by Lime Green Photography}