Is there anything better than going home for a visit? Not if you’re me.
Joey and I spent a long weekend over Thanksgiving with my parents, and it was exactly what I needed. I’ve loved living in New York these last (almost) five years, but sometimes a girl just needs to get out of the city.
Besides, going home means so much more than a change of scenery. If you’re me, it means your mom cooking you breakfast every morning and making your favorite dinners most evening. And if she’s not cooking, your dad is taking you to your favorite local restaurants, as well as a few new spots. So now, I’m sharing the wonder with you.
Here’s a quick guide on what to do (and, let’s be real, what to eat) should you ever been lucky enough to spend a weekend in DSM.
First, a few things you can’t eat unless my mother is also your mother:
Our first night home, my mom made my favorite soup IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, Italian Wedding Soup. But trust me, it’s so much better when my mom makes it.
The next night, we had a family dinner. FEAST YOUR EYES (since you can’t feast your belly):
Dinner featured a few of my favorites, like my mom’s sweet potato casserole, butternut squash casserole, and corn bread. (My name is Justine, and I like carbs.)
The next day, I hit the gym with my dad (to work off the aforementioned carbs), shopped with my mom, had ANOTHER delicious dinner by my momma, and then hit up downtown Des Moines with a few of my oldest friends. If you’re in town, I recommend El Bait Shop if you like beer, The Lift if you like hipsters and creepy art, and Fong’s Pizza if you’ve gone to the other two places and need something to soak up all the incredibly inexpensive drinks you ordered.
Because, guys? I didn’t pay more than $6 for a single drink all weekend. And the $6 one was fancy.
The next evening, my mom had a party for some of our family friends, so we got dressed up and ate fancy apps for a few hours.
Aren’t my parents cute?
The next night, we had another family dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Des Moines, Centro.
I got the Avocado Tartine, and I wasn’t disappointed.
And that night, Joey, my parents, and I stormed downtown Des Moines, grabbing dinner and drinks at The Continental (so many cheap cocktails and apps…) and playing a few rounds at the arcade bar Up-Down (I own at skeeball).
Our last day, we had lunch at Zombie Burger (the one place Joey requested) with my family and a few friends we hadn’t had time to see yet. If you go, I highly recommend getting one of the milkshakes. (Spiked, of course.)
Sadly, then it was time to pack up. And while it is nice being back at our home, I’m already looking forward to our next trip back to Des Moines.
D: They gave me the wrong drink yet again. In a month, (1 month) they have never, ever gotten my drink right the first time.
I’m like THANKS! Not mad! Just not comin’ back.
D: I mean, first world problems, for sure
Me: But still.
We deal with a lot.
This is all we ask.
D: Just want a no foam soy latte. That’s all.
Me: You want too much.
D: “Vanilla latte” comes up.
Nope, that not it.
Me: In the old country, you knew your place.
D: In Mother Russia, you make mistake, you no eat whole winter.
Me: In Mother Russia, latte drink YOU.
D: You drink potato latte. Out of hollowed potato. And you like it.
Me: We make latte with potatoes and tears.
D: Potato spice latte: Two parts potato, one part despair.
Me: With a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Apparently there’s something in the water because I’m not the only one who feels compelled to talk about clothes right now. (Don’t miss my dear friend Kayla’s newest post!)
Like Kayla, I too feel like I have too many clothes. The anxiety tends to mount at the times of year that I usually feel more compelled to purchase (looking at you, fall season), especially when I find myself shoving sweaters into tightly packed drawers or struggling to find a certain skirt in my wardrobe.
Excess stuff has always given me anxiety. Excess clothing makes me feel anxious and materialistic.
The most embarrassing part is that even when I feel like my closet is full to bursting, I can still be tempted by the latest J. Crew email in my inbox. After all, what’s one more sweater? And at 60% off? It would be a waste not to take advantage of such savings, right?
One thing I’ve tried to be more aware of in the last couple of years: If you have to spend money to save money, you’re not really saving money.
In the last few weeks, I’ve actually hit a point of shopping saturation. I have plenty of clothes, and I’m finding it easier and easier to ignore deals. (Because, let’s be honest, there is always a sale going on somewhere.)
Two other things that have helped? A more organized closet and limiting my options.
I’ve said before how much I like getting rid of things. (Part of my aversion to stuff.) I try to prune down my wardrobe at least a couple of times a year, and it gets easier and easier the closer I get to truly identifying my personal style.
Because, yeah, 26-and-a-half years later, I’m still working that out.
This past weekend, I filled two large shopping bags with items to sell or donate and put all my summer clothes to keep in a plastic bin for storage until the temperature warms up. The result? A neat, color-coded wardrobe with room to actually sort through each item. (Okay, the color-coded part doesn’t happen naturally. I’m a freak, okay?)
I even convinced the hubs to let me go through his closet…though we’ll see how long the color coding lasts.
It might sound weird, but I actually feel calmer looking at my clothes now. Okay, yeah, it definitely sound weird. BUT I AM WHO I AM, GUYS.
As for limiting my options, I’ve decided to only wear about seven colors.
Hear me out.
There are few things more irritating to me than making an impulse buy — or a “yes, this will be my style” buy — only to realize after a couple of wears that an item just isn’t me. Now I’ve wasted money and space in my closet on something I don’t even like.
So I started to think about what it is that I always like, and basically it translates into anything J. Crew/Ralph Lauren/preppy-esque. And more specifically, it almost always comes in a shade of black, white, grey, navy, green, red, or camel.
And thus, a new shopping rule was born.
And so far? It seems to be working pretty well. I definitely feel like I’ve curbed the excess spending.
What about you guys? Do you have any shopping rules? Another of my unofficial ones is that I rarely buy anything full priced. And, of course, I always use Ebates. Share yours in a comment below!
I’m writing this with mud still under my fingernails. (Though, for the record, I started writing it Saturday night.)
Saturday morning, I survived my first Tough Mudder.
For those not familiar, a TM is basically a half marathon with obstacles. Tough obstacles. Obstacles with names like Electric Eel, Everest, and Arctic Enema.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it was happening. Here’s how it all went down.
A couple of months ago, my friend Diana asked me if I wanted to join her Tough Mudder team. I’ll be honest: My immediate answer was thanks, but no thanks. I have a few friends who have done Mudders in the past, and I could never get over the fact that there are obstacles that involved running or crawling through electrically charged strings that would actually shock you whilst you tried to scramble through.
I mean, I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to exercise, but that seemed crazy even to me.
A couple of weeks ago, though, Diana was telling me how one of her friends had dropped out of their three-woman team, and since so many of the obstacles require some serious team effort to get through, “If only I could find someone who would take her place.”
I took a deep breath.
“Well, I guess if I could just have her entry, I could do it with you.”
Also known as the words they’ll engrave on my tombstone.
Of course, Diana quickly made the arrangements, even reaching out to a friend of hers who works for TM to get my name on the entry, and the deed was done.
Honestly, I tried not to think about the event too much in the (terribly) short weeks leading up to it. Diana and I are also doing a half marathon next month, so we were already training. We both continued with our conditioning training regimens as well. So we were preparing. We just weren’t thinking about what we were preparing for.
The morning arrived all too soon. Diana and Stephanie (our third team mate) met us at the course in New Jersey. The weather was uncharacteristically good, which actually boded well for the rest of the day.
That Arctic Enema I mentioned? It involves submersing yourself in a dumpster filled with icy water. Like, the top three to four inches of the water are just chunks of ice. It would be just swell if it wasn’t freezing outside when we got out of said dumpster.
So anyway. Around 10:45, we crossed the starting line. Around 10:46, we had to scale a sheer wood wall.
The race had begun.
Besides running about 12 miles, we also did about 12 obstacles. (I’m honestly too tired to remember exactly how many. Plus, there’s a lot of running up and over steep, muddy hills throughout, and while those don’t technically qualify as official obstacles, they should.)
You can read the descriptions of all the potential TM obstacles you could encounter here, but the ones I can remember that we did were the Electric Eel, the Cage Crawl, The Cliffhanger, Electroshock Therapy, Everest, Fire Walker, Funky Monkey, Island Hopping, Just the Tip (not as dirty as it sounds)(actually, it was really filthy), Kiss of Mud, Mud Mile (lots of mud), Walk the Plank, Boa Constrictor, the Arctic Enema, a Wheelbarrow Crawl, several Berlin Walls, and Warrior Carry.
The worst parts? Easily the Arctic Enema and the shock stations. As I said, the electrocution had always been my least favorite part about the event, and actually living it lived up to my perception. It hurt. And in a way that just made you kind of angry about it. I did not like it.
Here’s a video of it happening (the weird jerking motions we make are us reacting to the electricity):
The icy dumpster was just the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. I mean, I’ve done a polar bear plunge, so I guess I thought I had an idea of what to expect.
I. Had. No. Idea.
The second you hit the water, your breath just leaves you. As does any sense of reason. We made the mistake of popping back up for air before swimming under the divider (yup, they make you swim through the icy water completely submerged), so we had to force ourselves to go back under just to get out. I vividly remember swimming toward the end and feeling several inches of ice move around my head as I broke the surface.
As we burst up again, Diana just screamed, “I NEVER WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN.”
There was a mad panic as we desperately just tried to fight out way out of the dumpster. I may have kicked a teammate. I honestly don’t even remember.
When you get out, you just have to keep moving. I couldn’t think. I just knew I couldn’t stop moving. You warm up again fairly quickly, but the shock to the system takes a bit to wear off.
Okay, I just made the whole thing sound pretty awful. Let’s talk about the fun parts, shalllll we?
The Warrior Carry was actually probably my best moment. We were a three people, but at the Carry you’re supposed to run down a stretch of the path carrying a partner on your back, then switch midway through. Since we needed a fourth partner, we paired up with another team of three. That was two girls and one dude.
One 6-foot-three, 200-ish pounds dude. Named Adam.
He and I made our acquaintance, and then I hopped on his back. I honestly could barely to put together a sentence because my brain was still a little frozen from the Arctic Enema, but as we approached the switch point, he asked me if I wanted to switch.
“Yeah, sure, let’s do it!” I replied without thinking. The next thing I know, I’m running down the path with him on my back. His two partners turned around one point and marveled at my Herculean strength. (Really, they shouted, “Oh my GAWD, how are you doing that?”)
When we got to the end, we high-fived, and Diana ran up to me shouting, “Justine, you carried a man!”
I felt kind of awesome.
Thinking about doing your own Mudder but not sure what to expect? Here are the four things I think you really need to know:
1. You should train for this. I know you did a Warrior Dash or a 5K without any extra training, but this is different. Even if you weren’t doing anything else, you’re going to run between 10 and 12 miles. You should probably be able to run 5-6 without stopping. It also wouldn’t hurt you to work on your upper body strength. There is a lot of lifting yourself over things or pulling yourself through things.
2. You will get dirty. Embrace it. Because you will literally get coated in mud. Mud will be in your toe nails, in your ears, in your eyes, in your belly button. At one point, Diana looked at me and said, “You have mud in your teeth.” At another point, I was looking for Diana, and I realized I had literally been staring at her for ten seconds, I just didn’t recognize her because she was completely covered in mud. You will look like a swamp monster. It’s easier to just accept it. (Plus, there’s probably a water obstacle in the next half mile to help rinse you off a bit.)
3. You will get a little hurt. But probably not too much. I have a bunch of scratches and bruises on my elbows and shins (on top of being sore as heck), and I smacked my elbow falling over the other side of the Berlin Wall. But unless you are actually a spider monkey, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. Fortunately, you won’t really realize that you are getting beat up until the end (and even then, not really until the next morning). Adrenaline sort of just powers you through everything.
4. Believe in Tough Mudder karma. You won’t be able to get through the whole course yourself. People will pick you up, give you hand holds, pull you through tunnels, and in some cases carry you through portions of this race. Accept the help (because you need to — you will actually find yourself thanking some dude for pushing you over a mud hill by your butt), but also pay it forward. When you get over the hill, reach back to give someone a hand over. Help the 40-year-old dude get through the narrow, slippery tunnel. Carry the man on your back because it’s part of the fun.
5. And most importantly, you’d best have a sense of humor if you want this to be fun at all. It’s important to choose team members that you can joke with (or at least just make “are we really doing this” eye contact with), and it helps to be friendly with everyone else. Thank people. Cheer people on. Remember that everyone is being ridiculous, and you’re not the only one planning to go home, shower, and not jump in the mud again for at least another year. And if all else fails, remind yourself that there is free beer in the end.
Honestly, I’m glad I did it. It was extremely challenging, but I think it’s important to challenge ourselves. And I sort of had a similar thought as I did during the polar bear plunge that it’s just nice to do things that you never thought you would do. It’s nice to surprise yourself. It’s kind of fun to crawl around in the mud and get dirty, then jump into cold water from a 20-foot plank, then scramble up a muddy hill, then run a mile through the woods, then crawl on your back through cold water, then carry a tire half a mile, then crawl through mud under barbed wire, then slide down a muddy hill, and finally run up a sheer wall with only the hope that someone will grab your hand and pull you up.
No, really. It’s kind of fun.
So that’s how I survived it. Now I’m sore, scratched and bruised, and still swabbing mud out of my ears.
But also? Kind of awesome.
As I mentioned in a recent post, this summer was one of a bit of…excess.
This was true when it came to eating and drinking, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it also meant spending more than I normally do. I mean, I think it’s fairly common (there’s a lot more going on in the summer generally…now we’ll go back to hibernating), but it still means that now I’m looking for as many ways to save as I can for the next few months.
For me, one of the first things to go are my favorite girly habits. (I swear I’ve blogged about something like this before, but I just searched for about ten minutes and couldn’t find the post.) I’ve started doing my own nails (even procuring a little cuticle trimmer in the hopes that I’ll eventually stop picking at mine), and I’ve been seeking out cheaper ways to maintain my hair color.
As I’ve said before, it is expensive being blonde in New York City. Like, whoa. Since a full highlight can be equivalent to a car payment, anything I can do to stretch the time in between is super helpful.
Which is why I was pretty thrilled to discover these two products.
Seriously, you guys. Life. Changing.
The first one is John Frieda’s Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray. (Say that five times fast.) You spray it on your hair (I usually just do the roots) when it’s wet, then either hang out in the sun or simply blow dry. The heat makes the product work it’s magic.
I was a little nervous to try it initially because of a scarring Sun-In experience my brother had when I was a child (I’m a good sister, so I’m not admitting which brother), but the lightening is really gradual and natural-looking. In fact, I’ve had about six people ask me if I had just gotten my hair done since in the last couple of weeks of using it.
That’s a win, folks.
The second product is an even faster quick-fix. I actually discovered it on accident on my way to work one morning. I realized a little too late that I maybe should have washed my hair the night before (whatever, you all know I’ve gone longer without washing my hair) and ducked into a drug store to buy some dry shampoo. When I spotted Jonathan Product Root Touch Up and it promised not only to soak up excess oil but also to hide roots, I was very interested.
And, you guys. It works SO well. Here’s me before using it:
And here’s me after:
So that’s how I fight the fade on a fixed income. Any other secrets out there I should know about?
I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. (A title I actually wear proudly…I never understood being embarrassed about being a bit of a nerd. Nerds win every time.)
When I was younger, I would actually read constantly, even as I was getting ready for school or walking down the sidewalk. My mom would get irritated as I appeared to dawdle, forever telling me to “put down the book and come on.”
Sassy child that I was, I would usually snap back something like, “Do you know how many parents would love to have a child they had to tell to stop reading?!”
My name is Justine, and I’ve been a sassafras since 1987.
Today, I read an average of a book a week. Two if I’m reading something particularly fluffy. I’m constantly on the hunt for what to read next (my Kindle and Amazon’s endless supply of easy-to-download material has been a blessing and a curse), so I thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve read recently in case anyone else is in the market.
In no particular order…
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
This one was on my list for a while. I’d loved Bossypants by Tina Fey, and everyone said this book had a similar feel. Plus, I’m always on board for a humorous memoir by a sort-of awkward gal I admire.
I thought this one was funny, but not quite the laugh-out-loud riot that Bossypants was. It’s also an insanely quick read, so don’t count on it to get you through more than a handful of subway rides. Still, I recommend it for something light.
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I hadn’t seen the movie, but after all the fuss about this story line at the Oscars, I was curious. After reading it, I honestly can’t believe the movie will be better than the book. The characters are so vividly drawn, and the plot is both hilarious and heartrending at times. Highly recommend this one.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This came as a recommendation from my friend Erin, a fellow lover of young adult lit. They’re making it into a movie next year, so I recommend getting it on your radar before then. Erin cites this as one of her favorite books, and while I didn’t have quite the same reaction to it, it is lovely and tragic in a way only YA can be (two teens with cancer meet in a support group and fall in love…the ending isn’t altogether unpredictable, but it’s also not corny in any way). Plus, I think it’s rare to find a male author who can capture the angst of being a teen girl well, and John really nails it.
The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyI hate playing favorites, but this is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. (And, like I said, I’ve read a lot.) It will appeal to the Hunger Games crowd (most of the story is told from the perspective of teens during an alien invasion that has devastated the planet), but it’s a smarter science fiction that readers who think themselves above the HG crowd will also appreciate (it’s a little more Ender’s Game, actually). The biggest selling point, though, is that it’s almost entirely unpredictable. I’m really difficult to shock in books (I mean, there are only so many plot lines out there, right?), and I genuinely did not know what to expect for most of this book. It’s just really, really enjoyable. It’s also going to be a trilogy — albeit the second book doesn’t even have a release date yet — so you’d be super cool to get in on this now.
The Ender’s Game Quintet by Orson Scott Card
Speaking of Ender’s Game, I also read this quintet this year. I’ve since discovered that there’s an almost inexhaustible amount of subsequent books exploring every facet of the series, but I feel pretty satisfied with the plot after reading these four books. The first one will always be my favorite, but if you’re a commit-er like me, you’ll want to read all four. Warning: If you don’t like science fiction, you won’t like these. No matter what anyone tells you, they are not really like Hunger Games at all except the first book has children waging a war.
The Selection/The Elite by Kiera Cass
Just so you don’t get the wrong idea that all I read is fancy-schmance science fiction books (and in the interest of honest, total disclosure), I feel it’s only fair to mention that I’ve also gotten into this soon-to-be trilogy. It’s basically a mix of The Hunger Games (sensing a pattern here?) and The Bachelor. Seriously. It’s not really a book series I brag about reading, but it was perfect for reading by the pool in Florida. If you want something mindless but entertaining, pick it up. The third book is out next year as well.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Finally, let’s add a little mystery to my recommendations. I read this book because it was recommended by the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, on (I think) Glamour.com. It’s about a serial killer who is able to travel through time (you have to read to find out how), making it nearly impossible to catch him. One of his would-be victims survives, though, and becomes obsessed with catching her killer. The book is good, but it didn’t get my heart racing as much as I thought it would. An interesting take on an otherwise overdone plot, though.
I’m currently reading Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (another Flynn rec on Glamour), but I don’t really want to say anything until I’ve finished. I’ll keep ya posted.
So what has everyone else been reading? Lord knows I need a few more download ideas.