Things I Like

I was never a girlie-girl growing up. After three older brothers, I’m sure my mom was more than a little disappointed at just how much I preferred soft ball and collecting bugs to dressing up and painting my nails.

Of course, things changed as I got older. I started wearing makeup in the eighth grade. (Though I vividly remember being so uncomfortable asking my mom if I could. I think I was embarrassed? Not embarrassed to be wearing makeup. But embarrassed to be making a fuss about my appearance.

Somewhere along the line, I equated caring about my appearance with being high-maintenance. Isn’t that kind of sad? I mean, shouldn’t you feel like you’re worth making a fuss over?

Obviously, I don’t feel that way as much anymore. I’m a huge proponent of the lunchtime manicure (I haven’t had naked nails in…geez, months?), and you know I love a good blowout. My favorite indulgences (besides my running time) are getting my hair or nails done. I feel like a whole new person after a trip to the salon.

But despite how much I love taking care of myself and how great I feel when I do, I still sometimes feel a tug of guilt about it. I know that these things are not actually important. And I could very well survive without either indulgence. But as long as it is fiscally responsible, why should I beat myself up about doing whatever I can to be my best self?

Am I the only one who ever feels this way? Or should I just knock it off and embrace my life as a pseudo-high-maintenance chick?

You know what we haven’t talked about in a while? My apartment decor.

You’ll be glad to know things are pretty much where we left off last time. I mean, I updated that gallery wall a bit. We got a computer. But really, that’s about it.

Like just about every other blogger, however, I’ve been on a quiet mission this year to incorporate more color into our decor. I love a good neutral (and live a lot of my life in them), but lately I’ve been drawn to more colorful spaces on Pinterest and in magazines.

This painting.

This office area.

This pastel-y living room.

So, as you can see, I’m not talking like CrAzY amounts of color. I like subtle…so you don’t even notice you’re looking at a colorful room, you just notice the pretty. Plus, I think colorful details pair nicely with white walls. (Which, as we know, I am forced to have.)

Anyway. The reason why I am bringing this up is because I am psyching myself up for a major purchase: a coral rug.

FEAST your eyes on this baby:

It’s the Argonne Rug from Home Decorators Collection. And, um, hi? That price? Amazing. Rugs are expensive, yo. But this? this I could swing.

The hubs is on-board (he’s pretty trusting of my decor ideas…guess that means I haven’t done anything too wacky yet). I just need to pull the trigger.

But first…what do you guys think? The other colors in my living room are taupe, green, grey, and gold-ish. I brought in a little pink with that new print on the gallery wall, and I think it worked well, but this would be a definite statement. And I’m mildly concerned that with the trellis-patterned curtains (which, for the record, I have hemmed since that post) and this patterned rug, it would be too much. But maybe I’m just being a big baby? In my brain, it all just kind of works, but maybe that’s just in my crazy brain.

Any thoughts out there?

I’m just going to tell you right now that I didn’t get everything done that I said I was going to do. BUT. I got most of it done.

I DID organize half of the hall closet. (But I didn’t take a picture because I forgot to take a “before” photo. I know. #bloggerfail.)

I DIDN’T do anything to the office area. But, honestly, it doesn’t look that bad right now. Just a little cluttered.

I DID finish the gallery wall. My favorite new update is a print with a quote from one of my favorite authors. My brother actually included this quote in his “man of honor” speech at my wedding, so it reminds me of happy memories whenever I look at it.

I DID tidy all the common areas. The living room, bathroom, dining room, and kitchen were all pretty darn clean as of yesterday morning. (The dining room has since become “crafting central,” so it’s not as neat currently.)(But it’s for a good cause.)

I DIDN’T make the shadow boxes. But I did get quite a bit of other crafting accomplished.

I DIDN’T make it to a thrift store. I know. I have been promising to do this forever. I don’t know what my deal is. I also have two pairs of pants that need to go to the tailor that have been sitting in the back seat of my car for weeks.

Maybe next weekend.

So anyway, I feel reasonably accomplished.

You might be wondering about the crafting I hinted at. (Or you might not. I don’t know your life.) Well, all I can tell you right now is that it’s for a secret project. I will reveal more next month.

How bout y’all? Did you get anything accomplished this weekend that you had been putting off?

I can feel it, you guys. Next weekend is the weekend of the thrift store run. It’s happening.

So along the lines of unsurprising confessions, you guys can probably tell (if you don’t know me personally) that I am a planner.

I plan everything. (And then I usually blog about those plans.) From outfits, to vacations, to haircuts, to how I’m going to spend my time off. It’s a sickness, but I have embraced it as a part of my life that isn’t going anywhere.

And in some cases, it’s even a blessing. Take, for example, the time my best friend was getting married and needed someone to plan a bachelorette party/bridal shower for about 25 of her closest girl friends from all over the country in a state about 1,000 miles away from me.

Challenge…accepted.

Honestly, I was thrilled to do it. Annie is one of my oldest, dearest friends, and I’m so excited to be in her wedding in September. Her sister is her maid-of-honor, but since she’s only 19 and swamped with school and choir and other responsibilities that come with being an active college student, I offered to take care of the party planning.

And let’s be honest, my life makes more sense when I know what is going on (in detail), and what better way to know what’s happening than to plan it yourself? (Spoken like a true control freak. sigh…)

Obviously, there were some initial roadblocks. For one, the party would take place in Chicago, and I live in New York. For another, we were talking a fairly substantial group of girls (it ended up being about 25 people total). Fortunately, Annie has another bridesmaid who lives in the area who was on-hand to help with recommendations.

Here’s where we stayed, what we did, and how it held up (and a lot of photos that I stole from Susan’s Facebook album…ha):

Where we stayed: The Wyndham Chicago Downtown Hotel

{me preparing to do Annie’s makeup…Lauren doing…something ha}

Seven girls stayed in the hotel, so we booked two rooms. The hotel was nice enough to give us adjoining rooms, so we just propped open the doors and turned it into a giant suite. No complaints about the hotel! It was nicely located, fairly priced, and it even had nice soaps and stuff.They also let you order pizza and have it delivered to your room at two in the morning. Which might be a common occurrence in hotels, but this was the first time I had done it and was pleased to find there weren’t any issues.

Final grade: A

Where we ate: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

{JAB reunites for dinner!}

{oooh…cake!}

One of Annie’s favorite restaurants in Chicago, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba was a natural choice for dinner. Plus, it’s one of the few places in town that could accommodate our large group. We could have booked a private room, but we opted for a standard reservation (two tables) to save everyone money. Everyone ordered about two tapas each, and we got four pitchers of sangria for the table. The price ended up breaking down to be extremely reasonable (about $25 per person…we were really glad we hadn’t sprung for the private room), the service was great, and the food (and sangria) was delicious.

I also recommend a quality light-up sash for the bride at all times.

Final grade: A

How we traveled: Chicago Trolley & Double Decker

{the passersby were big fans of us}

{so much trolley excitement}

{craziness…this photo courtesy of Nick Miller :)}

OK, I just need to say this: If you’re planning a party for a group in Chicago, get a trolley. We had so much fun aboard this thing. Plus, we got to visit a few different bars without having to hoof it around town in heels. (Plus, you can bring drinks and whatever you like on the trolley. Need I say more?) Our driver, Erica, was super sweet and took great care of us. Highly recommend!

Final grade: A+

Where we partied: Howl at the Moon

{reaching up and pulling it down was Annie’s signature move}

We stopped at a few bars on the trolley (I remember one was called Cans, but another girl planned the stops and I can’t remember the name of the second bar), but afterwards we had a reservation at Howl, a dueling piano bar. It’s a popular spot for brides-to-be (I think we counted 17 bachelorettes total that night), so it’s of course a bit cheesy, but definitely a great time. Our reservation (which cost about $25 per person) allowed our group to cut the line, paid each person’s cover, got them one drink, and got the bride a stage call. Meaning the lovely Annie was serenaded (I believe she picked “Party in the USA.” Because she’s classy like that.) in front of everyone. We danced, we sang, and we completely lost our voices. Fun times for all.

Final grade: A

What I’m saying is, the night went perfectly. No one got lost, there was zero drama (despite being a group of about 25 girls…), and everyone had a great time. Definitely makes the four(ish) months of planning all worth the effort!

Sunday afternoon, we had a little shower for Annie at her friend Kelly’s apartment. (For food, I went with Panera bagels, a fruit salad I chopped up that morning, and cake pops made by another bridesmaid, Linda. It was all a hit.) Annie got a few presents, and we lounged around recounting our favorite moments of the night before. A pretty good Sunday by any standard.

I am just so relieved everything went so smoothly and everyone had a great time! Planning a party for that many people (from half way across the country) is a bit stressful, but Annie had a lot of fun, so it was completely worth it.

{the lovely bride and me}

Have any of you ever planned one of these? Any disaster stories to share?

Thanks for reading one of my blog’s most popular posts! Don’t miss my other DIYs and how-tos here. Welcome to Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One!

If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, it probably will not surprise you that I’m a fan of etiquette.

I was not always this way. When I was little, and my grandma would send us fuzzy pajamas (the early years) or a check for new school clothes (when grandma realized teenagers are notoriously difficult to shop for), my mother would have to hassle me near to death to send the poor woman a thank-you note.

{source}

Because, trust me, I get it. Thank-you notes can be a hassle. You have to sum up gratitude in more words than, “Hey, thanks for this neat thing you got me here.” Because that is not enough words to fill up even the smallest stationery.

Fortunately for you, I have matured from my ungrateful youth and become somewhat of a connoisseur of thank-you notes. I have it down to a science, if you will. I have several friends that will consistently turn to me when writing their own thank-you notes. Yeah. I’m that good.

I should say that I actually truly believe in the thank-you note. I love receiving them, and I think it’s truly…disappointing that our society has more or less abandoned the practice in favor of a “thanks LOL” Facebook post. My 13-year-old niece sent me the cutest, sweetest thank-you note after I sent her a gift last week, and it totally made my day.

Which isn’t to say email thank-yous are rude. In the right setting, they can be more appropriate than the written version. And fortunately, what I’m about to share with you can work in both an online and a tangible setting.

BEHOLD! The patented Justine Thank-You Note Formula!

First, you have your intro. This will vary depending on how well you know the person. For job interview thank-yous, “Dear Mr. So-and-so” is just fine. For your friends, I like to use “My dearest, darlingest So-and-so.” Just to add a little flavor.

Next, you want to state outright what you’re thankful for.

I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know how much I appreciated our conversation/you taking the time to interview me/that swell sweater you sent me/[insert what they did for you here] the other day.

This is your thesis statement. Your lede. This is what makes this a thank-you note. Next, you want a wax a bit about why exactly you are grateful.

I know you must be extremely busy (maybe add why you know they’re busy, relate to a personal experience, show you were paying attention, etc.), so it means a lot that you took the time to meet with me.

Or:

It was so thoughtful of you to remember our anniversary, and receiving your gift made our day.

Or whatever reasons you actually have for being grateful.

This next part is extremely important. You might say this is the part that separates your generic one-step-up-from-just-signing-a-Hallmark-card thank-you notes. You need to state something specific and personal to do with what this person did to show that this is a personal note to that person. For example, if you’re thanking someone for meeting with you for an informational interview, you might say:

I thought your opinions and advice on [insert relevant topic you discussed] were especially helpful.

Or, if someone got you a gift card to Target for a graduation gift, you could say:

Your generous gift will be so helpful as I start buying everything I’ll need to survive in a dorm next year.

At this point, I like to throw in a joke or aside to give the note a little more life. Obviously, the definition of “joke” changes depending on whether this is a letting to a potential employer or your great-aunt Helen, so use discretion. For example, in the aforementioned informational interview example, you might say:

As someone who has gone through the at-times trying task of finding a job, I’m sure you can appreciate how helpful it is to get advice from someone who has been so successful.

(Oh, did I not mention that this is also the place to slip in some subtle flattery? Just don’t be obnoxious with it — always, always, always be as sincere as possible.)

For that graduation gift, you might say:

It will be a big change living on my own (I’ll miss mom’s cooking for sure!), but this will definitely help ease the transition.

You might add an additional sentence of you met with someone who offered to do you a favor, and you want to remind them without sounding like you’re just writing them because you want them to do the favor. You might say:

I’m especially grateful for your offer to pass my resume on to your HR department. Please let me know if I can provide any other information to you.

How are you doing? Following me so far? We’re almost done. You’re down to the last few words. All you have to do is find a way to end this note without using the phrase, “Thanks again!”

Ugh. There is nothing worse than having to tack that on. You’re basically saying, “Welp, I see I have about three centimeters of this card left to fill out, but I have nothing more to say, so…see above!”

You don’t want to do that. And you don’t have to. Instead, use this last sentence to nod at the future.

Looking forward to seeing you at Janie’s wedding in May!

Or:

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Then, before you can say, “Best, Justine,” you’re home-free.

As you probably noticed, this whole thing takes about five sentences. Which is good because there are really only so many ways to express gratitude without getting repetitive but bad because each of those sentences carries a lot of weight.

For those of you who are not a fan of reading (in which case, get OUT of here), here are the cliff notes:

1. Greeting
2. Thank-you statement
3. Why you’re grateful/what you’ll do with the gift
4. Joke/Sincere flattery
5. Remind them about a favor (optional)
6. Sign-off without saying “thanks again!”

See? Not so bad now that you know what each sentence is supposed to do, right?

You’re welcome.

You guys! I’m back!

Hopefully your whole day without me wasn’t too difficult to bear. I’d like to be all like, “Oh maaaan, you guys, I was like dyyyying without you!!!! LYLAS!!” But I’m afraid the hubs made our 36-hour anniversary extravaganza a bit too awesome for me to wish I was anywhere else.

And just because I love to brag on my handsome man, here’s a run-down of just how great he is:

1. On Tuesday, I got a special delivery at work right before lunch. The flowers continued to open while I was out, and they’re even prettier today. (Plus, my desk smells amazing.)

2. When I got home that evening (after my boss let me out EARLY – woot!), after Joey finished packing, a town car picked us up around 5:30. Um, hi? I can go into the city without worrying about fighting traffic or slogging along on the train? This is the ultimate in luxury for me. (I’m a fancy, fancy girl, obviously ha.)

3. Hotel room! We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton in Times Square. It was perfectly located for our (yet unbeknownst to me) planned activities, plus it had a gym in the basement so I could go running Wednesday morning.

4. Before dinner (at Tre Dici, which I highly recommend)(Get the lobster mac and cheese. You’re welcome.), Joey gave me yet another surprise. We were going to WICKED the next night! Cue my girlie shrieks.

5. The next morning, we grabbed a delicious egg sandwich at Piccolo Cafe. At this point, I knew we had plans around 1:30, but I didn’t know what they were.

6. Surprise! The plans were that we were going to see Once, a musical based on one of my favorite movies. Yes, you’re counting right, that’s TWO shows in one day. Obviously, I could not be more thrilled.

7. What’s that? We have half an hour to kill before our show? Why, yes! I do think the correct answer for “how should we spend that time” is getting a drink at a nearby pub. I mean, it was after noon…so…yup. (Side note: We were both mildly concerned that we would have to explain ourselves as we bellied up to the bar shortly after lunch, but there was literally a crowd of people drinking. Apparently we’re the only ones that don’t imbibe on our lunch breaks?)

8. You guys. Once is so good. Seriously. If you like folksy music, people who start bands, Ireland, somewhat tragic love stories, amazing singing, or just generally talented musical people, this is the show for you. It is SO GOOD. (Plus, the stage is a bar before the show and during intermission. That’s just never not awesome.)

9. After Once, we grabbed dinner and drinks at Spice Market, a southeast-Asian restaurant in the Meatpacking district. The ambiance is super cool, and everything we had was delicious. I had the kumquat mojito, and Joey had the whiskey passion fizz.

10. For dinner, we split the crab dumplings, seafood laksa, curry duck, and broccoli with baby corn. Dessert was a cookie bag and a half pint of Vietnamese coffee ice cream. We’re fat kids at heart.

11. THEN IT WAS TIME FOR WICKED WHICH IS JUST SO GOOD AND YOU NEED TO SEE IT. I had seen it once in Chicago my junior year of high school, and it was just as amazing as I remembered. The girl who plays Elfaba? A. Maze. Ing. And Glinda knocks it out of the park. So funny. So good. JUST SEE IT ALREADY.

12. And then it was time to get on a train and head home. I think it’s safe to say that we’re both a bit exhausted today, but it was totally worth it.

I had SUCH an amazing time. (And I still have the Augustana concert to look forward to! I mean, the first anniversary is the paper anniversary, so I guess all these tickets are only appropriate!)

But more than anything, I’m so excited to start our second year of marriage. Love you bub!

OK, I promise, no more mushy stuff for a while. Just had to get it out of my system. :)

Now, I’m going to spend the rest of the day reminding myself it’s only Thursday and that I’m getting on a plane in 48 hours to go see some of my best friends.

And you can all look forward to that groggy post next Monday. Anyone else having a crazy (but super awesome) week?