Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Home Sweet Home - for the Holiday's

I love the holidays. I get overly excited to make a big batch of hot cider, turn on the christmas station on the radio, and start decorating our home. I have quite a few boxes of holiday decor. And, with each year, I add a few touches to it for an even more elaborate display. This year our home is a rustic winter wonderland at the lodge. At least, that is the overall look of it from what I can tell.
I really love our tree. With the abundance of woodland creatures, made from things like pinecones and bark, it really does give it that rustic feel. Most of the ornaments look homemade, from the crocheted ice skates to the mini bear duo, each one looks homemade. Last year I was lucky enough to find a really great tree skirt which pulled it all together. My ornaments came from either Target, World Market, Pier 1 or Macy's. We have plenty more ornaments, but we save those for our shorter, 3 foot tall tree. Unfortunately, we decided to not put that one up this year, so those ornaments were stored away. Once we move, we will have the space to display it.
In our guest room, we did put up our mini tree. This little tree is as old as Matt is and it still works! I made this a themed tree for Matt, with all of his airplane and Snoopy/Red Baron ornaments. I thought it was the perfect accent for our dormer windows and the lights are sparkly at night, which you can see from the street below.
The living room always gets an extra dose of holiday cheer each year, starting with our side shelf. I take down my fall owls and put up some holiday pieces to display among the books/knick knacks. I do not like a lot of clutter on the shelf, but a few small decorative pieces work perfectly. Most were displayed on my desk at work when I worked in the office.
One spot I tend to go overboard on is at our TV area. While this space is small, we utilize every corner, especially since we no longer have a fireplace. My garland, stockings and decorative pieces get scattered along the top. This is the time of year where the garland makes the TV channel hard to change, but other than that, it really does not get in the way too much. And, the stocking cap makes for a great Christmas party game, if by chance someone's head appears under it.
The Kitchen/Bar area get a few items of decoration, from tea towels to advent calendar but I still need my countertop space, so little decorations are utilized there. However, the bar is an exception. I do add a few lights, our charlie brown christmas tree and other tokens around. We have holiday cups, bottle openers and napkins that get exchanged out this time of year.
One of the best gifts we received from Matt's parents were these magic snowballs, which make for a really fun game this time of year, even without the snowstorm! When you throw them, they light up. It is a quirky and fun addition to our home and we love it. Taking down Christmas decorations at the end of the year is always tough on me, because I really enjoy decorating for the holiday's. I hope you enjoyed all of your holiday's as much as we did.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: Selecting my Bride Tribe

One of the most significant choices you make going into a wedding will be who will be standing with you on your big day. These people are the friends who are close to you, and from my perspective, have helped you and your soon-to-be by building up your relationship. They are honest with you and are by your side for everything else in some way. The bridal party was a creation of the Romans. In Ancient Roman law, at least 10 witnesses had to be present for a martial ceremony. The bridal party had to dress exactly like the bride and groom in order to confuse vengeful spirits who may try to harm the newlyweds.  You can read more about that here.

Since I had already decided on a more intimate option for our ceremony (family only), I was at a crossroads: Do I choose bridesmaids or not? Well, I did. Kinda. Let me explain. Since my bridesmaids will not be donning a more 'traditional' role, they will still be a part of my big day. But, I am not calling them bridesmaids: they are my BRIDE TRIBE. These ladies have been closest to me throughout everything and I honestly could not imagine my wedding day without them. So, they will still help me get ready, and take photos, just like typical bridesmaids, just without the ceremony portion of the day. With my choice of colors for our wedding, I have told them to pick a dress that matches within that range. I want them to wear a dress that suits their body they are comfortable in.

So, to 'propose' to each woman, I created two customized gift boxes catered to each one of their personalities. While they were similar in some items, others I wanted to be a bit different. Each box was $14 from Michael's Craft store. I filled it with pink shred $1.49/each per box from Target. Each notepad was $14 from Zazzle. The each candle was $12 from JayCorner. The Bridesmaid Mug was $10 from Marshalls - similar here. The Bridesmaid stemless wine glass was $10 at Marshalls - similar here. And the sleep masks were $5 on Amazon each. And, the Bridesmaid tags were $3 from Marshalls (a part of a full set) - but these can be made easily or purchased on Etsy!

I hope you have enjoyed this installment of Wedding Wednesday. If you are bridemaid, what was your favorite gift? Or, if you are a bride, what did you give your bridesmaids? I would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: Wedding Expos

I cannot tell you as a bride, how excited I was to attend my first Wedding Expo. It was one of the first things I had planned on doing with my MOH where I felt I was a true BRIDE. I had heard about these shows before so I immediately bought tickets online, excited about attending my first show back in June of 2017. There is a lot of anticipation leading up to one of these shows. They advertise it as a great resource for the newly engaged bride-to-be, from having you connect with caterers, bakers, wedding dress shops, reception venues, rental shops and the like. They do not hold back in telling you about all the Free stuff you are going to get and the all the prizes and raffles that go on throughout the entire event.

But, as a bride-to-be attending my first show, I admit I was disappointed. First, the only runway show they had that day was for the bridal gowns for Alfred Angelo, you know the one that filed for Bankruptcy in July 2017. The dresses were limited and the lack of diversity in designers were disappointing. Side note, all the women who wore the dresses were pageant winners for the state, so not many diverse body types either. Once the show was over, there was an apparent raffle, for a total of 8 items, and the raffled items were for easily budgeted items, like toasting flutes, garters, and thank-you notes.

With about 20 minutes to go visit the vendors who did show up, most were of venues about an hour's drive away or more from the city center. The cake tastings were limiting and most had the same vanilla cake with vanilla icing. As many vendors were bombarded with an abundance of multiple potential customers trying to get questions answered, there was not enough vendors to get a really good idea of what variety is out there. Overall, I felt the experience was lackluster. For the $30 I spent to see the gowns, the vendors and get information, I walked away empty handed. I never utilized any of the vendors who were there and most vendors ignored those brides-to-be who seem to not be "within their budget".

It was the first and last show I attended. While there were plenty of Wedding Expos that circled the city a couple of times, I realized finding a good vendor through the show was not for me. I wanted someone with passion, and I felt the commercialized wedding industry vibe the entire time I was at the show. It felt impersonal and cold. Personally, I felt rushed through to sign with a vendor I had no idea if they were right for me or not. The worst part of it all was my name and number was sold to a third-party vendor that had been calling me daily about a resort getaway (which I had to ultimately block because they refused to remove me from their calling list). While I think these shows have the potential to show the bride-to-be the many wonderful aspects of her big day, I found my show displayed the very reason brides become "bridezillas".

Monday, November 27, 2017

How We Plan Our Trips & Our NYE Trip!

Matt and I have been planning our New Year's Trip for a few weeks now. We are going to Colorado & Utah for a week away. I believe this will be our last trip before our honeymoon so we are really excited to have some time away before the big push to get everything done for that next phase.

Planning our trips is always done with at least 3 months prior to us leaving. We both love not only the aspect of traveling itself, but also the planning phase, where we research the areas, the weather and things to do in the area we want to visit. Since we are AAA members, this is the first stop of our trip, to get maps, triptix and any information of the area we are going to be traveling to. This information lets us know 1- if we are driving, what areas to avoid (for construction/rerouting) and 2- have a map on hand just incase we end up doing something not on our general itinerary. I also like to visit to see what the associates there can help us with: if they have been before, can they recommend a hotel or activity they enjoyed. Getting first-hand experience from someone who has been has always helped guide us to where we want to go and what we would like to do.

After our maps and basic information gathering of the area/city, it is time to hunker down and search the web. I find fellow travel bloggers to be useful in obtaining areas off the beaten path or any unique gems they have found that may have interest to me. Matt, on the other hand, hits the books/magazines and articles on the areas. I have a soft spot for "Top 30 Best..." lists and Matt loves his Nat Geo books, especially when it comes to hikes. These book, while may be outdated after a few years, have tons of tips and tricks he finds useful when planning certain aspects of the trip. With my attention to spots off the beaten path to Matt's love of setting a flexible schedule, we make a great team to plan a great itinerary that fits the way we love to travel.

For our trip to Colorado and Utah, we have pre-booked my flight out. Since this is a work trip for him, and a purely vacation trip for me, I decided to fly out separately, a day later, so I could finish work and meet him out there. And, cost wise, that worked out well, as the cost of the flight was drastically different in flying out a day later. Cost of flights are all about timing and if you can utilize the frequent flyer programs, they can benefit you in the long run. However, being low-key and having the flexibility, can allow you to have a cheaper flight, if you are not restricted by time of departure, luggage or space on the plane. All things to keep in mind when choosing a flight.

As far as rental cars are concerned, we personally have been using one company, which allows us to build a "point system" based on usage. The more cars we rent, the more points we get. And, in turn, that allows us discounts on those car in the future. Again, like the frequent flyer programs, it is all dependent on usage. The more you use, the more you save. Depending on the city and its mass transit will determine if we use a rental car or not. For cities like Chicago and Boston, we did not rent a car. But, for cities like Los Angeles, Miami, and Pittsburgh we did opt for a rental. In Atlanta and New Orleans we were able to use a car service, like Uber/Lyft to get us from the airport to our hotel, but nothing more passed those trips. We found cities like Chicago, that charge for parking your car to be an expense we did not want to incur during our time there, so we skipped a car. Normally a hotel will mention that in their breakdown, so do your research.

So, onto hotels. Certain cities we have used AirBnB, but not many. Most of the time we have been lucky where we have found inexpensive hotel rooms. International travel, like our trip to Paris where hotels are expensive for one night, opted for a small AirBnb for cost savings. This choice is up to you and your comfort level. We have found smaller hotels, like Sun Life Beach Hotel (near Gasparilla Island, FL) in many states which are perfect places to stay, even just for an evening. We have opted for a hotel in both Moab, UT and Denver, CO. For us, in areas like this, we basically use them to drop off stuff, shower, sleep and launch. So, a higher quality hotel/resort does not need to be a high ticketed item (we choose Hilton Garden Inn or a DoubleTree by Hilton for Denver and Moab).

As far as things to do in Denver and Moab, an obvious one for us are the National Parks. Any time we have the opportunity to see one, we jump at the chance. Also, since we participate in the REI's #OptOutside and the Park Systems' #FirstDayHikes each year, we figured this upcoming year would be no different. Canyonlands, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park on our lists. Since these are fairly close to where we will be staying, and they can easily be done in the time we have, we figured the more the merrier. A majority of our time out to the midwest will be for hiking/walking around these areas exploring. If there are any suggestions you have for us, feel free to send us a message and let us know!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: Wedding Dress Shopping

Welcome back my fellow brides-to-be! Today, we talk about one of the most important aspects of your big day: THE DRESS!

After attending one too many bridal shows, I was pretty fed up with the dresses. None of them felt like me and I was not about to just pick any dress to have a dress. And, for those of you who may not remember, this was right before Alfred Angelo stores closed (literally a week after me seeing their dresses at a bridal show!).

I had been on Pinterest quite a bit peeking around to see what style of dress I really liked. Since I knew I was getting married in the spring, I knew that narrowed down dress options a bit. But, it gave me a lot of options to still choose from. As I knew I was having an outdoor wedding on bricks, I wanted a dress that was not too heavy in weight, as there is a slight chance of having abnormally warm weather here in late April.

I had found a few wedding dress shops in the area and so it was time to head out to shop for one. I had set up appointments to go. Each saturday, I walked in, telling the ladies what I had envisioned and liked, as well as my price range, and allowed them the creativity to give me a lot of different options. I took their suggestions, even at dresses I would not have originally selected by just looking at them, but none of them were the one.  Store after store I went to visit with my MOH and without much luck I was about to give up. Until my last dress shop in the area.

The dress shop is a wedding dress consignment shop and had been highly rated by fellow brides who had not found much luck as I had. I was not so optimistic as I had not found anything I had like thus far and was afraid I would still be in search for a dress. I told the lady about my spring wedding, showed her photos of what i liked, and told her what I was looking for. She asked me to go around the shop and pick out any of the dresses that stood out to me. And, I did. I brought them back and i went to try them on. Some I liked, others I didn't. For the ones I didn't like, she asked me why and was very attentive to what I said. As I was taking off a dress, she went out and selected other dresses based on my feedback. Until, it was the end of the appointment and I was still not feeling any of the dresses. Then, one of the ladies brought out a dress that had recently come into the store. She walked over, grabbed it from the woman, looked at the size, and told me to try it out. And, that became my dress.

While being fitted for various dresses, the woman who does wedding dress alterations next door (and who they suggest visiting) was there that day and walked me through the process of when to schedule my alteration appointments as well as what she would be doing to make the dress fit me. It was a great experience to have that day.

My dress is 100% silk organza, a-line and a slight sweetheart neckline with detailing at the bottice. It was designer. It was not exactly what I had envisioned walking in, but my perception of dresses changed when I began trying them out. Styles I liked did not suit me as well as I had hoped. But, I was open to suggestions and I am glad I was. I had my aunt and my MOH with me that day and the moment they saw me in the dress, they lit up as I did. I asked to try it on with a veil and I knew. It was my dress. I paid for it in full that moment. It took me 6+ trips to finally get my dress but I am happy with my selection.

My tip for other brides-to-be is to have a few photos with you, like I did, and explain elements of the dresses that you are drawn to. Maybe its the fit of the dress or the detailing of the neckline. Maybe you like a fuller skirt or a simpler look. Bring as many examples as you can and be 100% honest with the stylist on what you like and do not like. It will not hurt their feelings if you do not like a particular dress they select. They are there to help you find what you want and it may take a few tries. That is okay.  You will be surprised at what you may find. And, if you do not 100% love the dress, shop around. It sometimes takes a few stops to find the perfect dress. Do not stress out over it as you will find one that fits you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Indianapolis & Minneapolis!

When Matt had told me about a quick work getaway he had do for the weekend to Indianapolis & Minnesota, I jumped at the opportunity to go with him. As we have been diving into our wedding planning head first, we really had not stopped to enjoy our engagement. I told him this would be a great way to 'take a break' from the planning monster and just enjoy time without worrying about all the details. So, we packed our bags and flew out. He picked up his client and we were en route to our first stop: Indianapolis, Indiana.
I had been through Indianapolis many years ago, but never had the opportunity to stop and really see the city. Since we only had a day available to see it before our departure the next morning, we wanted to fit as much as we could in the day we had. And we did! Our first stop was to brunch at Rosie's Place in Zionsville, IN. This was the perfect spot to start our day. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere was very welcoming. Zionsville is such a sweet little town. We decided to walk around for a bit and ended up at My Sugar Pie. Our lovely host for the evening (our favorite Italian family) was making us a huge feast since we were in town so we picked up a couple of pies for dessert. BTW, we loved the strawberry rhubarb and mixed berry, and they were a huge hit that night.
Afterwards, we went back to drop off the pies for the evening and went straight to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was a particular exciting weekend to be in Indy as they were hosting the Red Bull Air Race, one of Matt's favorite events to watch. Unfortunately, we were not able to get tickets for that weekend but we were able to watch them qualify and practice the day before the big race, which was awesome to see. If you ever have the opportunity to go, I recommend it. It is a fun way to watch planes fly super fast through an oversized obstacle course.
Next, we went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Growing up my dad was a HUGE fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Since he has not had the opportunity to come here yet, I knew I had to go for him and see what it was all about. Even if you are not a huge fan of racing, or even like cars, there is still a lot of history on the cars and racing in general which is fascinating to see. It is worth the time you spend to go.
Our next stop was to the Indiana State Museum. This museum is huge, with over three floors of exhibits to see and observe, you can easily spend a full day in here. Matt and I rushed through most of the exhibits, some were under construction at the time, but really focused on the ones we found to be of most interest to us. Their memorabilia of 60's til the 80's is impressive, with items from famous TV shows and movies, like Star Wars. We spent as much time as possible going through, which for us was well worth the time we had. Afterward we did drive by Lucas Oil Stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play as well as Monument Circle (which we stopped briefly to see the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the middle of the street - since they were not doing tours that day due to construction). We returned to our Italian families home for dinner and rest but really enjoyed the half day we had available to spend in downtown Indianapolis.
The next morning I woke up really excited to finally be able to knock another city off my list: Minneapolis. The weather was horrible, as an upcoming snowstorm was rolling in, so we had to take our plane a bit out of the way (over Iowa), to finally land in the chilly saturday morning. The trees were a vibrant red when we landed, as fall already began in the midwest at this time of year (it smelled as if it was going to snow that day). We had snacked the entire flight so when we arrived, we grabbed our rental car and headed straight to the hotel to drop off our luggage and headed to Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). We easily spent a few hours getting lost in MiA as there was at least 3 floors of art to see. It was massive. I really loved this part of our trip. There were a lot of pieces the museums in Virginia simply do not get so it was really lovely to see new art pieces. There were so many wonderful artists and exhibits to see. I really recommend taking a full day if you can to enjoy this museum.
When we left, it began to rain, so we ran over to Spyhouse Coffee (Northeast location) to warm up. I loved this little spot. They had turned an old brick warehouse building in the historic district into this local coffee joint and it was busy. But each coffee was spot on and they had a lot of great options to fuel your busy day. We spent a bit of time here people watching and drying off after getting caught without bringing our umbrellas! Oops!
One of the things I wanted to see most in the city was the murals. This particular lovely mural is downtown at Schmitt Music. And, it is not just random notes. It is a piano piece written by French composer Maurice Ravel called "Gaspard de la Nuit". This particular section is difficult to play for a solo pianist - depicted on the building this is the third movement, called "Scarbo".  You can hear it played here. The wall has even been featured in Time Magazine in 1972. Go by and see it, the lot beside the building is actually a public parking lot.
By this time we had decided to get a quick snack and decide what we wanted to do for dinner. So, we went to Milkjam Creamery.You may have seen this place on Instagram (or possibly a Buzzfeed article or two) featuring the infamous neon sign "I <3 Ice Cream". This place is magical. I ordered the "Jam Bun" it is an ice cream sandwich, where you select any scoop of ice cream to go between a warmed Glam Doll Donut (another local Twin Cities favorite). I chose the flavor "plot twist", almond ice cream with smoked almonds and chocolate-covered honeycomb. It was so very sweet but so very delicious and filling. These are big enough to share. And, you should because they are that good!
Leaving Milkjam, we were walking back to our car when I spotted yet another famous mural. #WhatLiftsYou : I am Limitless. This was again in another mini public parking lot and easily accessible. I could not resist!
After chowing on ice cream and getting soaked in the rain for a very worthwhile photo, it was time for dinner and we picked French Meadow Bakery & Cafe. This place had stellar reviews but what drew us in was the local farms they support (who supplies them). They are ecologically conscious, supporting local efforts as well as organic and sustainable options. This place was amazing. We immediately sat at the retro teal bar, ordered drinks and took it all in. Their local beer selection was on par for Matt and their sustainable wines were an easy choice for me in a carafe. But, their menu was what stood out the most. They cook with seasonal produce so their menu changes. I happily ordered the vegan butternut squash ravioli with walnuts and browned ghee sauce. It was phenomenal. Each bite was as good as the one before. If you are in the area, check them out. They also have an impressive bakery area for great to-go bites as well.

Our last stop ended but being the Mall of America, simply out of curiosity but after a few rounds around the massively oversized mall, it was time to head back to our hotel to sleep before the long flight home. While I truly recommend coming in the summer, I will be coming back regardless as a single day was not enough time to see both cities. St. Paul was simply too far away to get to visit anything over on that side so we will return at some point. If you have any suggestions for our return trip, let me know!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: Selecting a Location

Once we got engaged, we knew it was time to start thinking about where we wanted to get married. This would ultimately impact WHEN we would get hitched. I knew I wanted a spring wedding and Matt really did not care. So, when we returned home, and began thinking about the initial planning stages of wedding prep, it was time to start thinking about a location. We both fell in love in Richmond, so for us, having our wedding in my hometown was a no-brainer.

When we began looking for locations around the area, we had a few things we wanted for our big day.
  • Option for an outdoor ceremony/reception - 100% outside if we could
  • Close to lodging for out-of-town guests
  • A location within our budget (20-30% of the total budget) 
  • An on-site coordinator we could easily contact - potential day of coordinator?
So, with our checklist in mind, we began reaching out to various locations for tours/talks about wedding day preparation. We sent e-mails, introducing ourselves and asking to meet directly to take a tour. If you are having trouble penning an e-mail, here is my suggestion to start:

Good Afternoon X,

My fiancee and I just recently got engaged and we came across your location on X. We are looking to have our ceremony/reception/both at your location and would love to meet with your coordinator to take a tour and answer a few questions we have. Please let us know what times you are available to meet. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss this further.

Thank you,

I had a lot of positive responses - some I called using similar wording - and was able to get appointments set up fairly quickly. If the vendor didn't send any information (or we could not find it on their site), we armed ourselves with questions we wanted to ask regarding our big day. Here are some of the questions we asked to get you started:
  • Do you have X date available (or any of this Month/Year)?
  • What is your maximum capacity?
  • Do you allow an onsite ceremony? If so, is there an additional fee for this?
  • Is there a location for the wedding party to get ready?
  • Is there an outline of the costs/fees outlined regarding the rental of the facility?
  • What is included in your rental fee?
  • Do you provide chairs/tables/linens/silverware/decorations/chair covers/lighting ?
  • Do you have a preferred vendor list - or a specific caterer we have to use?
  • What is your alcohol policy? Do we need to obtain a license to serve alcohol?
  • Is there an onsite coordinator we will be working with? Are they included in the fees?
  • What are the restrictions for your venue?
  • Is there a specific time the event must end?
  • What is the payment schedule?
When we arrived at the location we ultimately picked, most of the questions on our list were already  from their website or from the onsite coordinator (who was giving us the tour) answered before we asked. While the venue had an external vendor we had to use for catering (something we actually wanted to avoid, but were okay with since we love this particular restaurant), we were overall happy with our selection. Not only is our location historic but it is also beautiful and had everything else we desired.

We really lucked out with our location since honestly when we did the tour 'we just knew' it was the place for us. I know a lot of people say that and it seems corny and unrealistic but I knew the moment we walked out to the area our wedding would take place, I could see myself getting married right there. I honestly believe if you have your hesitations about getting married or something in the process, there is a reason for it. Discuss this with your partner to decide if it will really be a hinderance to your big day. After all, in the end, you want to be happy with the location you choose, not just because you are spending so much but also because a lot of your decisions about the wedding day will also be impacted by your location/venues.