Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ten for Tuesday: Best Moments of 2011

So, I haven't posted in about three weeks. Yikes. I guess that's what work overload, the holidays and a little baby nephew's birth will do to you. But I'll expand on that in a bit.

Since 2011 is almost over I figured this would be a good time for me to cover my favorite moments of the year. After all, this was probably the biggest and most exciting year of my life so far!

Ten Best Moments of 2011

1. Getting engaged and...

2. Getting married. Clearly some of the biggest life events I will ever go through, and I couldn't think of a better person than Drew to experience both with!

Of course, these are the reasons I started this blog in the first place, so I could share my excitement and frustrations with wedding planning and marriage preparation with my family and friends. But more than being able to write about these experiences was actually getting to experience them!

It's crazy to look back on 2011 and have it be the year that I not only got engaged, but got married too! Probably a shorter time frame than most people would go with, but Drew and I aren't much for conventional time frames (after all, at this point in the year we've only even known each other for just over two years!). I love that we're just at the beginning of our story as husband and wife and have so many more amazing years to spend together.

3. My first nephew's birth. That's right, I am officially an aunt! On December 8 my older sister gave birth to her first kid and my first nephew! Drew and I got to finally meet him on Friday, and he is honestly so adorable.

Baby nephew!
4. Moving in with Drew. I've already mentioned how exciting finally getting to live together has been (and how much I was looking forward to it), so I won't go into it again here. Suffice it to say we're having a lot of fun living together and learning more about each other each day.

5. Spending Christmas with my family(s). Growing up, my family spent every Christmas at my grandparents' house near Chicago. Unfortunately I haven't been able to make the trip for the last THREE years, but Drew and I finally made the trip this year! We spent my four-day break from work spending time with my grandparents, parents, some cousins and, of course, our trip to meet our new nephew!

Since we spent Christmas weekend with my family, we had to celebrate Christmas early with Drew's family. The week before Christmas we headed up to Saginaw for family time, presents and the new Muppets movie. Awesome.

Drew and I also had a little Christmas celebration of our own so we could exchange stockings. So I guess we technically had three Christmases this year. Crazy! Maybe next year we'll simplify and keep it at one or two, but I loved having a celebration with each of my families during my first year of marriage!

6. Our honeymoon. Now that there's snow on the ground outside, my desire to be in Florida and Disney World is even worse than normal. Good thing Drew and I got to spend our honeymoon there a few months ago! Check out my Wedding page for a list of all my honeymoon recaps.

7. Writing more & starting this blog. Anyone that knows me knows that writing and public relations are my top career goals. Although I am so incredibly far away from that in my current job (boo!). BUT, I have started to make more serious efforts in changing this in the past year, and I have a good feeling that my work will pay off in the next year. That sounds like a fortune cookie, but whatever. I'm trying to be optimistic.

Part of my re-dedication to writing and achieving my dream job has been starting this blog. No, this isn't anything I would put on my resume or use as a writing sample, but this blog has given me the push to write on a consistent basis and give me the practice I was lacking. When I first started this blog I felt like I had completely lost my touch with writing and using my "voice," but I feel much more confident about my abilities again. Next step: convince other people I know how to write well and get that dream job!

8. My cousin's wedding. Now that my cousins and I are all grown up and living all over the country, we don't get to see each other too often. Luckily my dad's entire side of the family was able to make it to my cousin's wedding over the summer so we could have a mini reunion!
I had so much fun catching up with everyone and, of course, celebrating and dancing at my cousin's wedding. What an awesome time. I love my family, and I can't wait for our next chance to (hopefully) all be together at another cousin's wedding in August!

9. Moving to our new apartment. This probably isn't exciting to anyone except me and Drew (and I guess our new landlord), but our new apartment is so much better than our previous one. More space, cheaper rent, better location and it feels like our place (as opposed to my apartment where Drew happened to live).

We still have a ton to do to make our apartment look and feel more home-y, but we've got a good start in the month we've lived here.

10. Having LOTS to look forward to in 2012! Seriously, I am so excited for next year and all of the changes that will happen. I have a good feeling 2012 will be at least as good as 2011, if not better. I've already started a list of things I want to accomplish in the next year, so look out for that next week. I am so ready to rock the new year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ten for Tuesday: Ten Books to Read

I love reading. Call me a nerd or whatever, but it's true. Maybe it's because I interned at a library one summer in college, or maybe it's because I almost switched my major to English junior year. Or maybe it's just because there are so many awesome books out there.

Well, I've kind of been failing to read anything substantial lately, unless you count the Women's Health magazines I read while I'm on the elliptical. Want serious proof? My Goodreads profile is shaming me with not having finished Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company, a 163-page book I started in September. Yikes. Although, in my defense, I did lose that book in the backseat of my car for about a month-and-a-half.

Anyways, now that I'm in a new town and need to get a new library card, I figure I should get back into the swing of reading. Here are the top picks on my reading list right now.

Ten for Tuesday: Ten Books to Read

1. The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins). There is so much hype surrounding these books (and the upcoming movie), and I sort of feel left out for not having read this series yet. Plus, the movie preview sounds pretty similar to Battle Royale, a book I loved, so The Hunger Games must be great.

2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (by Stieg Larsson). Another series I've heard nothing but good things about, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, in its simplest summary, about a businessman who investigates a cold case murder. A lot of reviews I've looked at mention how misogynistic this book is, but I'm willing to deal with that to find out what makes this book so great.

I'm usually not much for thrillers, but my curiosity of all the excitement for this series is getting the better of me. I kept trying to pick this book up at the library in the spring, but I'm a bit too impatient to handle a 3-month waiting list. Yikes.

3. American Wife (by Curtis Sittenfeld). This book, about a small-town girl who eventually becomes the First Lady, came out a few years ago and has been on my radar ever since. Supposedly it's based on Laura Bush's life, which makes it sound even more intriguing. I read Sittenfeld's first book, Prep, when it came out and really enjoyed her conversational writing style and realistic characters, so I'm looking forward to reading another one of her books.

4. An Object of Beauty (by Steve Martin). It may sound counterintuitive to have a Steve Martin book on a list spurred by my inability to finish a Steve Martin book, but whatever. Shopgirl was fairly entertaining, I loved Born Standing Up and I think Steve Martin is awesome. A book about a social climber in the New York City art scene? Sign me up.

5. Bossypants (by Tina Fey). I love Tina Fey, and that is all.
6. Outliers (by Malcolm Gladwell). If you've read anything by Malcolm Gladwell before, then you know that including this book on my list pretty much goes without explanation. His books are studies in sociology and psychology and are so entertaining and intriguing. Outliers focuses on what exactly makes successful people successful: what they have in common and how their lives have conditioned them to stand out from the fray.

7. Reading Lolita in Tehran (by Azar Nafisi). I'm fascinated by books (fiction or non-fiction) that take place in the Middle East, like The Girls of Riyadh or Three Cups of Tea. In this memoir, Nafisi recounts teaching banned books to a group of students, a much bolder move for these Iranian girls than American teachers including To Kill a Mockingbird on their reading lists.

8. Infinite Jest (by David Foster Wallace). I will probably never read this book, if I'm being completely honest. This book is over 1000 pages, which already makes this an endurance read, but Foster Wallace is a huge fan of footnotes, complicating matters even more. There was even a blog made in 2009, called Infinite Summer, devoted to taking on the challenge of completing this book in one summer.
I guess you could say I've already started preparing myself to take on the challenge of this book by reading Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, so someday I'll have to just bite the bullet and start this thing. Wish me luck.

9. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (by Dave Eggers). Fun fact: Dave Eggers and I share an alma mater. Irrelevant, but I like it.

Unlike some other books on this list, I don't want to read this book because of the hype surrounding it. Partially because a lot of the hype is about how this book is a bunch of self-indulgent B.S., but also because I don't need the hype. I loved What is the What and Zeitoun, and I want to continue on my Dave Eggers journey and read this. Even if it is a bunch of B.S.

10. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (by Mindy Kaling). I love Mindy Kaling - not just on "The Office," but I've been reading her blog since its days as Things I Bought That I Love. She's hilarious and dorky, and I can't wait to read her musings in book form. Plus it just feels right to end my book list with something lighthearted so you don't think I'm trying to come across as less petty than I actually am.

So there you have it - ten books I'm looking forward to reading someday. I wonder if I'll be able to get through all of these within the next year? I guess I should probably finish The Pleasure of My Company first...

What books are on your reading list? Has anyone read any of the books on mine - what did you think? Am I the only person who hasn't yet read The Hunger Games?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree is officially set up and decorated!
Last week Drew and I purchased our first Christmas tree and set it up in our new apartment. We got a pretty good deal on an artificial pre-lit tree at Sears on Black Friday, and we couldn't wait to set it up and bring some Christmas cheer to our little home!

We started by fluffing out the branches to make everything look fuller.
 Drew had to go solo on the taller branches since I couldn't reach to the top of our 7.5' tree.

And, yes, he does have a mustache for the time being.
 Here's our tree all assembled and ready for ornaments:
We don't have a ton of ornaments right now since we're just getting started on our own, but we did have some ornaments we received as wedding gifts to display.
And, of course, a few Disney ornaments made their way onto our branches. We picked up this on on our vacation with Drew's family last year, just before getting engaged:
Right now the other ornaments we have on the tree are some of Drew's childhood ornaments and some basic red and green glass balls we picked up at Target.

We also have a few "fancier" ornaments we picked up at the Pottery Barn Outlet last weekend, like some cool textured white ornaments and a cute little Santa. Our tree still has some empty space, but those will be filled when we get my ornaments in the mail from my parents any day now.

Our tree topper is a sparkly star from Target. I didn't think Drew would go for it since it's so glittery, but he was actually the one who suggested buying it. It's the perfect finishing touch to our simple tree!

Here's our tree in all of its glory, complete with ornaments, a tree topper and plenty of presents around the base:
Like I mentioned the other day, we're already almost done with our Christmas shopping and gift-wrapping, thanks to a gift wrap set of paper and bows I picked up in Target's 50% off after-Christmas sale last December.

 Our tree is perfectly complemented right now by all of the snow outside of our living room window.
The view from our balcony.
 Oh, and we do have one more Christmas touch in our apartment - on our new dining room table!
When we went to the Pottery Barn Outlet last week to pick up some bonus ornaments, we also snagged this decorative lantern. The best part of the trip? This lantern and six ornaments only cost us 50 cents since we had a coupon and a rewards credit (from our Pottery Barn card) for a total of $50 off of our purchase. Not too shabby!
 Instead of filling our lantern with candles we decided to fill it with some extra red, green and silver ornaments for an extra bit of holiday cheer on our table.
And those are our Christmas decorations for now! All we really have left to do is buy stockings and a couple more presents for our families, and we'll be all set to celebrate the holiday.

Anyone else decorate their Christmas tree or put up other holiday decorations yet?

P.S. If anyone is still getting caught up on our wedding recaps, be sure to check out the new page up top, Our Wedding Recaps, with a roundup of all of my wedding and honeymoon posts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Getting Settled

This has been such a crazy week (returning to work after a long weekend is so tough), so I'm going to try to bring some calm into my life by bringing back Thankful Thursday!

I haven't made a Thankful Thursday post in a few weeks now, so I'm a bit overdue. Plus, I have plenty to be thankful for and am still riding on my grateful high from Thanksgiving. Let's kick this off!

I'm thankful we're all moved into our new apartment. Moving sucks, you guys. A lot. But Drew and I have officially been in our new place for eight days, and it's awesome. Even though the square footage isn't too different from our last apartment, it feels significantly larger. We have a second bedroom, which is slowly becoming my office, and a huge storage locker in the building's basement for all of our junk (i.e. moving boxes).

We even have a (much) bigger kitchen, which is like a dream come true. I've probably done more cooking and baking in the new kitchen than I did in the year and a half at my old apartment. I love baking, so this is awesome news.

I baked these s'mores cookies in our old apartment, but I'm using this as evidence of my kitchen skills.
I'm thankful I got some potentially awesome news at work today. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not the biggest fan of my job, but we're undergoing some major structural changes that we finally learned details about at a meeting today. The best part? There's a possibility I could end up in a more marketing- and communications-focused position in a few months. Working in public relations and communications is my dream job, so you better believe I'm going to angle for a position in that newly-created department like nobody's business. Now I just have to remain patient enough to wait one month (or longer) to find out if I landed a new position.

I'm thankful my nephew's due date is SOON. My older sister is pregnant with her first baby and my first nephew. His due date is December 11, so any day now I should become an aunt! I am so excited for my sister and brother-in-law and can't wait to meet their little dude.

I'm thankful it's Thursday. This week is going by quickly, and I love it. Bring on the weekend!

I'm thankful our Christmas shopping is almost done! Thanks to Black Friday, Drew and I are almost completely finished with Christmas shopping for each other and our families. I don't think I've ever been this proactive with Christmas shopping, but since we're celebrating Christmas with his family a week early this year we can't afford to wait (we'll be in Illinois with my family for actual Christmas).

We've even been able to use some of our wedding gift cards to purchase gifts, which makes our shopping that much better. I love getting people awesome gifts without feeling like I'm spending any money!

I'm thankful I'm healthy. I am constantly surprised lately when I wake up and am not sick. I have been around so many coughing, sniffling volunteers lately that I can't understand why I haven't yet gotten sick myself. Whatever is keeping me healthy, I'm glad it's working! I do not want to be sick this time of year (or ever, but you know).

I'm thankful we finally have a dining room table. Confession: I haven't had a real dining room table since moving into my own apartment last June. That's about 18 months without a table, and it's ridiculous. Drew and I made our first major purchase together earlier this week when we stopped by ArtVan to purchase a sweet dining room table for something like 60% off! I just got confirmation from Drew that our precious table was safely delivered earlier today, so we're looking forward to eating our first at-home meal at our very own dining room table tomorrow night!

I'm thankful our (new) Christmas tree is all set up! You'll have to wait for pictures, since I don't have my camera handy now and haven't yet uploaded any pictures to my computer, but trust me when I say Drew and I have an awesome tree. We decided to skip the Black Friday deals and splurge on a bit of a nicer tree, which we're pretty excited about. Our ornament situation is a bit sad still (Mom and Dad - hurry up and mail us my ornaments!), but it works. I promise I will have pictures up shortly.

What are you thankful for this week? Anyone else ahead of schedule on their Christmas shopping or are Drew and I totally crazy?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Recipe Review: Soft Pretzels

A few weeks ago I made soft pretzels at home using a recipe from Budget Bytes. The pretzels were surprisingly easy to make and turned out really well. In fact, I made another batch this weekend, and we're already down to the last couple pretzels. 

I had never made pretzels before, and honestly thought it was going to be much tougher than it actually was. Especially since I went the route of Budget Bytes and used frozen bread dough instead of making my own. I highly recommend this recipe for it's ease and, come on, who doesn't love eating soft pretzels?

Budget Bytes lays out the recipe really well, both in writing and with pictures, so click on the link above for more detailed instructions.

Soft Pretzels
Step 1: Allow frozen dough to thaw, then cut into eight equal pieces.
Step 2: Stretch each dough piece into a long strand. The dough will not cooperate with you at first, but it'll come around eventually and stretch out for you.
Step 3: Twist each strand into a pretzel shape. Feel silly for having to consult a picture of a pretzel to make shape and wonder how those people at Auntie Anne's twist their dough so quickly.
Step 4: Let the pretzels rise for about 30 minutes.
Step 5: Boil each pretzel in a baking soda solution for one minute. This is how they get their pretzel-y taste. Who knew?! This is definitely not a step to skip, unless you just want pretzel-shaped bread rather than pretzel-flavored bread.
Step 6: Bake the pretzels and end up with a tasty, tasty result. You should also probably let the pretzels cool on a rack for awhile before you start eating them.
Step 7: Eat a pretzel. Then have another because they're so delicious.

Honestly, the hardest part of this recipe was probably stretching out the dough because that stuff likes to retract. Other than that, this recipe was one of the easiest I've ever made. Maybe sometime I'll try this with homemade dough, but the frozen dough works just fine and is much quicker.

I love baking, and I'm so glad this is a quick and simple recipe for a delicious snack. I'll need to dig up something a little more challenging for my next recipe review, though, I think. Stay tuned!

Anyone try any good recipes lately? Please share!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ten for Tuesday: Bonus Wedding Pictures

Our ceremony program, designed by Drew.
Before the ceremony.
Our "wacky" wedding party picture.
The ONLY picture our photographer got of Drew and me walking down the aisle. Does anyone have one where our eyes aren't closed?
My wedding shoes (picture from Mom P).
Our escort cards from the reception, also designed by Drew (picture from Mom P).
Because I'm the new girl in the family.
Celebrating a victorious ceremony. All right!

Just hangin' out in the park.

One of the reasons we booked our photographer is because he takes awesome infrared pictures like this. Absolutely amazing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Reception: Part 2

And now for the rest of our reception recap! I think the rest of these pictures do a good job of speaking for themselves in terms of how much fun our guests were and how much excitement was present, so I'll keep my comments on the brief side.

First up, our awesome and delicious cake. A woman who attends our church made it for us, and she did an amazing job! It was exactly what we wanted and tasted so good.
You'll notice in the picture above that Drew and I chose not to purchase a cake cutting/serving set for our reception and instead used a giant knife provided by the banquet hall's kitchen. We're classy.

I served Drew his cake first and was all nice and sweet about it. I had a hunch he would try to smear my cake all over my face when it was his turn.
And I was right. What a stinker.
But at least he helped me clean the frosting off of my face. I should've made him go first so that I had a chance to retaliate, but oh well.
We were able to kiss and make up pretty quickly :)
After cutting the cake I headed out to the dance floor with all the single ladies for the bouquet toss.

Cindy, my younger sister and bridesmaid, may have caught the bouquet, but I think we can all agree that the real winner was Drew's cousin's toddler who caught a stray rosebud. Probably the cutest thing all night.
Also a cute part of the night? Our first dance.

Drew and I had our first dance to "How Sweet It Is" by James Taylor. A little more upbeat than traditional first dance songs, but perfect for us. I worked for months to convince Drew this would be the  perfect song, and I'm glad he agreed with me.
One of my favorite pictures from our wedding day.
After our first dance, it was time for my dance with my dad. We danced to the song "Cinderella" by Steven Curtis Chapman, which is the same song he and my older sister danced to at her wedding a couple of years ago. Coming up with father-daughter dance songs is tough, so I'm glad I could use my sister's song as our fallback option.

While we danced my dads brothers and parents lined the dance floor for moral support.
We even had my mom join us for awhile since she was getting a little emotional watching us. I'm glad we had her come over so we could share a moment together.
After all of the "required" dances took place, it was time for everyone to join us on the dance floor! I believe this was when I changed out of my awesome, yet uncomfortable, wedding shoes and into flip flops. Great choice, me.
My family definitely dominated the dance floor at first, but Drew's family quickly joined in on the action. Our DJ even made a comment about how we had the best representation of both families on the dance floor of any wedding she had done before. We're a pretty fun bunch!
The dancing didn't stop all night, and it was such a blast. I couldn't have asked for a more fun and awesome time, and everything ran so smoothly. I have no idea how we pulled it off.

I had such a fun night at our reception, and I can't wait for the weddings coming up in the next year that I will be attending. So much fun!

And that pretty much concludes my wedding recap! I have a ton more pictures from our photographer, so I'll probably sort through those and post some bonus footage sometime next week. Thanks for reading my recap!