The Top 10 Posts of 2014

It’s time for that other favorite year-end blog tradition: the top 10 most visited posts of 2014! (Here’s last year’s for reference.)

Due to the wonders of SEO, pretty much every post on the list this year (and most of last year’s) is a how-to. But, hey, if it helped you, I’m happy. Let’s get into it, shalllll we?

10. I Almost Got Hit by a Car Today

So…I really don’t know why this one was so popular. Unless you all actually wish me dead and I just haven’t figured it out yet. The thing is, a LOT of people search the words “almost got hit by car.” So…apparently this is more common than I thought and it’s more of a miracle that it hadn’t happened sooner.

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9. Three Ways to Style a Top Knot

You know what people loved this year? Top knots. NeverMIND the fact that it’s called a bun and has been around for centuries. The only thing people love more than knots on their heads is multiple ways to create them. Apparently.

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8. What Guys Should Wear for Pictures

The only thing that concerned ladies more than how to style their hair this year? What their fella was going to wear for their engagement pictures. I gotchu.

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7. What to Wear to a Concert

This post, born out of my own uncoolness, continues to dominate. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, but the biggest reassurance here is that I’m not the only one who has NO IDEA what to wear to concerts.

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6. How to Write the Perfect Thank-You Note

I’m actually quite pleased this one has risen in the ranks — this is knowledge people need to know!

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5. How to Plan a Kate Spade Party

You know what life needs sometimes? An elaborately themed, super girly party. This one will definitely fit the bill.

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4. How to: Healthy Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

If I’m speaking my truth here, this isn’t even one of my favorite recipes I’ve ever made. And the photos are terrible. But these cookies ARE pretty dang nutritious, and I’m glad you all enjoyed them.

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3. How to Plan a Mad Men Party

Our themed housewarming shindig remains one of my most successful parties to date, so I’m glad it’s still getting a lot of traffic. Feel free to steal any and all of these ideas.

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2. How to Skip Washing Your Hair for Six Days

It got bumped from the first place spot this year, but “how to be grubby without people noticing” is still a popular topic with y’all. My pain is your gain.

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1. How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet

This simple little post has been climbing the ranks for the last couple of years, but it finally made it to the top. I decided to include a photo of it present-day to prove that this tutorial actually does hold up. Pretty neat, huh?

SO there you have it. Did your favorite post make the cut?

New Year Sum-Uppance, Vol. 6

There is simply no non-cliche way to say, “golly, can you believe the year is almost over?!” So I’m just going to avoid it all together. But you get the sentiment.

2014 was a really good year for me. As my Facebook feed starts to fill with the social network’s latest look-back campaign, I paused to actually think about all I had accomplished this year.

I started the year in the cold, training for my first ever full marathon. It wasn’t always great, but in the end I accomplished my goal.

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Besides the race itself, Joey and I also took our second trip to Paris, which, like the race, was full of terrible and wonderful moments. I like the think the wonderful (mostly) outweighed the bad, though.

Monet's garden.
Monet’s garden.

2014 was also the year of weddings. And weddings. And more weddings. After watching five of our dear friends tie the knot, I was reminded of two things: 1) It’s a good thing I really love weddings. 2) I am so glad Joey and I got that out of the way years ago. Turns out there’s less stress about scheduling when you get hitched young.

One of the best things that happened to me this year? This fuzzy face.

Sleep on alllll the pillows...
Sleep on alllll the pillows…

Yes, after years of dreaming, hoping, wishing, and all the other verbs you can pack into a ’50s doo-wop song, we finally got a dog of our own. Anyone who spends even a few minutes with me knows how much I love that little dog — Joey and I say all the time we can’t imagine not having him. He has certainly been a highlight of the year.

I didn’t make it back to the Midwest this year (le siiiiigh), but I did get to see my family for my parents’ 30th anniversary. The planning was a bit stressful, but the part itself turned out exactly how I had hoped it would. (And, honestly, how often can you say that?)

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lurrrve

The most exciting thing that happened this fall was our trip to California, when I finally did the drive down the West Coast I’ve always wanted to do.

That's a happy girl right there.
That’s a happy girl right there.

After months spent planning that trip, it also went off without a hitch. Which, if you know me, NEVER happens to me. But it was so lovely getting to see my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and a bunch of friends as we made our way south. And, you guys? That weather? I honestly don’t understand why people live anywhere else.

Other than the California trip, our fall/winter has been pretty quiet so far as we’ve gotten more serious about paying off debts and saving money. #adulthood, dude. Besides a long weekend in Vermont in January, we don’t really have any other trips planned for a while. (Besides Iowa next summer…it has been way too long.) Fortunately, my parents are visiting in February to temper some of my Midwest homesickness.

Like I said, a pretty good year all around. For old time’s sake, here is my sixth annual Year-End Sum-Uppance. (Here’s last year’s, for reference.)

Age: 27, but I still need to wear makeup to get taken seriously in meetings. And I finally grew out the little-girl bangs, which helped.

Location: New York City

Occupation: Social Media Strategy Manager.

New favorite food: Some of you may remember that last year I adjust this to be a shout-out to a food I realized I loved in the last year. The winner for 2014? Grilled octopus. Those Astoria Greeks know what they’re doing.

TV shows I’m watching: This year I got SUPER into Parks & Rec (I’m not emotionally ready for the series finale in 2015), and I’ve started rewatching Gilmore Girls. Up next, I think I want to get into The West Wing. (Obviously these sentences brought to you by Netflix.)

Book I’m reading: Life of Pi

What’s my hair doing right now: Sort of a joke, but also sort of serious since I talk about it often enough on this blog. Still blonde and super long at the moment. Getting a haircut the first week of January. But I think I’m done with bangs. (FOR NOW.)

How I did on my goals from last year: Just to remind you, these were last year’s goals, along with how I did:

1. Travel more.
Check! One international trip and one cross-country vacation definitely qualify.

2. Run a marathon.
Another check!

3. Finally get a dog.
You guys. I killed it this year.

4. Pick up at least 20 freelance assignments.
I think it was actually closer to 15, but I still feel good about that. I have a pretty regular gig at a local magazine, which has been a nice creative outlet.

5. Get closer to figuring out where we want to settle.
We’ll be in New York for at least another year, but I think our California trip narrowed things down for me. Guess we’ll see!

Goals for next year: Completely pay off our debts, build up a savings account, pioneer at least five times, and find a new apartment in April (still in Queens).

In general, I feel like 2014 was a semi-pivotal year for me. I feel so much more secure with who I am and my relationship with so many people in my life than I ever have before. I feel like maybe I’m getting better at this whole life thing.

How was your year?

Happy space, happy face

I like to believe I have a lot of control over my own happiness. Sometimes I think this is good. Other times, I think it is naive.

It’s good because I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of gal. I also think truly believing that I can pull myself through the dark times is instrumental in actually making it happen.

It’s naive because…well…sometimes I can’t.

Because obviously there are a lot of things that happen to a person that are outside of our control. And there are a lot of things that happen inside of a person’s head that can negatively affect happiness beyond the limits of our control.

And when I fail at controlling and activating my own happiness, then there’s an added layer of, “Well, why can’t you just fix it?”

You know how people with severe depression always comment on how pushy relatives or well-meaning folks will tell them to “just get over it,” but they really truly can’t and telling them to try just makes things worse? Sometimes I think I am my own pushy relative.

Anyway. That was a long way of saying that, while I feel fine now (promise!), recently I was in a low place. And in an effort to pull myself out of it, I started making a list of all the things I could do to make my life better.

BECAUSE OF COURSE I DID.

And, what LUCK, I also have about a week of working from home ahead of me, so I will have more time to tackle projects. Hooray! Here’s brief recap to keep me accountable:

1. Streamline!
We’re planning to move apartments in April. To help simplify the process, I want to start whittling down our belongings now. I’m planning to clean out (and properly organize):

– The linen closet
– The front closet
– The trunk at the foot of the bed
– The file cabinet

I truly believe that getting rid of tangible clutter helps me clear my mind. Is that weird?

2. Finish decor projects
A few weeks ago, I purchased a new rug for the living room (because my roommates have destroyed the cream and brown rug we have now). I’m also planning to sell our green accent chair and get a navy one, plus rearrange the frames on the walls. I might also rearrange some furniture. Who knows? Things are getting crazy!

3. SECRET SIDE PROJECT.
More on this later. Because I’m a terrible tease.

Anyone else planning on crossing a few things off the to-do list over the holidays? Am I the only one who derives deep personal satisfaction from crossing things off to-do lists?

Passing notes

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real middle school notes. this is not a drill.

Like most people who grew up in the ’80s/’90s, I have a memory box or two squirreled away in random corners of the apartment. I’m leaving the most recent generation out of that generalization because, honestly, I have no idea what kids do to preserve memories anymore. I would say SnapChat, but “saving” is literally the opposite of the purpose of SnapChat.

Actually, I take that back. Every generation hoards something. The ’90s babies and *shudder* people born in a year where the fourth number is a zero are probably stockpiling caches of ticket stubs and magazine articles too.

The one thing that I doubt they have nearly so many of, though? Notes.

And, yes, I did notice that one of those notes has the word “boob” on it. THISISMIDDLESCHOOLPEOPLE.

Even I was surprised at how many notes and letters I found in my memory box. I mean, it makes sense — this was before texting. (I KNOW I’M OLD OKAY.) If something happened in first period homeroom that you just could not wait to tell your BFF on the bus ride home, you would discretely pass a note through the clarinet section during band practice. Or something. Hypothetically.

After unfolding, re-reading, and then carefully refolding the notes (we were origami champs, y’all), I felt a wave of nostalgia that made me a little sad for kids today. And a little sad for myself for using the phrase “kids today.” Today’s tweens aren’t going to scroll through pages of old texts. And even if they did, it would be 60% emoji anyway. And while I love an emoji myself, a pair of dancing twins is never going to compare with a handscrawled note from your bestie telling you her life would just END without you.

The next generation of twenty-somethings won’t be able to sift through handwritten letters and (at times even more novel) printed photographs. In my memory box I found all of the following — and more:

1. Two love letters (rated whatever comes before G…this was middle school in the ’90s, after all)
2. Pictures of my first serious crush
3. A ticket stub for when I saw The Notebook in theaters (the first time)
4. A purchased photo from my eighth grade graduation dance
5. Every graduation/baptism card I ever received
6. Every letter Jackie dal Broi sent to me after I moved from California (that is LOVE, guys)
7. Both of my solo contest pins from the days of playing the flute (so maybe that band practice anecdote wasn’t so hypothetical)
8. The expertly folded notes shown above (and a few not-so-expertly folded others)

You guys. MEMORIES. I actually opened the box with the intention of consolidating it into another box, so I ended up tossing a few things. Pour one out for all those grad cards that someone just stuffed a check into and signed. (I saved the real letters with real emotions. I’m not a robot.)

Do you have a memory box hidden somewhere? What would you guess is the weirdest thing in it? If you say “a ticket stub from when I saw The Notebook,” we just became best friends.

 

How to: One Day in Big Sur

The California trip continues!

I’ll be the first to say that you should spend as much time in Big Sur as you can. As the name implies, it’s big. There are several state parks, plenty of places to camp or stay overnight, and so many incredible vistas that you could probably fill a week at least with to-dos. Our schedule, though, only had time for one day in Big Sur, so we did our best to make the most of it.

Tip: Print out paper directions to anything definitely want to see. Cell service is nonexistent through most of the drive, so you won’t be able to rely on a GPS.

Tuesday night, we drove from San Francisco to the Mariposa Inn & Suites in Monterey. The hotel was simple and clean, with a pool and a free breakfast in the morning. The next morning, we set out early to begin our trek.

Tip: Make sure you start out with a full tank of gas. There are loooong stretches on Highway 1 with exactly zero gas stations — the last thing you want is to get stuck with an empty tank. One full tank should get you the whole way through Big Sur, though.

First stop was Big Sur Bakery, which had been recommended to me by pretty much every person I told I was going to Big Sur. We got breakfast (eggs and greens on toast), but I’ve been told the dinner is also excellent.

Tip: This is also the last place to get good espresso before you get lost in the wilderness, so take advantage of the bustling coffee bar. I would also recommend getting a few baked goods for the road. (We opted for a pumpkin scone and a maple baon bowtie.)

After fueling up, we started our drive. There were a couple of things we wanted to see for sure (included below), but the main thing I would like to impress upon you is the importance of just stopping a lot and taking in your surroundings. This place? It is BEAUTIFUL. Like, stupid beautiful. You won’t even be able to believe it. It helped that we had the world’s most perfect weather, of course, but regardless, I truly believe California is the most gorgeous place on earth. Get OUT of the car and take it IN. Be the corny tourist on the side of the road taking deep breaths of the morning air and snapping a photo or two. It’s worth it.

LOOK AT IT.
LOOK AT IT.

Ok, now for the specifics. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was one of my favorite stops. There are two must-see hikes here, both starting from the parking lot.

Tip: Do not park in the parking lot unless you like paying $20 for no reason. Park on the main road with everyone else who is not a tourist (for free) and walk down to the trail.

First up, McWay Falls. You’ve probably seen this shot a billion times from either movies or your West Coast friends’ Instagram feeds, but it is still 100 percent worth seeing in person. I mean, LOOK AT THAT WATER.

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The trail also barely qualifies as a hike — it’s short, totally flat, and can be done in flip flops. For something a bit more adventurous, hit up the Ewoldsen Trail on the opposite end of the parking lot. This will take you through redwood groves, over streams, and up some serious height if you feel industrious. The full trail is a little over five miles, but you can go as far as you like. If you’re in for the long haul, I’d recommend legitimate hiking boots and a backpack with water and snacks.

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One thing that we were not expecting but LOVED? An elephant seal rookery. Hundreds of these animals flock to this beach to sun themselves, sleep, and mate every year, and it was pretty incredible to see in person. And not just because they reminded us an awful lot of a certain lazy dog we adore. Definitely worth joining the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing over the seals.

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After the seals, we started to head inland to Paso Robles where our hotel was. The downside was that we couldn’t see the water anymore. The upside is that we accidentally found ourselves in wine country! And, you guys. This country was so beautiful we almost couldn’t take it. The rolling hills and golden vineyards literally look painted on. We may have made a few more stops for photos. (And, okay, a wine tasting at Zenaida Cellars. We’re only human!)

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We ended the night with dinner in nearby San Luis Obispo at a place called Novo with a really pretty back deck.

All in all, this was our favorite day of the trip. (Not counting time spent with family, of course!) And even though it feels like we packed a lot into the day, I love knowing that we could go back again and do completely different things.

Here are a few things we could have done but didn’t have time to do:

Hearst Castle
My dad had actually mentioned this place when I was first soliciting for activity ideas, but I didn’t look into it enough at the time. Basically, William Randolph Hearst was a SUPER rich man who wanted to build an American castle that would rival the European versions. And, I’ve only seen pictures, but I think it’s safe to say he succeeded. You can tour the estate, but reservations are highly recommended. If I went again, I would book the night tour when docents dress in period clothing and you get to see the most of the castle.

Tip: Hearst also collected a pretty impressive menagerie of animals that he kept in a personal zoo and allowed to roam the grounds. Most of the animals were sent to zoos when the fortune dried up, but you can still see a small herd of zebras grazing along the highway — keep a sharp eye out!

Nepenthe Restaurant
I had actually planned to stop here for lunch, but I got my directions mixed up and it ended up being right by Big Sur Bakery. If you’ve done the bakery before, though, this place looks pretty awesome. The lunch seating is arranged stadium style next to this huge overlook so you can take in the view while you eat, and it has been run by the same family for three generations.

Have any of you been to Big Sur? Did you do something we didn’t? Give me ideas for our next trip in the comments!

How to: Two Days in San Francisco

Since our California Adventure spanned nine days and basically the entire state, I figured it would be easier to break down the trip into areas. It will also make it more useful for anyone who is not exploring the entire state at once. (Thought I do recommend that if you have the opportunity.)

We spent the first day and a half of our trip with my brother and his family. They live near Sacramento, so we saw a bit of their ‘hood as well as the Berkeley area. The highlight was a lunch at Easy Creole, where the kind folks will let you sample six of their menu selections before you make your final choice.

Tip: Spring the extra $2 for the corn bread. It’s gluten-free, and oh-so worth it.

Monday morning, we kissed the fam goodbye and headed into the city.

Tip: Give yourself an hour longer than you think you will need when traveling on a week day. It took us an hour JUST to get through the tolls into the city. AN HOUR. I was climbing the walls of the car by the time we got through.

Joey had never been to SF, so I had planned out a day of the finest touristy options the city has to offer. First up, Sears Fine Food for the “world-famous” Swedish silver-dollar pancakes. We also split the veggie omelet so we’d have enough energy to get through our busy day. Both were delicious.

Next up, we popped into Walgreens to purchase a visitor one-day pass, which you can use on almost all of the public transportation (cable cars included). Then we grabbed a cable car heading toward Ghirardelli Square.

Tip: Try to get on at one of the first stops on the line. These little cars fill up very quickly, and people WILL cut the line. You have to be New Yorker aggressive.

We hopped off the cable car at Lombard Street to see the crookedest street in the world. You’re also treated to a pretty spectacular view of the city.

From there, it was time to head to the Golden Gate bridge.

Tip: Take the bus. There is very little parking by the bridge, and the bus is actually pretty simple. Plus, it’s covered by your visitor’s pass.

I wasn’t truly aware of how spectacular the weather was until we got to the bridge. The water looks so blue next to the bridge (which is actually red, fun fact). We took a million pictures in the nearby park and then walked about halfway across. (We wanted to get back to the city before sunset.)

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A quick bus trip back brought us to Ghirardelli Square, where we just strolled along the coast making our way to Pier 39 because the ONE thing Joey really wanted to do was see the sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf was predictably crowded, but the weather was great, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. We split a crab sandwich and enjoyed the views. And the sea lions did not disappoint.

Finally, we took the bus back to our hotel (the cable cars are impossible to get on from that end unless you want to wait an hour and a half), freshened up, and then went to dinner at Lolinda, an Argentinian steakhouse. Several people had recommended it to me as their favorite restaurant in SF, so we were excited to try it. And, you guys? So. Good. The food is served tapas-style, and we had four small plates, a large plate, and steak between the two of us. Plus two desserts because when they have banana bread pudding and peanut butter mousse, THAT IS THE RIGHT DECISION.

The second day, I worked in my company’s San Francisco office. (After a workout at Barry’s Bootcamp through my ClassPass, of course! The instructor was basically Barry’s Bootcamp Barbie, complete with anecdotes about her modeling gigs and her impending nose job. Oh, California!) Joey met up with me and my boss for lunch at Marlowe, which was SO GOOD. I highly recommend the brussel sprouts chips, baked cauliflower (it’s basically mac and cheese with cauliflower instead of mac), and gingerbread cake. That cake. I will dream about that cake.

After work, Joey and I went to dinner at The House near Chinatown. Do not be fooled by that sad little website — this place is boss. I highly recommend the coconut creme brûlée. And the take-home cookies, of course. (This was basically the vacation of desserts, as you can tell.)

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So that’s how we spent two days in San Fran! It was pretty awesome, and the perfect weather didn’t hurt one bit. Post-dinner, we headed to our hotel in Monterey to begin our day in Big Sur. More on that later.

So did I miss your favorite San Francisco treat? Share with the group in a comment below.