What I wish I knew.

There are so many things I wish I knew how to do.

I wish I knew how to make clothes. I wish I knew how to design websites (like, really knew, without feeling like I’m going to make something blow up if I insert the wrong code). You already know how I wish I knew how to upholster furniture, but you might not know I also wish I knew how to build furniture. You know. With saws…and…stuff.

Sometimes I think back on the school and education decisions I’ve made, and I think, dang. You couldn’t have squeezed a shop class somewhere in there? Or taken that second semester of home ec where they covered the basics of sewing machines?

I mean, I’ve obviously managed to get by just fine. I even taught myself to use my sewing machine (as long as all I have to do is sew straight lines). And it’s not like I have been held back career-wise because I opted to take that 8th writing class.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I would be happier if I could do these things.

Being self-sufficient has always been a big deal for me. I hate asking for money. I hate needing other people to do things for me. I hate waiting around for help, which is part of why I’ve learned to do so many things myself. (The list above obviously excluding.)

Which is why I’ve decided to take a stand on this.

The fact is, I’m almost 25. I’m not almost dead. There is no reason why I can’t still learn to do all of the above.

I’m going to start with the one I consider to be the most basic: sewing. Because there’s a big, wide world of non-straight lines out there. And I’m tired of having a specific dress or skirt in my head and not being able to find it in a store.

Fortunately, there are a couple of places near me that offer sewing classes. So I’m signing up! First class is August 1st.

Because you’re only old when you’ve stopped learning, right?

What have you always wished you knew how to do? What’s stopping you?

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What Working at a Wedding Planning Website Taught Me About Planning a Wedding

I spent the first two years after graduating from college working for a wedding planning website. It’s not really important which one, but it’s worth noting that it’s the “#1 online wedding destination.” So…yeah. The people who work there know quite a bit about this whole wedding-planning thing.

I was even working there while I was planning my own wedding. (Weddings were my life for a while.) And I like to think that I was able to go into that process a little better prepared than I would have been if I had gone in cold because a large portion of my job was to, well, plan weddings. Plus, I managed our message boards, where brides from around the world aired their complaints, bragged about their details, and begged advice from their more experienced peers.

And now I want to pass the lessons I learned on to you. Here are 7 things working at a wedding planning website taught me about planning a wedding.

{father-daughter dance}

1. If they pay, they get a (very large) say.
In short, the only way to have complete control over your big day is to pay for every single thing yourself. And, honestly, even then you’ll have to deal with a lot of opinions. If I had a dollar for every bride who went on our message boards to whine about over-bearing parents (who also happened to be footing the bill), well, I could have covered all my own wedding costs. Knowing this fact, it’s important to enter wedding planning with a lot of communication up front. Make sure you and your parents or future-in-laws are on the same page about what you want. And if you just don’t want to deal with it, scale back your wedding and pay for it yourself. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of headaches (and possibly a wedding you hate) down the line.

{man of honor & bridesmaids}

2. Be nice to your bridesmaids.
It should be an honor to be asked to be in someone’s wedding. You should be asking people you love and who have been a big part of your relationship to be part of one of the most important decisions of your life. You shouldn’t think that the second they agree they have signed a contract to be your personal slaves.

Your bridesmaids really don’t have to do anything except wear the agreed-upon dress and show up on-time and relatively sober. So no, they don’t have to plan or attend every pre-wedding party, they don’t have to construct your bouquets the night before the wedding, and they don’t have buy you a lavish gift. But if you’re as nice to them as you were before you got a ring on your finger, they might actually want to do those things for you.

{bridal party}

3. Don’t be a burden.
Speaking of that bridesmaid dress, you really don’t need to have the $500 brand name to have a beautiful wedding. Either consult with your girls (one-on-one) before making a choice so you know what everyone’s budget is or give them a choice based on a color palette or style. And don’t demand an exotic bachelorette party or that they stay in an expensive hotel the night before (unless you’re buying…and even then, ask nicely). They’ll have a lot more fun at your wedding (and helping you plan) if they’re not tormented by a credit card bill along the way.

{my dress}

4. Once you buy a dress, you really need to stop looking at dresses.
You know why? Because there are always going to be more/prettier/trendier dresses out there. Trust me. Bridal Fashion Week happens twice a year, every year, and that fact isn’t going anywhere. You will only drive yourself crazy if you keep scoping out your options after you’ve made a purchase. The same is true for reception halls, color palettes, and, well, spouses.

5. Engagement season lasts from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.
Wedding season is technically from June to October, but even that’s broadening every year. Translation: You are not allowed to get upset when someone else gets engaged or is getting married around the same time you are. Prepare for the onslaught of “We’re getting married!” Facebook updates and back-to-back save-the-dates, and don’t expect your friends’ lives to stop for a full month or year just because you’re hitting a major milestone. Because, trust me, they won’t.

{one of my favorite photos of my mom and me before the wedding}

6. You are not the first or the only person to deal with that issue.
So stop the pity party. I promise you that no matter what your story is, I have heard crazier. There are people out there with truly insane (and sometimes dangerous) family situations, horrible diseases and financial burdens, and virtually any other issue you can think of. The second you start letting your problems be your excuse to misbehave or treat others poorly is the second you become a bad bride.

Don’t be a bad bride.

7. Sometimes, even those really pretty weddings fall apart.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I got an email from a bride who had been featured on our website asking me to take her wedding down. Her husband had cheated on her only three years after they said “I do,” they were now divorced, and she would prefer if every Google search of her name didn’t bring up that pretty little reminder of the happy day they had shared.

The fact is, you can get every detail exactly right. Your color palette can be exactly on trend, you can be exactly the weight you want to be, your bridesmaids’ shoes can complement their dresses exactly, your flowers can never wilt, and you can even provide favors people actually want. But that doesn’t mean life is going to be perfect when the last of the confetti is swept away.

In turn, not everyone will love their wedding. Sometimes weddings just aren’t the fairy wonderland of perfection and joy that the wedding industry makes them out to be. Sometimes they’re just a big, complicated event that bring out the worst in people you thought you knew and you’re just happy the day is finally over. So if the cake is knocked over and the DJ plays the songs on your do-not-play list and your mom gets drunk and throws a temper tantrum, it’s important to remember that the wedding isn’t the important part; the marriage is.

{the walk down the aisle}

The rest? Well, the rest is just cake.

{all photos by Lime Green Photography}

How to: 4 Steps to More Flattering Photos

Well, I guess this is the unofficial week of how-tos. I’m okay with that. Let’s begin.

I always say that it’s really hard to get a candid photo of me. For whatever reason, I am almost always acutely aware of when a camera is in my vicinity and especially when it’s pointed in my direction.

Okay, the “reason” is that I grew up in the age of Facebook and Instagram. And I know you’re going to put that picture online and probably tag me, and no amount of sepia filters is going to save it. This is a pre-emptive strike on unflattering photos.

People sometimes tell me I’m photogenic (*hair flip and heavy sigh*), but the fact is that I just know how to look like a normal, reasonably attractive human in a photo. Because, yes, it takes some forethought and effort for most of us.

AND TODAY I SHARE MY SECRETS WITH YOU.

(I know. I just got a little chill too.)

Actually, I’m really sharing tips from my photographer/model little sister. Yeah, she IS obnoxiously cool/attractive. Don’t believe me? This is her:

{photos (left-to-right, top-to-bottom) by Jake Blomberg, Figment Art Photo, Alyssa Smith, and Ben Blood}

Aaaand this is me:

So…yeah. But the fact is, girl knows how to take a pretty picture. Let’s let the professional give the REAL advice, shall we?

So without further ado, here are Joelle’s tips for not looking ridiculous in photos. (With my two cents where it’s relevant.)

1. Know your angles!
Everyone has good and bad angles. Everyone. Sure, some people have more of each, but everyone has at least one of each. Don’t believe me?

{source}

Obviously, this is not really an UGLY picture. (It’s Adriana Lima, folks. Like I said, some people just have a lot of good angles.) But it’s certainly not the most flattering picture of her you’ve ever seen.

The fact remains, it’s important to know that you have bad angles as well as what they are. As a girl with a crooked nose and a wide jaw-line, I know that 75 percent of my angles can be disastrous. But when I hit that sweet spot? I’ll break your heart.

Joelle had this to say: “You usually don’t want to face directly onto the camera. Always focus on your angles. [ed note: SEE YOU GUYS? I KNOW STUFF.] Even if it’s just slightly turned. And if it’s face on, cock a shoulder up or back so it isn’t a straight line.”

Fortunately, the best part about growing up with Facebook is that you’ve probably seen a lot of photos of yourself from different angles. You can tell which ones work best for you, or at least which ones you prefer to dwell in the public sphere. Don’t be afraid to insist on those angles. It’s a running joke with my friends that I insist on being on the left side or in the middle of group photos. Remember that crooked nose? Photos from the right are not kind to it. (AND THE INTERNET IS FOREVER.)

A bit vain? Perhaps. But I don’t see why purposely taking unflattering photos helps anyone.

2. You have the right to skinny (looking) arms.
I talked a bit too much on the last tip. Here’s Joelle’s advice on this one:

“People seem to have picked up on popping their hand on their hip to make their arm appear slimmer.. Try bringing it down a little lower to elongate the arm. To avoid the cliche altogether, just hold your arm away from your body slightly to avoid the smooshed look.”

Smooshed being the technical term here.

Again, my friends tease me about the “hip pop” being my signature photo move:

But if it ain’t broke, amiright?

3. Have fun with it.
When it comes to Facebook photos, you’re (most likely) not working on your modeling portfolio, but rather capturing a moment. Joelle recommends laughing (or faking a laugh) right before the picture to give your grin some sincerity.

“If you’re having a good time, it will come through in the photo,” she says.

Examples from our respective engagement photos:

{figment art photo}

{Ben Blood}

And finally…

4. Look up.
“If all else fails, photos from above are fun!” Joelle says.

Plus, the chances for an accidental double-chin are greatly diminished. Just saying.

What are your tips for taking better photos? Do you agree that it’s unfair how attractive my sister is?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Happiness Project Update

It has been almost two months since I made my decision to be happy all the time, so I figured it’s probably time for an update.

I’m going to be honest with you guys, I wasn’t perfect. I was not literally happy all the time. There were days when I was exhausted, frustrated, even just downright grumpy. Days I snapped at my husband. Days I just couldn’t be bothered to be happy.

And even when I would feel myself slipping into that unhappy place, I would mentally remind myself about my little project, and you know what would happen? This bitter little voice in my brain would mutter, “You know what? I don’t care. I deserve to feel unhappy right now.”

Isn’t it weird when your brain gives you an unexpected answer? It had never occurred to me that when I would sulk or wallow or whatever I was doing, there was a part of me that felt I had earned that low point.

Honestly, the fact that I subconsciously felt that way made me a little sad. I mean, the whole point of the project is that I know I’m my best self when I’m happy and positive. Doesn’t it seem a bit selfish that I would feel like the world owed me a moment to not be my best self?

So I spent a little bit of time considering that. No, I don’t want to always put pressure on myself to be the best. But to be my best self? Is that asking too much?

The answer is that I don’t know. As a staunch believer in moderation in all things, it seems reasonable that I would give myself the day off if I really needed it. And while I still always want to try to be my best self as often as I can, it sort of makes sense that to be my best self, I would need to be able to have a day or an hour or even ten minutes to just allow my brain to relax, feel whatever it’s feeling in that moment, and then get on with life.

So maybe that’s the difference. I can be unhappy for a moment if that’s truly how I feel, I just can’t let those feelings consume me. I can’t let them cripple me.

As someone who spent roughly five years as a victim of negative thoughts (yeesh…THAT’S the sad part, folks), I think my project is just a promise to myself that I won’t let it happen again. I refuse to be a victim of anything. I won’t waste anymore of my life as a (let’s face it) willing captive of negativity and unhappiness.

Which is why I’ll continue to say that I’m going to be happy all the time. Because — even though I know I won’t be perfect at it — if I even get close to that goal, I’ll be doing pretty well.

And today? Today I choose happiness. Today, I choose to feel like this:

{source}

What (if anything) do you do to get yourself out of a funk? And if you don’t make an active effort to be happy, why do you think that is?

Baby steps to financial freedom

I mean, it’s really no surprise to anyone that I like online shopping. Honestly, I think the whole process has ruined me for regular shopping.

Online, I simply type “open back draped dress green” into a Google shopping search, and every available option pops up. I walk into Macy’s, and I’m like this:

THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY THINGS AND NO SENSE OF ORGANIZATION.

Anyway.

Unfortunately, the ease of online shopping is also a curse. Because it’s so dang easy to shop ALL the time.

Take what happened a few days ago. Did I wake up thinking, “Hmm…I wonder if Nordstrom has a super cute striped coral dress on sale for $19 that I can also get free shipping on with a coupon code I’ll find online, plus 13 percent cash back on Ebates?”

No. No, I did not.

But then I got the dang email newsletter advertising the sale, and the subsequent email from Ebates with their double cash back offer, and the next thing you know, I’m entering my PayPal info and the dress is on my doorstep a few days later.

On one hand, a $19 (incredibly adorable) dress from Nordstrom is a great deal. On the other, would I have gone on to live a totally fulfilled life if I had never known it existed?

I mean, probably. It is a super cute dress.

But the point is, when you’re trying to remove temptation from your life (whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, negative association, or spontaneous online shopping) it doesn’t help if someone is constantly throwing triggers in your face.

Which is why over the last week I’ve unsubscribed from about twelve email newsletter lists.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but I’ve held back because a) I like knowing when the stores I like have a sale and b) I like receiving exclusive coupon codes for products I like.

In the end though, I decided to cut ties because, honestly, a quick Google search can bring up just about any available current code on the internet. And I would rather buy something I want that just happens to be on sale, rather than buy something simply because a sale happens to be occurring. Actually, I would rather just not buy anything at all. I still have that credit card to pay down, ya know?

And, of course, I haven’t even missed the newsletters.

Do you ever opt-out of email newsletters? Have you ever regretted it? I’d also love to hear any super easy money-saving tips you have in the comments!

Who do you write for?

I read an interesting blog post yesterday about the idea of influence on bloggers. Well, specifically “man-fluence” on female bloggers.

The basic gist of the article was that the writer had gone on a date with a man she admired and told him that she wrote a fashion blog in her spare time. On the second date, he mentioned that he had read her blog, which sent her into a panic about whether or not what she had written was impressive enough for him to read.

Now, she tries to write every post as if her dream guy was going to someday read it. (As he very well might. The hubs is one of my most loyal supporters.)

The article came to my attention on Twitter, where someone called the philosophy “totally exhausting, but also depressing and bad for your self-worth.”

After I read the post myself, I have to respectfully disagree.

To be fair, I think the original poster would have gotten a better response if she had left out the fact that she was a female blogger dealing with the influence of a guy she was interested in on her writing. (That particular thesis just screams “Tear me apart, feminists!”) Of course, the blogger also acknowledged that this might happen.

However, the real point she was trying to make (to my understanding) is that you should write to impress — not necessarily to impress anyone in particular.

I try to write something for my blog every single week day. That’s a lot of writing. And I am well aware that sometimes it is not very good writing. Lately, I’ve been trying to ease off a bit, giving myself a day off when I truly have nothing of worth to say. But there are still times when the old compulsion fills me, and I’ll rattle something off just to know I did it.

Is this the best thing I’ve ever written? No. Does it fill a purpose? Sure. But is it impressive? Is it anything I would ever submit as a clip in an application? Is it even something I would promote on Twitter or Facebook? And if not, what is the point of writing it at all?

I think what the blogger was trying to say is that when you are trying to write your best, you are more likely to actually write your best. Accidental genius happens, but editing exists because it doesn’t happen all that often.

Can I tell you a secret? I almost never edit my posts. I rarely even read back over them before posting except to do a quick spot check for spelling and grammatical errors. Which is why, you might notice, there are spelling and grammatical errors from time to time. It’s a tiny bit of laziness I allow myself. My blog is, at times, a mental dump to just get something out of my brain and into words.

But when I write with the knowledge that I will be sending the piece to someone, as I would for a guest post or a published article? Or when I choose to remember the fact that anyone could read what I’ve written (new friends, old enemies, family members, my husband’s ex-girlfriends), usually the writing comes out a little better. A little more focused. A little more purposeful.

There are definitely pros and cons to both styles. Either way, I like to think what I write is honest. It’s honestly me. It’s honestly how I feel at the time.

What about my fellow blogger readers? Do you do a lot of editing to your blog posts? Do you have any particular reader in mind when you hit the publish button?

How to write the perfect thank-you note

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.