25 Things to Know Before You’re 25: Part 1

My 25th birthday is five days away.

I don’t celebrate birthdays (so this isn’t me fishing for cards and gifts), but I wanted to talk about this particular milestone because, well, it is a milestone.

When I was a wee little Justine, I used to have this mental plan that went something like this: I’m going to get married at 20 and have kids at 25.

Okay, so…we’ve learned that wee little Justine was kind of a psycho. Or at least vastly overestimating how quickly she would get her life together. I mean, seriously, you’re still very much in college at 20. This is why we don’t take life advice from 6-year-olds.

But the point is, from the start, 25 has always signified something big for me. Twenty-five is the age (in my brain) that I was supposed to be completely and utterly grown up. Settled. Life was supposed to be figured out.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happened.

I mean, to my own credit, I have some things figured out. The marriage thing? I’ve figured the crap out of that one. The job thing? The where we want to live thing? The money thing? Eh…that’s what the second-half of your twenties is for, right?

But for this commemorative post (available for two easy payments of $39.95!!)(I’m the only one that thinks of infomercials when I hear the word “commemorative”? Okay, moving on.), I wanted to focus on the stuff I can check off. More than that, I wanted to get input from some people who I really trust and admire on what they think is important to check off before you hit 25. So I sent out a Facebook message to a few people who fit that description and compiled their thoughts with my own. Some of these are silly things. Some of them a bit weightier. But they’re all 100 percent true.

And just in case you’re already overwhelmed at the thought of reading all 25 in one sitting, I’m splitting this post into five parts. Check back over the next five days for the rest!

So without further ado, here is the first half of our list of the 25 things you should know by the time you turn 25:

1. “You should know how to host a dinner party without completely freaking out.” – Madison Mayberry Hofmeyer

This is probably kind of a weird thing to say about someone who I’ve only met once before, but Madison is kind of one of my favorite people in the world. (Yup, I’m putting it all out there, Madison.) Not only is she insanely nice and smart and funny, she’s also a pretty fabulous cook. (You might recognize her from when she won Rachel Ray’s “Hey, Can You Cook?!” competition in 2008.)

And while you might think, “Sure, a girl like that could easily throw a dinner party,” I think Madison’s thought is incredibly valid. Because a dinner party doesn’t have to be a fancy sit-down event for 20. I think what she means is that you should be able to entertain guests for dinner without losing your mind, and I can completely get behind that.

2. You should know how to use a public restroom.

Okay, this one is from me. And what I mean is, you should know to check if there’s toilet paper before you’ve disrobed and sat down. And you should know to make sure you flush the toilet properly. And you should know to put some paper towels in the stall if you’ve used the last of the toilet paper. And you should know how to wash your hands without leaving soggy paper towels clogging the drain in sink. And for the ladies, it should go without saying, but for the love of all that is holy, you should know not to leave used tampons in the toilet. It’s disturbing to discover.

It never fails to shock me how many grown-ups still have not learned how to do this properly.

3. “You should know how to write a grammatically correct cover letter. That’s inspired by a resume I just read that included, among other hilarious things, ‘An understanding of chivalry’ listed under ‘Honors and Awards’. –Joe Thuente

Joe and I have been friends since the seventh grade when we rode the bus together twice a day every day. I don’t tell him this enough, but he’s someone I’m insanely proud of in terms of what he has accomplished in the time I’ve known him. He has checked off making a major move, getting a graduate degree, and getting his dream job from his life’s to-do list, and I consider it an honor that he’s kept me as a friend this long.

But enough mushy stuff. The dude also knows a thing or two about applying for and getting a job. (Plus, his anecdote is hilarious.) The fact is, it’s never going to be cool to sound uneducated. Learn yourself some basic grammar, folks. And, seriously, have a trusted adult friend read over your cover letter before you turn it in. We don’t need any more of these guys.

4. How to survive away from your family.

5. “You should know how to give a good handshake. And, for God’s sake, if you are male, you should know how to tie a God damn tie by this point.” -Joe T., again.

There’s nothing to really add to that, except I would say that ladies of the world should know how to tie a GD tie at this point too. You never know when you’ll be called on to save a male friend/boyfriend/husband from embarrassment.

Thank you to Madison and Joe from your contributions! See everyone tomorrow for the second installment!


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?

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}

Taking the Leap


This might surprise you considering the number of times I have changed jobs since starting this blog, but I have a lot of trouble with taking big leaps in my life.

I mean, I’m not a total scaredy cat. I do take leaps. I moved to New York. I got married. I did make all those career changes. But it might surprise you to know how much panic and trepidation and second guessing went into those leaps.

Sometimes I feel like I am too self-aware. Like, I look at those people who are so painfully unself-aware, and part of me is like, “Honey…just…stop.” But another part of me kind of sighs wistfully and thinks, “Geez. It would be nice to be just a little blissfully ignorant.”

Because another definition for “too self-aware” is “self-conscious.”

And I don’t mean self-conscious in the “OMGeeeeeeewhat’smyhairdoingIlooksofatrightnow” kind of way. I just mean…I don’t know, that I am aware I have failings. And I know I can and will fail at a lot of things. But I try to believe that it’s more of a failure to at least not try.

When I’m gearing up to do something, and I have a panic attack, I usually do the following three things:

1. Turn to my support system for a little cheerleading. The three main proponents of this are my husband, my friend Susan, and my friend Heather. Obviously, there are a lot of other people who support me, but these three tend to believe in me way more than I believe in myself, and I always walk away from those conversations being like, “YEAH! I can do this!”

2. Loads of research. I mean, I always look before I leap. I’m willing to put my pride on the line, but only if I feel like I’ve done all I can to prepare for success or failure.

3. Repeating this mantra to myself: Just DO it already. What is seriously the worst that could happen?

Because I know that when a character says that in a movie, it usually means an anvil is about to drop on their head, but in real life, the “worst that could happen” is usually not all that extreme. The person could say no. My plan could fail. Et cetera. But I much prefer failure to always just wondering.

So I’m trying to take more leaps lately. I have some projects in the works, and I’m trying my hardest not to let fear of failure cripple what I believe I can accomplish.

What about you? Does taking chances freak you out? Or are you one of those freaks who isn’t afraid of rejection? (Just kidding. You’re not a freak. But I hate you a tiny bit.) What are your tips for just doing it already?

Crazy like a Focus Fox

So, Joe is completely right. For some reason, I thought that I had made a post about whiffleball in the past, but that is apparently not the case.

To be fair, I started writing this ol’ blog over a year after the summer of whiffleball ended. And I mean, sure, I know there were games the following summer, but I don’t think anything really lived up to the original league. (Plus, and I know they’re all going to give me grief for even mentioning this, but I spent that summer living in New York, so I wasn’t around to play anyway.)

The whiffleball league came about because Joe (the one from the comments, not my husband) wanted to get outside. (I just spent ten minutes trying to track down the original Facebook message he sent out to all of our friends, but I couldn’t find it.) The back story is that we had spent a lot of nights the previous summer in Joe’s parents’ basement playing Mario Party tournaments. Am I proud of this? Well…I’m not NOT proud.

That’s actually a story in and of itself. If you’re not familiar with Mario Party, it’s basically a giant “board” game, and each “roll” is comprised of a mini game. I don’t know how many mini games there were total, but after you’ve played for a few weeks, you figure out which games each person is good at. For example, Brian developed a special technique that made him really good at the mini game where you had to spin on a snowboard as many times as you could before your player hit the ground, but eventually I got pretty good at the technique and was able to beat him. Peter, on the other hand, excelled at a game where you had to memorize the safe path across (I think it was) these cubes of ice or clouds or something to get to safety. For some reason he could memorize it really fast. I don’t remember the actual name of that game because everyone just called it “F*** You, Peter.” That should give you an idea of how good he was at that one.

The point is, several times a week we would all get together for impromptu tournaments of Mario Party. That’s because Joe really likes to organize tournaments and athletic leagues of sorts. Which leads me back into our main story.

While I would definitely say we all had a lot of (really nerdy) fun in Joe’s basement, the next summer, Joe was on a mission. He sent out the aforementioned Facebook message, the point of which was that we were young and that we should go play outside before we were too old to do it without breaking a hip or something.

There were two teams in the league: everyone who had graduated high school in 2005 and everyone else. The people on the 2005 team (also known as my team) were called Focus Fox. Everyone else was team King Kong.

We played about three times a week, usually in the evenings until it got too dark to see the ball. Throw a giant, scary dog in there and we were basically a more grown-up version of the Sandlot. (Except the only dog in our group was Brian’s cocker spaniel, Daisy, and Joe’s Jake the She-Dog. Not much fear inspiring going on there.)

On the fourth of July, we had our World Series (Green Meadows West Series?) before we all went to a pool and ate hot dogs and saw the fireworks.

Joe would want me to point out that Focus Fox won the pennant. But honestly, that’s not really what I remember the most. Although, I do remember him making this face when I asked him how he felt about it:

(Sorry, Joe. I couldn’t help myself.)

That was a really fun summer. And it was the last summer that we were all together. You know that scene at the end of The Sandlot, the “where are they now” scene? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this. It starts at the 4:50 mark.) That’s sort of how I imagine the end of that summer. Because while we’ve still gotten together since then, the group has tapered more and more every year. I mean, I know that I have a hard time getting back to Iowa because of busy schedules and tight budgets, especially at a time when everyone else is there. And now that we’re all getting real jobs, settling in our own states, getting married, I sort of feel like that was our last summer as kids.

Sure, we’ll all still do reckless, immature things now and then, but for the most part, when we get together again, it’s a little bit like meeting new people. Not in a bad way. Just in a different way.

Anyway. I didn’t mean to get heavy on you there. I just mean to say I’m very glad to be friends with those guys (and the two girls ha). And I’m really glad to have that summer in my memories.

And, ok Joe, I’m also glad we have those pennants.

The best day of my life

I’ve been thinking about life a lot lately. (I know. DEEP.)

More specifically, everything that has changed in my own in the last five years. The hubs and I have been discussing the future pretty regularly, which, for me at least, leads to natural reflection of what has already happened.

I put some serious thought into what point in my life I could say I was the happiest.

The thing about the happiest moments of you life is that they’re not happy because they’re perfect. They’re just imperfect in a way you can laugh at and appreciate. And they’re so almost perfect that you don’t even care about the distinction anyway.

I came up with a couple of moments like that.

1. Eighth grade (2000/2001)
Yup, middle school. I really liked middle school. (I know, I’m a freak.) I didn’t have too much trouble with bullies, my style was probably ridiculous but I didn’t know enough about style to know, I had good friends, and I kept busy doing things I really enjoyed with people I liked being around. My friend Annie and I often joke that eighth grade was one of our best years, but honestly, I think there has always been a hint of sincerity in the joke.

2. My ASME summer (2008)
Did we just take a 7-year leap into the future/past? Yes, we did. Which isn’t to say the almost-decade in between sucked, it just means there wasn’t all that much that stood out. I got my braces off. I got my driver’s license. I graduated high school. There. Now you’re caught up.

Anyway, that summer? My ASME summer? That summer ruled. I was living in the heart of the place I had dreamed of living in for years, working for a company I had dreamed of working at for years. I had an awesome roommate who it still amazes me I clicked with as well as I did. I was in an entirely new environment, which made me feel like I could be whoever I wanted to be. And I was only there for three months, so if I decided I didn’t like this new person I had tried to be, I could leave her behind at the end of the summer.

I even spent a bit of time with the would-be-hubster that summer. Although, in the sake of total disclosure, we exchanged literally three sentences the whole time. Romance.

I ended that summer riding high and entirely confident in my ability to take over the world. (If I wanted to.)

3. The day I got engaged. (June 14th, 2010)
Heck YES I knew that date without having to look it up. What do you take me for?

But seriously, guys. It was so awesome. Joey really outdid himself, flying me to Vancouver, taking me to the top of a mountain, getting me to accidentally film the proposal myself, and even weeks before getting friends and family to film themselves saying congrats so he could show me the video later (after we got off the mountain and I had calmed down a bit). I mean…just watch.

RIGHT? It was so perfect. I would argue the proposal is almost better than the wedding day because you don’t stress about anything (well, at least the person getting asked doesn’t stress because you usually don’t know it’s coming). All of the family drama, expenses, and stress would come later. On that day, we were getting married soon. And that’s all I needed to know.

That was a really great day.

4. Our actual wedding day. (April 10, 2011)
I know you’re sick of my gushing about my wedding, so you can read that post if you don’t already know why this was such a great day.

I try to be one of those people who learn from their mistakes. Actually, I try to be one of those people who learns from the mistakes of others, but sometimes I’m too stupid to pay enough attention. So when I think about the future and which options will make me the happiest, I think it’s important to reflect on what has made me happiest in the past. (My own personal twist on repeating history. The positive version.)

The trouble is, part of me thinks it’s impossible to ever be your “happiest” in the moment. It’s more of a reflective emotion. And once you designate something the “best day of your life,” you’ve already put it on a shiny pedestal, and nothing will ever be able to compare because you’re probably only remembering the good parts.

I mean, eighth grade? ASME summer? I still had issues and things I hadn’t gotten figured out yet and things weren’t actually perfect. And if I compare my relationship with Joey to how it was when we got engaged or even married, we’re so much stronger and closer than we were then.

You kind of need perspective to know what you had when you had it. So who knows? Maybe in 20 years I’ll look back on 2012 and think, “Damn…that was a good year.) Besides, it’s pretty awful to think that my best years have truly already happened. I prefer to think that the best is always yet to come.

What about you? When were you happiest? How do you feel when you think about sometime being your best time?

I’m on Team Becca

Hey again!

You guys know my friend Becca?

(She’s the cute one in pink.)

Well, one thing you might not know about her is that she has Type I diabetes. And because she is basically my hero, she’s also one of the most motivated people I know when it comes to finding a cure for that disease.

Which is why every year, she organizes Team Becca to walk in the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes walk in Des Moines. When I lived there, my family and I would always physically participate in the walk.

Here’s proof (for the record, I think we are what you would categorize as “late bloomers”…just scroll back up and look at that photo!):

Now, unfortunately, the commute to the walk is a bit to far to swing for me now. But that’s why I was so excited when Becca emailed me to see if I wouldn’t mind posting a link (and a shiny new badge in the right-hand column!) to her team so anyone who wanted to could contribute.

Um, yes. I would be honored to do that for you, Becca!

If you would like to contribute, click here for details, and then click here to donate to Team Becca. It doesn’t have to be a lot, and you can choose your donation amount. (Every little bit helps!)

Thank you to anyone who does find it in their heart to donate. Becca is one of my dearest friends, and it breaks my heart that she has to go through so many physical difficulties. A girl should be able to just eat a damn cupcake without worrying about it hurting anything besides her waistline! I can’t wait for the day when she doesn’t have to worry about things like that anymore.

And who knows? Your generous donation might take us one step closer to that day.