Category Archives: TBD

decisions, decisions, decisions

2016 New Business – A Look Back & A Look Ahead

January was just a warm up. February is where my new year is really going to start in 2016.

First of all, thank you all for reading and following along. As I look back on that original blog post in 2013, it feels like I’ve done and experienced more in the past two years than in the five years prior.

So thanks for caring as I move around the country, travel, drink wine, bake yummy treats, sell wedding dresses, volunteer and generally explore my surroundings! I’ve appreciated all of the encouragement and comments!

As you know, we recently moved to New York City. I left The Brides Project sadly but have been able to take time to consider all the outlets that bring me joy and figure out how to incorporate them into my life.

My dream job would be to work on food TV, and I’m looking around and applying to various posts on Food Network, etc., but in lieu of finding that dream job on Day 1, I’ve compiled some other activities to keep me on my toes.

I definitely feel like when it rains it pours and somehow I went from zero commitments to filling my schedule with piecemeal projects! Here’s a rundown of how my 2016 is shaping up.

  1. Monday I started a job working the counter at Levain Bakery ~ a women-owned bakery known for their ginormous gooey cookies and freshly made bread. I’ll be working part-time in their Upper West Side and Harlem locations so if you’re in town, come say hi! I’m excited to get some food service experience under my belt (it’s been so long since I waitressed) and hopefully there’ll be opportunity to bake and learn the back office/management side of things as well. I think my Brides Project experience will be quite useful.
  2. Also Monday, I officially became a Contributor to World Tourists Magazine – a travel blog that grew out of a crowd-sourced Instagram account with over 14 THOUSAND followers! What a great way to continue writing and sharing fun tips and travelogues with new friends. The gentlemen that put it all together is in Portugal and he’s gathered bloggers from all over the world to write. [Link to come as the site is still being tested.]
  3. As some of you know, I’ve drawn and painted my whole life, but it was always just a hobby. Thanks to the wonderfully supportive women at The Rising Tide Society’s NYC group, I’m going to have three paintings at a collective gallery exhibit in Brooklyn on Feb 12. If you’re in town, join us at 7pm at Rabbithole Projects in DUMBO.
  4. This has lead me to consider wrapping up all my various interests into a new website, which, with the help of many friends, will hopefully be up and running soon. I’m going to rebrand and launch the site as a place to find this blog, recipes, buy my art and find links to pieces I’ve written for other sites.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff. It all still seems rather out there in the ether but I hope to make some concrete progress over the next weeks and months and hope you’ll continue to join me on the new site!

Happy 2016!

Not Feeling Very Millennial

I read recently about a micro-generation between Gen X and Millennials. Basically people born between 1980 and 1983. I fall in there, so I was intrigued and happy to find I’m not the only one thinking some of these thoughts.

First of all, we can remember a time before personal technology, and we grew up without smart (or dumb) phones. But we were also early adopters of AOL instant messenger (ick, chat rooms), got cell phones in college and were excited to get in on the ground floor of Facebook. This article rang so true for me, “Oregon Trail Generation” (um, obsessed with OT).  http://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2015/04/oregon-trail-generation/

We love our technology, but we could probably do without it too. It’s not as hardwired in us as in those that were born shortly after us.

Secondly, when we came out of college, we went into the working world full steam ahead and full of ambition. Like, We’re going to be awesome! But then the recession happened and whether or not you got laid off, there was some collective understanding that we were caught in the middle of some change. There may not have been a personal or immediate repercussion, but goals and priorities seemed to start changing. And at the same time, technology was and is just bounding ahead.

And many of our micro-genners were/are stuck in workplace limbo: those Gen Xers ahead of us are established in whatever they were already doing – just keep on keepin on y’all. Millennials behind us knew they wouldn’t have tons of jobs waiting for them out of school, so they took creative and entrepreneurial approaches to life right from the start and didn’t bother with all that corporate America stuff.

Then there’s me, contemplating, What am I doing with my life? Am I sticking to what I’ve done or am I shaking it up? Because I have some different goals and priorities than I did back then. And, this isn’t in 2008; this is 2013, 2014, now.

The world gave me a minute to reflect and decide and think about personal fulfillment and community benefit because the answer to What should I do with my life? isn’t cut and dry anymore. I thought I wanted one thing growing up – to emulate that standard American Dream of working hard, home ownership, family, retirement – but maybe that’s no longer realistic or even desirable. I’ve been programmed and trained for A, but maybe B is the best and highest and most rewarding use of my brain actually. [Side note: it’s still completely unclear what B is.]

And so many cool and interesting things to do out there! I don’t want to shut the door on any of them! It’s kind of a little tornado in my mind thinking about all the things I want to do and alternatively feeling discouraged because the Millennials are on my heels and they have been building websites and garnering a social media following since they were five.

This funny and spot-on article takes two different perspectives on our micro-generation, and when I read the latter half, written by someone born in 1983, I literally shouted “YES” every paragraph. So true: http://magazine.good.is/articles/generation-xennials

These two perspectives go to show what a unique generation we are: people born only a few years apart have totally different takes on life. While a lot of us have stayed the course in those original jobs, many of have taken a beat to go to grad school, have kids, or explore second (and third) careers and are feeling like we’re still “figuring it out.”

It’s exciting but also scary because, at least for me, I don’t see a clear path ahead. There’s no standard-bearer here. I don’t feel like I’m following in anyone else’s footsteps. I’m both ahead and behind somehow. I feel like I have so many experiences and talents, but I don’t really have a job title to back it up – and that’s okay. Or not okay. Sometimes it just depends on the day. Sometimes I feel accomplished and sometimes I feel like I haven’t done anything with myself.

Any other non-Gen X-non-Millennials out there feeling lapped but also excited to keep trying all new things?

Me, feeling very small among these large cliffs on Ile d’Ouessant off the west coast of Brittany, France. Maybe a metaphor for how I’m feeling in life at this moment. I mean, can you even see me? 🙂IMG_0226

More on Embarrassing My Sister From Afar and I Hate This Computer

Sitting in JFK airing out my (clean) laundry, I knew my sister would cringe if she saw what I was doing.  So naturally I sent her a picture text.

1 jfkOne word back: “Yikes”.

My sister lives in Texas but that doesn’t prevent her from eye rolling and sighing when she finds out what I’m doing up here in Michigan.  Mainly these things revolve around being technologically inept – like not downloading updates for my cell phone – or not wanting to spend money on everyday items – like still using a hairbrush whose rubber face is only partially still attached to the handle.  It works fine thanks.  And nice brushes are unexpectedly expensive.  I guess this second example also falls into the category of me being cheap – like reading books over multiple visits to Barnes & Noble without buying them.  I’m sensing the eye roll.

Sometimes even I get exasperated though about all the run-down things I insist on keeping and using.  And here’s where we come to the point of saying I really really really hate this computer.  It is a MacBook from about 2007, which, to my mind, should be plenty new enough and work just fine.  But it doesn’t.  It freezes on a daily basis.  I can type in a URL, walk away, do a load of laundry, and maybe it will be loaded by the time I get back.  It can’t open docx or xlsx files because Office isn’t up to date.  It must be plugged in at all times.  All of this I can deal with, work around, and have been doing so for many months.

Which isn’t to say it’s been pretty.  Mark routinely tells me to get a new computer when yelps of frustration, constant whining and pretend crying issue forth from my mouth as I’m trying to update a spreadsheet in a timely fashion (aka in fewer than 2 hours please).

I tried to get it fixed, to make it run faster.  Really I tried.

I took it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy and said, “Fix it!”  No, just kidding, I said, I need you to check this for viruses and install an updated operating system so this computer runs faster, as well as some anti-virus software.  Also, I said, since I’ve updated the operating system on my iPhone (THANKS SIS) it no longer syncs with my computer and I can’t get my pictures off the phone.  They said sure.

No viruses, BUT then they tell me they don’t sell that particular Mac OS at Best Buy.  So I took the computer, went to the Apple store.  They said they don’t sell it there either!! WTF.  BUT you can buy it online and wait with the computer in the store while the new OS downloads.  And who knows how long that will take.  No thanks.  I ordered it online, got the disk in the mail, and took everything back to Best Buy.

So great – new OS installed.  Problem: iPhoto has somehow been deleted from the computer.  Apparently now it is a pay app.  I could call up Apple and tell them that I used to have it but it got wiped so I should get to download it for free again.  But no, I’m clearly not going to waste my time doing that.  UGH.  Oh, and also, this anti-virus software is too new to be installed on this computer.  Oh, and also, your battery is somehow bulging so that it doesn’t sit flush and that’s why the computer has to be plugged in.  But fundamentally, the battery is fine.  In fact, it’s all charged up!

I’m living with using Preview to download my pics.  I just have to try to edit them all on the phone before downloading them (this really only means cropping as I don’t actually have any photoshopping apps on my phone).  I’m living with the still-slow-despire-the-new-OS internet and file opening.  I’m looking at docx and xlsx files on my phone.

But now.  Now the battery is literally popping out of the bottom of the computer.  A slight bulge somehow expanded such that the computer no longer even sits flush on the table.  I have an impending sense of doom that the computer will just give up the will to work at all, and I’ll have lost everything on the hard drive.  I’m backing up constantly.  (Okay that’s a lie; I hate backing up, it’s so tiresome.  But I have done it once.  Oh but I had to do it on a zip drive since the external hard-drive we bought is not compatible with this old-a** computer.)

I guess the time has come.  I MUST get a new computer.  I literally cannot function in life.  I need a PC, forget this Mac nonsense.  One with new versions of Microsoft Office and good photo software.  I do NOT want a touch screen because that is just one more thing to break immediately.  I’m thinking one of those mini HPs that you can kind of throw in your purse but also use for spreadsheets and such.

Any other suggestions?  I do have a 10% off coupon from Best Buy.  Cue eye roll.

 

Ode to an Audi / End of an Era

My car is dying.  Or I should clarify to say it might already be dead.  Technically, it’s been on its “last legs” for many years now, but she’s been hanging in there like a trooper, until a few weeks ago.  Now, I’m not going to blame Mark, but it was while he was driving that he noticed she was sputtering, perhaps the transmission slipping?  I said, no no no, you just have to know when to ease off the gas.  But alas, the next time I drove, I too felt a new and unfamiliar jolting.  Oy.

I’m not excited about the prospect of car shopping.  I started the process last summer when we were going to move to Michigan, and we didn’t think there was any way my 1999 Audi A4 was going to make it all the way from Baltimore there.  But nothing panned out, and so we slowly (we’re topping out around 70 these days)/silently (radio died during a protracted 6 month dead battery scenario last year)/noisily (the engine/turbo is super loud) made the trip across MD, PA, OH and MI.

It’s not that a new car wouldn’t be nice (or a new used car), but I just LOVE this car.  My parents got me this car somewhere between my 16th and 17th birthdays.  I had never even heard of Audi, but after doing their research, they determined that this was the safest car around.  (I would have been excited with a Ford Explorer but “they can roll”…funny how that’s exactly the car my sister got…hashtag oldersiblingproblems.)

They actually leased this car.  I drove it the last two years of high school (during which time she was dubbed a female named “Summer”…little-known fact), and then my sister drove her for the year after that.  At that point, I was allowed to have a car at college, so my parents purchased it off the lease and she came to school with me (which is when my sister got the leased Explorer fyi).

It seems like immediately after buying it off the lease, it started to have issues.  The brakes.  The brakes again (I think the shop we took it to only changed the pads the first time, so the worn rotors corrupted the new pads super quickly, or something like that…insert “car talk” here.)  The anti-lock brakes apparently stopped working (creating a constantly flashing light on my dashboard….I don’t even notice it anymore but it gives rise to a lot of passenger/mechanic comment…fyi, pump the breaks if you don’t have anti-lock ones).  The belts.  The computer, which kept popping the Engine light on…not that anyone could find anything wrong with the engine.  The battery.  The battery a few more times (especially at inopportune times like in the bank parking garage after working late).  Headlights out, cracked windshield, flat tires, and more flat tires (apparently there are lots of nails lying around Baltimore City streets).  In the last few years, I think the Turbo pick-up has been petering out, burning oil.  So I just carry around some extra liters in the trunk to refill from time to time.  NBD.  I stopped driving her on the highway when I got to Michigan because I can’t pick it up fast enough to be safe.  The turn signal has also died, so I manually have to move the handle up-and-down up-and-down to make the light blink.  Passengers are always like WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!? but I don’t even notice it anymore, and I find myself doing it when driving anyone else’s car now too.  And now this transmission scenario, although driving it in the optional manual transmission mode seems to help.  I can make it work.

Because just look how cute she is!

audi 1

Okay, so this doohickey got knocked off:

audi 3 But it just covers the little thing that pops up to wash the headlight when you use the windshield washer fluid.  Not an integral part.  Yes, she’s a bit banged up: upholstery tearing, question mark on whether or not the lighter can be used as a power source or if it actually drains the battery of whatever’s plugged in, bumper and taillights a bit mangled from the tap-tap game of city living, and the usual dents and dings from side swiping garage pillars.

But on the other-hand, she really has been quite a safe car for all these years.  An all wheel drive, she’s super heavy (I feel like all cars are flimsy plastic now) with a pretty wide wheel base for being a compact car.  She was excellent in this winter’s massive snow storms.  She curves so well, you barely have to slow down.  Now, when I’m driving Mark’s newer “safer” car, sometimes I take turns too fast and have to hit the brakes or acceleration depending on the scenario.  When driving my parents’ larger newer Toyota I can feel a light breeze shake the car, whereas the Audi could drive through a tornado and not even sway (okay, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration but I’m not sure because I haven’t tried).

I’m so hesitant to give her up.  Does anyone have a super trust-worthy mechanic who can give her a top to bottom once over and make me a punch list of the minimally necessary repairs to make her safe?  Yes, she’s 15 years old, but she’s ALMOST at 150,000 miles, and I feel that a car like this should be able to go to 200,000.  Right?!?!?  Please?!?!?!

Clearly I have attachment issues (like when I had to trade in my flip phone), so I wrote this cheesy poem to commemorate the end of the Audi era.  Bring on the tin can I guess.  Sad face.

Ode to an Audi

My first car ever, age fifteen

Silver and cute, best in the snow, heavy but pert

We drove back and forth to school of white, yellow and green

First I, then my sister, we drove alert

Off to college, then work, we went

Often faulty, burning oil, sticky buttons, no radio in the end

Held on so long, to one hundred fifty thousand miles we meant

But fell three thousand short, and I can no longer pretend

That we’ll ride along together for years to come.  The end of an era.  Goodbye my friend.

Wine Tasting Wednesday

After our October Napa trip, I came away with some great bottles of red, but most of them were a bit above my normal wine-buying price range, and many of them could stand to be aged a few years before drinking.  So this has left me with a gap in my “everyday” red wine consumption (which isn’t to say that I’m drinking wine everyday, not to worry 🙂 )…something drinkable with or without food, not too expensive, and not hard to find.  My test is this: can I sit on the couch and watch a movie on a weeknight and have a glass without feeling like I have to finish the bottle (because it was expensive) or save it for a special occasion or drink it with a specific meal.

I have my go-to white, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, that I stock up on every year at the Stella Maris Wine Tasting, held each April in Baltimore (tickets for the April 26th event are on sale now if you call the Development Office 410-252-4500 ext 7570).  I love this event because bottles are marked down from retail and proceeds benefit the long-term care facility.

And I have my favorite rose: anything from Cotes de Provence which can be more difficult to find and is way marked up from the ~5 euros per bottle I found in France.  But reds…I’ve had great bottles here and there, but nothing that I’ve pinpointed as “I can buy a case of this and know that it can be drunk at virtually any occasion.”

I generally like Pinot Noirs that are light and can be sipped over the course of an evening, rather than anything that is definitely better with food.  Knowing this, I decided to do a head-to-head Pinot Noir wine tasting last Wednesday.  I was at Kroger anyway (not the best wine selection obviously, but I wanted to find something that I could pick up on my typical errand route), so I pulled three Pinot Noirs in the $10-$20 range from various regions.

The contenders:

Image

1. Louis Jadot, 2010, from Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) for $18.99

2. Toad Hollow, 2011, from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (California) for $17.99

3. Hedgeline Vineyards, 2011, from Oregon for $12.99

They were each incredibly different.  Here are my thoughts, but first some caveats:

1. I’m trying to practice really smelling and tasting wines such that I can discern scents and flavors, rather than “I like this” or “I don’t like this”…but note I said “practice” which is to say that I could be way off the mark and I get really excited if someone corroborates what I’m describing.

2. I didn’t decant any of these initially, just swirled them in the glasses.  I’ve since tasted each after they’ve had time to breathe and I’ll discuss that more below.

3. I think I probably went in the reverse order of how I should have tasted these: it seemed like I went from boldest to lightest, but again, maybe that was just my impression.

Image

So here they are in the glasses.  All looking pretty similar to me in terms of color.

1. Louis Jadot – When I smelled this initially I got a lot of wood, and specifically pine scent, running into the smell of tobacco.  The taste was smooth and smoky with a little bite at the end (which definitely mellowed out over time in contact with the air).  When I tasted it later, I got more raspberry flavor, and I could drink this alone (slowly) or with dark chocolate.  In comparison to the Toad Hollow, it was less tannin-y.

2. Toad Hollow – I instantly got whiffs and flavors of vanilla from this bottle.  I was quite pleased with myself when I read the label and confirmed it had been aged in oak barrels (I learned at least this one point from our Napa trip).  At first the taste was tart with kind of an acidic finish, but as it opened up, it felt sweet, which I think is really just that buttery/vanilla-ness that the oak imparts rather than actual sugar.  It had more of an aftertaste than the Louis Jadot.

3. Hedgeline – Woah.  Should’ve gone with this first.  The initial smell was pungent and stiff with alcohol.  It definitely needed some decanting.  At first the taste was biting and acidic, but it completely smoothed out to a bit of strawberry and light vanilla with time.  I felt those tannins on the sides of my tongue and I would want this with food.

I had second glasses of all three in the ensuing days, and each was better with time and air.  While all three were enjoyable in their own ways, here are my conclusions:

1. Each was more enjoyable when it was the first and only glass of the day.  Comparing them side-by-side left me not really loving any of them.

2. Since each of these was better with some time after opening, I can’t see how any would become my go-to red.  The beauty of a go-to is that you can open it with unexpected company or on a whim without forethought and decanting.

3. I would buy any of these again in a pinch knowing what I was getting, but I’m going to continue searching and tasting because that’s half the fun!

Any recs on what to try next?!?!

I Got A Wedding Dress!

Okay, obviously I’m not going to post a picture of the one I’m actually going to wear – it has to be a surprise!  But keep reading to see some of the options 🙂

Two weeks ago in Texas, my parents, sister and I went to the Nordstrom Bridal Suite (the Nordstroms with bridal departments are so few and far between we had to go to the one in Houston) and BHLDN, the bridal store associated with Anthropologie, of which there are only 3 stores in the country, and luckily one of them is in Houston also!

I tried on lots of pretty dresses, and I was contemplating one at BHLDN and one at Nordstrom.  However it is shocking and disheartening how different a dress can look in the mirror versus in a photo.  (Sorry dad for getting annoyed at all the photos – they were quite helpful in the end.)  For instance, the one that I liked at BHLDN was a V-neck, ivory colored, sheath style with art deco-patterned beading.  It was different than what you might consider a traditional wedding dress and looked great in the mirror.  It was definitely the best one I had tried on during the day and because BHLDN creates sizes that you purchase and then have tailored at your own seamstress (as opposed to many bridal collections where the designer makes a dress to fit your measurements and then has fittings to get it just right…a process that can take over 6 months), the size 4 pretty much fit me and probably only needed an inch off the hem and tightening of the straps.  I was so excited to maybe have found THE dress!  Later in the day, I asked my dad to show me the photos he had taken of the various dresses, and I was distraught when I saw the picture of this dress.  The golden color, the empire waist and the very delicate beading on the bodice made it look like I was wearing a huge, nude-colored maternity bra!  Ew! Not flattering!  I will spare you an embarrassing picture and let your imagination run wild with this.  How disappointing that #1 in the mirror actually looks like poo in the pictures.

At Nordstrom, I tried on all sorts of cuts, from sheath to A line to modified ball gown.  Surprisingly, I really liked the full organza skirting and sheer straps on this Anne Barge “Emmanuelle” gown (this link will only get you to the collections page, then you have to hit “Anne Barge” under “Fall 2013,” scroll over to the right 7 clicks, and then the Emmanuelle style will be the dress farthest to the right at that point…the model is wearing a flower and net fascinator), which isn’t the style I was anticipating liking going into the day.  I think the wide cummerbund-style waist was very flattering, but the $3000+ price tag was not as attractive.  Next.

Here are some of the others I tried on that day:

dress 2This was the first one I tried at Nordstrom, and I really liked it for the beading and interesting sheer cut out pleats at the bottom.  The straps were thin and delicate so as to show off the back.  Contemplating the dress later, however, I didn’t love it, and I wouldn’t want to face buyer’s remorse, seeing as I have more than a year until our wedding.  That’s a long time to change your mind/find something better.

dress 3This is the first one I tried at BHLDN.  Sort of a ’20s art deco style (as were most of their dresses this season) with the silver beading in triangle patterns, translucent buttons down the front leading to a high front slit and flouncy cap sleeves.  I liked this for the artsy styling, but I don’t think it flattered my body all that well, and I would have nixed the cap sleeves, although looking at this photo now, I kinda like them.

Not feeling 100% confident about any of the ones I tried on that day, I figured I would keep thinking and keep looking, probably back in Baltimore next time I was home.

My sister came to visit this past weekend, and she said she wouldn’t mind, and would even be happy, to keep looking for dresses in Ann Arbor if we could get appointments.  I knew there was a gown shop on Main Street, but after looking at their website, it seemed that most of their dresses would be out of my price range.  They even said on the website that there is a separate showroom for dresses under $1500 and that most of those are short dresses or samples.  Not wanting to spend thousands and thousands on a dress, I didn’t get the most promising feeling from this shop’s website.  And how icky to separate out those of us whose budgets might not be all the huge?  I still want to look at the crazy-expensive ones!

The weekend after our Texas trip, I went to NYC for a friend’s birthday party.  Her good friend went to grad school at UMich and suggested a shop called The Brides Project.  She said one of her friends found a dress there.  The Brides Project is a volunteer-run shop of “pre-loved” dresses that are donated by previous brides, as well as new dresses donated by boutiques and designers that have overstock.  All the proceeds from the sale of the dresses go to support “families touched by cancer through the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.”  I thought it sounded like a place I should check out – at the very least because I knew the dresses would be reasonably priced.

My sister and I made an appointment for Saturday morning and were met by two super cute and friendly girls about my age.  The volunteer wedding stylists run the shop out of donated space so it’s not the fanciest of bridal salons, but it clearly serves the purpose of warehousing many many many dresses.  After washing our hands (because the dresses on the racks are the ones you buy – there’s no making dresses to fit your specifications here – and they don’t want them to get dirty), we started combing through the racks and racks of dresses, sorted by size.  We pulled anything that caught our fancy, no matter the size, because The Brides Project works with a seamstress who discounts her rates and apparently can work miracles resizing, tailoring and changing the dresses.

dress 1I really liked this one – especially the neckline and straps, – and would go so far as to say it was my runner up.  But it was a bit heavy for a beach wedding and I would have had to make some semi-major changes to the waistline, ruching on the front skirt panel and taken out some of the extra skirt material.

Here is another one I liked for the lower waistline (after realizing that empire waist is not my jam and just makes me look preggers) and low V-neck.  Also the back was beautiful with a little bit of draping falling to the waist: see the second photo below.

dress 4                               dress 4I think the back was my favorite part of this dress.

The straps would have had to be taken in a bunch and there was some weird stiff puckering in the boob area.  It would’ve been too much of a risk to see how the tailor could have managed that since you have to buy it first before tailoring.

Then I tried on a dress that seemed to be perfect (or as close as I’d gotten to date)!  It had the details I was looking for:  V-neck, not too long, very tiny train.  That’s all I will divulge, except that I do need the tailor to do a bit of touching up and shortening of the straps.  There’s no label in the dress, so I have no idea if it was handmade or what its story is.  I do think it was worn though and not a new overstock designer dress.

I also tried on an Amsale gown and a Pronovias dress (two well-known wedding designers that would have been a lot more expensive in a traditional bridal boutique), and apparently a Vera Wang gown recently came through that was obviously bought quite quickly.

My dress was $300, and I couldn’t be more excited about it and the fact that I’m helping a great cause in the process!  Also, they said they are always looking for volunteers to be wedding stylists in the shop and that they only come in 1-2 times per month when there are appointments (they are open by appointment only), so that may be a super fun volunteer activity for me.  The only downside would be if I saw some other amazing dress come into the shop.  Although at these prices, I perhaps could afford to change my mind one time! 🙂

Wedding Planning 101: An Emotional Roller Coaster

In a prior post I lamented that picking an engagement ring was a trial in emotional, indecisive, internal turmoil.

IMG_0044 (Gratuitous ring photo just because I love it.)

Well, we got that out of the way to great success, and I was happy and content for a moment.  I had reached the first apex of the wedding planning roller coaster ride…ready to dive, hands-up, into the rest of the up-and-down journey.  Hold onto your sunglasses!  (No, seriously, I lost a pair of Oakleys that way.)

Millennium_Force1_CP

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Subject: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio *Author: Nick Nolte *Taken: August 8, 2004

Unfortunately, as with life and roller coasters, what goes up, must come down when it comes to my wedding planning emotions.

Why?  Why is planning a wedding such a crazy, all-consuming time-suck?  Forget what everyone who’s never planned a wedding has ever thought about fairy tale ball gowns and bounties of red roses…it stinks (not the roses, those smell delightful).  Yes, looking through wedding magazines is fun…clipping out pretty pictures, Google searching dress designers and getting ideas for centerpieces.

And then you close the magazine, realize all that you’ve accomplished is adding ten more things to buy/make/want, feel completely overwhelmed, and proceed not to think about it for the next three days.

First of all: Everything is seemingly-unreasonably expensive.  Everyone who has planned a wedding does say this.  But you don’t really know what they mean (unless you’re their accountant or financial advisor) until your own proposals start rolling in.  $65,000 for 100 people for the ceremony and reception, and that doesn’t include napkins?  I really thought that was a joke.  I’ve helped plan corporate events for 250 people for half of that.  Where’s the extra expense?  Fine, our corporate events don’t have DJs.  Well there’s $500.  Where’s the other $32,000?  Those corporate events have multiple meals, open bar, room rental fees.  But they aren’t WEDDINGS.  $$$$ (I really wish I could input some emojis in this post right now…imagine smiley faces with dollar sign eyeballs or greedy grins.)

The scary thing is that you start becoming numb to the large numbers: $1,000 for a dance floor that you thought was included with the price of the DJ (because if you have dancing, you would assume you have a dance floor, right?  Haha you’re silly) becomes like: “whatever it’s FINE” (eye roll, sigh).

So far, the most stressful part was finding and nailing down a location.  We thought we wanted to do a destination wedding, which would be a way for all of our friends and families to come together and enjoy some quality time with one another.  It would also give us an opportunity to hang out and bond with our guests over the course of a few days, rather than feeling rushed to say “hello” and “thank you for coming” to everyone within the two to three hours of the reception alone.

We had vacationed in Montego Bay Jamaica a few times and appreciated how easy a trip it was: direct flights from Baltimore, short taxi ride from the Montego Bay airport to a resort, where even if you’re not doing all-inclusive, you still don’t have to leave the property for meals or activities.  We’d gone a few times for long weekends, which were perfect do-nothing get-a-ways for reading and napping.  Funny how when it’s warm out and you don’t have anything to do all day, you really don’t get too hungry.  We never did an all-inclusive (because no one needs that much alcohol) and we never felt like we should have (monetarily).  We were always well fed and always fulfilled our daily pina colada quota.

Unfortunately, the resort where we had stayed during each of our visits was recently purchased and closed for renovations.  It is scheduled to reopen next year under new management and branding, but who knows what it will be like or if it will be available for a wedding.  So time to look elsewhere.

We had heard great reviews of the neighboring resort, Half Moon, from various sources, although we had never been there ourselves.  While it is seemingly fairly expensive, they quoted us a very fair and reasonable guest room rate.  The rest of the wedding was another story…Plan B?

Not knowing what other options might be available to us in Montego Bay, we started randomly Googling venues.  But what can you really tell from websites, stock photos and Trip Advisor reviews without having seen the places firsthand or knowing someone who has?  We enlisted the help of a wedding planner and her associated travel agent to do some digging into other Montego Bay locations.  They came up with a comprehensive spreadsheet of 14 alternatives that was so big it took grab-a-snack/watch-a-movie/do-a-crossword-puzzle-amount-of-time to open in Excel.  After more Google searching and wedding planner phone calls, we started narrowing the list based on particular requirements: this place doesn’t allow kids – cross it out; this place looks overrun with kids – cross it out; this is just a venue, no hotel – cross it out; etc.

It was stressful feeling like there might be other options out there but not really getting a firm understanding of what each place was really like.  I contemplated bringing it back to Baltimore because at least there I know generally what the different venues are, what feeling they exude and what sort of party our guests would experience.  But then I circled back to our main goal of wanting to create a relaxing, vacation-like atmosphere for our guests.  (Especially a warm vacation for a December wedding….y’all can thank me later.)

At the same time as we were analyzing the various options the wedding planner had found, I was going back and forth with Half Moon to see if we could chop out chunks of the original proposal to get the cost back in line with our budget.  I had them price up an a la carte wedding (um, no, that was not cheaper) as well as the next package down.  These destination places have various pre-arranged packages that include everything from flowers to meals to DJs all for one price.  So instead of using the package that had everything we could possibly want, we looked at the one that had the bare minimum of things, and then added a few extras on a la carte.

Like when choosing an engagement ring, I was again fraught with indecision about what the right choice would be.  I hadn’t seen any of these places in person.  I didn’t know what I might be missing or forgetting about.  It’s hard to hit the “go” button just to find out down the road that you hadn’t considered an essential element, and that it’s going to be an additional cost.  Like the dance floor issue.  Too-many-options paralysis.  Is this a diagnosed medical condition?  If not it should be.  I’ll send  a white paper to JAMA.

I’ve read lots of conflicting material about following your first instinct versus doing more research before making any decisions.  So far in this process, I’ve tried to do more research, but in the end, I inevitably come back to my first find.  I’m not sure if this is a case of turning up my nose at new information because I’m tied to my original idea (some form of clinging to the familiar) or if I’ve done a bang up job at uncovering the best option first (clearly just my impeccable taste 😉 ).  This is pretty much what happened with the engagement ring, and it’s pretty much what ended up happening with the venue.  Read on…

What pushed me over the edge on Half Moon was that some former colleagues went there for a conference in September.  Upon their return, they had nothing but fantastic things to say about the site and the service.  They all agreed that it would be a wonderful place to get married.  Well that pretty much confirmed my gut feelings and settled it in my mind.  After a few weeks of contract negotiation (and some much needed and appreciated help from a lawyer friend), we finally put pen to paper and swiped a credit card (I’d better be getting double Delta miles for this!) and put the wheels in motion.  Or more like brought the wheels to a screeching halt.

After feeling insomnia-inducing, all-consuming stress about nit picky venue details, making sure I got the best deal possible (as if you ever really can know), crossing as many “T”s and dotting as many “I”s as I could think of, all I wanted to do after putting the deposit down was take a nap, watch TV and not think about wedding stuff at all.  So I didn’t.

That was over a month ago, and I’m just starting this week to slowly put the roller coaster back in operation (hopefully gently because I know the wheels will start spinning out of control with the slightest push), making appointments to look at invitations, sorting out the guest list (my next foreseen stress-inducing activity), and booking a photographer.

My problem is that I know what I want in some areas of the wedding, and I could care less about certain other aspects.  Unfortunately, the things I know I want are fairly amorphous (making sure my guests feel relaxed, welcomed, and well-taken care of), and the things I’m not too concerned with are easily defined (tablecloth colors, centerpieces).

For now I’m going to reduce my stress by making lists, and with each accomplished task, I’m hoping to find that exhilaration that comes from swooshing down the side of a roller coaster, even if I feel like I’m about to fly out any second, shaking in my little, wooden car.

No Decision Necessary: Pizza? Yes please!

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Family Motto: “The only thing worse than bad pizza is no pizza.”

True.

If you know me, you know that pizza is my favorite food.  But it goes beyond just a favorite food.  I don’t know if I can fully describe my affinity for this conglomeration of bubbly bread, scorching hot marina and ooey cheese, but the question of where my next slice of pizza will come from is floating in my mind at all times.  Just out of the forefront of conscious thought, hiding in the shadowy folds of my brain, until it maneuvers its way to just the right spot, and then Wham! Pizza craving hits.  Which happens with what some might categorize as alarming frequency.

My friend Paul called me the “Pizza Ninja” because no matter what was brought in for lunch at work, I would always end up turning it into pizza, oftentimes without meaning to.  Taco day?  Chips with salsa and cheese heated in the microwave = pizza.  Sandwich day?  Tomato and mozzarella panini = pizza.  Pizza day?  Well that one’s obvious.

I’ve also been known to argue that pizza can be 100% of a balanced diet: grains (crust), fruit (tomato sauce), dairy (cheese), vegetables (mushrooms), meat (pepperoni), fats (olive oil) and salts (salt).  Look at the food pyramid.  ImageCheck, check and check.  You really don’t need to eat anything else!

Okay, I guess I have moved on from this college theory; you probably do need to eat something else once in a while 😉

Take, for instance, a few weeks ago:

Friday:  Margherita pizza for lunch

Sunday (in Traverse City):  Some pizza at That’sa Pizza.  No joke, that was the name of the restaurant.  Does this seem derogatory to anyone else?  Or just cheesy…pun intended 🙂

Tuesday back in Baltimore:  Got home late and made Triscuit pizzas.  Yes, that is when you take Triscuit crackers, put little dollops of pasta sauce on them and then sprinkle each with a smidge of shredded mozz and microwave for 30 seconds.  Deliciously salty if you use regular Triscuits (not low salt, reduced fat, cardboard bits Triscuits).  AKA “Nothing-left-in-the-house-to-eat” pizza.  AKA I should be on The Food Network along with Rachael Ray and her “Late Night Bacon”:  Read the comments at the bottom to cry with laughter

Wednesday in Baltimore:  Wanted to try the newest branch of Sofi’s Crepes in Fells Point.  Didn’t intentionally mean to get a pizza crepe, but “The Motz” (diced tomato, shredded mozzarella and fresh basil) was essentially a margherita pizza in a crepe.  Survey says: they should have used a savory crepe, not a sweet shell…I wouldn’t get this one again.

Friday:  Mark’s flight home was uber delayed and he didn’t get to the apartment until 9, so I ordered delivery from our go-to Baltimore pizza spot: Bagby.  LOVE their spicy shrimp pizza.

Sunday:  Made oven-roasted “virtual sun-dried” tomatoes in the oven Saturday.  It takes about 4 hours of cooking over low heat, but they tasted just like store bought sun-dried tomatoes, and maybe even a bit better because they aren’t like sticks of jerky when you bite into them.  Put a quarter of a tomato on a Triscuit with slices of fresh mozzarella, et voila! Le pizza!

Recipe for “Home-Dried Tomatoes” from Food & Wine Magazine:  “Cut larger tomatoes into halves or quarters and scoop out the seeds.  Trickle with olive oil, season well and scatter with chopped thyme and sliced garlic.  Slow-roast at about 250 degrees for three to four hours, until they are intense, condensed and slightly chewy – but still essentially tender.  They keep for a bit in the refrigerator, covered in olive oil.”  Time consuming but so easy and versatile!  Use them on salad, with mozzarella and basil for caprese, with grilled chicken, with a cheese and olive antipasti, or just to snack on as they are!

So as you can see, not only can pizza be eaten regularly, it’s such a blank canvas to paint – there are so many ways to take something basic and make it more interesting.

For a few of my favorite places to find mouth-watering, crave-able pizza:

1. Bagby Pizza in Harbor East.  OMG my absolute fav.  Personal gourmet pizzas with thin crispy crusts and neato toppings like chicken pesto with red onion and tomato.  Spicy shrimp with a spicy marinara sauce base.  And I hear the chicken parm sammy is addicting, but I just stick to the pizza (potentially with a salad added on the side for a few green veggies).

2. Italian Gardens in Kenilworth mall:  Awww taking me back to elementary school when we used to go here on Fridays after school.  We’d get out at 1pm and this intimately-sized mall would be overrun by kiddies eating pizza.  Still delicious, classic NY style za (because you have to call it za when you’re with my dad obvi) with pep and mush.  Somehow we really got into abbreviating when talking about pizza…I guess we were so excited we just had to find a way to get the words out faster.  And perhaps that’s how my love of abbreviating came to be also.

3. Isabella’s in Little Italy:  Fresh thin crust pizza with the perfect ratio of crust:sauce:cheese.  Everything done thinly and delicately and in proportion.

4. Pizza Connection in Hunt Valley:  Totally a greasy hole-in-the-wall, so it’s better to get delivery if you happen to fall within their very small delivery radius.  Again, piping hot NY thin crust.  Best with all the toppings (which are of course garlic powder, oregano: my all-time favorite herb which I love to put on everything, and crushed red: AKA crushed red pepper for those not abbreviating) and folded length-wise with one finger delicately positioned in the crease to keep the slice sturdy.  This technique is also good for avoiding pizza burn (sometimes) because the roof of your mouth is positioned over the bread, rather than the hot cheese and sauce.  Pizza burn is the worst pizza side-effect because then your mouth hurts, you can’t taste the rest of your pizza as well, and also the roof of your mouth peels off in skin sheets over the next day.  Gross.

Other negative pizza side-effects (which do not outweigh the positives in case you had a doubt) include weight gain, lethargy and the dreaded pizza coma.  This is when you fall asleep immediately after eating pizza due to the “carbo overload” which bloats you and makes your eyelids unusually heavy.  It is especially bad when you’re totally dehydrated and start having crazy dreams from which you can’t wake up.  You feel like you are screaming or thrashing around and you are desperate to open your eyes but you just can’t, and in real life you are sleeping perfectly still.  Then you jerk awake, loudly gasping for air.  You of course have terrible dry mouth (AKA poop mouth) and chug a glass of water and fall back asleep, potentially to have the same scene play out again 30 minutes later.  This whole scenario can be prevented by drinking lots of water with your pizza and/or avoiding Papa John’s, which I’ve decided is the saltiest, most dehydrating pizza in the world.

Such a love-hate relationship with Papa John’s.  In college I could eat a whole large PJ pizza for dinner by myself.  Then I went without Papa John’s for 6 months while living in France, and when I got home and ate it again for the first time, I felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach from the inside out.  Apparently those Papa-John-pizza-breaking-down enzymes had vacated my body.  Now I’ve built up my digestive track enough such that I  can stomach a slice or two now and then, but it’s usually a last resort (see Family Motto at top of the post).  It’s still pretty tasty, and that garlic butter sauce is quite the siren!

In Ann Arbor, I have thus far only had the pizza at NeoPapalis (the seemingly-family-owned spot mentioned in my last post), which was very tasty and I will definitely go back.  I also look forward to trying out all sorts of other pizza joints and reviewing them via the blog.  Any suggestions on where to start eating are more than welcome!!  Bon appetit!

Some Interesting Finds and Follow Ups

As a follow up to my post, “I Thought Quitting a Job Should Equal LESS Work”, I’ve come across some nifty tidbits that those of you who are still gainfully employed may find useful if you too ever decide to quit!

3. What happens to my 401k? (Rollover or leave it as is? Do I accumulate higher fees by leaving it in place when I’m not with the company anymore?)
I called T. Rowe Price and shockingly there are no fees associated with my 401k plan, even pass-through ones from my former employer. Additionally, the expense ratio on the mutual fund doesn’t increase beyond the current 78 basis points. So I’ve decided to keep it where it is for now, and I can always do something else with it later.

4. What happens to my employee stock purchase plan?        I looked up my Fidelity account online (where our ESPP is held) and basically they just cashed me out of what I had been accumulating in the ESPP year-to-date into a cash account. So now I just need to empty that Fidelity account into some other account, or leave it where it is and earn 0%. Sounds like a wash at this moment in time.

9. Using my HSA – just keep using the debit card? How do I track it if I can’t get on the employee website?         Yes! Just keep using the card and I can get on the website afterall! There is, however, a new $4.00/month service charge. Yuck.  ALSO, for those who are using a limited flexible spending account (FSA), this is super interesting: You can withdraw whatever amount you indicated for the whole year for qualified purposes, on Jan 1.  Okay, you knew that.  But if you then LEAVE the company, you DO NOT have to pay anyone back for the difference of what you spent versus what you have put into the account year-to-date (as your deposits are spread out over each paycheck).  I guess this is somehow the flip side of “use-it-or-lose-it” since you lose whatever funds are left in the account unused at the end of the year.  In reading up on this, it seems that this is a risk-shifting product whereby the employer takes on the risk that you will use all the designated funds in the account.  They win if you leave money sitting there at the end of the year.  I read one story online about someone who designated the max dollar amount allowed for the FSA, got lasik eye surgery in early January, got reimbursed up to that max dollar amount even though they had only paid in say 1/12th, and then quit shortly thereafter.  Essentially, they got a greatly reduced eye surgery!  What a racket.  So, moral of the story: if you are thinking about leaving your job, use up whatever’s left in your FSA before you go!

Flip Phone Waves Bye-Bye

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Change is hard.  It’s scary going from the comfortable and familiar to the unknown.  I didn’t realize that getting rid of my flip phone and moving into the modern era would be this difficult.  Sweat-inducing second-guessing anxiety.

I’m excited for the benefits of a data-driven phone.  On-the-go email and facebook access not chaining me down at home.  One push typing, rather than clicking the “5” button three times to get to “L” (so don’t be alarmed if you get texts from me that say “hheeyyy” – that’s just how I’m used to typing).

But it’s hard letting go of this mode of communication that I’ve known for so long.  And the flip phone does have its moments: the compact size that fits into teeny tiny clutches and pockets; the impossibility of pocket dialing; the….the….okay those are the only benefits of the flip phone I can think of at the moment.

My head is telling me I’m an idiot for being so attached to this device, but for some reason this has been the hardest change so far.  No biggie committing my life to one person, moving halfway across the county, quitting my job…but changing phones?  That’s asking too much.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and my heartstrings are pulled by this silly little black Samsung mobile.

And not only am I moving into the digital age with a smart phone (I don’t count work Blackberries where texting, BBM and the camera are all disabled as “smart”), I’m also switching from Verizon to an ATT&T Family Plan.  I’m so grown up, obvi, what with a “family plan” and all, but I’ve had Verizon forever and it hasn’t failed me yet.  Tear.  Bye-bye Verizon…I cannot hear you now.

Now the next step is figuring out what phone to get.  iPhone?  4S or 5?  Samsung Galaxy?  Some sort of LG or Nokia?  So many choices!  I need to do tons of research, but I know I want a good camera and the ability to dock it into a speaker station to listen while I’m cooking…unfortunately I think those things will be easy to come by, thereby not making the decision any easier.  Mark has an iPhone, so does it matter if I get some other kind?  Would it be better if we were on the same system?  Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all.  Advice please!

Lastly, we can either keep his unlimited data and share 700 monthly minutes, or get 4G of data and have unlimited talk minutes.  I can’t figure out which might be better, since I’ve been going over my 450 monthly minutes these days, but I just attribute that to the fact that I’ve been talking to Mark every night for a long time, and once we are in the same city, we certainly won’t be having hour-long phone chats.  So maybe 700 minutes would be fine.  But then I think, well the rest of my family is on Verizon so when I speak to them (which I’m sure will be often and for long lengths of time) that will eat away quickly at the talk minutes.  Decisions, decisions.  I’ll let you know when it’s BD.