Monday, December 22, 2014

Shopping local. My town edition.

Happy Christmas week, friends! With only about two more days to feasibly get some online shopping done, I have a couple last minute gifts from right here in Central Illinois.

I haven't always lived here. I came here from the Chicago suburbs for college. You'd think moving two and a half hours south wouldn't make much of a difference.
But I promise you, it does.
There are a lot of things about Peoria that surprised me. Like the sheer amount of camouflage worn in any given restaurant, for example. Honestly, when I first arrived here, I thought it was hideous. (Looking back now, that's probably because my mom and I drove up the run-down warehouse district route to get to my university.)

Now I work in the tourism industry promoting this town, and something else has surprised me: Peoria has one heck of an artistic, entrepreneurial crowd. There is certainly more here than CAT headquarters. So because I live here and many of my family and friends are split between Chicago and St. Louis, I thought it would be fun to shop local for my gifts and give them a little Peoria flavor.

Here are my top five picks for great local gifts (if you can't tell, I love gifts involving delicious food and drinks):

1. Thirty-Thirty Coffee, Roaster's Choice Bi-Monthly Coffee Subscription, $35

Oh how I LOVE Thirty-Thirty, even though I rarely touch coffee. (They have lovely teas, however!) This coffee shop is housed in one of the oldest buildings in town, and it's actually the coffee shop that inspired my novel. They have incredible coffee. Like they were named one of the six best U.S. roasters by Yahoo! Shine. That's how good they are. This coffee subscription is perfect for the java addict on your list.

2. J. Draper Glass, Blown Glass Wine Sets (prices vary)

I recently had the pleasure of watching Jeremie Draper, owner of J. Draper Glass, create a glass-blown pumpkin. It was amazing. She did it in about ten minutes. I particularly like this glass gift set including a wine preserver and two glasses, but there are plenty more on their site. Contact them for orders here.

Julie's Corner Store is a local legend where fudge is involved. We often pass around a plate of it at my office. The Butterfinger fudge is my one of my all-time favorites. They even offer a fudge-of-the-month club for those who take their sweet tooth seriously.

4. Olio and Vino, Specialty Gift Baskets

Truffles and Bubbly, Table in Tuscany, Wine Lovers Gift Set...Olio and Vino has something for every food lover. Their specialty is actually olive oil and vinaigrettes, so they certainly have gift sets for that as well. See the options and shop online here.

5. Pumpkin Glass Gallery & Studio, Sterling Name Pendant

I have been very into personalizing this year, and I would love to get one of these for my grandma. The sterling silver stacks to showcase every child or grandchild's name. Shop for this and other products here.

I have been seriously impressed with all the incredible local businesses around here, and what they give to this community. If you own a small business, be sure to check out Kabbage - an online provider of small business loans.
Kabbage provides resources to help small business owners build a strong business that will thrive in their local communities.Please consider shopping local for those last minute gifts and support the small businesses in your community. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mid-December?! Plus that time I met the Grinch.

Good morning!

Just popping in to say I have some blog posts coming up again, and I am, indeed, alive. It's been good having so much to do. I do kind of feel like I'm drowning, but I'm getting things figured out. 

That aside, here are some random things that have happened:

The children's book is published! I've been doing lots of fun signings with this:

You can find it here. How amazing is that cover?! Thank goodness I stumbled across an awesome local illustrator.

Thomas and I created our own version of Christmas Clue:

And we put up our Christmas tree, complete with a Grinch, swords and owls. 

Speaking of the Grinch...

So I hate anything in costume pretty much. Yesterday at the grocery store I walked up and noticed Santa and a real reindeer were outside, with people waiting in line for pictures. I thought that alone was pretty weird.

But then I was in the pasta aisle, on the phone with my friend, and when I turned around I saw the most terrifying Grinch standing there, waving at me. It was scary. 

I didn't smile at it.
I didn't wave back.
I gaped at it in horror until it walked away. No one else in the aisle saw that thing and I was kind of scared I fabricated it.

On that note, today is day one of our Secret Santa at work and I am so excited! I've never participated before. This will be good.

Happy Monday, friends!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One year to go + Halloween fun!

Hello hello! Happy Monday!

The past two weekends have been wonderful. Top-notch Halloween/wedding fun.

Two Fridays ago, Tom and I took the day off work to celebrate our one year to go until our wedding day! Would that be called a -1 anniversary? 

Anyway, we started the day with homemade pumpkin pancakes in bed and watching some Merlin.

Then we went to Tanner's Orchard, which is where we got engaged last year! I love llamas, clearly.

Then we went to our hotel, where we also stayed last year after we got engaged. We took a walk by the river before dinner.

We got fondue for dinner! It was amazing. Especially the cheese. I don't care what food they give me, I just want more vehicles for cheese.

I am pale...

The chocolate portion of the cheese and chocolate dinner. It was heavenly!

Spooky trees and fog outside our window the next morning.

And here are some pictures from Halloween and our Halloween party! I was very proud of our Merlin/King Arthur costumes. We worked on them for literally two months. There were a lot of JoAnn Fabrics runs and brainstorming. I also got to see my brother and his friends briefly this weekend and some friends came in from out of town. As you can see, we take our Halloween seriously:

My work wear on Friday

Tom played Merlin on Friday night for the trick-or-treaters

I attempted to craft some wrinkles, and I think it turned out pretty well! 

The Halloween party group!

Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Autumn, snakes, bad news and book signings

I love cold days. Days that are just a little too cold for comfort. Especially the kind where the sky is a crystal clear blue, and the fiery red leaves look painted. It's a horrible distraction while driving, really. I have my qualms with Illinois but the fall certainly isn't one of them.

It has been an interesting week. I got news last week that my 18-year-old cousin fell off a cliff in Isla Vista, California. He fell about 40 feet and was a John Doe for 24 hours. Thankfully, he survived and was conscious just long enough to tell the nurses his name and his mom's phone number. His story can be found here. Something like that has a way of making the days feel deeper and more important. He is doing well but has a very long recovery ahead of him. I'm too far away to really do anything to help my family, and that's hard. But the funds we have raised for his recovery so far is definitely a huge help, and truthfully, it's overwhelming. People who have never met my cousin have donated money to help my family shoulder the load of medical bills. The outpouring of support has been remarkable.

The weekend was wonderful. We stayed at my aunt and uncle's house, the parents of my cousin who fell. My mom lives there now with them, so it was nice to keep her company. Interesting fact...I lived in that same house as a child. We've kept it in the family. The biggest shock for me was the neighborhood trees, which are so much bigger now than they were when I was 7. 

We went to visit this weekend because I had my first dress fitting (!!!) in Chicagoland on Saturday. The dress is always prettier than I remember whenever I put it on. Our wedding day is one year from this Friday! I can't believe it!

Also coming up...I have a signing for my book at the local coffee shop that inspired it. As I was writing the book, I always imagined I would give them a copy of it if I ever had it published. To do a signing there is like a dream! Hopefully people show up so I don't look like a loser...

Finally, a little creepiness for this Halloween season...I found a snake in our bedroom. It was dead, luckily, but I nearly died. I can't handle all that nature. Now every black cord in a shadowy corner in the house freaks me out because I expect it will start slithering.

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hello Hello!

Happy October, friends!

Sorry I disappeared for ages. I was starting up a bunch of projects and trying to figure where I wanted to go next. But I am back!

This won't be a very long post, just something to let you know I am, in fact, alive.

This past weekend we got to visit some friends and family in St. Louis, and this weekend I will be doing my first official book signing! So excited! I currently have three giant, heavy boxes of my books in the basement, ready to go.

Also, have any of you seen the BBC show Merlin? I watched a few episodes back in high school but lately Tom and I decided to watch the whole thing. I am obsessed. I love living in a magical world for 45 minutes every night. Thank you, Netflix.

This month is very busy and exciting. Sunday marked a whole year since we got engaged! We are also preparing for our Halloween costumes and Halloween party.

An assortment of life photos:

Halloween decor

Puppies in their puppy beds.

A visit to the St. Louis Zoo!

Happy Tuesday!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Treating the Bridesmaids

This weekend Tom and I drove up to Chicago for our engagement party! My mom, aunt and grandma started planning it in January, and it came together wonderfully. It was a tropical luau theme, and I can't wait to share the pictures!

But first, I wanted to talk about the bridesmaids. After being engaged for nearly a year, I still hadn't asked anyone to be in the bridal party. I wanted to wait until about a year out, and decided the engagement party would be the perfect time.

I planned to give each bridesmaid a personalized travel mug, a framed picture of us, and a card. I made the travel mugs using personalize-able mugs from Starbucks.

I was thinking of ways to make cute card crafts, but then I got an email from, and I got something even better!

If you haven't heard of Treat, it is a card company that allows you to personalize greeting cards. They have cards for any occasion you can think of, including birthdays, weddings, sympathy, Patriot Day, Sweetest Day...look through the occasions tab and you can find anything.

A Treat representative emailed me a few months back and asked if I would be interested in trying out some of their cards. I was certainly interested because I thought their cards were adorable and unique, and I was REALLY excited when I found out they had "Be My Bridesmaid?" cards! I decided to select cards for my bridesmaids.

I went with the "Beautiful Bridesmaid" option and was very pleased with the quality of the cards when they arrived. The delivery was quick, the prices were comparable or cheaper to drugstore cards, and the material was a quality card stock that came with matching envelopes. Oh, and designing the cards was a breeze. Once you select a card you are directed to a card-editing page, and you can change fonts, layouts, and colors. I was surprised at all the options that were available.

Many of the bridesmaids commented on how cute and unique the cards were, and how they hadn't seen anything like them, so they were certainly a hit! 

While I was looking around for bridesmaid cards, I also found some beautiful "Thank You for Being My Bridesmaid" cards that I will definitely be ordering. (See the bridal selection here.)

Something else I was excited to find? There is a section for personalized gifts. I am a very anxious gift-giver, so I have been really into personalized stuff lately because that is something people don't get for themselves, and it feels more heartfelt. How cute are these easel art displays? I have been eyeing those for Christmas gifts this year. 

Also, please PLEASE look at the selection of Halloween cards. My year revolves around Halloween, and these are some of the best I've seen. I was going to send a Facebook invite for our Halloween party, but I would be missing a perfect opportunity to use some of these! See them here!

Thank you, Treat! 

Have you used Treat before? What did you get for your bridesmaids?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tips for a Two-Year Engagement (Plus a timeline)

If you are having a long engagement and have been struggling to figure out the proper timeline, you are not alone! 

We got engaged last October and knew we wanted to get married in October 2015. I realized pretty quickly that two years was this awkward, drags-but-flies-by length for an engagement, and the fact that we are nearing the mid point is crazy to me! Fall 2014 seemed ages away to me last year, and here we are, almost upon it.

So far our engagement has been very pleasant and stress-free, and here are some things I have learned along the way:

1.) Do not be shy about starting early!

Tom and I started planning our wedding immediately. We already knew which venue we wanted, so we booked that exactly two years to the day of our wedding. Surprisingly, throughout this process not one vendor has looked at us like we're insane for starting so early. I know there are some areas where you can't even book until a year out, but we didn't run into that.

It's good to relax and settle into being engaged for a bit, but if you have a longer time to plan, I figure it makes sense to use it! I hear a lot of people say they think they should wait until time gets closer, but we have found that earlier planning has been a huge plus.

Our goal was to spend the first year of our engagement getting some of the bigger things out of the way, and focusing on more details the second year. See our timeline below for what we've done so far, and what we plan to do over the next several months.

The beauty of all this time is we haven't had to compromise on a single vendor we wanted.

2.) Set up a different email account (or a wedding folder in your email)

I actually did not set up a different email account, but I do think it's a brilliant idea if you will be contacting a ton of vendors. We pretty much knew every vendor we wanted from the get-go, so I opted for a separate folder in my email. Anytime a vendor contacted me or I found helpful links or items online, I would save it in that folder. I actually set it up in May 2013, so it's pretty well-established by now!

If I need something quickly (like a budget item) and I'm away from home, everything is saved in that folder. It definitely has made my life easier.

3.) Sign up at Evernote, or create a portable wedding notebook

Similar to creating a separate email folder, Evernote is amazing for organization. If you haven't used it before, it works like a giant notebook. You create a bunch of notebooks (I have ones for the wedding, our house hunting, my job, weekly grocery lists, etc.) and put smaller notes within them. I didn't know if it would be helpful at all at first, but now I use it every day. Actually, I am writing this post in Evernote right now!

I love that I can pull up the wedding "notebook" and have everything I need. I drop links in there to bridesmaid dresses I like or helpful articles, and I can check off to-do items all in one program. Even if you're not planning a wedding, it's a fantastic program.

If you like physical notebooks, those work, too. I used one daily with tabs before I discovered Evernote.

4.) Work when you feel inspired

May was, randomly, a highly productive month for wedding planning. Everything else was pretty calm, so we got a ton of stuff out of the way while we felt like it. That worked well, because once I got busy preparing for my friend Sandy's wedding events, I didn't feel like doing any extra wedding-related chores. Having a lot of time allows you the freedom to tackle your to-do list when you're in the mood. Just make sure you take advantage of that motivation!

5.) Pay close attention at other weddings

Chances are you will attend at least one wedding in the span of two years. This is great, because you can see a wedding in action and find out what really did make a difference to the day, what didn't matter much, and what you would like to do without.

6.) Work the sales

Another major benefit of having two years to plan - annual sales! For example, we are getting married in late October. That means that at the end of the fall/Halloween season, we can shop the sales to get floral and decor sections to stock up (cheaply) on things we know we will want. I also got great deals on cafe lights in the off season, and we will be using holiday sales to buy parent and bridal party gifts.

7.) Have fun!

Sometimes this engagement feels like it is dragging on endlessly. But it really is a very special, unique time in our lives, and I am grateful that we get to bask in the fun for two years. Though I have to say, I am looking VERY forward to that one year out mark!

Here is the breakdown of what we've done so far, and what we plan to do:


-Got engaged
-Picked a date
-Booked venue (which is also our ceremony site and caterer)
-Starting looking at potential color schemes/inspiration

-Nothing really. Ate some turkey.

-Again, I'm pretty sure we twiddled our thumbs and got presents this whole month.


-Booked our photographer


-We spent time getting more ideas and hammering down our color scheme

-Did April even happen this year? Seriously, I feel like I remember nothing from that month.

-Booked DJ
-Booked videographer
-Started buying decorative items on sale (Gotta love those Hobby Lobby lantern and glassware sales!)
-Bought my wedding shoes and socks (Yes, socks.)

-Booked officiant
-Visited hotels to get ideas for room blocks
-Made gifts to ask my bridesmaids

-Got festive on Fourth of July. Didn't think much about weddings.

-Finished up "Will you be my bridesmaid?" gifts
-Asking bridesmaids throughout the month
-Attending our engagement party luau at the end of the month!
-Started our registry (We are moving in the spring and some relatives want to get us house gifts for Christmas, so we got a jump start on this.)

-Meeting with, hopefully booking, a florist
-Figuring out room blocks (I am actually dreading this. Does anyone have any room block advice for me?!)
-Start researching hair and makeup artists in the area (possibly booking both)

-Create mock centerpieces to see what we like (we will be using pumpkins in our decor)
-Finalize guest lists
-Create a more detailed diet/exercise plan (Weddings seem to be excellent motivation in this department.)

-Shop for parent/bridal party gifts at Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales
-Finish up wedding website
-Research/decide on save-the-dates

-Select bridesmaid dresses


-Determine rehearsal dinner venue/ get it booked
-Attend venue food tasting
-Plan out welcome weekend
-Book lighting through venue

-Send save-the-dates
-Contact bakers (I have a feeling this will happen sooner. I really, really love cake.)
-Search for invites/thank-you cards

-Choose groomsmen's attire

That's where we're at so far! I will update this list as we get more things finalized. I didn't want to go too far beyond March 2015 because what we have left to do could change by a lot.

Those of you in or who have had long engagements - do you agree with this list? What would you add?
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