I Tremble … They’re Going To Eat Me Alive

After the ring and the proposal, we were completely lost.  This is the first marriage for both of us, and neither of us have ever helped plan a wedding for someone else.  So yeah … No clue what we should do next.

After some extensive research (i.e. Googling), I found that one of the first major wedding decisions should be the venue.

For me personally, the wedding venue is probably the single most important aspect.  It sets the tone for the entire event.  Will it be elegant and classy?  Rustic and woodsy?  Fairytale like and whimsical?  Relaxed and casual?  The list goes on and on.

It’s also important because everything else revolves around this choice.  For example, your official wedding date cannot be chosen until you’ve decided on a venue.  If your preferred date isn’t available at your venue of choice, you either have to choose a new date or choose a new venue.  There’s also preferred caterers, beverage packages, locations for pictures … Again, the list goes on and on.

When I would start to think about all of these factors, I felt like this:

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Image courtesy of Weddingbee.

I knew Eric and I would have to make a decision pretty quickly if we wanted the date we originally chose (November 9, 2013).  I also knew that by selecting a venue, the other details could fall into place much more easily.

So how did we come to our decision?

We visited five locations.  We honestly could have visited many more, as there are a surprisingly large number of amazing venues in Omaha.  Five seemed like enough to get a good idea of what we liked and didn’t like, as well as pricing and options available for customizing our wedding.

Here are the things I learned while shopping for a venue:

1.) Weddings are expensive.  I mean, I knew this already … But holy shit.

2.) Along with the basic expense of a wedding venue (which is simply the cost to rent the space for the event), there are a million other trivial things these places will charge for.  Do you want your ceremony here as well?  There’s a fee for that.  Do you want to use someone other than one of our preferred caterers?  There’s a fee for that.  Do you want pads on your chairs?  There’s a fee for that.  (And no, sadly I’m not kidding about this one.)

3.) You really need to like the person you’ll be working with.  If they don’t make you feel important or comfortable during your initial meeting, chances are they probably won’t make you feel that way during any subsequent meetings (or, worse, on your wedding day).

4.) High cost does not always equal best option.  Value does.  If we’re shelling out insane amounts of money for this thing, we want to make sure we’re getting the most for our money.

5.) You really do kind of “just know.”  As I mentioned before, Eric and I visited five places.  After three of these places, we discussed the pros and cons (and even started a spreadsheet detailing what we liked and didn’t like about each location).  After one place (and this place shall remain nameless), we both looked at each other and were like, “Definitely not!”  We then proceeded to bash the venue, pricing, the way we were treated, location, etc. during the drive home.  After leaving the last venue we visited, though, something was different.  We walked outside and he pulled me in for a hug and kiss.  Then he said, “What do you think?”  My response was, “I think this might be it.”  Did we talk about it a little more?  Yes, of course.  But it was so much better than any of the other places we’d seen in so many ways.

We selected our venue back in December, and neither of us have ever regretted it for a second.  Trusting our gut feelings was definitely the right thing to do.

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Just Remember The First Step In Forgetting Is Destroying All The Evidence

One of my favorite things about cooking is that it gives me an opportunity to constantly challenge myself.  Sometimes challenging myself simply means tweaking a recipe to better suit our tastes.  And sometimes challenging myself means stepping out of my comfort zone.

I love pretty much any type of food.  I’d say that, generally speaking, I’m a pretty adventurous eater.  I absolutely love trying new types of cuisine and trying different items at some of my favorite restaurants.  Yes, I can be kind of picky at times (I should list out all of the foods I hate sometime) … But I can usually find at least one thing I’ll eat in any situation.

Eric and I are huge fans of Thai food.  When the craving hits, we usually call in an order at our favorite Thai place in Omaha, Thai Spice, and enjoy it at home in front of the TV.  

Sometimes, though, I feel like I should be making this stuff at home.  Now I’m not delusional … I know my Thai cooking will never be completely authentic.  I also know that my Thai cooking will never be as good as the food I get at Thai Spice.  But, in the spirit of challenging myself, I want to at least try.

A couple of weeks ago, I did just that.  I found a recipe on Pinterest (and if you read my post last Sunday you know how much I enjoy Pinterest!) that looked both healthy and delicious.  The prep took quite a while, but it’s not difficult … Just a little time consuming.  Thankfully Eric acted as my “sous-chef” (that’s what I always call him when he helps me with dinner), chopping my vegetables and slicing my meat.  He finds chopping very calming … I hate it.  We balance each other out in many areas of our lives, I guess!

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Look at that vibrant color!  (Yes, we’re huge Gordon Ramsay fans.)  Personal photo.

This recipe was a definite winner.  While it won’t be completely replacing our nights in with Thai Spice, I plan to start including it in our regular meal rotation.  Eric did think it was a little too spicy, but I thought the level of spice was perfect.  I’ll have to play around with it in the future, though, to try to find a happy medium for us.

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Personal photo.

Drunken Noodles

Recipe taken from http://www.atasteofthai.com

Adapted by me!

Ingredient List:

  • 8 oz. wide rice noodles 
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic if you’re pressed for time)
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips (I used 2, but they were very large)
  • 1 lime 
  • 1/4 cup garlic chili pepper sauce (I used a jar of Lee Kum Kee brand sauce, but I’m sure any brand would work)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

Instructions:

1.) Soak noodles according to directions for stir-fry.  The recommended soak time on my package was 25-30 minutes, so allow some time for this step.

2.)  In a medium skillet, heat sesame oil.  Add chicken strips and cook until slightly browned, making sure no pink remains.

3.) In a very large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add garlic and brown lightly.  

4.) Add chopped onions, tomatoes, and red bell pepper; stir fry for 2-3 minutes.

5.) Add cooked chicken to the vegetables.  Allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes.

6.) Add drained rice noodles, stirring to combine.  

7.) Add lime juice, garlic chili pepper sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar.  Stir continuously to allow flavors to blend evenly.  Cook until noodles are firm but tender (al dente).

8.) Enjoy!  This dish is perfect paired with an ice cold beer.  (Bonus points if it’s from a local brewery!)

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Personal photo.

They’ll Sting Through Her Chest With A Force Hard And Beating

It’s no secret that I adore Neutral Milk Hotel.  This blog’s title even comes from a line in the song “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”  Although they’ve only released two full length albums (the last in 1998), they’ve earned a place as one of my favorite bands.

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Image courtesy of http://www.stereogum.com.

Recently they’ve announced a reunion tour.  I’m hoping they’ll release more dates (they’re supposedly going to).  Unfortunately, with so much going on this year, I really can’t take a lot of extra time off to travel a significant distance to see them.  I also can’t really afford to spend a few hundred to a few thousand (depending on location) right now.  (Hey, this wedding isn’t paying for itself!)

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Image courtesy of http://www.amazon.com.

NOT SO SECRET NOTE TO JEFF MANGUM AND CO.: (like they’ll ever see this!) Please come to Kansas City!  Or, even better, please come to Omaha!  I promise to sing along to every song!

Ummm … Yeah.  Anyway.

Today’s Music Monday post is going to focus on my favorite Neutral Milk Hotel songs, regardless of album.  As with my previous Elliott Smith XO post, I’ll also be writing out my favorite line(s) … The ones that really mean something to me (or, in a few cases, lyrics that I just find amazing).  A lot of these songs got me through some incredibly difficult times in my life.  Every Neutral Milk Hotel song is beautiful and haunting in its own way, but these are (in my opinion) the best of the best.

In no particular order:

* “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

Personal Favorite Line(s): Now we keep where we don’t know/All secrets sleep in winter clothes with one you loved so long ago/Now we don’t even know his name

* “Three Peaches”

Personal Favorite Line(s): On a day that was so crappy, whole and happy you’re alive/And you seem so bruised and it’s beautiful as it’s reflecting off from you as it shines/You’re in the bathroom carving holiday designs into yourself

* “Oh Comely”

Personal Favorite Line(s): The music and medicine you needed for comforting

* “Song Against Sex”

Personal Favorite Line(s): Threw a nickel in a fountain to save my soul from all these troubled times/And all the drugs that I don’t have the guts to take to soothe my mind/So I’m always sober, always aching

* “Holland, 1945”

Personal Favorite Line(s): Now she’s a little boy in Spain playing pianos filled with flames

* “Naomi”

Personal Favorite Line(s): One billion angels could come and save her soul/They could save her soul until she shines

* “Two-Headed Boy”

Personal Favorite Line(s): And in the dark we will take off our clothes and they’ll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine

If anyone reading this is a Neutral Milk Hotel fan, which songs mean the most to you?  Are you lucky enough to be going to one of the reunion shows?  And, if so, can I please come with you?  (I’m kidding.  Sort of.)

They Made It Past The Enemy Lines Just To Become Enslaved In The Assembly Lines

Ask most brides-to-be which website they go to for ideas, and you’ll likely get a resounding cry of, “Pinterest!”  Moms looking for craft ideas for their kids?  Check out Pinterest!  People who want to bring a kickass dish to their next company potluck?  Pinterest can help you out there too!

I wasn’t interested in signing up for a Pinterest account when I first heard about it.  It sounded kind of silly, to be honest.  I wondered how anyone could waste hours of their free time looking through pictures of food, wedding ideas, tattoos, craft ideas, etc.  And then my cousin told me that I really needed to check it out.  She’s also in the midst of planning her wedding (she’ll be married about 2 months before Eric and me), and she told me how helpful Pinterest had been.

So I grudgingly signed up for an account.  And I started clicking through pictures of bouquets, bridesmaid dresses, centerpieces … Then I moved on to pictures of chicken main dishes, pasta main dishes, cookies … It didn’t take long to get see why people are so addicted to this site.

This is a very accurate portrayal of what happened when I first checked Pinterest out:

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Today’s Sunday List topic is devoted to some of my favorite things from Pinterest.  I use it most often for wedding ideas and recipes, but I also have a humor board and workouts board (and I’m sure I’ll come up with more boards in the future).  I’ll probably also come up with more favorites in the future, but today’s post is focused on my current favorites.

This week’s list is actually kind of two lists mashed together: My Top Five Wedding Pins And My Top Five Recipe Pins 

Wedding Pins:

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This is absolutely stunning.  Our reception won’t look like this (I wish!), but we are definitely tying in several of these elements.

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We’re using black lanterns and twine balls similar to those in the picture on the left as part of our decor, but we’re not going as “rustic” as this.  I think the decorations we’re using should give off more of an enchanted forest/vintage elegance vibe.  (Yeah, I know … This is what happens when you’re planning a wedding!)

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This is one of the only flower girl dresses I’ve seen that I actually love.  It might be a real possibility, especially since it would fit in so well with our overall look/theme.  I’d definitely change the colors for the flowers on the bodice, though.

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I’m still not sure exactly what the flowers in this bouquet are … The link from Pinterest says they are likely white dahlias (though another website says they are hydrangeas and mums).  Whatever they are, they’re absolutely gorgeous!  I may have to consider using some of these in my bouquet (though I was already considering hydrangeas).

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In reality, we don’t care that much about our cake.  We want it to taste delicious, sure … But we don’t necessarily care about it looking “pretty.”  This is probably my current favorite wedding pin, though, because it’s just so perfect.  It’s gorgeous and would go perfectly with our general themes.  If we could have something similar without spending $700, I’d definitely go for it.

Recipe Pins:

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Jalapeño Popper Dip from Annie’s Eats:

http://www.annies-eats.com/2010/10/21/jalapeno-popper-dip/

I made this dip for a night in with a couple of my girlfriends, and it was a huge hit.  I added some crumbled bacon on top, but otherwise kept everything the same.  I would highly recommend this dip if you like the flavors of jalapeño poppers.  I’ll definitely be making it again!

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One Pot Spaghetti from Fantastical Sharing of Recipes

http://www.fantasticalsharing.com/2012/12/one-pot-spaghetti.html

I love spaghetti … Always have, always will.  This recipe is a little unique, though, as it uses chicken broth to add flavor to the dish.  But really it was the “one pot” factor that sold me on this.  I’ve made it without meat as well, and it’s perfect for nights when I want a quick meal with an even faster cleanup.

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Famous Salmon from BigGirlLife.net

http://heatherserody.com/famous-salmon-recipe/

Apparently this salmon is “famous.”  And I guess it probably should be … It’s simple but oh so delicious.  I love the flavors of lemon and capers together, and they blend perfectly with the other spices (including dill and basil) and dijon mustard to create an awesome, healthy salmon dish.  Yum!

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Tortellini Soup from Annie’s Eats

http://www.annies-eats.com/2011/02/15/tortellini-soup/

I’ve made this soup a few times now, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite meal around here!  It’s light, healthy, and vegetarian (I’m trying to incorporate more meatless meals into our diet).  It’s also incredibly tasty!  I always double the recipe so we can have plenty of leftovers.

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Caprese Lasagna Roll Ups from Cooking Classy

http://www.cookingclassy.com/2012/10/caprese-lasagna-roll-ups/

I’m planning to post more about this recipe in detail because it was amazing.  I was so proud of myself for making such a delicious meal, so you better believe it will end up on a Tasty Tuesday post in the future!  (Though my pictures are definitely not as awesome as the one above!)  Eric and I both loved these … The perfect flavors for summer.

If you’re a fan of Pinterest, please feel free to share some of your favorite pins (regardless of category)!

Tempting Me Softly, But Killing Our Dream

I think by this point it’s probably pretty safe to assume that unless otherwise specified, my Saturday Book Club posts are recycled from my LiveJournal.  I’m learning to be okay with my somewhat lazy blogging, though.  After all, it’s not as though anyone who might stumble across this blog has read my friends only journal … Unless it’s someone I know in real life (who also had a LiveJournal), of course.

If you haven’t read any of my previous Saturday Book Club posts, I’ll review my rating system.  I have rated all of the books I’ve previously reviewed (and will be rating any books I review in the future) based on the Netflix rating system.  For those unfamiliar with this system:

One star = Hated it

Two stars = Didn’t like it

Three stars = Liked it

Four stars = Really liked it

Five stars = Loved it

This week I’m going to focus on one of my absolute favorite books of 2012.  I picked it up on a whim, and immediately after finishing it I was compelled to write up a review … It was that good.

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Image courtesy of presentinglenore.blogspot.com.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

302 pages

This was a book I found randomly on Amazon by clicking through the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” section.  I actually find quite a few books that way, and generally haven’t been disappointed with their recommendations.

To be quite honest, I didn’t really know what to expect with this book.  It’s summarized as a tale of the fall of a man, Dr. Pete Dizinoff.  He has the sort of life most people only dream of: a successful, thriving medical practice; a large, beautiful home in the suburbs of New Jersey; a network of close friends; a loving, devoted wife; and a son whom he loves more than anything.  Unfortunately, a series of events causes his life to unravel, bit by bit, and it’s all he can do to hold on to everything he holds dear.

At the center of the novel’s plot is the infatuation his beloved son, Alec, has for his best friend’s oldest daughter, Laura.  It’s not just that Laura is 10 years older than his son that causes Pete alarm (though that is certainly a consideration) … It’s her horribly shocking past.  Despite the fact that her parents (both of whom Pete would consider to be his closest friends) seem to have gotten past what happened years ago, Pete cannot and he refuses to allow her to fuck up his son’s future.

Grodstein effortlessly captures a male perspective in this novel … I was very impressed!  I know that I’m not a man, so I may not truly know whether or not an author captures this voice … But as I was reading, I wasn’t thinking, “Man, you can really tell a woman wrote this.”  Pete Dizinoff is a flawed character, but he’s flawed in realistic ways.  He doesn’t always say the right thing; he secretly harbors feelings for his best friend’s wife, Iris (Laura’s mother); he often tries too hard with his son; etc.  It’s not some woman’s fantasy of what a man should or would do or say in a given scenario … It’s just this person, telling his story.  You truly get lost in the narrative, and it’s refreshing.

A Friend of the Family is written in first person, with Pete jumping between the present and the past.  I know some people (my mom included) really hate books that jump around in time, but I tend to really enjoy books written this way.  If it’s well done (as this one was), it paints a more vivid, complete picture of a character.  It gets readers more involved in the character’s life, makes them care more about what happens to him/her.  As a (wannabe) writer, it can also be inspiring.  And this novel was certainly no exception.  As I got deeper into the story, I kept thinking, “I really need to write in this style, at least once.  It makes the book difficult to put down because you become so invested!”

Lauren Grodstein not only penned an interesting story, she also wrote it beautifully.  There were a few times when I thought, “Eh, I might’ve used a different word there,” because she used the same word twice within a couple of sentences or so to describe something … But really, that was my only complaint.  (And kind of a ridiculous complaint at that.  I mean, I’ve definitely done that in my own writing plenty of times.)

The plot moved along at a nice pace and, as I’ve already mentioned, she did an excellent job making readers care about the characters (particularly Pete).  Although Pete was, as I said, a flawed character, as a reader I cared about him … And really, no one in real life is perfect, so why should a character in a novel be perfect?  Especially if the novel is supposed to be realistic, as this one was.

I would recommend A Friend of the Family to others without a doubt.  I will also be rereading this in the future.  It was strong from start to finish (I almost cried at the end) … Excellent writing!

Without hesitation, I give this novel FIVE STARS.

One Day This Chalk Outline Will Circle This City

I feel like my last couple of posts have either been extremely long, extremely personal, or both.  Although I love pouring my heart into my writing, sometimes it’s nice to just write a fun, somewhat mindless blog post.  Or, you know, tell a story in memes!  

Everyone loves memes!

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Because we love to

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Of course, not everyone loves to laugh.

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But even Grumpy Cat loves a good Ryan Gosling meme.

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Like this one:

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Ryan Gosling isn’t the only one who can teach us something, though.  This guy really makes you think!

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Of course, too much philosophizing can have its drawbacks:

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Maybe he should consider being like the T-Rex and just embrace life:

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Though, of course, the T-Rex has his bad days too:

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But sometimes he manages to prevail!

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And he lived happily ever after.

THE END.

I’m Good At Being Uncomfortable So I Can’t Stop Changing All The Time

I’m going to write what I consider an intensely personal post today.  It may not seem that way on the surface, but it’s actually something I was very hesitant to post on a public blog.

I’m a member of an online forum.  About a month or so ago, someone started a thread asking members to write a letter to themselves.  The letter was supposed to be written to our “former” (a.k.a. younger) selves.  It could be funny.  It could be touching.  It could be whatever you wanted it to be.  

I thought this was an interesting idea, and it was actually kind of challenging to write this kind of letter.  At first I wanted it to be funny.  But then I realized the things I would actually want to write to my 16 year old self weren’t funny … They were honest and they focused on some of the things that have shaped me into who I am.  

I don’t necessarily wish I could turn back time and change everything.  Some days I feel that way, but most of the time I think I needed those experiences (the good and the bad).  

That’s why I’m sharing this letter with you today.  I’m human.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes.  I’ve done things I absolutely regret.  But you know what?  I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be over the years.  And maybe I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out without doing a few things wrong.

Dear 16 year old me,

Cut off all contact with your father now.  (You’ll do this anyway in just a few more years.)  If you do it now, though, you may save yourself some unnecessary pain.

Don’t waste so much time on your current boyfriend.  He’s a wonderful guy … For someone else.  Enjoy him and then move on.  You will never agree on several important issues, so there’s really no future there.  Nothing will change.

That guy friend you’ve had a secret crush on for several years?  You’ll end up dating him when you’re 20.  It will be everything you’d ever hoped it could be … And then he’ll break your heart and make you question everything.  I’m not saying that you should totally forget about him … But just be prepared.  This experience will change you, but it will make you a stronger, more independent person in the long run.

You may think you never want to get married, but you’ll change your mind.  You’ll meet someone amazing when you’re 22, and he will eventually propose.  You’ll say yes.

You are a lot skinnier than you think you are.  Seriously, you should rock bikinis, short shorts, and all of that while you can!

Love,

Your 28 year old self

I’m definitely not perfect, and I’m still trying to figure some things out.  But I think I’m turning into the kind of person I always hoped I could be.  And that’s pretty awesome.