Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Just a Little Taste...

...of what we're getting to see every night!

Here in the Forest, we've been having some incredible evening art displays courtesy of Mother Nature and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The summer sunset views from our front porch are very often gorgeous here in central VA, but yesterday's display of color was almost breathtaking. It was hard to take your eyes off of the sight, and to be honest, the picture doesn't do it any justice - but here's a tid bit of what we get to watch from our own front porch. Enjoy...it's ok to be a little jealous!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Before....And After!

So after many days of back breaking, bent over work on my old furniture, my project is only one dresser away from total completion. As mentioned in a previous post, I was in search of an affordable and time effective facelift for our merged bedroom furniture, and after much deliberation I decided painting was the way to go. I've been really pleased so far with the way the pieces have turned out and I'm excited to show you all the finished products!

Before I began, I spent countless hours driving myself crazy over how to start this beast of a project, but in the end it really only consumed about a solid week of my time and forced me (and JJ) to give up the living room in the meantime. To start, I took a visit to my local paint store in town and bought all the supplies I needed in one stop. The owner was incredibly helpful and very patient with me as a new beginner to this kind of craft. In total, the cost of renovating all of this furniture (plus one piece to go) was around $150 for supplies and new hardware for the drawers. Not bad considering they all look like new!

I got a little excited with my painting and forgot to snap a few "Before" pictures but this picture will show you what the original wood looked like for JJ's pieces.

It was a lighter, medium wood with a laminate covering on top and only required some minimal hand-sanding to rough up the surface. The hardware was very antique looking and was tarnishing in a bit of a copper/brass color. It was very ornate and quite different than my sleek, modern taste!

So here is the Before...and after a coat of tinted primer, three coats of paint, and three applications of polyurethane...here is the After!

I got a little excited after the first piece turned out so well that I forgot to snap a before shot of the next two dressers. Both looked like the smaller nightstand shown above in the lighter wood, but I was able to snap a picture of the second chest midway through the process. This "During" shot shows the dresser covered in it's coat of tinted primer with the drawers already onto the first coat of paint...quite a difference with the final product!

And again, no Before picture to show, but you get the idea! This piece was the last of JJ's three and was a huge dresser to paint. The backing of the mirror was actually paneling and not wood which made it a little more difficult to get even paint strokes. Although huge, it ended up fitting like a glove in a random nook in our new apartment.

Mid-way through completing my dressers I decided to take on an easier piece and re-paint the legs of an old retro chair I've had for several years. The legs used to be a very light, almost blonde color and the wood was a fake, particle type product. Just a few coats of paint made the legs match the furniture and really updated the look of the chair!

And finally, it was my furniture's turn for a make-over. This is an old piece I have had for years and took with me to college from my childhood room. As you can see from the bottom drawer, the original wood was very dark and solid. The greyish paint you see is what has been on there for the past few years. Luckily, that layer of paint was peeling off very easily as you can see from the drawer and in no time it was stripped back to it's original wood.

I decided to keep the same hardware on it as before since it was already in the brushed nickel family of metals and I'm so pleased with the turnout!

So that leaves me with one final dresser that looks exactly like this last one here. It's taller and skinnier, but the same overall design. I'm SO glad I decided to tackle this project because as we've now made the move to our new apartment none of the same "family" of furniture has been able to fit in the bedroom and we've had to mix and match...but now...they all actually match! Hope you enjoy my handy-work!
Supplies used on my project:
- Approximately 5 hand-sanders of various thickness
- Paint scrapers
- Paint rollers and brushes
- One gallon of tinted primer
- One gallon of paint
- Screwdriver
- Carpet tarp
- One can of polyurethane and an old rag
- Wet paper towels

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Overlooked Thankfulness

While I know I'm due for a post on my newly re-designed furniture and a major update on life (our move, new job, summer plans, weddings, etc) I stopped for a moment tonight to consider a few blessings in disguise and how many of them go unnoticed each day. As I sat here at my computer with an overly full belly from ice cream and a million post-it notes of To Do's staring at me, I paused for just a second to twist my big sighs of exhaustion into big smiles of thankfulness.

Thankfully, despite all my complaints about things To Do and laundry lists of incomplete chores - there is of course a silver lining. Actually, make that gold.

And to elaborate.

My stomach aches from a helping of ice cream too greedy for my own good - but I'm fed and full.

I have an inbox of emails to return that are long over-due - but they're all from dear friends who want to hear more about my life.

My home is in shambles from a recent move with items displaced everywhere - but we have a beautiful place where I watch the sunset across the mountains each night.

I clean-up dog hair every morning and night from my sofa - but I love my cuddly puppy who fits so well in my nook each night that I can't stand to make him move.

My husband leaves his clothes and shoes thrown about the house EVERYDAY no matter how many times I nag him - but I do have a gorgeous, loving husband to nag...every now and then.

I can't get my curtains hung fast enough to block the morning sunlight in the window - but I have a warm, fluffy bed to fall asleep in every night.

I have searched and searched for new furniture for our living room with little luck to date - but we have the luxury of purchasing our wants instead of just our needs.

Just to name a few.

So, in the grand scheme of things as you'll see...the moments of having an aching stomach and a furry, old sofa each day may not be glamorous, but they're just the kinds of daily reminders we need to remember to be appreciative for the overlooked places where we should be thankful and see the golden lining.

And so I am.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Furniture Facelift

As JJ and I approach our one year anniversary (holy cow!) as the newly married Justus family, we've been holding lots of conversations about re-evaluations of our life. Are we where we thought we'd be (both in marriage and in life)? What would we like to still do with our young, kid-free years? What would we like to put our money aside for to make our next big purchase? You know, the basic questions to answer, "Well that's where we were, here we are now, so where are we going?"

We've come to the conclusion that we're certainly happy, in love, and loving our life together, and we have just about everything we thought we'd have a year into marital bliss - with a still short wish list of wants - ie: get this girl a job! And we're keeping a running list of travel locations we'd like to take advantage of before we no longer qualify for the 'adult only' resorts. So that brought us to our big purchase question. With a new move on the horizon (aka: next week) to a new apartment we've narrowed our purchase choices down to furniture. (Keep in mind this is a very grown up decision for the couple who bought a new flatscreen tv as our romantic wedding gift to each other).

If you step into our current home it still looks like a bit of a Goodwill show room - my old dressers from childhood, hand-me-down bed frame, bachelor pad couches, and Target DIY shelving units. Mismatches galore and a nice long history of hand exchanges on most of the pieces. So after a year of wishing for a 'big-girl' apartment and nice newlywed pieces we've decided to save up for our first pieces of purchased furniture together...a new living room set. Something that is oversized (for my oversized JJ), modern, trendy, and dog fur resistant (but that's a whole 'nother topic).

With our summer savings going toward that, I have been researching my options to give the rest of our furniture a much needed facelift and to cure my own disgruntled self of my mismatch annoyance. Summer project, here I come!

Thanks in huge parts to my talented, crafty mother and my new neighbor, Lauren, who is a pro at furniture re-finishing, I have by-passed the highly toxic stripping and staining options and have opted for the time reducing practice of priming and painting. While not the classiest option or most beautiful, it's become the best way for me to blend the marriage of our furniture and the eye sore of our light vs dark stockpile of furniture. The winning team? Dark. I have selected a paint known as Chowning's Tavern Brown - a greyish, espressoesque color that depending on the light is rich in the mornings and muted at night.

With one dresser completed and awaiting a few coats of polyurethane I have six more to go - four more dressers, the legs of a chair, and a kitchen table and chair set. Ok, that's really about 12 pieces all together, but who's counting?

Wish me luck! Before and After photos to come...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Wedding Hindsights

Recently, I have been asked by a local paper from my husband's hometown to contribute some ideas about my experience with the wedding planning process. We were married just under a year ago and the article asked for my thoughts on several areas of planning and what I might have done differently in hindsight. It was a short questionnaire and one that was pretty basic, but I figured why not post my thoughts here and let you all see a snip-it of my thoughts - before they get edited by the paper!

1. What did you learn about the planning process that you wish you'd known earlier?
There are lots of ways to cut costs and still have a beautiful wedding. Finances can be very stressful during the planning process, and it can be overwhelming to think of doing things yourself, but by enlisting the help of knowledgeable friends and family you can really make some gorgeous DIY pieces for your wedding. For example, rather than buying flower centerpieces for tables, grow your own seeds and flowers in a backyard garden and make your own arrangements, create your own programs using a local office supply printing store, write a thank you note to your guests in place of a favor (use pretty paper!), have someone sew a garter for you instead of buying a new one, or rather than purchasing colored table linens from a caterer, go to a discount fabric store and buy yards of fabric in your wedding color; a quick hem on the sides will make beautiful runners to jazz up a plain white tablecloth. Oh - and spray paint always works to make a quick change on a basket or flowerpot that you may already have in storage. Instead of immediately buying, consider how you can make each aspect of what you want...you'll be surprised how easy some of it can be.

A few of the DIY projects we did - programs, favors, goodie bags, and cake toppers.
My mom grew all the plants for our reception centerpieces and turned our porch into a greenhouse!

2. What was the best way to get the groom involved in the planning?
Have a quick conversation and ask him to list the things he cares the most about. Likely it will be the menu, music, honeymoon, and possibly his attire, but you may be surprised at what he wants to provide input about. If he shows a strong desire to help on one particular thing, say, the Save the Date options, let him do it. Even if he's happy with one small part, his overall attitude will be much easier to work with and he'll feel like he can lay claim to something HE did for the wedding. And a quick tip - don't hound him for advice on something he clearly has no interest in; serisouly, he doesn't care and you should just roll with it!

3. How did you stay calm and balanced during the whole stressful process?
I just reminded myself over and over that of course, if something can go wrong, it will. And it did. At the end of the day, if dirt was on my dress, my nails chipped, the flowers wilted - or whatever - I was still getting married to the man I love more than anything in the world, and that's all that actually matters. The rest are just minor details that most people won't even notice or remember. My favorite quote of the wedding week - "I'm too blessed to be stressed."

4. If you had to plan your wedding all over again, what's one thing you would try not to worry about as much?
I wouldn't ask for so many opinions from people about my "non-traditional" ideas. I worried about what people would think about doing things slightly different than usual - such as wearing colored heels and multiple necklaces with my dress or having two flower girls who were both 23 years old! I loved both of those aspects of my wedding and wouldn't have had it any other way, but I was so worried other people would think I was crazy...oh well!

5. Is there anything you forgot to do, or chose not to do, that you wish you did?
In hindsight - I wish I would have cut my guest list when I had the chance. One by one the guest list would grow bigger and bigger to the point where we were so stressed out a week before the wedding that our reception site would be too small to handle the guests. I wanted our 200 guest wedding to be a little smaller and more intimate, but I was too worried about hurting other people's feelings that I let it get a little out of control.

6. What's the one best piece of advice you have for soon-to-be newlyweds?
Seriously consider signing up for marriage counseling before the wedding. Although we were a little skeptical about doing it, we actually had a great time once we got there. It provides a platform for discussion topics that you might not address on your own and you'll likely learn something about your fiance that you didn't already know. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Around the Country in 30 days

Being unemployed certainly has it's advantages. You can sleep in late, wear your pajamas all day if you want to, watch trashy tv at odd hours and catch up on the little things you always swore you'd get to one day. But possibly the best part about the freedom that comes with the lazy days, is the ability to travel.

I began my travels nearly a month ago and have had the pleasure of spending my days with some of my favorite groups of people from all walks of life. To kick start my May adventures, JJ and I boarded an AMTRAK train at DC's Union Station and roared into Penn Station in New York City, NY. It was JJ's first time there and my third visit, and the city was alive and buzzing just as you'd expect. Our hotel was right along 44th and 7th (or somewhere near there) and we were steps away from Times Square and the heartbeat of the tourist attractions. And tourists we were as we drug our tired feet up and down the city avenues in search of Ray's Pizza, the ESPN Zone, Central Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, the WTC Memorial, and a million tiny stops in between.

Two highlights of the trip for our memories (but not for our wallets) were our big nights out. On the first night, we took the subway up to the new Yankee Stadium for JJ's pick where we saw the first ever Yankees vs. Red Sox game under the lights of the new facility. It was an historical game, albeit was devoured by a rainy onslought of downpours and delays which cumlinated in a two hour delay and a 1am closing pitch. But the $20 ponchos and the $8 hot dogs were worth it as we sat bundled together in the rain making a memory as a young, crazy couple out in the big city ready for anything. The second night - was my night.

I was dying to see a Broadway play and although there are many options to choose from, WICKED jumped out to the both of us as something we couldn't leave NYC without seeing. So we bought our tickets and tredged through the rain to see what all the fuss was about. It was the time of our life. It was fantastic, magical, and so worth the money. From the stage design and songs to the monogrammed sippy cups we drank our cocktails out of, it was one of the most incredible experiences I've had and I can officially say, I am now hooked on Broadway. Stick a fork in me...I'm done. I can never go back to anything less.

When our final day in the city had passed, JJ boarded his train back to Washington, DC and I hopped on a plane bound for Atlanta to meet up with my college girls for a Cinco de Mayo reunion at Lake Hartwell. It's a tradition we've relished in for the past few years and one we may not have again as the ring leader of the trip, Spacey, is off to a new adventure in her life - a move to the great state of Alaska. It was a bittersweet vacation, as of course it was filled with gossip and laughs but it was a going away party for Spacey and a tribute to how much we're all changing post college.

There is an unexplainable bond that we share that possibly only the lake understands. We nag and pick each other apart and laugh when we have shortcomings and we are big fans of the "call-out" move to call each other's bluff. But we hug each other even harder, we cry with each other's pain, and we are one another's biggest fans. Our memories keep us together, and our ambitions keep us moving forward. Reunion weekends help remind us why we're the best of friends, and they always stand to make the investment of time and money worth it all.

After nearly a week away I was excited to return home, see my puppy and JJ, and crawl in my own bed. But it was short-lived as we were bound for the road yet one more time. After two long years of working toward my MBA, my graduation had finally arrived and it was time for me to receive my hood in my cap and gown. My parents drove in, my in-laws and friends came, and my husband was by my side - all cheering me on for this accomplishment and milestone in my life. I must admit; I was proud. I was excited, nervous, and glowing with a sense of completion that I had acheived a goal in my life that I always thought I might reach.

To cap off the weekend, I drove another 200 miles to Myrtle Beach, SC to place another stamp on a defining moment in a friend's life - a bachelorette party. Now, much of the details I will omit to keep those involved innocent, but it was a great time of fun, sun, and lots of laughs as we let loose at the beach and toasted to a good friend taking the long walk down the aisle. Heath deserved it...every minute of it! And it was exactly the type of "going away" party you would expect for her single days. From the bottom of my heart I love you, Heath, and wouldn't have missed it for the world! Cheers to you, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Love.

So now here I rest, back home in the comforts of my dorm...eh, apartment, only to find that yet again we have a few busy weeks to come. As the details unfold, be assured you can read it all here, but as a preview, our summer looks to be filled with sports camps, job discoveries, weddings, vacations, our first anniversary, and a new place to call home.

Big doors will open as we close a few small windows, but we're happy, hopeful, and wide-eyed - ready for anything. It's good to be us, good to be breathing. Over and Out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Falling Off the Blog Wagon

The month of May seems to have passed me by faster than my skinny fingers can blog of all the experiences I've been having...(shocking, I know). But the truth is just that. I could have been spotted in five different states, planes, trains, cars, and lakes, rivers, and quads all in the last 18 or so days. I have finished graduate school, had a college reunion, been to NYC, played in the river with my dog, and will now be venturing off to the great state of South Carolina in Myrtle Beach for a bachelorette party weekend with my high school besties.

I literally can't keep up with myself, much less my blog. So yes, as I have disappointed my mother by not posting more information about my travels thus far, I promise to provide a full re-cap upon my Memorial Weekend return. Sorry, blogosphere...please forgive Nook Fiction.

Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Exhausted and Thrilled

I've been having an amazing time in New York City with JJ! We've done so much in our short three day trip to the Big Apple and have loved every second....(well minus a tiny mishap at H&H Bagels). We've seen The Yankees, Broadway, Ray's Pizza, and lots of crazy people. This trip has certainly lived up to our expectations!

I'm leaving for Atlanta tomorrow morning and plan to write all about our experiences when I return to Virginia next week. Stay tuned for our wild tales from the streets of New York to the lakehouse dock in the sun.

Can't wait to tell you all about it!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Train, The City, & The Lake

OK, so back to my summer checklist:

1. Fake Tanning
2. Total Body Fitness Crunch
3. Plan a well-deserved vacation
4. Swimsuit shopping

With Step #1 out of the way (thank you, Dove) and Step #2 being a work in progress, I am now officially entering into step #3. Although it's only the beginning of May and the summer is very young, I have already planned two trips to spend some much needed quality time with family and friends and vacation number three is shortly around the bend.

My first trip begins today...sort of. I am officially taking my last trip down to NC to finish out my graduate school classes and I couldn't be more excited. I have been working on my MBA degree for just under two years and since moving to Virginia, I've made the commute to NC approximately 48 times. This will be number 49 and 50. Whew! Talk about your gas prices and car mileage. So in honor of my final roadtrip, I am also packing for a fabulous three day trip to New York City with my favorite person in the world...JJ.

Our plan is to stretch out one of his work trips to make an exciting getaway experience for my third trip to the big apple and his first. So we're booking our tickets now to take a scenic train ride from Washington DC to New York City this coming Monday. We're of course staying, (where else?)...in Times Square in the heart of it all (yeah, yeah...tourists) to soak up all that NYC has to offer. A visit to Central Park? Possibly a Broadway Show? A trip to Madison Square Garden? We have three blissful days of doing anything we want in the big city...and the best part is, there won't be a cow in sight!

My second trip piggy backs right on top of the New York vaca as I will hop on a plane and head for Atlanta, GA. Waiting for me there? The most entertaining, spirited, and fan-tabulous people you will ever meet...my college best friends. We haven't seen each other since my wedding in August and each year we have had the tradition of meeting up at one of the girl's lakehouses in GA to soak up some sun, gossip about our lives, and relive the days of festering, jestering, and rotting together through our college years. I can't wait! We mix a few margs, play a few cards, and just leave it all behind us on the rooftop dock. Rain or shine we make it work and we ring in the Cinco de Mayo party in our own special way....even though it'll be more of a Ocho de Mayo this year. Watch out! Things always get a little crazy...

There's always a few charades...um...is it JAWS?

Wakeboarding, skiiing, and tubing...(no tubing for me, thanks)

And a little bit of late night nonsense...you know it's going to happen...

So that brings me to trip number three. After a long year of work, JJ is in desperate need of a great vacation to somewhere where teenagers don't exist and restaurants don't have buffet lines. We're hoping to book a great August vacation where we can have some fun, sun, and lots of laughs to celebrate our one year anniversary.

Anyone have any good suggestions?!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Test Your BS Radar

Often we hear that the majority of our communication efforts are actually heard through our body language and muscular actions. Non-verbal words can speak volumes when interacting with people and what you say with your face may be heard much louder than what you say with your words. I'd like to think I'm a pretty good judge of facial expressions, but then again, we all probably think we are, right? So I was excited to take a fun little quiz today to see if my BS radar was really as sharp as I thought.

After finally finishing my long-time nightstand read of A Whole New Mind, (see one of my previous posts for more info) I decided to look into some of the exercises in the back of the book to test your right brain skills. One of the websites highlighted in the author's research is from the BBC's Science and Nature webpage. The BBC is one of the world's largest broadcasting companies based out of the UK and has a fun twenty question test you can take for free to see how easily you can detect a fake smile from a genuine smile.

I took the test and got a 19 out of 20 score! To take the test on your own, click here and see how sensitive your BS radar is to catch the next faker around the corner!

And be careful...us spotters may just pick off your fake smile a mile away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Wednesday Night Tift

The lights were low. The room was packed. As the tiny double doors to "The Club" slid open I tip-toed across the back of the room to find an open seat on an old wooden pew in the shadows of the church building. Of course, I had to wear my cowboy boots...with the loudest possible heel on hardwood floors. Trying ever so hard to avoid the creaks when I sat I had my eyes fixed on two people, both standing with their guitars under the stage lights reflecting off the chandeliers made of blank CD's.

We had arrived just in time to catch the second song of the opening act. After driving 45 minutes, fifteen dollars and a hand stamp got us into the MRC building (Music Resource Center) in Charlottesville, VA and we were immediately thrown into the swells of the local fans chasing the musical talents of Tift Merritt and friends.

I had never heard of Tift, nor had I ever thought much about her genre of music - which I suppose can be described as a combination of country/jazz/blues/blue grass tunes. I didn't really know what to expect when my friends Tricia and Jaime asked me to tag along to a concert. Hey, for a fifteen dollar ticket price, my expectations were low but I thought why not...something new to do on a Wednesday night. And so we piled in the car and headed for a Jam Session featuring two new artists I never knew existed.

I definitely trusted Tricia's judgement in music and especially in this area as she always knows where the best food, fun, and shopping secrets can be found. And I certainly gained more respect for her taste when I found out on the ride into town that her once college fling was Dierks Bentley...one of my top 15 favorite country artists. I mean, how cool is that?! So when she put on Tift's music for the remainder of the drive, I got excited about this low dollar concert we were going to find in a tiny nook in a town I know very little about.

Tift's opening number was a woman named Shannon Worrell who categorizes herself as folk/pop/country. Did you even know that existed? Regardless, I LOVED both women and just like the rest of the artsy crowd I found myself bobbing my head to the melodies and soft guitar music with a goofy grin on my face. Several times I caught myself thinking my friend Ashley would have been perfect to have along on this adventure...totally her thing! And as any good groupies would do, as soon as Shannon was done playing we walked ourselves to a local pub for a beer during the intermission. It was such a neat night, because I had never done something like this before, and I actually enjoyed every second of it.

When Tift came on stage, she seemed shy and quiet and was full of smiles and Thank You's for the clapping, whistling fans. She was cute and laid back and just looked like a girl with a guitar who happened to play the piano and harmonica along with her soft, sometimes raspy voice. She was grateful, full of stories from her home in North Carolina, and she worked the crowd walking through the aisles with her guitar, unplugged, belting out her most appropriate tune for the evening - Virginia.

But most of all there was something so inspiring about walking into a room where I had no expectations, surrounded by people who were clearly passionate about these artists. They were chill, happy, and just glad to be in an old, dusty venue with no bells or whistles or flashing lights. It was so unlike any other concert I had ever been to and even when Shannon's mic broke and Tift's keyboard needed some impromptu tape the crowd loved it. Every second of it. And they were so appreciative of not who the person was but for their talent and skill.

So many of the major shows I've been to have always been about the celebrity and how popular they are on the radio or tv. These singers were raw, unedited, and real people. Now, I'm sure they're quite popular to those who follow their music as both have several hundered thousand hits on their MySpace pages, but to me, they were just like any other Average Jane. And they performed like they were.

So here's a challenge. Look up your local dive joints and see what bands are playing. Take a chance and stumble into the bar, church, or warehouse and support the rising stars. It'll probably be worth the fifteen dollars and you'll likely enjoy being in a setting that's uncertain to you and your expectations. And challenge number 2 - download some of Tift and Shannon's music for a new playlist on your iPod. Their slow tunes and soft voices are perfect for the after work subway ride home or for easy listening on Sundays as you drive along with the windows down.

And like any good country singers, there are plenty of songs about life, love and heartache...the only thing I probably should have expected.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We Plan and God Laughs

I have many beliefs.

I believe people are innately good, but tarnished by life experiences and bad influence.
I belive a puppy's head in your lap can cure any and all bad moods.
And I believe we are all here to fulfill a purpose in this life.

But I also believe that each and every one of us are living a life that has already been planned for us. I believe our daily actions are merely us executing the life we were meant to lead even when we think we actually make decisions that might alter the plan. More simply, I believe in God and that He has already written the course for our lives.

I think one of the most complicated problems we all face is battling the journey to "find our purpose in life." Especially in these days, we all seem to want to find careers that make a difference; that help people other than ourselves and bring meaning to our communities and our own lives. That's why books such as The Purpose Driven Life or The Secret have been so popular to readers worldwide. They aim to help us find our purpose, our plan, or I suppose, our destiny.

My thoughts on this have been revived by the recent stresses in my life about job searching and deciding where it is exactly I should be. Both JJ and I have been used to success all our lives. We were always well liked among our peers, always made the team, and consistently made good grades in school (well, I'll speak for myself). Failure has, fortunately, not coming easy to us and we've enjoyed great benefits throughout our 20 some years from our successes. We're not used to hearing NO or falling in the middle of the pack. We've always known what it feels like to be on the top, and I credit that enjoyment to God's plan.

But as we get older we're sure to face bigger and scarier challenges than simply making the high school team or bringing home the report card full of A's. And we're currently facing one we can't quite conquer with a smile and a little elbow grease. We're job searching. We're soul searching. And we're trying to figure out exactly what it is we should be doing with our lives and careers. It's been difficult to find clarity in finding the right plan for both of us, so we've been consumed lately with making the best decisions for our professional and personal lives.

The more I stress about it and worry about both myself and him, however, the more I hear a voice in my head telling me that what will be has already been decided.

I don't think it's my privilege to choose my course. I firmly believe it's already been chosen for me. Each of our life plans have been chosen for us, by God, who knew exactly what purpose we would serve before we were born. So when I don't get that job I'm sure I can get, or my 'purpose' seems meaningless in my current role, I'm comforted by my beliefs each day that I am living the life I was meant to lead; because God put me here, in this exact moment, for a reason.

So plan we will, because that's what we do. We obsess over the "What's Next" thoughts and the ever overwhelming terror of making life changes. Half of life's lessons, I believe, are taught through the processes of deciding. Where to move? What job to take? Whom to befriend? What school to attend? We call it fate or destiny most often that things work out as they do, but when the time comes to make a decision and you get that "gut-feeling" that your choice is the right one, I believe that's God's nudge guiding us in the right direction. At the end of the day, be confident that your decisions have actually already been decided for you and that the process and agony of deciding can actually be softened by a simple moment of reflection and quiet prayer for patience.

So, the next time your perfect plan falls through the tiniest of cracks...just pause for a moment and listen to God laughing. His plan is sure to unfold soon enough if you're patient enough to wait for it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Power of Solitude

While we're on the subject of fitness this month, I think it's important to discuss an exercise option that works our mental health as well as our physical stamina. It's an area of fitness that is often over-looked in our race to drop a size and look long & lean. Keeping our emotions in check and reflecting on our thoughts is important to routinely do in order to keep balance in our lives and give ourselves a chance to just...feel.

Yesterday I had a lot on my mind. Lots of questions swirling and twirling with the nerves of new possibilities on the horizon. So I took a step back and did the one thing I hate (almost as much) as stressful tension. I went running.

We have the incredible luxury of living on about 100 acres of beautiful land filled with rolling hills, mountain views, golf course fairways, and wooded land. Rivers and creeks wind through the woods and an 8 mile running trail surrounds our home. Often I go for walks on the trail to enjoy the scenery, but there are a few times where the only thing I want to do is jog deep into the woods, find tiny foot paths, and hide myself in the trees by the water. It's perfectly quiet. It's still. And there's not a trace of another person for what feels like miles. There's not one particular spot I go to...I just sort of...go. And when it feels like the right time; I stop.

On this day, I found a new part of the trail I'd never been to and I saw what looked like a deer path leading to the creek. I followed it for just a short way and found a fallen tree with a perfect perch. And I sat.

There is something very fulfilling and rare about just sitting alone in complete solitude without the sounds of voices, cars, televisions, iPod music, and commotion. If you allow yourself, you hear and see things you've never noticed before; and it's beautiful. The ripples of water, the sun dancing on leaves, buzzing flies, and branches swaying. And that's all I did for as long as it felt right to sit.

I watched.
I listened.
I soaked in the quiet.
And I loved it.

I let my mind go wherever it wanted and I didn't force a single thought. I tried very hard not to move and I let the afternoon lead me. And eventually, it felt right to leave. It may have been that the hawks were starting to circle above me or that I had reached the mental clarity I was seeking, but I picked up a rock, skipped it down the creek just like Grandpa taught me, and I rejoined the trail to finish my run. I have no idea how long I sat or what I really even thought about but it felt great - as though balance had been restored.

I know everyone isn't as lucky as us to have the kind of nature at their fingertips that we have here, but everyone can find solitude somewhere, you just have to find it. I dare you to find a place that's so quiet you can hear everything. I dare you to let your thoughts run wild without any agenda or plan. And I encourage you to do it often. You may be very surprised how fit you feel when you're done...and I guarantee you won't get a cramp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Perfect Wedding Gift

If your summer social calendar is anything like mine was two years ago, you're slated to attend more weddings in a two month span this summer than the number of weekends that are actually available. Both attending weddings and participating in the bridal party line-ups bring tight time constraints and the unwelcoming sound of !cha-ching! as the costs of dresses, airfare, hotels, and gifts keep racking up....and that's just for one wedding! But of course, the unflattering price-tags associated with going to your best friend's wedding or even your good friend's nuptial are never too high and we likely attend regardless of the cost. Who really wants to miss such a precious moment in the lives of people you care about? And so we suck it up and blow our vaca savings on the people we love.

Amidst these financial choices to attend the wedding lies the decision of what the perfect wedding gift might be for the happy couple. So often we want to give them something that they will cherish, love, and remember us by long after the wedding is over. To many of us, our gift feels like an extension of our love. It's a symbol of the relationship we share with the bride and/or groom, and is often something special they wouldn't normally get for themselves otherwise. But after spending hundreds just to get to the ceremony...who has hundreds left to spend on this memorable gift? But, I'm also not trying to be the one to wrap up the toilet brush, know what I mean?

Enter the perfect wedding gift. It's personal, creative, and inexpensive to give and will surely be the one your blushing bride and strapping groom will remember forever.

A personalized wedding plate.

Now, I'm not talking about a silver tray that's engraved (although those are lovely options). I'm talking about a hand-painted creation by your's truly. I realized the memorable feeling and heart felt sentiment that one of these creations carries when I recevied my own hand-painted wedding plate from a good friend for my wedding. It was a simple design - just my wedding colors and a cake with a message describing her wedding wishes for us with the date of our big day on the front. It came with a wall-hanging rack and now hangs in my kitchen above the stove in a place where I see it everyday and am reminded each morning about my special wedding day. It brings a smile to my face, and everytime someone asks where I got it...I know exactly who to give the credit to...my friend, Anne.

And so, as one of my very best friends is about to walk the aisle this July I took it upon myself to paint her my own creation of a wedding plate for her 4th of July wedding. I even came up with my own saying to make it that much more special for the soon-to-be Love family...

"The Day Our Love Became the Love's, July 4, 2009"

Her bridal shower was this past weekend and I thought it was the perfect chance to give her the plate. And boy, was it a hit. She was so excited to have it and it was passed around the room with several girls saying, "Oh, I want one!" Now, I'm no professional artist but that's almost where the appeal comes from...it's an original...it shows mistakes...and it's the thought and time that went into it that means the most to the bride. You can't buy it in the store and you can't find another one just like it. It's all their own...forever.

My other two married friends loved my plate so much they asked me to make one for them, too. Of course, I am happy to do it and what's better now, is that they can give me input on exactly what they might want so I can make an even more personal plate for them this time around.

So if you have a friend, sibling, cousin, or just someone you care about who's getting married this year, consider taking some time to paint them your own creation. Find a ceramic or pottery studio in your area that allows walk-ins, block off about 2.5 hours in your day, and think of a creative design. It takes about a week for them to glaze and fire your plate and it's usually ready in about a week...so plan ahead. A typical dinner plate size will run between $15-$20 and includes the paint, glaze, firing, and plate itself. The studio workers are also usually so welcoming and helpful and the possibilities are endless.

Now, go out and be the original friend who gives the best gift ever! It's sure to be a party favorite and will leave a lasting impact for years!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Those Lifelong BFFs

As many others did, I traveled home for the Easter holiday for a number of reasons - a best friend's bridal shower, first time at home since Christmas, Easter Sunday at church with the family, and a need for a change of scenery. And one thing I again discovered during my 5 days at home was that, while some things may change, some things always remain the same...and that's almost always a very good thing.

I have been very lucky to have a spent about 10 years growing up in the same place, same town, same house, for most of my teenage years through college and the most amazing part of that privilege has been the group of girls I've run with over the years. There are 5 of us to be exact. Five girls who are oh, so different but oh, so the same in so many ways - and seven years after our high school graduation, little has changed in all of us outside of haircuts, jobs, and husbands. So, it is always such a treat to make the roadtrip home to jump back into our 15 year old memories and pick-up right where we left off before we all packed our bags for college.

Now, to be clear, at high school graduation, everyone thought for sure we would all end up at the same college or at least in the same city since we clearly couldn't handle life without each other. We were attached at the hip and where one was, the other four were close by. But the intrigue of our story is that not only did we choose 5 different colleges, we chose 5 different paths that continue to lead us right back to where we started...as best friends. Now, six years later, three of us are married, one is on her way down the aisle, one has traveled the world and lived overseas, one is three short years from becoming a Doctor, another has an MBA, and one is a homeowner.

But despite all our accomplishments and work to become our own individuals, we still come running back to each other's homes for movie nights, sleepovers, and pool parties just like when we were kids. There is something so comforting to know that while the details may change, the big picture has remained untouched and those BFF lifelong friends we always said we'd have has actually become a reality thus far. I am completely aware that this luxury isn't something that everyone gets to speak about or hold close to them, which is why I felt this topic was so important to write about. And while I have an entirely separate group of college friends that this also applies to, there will forever be something special about watching your childhood friendships unfold and grow years down the road...in front of your very eyes.

We even have a time capsule waiting for us to open in a few years (although none of us can remember when we're "supposed" to open it). Although it's probably filled with crap with stuff we thought was really cool at the time, we always remember it's waiting for us to pull the lid off and again relive another memory of growing up together. Memories that will probably make us laugh, roll our eyes, and most obviously make us say, "Remember when we did that!" As ridiculous as it may sound, I can't wait to open that plastic box and curl up with some wine (not juice this time) with my four best friends to remember it all over again.

This is my high school Nook. My best friends from Tennessee who have been with me through it all for the last 12 years. I love each one of them and I'm so grateful to have them in my life.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get ready for my sleepover tonight.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter White Out - Yay or Nay?

Two very important events in my life happened on Monday night and I'm finally getting to sit and tell you about them. Number one - The Hills has returned to Monday night television. It is with great sorrow that I watched, however, knowing that LC has decided not to return after the close of this season. Do people really think the show can live on without her? I think not. So to all my fellow Hills followers, watch closely and drink in every second of the cat fights, fashion, and "Oh, no, he didn't!" moments because I fear they will be our last. (Big sigh).

Event number two came as a result of the Monday night season opening episode and it led me to fall in love with a new nail polish color. White. Thank you Heidi, for wearing it to Lauren's surprise party. Now, I know many others have sported it before Heidi did on Monday, but her outfit and perfectly manicured hands led me to decide that this Easter weekend will be my debut of white nail polish. Since I don't buy into the whole "no white after Labor Day or until after Easter" bit I went ahead and bought some polish today and will sport it tomorrow for the first time.
(Picture taken from People Style Watch, Clark Samuels/Startraks).
This is very exciting for me to be jumping on a trendy bandwagon so soon. If you know anything about me, as I think most of my Nook readers do, I am usually a good 3-6 months behind all fashion trends. I just don't always see the appeal right away, but usually end up loving them. For example, (a) I despised UGGs and thought they were the dumbest things to buy when my roomie in college first introduced me to their fluffy warmth. Now, nearly 4 years later, I have three pair - and my collection will continue to grow. (b) Stilettos. Hated them, and didn't know how to walk in them until I was a sophomore in college. Again, thanks to S&S, I now wear roughly 4 inchers every chance possible. (c) Gold jewelry. I have been a silver lover my whole life and have white gold wedding rings. But for play jewelry, I will now pull a Carrie Bradshaw and wear the ghetto gold chains and bracelets to jazz up an old shirt.

Now, when the whole black nail polish thing came out, again, I was a good 6 months behind, but now love it for the winter months and rocked it much of this past year. So for spring and a new year, I will introduce white polish into my wardrobe ASAP. My biggest fear with my purchase, however, was that I didn't want it to look like I slapped white-out on my fingers because clearly a $4 DIY manicure is in order for me over the $30 pro. So I tested out a few brands before I made my final purchase. Here is my review in case anyone else is considering white-out nails for summer 2009!

Standing in the store aisles I tested three products. My first choice was for the high end $7 bottle of Nicole by OPI's Shop Around the Clock. I usually love OPI colors so I figured that would be my choice, but for a trend I'm not sure I will wear for the rest of the year I wasn't convinced to pay the price tag. Overall though, it was great and looked very shiny and, well, "polished," (sorry, that was for you Gil).

My second product was Revlon's White on White Nail Enamel. While less expensive and a better buy for the change purse, I wasn't impressed with the streaky quality of the color. It left too many brush lines once it was on my nail, and it looked more like I actually did use my white-out pen to put it on. Forgetting that one, I moved on to my third and final choice. I ended up with Sally Hansen's Diamond Strength polish in Timeless White. For just under $4 it gives a brilliant white color with minimal streaks and only requires too quick coats.

So far I've only finished one hand for the night, but I already love it! It even makes my freshly cleaned diamond ring POP with sparkles. Now, if I can just get a tan to go with my Timeless White nails I'll be all set...that is until I shun the next trendy color for 3-6 months.

Monday, April 6, 2009

DIY Home Fitness

The rain has been falling here in Virginia for what seems like weeks and the forecast for the coming week is also consistent. Despite a few sunshine filled days that make me think I might get a trace of a tan, the downpours insue. My, my...April Showers indeed.

And with all this rain comes the gloom and doom of bad moods, cabin fever, lack of motivation, and the desire to finish the carton of ice cream in the fridge to weather the storms outside. It also means no outdoor activities, no walks with the dog, no desire to run errands, and the thought of staying dry sounds more appealing than puddle jumping. But exercise gives us endorphins...and endorphins make us happy, at least they do according to Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the movie. So I'm on an endorphin hunt today and my task is to use nothing but my home to build some energy, burn some calories, and ignore the rain outside my window.

It was really pretty easy to create - just get inventive with what you have and you'll have a total body workout in your home. So pull those blinds, throw on a tank top and turn your home into your gym! Below is my DIY April Showers Workout for today:

*To start, turn on your favorite tunes to get in the mood to move! I chose a random shuffle on my iPod through a Bose speaker system.

Warm-Up - 4 minutes
Running in place - 30 sec
High knees - 30 sec
Jumping Jacks - 30 sec
Air Jump Rope - 30 sec
*Repeat twice
Stretch on completion

Butts and Thighs
Step-Ups - find a piece of furnite that will support you to stand on it that is about 2 feet tall. (I used my dining table bench seat). To begin, step up on the surface with your right leg and bring your left leg to a ninety degree angle in front of your body. Step down with both feet on the ground and alternate legs. Repeat for 10 reps on each leg.

Walking Lunges - find a space that's long enough to allow you to walk at least 5 lunges at a time. Alternate legs as you walk to make a ninety degree bend in your lead step and let your opposite knee barely touch the ground before rising. Repeat for 10 reps per leg.

Stairs - find a set of stairs that will allow you to climb about 20 stairs at a time. At a pace you can handle, climb the stairs 3 times to keep your heart rate high.
*Repeat all three exercises 3 times.

Wall Push-Ups - think of a standing push-up position. Stand one arms length away from a wall with hands spread about shoulder's length apart. Feet should be spread shoulder's distance. On a 1-2-3 count pace bend your arms to mimic a push-up against the wall (aka: the wall is now the floor). Do 25 reps - and remember, the slower the push-up pace the better the workout.

Side Plank Yoga Pose - As pictured below, position your body into a one arm side plank hold and keep the hold for 15 seconds. Switch arms and repeat for 15 seconds. Rotate for two-three sets per arm. A strong core and tight abs are critical to the success of this pose.

Photo taken from CookingLight website, taken by Jeff Von Hoene, Gin Miller.

Bicep Curls - Using household products weighing in at about 3-5 pounds, perform bicep curls at 15 reps per arm, repeating three times per arm.
*Suggested items to use: wine bottles, 2-liters, 12 inch pillar candles, tea kettle filled with water, a heavy book or 3-5 pound hand weights.
Repeat all arm exercises three times.

Mixing up your three favorite crunch style sit-ups, do 25 reps of each style repeated three times. The key here is to mix it up and work various stomach muscles...not just the common crunch. Try suitcase sit-ups, bicycle knees, side-to-side crunches touching the floor, and even flip over and do some superman flies.

And just like that...your home has become your gym and the endorphins are flowing!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

SQUEEZE. All day. Everyday.

So, here is a fabulous hint. You don't need to throw yourself on the ground and kill your spine to get a flatter tummy. You don't even need to put on your work-out gear to shape your abs. All you need is a friendly reminder throughout the day to do the simple squeeze.

When it comes down to it, a crunch or sit-up is really just the repetitive contraction of the stomach muscles to create tension and work the muscle group. A much easier variation of the sit-up is to just remember to crunch your muscles several times a day for a set-period of time - no matter where you are. Walking. Sitting. Lying down. Whatever your position may be, just remind yourself to sit and squeeze your stomach muscle over and over until you feel the burn. For the best result, take a deep breath with a loose stomach, then squeeze on the exhale breath and hold it until you breath in again.

So you're at work all day. Write a post-it note on your computer screen that says SQUEEZE, and each time you see the note, clench your stomach muscles repeatedly until you feel the burn. POOF! You just did about 25-50 crunches while multi-tasking at work. Remember to hold each squeeze for a few seconds to really work the action. As long as you don't show an ugly grunt on your face, no one will even know! (Remember to sit-up straight!)

Other great SQUEEZE opportunities:
1. While you walk the dog. Tell yourself to squeeze every other step. You'll have 100 crunches in no time.
2. While you brush your teeth. You do this twice a day (hopefully) for about two minutes. Why not squeeze while you stand there and get another 100 in for the day? Added bonus...stand on one leg while you do it and work that quad with a slightly bent knee.
3. Cooking dinner. Burn off those calories before you eat the meal and work up an appetite!

There are lots of times throughout the day when you can mix in a few crunches...all you have to do is SQUEEZE!

*Thanks for the reminder, Mel!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Living Rooms and DVR's

One of my favorite things about having a DVR (or TiVo) is that you can get a two for one deal with your monthly bill - free classes at the gym without the membership fee or expelled time of actually GOING to the gym. Allow me to explain.

One type of exercise I usually love to do is anything that requires my attention and listening to do the routine; Enter fitness classes. But as I said, I don't want to pay the fee, so ever since we started having the Direct TV service in our home, I've found a way to take advantage of the DVR recorder to file away tv work-outs I might want to try. For us, Channel 261 is nothing by Fit TV 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It features all types of exercise routines in a "class style" format just as if you were at the gym watching an instructor. The classes range from belly dancing to kick boxing and I love the variety it provides. (A great bonus for my fellow Out-of-Shapers).

Some of my favorite 20 minute workouts include:
1. Namaste Yoga - includes a warm-up, full routine flow, and a meditation cool down.
2. Core Max - floor exercise to shape and strenghten the core.
3. Shimmy - belly-dancing routines (Hello, ABS!)

Another favorite (which is slightly longer at about 45 minutes) is All-Star Workouts. It rotates routinely from kick-boxing to yoga, abs, legs, butts, hip-hop dance, etc. and the instructors are pretty legit. Sometimes they can be on the annoying side, but that's the beauty of MUTE. You can still get the work-out in without the fake "You're Doing Great!" comments while your clearly heaving in your living room with your hands on your knees.

Now for the best part. Although these episodes air on a regular schedule...who really wants to get up at 6am to catch a Namaste routine. NO THANK YOU. Just hit record and save all your favorite episodes to create your own personal archive of classes to attend at your convenience whenever you want.

Don't have a DVR? Go the old school route and throw in a video cassette or DVD and record. Rather than buying DVD's in the store, start making your own series and get more out of that monthly cable bill! You should be able to get the Fit TV channel if you have service with Time Warner, Comcast, Cox, Dish Network, Cablevision, or Verizon.

Fit TV is also associated with the Discovery Channel and has a great website for you to use for free as well. Currently, there is a 2009 National Body Challenge going on that only requires you to submit a short profile about yourself and then gives you great access to healthy recipes, a progressive weight loss plan made just for you by experts, weight and fitness trackers, and a suggested daily menu. And the best part...no gym. However, if you absolutely must use a gym, you can download a free pass to any participating Bally Total Fitness Gym as part of the challenge.

I just joined the Body Challenge this week under the Maintenance program. I don't really need to lose weight, I just want to tone and stay at the size I am through healthier eating, and daily exercise. My personal profile tracks my progress and shows exactly how many calories I will burn if I follow the suggested work-out provided. For example, my suggested work-out for today is for a Core Workout and is said to burn 152 calories if done to completion. An instructional video is also provided with every workout, just in case you don't know the warrior hold already or need some clarifcation on how the moves should look. Every move uses your own body weight and can be done in a 6' x 6' space...perfect for the living room! After two sets, I promise you'll be burning.

Click now and join me in the Challenge! We're only a few months away from that bikini!

Monday, March 30, 2009

My FF: Fitness Filosophy

Ok Step #2 - Total Body Crunch Time.

Since this certainly cannot be summed up in a single exercise post I have a feeling many of my April posts will be devoted to my take on fitness. And what is that you might ask? Well, here is my Fitness Filospophy:

"Doing the least painful and minimally exhausting activity to provide the maximum result in the shortest amount of time - while keeping me entertained."

As a former Division 1 college soccer athlete many people don't beleive me when I say I'm not a runner. They throw their heads back, roll their eyes, and mutter "Yeah right, quit fishing..." or something along those lines. But I PROMISE. Contrary to my thin frame and athletic background I am terrible at running and despise most fitness work-outs. I avoid treadmills. I hate gyms. And I don't believe in such a thing as a Runner's High, (I think it's just a mean lie that "runners" talk about to make us out-of-shapers feel even worse). The only way I'll get on a treadmill is if I haven't moved in days and I've just realized I finished the last pack of Oreos...that I bought yesterday.

So in place of this nasty little plague called running, I try to come up with new ways to exercise whenever possible. I really do enjoy the feeling of working-out, and I do appreciate a good sweat, but I just need to get there driving a different car. I need entertainment. I need variety. And I need exercises that don't give me reminders that I'm exercising. Like a freakin' side stitch.

Oh, and I don't want to pay money to do it. What a waste. You know I'm going to go right to Taco Bell on the way home from the gym and crack a bottle of wine after I work out. Sorry, but I'd rather spend my monthly membership fee on shoes. (Thank God my shoe size won't fluctuate quite like my pants might).

So if you're with me, and hate the run-around of the gym and those bragging high runners (wait, is that right?) stay tuned through April for more of my Fitness Filosophies. I'll keep you entertained, get you in a bikini, and we won't spend a penny; at least I'll try.

Disclaimer: You are willingly reading advice from an out-of-shaper. It's your own fault for listening to someone who gets winded on the stairs.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good-bye Casper, Hello Dove

With the tulips sprouting outside and the cherry blossom trees blooming, a hint of spring is filling our Virginia air. And with the coming of spring comes the dreaded, horrifying, and inevitable bikini season...right on its heels. Although beach tanning and ocean swimming are still a good distance down the road, a few preparations must begin now to ready ourselves for the summer sun. My short list of Itty Bitty-Teenie-Weenie-Bikini To Do's is listed below.

1. Fake Tanning
2. Total Body Fitness Crunch
3. Plan a well-deserved vacation
4. Swimsuit Shopping

I put the tasks in this order (namely with swimsuit shopping in dead last) because who wants to face the mirrors pale skinned and soft with no foreseeable motivation?

So here we go. Today I will address my plan for Step 1 - Fake the tan until it's real. I did the whole tanning bed approach in college and after coming back fried and lobster-esque every time (not to mention having to endure lectures from my mother and grandmothers) I gave up on the bulbs. It never works for me, and I hate the cringe of my skin after a pricy (and fast) fry. I've also tried the fake tanning sprays, 1-hr dying creams, and the bronzers. But my new go-to this summer is a similar product only different.

I've come to love the Dove product Energy Glow; a gradual tanning lotion with subtle self tanner components. I use the medium to dark level and LOVE the way it smells. To me, it's the perfect combination of light coconut, vanilla, and mojitos...(ok the last scent is me day dreaming). Three small pumps is the perfect amount for a leg and one pump will coat an arm perfectly and evenly. Although JJ hates the smell and tries to throw me in the shower every time I use it, it gives me the best (and fastest) tan for only $4 a bottle. *Note: The same bottle has lasted me since the first week of February!

Another favorite product that most of my friends and family use is the Jergens lotion which does the same trick. While I think Jergens is OK and effective, I found a similar lotion that smells 10 times better. The Hawaiian Tropic Island Glow Daily Moisturizer comes in three skin tone shades just as Jergens does, but it uses more of the floral and fruit extracts which gives it a better scent and less of the fresh-out-of-the T-Bed smell.

A third tanner to try is the L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion. This one contains an SPF of 15 within the lotion and provides more Vitamin E to help create smoother skin in addition to providing sun protection. I've found this product to be a low-maintenance friend and only requires an application once or twice a week to build a nice base tan.

Now, for those "I need a tan NOW" moments (last minute party invite, random 80 degree day, etc) my go to product is the Neutrogena Instant Bronze Streak-Free Foam (Level 2). This definitely has more of a dying effect as you'll be running around with a hint of copper within 10 minutes of applying and a full tan will show within 2 hours. I prefer the foam because (a) You can see it easier than a spray (b) It won't spray all over your bathroom floor (c) It dries faster and spreads more evenly. While it won't last for very long (ie: after a few showers, it's gone) try this bad-boy for those desperation moments and last minute penny-pinching stresses.

And of course, when all else fails...hit the spray-tan option at your local tanning bed. If you can hold your breath for a full minute and don't mind spitting up brown particles after it's over, it's another great option for a full week's glow. Try to cash-in on the pre-summer specials they might be highlighting as well. A single session often costs around $30, but for the savvy shopper you can usually grab a two for the price of one deal or somtimes 3 sessions for $40.
*Note: For all you blushing brides out there, avoid this option less than 3-4 days before your wedding. No one likes an orange bride...especially the camera.

Happy Tanning!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Greenies in Training

To begin, let me say that this post is entirely out of intrigue for the recent GO GREEN fads we're seeing everywhere - from tv shows, to magazine articles, radio shows, and celebrity trends. I understand it all, and I certainly see the benefit in "going green" and living a more sustainable life. But if you're anything like me, you kind of don't really know where to start. And I do feel bad sometimes. I leave phone chargers plugged in, lights on when I leave, and stare into the fridge for minutes at a time hoping something new will miraculously appear. Recognizing my faults, I'm trying to do better and be a little more proactive.

Several of my friends are Greenies, and they've inspired me to at least do a little extra research to support my self-improvement project. Baby steps people...I'm trying. Some things I can do, but others I just can't - for instance, I would love to shop for groceries with re-usable bags, but then what will I use to pick up the dog poop? Until someone can show me a biodegradable poop bag, it's plastic for me, please.

But I have stumbled across a few resources to get me started and here are few tips I've uncovered along the way. Perhaps they will help some of you GIT's (Greenies in Training), too.

Save at the Pump. Use the lowest speed on the gas pump trigger. The slower you pump, the lower the energy rate and fewer gas vapors are expelled. It will take longer to fill a tank, but you'll actually get more gas for your money. Also, try not to pump gas from a station that has JUST received a new shipment of fuel. Typically, the newer gas is filled with more dirt particles due to tank stirring - which is bad for your engine and gas mileage. Tip seen on the show Stuff Happens on the Discovery channel Planet Green.

Bag Re-Use. When you buy toilet paper, try to buy the double roll sizes and buy in more bulk. You'll be consuming less cardboard by buying fewer rolls but still receiving the same amount of toilet paper. You can also cut a small hole at the top of the bag, so that when you run out of toilet paper, you can re-use the bag as a bathroom trashcan bag (or a doggie bag on walks!) Tip taken from Green Living for Dummies.

Surf the Net. A great website I've found is associated with the tv channel Planet Green. This site is stuffed full of Green tips from fashion and beauty to container gardening, sustainable products, green recipes, volunteer opportunities, and re-use ideas for your old junk. It's a pretty good website for us beginners, and I recommend you browse it in your free time. A few of my favorites from the site:

- Healthy Green Dog Food Diets - Feeding Man's Best Friend

- DIY: Crafty Green Projects - Using scratch supplies

- Eco-Friendly Food Quiz - Test your trivia skills

- No Green-Thumb Needed - Gardening tips for all levels

There's something for everyone and any beginner can take a tip or two away from this. From skin care, to laundry, and travel & tech tips...browse for just a minute or two and you're sure to find some improvement you can make to be a better GIT.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Paying Uncle Sam

Taxes. Hate 'em, curse them, and wish April 15th had a different purpose in the calendar, but of course we all have to file, and we all have to like it. This year (as a newlywed) was my first year to file a joint return, and to be honest, the first year I've actually filed taxes myself. Not having the comfort of a family accountant and the blind satisfaction that Daddy had taken care of it, JJ and I had a few decisions to make on how to file.

We toyed with the idea of using another accountant in our area, but voted against it as the end of March was creeping quickly and we had a short list of zero contact names to work with. I also stopped through Best Buy and checked out the Turbo Tax software product but didn't have enough time to compare the various choices...(What's the difference between $19.99 and $79.99)? Finally, we decided the easiest and stress-free way to go was to enlist the help of an H&R Block agent in good ole Orange, VA; a decision I can't say I will endorse again next year...and here's why.

1. It cost roughly $200 for them to prepare our taxes; and our return was very simple. Enter the W2's, deduct for education, and post interests earned on bank statements and dividends. Not a big deal...but for $200 I'd like to think I could have done that myself with my own caluclator and pocket protector.

2. It took two hours. And worst of all...it made us late for a live basketball game; something JJ does NOT tolerate. Our Tax Associate, while seemingly educated and in the know, couldn't get our simple numbers to add up right for the first hour and a half which forced JJ to start playing bowling games on his phone, and me to repeatedly ask her if another manager in the store could give a fresh perspective: aka - hang it up lady...you ain't gettin it. Finally, she somehow changed a number and the whole thing added up correctly, but she had no idea why or how it happened. Glad we paid good money for a "professional" to have no clue.

3. It smelled like mothballs. The whole office. If you know anything about me...my nose never lies. I have very little patience for professional environments that are not clean, well-kept, and at least appear to be updated and sanitized. Now, I do understand we live in a small town, but when you're dealing with people's money, I'd like to think offices such as this would work a little harder on first impressions.

4. The inability to file taxes in two states at the same time. This little office was so small that no one on the staff was able to file our taxes in the two states where we lived this past year. Only one person came through once a week to visit the office and complete the out-of-state work which means I have to make another trip to get the second round of paperwork. No one in the whole office can do it? Again...must be the small town factor, but still. Driving the 5 miles again next week is more of an annoyance than a burden.

Although everything is now filed and off to Uncle Sam, JJ and I left more preturbed and frustrated than we thought we'd be. (He was going to miss the opening game announcements, and I really wanted my hot dog). And so we made the decision (as suggested by numerous friends) to look into Turbo Tax next year and pull up our pants to be our own accountants. If anyone else is curious about this software, here is what I've found:

1. The software comes in four different choices: Basic, Deluxe, Premier, & Home and Business. Each one builds on the previous level (Basic being the most...well, basic) and additional features are added based on the complexity of the return. Ex: if you are single and don't have many complications other than bank statements or an IRA, Basic might be for you. If you are married, bought a home, and have education expenses on top of two IRA's and bank statments, Deluxe would be a better choice). They even have a Help Me Choose page that allows you to select various categories to show you which option is best for you.

2. A Live Community support service is also available 24/7 for you to talk directly to a tax expert or Turbo Tax employee if you have any troubles along the way. Basically, think of it as an IM chat room for taxes. Just type your question into the conversation box, and an answer will appear to help you navigate the software or make a decision.

3. The e-File option allows you the same flexibilty as an H&R Block service to get your refund back as fast as possible. After submitting your return, you will receive an email notification within 48 hours, and your return can be directly deposited into your account within 8 days.

4. Discount opportunities are also available. If you file before Mach 27th using Turbo Tax, you can probably reap the benefits of a cheaper access fee (usually about $20 less than the original price). At H&R Block, I wasn't allowed to use my new customer coupon of $20 (even though I was a first time customer) just because my husand's family had used them the year before.

5. The overly informative website will also bring you a piece of mind that this is a legitimate service and one that will likely find you the most deductions. If you're still not convinced, ask around. I'd be willing to bet several of your friends use this service and have had positive results.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed tax professional. These are my own personal opinions and observations and should not be considered professional advice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pushing Resumes

Much of my motivation for starting to write on Nook Fiction came from two sources; my friends and my charming job title - UNEMPLOYED. First, let me be clear. I am entirely grateful to be in the position I'm in, as I did not get laid-off due to the recession like many of my fellow hunters. My husband and I (whom I will refer to as JJ from now on) have been very lucky in our living situation and have thankfully avoided many of the economic daggers. But I am a new graduate - fresh out of MBA school - along with the other 1.5 million 2009 college graduates in America. That's 1.5 million Starbucks drinking, subway riding, metropolitan bound, big ambition, 22 year olds all after the same jobs as me.

At age 25, you would think I should be at least a little bit ahead of the game compared to this group of hustlers, but after two years in a profession I'm not interested in and little experience outside of MBA papers and exams, I find myself back at square one and ready for a career change. After much research and too many failed scrolling attempts on big search engines, I've narrowed my search to three areas, Marketing, Public Relations, and Corporate Communications. All areas where I have no more experience than my 22 year old competition.

So far, I've picked up a few job search tips for myself and for anyone else who may be needing a little creativity in their seach.

1. Avoid the Big Boys. While monster.com, careerbuilder.com, and Yahoo! Hot Jobs all provide an enormous database of openings, everyone looks there! You are up against way more competition than you think. Rather than using them to find jobs, use them to find company names in your area. Once you find a few, google the company name and search for jobs directly from the company's website. Usually you'll find jobs that aren't even posted on the Big Boy sites.

2. Creep on Social Networks. I was told several times to use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to talk to people and put the word out that I was looking. While I understand the value of networking, it's just too awkward for me to Facebook chat someone to ask for a lead with their dad's best friend from Idaho. Instead, I just creep around on these sites to again, search for new company names in my area. Often people will list where they work on their profiles and you can go search those sites for jobs. If you find something, you can always contact that person later to ask for advice or a good reference.

3. Chamber of Commerce. The location where JJ and I live is not exactly bigger than a 4 stoplight town...literally, there may be four....total. It takes us a good hour to get to any mid-major city, and even longer for the bigger metropolitan areas. Because of the commute, I search for jobs in four locations, Charlottesville, Richmond, Washington, D.C., and small cities in between. Once I find a location that is within reasonable distance I google the Chamber of Commerce sites to see who's listed in that city, then go to the company's website to search.

4. Do You Take Cream and Sugar? Go the intern route. Right now, as I search for opportunities in areas where I've never really worked, I keep in mind that internships are definitely not out of the question. Even though I have an MBA and I'm a bit non-traditional, I'm eager to find a spot at the bottom where I can learn it all...the basics, and hope for a full-time hire on position later. No job is ever beneath you...especially in these times.

5. Personal Inventory. Start a journal. In addition to my blog, I have also been keeping a journal that I write in to record quotes I've heard, new books to read, personal goals, etc. Journaling has helped me strip down to the bare bones of the infamous interview question - what are your strengths and weaknesses? I feel like I am JUST now starting to figure out who I am and what I want to do, and putting it all down on paper helps to show you what you're made of...or what you're not!

6. Embrace the Weekends. Job searching can take a major toll on your health: physically (hunched in front of the computer for 8 hours straight), mentally (will I ever find something?!), and emotionally (does anyone think I'm good at what I do?). But just because you're not working doesn't mean you don't deserve weekends, too. Chances are recruiters and companies aren't in the office on Saturday afternoon posting new job opportunties, so take this time to re-charge and relax. Stepping away from the search for a few days can help build motivation to dive back in on Monday, and it will take your mind off the unemployed shadow over your head.

Bottom Line: it's a rough world out there. Remember, it will take some time to find the right fit - especially right now. Our jobs become an enormous part of our life; our thoughts, our friends, stresses, and responsibilties. Stay patient and remain calm in the thought that everything happens for a reason at a reasonable time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Calling All Righties

I am a righty...always have been. I'm right-handed and right-footed, I have right-wing values, and like that we drive on the right side of the road. As hard as I've tried to take more Louie's in life, I am a bonified Ralphie. I've tried to write left handed - failed. I claimed to have a left foot in soccer - failed. And I've worked hard to convince myself that I am a left-brained analytic - failed.

All through my undergraduate business classes and even this year through my MBA courses, I have had to strain to get the left-side of my brain to cooperate with me. I beg, plead, and hope that someday soon derivatives and the time value of money will click and become crystal clear, but alas, I am a righty. I think more creatively and in colors as opposed to black and white. In high school I used to have to dress up like my math teacher to make studying for a test easier...what lefty needs a costume to do math?

So I got really excited and relieved when I was listening to Oprah on XM radio a few weeks ago and she was interviewing the author, Daniel Pink, who wrote the book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink says that as we have moved through decades and different ages in our world (the Agriculture age, Industrial Revolution, Information Age, etc) we have increasingly relied on analytical skills to further us along with progress and innovation. But as technology has beocme so advanced and jobs are more easily automated and outsourced, Pink suggests a new age may be upon us in the near future - The Conceptual Age.

Although Left Brainers have thrived in the Information Age and much of the past, The Conceptual Age, according to Pink, will be dominated by the Righties. He suggests that this new Age for Right Brainers will come as a result of the three A's - Automation, Asia, and Abundance. My counterparts, the Left Brainers, have worked hard to boost technology so we can produce in mass consumption, do it faster and better, and cheaper...in Asia. With so many jobs and tasks being outsourced, those who will succeed will be the people who can apply emotion to logic, and design, stories, and empathy to now easy to copy jobs.

He also suggests that in this new time, the new MBA is the MFA...kind of like red may become the new orange in fashion. While I must disagree with this statement (now weeks away from my MBA graduation...thanks Pink) I do agree with his theory. In this turbulent time of lay-offs, recessions, outsourcing, and budget cuts people are asking themselves what they can do to remain valuable in their jobs.

Pink's advice - get to know the artsy, fluffy, space cadet side of your brain and figure out how to apply your creativity to your job. So you make toilet brushes for a living, eh? Well who wants an ugly brush by their toilet anymore? Make it pretty! Get creative and apply designs to a basic product. You say you only think in numbers, efficiency graphs, and dollar signs? Pink says to keep a design notebook with you wherever you go and record all the design elements in life that are good and bad. Learn about what works well and what doesn't to ultimately make your business more efficient and more profitable.

This is exciting news for us calculus drop-outs! Now more than ever artistic design, writing, thinking, and colorful business theories may just be more appreciated than the cut and dry number crunching skills...after all...can't someone in Asia make an automated spreadsheet?

Pull out your crayons and paint brushes Righties, and curl up with this intriguing, easy read by Daniel Pink. You never know, a whole new world may be looking for your whole new mind!

Friday, March 20, 2009

I have an addiction, sir!

I admit it. I love, love, love reality television.

I've never really thought I had a problem or an addiction as I still regularly tune into my favorite weekly sitcoms; Grey's, Desperate, Ugly Betty, Entourage. That is until I looked at my DVR list today. I can now officially say, "My name is (Nook Fiction), and I have a reality tv addiction."

I love it. I love them all. The Making the Band fights, the Real World Pranks, the MOVE THAT BUS tear jerking moments, and the most dramatic rose ceremonies...EVER. I can't get enough, and they're like my escape into someone else's ridiculous life. I feel like I know these people, and we were meant to be friends...please disregard the fact that they have no idea who I am. I have so many favorites I've had to use my friend's DVR just to record them all, (Thanks, ST). I'm embarrassed to do this, but admitting you have a problem is the first step...so here is my list:

The Biggest Loser, Making the Band (1,2,3,4), The Bachelor, Party Monsters Cabo, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, The Apprentice, The Amazing Race, The Hills, The City, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jon and Kate Plus 8, Ruby, Little People Big World, T.I.'s Road to Redemption, Run's House, From G's to Gents, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Here Come the Newlyweds, and Girls Next Door. (Whew....)

But my newest favorite is Running in Heels. It airs weekly on The Style Network, Sundays at 8pm, and it's fabulous. It's a reality show (obvi) following three up-and-coming fashion interns in NYC. They all three work at Marie Claire magazine and share an apartment together (the perfect ingredients for drama). The three "characters" include:
Ashley (Left) - rude, snotty, and over-confident city girl who will do anything to get her way and will crush you with her stiletto at the first opportunity. But never fear, she's two faced, too, so you may not always see it coming.

Talita (center) - she's SO L.A. Her puppy's name is Chanel (isn't that what every L.A. girl names her dog), and I'm pretty sure she's not the brightest bulb in the pack. She's really good at talking other people into doing her work for her.

Samantha (aka: Sam) - the midwestern girl-next-door who seems to get all the lucky breaks. Ashley and Talita gang up on her and try to make her feel bad for being the nice, polite, friendly girl. She's kicking their butts on the job (so far)!

It's The Devil Wears Prada in episodes and it's a definite one to tune into for a look behind the fashion world scenes...that is if your DVR isn't already full.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nook Fiction; It's in us all

We all have stories. The one about the time our best friend made a fool of themselves in public. Or the night you laughed so hard you cried. Or the morning after you got caught in a big fat lie.

Truth and fiction live in each and every one of us, and if you're anything like me, you're usually busting to tell someone about it. Over the years, I've found that each time a new story, a big change, a dilemma, a heartbreak, a choice, or a really great joke has presented itself to me, I run to the same place everytime to let it all out - and that place is The Nook.

We all have a Nook. For some of us, it's a place in nature where it's so quiet your thoughts ring as loud as a bullhorn. For others, it's your best friend's shoulder while you share a pint of ice cream with bad TV. It may be an old park bench next to the field where you played little league softball as a kid. And even still, it may be the solace of confiding in your four-legged furry companion. Whatever your Nook may be, it's the place you love to go with all the news in the world, and it's the place where you'll find exactly what you're looking for...

Throughout my life I've had the pleasure of finding many different Nook's. All of which have come in some of the forms mentioned above. I've sorted through many thoughts, and exaggerated many stories in the Nook at one time or another and I wouldn't change a minute of those moments for anything in the world. Some of my Nooks have been my college teammate's open arms and hugs, my parent's advice over coffee and sunsets, my husband's left arm that falls asleep while we watch TV, my puppy's big sigh when we share a pillow in bed, and the quiet stillness of my favorite rock by the lake, the creek, and the river.

As change has come and new beginnings have invited new endings in my life, several of my Nooks have become farther and farther away. But the stories keep rolling, and the changes...well they'll never stop coming. And someone needs to hear about them! So I now introduce you to my new Nook. My Nook Fiction. My thoughts, my stories, and my opinions all laid out here for someone and anyone to read. I'm glad that someone might just be you.

Welcome to my stories. Welcome to my Nook Fiction.