Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wedding Wednesdays: Shower Time!

Wedding Showers. A wedding element I've both anticipated and dreaded.

Anticipated because I love spending time with my family and friends, because I love shower food, and because, well, presents.

Dreaded because I get nervous around lots of people, because I'm uncomfortable being the reason for a party as opposed to the planner of a party, and because, well, presents (I hate opening gifts in front of everyone...I always feel so much pressure to react appropriately...and I can never seem to find the right balance between "OMGYAYSOEXCITED" and "Thanks.")

Anticipated or dreaded, however, they've begun.

And so far it's been awesome!

The sweet, wonderful ladies at work threw me my first shower a couple weeks ago. We all met up at a restaurant near the office (one which happened to serve margaritas) and spent a couple hours hugging, giggling, and munching on yummy food.

Plus, I got some FANTASTIC loot - new knives, wine glasses, stuff for our bathroom, tons of fun gadgets, the most adorable salad servers, the BEAUTIFUL butter dish we asked get the idea.

The ladies were so thoughtful - they had the room decorated with pink burlap (yes, two of my favorite things IN ONE), brought in treats from Rick's ("nothing with their buttercream" because they listen and read my blog!), and they had the guests leave "Words of Wisdom" for Paul and me as we begin our marriage. I'll share just a few:
  • Paul is always right.
  • Commit to never, ever give up!
  • Before you fight, decide if it's worth it. It's not.
  • Love is a choice...the feelings will follow!
  • Make him put the seat down from day 1!
  • When your wife has a problem, she wants you to give her your ear, not a solution.
  • Do not stop to ask for directions. Let him find it. 
  • Hold hands and say the Lord's Prayer together every night.
  • Nothing good comes from a prideful heart.
  • A man needs respect; when he gets that, his love is overflowing.
  • Laugh at his jokes no matter how lame.
How sweet is all that?!?

I have my next shower this weekend - and Paul gets to come with me this time. It's in Memphis, so it'll be all the ladies that I grew up with. Can't wait to see everyone! Plus, isn't the invite adorable?

It's so nice to be loved like this. I can't fully express my gratitude. But I'll bring treats in an attempt to do so :)

More updates to come soon!

PS: We took engagement photos with the Benfield's last weeknd! Should have our shots back soon(ish). Stay tuned for those!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bachelorette Weekend in STL

This past weekend my sweet girls treated me to the most fabulous celebratory weekend in St. Louis, jam packed with all sorts of my favorite things!

We started with dinner at the Roommate's precious little house - homemade roasted tomato soup and white cheddar cheese, homemade bread, and rosemary chicken-apple-walnut-blue cheese salad. I miss living with her...

Up next was frilly-gift time followed by an hour or so of watching Gigi & Finley (Roommate's roommate's dog), chase each other around the living room. I loved having all of my favorite girls in one place - such a treat.

Saturday morning, we all met up at the London Tea Room for breakfast. If you're ever in St. Louis, you simply MUST go to the tea room - it's indescribably lovely. I had a pot of the Duke & Duchess blend with a cranberry-orange scone covered in clotted cream and fresh strawberry jam. Pretty much the best breakfast ever.

The plan was to then grab coffee (yes, we like caffeine that much) on our way to our mani-pedi appointment. Our plans were blindsided (literally) by a couple of (again, literal) party crashers. A Ford Taurus came out of nowhere and t-boned Roommate's car in the middle of a rather busy intersection. Thankfully, Little Sister keeps calm in crisis situations and had it pretty much handled by the time I'd even processed what had happened. No one was hurt and we were able to get it sorted out fairly quickly.

Dealing with a car accident was not at all how we wanted to spend our morning, but we had some nice downtime waiting on the cops and the tow truck, then enjoyed a stroll through the SLU campus. All in all, it really didn't put that much of a damper on the day.

We finally arrived at the salon and enjoyed a very girlie hour of manicures & pedicures - note to self: wear a "Bride-to-Be" sash EVERYWHERE. People are SUPER nice to you ALL THE TIME!

Afterwards, we had lunch at one of my favorite spots - Companion - then headed back to the hotel for a quick change before our tour of the Botanical Gardens.

Since it was so late in the afternoon, the Gardens were relatively quiet (except for the no fewer than three weddings setting up as we walked around). Plus, the weather was delightful - making our tour even more enjoyable.

After our tour, we spent time driving around the city and made a stop at Kaldi's Coffee for a caffiene boost before dinner. Y'all...they have a Baked Maple Pumpkin Latte...BAKED. It actually has BAKED PUMPKIN in it. AND maple. If you aren't hearing me...baked pumpkin. It was phenomenal.

We had dinner on the Hill at Zia's - fabulous as always - then spent a few hours at Bailey's Chocolate Bar. Also excellent. I had a Chai martini - chai ice cream, rumchata, and vanilla vodka...OMG.

All of that on top of the fact that I got to spend an entire day with my girls - I couldn't imagine a better weekend.

The next morning, we enjoyed crepes, coffee, and mimosas at City Coffee House & Creperie and found out who'd won our Bachelorette Bingo Instagram competition (spoiler, Vicky won).

To fill you in, we all had a sheet with 25 squares on it - each describing a different thing we had to find throughout the weekend. The objects were open to "creative interpretation," and some of the photos we snapped were my favorites from the trip. More details at the end of the post.

Unfortunately we all had flights to catch or lesson plans to write or puppies to pick up, so the weekend had to end. I hated hugging everyone goodbye - but I'm sure January will be here before I know it and they'll all be back!

Ladies - thank you SO much for an amazing weekend. I'm so very blessed to have such a sweet set of friends. I cannot fully express how much each of you means to me. Can't wait to see you in January!

Til then!

Bachelorette Bingo

This is a collection of my favorites from the weekend, laid out on the board in their respective squares. There were two we struggled to get: Momma & Me (as she was having WAY too much fun with her buddy Rhonda), and Me talking about Paul (which Brittany DID get, but it's in video form, so not included). The full collection is available below (and also on Instagram under the tag #alanasgettingmarried). Enjoy!

A Giant Shoe made out of Shoes


St. Louis Arch


What the What?


Alana’s Ring


Fairy Lights

Gigi being Cute


Someone Laughing til they Cry

"A rose by any other name…"

Alana Caught by Surprise


Favorite Meal

Pretty in Pink


Alana with at least THREE of her Bridesmaids (no posing)


Ten Little Piggies

True Love

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wedding Wednesdays: Bridezillas: A Field Guide

I went into this wedding planning thing confident that I was not in danger of becoming a Bridezilla. In my opinion, that only happened when a Bride was overly spoiled, and, well, I do not consider myself to be spoiled.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Mmmhmm. That’s what they all say.”

But really, even being critical of myself, I wouldn’t call myself spoiled.
  • “Well taken care of?” Yes.
  • “Loved?” Yes.
  • “Blessed?” Yes.
  • “Comfortable?” Yes.
  • “Critical with high standards and and expectations?” Duh.
But not spoiled. I keep my head about me, consider other peoples feelings, and can cope with disappointment and frustration. 

So, like I said, was not at all worried about going crazy. 

My confidence has since waned.  

You see, the problem was my assumption that all Bridezillas were the same; that they were selfish creatures bent on getting their own way, no matter who they had to guilt or steamroll in the process. As I get deeper into the jungle we call “Wedding Planning,” I’ve come to realize that there are multiple kinds of ‘Zillas. While they all exhibit similar traits and tendencies, the three Types have distinct origins and treatability and are definitely not all alike. 

As such, I’ve developed a “Field Guide” (if you will), in an attempt to help everyone else identify, understand, and deal with the slight differences between the Types. My observations and conclusions come from years of studying the species in her natural habitat (as an event planner) as well as my newly acquired first-hand experience.

Before we begin, please consider the following quotes:
  • “Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”
    • Galinda (from the musical, “Wicked”)
  • “Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”
    • Malvalio (from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”)
I use these quotes to highlight the fact that not every ‘Zilla is created equal. Some come by it naturally (Type A), some choose it (Type B), and some (I’d venture to say most) fall victim to it. Let’s look at the types a little closer.

Type A

These are the ‘Zillas that are “born with” the gene. Not in the same way that you might be born with freckles or green skin, but in that way that it’s predestined in your personality and demeanor. In my study, I’ve found that this Type is generally a product of poor breeding (i.e. they’re spoiled). They are also relatively rare (in the big picture).

We all know these girls. We deal with them on a regular basis. We excuse their behavior because they “can’t help themselves it’s how they were raised,” then we complain about them behind their backs. It’s the natural order of things. If you find yourself dealing with this Type, it is likely that you have already accepted her as she is, and therefore are honestly not surprised when the affliction presents itself.

Because of the in-born nature of this Type, their affliction is mostly incurable and irreversible. It’s who they are, it’s who they’ve always been. We must choose either to keep loving them or just admit they’ll never change and move on. Luckily, their affliction is not necessarily more extreme in the throes of wedding planning than it is in normal life, so you may not even notice a significant change.

Type B

These ‘Zillas are those that “achieve” the gene. I’d like to believe that there are fewer of this kind than there are of Type A, but I do not have sufficient data to back up that assumption (on top of the fact that my gut tells me I’m wrong).

These girls are the most difficult to deal with throughout the process. They don’t necessarily surprise us when they turn, but they also no longer reflect their “normal” selves. The issue with this Type is that they’re driven to change. They want it. They work for it. They take their badge of “Bride-to-Be” and milk it for all it’s worth, passing off their behavior as permissible simply because they are “stressed,” “tired,” or “overworked.” (Mmhmm, we TOTALLY believe you. You definitely aren’t just taking this opportunity to be a witch because you have a ready-made excuse.)

For these ‘Zillas, while there's no escaping the crazy in the middle of it, the prognosis is somewhat positive: it’s a matter of getting  through the wedding. Their affliction is short-lived and unsustainable post-vows. Just hang on friends, this too shall pass. (Now…whether you continue to speak with them post nuptially is totally up to you…no one will judge your decision. We’ve all been there, dealt with that.)

Type C

Finally, there are those who have ‘Zilla-ness “thrust upon them.” They show no predisposition, and do not choose to cross over to the dark side, it just happens for some reason. I believe that these are, by far, the most common iteration of the species.

They are your loved girlfriends – the kind no one would expect to “turn” – but then something happens…and it’s like they’ve gotten a bad virus. One day, they’re your sweet, engaged friend, the next they’re threatening to burn down a bakery. It happens without much warning and progresses very quickly.

The up-side to this version of the affliction? It’s highly curable. In all reality, it may not even last more than a few minutes, provided the appropriate treatment steps are taken. The problem is, however, that folks are reluctant to attempt treatment because they’ve been burned before by the stereotypes (or ideas and stories thereof) of Types A & B. She’s frequently left to deal with her condition on her own, which is sad because, in reality, it’s generally not her  fault (much like getting the flu is not the victim’s fault).

Because Type C is so misunderstood, her condition frequently lasts much longer than it should. In an attempt to change this fact and help Type C sufferers everywhere, I’d like to take a closer look at Type C Bridezillas – specifically the symptoms of the affliction, the possible causes, and the related available treatments – so that we might be better prepared to help any we encounter in the future.

Symptoms (could include but are not limited to):
  • insomnia
  • extreme weight gain or loss
  • indecisiveness (when highly advanced, could present as apathy)
  • easily triggered, uncontrollable crying
  • untriggered, uncontrollable crying
  • death threats to family, friends, vendors, random passers-by (followed by uncontrollable crying)
  • inexplicable hatred for certain colors, patterns, cake flavors, or names
  • irrational behavior or outbursts

Causes (could include but are not limited to):
  • egotistical vendor behavior
  • “bridal” price inflation
  • lack of sleep (see symptoms)
  • too many opinions
  • too many options
  • Pinterest pressure
In my experience, the most common cause is egotistical vendor behavior. I’ve heard way too many vendors complain time and time again about Bridezillas that have caused them problems, forcing them  to “add this policy” and “do it this way.” Really? You’re blaming your issues on them? Let’s explore that one a little further.

If you are a wedding vendor, please note the following:
  • You are not the only one capable of doing what you do (you’re likely one of very, very many)
  • You are not the only vendor a Bride will speak to (again, you are only one of many)
  • Brides are paying YOU. You are trying to win their business, not the other way around
  • This time is stressful for her, and she’s likely new at it. Do not expect her to be the expert. Help her, teach her, be patient with her.
  • Make her feel special. Sure, you may see a thousand brides a year, but she only interacts with you once. Make it worth her while. She isn’t a number, a pocketbook, or a hassle.
As both a planner and a Bride, I’ve had far too many interactions with vendors who think they’re the end-all, be-all. In my experience, the ones who acted like they hung the moon were typically far inferior in their output than the vendors who bent over backwards for their Brides.

Here’s a tip: when you’re kind to people, they’ll be kind back.

It’s that simple, guys. Get down off your high horse, stop expecting the Bride to try and win your business, and consider what all she is going through. If you’re too hard to deal with, too snobby, too “we do it this way and no other way so there,” you’re going to get killed by the vendors who treat Brides like friends. Try a little harder. YOUR actions are creating the Bridezillas you complain about.

Okay, off my soapbox now. Back to the subject at hand.

I mentioned earlier that Type C Bridezillas are curable. And, bonus, it turns out it’s relatively easy to treat the symptoms and reverse the condition. Take a look at the available options below.

Treatment (options include but are not limited to):
  • NOT being an egotistical jacka**
  • Hugs (can be administered via pretty much anyone and still achieve the same effect)
  • Chocolate (any variety, really. May also substitute cupcakes or pie.)
  • Flowers
  • Lunch dates (where you don’t talk about the wedding unless SHE brings it up)
  • Tea (Hot or cold. Sweet or unsweet. It's medicine for the soul, y’all)
  • Weekends off (again, where you don’t talk about the wedding)
And most importantly: encouraging words. Wedding planning is hard, y’all. She needs to know she’s doing a good job. She’s likely doubting every choice she makes, every dollar she spends. Remind her that this only lasts for a little while. Remind her to enjoy the little things. Remind her that she is smart, and beautiful, and loved, and important. She needs to hear it. Daily. It never gets old.

Some Bridezillas can’t be cured. But most can. So when you encounter one, don’t just see her condition and assume it’s her fault. Don’t write her off over a few little outbursts or angry words. Hug her, tell her it’s going to be okay, and buy her a cup of tea. It’ll cure her and right the world – and she’ll be forever thankful.

This was not written in an attempt to excuse behavior. There is no excuse for treating people badly. But, mistakes happen and we all snap sometimes. I’m speaking from experience and I know this to be true. So, don't ignore our behavior, but be patient, understanding, and forgive us, please. 


A recovering (and occasionally relapsing) Type C

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Apple Pie Cupcakes

In case you were unaware, October is pretty much the best month ever. Don't even try to argue. Just admit I'm right.

Think about it: cooler weather, football, crunchy leaves, pretty trees, pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, pumpkin shaped Reese's, pumpkins in general, an entire holiday dedicated to free candy,babies in costumes, puppies in costumes, this website, sweaters, scarves, tights, boots...

Oh, and these:

Apple Pie Cupcakes.

Yes, I know fall is the Season of the Pumpkin, but before Pumpkin made it big in the world, Apple had a pretty hard corner on the market - caramel apples, apple crumble, fried apples, and, the pie to rule all pies.

In my world, there is nothing that can top a warm, homemade apple pie. It has all of the good things - it's sweet AND spicy, flaky AND sticky, mushy AND's pretty much perfect.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a way to take all the happy things I love about apple pie, and turn them into an equally fabulous cupcake. After a bit of experimentation, these guys were born. They're now my favorite cakes to make (and, unsurprisingly, my most popular). The best part? They're not super tricky to make! I tend to mix mine up a bit on occasion (using brown butter, combining different kinds of apples, changing up the spice ratios, etc), but the base stays pretty much the same.

I've had several friends ask for the recipe, so here ya go! Enjoy!

Apple Pie Cupcakes

For the Cake
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 c flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c milk
  • Cinnamon & Nutmeg to taste
For the Apples
  • 3 apples
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
For the Buttercream
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 4 c powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • Cinnamon to taste

For the Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar til light and fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. 
  4. Alternately add dry mixture and milk to the butter, beginning and ending with dry. 
  5. Add in cinnamon & nutmeg to taste (you just want a light spice taste, nothing too overwhelming)
  6. Divide the batter evenly among cups and bake 20 min (or til light golden brown). Let cool. 
For the Apples:
  1. Peel & dice the apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture, coating well. 
  2. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add in the apples and fry til soft but not mushy. Set aside.
  3. Once the cakes have cooled, cut a cone from the top of each cake. Fill divot with a heaping spoonful of apples. 
For the Buttercream:
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter til light and fluffy. Add in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add in cream until desired consistency is reached. Beat in vanilla and spices to taste. 
  2. Frost each cake around the apple filling, up the edge but not covering the top. 

Y'all enjoy! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wedding Wednesdays: Expectations vs. Reality

There are over 12,000 books on Amazon about wedding planning. There are “practical guides” and “anti-bride” guides and “DIY” guides and “budget bride” guides and “EVERY LIST YOU’LL EVER NEED FOREVER” guides…pretty much any type of list book/guide book/how to book you could want.

I have yet to find, however, a book about the psychological effects planning a wedding will have on you. THOSE are the kind of books we need! Where’s my “What to Expect when You’re Wedding Planning” book? I mean really. It would help.

I’m not new to this game, y’all. I’ve been planning events for years. YEARS. I love it. I’m good at it. It’s what I do to RELIEVE stress.

Newsflash: Planning your own wedding is VERY different from planning ANYTHING ELSE. I kid you not. I could plan the next Olympics with less stress than I’m under right now. It’s dumb.

Here’s the thing, at the beginning, planning a wedding is all: Bridal magazines! Wedding dresses! Bridesmaids! *gets distracted by new, sparkly ring* Cake tasting! Pinterest! Presents!

Then, a few months in, the crushing reality reality sets in.
  • You realize that everything cost TWELVE TIMES WHAT IT SHOULD (just because someone stuck the word “wedding” in front of it)…and  you have to spend your own money on it.
  • You realize that you know WAY too many people…and simply deleting names off an Excel sheet does not save you from the crushing guilt that follows when you don’t include everyone.
  • You realize that your sweet fiancĂ© is not as apathetic as movie-grooms…he DOES care about odd little nuances and you’ll hurt his feelings if you don’t let him help.
  • You realize that every last extra pound is visible enough to be seen from space…and no matter what you do, YOU CAN’T GET RID OF ALL OF THEM.
  • You start having nightmares about crazy, psychopathic pastors who hi-jack your wedding, kick out your minister, and invite people from the street in to eat your cake.
  • You have anxiety attacks every time you lie down to attempt sleep because you STILL haven’t sent your father an updated budget sheet and you’re pretty sure he’s going to kill you when he sees it.
  • You consider kicking the little old lady in Hobby Lobby because, well, she’s REALLY slow, and you only have twenty minutes before you have to be back at work, and YOU NEED THAT EXACT ROLL OF BURLAP, DAMMIT, PUT IT DOWN NOW!!!
It’s ugly, y'all.

So here's my question: Why don’t we talk about the reality of wedding planning? Why do we let each other believe that it’s fun? Let’s be real for a second, ladies. Sometimes, it kinda sucks. Even (perhaps especially) when you know what you’re doing.

In the spirit of transparency, here’s just a quick snippet of what I’ve learned about the expectations and realities of Wedding Planning.

1. Bridal Magazines

Expectation: These tomes will be the helpers I need to plan my big day!

Reality: Oh wait...

2. Browsing Pinterest

Expectation: I'll be able to find great ideas to help make my wedding personal and affordable!

Reality: Clearly, I will never accomplish anything worthwhile.

3. Choosing Wedding Vendors

Expectation: I will evaluate each vendor objectively and thoroughly before making my decision.

Reality: You lost me at the twelfth filling option...just book it.

4. Making Decisions

Expectation: Yay! I've confidently made a decision and checked something else off my list!

Reality: Umm...Umm...Umm...purple?

5. Getting In Shape

Expectation: I will work out and eat better and it will be AWESOME!

Reality: I'm so tired I cannot move.

6. Body Image

Expectation: My wedding dress will make me feel like a fairy tale princess.

Reality: Nope

7. Organization

Expectation: I will have checklists, organized files, and a logical plan. 

Reality: Whatever

8. The Budget

Expectation: I’ll carefully use my savings and make smart choices.

Reality: It is horrible to limit everyone to one slice of pizza and a donut hole?

9. Productivity

Expectation: This weekend, I will get things done!

Reality: Or, you know...tomorrow?

10. Anticipation

Expectation: I'm getting married!

Reality: I'm also having a giant party where everyone expects me to feed them, entertain them, AND not trip and fall off my 4" heels...