Monday, October 31, 2011

Preparing for the Holidays

You've likely seen the shelves of your local retailers already piling up with the red, green, gold and silver, so why not get your holidays started with this fun new color by Essie?:

Cocktail bling. Croon!

Happy Halloween!

Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold.
~Judith Olney

Wishing you and yours a belly-filled, smile-induced, love and laughter day of tricks, treats and haunts!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tricks and Treats

Ok, so maybe not so much tricks because who has time for those shennanigans, but here are some of the delicious and easy treats I've been whipping up for our many Halloween events this year:

Spooky Spider Cookies (subbing chocolate frosting for peanut butter to hold the eyes on due to peanut allergies)

Pumpkin Bars

Spider Pops

Corn Maze Munch

Cauldron Cheese Ball

All tasty and doable (said the girl who is lucky if she boils water correctly and was also caught shaking cinnamon over a tablespoon for a good 10 minutes this weekend before being told she could remove the cover), these are perfect for whipping up on the go.

Cheers to tricks...and treats. Definitely treats. Yum!

Because, after all, isn't that what Halloween is all about?

Patchin' With the Punkins

“So, what’s your vote – where do you recommend?” my girlfriend asks, a black and orange screen lighting up her face as she scrolled through frantically, searching for just the right spot to visit as part of many KC family’s traditions. Each year we ask the same, researching which pumpkin patch has tried to outdo the other for the season, noting the details based on the age of our children, what special events they’re hosting that weekend, etc. So if you’re looking to squeeze in a last-minute trip to the patch today or perhaps play hooky from work tomorrow to celebrate with the kids, here are the top three I’d recommend:

1. Louisburg Cider Mill
2. Deanna Rose
3. Johnson Farms

Here’s why:
The Cider Mill has everything on-site, is clean, people are friendly and they have a killer general store. You can nab your cider donuts and hoards of candy on site while your kiddo climbs the hay bales, checks out the baby cows and ponies, watches how cider is made, does a little jig to the country band and the grandparents wander through the booths. The pumpkin selection is strong, and you have the choice to easily wander out or take a fun tractor ride. This patch can be super nutty on certain days, so if you can swing a weekday, all the more power to you.

Deanna Rose was the perfect place to take our little punkins with the MOMS group I informally throw together each month, because you not only have the joy of visiting the farmstead and all those activities, but spending some time in their “Pumpkin Hollow.” Though we were surprised by the additional ticket price to enter, you did walk away with three pumpkins, could dig through bins of corn (and throw them at each other if you have little boys), go down a huge slide made of hay bails, fish, put ping pong balls through and maze and more. Perfect for that toddler to pre-school age and in an area where you could almost always keep your eye on them and they don’t get too overwhelmed. Plus the most gorgeous Clydesdales run the tractors out there. Food and drink is always handy, there are tons of families and activities around and even a playground for when they want the ordinary.

Johnson Farms is one we’ve visited for our major trip for the past two years because of the beautiful drive out south, the easy access and smaller crowds. Not to mention the fabulous pumpkin choices and beautiful mums and décor they carry. Plus, if you again have a little boy, they can spend hours watching the dinosaur munch the pumpkins or the man “hook the pumpkins!” from a cannibal over the river. Parents can pick gorgeous wildflowers while kids delight in the super-ugly pig, score a pony ride, see the baby chics and piglets or spend hours jumping on what has to be the largest version of a trampoline we’ve ever seen. The food lines are short, the bathrooms clean and the pre-school play area with fast slides a dream…including a huge sandbox. The tractor rides out are convenient and fast with the ability to throw a wheelbarrow on to return and there’s even a place to measure how tall your child has grown since last year. Don’t forget to hit the apple place on your way out on Holmes for the donuts!

Admittedly, KC Pumpkin Patch was also on our radar this year, but unfortunately we just couldn’t squeeze it in between all the other pumpkin donut downing, cider drinking and finding the perfect orange guy activities we’ve been doing.

So, big city folk, will you make the pumpkin patch a tradition for your family each year with so many great areas to choose from? For us, it’s something we look forward to for the sights, sounds and smiles it brings to our little family…and our bellies and front porches.

Happy patchin’ with the punkins!

WW The Finale: Happily Ever After

And so we come full circle, intimate details left uncovered but still, two weeks later, felt with the heart. The happy couple has returned from Aruba, relaxed and content, and illustrating their true connection by being a pair of die for Halloween:

Thank you again for making us a part of your special day and for all the thoughtfulness, innovation and joy you brought to your commitment, reminding us the magic never ends. If there is one thing that's black and white in all of this (besides the decor of course), it's that you two are perfect for each other, unearthing all that is good within and helping make each other the best versions of know, the happily ever after thing.

Yah, you've got it. We can't wait to see you flaunt it!

Happy wedding, newlyweds!

I, take you, to be my partner, From this day forward, For better, for worse, For richer, for poorer,In sickness and in health, To love and to cherish, As long as we both shall live.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WW Part VI: Practice Makes Near Perfect and Speech Therapy

“Mine’s all,” brags the hubs as I sit hunched over near the computer screen, surprised at my hesitation in word flow as I attempted to throw together my sisterly speech for the rehearsal dinner. “Pffftt – mine is going to kick your little speech’s butt,” I said in a doubtful tone, trying to make it a competition for a little inspiration. But yah, that didn’t help so much either.

I’ve always been envious of those that can create beautiful phrases in their head and then repeat them in a front of a crowd, especially when there is intense emotion involved such as marrying off your adorable little brother and welcoming a fantastical sister. My attachment to words, attention to detail and the will to get it just right for the receiver won’t let my soul venture toward that direction, so jotting it down it is. Even for my role as a facilitator in my daily life, I prepare each agenda with paragraphs of what I may say, rehearse in front of a mirror and hope for the best when the meeting actually arrives. And being a journalism major, pressure and deadlines always help too, so 10 minutes before we had to wake the little dude for our flight to the wedding, the words came in a flurry, and a page and a half of content I was mostly satisfied with was prepared for the bride and groom.

If you find yourself in this dilemma in the future, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Create drafts. There’s nothing wrong with revisions as long as you’re not obsessing, and at a wedding, there’s no shame in toting that piece of paper up there with you so you can be polished and meaningful.
2. Choose a theme our outline. If you narrow your focus instead of trying to cram 25 years together in one speech, it helps keep you on task. For example, mine was on gifts, which could then translate into gift opening and the gifts the two of them are in life and why.
3. Speak from the heart. Funny is fabulous, but the most memorable also includes love and cherished memories.
4. Stay focused on the couple. So many times speech givers are using the word “me” or “I” and making it all about them as they tie to the bride and groom. It’s their day…make that obvious of why that’s so special.
5. Keep it short and sweet: ok, I’m always totally rogue this, but if you can keep it to two minutes or less, that’s fantastic. After all, that is generous given our adult attention spans of today, particularly those with iPhones.
6. Don’t shy from a bit of emotion. You’ll be shocked when you actually get up there in front of family and friends how different it is than public speaking to colleagues or clients. Prepare for choking up and maybe even a bit of tearing and chalk it up to sentiment. People will get it and be moved.
7. Drink adult beverages, but not too many. If it helps calm your nerves, take a swig of the red. But good Gah, don’t get up there and slur your words and sway around as if the reception has already taken place…your credibility and reputation is announced in that moment of poise. Unless that’s something you’re comfortable with, than all the power to ya…acceptance is a beautiful thing.
8. Speak clearly, slowly and loudly. You’ve got killer things to say…make sure they’re heard!
9. Hug and toast at the end. It gets the room involved and ties a bow on your speech, making it clear when to initiate clapping.
10. Send a copy to the bride and groom. If it’s not caught on tape, it’s a great sentiment they cherish from their big day.

And if this isn’t enough for you and you’re still on edge: call me up. If you give me enough detail, I’ll write it for you. I love it, it’s a blast and it helps you out, so I’m in and the bride and groom never have to know. Don’t think it hasn’t been done before…

Speaking of speeches, the Maid of Honor and Best Man did incredible jobs implementing the tactics above, and each even brought me to tears:

The rehearsal was a blast from start to finish, from the ring bearer leaping off the stage time and time again, in total non-compliance with instructions, to the viewing of the get-away car filled with a trunk of beer, to the girls preparing their trek down what felt like a mile-long gravel path, to a I-don’t-know-where-to-park-but-when-we-find-the-restaurant-it-will-be-amazing situation, to tummy-happy delicious food, from embracing family we don't see nearly often enough, to meeting a wonderful family soon to blend with ours, laughing it up with the bride and groom’s super sweet friends and experiencing all the joy and love wrapped up in the happy couple.

Practice made for near perfect…and what a perfect day it turned out to be.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

WW Part V: Dancing, Duds and Décor

You know the ol’ saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Or that attention to detail is what makes something truly spectacular? Well let me tell you: all folks attending this wedding straight up knew and appreciated its beauty and it was the thoughtful innovation, careful planning and passion for life and one another that made this an event all will remember…not to mention the bride’s impeccable taste. Here’s just a sampling of the décor related to creating their vision of ever after:

Pictured: over-sized, unique centerpieces, champagne toast table for those exiting the ceremony into the reception, the farewell wands for send off, giant balloons for pictures and the memorable guest book.
Not pictured: hundreds of things, including the beautiful tree that held guests' place markers, the incredible stage and amphitheater they married in and more.

Perfect for Pinterest, yes? Or maybe a YouTube lesson on “how to create a remarkable wedding?” Straight out of Anthropologie? Ripe for Yes, yes, yes and yes.

From the hand-drawn invitations to the unique boutonnieres, the perfectly crafted arch they married under to choosing a friend to wed them with a tear-inducing speech, it was flawless from start to finish. Truly a breathtaking event!

Speaking of breathtaking, let’s transition over to the less important, but still fun things, shall we: the what we wore look!

My vision for the ring bearer’s rehearsal outfit was that spotted on Pinterest, a newsboy type appeal with the punk accessories that I for the moment believe fit his personality so well. So after discovering some must-have plaid jeans from GAP Kids, we opted for a simple white button down, some Converse Velcro kicks and a pair of suspenders…, which were NOT easy to find. Tip here: order them online…no bridal stores, boutiques or department stores carry them for the wee ones and making your own becomes quite a chore.

The sunglasses? Oh, those are just part of his everyday wear. Including PJ time, until they're carefully slipped off his face around 11 p.m. each evening by his Mommy.

Then there was the sparkly ensem that has quickly become my favorite piece in my little closet, while Mike sported a Brooks Brothers type look that fits him to a T:

Mom opted for a fun animal print skirt coupled with some fun jewelry, while Dad did the sport coat look and the bride, groom and their wedding party looked pull together and fabulous as always.

From start to finish, everyone was looking fab in their duds and enjoying their time in them – and that’s what counts! Even Mom settled on a beautiful gown for the occasion after much consulting, online searching and agony…and she looked gorgeous! And Dad in his tux? Handsome!

Now on to the important people: the bride and groom…perfectly coifed, gorgeous and flawless. I may even go as far to say I’ve never seen a more beautiful bride than she. I mean, look!:

Some might say you can’t go wrong with olive skin, a thin, near-perfect frame, doe-like brown eyes and long, flowing auburn hair, but this gal took the cake. Move over Kate Middleton, for Erica wowed in her classy, lace embroidered, mermaid style gown with a cathedral length veil, lace overlay, light straps that were later removed, a sweetheart neckline, simple jewels, flat sparkly gold shoes and a smile that knew she was marrying the one that day. Each time she turned a corner, delighting in the magic before her, she nearly took your breath away with her natural beauty and striking elegance. And my bro? Not so bad himself in a classic tux, bow tie and that same matching smile that felt comfortable and confident in committing to forever. Perfection.

And the bridesmaids: flaunting cocktail length, one-shoulder dresses that were both comfortable and sassy, matching their moods for the big day:

So what did we do with all this wearing of the cute clothes? Why, dance of course! It was not shocker the Esslinger clan was out on the floor first:

This explains so much about my devotion to shaking my hiney and love of wine.

From the first note to the last, the DJ was a blast, the bride and groom picking the perfect list of songs to get everyone out on the floor, having the time of their lives. The hubs and I relived our college moments (though far less alcohol induced), bouncing around acting like we were in music videos and sweating as if we’d just completed a 5k. Cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws and strangers alike bonded as one, delighting in the frivolity that belongs only to weddings like these. And true to Jewish tradition, there was even a bit of this on the dance floor:

Dancing, duds and décor. Fun, tasteful, classy, thoughtful, breathtaking and flawless. Just like the wedding.


WW Part IV: Bearing the Rings

“Oh my goodness, he’d be honored! Do you want to hold some special, special, rings buddy?” I said through the side of my mouth to the little dude, balancing my iPhone with my shoulder and his weight with my other as he gave me a confused look. “Yes – we’ll do it – and we’ll practice lots!” I confirmed to the bride and groom, committing our then one-year old to ring bearer duties. After hanging up, I began to daydream of all the possibilities this could mean, from sporting an adorable mini tux, practicing “step together, step together” like in “Father of the Bride” and imagining what shennigans he would pull as he made his way to the alter on the big day that always makes the audience laugh.

So a year later, at age two, it all came true and more. And during the process, we learned a few things, like:

1. Buy the tux vs. rent: you save about half the dough and likely for a three and under crowd, it will fit better. And you won’t have to remove those stains they get on them, even if they just sport them for 20 minutes.

2. Cross your fingers the tux rental place is cool. Like ours, for example: they had a beach ball that they let him kick all over the store as we tried each piece on at a time in 30-min increments. Made for a wild Friday evening let me tell you.

3. Order the shoes online. If you have a mini-skinny like my little dude who has short, wide feet, good shoes are hard to find and those rented hard-as-a-rock ginormous ones at the rental place just won’t cut it.. We scored an adorable patent leather pair with flexible bottoms at an inexpensive price in size six at online. In these he can run, jump and play in and adores so much, we frequently find him wandering the house in just a diaper, tee and these.

4. Practice. It doesn’t make perfect, but it sure is a lot of fun. We did the “step together” scene, breaking a few of our own plates along the way (the couple had him carrying a gorgeous dish with the rings) and had hours of fun which resulted in him puffing out his chest with pride and anticipating the big day. Plus you have some cute B-roll to text the bride and groom along the way.

5. Commit to bribery in advance. Talk about the fruit snacks that will wait at the end of the aisle. Have M&Ms on hand when you’re attempting to slap that tux on again and a special drink as he’s forced to “sit quietly” during the ceremony. Or better yet, do what the bride and groom did and have these awesome “distraction tools” that were meant for send-off décor but turned into “keep the ring bearer busy for hours” vehicles.

6. Have a plan A, B and C with one master in command. The whole thing is already totally overwhelming for the wee ones, so let the one he trusts the most (Mom or Dad) be the one barking instructions and giving encouragement. Add in much more and it becomes a complete circus. People mean well in their intentions, but one is truly enough to get through. And have a Vice President, such as Aunt Mary, who is a super woman and swoops in when things start going a little unexpectedly.

7. Have no expectations other than to enjoy the ride. Kind of like parenthood, ya? They’re two for goodness sakes. The rehearsal may go swimmingly (besides leaping and crashing off the stage a few times) and the ceremony will be a whole new ball game (hello – there are hoards of people and violins and stuff!). And wish like crazy the bride and groom (ok and wedding planner) are laid back enough to go with whatever comes of it…like going down on Momma’s hip, down a gravel path and her short dress, putting on Papa’s for a split second, then get whisked away by Aunt Mary to leap on and off the rocks above during the ceremony. Oh – and not even bear the rings. Let’s face it: it was just safer that way! Then, to spend hours avoiding all the hoopla and finding joy in exploring the railings, fountains and not so much those “boring ol’ speeches”, only to make it into one demonstration of “Ring Around the Rosey” and pass out.

And above all: take it all in and embrace it as one of life’s remarkable, amazing moments. Your little guy will never look cuter than on this day, dressed to the nines, experiencing yet another new milestone in his life in whatever way he chooses.

Oh – and hope the photographer gets a really stellar shot because those ring bearers, they’re just not that into sitting still:

Thank you, Ryan and Erica, for making your nephew a part of your special day. It was such a blast and an experience we’ll spend the rest of our lives cherishing. We’d do it a million times over, for you, for him and for all the joy it brings, that bearing of the rings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

WW Part III: Beauty and the Bridesmaids

A true southern beauty with impeccable taste and a golden heart, it should have been anticipated without a doubt that the bride would spoil us rotten. And that she did, from head to toe, tummies included, starting with a gourmet lunch at Bistro Niko:

Quaint, delicious and with a darling server who knew just what Rose’ bubbly to pour for the occasion, this was the bridal party’s first meet and greet, delighting over French food, indulging in the details of the weekend and even gifting the bride with a little something for her trek to Aruba in a few days:

In return, she presented us with the most darling, monogrammed black and white canvas totes filled with Anthropologie goodies including a scarf that goes with everything, a darling silk purse to tote lipstick and cameras during the soiree, dazzling earrings to compliment our dresses, and a grey v-neck tee with a simple heart on the front and the label “Bridesmaid” on the back to sport on our day of beautification. Beyond adorable, it took everything I had not to slip all the pieces on at once, right there among the French cuisine and large crowds.

Delighting in getting to know the girls, including lifetime friends and family and even hearing a few stories I’d likely never would’ve learned of the blushing bride, we made our way into two cars (including a round trip cab ride for some forgotten keys…likely the only party foul of the whole weekend, which was totally minor), to head toward the Sugarcoat Salon, the most darling of places I’ve ever stepped a soapy foot in:

An all-white, vintage-themed shop complete with pops of pink in the most precarious of places, this salon was a delight. Fabulously smelling products packaged in darling wrap, flashy earrings near the front, Havanna flops on the floor, white leather benches complete with big, puffy pillows and marble countertops were just some of the things that made you want to pencil in this place for the rest of your life. Add to that the super-sweet technicians, the variety of hip colors and efficiency of service and the overall mood in the place, and you have a hot spot that earned its title as one of the best. A bit of education on gel polish, lots of sugar scrub, closed eyes and laughter, the gals were beautified from top to bottom, the ‘maids getting dark colors while the bride herself opted for neutral on her might-as-well-be-a-hand-model nail beds.

Relaxed and ready, it was the perfect time to fit seven in a sedan and head our separate ways to dress for the fun rehearsal ahead. Better yet it was a perfect time to connect with these girls, providing us the opportunity to become more than strangers and celebrate the love we so obviously share for the amazing bride.

So thank you, Erica and the rest of the bridesmaid crew, for the fabulous day from start to end. What a gift to get to know and have a blast with those that mean the most to my new sister-in-law and to set the tone for the rest of the weekend, from the first hello to the last sweaty embrace on the dance floor to now quickly becoming FB friends and tagging in photos. And let’s not forget, as a gal who not-so-secretly adores gifts, the amount of gratitude for the super-fun package. It’s not even been a week and I’ve accessorized with the scarf and purse three times, wore the tee to bed and toted the tote to the gym. Love!

Bridesmaids and beauty: hands down one of the most fantastic parts of the weekend. It’s a girl thing!