Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life as "Elf"

"Alright kiddos, what movie shall we start with for the holiday season?" I asked, shoving aside all the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown madness to make way for the new holiday.

"ELF!!!" they shouted, twisting their bodies across the couch and quickly moving to a wrestling match.

As I began to watch, I pondered if they like it so much because it resembles their lives, or if it's just that a potty word or two gets thrown in there.

Either way, Will Ferrell and friends nail much of what is everyday in the C house:

1. My children could live on syrup, candy and spaghetti as their major food groups. And me? On that special stuff that gets poured into the coffee cup in the mail room.

2. Agenda making is my number one hobby, even if it's in a Condren vs. an Etch-a-Sketch.

3. Any time I try to hold an adult conversation, it's met with "I painted you a butterfly!" or some other spectacular announcement.

4. My love for Christmas is real.

5. Buddy's affinity for sparkles can only be matched by mine.

6. I'm generally always the biggest one in the room, but with confidence, I can generally shake it.

7."I just like to smile. Smiling's my favorite."

8. Pop up clowns are just scary.

9. When the going gets tough, I too hop an Nordstrom.

10. Can't sing.

11. I live with small children who break things as large as TV stands. Difference: they smack each other with it vs. building toys with the pieces.

12. Force family fun is my forte.

13. I love fiercely. And protect my loved ones from snowball bullies.

14. Still scared of the furnace, despite understanding its monstrous purpose.

15. My brother and I still thrive on laughter and shenanigans.

16. Hugs rule. And fix everything.

17. While at work, I frequently consider myself a cotton-headed ninny muggins when trying to keep up with all that talent and timelines.

18. Riding an escalator still invokes fear of falling. Every time.

19. Most of what I set out to do ends up with chaotic results.

20. Firm believer there's room for everyone on the nice list.

What have you cued up on the Netflix for your family to watch so far this season? Happy snuggling!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mart Mania!

"Water. Cross body. Cash. Smiles. Sustenance. Game plan. Let's do this!" I exclaimed excitedly to my  Mom, the dawn of one of our favorite days of the year upon us. Climbing into her sedan, we shared stories of our week and anticipated all we were going to find at this year's Holiday Mart. It was the perfect way to start a day of PTO aka "national shopping holiday."

The list included things like teacher's gifts, gems, gourmet holiday decor and of course, anything you can monogram. Top of the pile: things for our new niece/granddaughter. Tutus, bloomers, sassy monograms and sparkly shoes? Yes please. Holiday Mart just took on a whole new purpose.

Arriving to pumpkin donuts literally sitting in a frier, we carbed up and got on our way. Lane 1 did not disappoint. Nor did the dozens of rows to follow:

The edibles: raspberry compote, aged Wisconsin cheese, sweet ham sticks
and enough dips to whip up in a pinch when entertaining or for hostess gifts this holiday
Don't forget the cherry salsa and chocolate covers cherries! 
The wearable: this week's styling event claimed camo is still all the rage.
Therefore this countoured, comfy piece came home to pair with
jeans or plum pants. 
The Giftable: my brother's Georgia loving family will love
this add for their corn hole game. 
The Giftable: perhaps my favorite find of the day is this mug. When days are tough,
my boss and I give each other a certain look and utter the one word listed
above. The accuracy of this mug for her is profound and personal. Plus she obviously
needs the koozie for after work for managing our team.
More wearables: truths for me and the hubs. You can guess which belongs to who.

The girlable: upon meeting our new niece, she shall dress in this
ridiculous, not at all useful but quite adorable ensem. Because aunts can.
More edibles: throw in some sour cream and you have your appetizer!
When you get a moment to yourself, enjoy a warm cup of white hot chocolate
by the fireplace. Yum.
The accessibles: nieces need bows and I need hair cute patterns and bright
colors. Mave jewelry offers unique, simple pieces with slight edge. The ring on the
left is like Kendra with a twist and the bracelets on the right are perfect
for adding to a stack. Not pictured: a fun bangle with my kids' birthstone
and I added a "L." Five-percent of the bangle purchase went to human trafficking.
The girlable + baby: a personalized frame that matches the nursey and a blanket
to accent the past baby shower theme. Plus a little fox from a fabulous
personalized ornament shop for an upcoming baby shower.
The house accessible: a few unique pieces to add to our KC themed basement.
11X14 pics that will fit into IKEA frames.
The shootable: rifle type toy guns that don't look real, include a laser pointer
so the cat can also get involved and the loudest of sounds. Every boys' dream.
It's been non-stop since they came home - including a 6 a.m. battle. Consider
keeping these at the grandparents house!

My Mart marathon buddy - love you Mom!
For those of you headed out today, text me for details on booth names and price if that's helpful. Enjoy and wear comfortable shoes!!! We were a bit slowed by a much-needed bootie change mid-way. I guess that's she way marathons go, huh?

A few changes I think were different this year that may help you prepare:

1. Parking is the same, but there are some road closures. The valet was wide open in the morning, but a long wait to get your car at the end of your journey.

2. Consider bringing your own bags: this year the maps and bag you used to receive at the entrance are now at the Junior League booths. You can get a cute red bag for $1 or a free plastic Charming Charlie one for all of your things. Warning: people will constantly ask you where the Charming Charlie booth is and it's just a sponsorship.

3. Eat up! A huge improvement - now there are food trucks in there! Gyros, fried donuts, loaded fries, salad, booze, BBQ and even sushi. A big step up from the hall food. The Bartle stands are still open.

4. Squeeze in! The aisles are a bit tighter this year. Prepare to fight your way to the sparkly gem you have your eye on.

5. Prepare for iPhone payment: almost every vendor had their iPhone to accept card payments. Many times they were down and required cash. Have those dolla bills ready!

6. Put your feet up! More seating is available plus a cozy couch when it's half-time.

Now grab your shopping buddy and go! And don't forget to share what you found afterward. I'll be hear grieving all the fun is over.

Happy holiday marting!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Commuting Conundrum

"When I was a recruiter, we looked for drives that were no more than 25 minutes," my girlfriend shared, her tone light and supportive as she stared at my sullen face. It was our usual run to Quick Trip, where we indulged in loads of tea and swapped stories of our mornings at work. In other words, a mental health break.

That morning it took me close to 90 minutes to arrive at work. The night before it was nearly an hour before my little ones were tucked close in my arms with a welcome home hug. The next day it was 60 minutes in and another solid 48 to get home. Today was the regular 10 minutes of me complaining about it to anyone who would listen.

My commute - it's a conundrum. And I need help.

From here, it's either uproot from what's our almost dream home (that we've lived in for 9 months) to improve our quality of life, but risk removing our son from an amazing school system, friends he adores and sports teams where he feels like a star. Or it's altering an already complicated schedule, bogged down by two working parents, schools 30 mins apart and workplaces even further. Perhaps it's just changing perspective, drinking a favorite bev on the way and enjoying a podcast or catching up with friends on the phone (Bluetooth of course). Leaving a career I thrive in doesn't seem like an option, that's for sure. Maybe it's just accepting it and changing focus to how amazingly lucky I am with a healthy, growing family, a job and team I adore, the kind of mommy neighbors you only dream of and more.

But friends - I'm paralyzed. Stuck in the death spiral of the commute. In near tears from the rat race of what is 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. in our home. Loaded with guilt, not knowing what to expect, bitterness, frustration and at times, rage. I'm gaining weight, feeling in a funk, arriving to work and returning to home in a foul mood and just not myself. Over a drive. Not acceptable. I mean, my life is pretty damn good.

Except for that drive. But I digress.

So whatcha got? Advice, tips, experiences? I'll take them. Before I'm driven even more looney tunes.

PS: I get that for my big city pals, this is child's play. But KC - we're an anywhere in 15 mins or less in our SUV kinda city. :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sexy Safety

"Wait, you don't carry your ID with you when you're jogging?!" my brother and sis-in-law stared at me in disbelief, most likely calculating the number of times I couldn't find my way out of a box. We were about to go our separate ways on one of Georgia's more prettier parks, which included lack of signs to maintain its beauty. I could see them already slightly panicking about where they may have to pick me up once I took a wrong turn. This is all fair - I barely make it to my best friends' homes without Siri.

Couple this with a mild heart condition, race training underway and general lack of planning when I hit the trails, these two were right - I should carry an ID. But this to-do item generally falls under the "sh*t I should do but never seem to remember or get to"...kind of like "eating healthy," "winterizing the furnace" and "filing papers."

So, being the kind, wonderful people they bro and SIL took care of it for me.

A friendly text banter with the two told me to expect a small package on Thursday, which is always a delight. Any personal mail, even if it was a forgotten item during our recent visit, is welcome and enjoyed. The day arrived and hence the adorable package with witty marketing, a solid case and a gift so thoughtful, I had to have a little welling of the water behind the eyes.

Among the catchy packaging lay a small silver disk that slides and stays perfectly over my beloved Apple watch band. Etched on it is my name, my emergency contacts, the first responder code for my heart condition and the quote "Make each moment count." It's meaningful, well-constructed, innovative and incredibly useful. And to have someone care so much about your safety to send a gift like this for no reason was truly heartwarming.

There's a plate for nearly any device - check out the RoadID site to see them all in their glory. It's the perfect gift for someone you love or a person you just flat out worry about.

Plate yourself up or do so for a loved one today - they'll thank you for it. And they'll look knowledgable and cool while they're doing it...

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Epic Summer

"Alright buddy, what do you think we should stick on the list this year?" I asked our oldest, a rainbow of markers laid out on top of a stack of white paper. It was late May and per Choate family tradition, it was time to put forth our wishes for the summer ahead.

The six-year-old's looked something like: go to Scheels, swim 100 times, Worlds of Fun, plant a garden and have a water gun fight.

His mom's looked a bit like: learn to tie shoes, ride a bike and swim. Oh, and have oodles and oodles of fun in the way of later nights and starlit picnics.

I'm happy to say, we accomplished nearly all of the above.

Sitting here on our moonlit porch, the cooler breeze swaying overhead, I marvel at how extraordinary our ordinary was this summer. The conversations we had on the driveway. The snuggles on the outdoor couch. The laughter that started at 6 a.m. and was still very real more than 12 hours later. The friends we met for hours of water fun. The sports we played in the sweltering heat. The dozens of small soirees we had in our new home. The pilates we did by the poolside. The shows we caught in parks. The farmers' markets we visited for fresh flowers. The wishes we made in fountains. The pals we met for happy hours. The bubbles we ran in for a 5k.The trip to the lake and MN, long walks with the dog and endless family fun.

And the learning - oh the learning.

As of yesterday, the Big guy has a new pair of Nikes he promptly laces himself. He swam a 150 yard breast stroke and practically did the 100 IM in the neighborhood pool. Not to mention the near hour he looked like a little Lance out there on the track on his new 20" wheels. Just mere months before, this was all just a twinkle in our eyes.

And the little one - he's thriving at a new school, finding new ways to say hilarious things and giving the warmest of hugs that any stranger would even long for. His feet are two sizes bigger and his heart is still the size of Texas.

So as we tuck in our first-grader this evening, kiss our preschooler on the head, and share a moment of silence, may we always remember this season full of promise come true. We feel like the luckiest, most grateful people in the USA.

Now that's a gold medal kind of summer. May yours have been the same!

A Fun Find

"Yeah, I'm not sure what all it includes, but her pics sure looked like her boys were having a great time," I said lightly to the husband as we worked to convince our own sons that wrestling time needed to move to the great outdoors. It was 10 a.m. on a Sunday and they'd been up since six. In our house, this is the "witching hour," where snacks are needed and enough playing has already happened that it's fight or flight for the parents. From here it's either take them out to run them ragged or pretend you can accomplish chores without screaming at one another or locking yourself in the bathroom.

Shrugging a sling bag over my shoulders (water, 'screen, shoes the toddler won't put on, change of clothes, snacks), we loaded into the car and headed south, answering questions of how far we were on our journey and pointing out every digger along the way. Twenty minutes later we arrive, a blue sky lit against a rainbow of primary colored metals and ropes. Not to mention natural looking logs, springs of shooting water and gaggles of people with smiles plastered on their faces.

For parents with young kids, this was utopia.

The boys squealed with delight, forming their plans of what they'd tackle first as they raced their way toward the fun. Parking was easy despite the large crowd and each child seemed to have went for the water first, delighting in the anticipation of when each pop of liquid that would head their way. Next, the big guy went for the unique swings, all perfect for his size, comfortable and new. The two found their way to a sort of merry-go-round next, aiding in their parents getting in a few extra steps on the fitness tracker as well. Best of all, they spent nearly an hour in the "nature walk," a small nook where they could toss rocks, poke sticks, dig in the sand and pump water down a cascading fall. It was a camp ground right in the middle of suburbia.
Two hours later, it still took some bribery to pull them away. Couple that with a couple of rumbling tummies and a favorite restaurant up the way, it wasn't too difficult, but moments after the meal finished, they were asking for the park again.
Twelve hours later the Big and I returned as a sort of last day of summer soiree, where he spent hours speed racing his way around a track big enough for a six year old to feel like an Olympian and small enough for a mom to feel secure while she lounged in the sun nearby. A tear escaped my eye as I marveled at what the summer had brought and the joy that was this park. So much laughter. So much sunshine. So much joy.

Thank you, Overland Park, for bringing us this little gem. And friends, let's meet at Roe Park soon, shall we?

Monday, July 25, 2016

What'd You Get?!

"C'mon Mom, let's take a few laps. This is an athletic event after all," I chided to her, a grin of disbelief mixed with excitement crossing her face. After taking a few selfies in front of the "Nordstrom Anniversary Sale" sign, grabbing some tea and watching the clock for that starting time, we were ready. Mom even had her new sneakers on for the race...

And race we did, delighted that the metal doors slide open just a few minutes before 10 a.m. With a game plan tucked under my arm, we did purses first, then jewels, shoes, kids and juniors, just as planned. And boy did we feel like we were coming in first with these finds:
Thalia bag by Sole Society - for those hand-free
days and it resembles the Chloe - for only $35!

Kate Spade Spencer Court-Caren bag - in plum!
Simple to get into and still carry all the stuff for the boys,
while still looking elegant and classy. 

Sam Edelman flats to go with all that black and white
for work! Plus, there are tiny spikes on the heel. AND
they are comfortable. Swoon!

Vince Camuto boots. For jeans, dresses and everything in between.
Great, neutral color and so comfy. Better buy something other than
athletic socks this year or those bad boys will show through...

Because there can never be enough Kendra Scott in the world...

Party in your ears?! Yes please. Thank you,
Kate Spade.

Little twist on the timelessness from KS as well.

By Barefoot Dreams, this baby will go on immediately
after I walk in the door from work.
So soft, so delightful, so yum.

Because we missed a size in hand-me-downs this winter,
a fun Northface for Liam

Scored this one in pink! Soft, easy to wash and perfect
weight for errands or morning runs this fall. By Zella

Again, there can never be too much Kendra. My first silver pieces!
Considering we're not card holders and therefore no early access (one of the pitfalls of being married to a finance guy), we thought we cleaned up pretty well. Mom nabbed some super cute red tennis and I still haven't heard what she found on round two.

Don't even ask me to publish the list of what I actually want if money were no option. But darn it, those kids gotta eat! At least I'll be serving them in my new fuchsia flats with sparkling jewels...

It's been so fun to see the sale explode online and check out what others are purchasing. The superficial yet incredibly delightful indulgence is sometimes just what a person needs. Hope you've had some good juju too!

Make yourself happy. Visit the Nordy's Anni sale by August 8. Then let me know what you got!

Flu Flicks

"Oh man, I'm on day three. Please text me something interesting about the outside world," I wrote my girlfriend who was braving a Monday at the office. Admittedly, I'd rather be there vs. tucked in for yet another day full of naps, Amazon movies and closed blinds. And though this sounds like every mom's dream once in awhile, it's much more delightful when the flu isn't involved. When your husband isn't studying for the biggest exam in his life. When you're not missing your boys ("Mommy's got the germ touch!) and another fun social plan on the books. Blah.

But if there is one good thing that has come from coping with the flu, it's inspiration from catching up on hours and hours of movies. Between the darkness in the media the last few weeks and working in behavioral health, this virus may have sorta been just what I need to shift the ol' brain. Here's what I've been watching and what I remember about each between naps:

1. Miracles from Heaven: break out the tissues! After round eight of tears, I marveled at how true to life the story was and the unconditional love we have for our children. For the gut instincts we have as parents, the need to fight in the healthcare system and that faith can take you far. That children are curious, pure and magical little people and that Garner is the flawless girl next door. The movie made living on a farm in Texas look like he most loving place on earth and that even the most laid back, handsome husband can still cause you grief. It made me miss my career working with children's hospitals and reminded me that those who serve pediatric patients are simply the best. It seriously left me inspired to be a better mom and wife. And yes, it stressed me out the sick child never wore a seatbelt in the back seat. I can't help myself. A must see!

2. Hot Pursuit: made it through 24 minutes and just had to stop. Just stop. Reece: this wasn't you! How'd you get roped into this one? Hokey, obnoxious, bad acting and lame story. Skip!

3. We're All Fine: kinda dark, as it raised my biggest fears that when my boys run off and marry, they'll find any excuse not to wander or call home. It calls into question we constantly ask ourselves on how we're parenting, what our kids will carry with them and will they turn out alright. How when they are adults, everything changes. DeNiro was as lovable as always and in the end, there's a spark of family magic.

4. The Words: first, Bradley Cooper is in it, so there's a win right there. Second, it revolves around the art of writing. It stretches you to think about ethics, the choices you make in life and what love can be. I marveled at how sweet their marriage was and thought "I should be more like her." Oh, and not steal anyone else's work. If journalism is your thing, I think you'll enjoy it. There's a few too many stories running at once, but hey, it keeps it quasi mysterious. It may also make you worry that someone as beautiful as Olivia Wilde could sweep your husband off his feet.

5. Everything Must Go: definitely not your usual Will Ferrell flick. Slow and depressing. I watched the first 25 minutes, then forwarded to the last 10. Even the ending was just kinda...sad. Too much of what's really going on in marriages, addiction and real life these days. The only bright spot was the difference he sorta made in the life of his lonely neighbor child. Don't download.

6. Burnt: delightful! This undomestic goddess has zero interest in cooking. By the end, I really...wanted Bradley Cooper to be our family chef.  It was intriguing to imagine a chef's life, made you assess the importance of food and what it all really means. The emotional connection to building a community and second chances was also a good message.

7. The Age of Adaline: though a bit unrealistic, every Pisces loves a romantic film. Lively is the girl you always want to be, for her looks, grace and zen character. She's mysterious, wise and has the class of women that was so relevant to the past. It takes you into pieces of history that anyone can appreciate and the opening and closing guy does an excellent voiceover. The relationship with her dog and daughter is something every woman can understand. Worth a review!

8. While We're Young: a bit more "artsy" than my regular collection of brainless films, this one was kinda fun. It left you considering what it means to age, what you're settling for and what you want to try in life. Stiller was his normal, hysterical yet funny self and the hipster couple is so relevant to who you meet today. It may inspire you to get unstuck, or just to be grateful for where you are on your journey.

9. Men, Women and Children: I wasn't in the mood. It felt too negative about family life and so focused on porn. I couldn't get into that head space in the moment. Went for 11 minutes. Pass.

In between these, there was a bit of Rizzoli & Isles (love their friendship with a bit of mystery!) and a smidge of the Today show and some blog reading. Needless to say, I'm waiting for my body to catch up on healing because my mind is about to turn to mush.

Also discovered in this three day bedrest: love of LuLaRoe leggings, iPad technology, red Gatorade, Sleep Number beds, Dave Brubeck on Pandora, watchful pets and a supportive husband.

So next time you're laid up, consider one of these flicks. They may be good (or not so good) for more than the flu.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Touch of Green

"Wow, it's really coming together! HOW long have you lived here?" a guest asked, taking a look around at all the accessories that I'd frantically placed in the living room just a mere few hours before.

Thanks to my amazing Mom, friends with great taste (here's looking at you Andrea) and a deadline of hosting a baby shower, the family room has started to piece together. A quick stop at NFM resulted in the perfect chair, with just enough oomph of personality and comfort to bring some character. Next up was the sofa table, a unique blend of metal and woods and the ideal spot for Matchbox races. Both were excellent price points for our active family and completed the furniture quota for the room.
Finally, there was a need to fill all those cute little vases I had stuck in every nook and cranny. On a limited budget and not knowing where to start, I hit the usual haunts of Hobby Lobby, Target, Michaels and IKEA. Striking out there, I remembered that Featherstone had some great accessories in the past, so ventured out with fingers crossed. And thank goodness, because we had quite a bit
of luck:
A succulent that forever lives coupled with a fun little wishbone for good fortune
Can't get this pic to rotate, but you get the idea - a
flourishing welcome to the home with these fresh sprigs
Some flare for the mantle
A little height to accent the dining room art
Wild greens to mix up the structured table and
hydrangea balls to soften the hardware

A room that's starting to feel warmer and ready for family lounging

Moving into new construction means starting with a beautiful blank state, making it fun to innovate and create. Grabbing some greens is the perfect way to start warming it up without committing to a level like drilling holes in walls. Even better, there's options for those with no desire or ability to keep actual green things alive at an affordable price.

Next up, we may get brave and try for a fiddle leaf fig for behind that chair and a live house plant for the corner of our eat in kitchen. We'll see...

A touch of green: good for the soul and the home.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Date Night

"Honey - they just posted Parents' Night Out - we're in!" I half-shouted into the phone, the opportunity for a date night after a few fun but intense weeks sounding more than delightful. "I call dibs on you planning!"

That plan he made turned out to be oodles of fun - out of the ordinary, affordable and in a part of town we rarely venture to in our more "mature state" of life (read: exhausted parent/worker people).

We started at Char Bar in Westport, my fear of barely keeping my lids open fading away as I enjoyed one of the best brewskis that have ever touched my tastebuds. We followed that with perhaps a top five favorite meal around town (holy cheesey hushpuppies!),  porch swings, bags to toss and excellent people watching. It was an excellent entrance to an enjoyable, laid back evening.
Since we were already in Westport, hitting Murray's was a no-brainer, despite the lack of tummy room to hold all the goodness. Move over intestines, there is mint chocolate chip to be had!
We closed with something we've never done in our 15 years together, which was to catch an improv show at the Kick Theater. Tucked in a dark corner of a coffee shop, air barely venting through and a slightly rowdy crowd, we weren't sure what to expect. But several minutes in to the announcer pumping us up, a killer MC for the night and meeting the comedy crew, we were hooked. The humor and talent of those folks to constantly think on their feet and be funny was pretty baller. There is one skit that still makes me laugh today, which involved a "pick me up" theme with rounds of role playing strippers, a dad trying to take his kids to TCBY and a constipated lady. Needless to say I was in tears.
We closed the night feeling fat and happy, which I vote is always a win. So if any of this is newish to you, give it a shot. It just might be the comedic relief of a date night you need.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Never Shop Again

For clothes at least. Because Abby Wood should do it for you. You're not longer qualified...

It started out innocently enough, the daunting task of her finding me the perfect fitting jeans. It spiraled into incessantly texting her about what exactly should go over my winter formal, then quickly ended up into a three-page email of requests.

Then, there was our appointment.

Oh, our appointment...swoon!

After several Stitch Fix bombs (everyone my size was wearing the same thing around town, then they sent the "totally 80s" box and not in a good way), my eye was drawn to the many compliments floating around on Abby Wood Wear's Facebook page. An old sorority sister with the greatest of smiles and warmed of hearts, I began to follow her on Pinterest and marveled at how she could coordinate the simplest ensems. After becoming a mom and hitting my mid-30s, I yearned for that effortless, comfortable, wearable look that was still trendy, and simply didn't know how to do it. Couple that with body image woes and an unhealthy love of accessories, and I was ready for help.

The idea of working with a stylist was very new to me, and something I thought only people with a lot of money and a thin frame could pull off. Instead it's been quite the opposite, with affordable packages and ensems that fit YOUR frame. In other words, I suddenly became a size 14 that still looked and felt like all the beautiful single-digit-somethings around me, even sporting some of the latest trends, all while building a wardrobe that would work from 9-5 and 5 to, er...midnight!

The final result: only about 4 tops and 6 pair of pants from my original collection and a whole lotta new tops, dresses and even a swimsuit that fit my new style. Each morning, it's no longer an emotional, drawn-out game of what to sport - it's just grab n' go. Because it all goes together, feels great and inspires happy all day long.

You know why? Because Abby picked it for me! Here is how I chose to work with her, and couldn't be happier with the results:

1. Define your goal. Are you shopping for a specific event? To find some new things to pair with your favorites? A complete ensem makeover?

2. Name your budget. Consider Abby's costs and what you want to spend on clothes in this round, particularly if the Anthros and Nordstroms of the world are your fav.

3. Review her packages. Choose if you want her to shop for you virtually or in person, or shop together. For me I looked forward to connecting with her and having the whole experience. Nothing is more exciting than entering a fancy dressing room with racks of clothes, sparkling water, a big ol' mirror and piles of accessories. Plus you can hash it out ad nausea and have some fun along the way.

4. Have a pre-styling appointment. Meet her at TLoft to review your goals and answer any outstanding questions she may have so she can be most effective in choosing clothes for you. Plus she generally picks up the tab - ha!

5. Have her over to audit your closet. She'll kindly tell you what to keep, toss or donate, then use what you have to pair your new pieces together to make multiple outfits.

6. Review the Pins she posts for you. She'll create your own board for consideration on Pinterest based on your goals. You'll dig through them and leave little notes on what you do and don't like or ideas to consider. She'll evaluate and use your feedback on her shopping journey.

7. Shop! For me, she did her pre-work at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack with Anthropologie as a strong third location. Given my limited budget and preferences, we started at Nordstrom and I of course fell in love with my entire budget in one swoop. Here, we combed through the racks of items she had selected and talked through them first, then she helps dress you like the days you searched for your wedding gown. Assessing as she goes, she cuts the pile, you create yours, and wa-la - your new wardrobe is ready for the next year's wearing!

It's the most I've ever spent on material items in one sitting outside of furniture, a house, vehicle...that sort of thing, but again, it's not something I will have to do again anytime soon (darn!). Our trip completely supplied me with versatile work and fun outfits for week, the perfect items for my upcoming vacation and some great basics I'd not been able to effectively find on my own. I even tested it by wandering through Nordies a week later and selecting the items I would've chosen for myself, tried them on and found them not nearly as appealing as what she had pulled.

I can't wait to do undies, accessories and athletic wear next!

One of my favorite ways to use her is a minimal cost, and includes shooting her a text, email or pic message where she quickly responds with links on where to shop or how to pair what with what. It's practically become a standing budget item in our house, and some days I wonder how I walk out the front door in clothes without her...

Abby Wood: look her up, check her out and shop away. You won't regret it.