Friday, August 31, 2012

My Wedding Planning: Bridal Accessories

Having a winter wedding allowed me to wear some exceptionally beautiful accessories (if I do say so myself). Not that I couldn't have worn beautiful accessories if I'd had a summertime wedding. But there's something about wintertime that begs for dramatic pieces--feathers, rich colors, fur. I loved choosing these special items for my wedding day.

Finding the perfect shoes was easier than I thought it would be. I found these shoes online, months before the wedding, and they were even on sale! I thought the poof on top was whimsical and wintery, and the color was bold and fun. The pointy toe made them dressy, even though the heels weren't incredibly high (which was good, because I'm tall as it is, and I wanted to be comfortable for a night of dancing!). 

My hairpiece, which I wore for the reception after taking off my veil, was SO much fun to wear. Would you believe it if I told you that it was handmade by my sister-in-law? As my bridal shower gift, she was sweet enough to make a few different styles and she let me pick my favorite. They were all lovely but this was the most stunning. She even graciously added the feathers (a feature of one of the other pieces) for an even more glamorous, snowy look. Isn't she so talented?

Photos by Noah Zinsmeister

And now for the all-important wedding jewelry. For a while, my husband and I wanted to design a pair of earrings for our special day. We thought it would be fun to create a piece that would become a family heirloom. I had a vision of rose gold and rose quartz and diamond (or crystal) teardrop-shaped earrings. But all of the jewelry stores we visited quoted us extremely high prices, and none of them seemed to really understand the look we had in mind.

The summer before our wedding, my mom and mother-in-law and I were shopping in a small boutique in my hometown and I found the earrings you see below. These were the exact shape I wanted, and so I decided to buy them as a model for the ones I (still) wanted to design. I thought it would be easier for a jeweler to understand what we wanted if they had a model, and I hadn't given up yet on my desire to make my own!

When we got home, I tried them on with my veil and both my mom and mother-in-law said "Wow. Forget using these as a model--these are your wedding earrings!" And they were right--they were simple and understated, yet so dramatic.

The bracelet I bought online from Othelia Grace, a vintage-inspired bridal boutique. (I think they have recently re-designed their shop--I was not able to find this bracelet or any others online, just necklaces and earrings and headpieces).

I don't have any photos of my rings, but I'll share the story on them. They are a mix of old and new--my engagement ring is a solitaire round diamond in a low setting with a delicate band, and it belonged to my husband's great grandmother. My wedding band was custom designed and made for us in New York's diamond district (I got my jewelry-designing wish after all!). The band has micro-pave set diamonds and a gentle curve, made to fit around the low-set diamond on my engagement ring. I adore these rings and the special ways they came to be mine.

The purse I carried (actually, my maid of honor carried it!) was a Nordstrom find. It was the perfect dusty rose color, and matched the bridesmaid dresses and my shoes. I was glad that I thought to buy a purse--I needed a spot for my lipstick and lip gloss, my cell phone, some oil-absorbing sheets that all the girls used in the limo before going into the church, and bobby pins. And this Versace Bright Crystal perfume was a wedding gift from my sweet husband. He told me later that when I walked down the aisle to meet him at the altar, the lovely perfume scent wafted over him.

Finally, here is a shot of my wedding veil and the fur coat I wore to and from the church. The veil was a simple as can be--a two-tiered oval cut veil with a raw edge. I did not want any beading or piping or lace on my veil as I was aiming for an ethereal look. I wanted the edges to simply disappear! And the fur coat was my "something borrowed". A family friend had gotten married the previous December and she wore this precious little shrug. I was so happy to borrow it from her--especially because my husband and I walked the 5 or 6 blocks from the reception to the hotel we stayed in that night, and it was a little chilly!

I would love to hear from you--what were your special wedding accessories? What do you plan to wear, if you're a bride-to-be?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 4

Now, as a refreshing, happier, more hopeful alternative to the guidance offered by Hanna Rosin in yesterday's post, here is my final post on The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After. I highly recommend to all of you who have enjoyed these posts to go read the book yourself!

After finishing this book, I'm left with a real feeling of admiration for its author, Elizabeth Kantor. In this book, she has done what I consider to be a very difficult thing in today's world: she has urged women to play by different rules. She has latched onto what women want the most (to be loved fiercely) and showed us the most extraordinary, achingly beautiful ways that Jane Austen heroines find it. She has analyzed what makes men and women different, and she has developed guidelines to finding the man who will bring out our best qualities, and who we can inspire to be the best version of himself. She has shown modern women how we, too, can behave with Elizabeth Bennet's dignity and wisdom, with her thoughtful consideration and her open heart.

And she has directed this advice specifically at a generation of women (I know, I'm part of it) who are so often told that marriage and children are overrated; that relationships can be all about fun and low commitment; that self-control is something of the past and no longer necessary; that being an independent woman is what will ultimately bring us happiness. In other words, we are told to play by this generation's rules.

This book takes the hard way out, and urges women to play by different rules. It's not fluffy advice--it's never easy to swim against the tide, and Kantor makes it clear that to find the kind of Jane Austen heroine-level love that is within our grasp, we must swim against the tide:

"But through all the vicissitudes and complications, you follow those real, original rules for finding happiness in love. You keep your distance until getting close is warranted by unmistakable signs that you're the guy's object of pursuit. You don't offer him "unsolicited proofs of tenderness." You weigh his character, and you determine his intentions. You pace the progress of your own falling-in-love as carefully as you can. And having determined 1) that he's seriously interested in you, and 2) that he's worth loving--not just for his fine figure and the beautiful grounds of his Derbyshire estate, but for his character, too, that is, what he's really like as a person--you decide that you love him. Or at least that you could, if he loves you. But you don't blurt it out to him, and you don't start scheming to rush him into commitment. You wait for him to catch up to you--and you do that very uncomfortable waiting in the full knowledge that he may not. You don't let yourself depend on his love until he gives you the unmistakable evidence that he's stepped out of present-bound views into the kind of love that comes so naturally to you as a woman--love that makes him as eager as you are to offer you a permanent commitment, and secure one from you."

These are not always easy suggestions to follow. But the rewards? They will be enormous:

"And when he finally tells you he loves you that way, you're blissfully happy. Because what the hero offers the Jane Austen heroine isn't just a big step toward happily ever after, or one part of what she's longing for. It's the whole ball of wax: love, sex, marriage, real mutual respect grounded in knowledge of each other's characters, children, shared financial resources, a family of her own."

[If you missed the other parts in this series, you can find them here: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3]

Monday, August 27, 2012

Is This Really Progress?

I really enjoy reading The Atlantic, partly because so many of its articles go deeper than reporting current events, and its writers tend to explore important cultural trends and controversies that matter. In the last few years I've read a fair number of the articles the magazine has featured on women's topics--the hookup culture, the fact that women are marrying later and later, the balance between family and work, whether or not to have a natural childbirth. I've agreed with some and disagreed with others.

The latest article I read simply makes me very sad. Hanna Rosin's argument is that the hook-up culture, which has totally permeated college campuses and male-female relationships in general, has been a good thing for women because it has been the primary instrument in allowing women to succeed professionally and financially. The lack of commitment between young men and women and the abundance of sexual freedom, she says, is what is enabling modern women to shine in their schools and in their careers.

I want to share a paragraph from Rosin's piece in which she is praising quite victoriously the gains she believes women are reaping as a result of the "temporary intimacy," as she later puts it, of their hook-ups:

"[Women] are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future."

Now just glance over the words I have bolded. What makes me so sad is the self-interest and the confusion of priorities and values in these words. Women today make more money. They manipulate. They keep their own ends in mind always. A promising future for modern women is all about an education and a career. And this is progress, Rosin argues.

I really have to wonder about what Rosin is celebrating. To me, these seem like steps in the wrong direction. Rosin directly connects female advancement in the world to money-making, manipulation, selfishness, and an avoidance of true commitment to men and families. And she applauds the hook-up culture for making it all possible. 

As a woman, I am actually embarrassed to read these words. The qualities Rosin is praising (manipulation, selfishness) are not only unhealthy, but they will assuredly lead to long-term unhappiness. Perhaps Rosin is right that the hook-up culture contributes to more women maintaining serious careers. Perhaps she is right that some women enjoy the lack of commitment when it comes to men because it allows them to focus on their education. Perhaps she is right that women are using this culture to get what they want.

But is this really progress? Are these the kind of character traits we should be celebrating? Are these women happy, are they fulfilled? What saddens me the most is that I believe Rosin is praising a culture that much more often leads to serious heartbreak and inner emptiness for young women than it does to a blissful career. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Opening Lines

Today I thought I would share an this interesting article I found on the best 100 opening lines from great literature, and some modern books too. There's something so important about a first sentence, and I have a feeling that novelists and writers spend a lot of time mulling over different possibilities for their openings. Either that, or they receive an inspiration and the first line writes itself.

One of my own favorites (which was included on the list) is the opening from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I remember a college professor of mine quoting this in class one day, before I had read Anna Karenina (I believe we were learning about Verdi's opera Macbeth at the time--a very unhappy family that was indeed). This line is so simple but philosophical and mysterious at the same time, and it perfectly sets the tone for the slowly unfolding tragedy.

I read Anna Karenina while in graduate school. I did a lot of pleasure reading when I was in grad school because I had over an hour commute to school, each way, 3 to 4 days each week. Before and after the hours of practicing, teaching, lessons, and music classes I had all day, it was a treat to let the train lull me as I let my book take me into another world. I was also playing a lot of Russian music at the time, and it was fascinating to connect Tolstoy's world and the bleak music of Shostakovich that I was studying.

Do you have a favorite opening line? Please share!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ready for Fall

I'm feeling very ready for fall. I love the crisp days after the heat of summer, wearing sweaters and scarves and boots, and the falling, colorful leaves. I'm a tiny bit sad that we won't really be having this sort of fall this year, as we have not yet made our move up North out of Southern Alabama. (Although we have been blessed by some cooler days lately). We hope and pray that by October we will be moving, and for the meantime, I'm stubbornly preparing for fall like the Yankee girl that I am.

Here are some fun fall things....

1. A new sweater (on sale, and no longer available) from Anthropologie. This sweater is a beautiful, light knitted material and it's perfect for the transition into cooler days. The wide arms are very flattering and I think it's perfect paired with a long necklace.

2. I admit it--I'm a tea snob. I was raised on only the best loose tea, made in a French press or a tea pot, and after having loose tea there's no going back to bags! I have my husband hooked too. This Earl Grey from Harney and Sons is simply the best. I buy it in New York when I'm there or order online when I'm not. It's perfect for warm and cozy late mornings or afternoons.

3. I've been eyeing this throw from Ikea. I've been looking for something both stylish and comfortable to curl up with on our couch and I think this is so modern and fun but also classic. It's not available online but when we visit my good friend in Atlanta next weekend, I think we may make a stop at the Ikea store there.

4. Another sale-section Anthropologie find! I really love that store, and I always scour the sale racks because most of their items are a little bit too pricey for me at full value. I think this is a perfect layering piece--it would be great under a longer cardigan with skinny jeans and boots, or with leggings and flats and a blazer.

5. This is my new favorite Clinique lipstick. I am a Clinique girl through and through--for both skincare and makeup. My skin just loves it! This red lipstick is called Dubonnet and it really is a great everyday red. It's not too dramatic or orange, and it's not too pink either. It's a lovely, lovely fall color.

6. This new Essie polish is called Stylenomics and it's such a gorgeous, deep emerald green, don't you think? I think I might try it on my toes.

7. These posts are my last Anthropologie find, on sale, and they are no longer available. I usually don't wear studs quite this large, but I think they're very fun, and still a tad more understated than earrings that dangle.

8. This book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has gotten great reviews and it's next up on my list of books to read. My husband just finished it and he's eager to have me read it so we can compare notes. It's been renewed from the library three times now, and our library is very strict, so I'm hoping they'll allow one more renewal! I normally don't read fantasy novels, but I did read over the introduction and the author has a very beautiful and poetic writing style that intrigues me. And it's a mystery, too, and I think it will be a fun fall read along with my tea and (hopefully) a new striped throw.

On another note, this is the first fall since....well, since I started Kindergarten, that I have not gone back to school. Wow! That's exciting to me. I loved college and graduate school but it's nice to have those degrees under my belt as I move into this next wonderful phase of my life.

My little brother, on the other hand, is just starting his college years as a freshman at Columbia University. He is moving in today! Our whole family is so excited for him and I'm still having a hard time really believing that he's a college kid now. I still remember what outfit I wore to school, and then to the hospital, on the day he was born.

Happy Fall!

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Wedding Planning: DIY Wedding Invitations

                    All photos in this post taken by my talented brother, Noah Zinsmeister                                         
Today's wedding planning post is a big one! Of all the elements that went into preparing for our wedding day, I believe I spent the most time on our invitations. I don't think I'll ever forget the hours I spent that June and July of 2011 at my parents' dining room table tying ribbons, cutting paper, embossing and stuffing envelopes. Not to mention all of the fun choices I got to make that spring about fonts, colors, beautiful papers, and overall design. Suffice it to say that I loved it--those hours were very well spent!
As I mentioned in a previous post, all of the supplies for our invitations came from the Paper Source. We heard about the Paper Source from a friend of my mom's whose daughter made her own wedding invitations too. Little tips from friends can make such a difference!

I got started by attending a wedding workshop at the Brooklyn store, where we learned the basics about how to style our own wedding invitations using their paper and supplies. This was great--there are so many color choices, and enclosure types (I didn't even know what an enclosure was before the workshop!) and envelope sizes and styles to choose from when designing wedding invitations, and the women running the workshop were so helpful.


We had a winter wedding and our colors were cream, gold, and rhubarb (a dusty rose). So for the invitations, I decided on cream paper for the invitations, RSVP card, reception card, and the outer envelope. I used rhubarb for the enclosure that would hold all of the smaller pieces, as well as for the little RSVP envelope. And I used gold paper to line both envelopes and gold ribbon to tie around the enclosure. By the way, my family thought I was absolutely crazy for tracing, cutting out, and gluing in my own envelope liners! But I think in the end, they saw how beautiful this extra touch was. 

The sketch that you see above is The Lincklaen House, the historic hotel and restaurant in my hometown where we held our reception. (On the back of this card is the information on the time and location of the reception.) I found this sketch very randomly one day in my old room--it was from a set of note cards and this was the last one left. We had just decided to hold our reception here and I thought it would be lovely to scan the sketch and include it in our invitations. Thanks to my dad's scanning expertise, it worked perfectly!

We designed the fonts and layouts and wordings ourselves, but we did outsource the actual printing. The print shop at the local college where my mom worked at the time did a lovely job (at a very reasonable price). We brought them the paper, and they printed and cut everything to size. 

Above is our wedding program, which we also designed and made ourselves. I remember cutting and hole-punching and tying these little ribbons with my husband and brother and parents over Thanksgiving. I love those memories!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 3

I'm still really enjoying The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, and discovering such wonderful new ideas that I can (try to) put into practice in my own life.

Back when I was first introduced to Austen's novels, I remember being struck by her beautiful descriptions and very clear analysis of each of her characters and their behavior. She was masterful at building complex, crystalline portraits of people of all shapes and sizes.

By extension, Austen's heroines are wonderfully skilled at understanding and explaining the people around them. Kantor writes that Austen's characters "consider it their right--even their duty--to take a position on other people's choices, and to hold up their own and their neighbors' behavior to certain principles by which relationships ought to be managed." They are able to distinguish right actions from wrong ones, strong characters from weaker ones. They are constantly putting into practice their "theory" about human nature and right conduct by observing and assessing it around them. They are better able to choose good men to marry and manage their own lives and relationships because of it.

Now to us, this kind of talking about others sounds catty. Gossipy. In today's world, we just don't know how to talk about other people and their choices without feeling guilty and judgmental. But Kantor clarifies that Austen's heroines were not judgmental, and that their practice of holding their friends and acquaintances up to a set of standards had nothing to do with gossip or a sense of their own "moral superiority." Far from it.

And this is because of "self-knowledge," which was the subject of my last blog entry on The Jane Austen Guide. An understanding of their own flaws and a desire to live up to their own principles and high standards "inoculates them against self-righteousness and ugly...hypocrisy."

Here is the lovely way that Kantor helps us to understand this. She points to Fanny Price, of Mansfield Park, who is described by Austen as "'firm as a rock in her own principles' but with 'a gentleness of character so well adapted to recommend them.'" Yes, Austen's heroines "judge" and discuss the actions of others based on a set of principles that guide "right conduct." But because they hold themselves to an even higher standard than they hold those around them, this behavior does not translate into meanness and criticism, but to compassion and respect for others.

I can't help thinking about Christianity as I'm writing this and re-reading Kantor's book. Isn't Jesus always the first one to hold us to the very highest standard of goodness and morality? And is He not the last one to cast us aside when (not if) we fail?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Little Bit of Romance

Source: Pinterest

Something that my husband and I do almost every night when we sit down to dinner together is light some candles on the table. It's nothing fancy--just some simple white votive candles in glass jars. My husband calls these candles "a little bit of romance," just as he calls our incredibly tiny table "our cute little French cafe" (the table above is about the same size as ours, although ours isn't quite this perfect or French). Can you tell that he's playful and a little eccentric?

My parents gave us a beautiful dining room table and gorgeous chairs and a sideboard for our wedding gift, but they are still in Upstate New York, waiting for us to make our way out of the South and put them to good use. So for now we have our itty-bitty bistro table, just (barely) big enough for two, and we try to make the best of it.

We went to see the movie Hope Springs over the weekend, which if you haven't seen it, is about a longtime married couple that has completely fallen out of touch with their marriage and each other. They don't share a bed or even a bedroom, they never touch or talk about what they're feeling and thinking, and they have a routine that seems to be set in stone. They love each other, but they're not too happy or intimate anymore.

And this made me think about our candles and our little table. Of course, my husband and I are still newly married and I don't pretend to know what it's like to be married for 31 years, as the characters in this movie were. But it seemed like it was the small things, the details, that they had let go of--the things that can so easily go by the wayside but are sorely missed when they're gone. Small, simple things like "a little bit of romance" and sharing dinner each night at an intimate little table (you don't have to pretend you're at a French cafe, we've got that covered). 

I appreciate our candlelight dinners more now after seeing this movie. In the years ahead, when our bistro table has been relegated to a backyard patio, or maybe a porch, and when dinnertime on most nights has become too hectic to think about candles, I hope and pray that we will find other small, simple ways to be romantic and playful together.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thrift Shop Find: Jewelry Chest

Sometimes, when I go thrift shopping, I find something that's perfect as it is. I tend to really like the look of old things with a healthy patina, anyway. Other times I find something that needs a little bit of care and attention before it becomes a piece I will love and use.

This jewelry chest is one of those pieces. I didn't like the look of this wood or the finish, but the design itself is very cute, it's sturdy, and has been only lightly used. I saw potential here, and before I even left the store I had a picture of what I'd do with it in my mind.

Thrift shop jewelry chest, before

I've been seeing the French grey furniture look online, in blogs, on Houzz and Pinterest, and I really like it. And this jewelry chest has some ornate features that suit this style really nicely. So I gave it a try! 

Same jewelry chest, after

I painted on a white coat first (Tailor's Chalk by Martha Stewart) and then two grey coats (Dovetail by Sherwin Williams). Then I distressed the edges and corners a little bit to make it look a little more rustic.

My jewelry fits so nicely on the hooks and in all of the nooks and crannies and drawers--and I think it looks so much more chic now than it did before!

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Wedding Planning: Save the Dates

Our virtual save-the-date

I've been trying my best to blog about my wedding planning in the order that everything actually happened, and I think that what came next was sending out the save-the-dates for our winter wedding.

Having a winter wedding was a decision we sort of fell into and it ended up being the absolute perfect choice. My husband is in the Army and has very little control over his schedule and after exploring some dates, we realized our best bet would be to have our wedding during Christmas leave, a guaranteed time off from training. We spoke to the Cathedral where we wanted to have the ceremony and they had December 30th available, a Friday evening, nestled between the magic of Christmas and the excitement of New Years. My parents’ anniversary is December 28, another special sign that this was the right time for our wedding. And my husband and I have always loved the romance of the holidays and I knew that our part of Upstate New York would look especially lovely with a blanket of snow and twinkling white Christmas lights.

To let our friends and family know about our wedding date, we did something a little bit different than the traditional mailed postcard or note--we sent virtual save-the-dates via Paperless Post! I highly recommend this fun alternative. The card is emailed to each individual recipient as an envelope with the guest's name on the front. When you click, it leads to the Paperless Post website where the card is beautifully displayed after it pops out of the envelope. (This description might sound cheesy, but it really is so well done, tasteful and classic). The design choices tend to be understated and simple, and everything from the fonts, to the shape of the card, to the color and pattern of the envelope liner can be hand-picked. It's affordable, and you'll save some paper, too! 

The click-able, personalized envelope that the card arrives in

We had used Paperless Post previously to send out an engagement announcement, and after our wedding, we sent a card to all of our guests thanking them for celebrating our day with us and sharing a link to our wedding photos.

If you're looking for a chic, affordable, very 21st-century way of announcing your wedding date, you can't go wrong with Paperless Post!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 2

I've read more of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and found some beautiful things to share. I've learned that Jane Austen heroines exercise a virtue that we have completely forgotten about today--that we no longer have a word for. This virtue is "candour," and it means something entirely different today than it did to Jane Austen. Today, being candid means being forthright, truthful, and honest. But in Austen's day, and for Austen's heroines,"candid" described the listener, not the teller. To be candid meant "judging other people and their stories with sympathy, openness and generosity." It was the opposite of "small-minded suspicion."

Wow. I wish the meaning had never changed. It's a lovely thing to be and Kantor explains why it was such an important virtue for Austen's heroines. Because of their candour, their respect for men, their ability and desire not to judge critically but with sympathy, Austen heroines inspire the same kind of respect from men in return. And I think that "inspire" is the perfect word here--we, as women, can inspire men to respect us by treating them sympathetically, giving them the benefit of the doubt (as opposed to nagging them, or demanding what we want from them, or manipulating them).

So where does this candour come from? Jane Austen describes it as "self-knowledge." The respect these women show their men comes from the understanding that they themselves have flaws, too. (For an example of a character with candour read Persuasion and pay close attention to Anne Elliot). Austen's heroines regularly engage in serious reflection on their own characters, their own actions, their own words.

Kantor warns us that the opposite of behaving with candour toward men is involving ourselves in the kind of behind-their-backs griping among girlfriends that has become all too common in today's world. Cynicism and anti-men attitudes can blind us from really seeing a man for who he is, as a fellow human being with flaws and imperfections. Austen heroines certainly do not operate under illusion--they are realistic and grounded and very good at interpreting a man's character--but they are never cynical either.

By refraining from cynicism and engaging in candour, Austen's women are able to see men clearly and inspire the good ones to respect and, eventually, love them.

Kantor writes this advice at the end of the chapter:

If we really want to bring back Jane Austen, we'll disband the sisterhood of snark and give other women mutual support in seeing men clearly, judging them wisely, and loving them honestly. We'll expect more from men. And our respect for them will nourish their respect for us, putting us on the road to Jane Austen heroine-level dignity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Simple, Special Note Cards

I've always loved paper. Cards, small notebooks and journals, writing pads. And I especially love paper that is special, delicate, and sweet. The other day I was about to write a card and really did not want to use the very normal pack of cards I had in my desk drawer. They were relatively cute and blank inside (I never buy cards with sayings in them--I like to write my own!) but so basic.

So I went online to the Paper Source, the amazing store where I purchased all of the paper and supplies for our wedding invitations, which I made almost entirely myself (I will be blogging about this very soon). I went to the sale section and found these lovely blush-colored card stock cards. They are really simple and delicate and perfect for writing a note to a friend or relative. And, I know it's not too polite to talk about prices, but a 25-pack of these cards only cost me $2.38

Once I found these I began looking for some envelopes to go with them. These "paper bag" envelopes were not in the sale section, but I splurged and got them anyway (the Paper Source prices are actually quite reasonable, even the non-sale items). I love the rustic look and feel of these. They really are like brown paper bags, or old-fashioned brown wrapping paper. 

These cards and envelopes are simple and special--just my style! 

p.s. I will send one blush card and one paper bag envelope (blank, for you to use!) to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment and I will draw a random winner by the end of the week!

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Wedding Planning: Finding My Dress

I don't take any credit for this photo above. It's one of my absolute favorites from our wedding day. It was taken in the hallway in my parents' home, right after I had put on my dress, veil, and jewelry, and was walking down the hall to take a last look in the full-length mirror before heading to the church. My little brother, an amazing photographer, was talking all of our getting-ready pictures and so he gets credit for snapping such a lovely shot. One of my sister-in-laws, who was a bridesmaid, noticed me walking down the hall and saw the light streaming in the open door, and suggested that Noah take the photo. So she also gets credit.

And finally, my beautiful dress gets credit. Like any eager bride, I began searching for my dress almost immediately after getting engaged. I was living in New York at the time and so was my sister-in-law, and we had a blast visiting bridal salons together in the exciting, early days after her brother proposed.

Photos above by Noah Zinsmeister

A few weeks after our initial looking, my mom took a trip down to New York and she and I went to this gorgeous boutique as well as the Pronovias Flagship store. I had been eyeing so many of the Pronovias gowns online and was really attracted to the simplicity of the dresses, the lack of beads/flowers/bows (which I had decided I didn't like), and the rich fabrics that are their signature.

I tried on so many amazing dresses, and my mom and I had such a wonderful time together. Since the bridal consultant in the store usually helps the bride get dressed, my mom got to sit and relax and wait for me to come out wearing gown after beautiful gown. We both felt completely relaxed and patient--so many of the dresses were lovely and could have been the one, but we had a sense that the perfect dress was still out there waiting for us to find it. So at the end of the weekend, we were thrilled that we'd made so much progress figuring out what I liked and didn't like, and were excited to keep looking. 

We found my Pronovias gown at a small boutique in my hometown a few weeks later. After trying on the gowns at the flagship salon in New York, I was pretty sure I would end up with a Pronovias dress, and we were lucky that this local boutique carried lots of Pronovias (at much more affordable prices, too). 

Photos above by Robin Fox Photography

My mom and I both fell in love with this dress when I tried it on. The neckline and the ruching were unlike anything I'd seen. I loved that the dress was fitted asymmetrically through the hips and flared to a fuller skirt, and I thought it had a sophisticated elegance about it. The consultant said it reminded her of Old Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn style. And I knew the train would be stunning for our cathedral ceremony.

What's amazing to think about now is that before getting engaged, I saw myself in a form-fitting lace wedding gown. Total opposite of what I ended up with! I tried on lace and I tried on dresses with a more fitted silhouette and they just didn't work with my build. To create the most flattering look for my figure, I needed a fabric with more shape (my dress was silk taffeta) and a cut that had more fullness at the bottom. 

So my advice to brides is to be as open-minded as possible when trying on wedding dresses. You may be completely surprised by the styles and shapes and fabrics that best flatter your figure and make you feel as beautiful as can be.

My last bit of advice is to go shopping with your mom. It's an unforgettable--not to mention fun!--experience. The two weekends my mom and I dress-shopped together were as special as mother-daughter weekends get.

Photo taken by my aunt at the day-after brunch at my parents' house

Friday, August 3, 2012

Past Life in the City

It's been a little bit over two months since I moved out of New York City and I've been thinking about the things I miss, as well as the things I was happy to leave behind. I thought I'd make a little list and include some links here and there, as possible inspiration for certain family members who are moving there (my little brother is going to Columbia!!) and for those already there.

What I miss about New York:

  1. The subways and buses--really! I found it liberating that I could pay $2.50, jump on a bus or train, and end up anywhere in the city I pleased
  2. The reservoir (photo above) in Central Park which was a five-minute walk from my apartment
  3. Jumping on the 6 train and ending up at Bloomingdales about 7 minutes later
  4. The French restaurant in my old neighborhood
  5. Everything at Lincoln Center
  6. The fact that my sister-in-law lived 3 blocks away
  7. This thrift shop and this one and this one and this one (this is for you, Addie!)
  8. Walking two doors down every Sunday at 7 pm for church--the services always seemed to be geared to exactly what I needed that week
  9. These yoga classes
  10. The Hungarian Pastry Shop on the Upper West Side
  11. My shoebox apartment--it was tiny but it was sweet and had character and I really loved it
  12. The Turkish bodega on the corner of my blog which sold wonderful dried fruits, nuts, and fresh produce
  13. Being closer to my family (a 4.5-hour bus ride away)
  14. Attending interviews/performances by people like Laura Linney and Rosanne Cash at the 92nd Street Y
  15. Christmastime in the city--there is nothing like it
  16. The fact that you get a lot of out-of-town visitors when you live in New York--not so much when you live in Alabama!
  17. This cafe where I spent many hours studying, writing, people-watching, and most importantly, drinking delicious coffee (which was also much cheaper than Starbucks!)
  18. Walking everywhere
  19. This soap shop, which offers a complimentary hand-washing at the big communal sink in the middle of the store. This felt SO good after a day walking around the city. I especially liked the Jasmine hand scrub
  20. This rooftop bar where my husband and I went the night we got engaged and where we held my reception after my final graduate recital

What I don't miss about New York:
  1. Number one, far and away, is being away from my husband
  2. Commuting an hour and fifteen minutes to school three times a week
  3. Lugging groceries and laundry through the streets without the help of a car
  4. The amount of money it takes to survive
  5. Getting to and fro LaGuardia Airport
  6. The way the subways smell in the summertime
  7. The crowds
  8. Feeling nauseous in cabs because of the cab driver's reckless driving
  9. The local post office (slowest post office in the world)
  10. The lack of truly fresh-smelling air

Yes, I have twice as many things on my "miss" list than on my "don't miss" list, but this does not at all mean that I'm longing to move back to the city or that I'm not happy in our new lives--I think it just means that I look back on my time living in one of the greatest cities in the world with much fondness!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What I Love Most About My Home

This is a graphic print that I discovered yestrerday through this lovely blog. It can be downloaded (for free!) and printed easily from this blog, here. All that's needed is a pretty, matted white frame. Isn't it cute, and so true?

I printed and framed one for myself, and one for a certain lucky sister-in-law and brother-in-law who will be celebrating their one-year anniversary soon (and who hopefully aren't reading this post!).

This graphic print style is not usually one that I'm attracted to, but for some reason this particular one stood out to me. It's fun and light-hearted and would work well in a casual space, perhaps resting on a work desk or hanging on a small bathroom wall.

I guess maybe I'm still giddy about the fact that my roommate happens to be the man of my dreams. How did I get so lucky?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 1

I've been reading a book that I had a feeling I would enjoy before I even began. It's called The Jane Austen Guide To Happily Ever After and I knew I would like it for the simple reason that Jane Austen's love stories are, to me, the most beautiful and romantic love stories ever written. When I was reading my first Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, when I was about 15, I remember re-reading whole passages over and over. I remember being astounded by the way the love seemed to be overflowing, jumping off the pages at me. Elizabeth Kantor, the author of The Jane Austen Guide, describes it this way:

[Jane Austen has] drawn the most perfect pictures of exactly what it's like for a woman to be deeply in love with a man; to hope with every fiber of her being that he loves her, but fear he doesn't; and to come through the ordeal to love's ineffable delights. Jane Austen somehow manages to describe the's as if she could compound endorphins out of ink and paper.

Exactly. Who better to learn from than Jane Austen?

I'm only two chapters into the book, and I thought I might wait to finish it before blogging about it. But I'm discovering that it's so rich and so full of wisdom and I am thinking now that blogging every few chapters is a better idea. And I also happen to think this book is wonderful both for women who are already happily married or in a healthy relationship, as well as for those women who are seeking a new direction in their love lives. In other words, all of us women can learn from Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood and their "insights, habits of mind, intelligence, and choices."

And we can also learn what not to do from characters like Lydia Bennet. In chapter one, one thing Kantor writes about is how difficult it is to break habits in love. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth was so concerned that her little sister Lydia was proving herself to be a relentless flirt and falling for men who weren't really serious about her. She knew that unless Lydia could see the problem in her behavior and put herself on a different path, this could become a lifelong tendency with unhappy consequences.

Today, women are waiting much longer to settle down and they are waiting much longer to even begin looking for the right man. Marriages are taking place later and later in women's lives. Because of this, Kantor says that forming Lydia-like habits during the single years is even more dangerous for modern women. Those habits could become stuck after so many years, making it very difficult later on to make real love the aim.

Kantor writes that the Austen heroines who actively seek out permanent happiness and who want love and marriage to fit together, "applying all the intelligence and honesty they can muster to that vital question," are the ones who in the end are fulfilled. She says that it's not enough, for them or us, just to hope or plan for happiness and love in the vague and distant future, but it is something that must be aimed for, pursued seriously, puzzled over, and prioritized.

In chapter two, Kantor moves on to a lesson from Sense and Sensibility. When I read this novel, I thought that Austen's juxtaposition of Marianne and Elinor's characters was really brilliant. Both sisters are in love with a man who turns out to be unavailable to them, and they don't find out until after they've fallen head over heels in love. Marianne is inconsolable--she doesn't eat, she loses weight, she is anti-social, and eventually becomes so sick that her family is worried she'll die. She places a heavy burden on everyone around her, especially those who love her most.

Elinor, on the other hand, is also experiencing the deep pain of unrequited love, but, amazingly, she does not tell anyone. She has the strength to be able to console her younger sister and offer her hope while she herself is heartbroken.

The difference is that Marianne is a capital-R Romantic while Elinor is a lowercase-r romantic. Austen's heroines that are like Elinor "don't wallow in heartbreak. Their struggle to get a firm grip on themselves, and on reality, gives them extraordinary dignity. It makes them less miserable--but not any less in love." This extraordinary dignity is something that sets Austen's women apart, and it certainly inspires me to do better.

Both of these lessons are powerful, I think. I find it fascinating to study these well-loved stories with hopes of becoming more like the heroines we adore.

More on this soon!

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