What I would do differently.

WegmannWedding211Confession: I still look through my wedding pictures a lot.

James made me take down some of the millions that I had spread around our house once we had been married a year, but I still look through them on a more regular basis than I should probably admit. Some would say this is vanity, and maybe it is. But y’all, I loved that day. I hope that it won’t be the happiest day of my life. I hope that someday we will do wild great things, welcome children, hold grandchildren, etc., and that all of these things will contend for the happiest day. But that day in July was pretty wonderful. Everyone told me the day goes too fast for you to enjoy it, but I really and truly did. So many details of that day are etched in my memory, so many perfectly happy moments, so much laughter and joy.

But there are totally things I would change. Not big things, like my dress, or the food, or the venue, or you know, the groom. Yet as I play it over, there are things that I would change to make the day easier, better, or cheaper. Things that I foolishly forgot that caused stress for others, things I thought important that have proved not to be, and things that I would beg anyone getting married to consider. If any of you are in that boat, here’s a list to help you out.WegmannWedding217

  • Just let your wedding party wear what they want. On one hand, I do love that only one bridesmaid paid over a hundred for her dress, and all the girls looked great. But did it matter that all their navy dresses were the exact shade? Probably not. And will I ever get back the years of my life that David’s Bridal took when they discontinued all the styles in the middle of wedding season and we had to track down dresses all across the country one by one? Absolutely not. The men’s suits were no better. Yes, if we had just told them to show up in a gray suit, there would have been multiple shades of gray. Oh, but I still would have been married and stuff.
  • Skip the pricey flowers. My flowers were awesome, exquisite, lovely, and perfect. Or so I remember when I look at photos. The flowers never really mattered to me, and having no clear idea of what I wanted before entering the florist, I got swept up in the decision and we ended up spending way too much on an aspect of the wedding that wasn’t super important to me. I loved our florist, and would highly recommend her to anyone who really values the flowers at their wedding, but I probably would have been just as pleased with some bouquets from a grocery store. Don’t get carried away with the elements of the wedding that aren’t important to you. The wedding industry exists because they are important to someone, but that someone doesn’t have to be you.
  • Don’t think your wedding needs a ___________________. In that blank you can insert whatever ridiculous thing the Internet is telling you that you need. Options include: special named cocktails, unique photo booths, choreographed wedding party dances, hand-made favors, animals fulfilling rolls typically filled by people, an original thing for people to sign, and the list goes on and on. None of these things are bad, but sometimes we get so set on some random thing (usually so we can have detailed photos of it in an artsy Pinterest collage) that we become unduly obsessed. For me, it was that my wedding needed to have a “graphic identity.” When the invites came and the printer had printed part of the cards purple-blue instead of navy, I collapsed into a pile weeping that he had “compromised the graphic integrity of our wedding.”  WHAT THE WHAT? I wanted an entire graphic suite of paper documents that would be coordinated and spread across a piece of distressed wood and strewn with flower petals. Because obviously, all of my guests were going to save every paper item from our wedding, lay it out, and praise my overarching graphic theme. The friend who designed our invites was a true sport and worked everything together, but I still let something so small become so big. Life lesson: If you become a crazy, you will drive other people crazy and cry a lot.
  • Reserve tables for your people. Somehow, in the rush of wedding madness and the flurry of last minute rsvps exceeding our table capacity, we didn’t think to reserve any tables for the wedding party and our families. We planned on having no place cards for the majority of the guests, given the laid back garden party atmosphere of our reception, but this oversight meant that I didn’t get to sit with my parents at the reception and that my brother had to oust a table of college friends so some older family members could have a seat. Surely we had some shabby chic chalkboards somewhere that could have said “Reserved for family” and sat against a mason jar in the middle of a table.
  •  Put someone clearly in charge of the reception.This is tricky. A bad or controlling DJ will kill your party. You will be trapped on the dance floor doing called dances like the Cha-Cha Slide indefinitely. But no one in charge will kill your mother, or at least mine. In my mind, it was going to be spontaneous order. I had a very detailed schedule that I had distributed and our friend who was DJ’ing knew the flow. But I didn’t really communicate that to anyone or pick someone from our bridal party to be master of ceremonies, so basically I had a circle of bridesmaids, friends, and family who had to dash around more than they should have.

But on the whole, I wouldn’t change much, especially not who I ended up marrying.

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What about y’all, what would you tell someone to do differently?

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The Best Ordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookies-7Despite my own love of kitchen time, I do not believe that every women should have to be a master chef. I mean, we leave in a magical age where food can arrive at your door. And not just pizza- everything. For two people who grew up in the country, outside the traditional delivery radius, James and I never cease to be amazed by this amazing perk of city existence. And yes, you can usually make healthier food at home… but not always. Plus, cooking takes time. I love that time, but I’m not about to force it on someone who has no time and just decides that this is one battle not worth fighting.cookies-1 But there are two things that every women (Or head of house, if that be a man, you can insert him for all uses of woman here. I tend to assume that my constituency is pretty pretty heavy on the high heels and scrunchies.) needs to master: a covered meal you can take to someone in need, and chocolate chip cookies. Both of these are hospitality staples, things that you role out to tell people you matter in my life. 
cookies-2These are my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. She usually has a container of them frozen somewhere, ready to roll out when the troops roll in. They are the cookies that greeted me on the first day of school, the cookies that I remember making next to her when I still had to climb on a chair to reach the counter. They are the ones she sent me at college, the ones that I took James when we were dating, the ones that always taste like home. They are the cookies that are chocolate cookies to me.

And they are absolutely, totally, ordinary. cookies-3 They have no nuts, no berries, no brown-butter or special toppings. I say best because I love them best, not because they actually are the best. They won’t surprise you, thrill you, or win any sort of culinary honor.  But I would argue that that isn’t the point of chocolate chip cookies. These cookies will comfort you. They will disappear from the plate that you plunk down in the middle of game night or after dinner so fast that people will barely remember to comment on them. But later, when they leave, they will remember that they had been loved. That is what a chocolate chip cookie is supposed to do.

cookies-4I keep a bag of frozen dough balls on hand so that I can always have fresh baked cookies for the people who pass through our home. There have been a lot of those lately, some special visitors, but others are regular faces around our table and I love having these cookies on hand. I Instagramed a stack of them lately and had some friends ask for the recipe and I am excited to share it today. It is not terribly different from any cookie recipe, including the standard back-of-the-bag Tollhouse one (classic), other than the addition of cream of tartar and the adjusted baking time. I have flirted with other cookie recipes lately, tried them out and found them good. But you always come back to your cookies. 
cookies-5And these are mine, the recipe my mother drilled into me adjusted slightly to reflect my own preference for brown sugar. I debated sharing “our” recipe, but I don’t really believe in unlimited secret recipes. You can, and perhaps should, have a couple – tops. After that, it’s important to remember the point of food, and that is building community. Letting someone recreate the joy they felt in your kitchen in their own is such a gift.
cookies-6So if you don’t have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is your own, the one that you go to, trust in, and are proud of, may I invite you to take this one. 
cookies-8The Best Ordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies

Combine:
-1.5 cups brown cugar
-.5 cup white sugar
-.5 cup oil
-1 cup butter ( I use salted)
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla

Beat until smooth. In theory, you should do the butter and sugars first and then add in the other stuff but I don’t think it makes much difference. Plus it makes more dishes and I am super opposed to any separate mixing.

Whisk together and add:
-4 cups flour (throw in a little extra if it seems to sticky at the end — it should be more like dough and less like brownie batter)
-2 tsp baking soda
-4 tsp cream of tartar
-1 tsp salt

*Chocolate Chips

Once again, in theory this should be mixed first and added in batches… but that means more dishes. So I usually just dump in half the flour and the rest of the white stuff, stir, add rest of flour. Throw the chocolate chips in with the last flour addition — for some reason that I do not understand this makes them better than adding them on their own.

Form dough into balls and bake on ungreased (I line with parchment bc I’m lazy and hate dishes) cookie sheets at 350 for 10-11 minutes. THEN TAKE THEM OUT OF THE OVEN AND DO NOT TOUCH THEM FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES. DO NOT OVER BAKE THEM, EVEN THOUGH THEY WILL BE SUPER DOUGHY AND NOT COOKED. This is the real key.  The hot cookie sheet finishes cooking them while keeping them fluffy soft.

Add 1-2 minutes baking time if you start from frozen dough.

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Everly Elizabeth Anne

These photos are such a joy for me. To have been able to see one of my very first college friends get engaged, get married, await her first baby, and now become a mother is such a sweet blessing. Welcome to the world, little Everly Elizabeth Anne. EverlyElizabethAnne-1 EverlyElizabethAnne-10 EverlyElizabethAnne-12 EverylyEverlyElizabethAnne-47 EverlyElizabethAnne-49 EverlyElizabethAnne-55 Everly2 EverlyElizabethAnne-93 EverlyElizabethAnne-115EverlyElizabethAnne-133EverlyElizabethAnne-138 EverlyElizabethAnne-150Everly3 EverlyElizabethAnne-153 EverlyElizabethAnne-174 EverlyElizabethAnne-180 EverlyElizabethAnne-185EverlyElizabethAnne-191

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Let’s wear new clothes and pretend it’s spring.

Today I am hopping on a plane and heading for Florida. YES.

Over the last week I have checked the weather anxiously everyday, letting its consistent sun brighten my soul and restore my faith in spring break. So it snowed 8 inches here on Monday. IN FLORIDA IT IS 80. So it rained icy water down my back as I was running yesterday. IN FLORIDA IT RAINS SUNSHINE AND SMILES. Yes, I am going there to speak at a conference, so most of the sun I see will be through a window… but I am counting it. I even broke my sacred tights-until-April rule as I was packing. These pasty legs are ready for some vitamin D! Plus, I have ripped all my tights, so warm weather needs to get a move on it.

Before you get jealous, just wait and hear the exoticness that has defined the rest of my spring break. I bleached my comforter, changed sheets and only changed out my pjs a grand total of twice in the past 4 days, and both of those times I wore the same outfit. I made cookies and ate too much dough and — wait for  it — left the dishes in the sink overnight. People, this is me at my wildest. I studied a lot, graded a little, cleaned out my makeup bag, James’ closet, our box of random mail, and caught up on all my TV shows. Yes, I am living the life.

Last week, it actually felt springy, and I kind of feel like I got an extra spring break because James’ brother and his girlfriend spent theirs with us and we enjoyed ourselves more than we usually do during the week. Last Friday we hit the outlet malls at National Harbor for a day of shopping, and when we got back it was so warm, our new clothes were so exciting, and they were so cute, that I dragged them around Capitol Hill to take some photos. Because GREEN LEAVES! And SUN! And all those other things that spring is  withholding, at least until I go find them today in Florida.  Happy Spring y’all, from my dreary grey city to yours. Go put on some spiffy clothes and pretend it’s May.
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Those who see.

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I had a devoted team of friends who sent me mail the year I lived in Paris. I would cart the letters and packages up all eight flights of stairs, cherishing my mail already and looking forward to opening it. That mail was a tangible reminder of the people and places I loved all over, and I slowly covered the back of my door with postcards, invitations, announcements, pictures, and words. In one package, a friend from college sent me a copy of the artistic magazine our college releases every semester. It has student photography, poetry, prose, translations, and tucked amongst the feeble collegiate attempts at greatness, there was a page with this quote on it. Ruskin

I tore it out, taped it on the door, and absorbed it into my soul every time I stepped through that door. Every time I set forth into the aged streets of Paris, I was reminded to see. That little piece of paper has followed me through moves and jobs, homes and apartments.  It follows me everywhere reminding me that seeing clearly is the greatest gift.

I am drawn to photographers, bloggers, and writers who see clearly. Today I wanted to share a couple of my favorite people around the Internet who know how to see. They are the writers and photographers who see the world and pass it on in a way that lets the rest of us share and love it.

  • Arianna Tennyson. I think this was maybe the only time when Facebook suggested that I like someone and they were right. She is a western Canada based photographer who has one of the best eyes I’ve seen. In theory, every good photographer should be someone who sees the world well. But sometimes you look at someone’s pictures and you can just tell a difference. Other’s look at the world, this girl sees a beautiful poetry at play in every scene.
  • Annapolis and Company. I’m not even sure how I started reading Mary Beth’s blog but it is one of my favorites. So rarely do you find someone who is both an amazing photographer, and a talented writer. Every post she writes has me marveling afresh at the beauty of everyday existence.
  • Manger. Admittedly, I am a sucker for anything French. But usually, I mean Paris. The pictures that Mimi puts up of her French countryside existence create a collage that lets us see the beauty in her life of cooking and caring for her family.
  • Little Black Desk.  This girl. Just go read her blog and come back here later. Most of the people on this list pair photography with their words, but Ashley doesn’t even have to. One post will have me laughing, and then I will be crying by the end of the next one. She shares about newlywed life, losing her brother to cancer, her job, and God’s goodness through it all. In theory, it should be jarring to go from a post on eyebrow threading in the mall, to one of her brother’s final days, but it isn’t. Life is like that, comic and tragic so closely intertwined that we can’t always separate them, and so she doesn’ t try to.
  • Verily Magazine. Ok, so I am mostly including this because their tagline is “Less of who you should be. More of who you are.” Thank you Verily magazine, for seeing that there are just too many magazines trying to inspire us and every now and then we just want something who see’s how life is.

Happy reading!

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On Saturday we discovered bottomless brunch.

Spring-3Spring-1I had lofty plans about both this weekend.  I am on Spring Break this week, which meant last weekend marked a blissful studying and grading break. James has been traveling fairly frequently and went out of town again today, so we planned on spending the whole weekend exploring our city together. Instead, Saturday became a succession of sleep and gluttony. We got up at 4am Saturday morning to take our visitors from last week to the airport in Baltimore, tumbling back into bed around 5:30. Around noon we woke up for the second time to meet our friends at Ambar to celebrate a birthday over brunch, fully intending to do many great things that afternoon. Art museums! Cleaning out of closets! Bowling! Bike rides! Running! Tracking down that illusive renegade pretzel stand on 15th St! On Saturday, we were going to do it all.

And then we were brought low by the cunning temptress that is bottomless brunch.

Notice how there are only two pictures from our entire weekend, versus the normal onslaught I throw at you? IT IS BRUNCH’S FAULT. Notice how this post has absolutely no transcendent quality or abstraction about love or life or anything meaningful? IT IS BECAUSE I AM STILL RECOVERING FROM BRUNCH. Eggs benedict, waffle with roasted pear compote, mushroom crêpes, sourdough donuts with Nutella spread, peach mimosas,  and steak and eggs ordered so many times that finally we asked them to hold the eggs and fries and just bring a pile of steak. Does any non-starving human need that much food? Obviously not. And would it quite possibly kill a previously starving human by exploding their stomach with carbs? Most likely.  Did we barely make it home before collapsing into bed for the third time that day? Obviously yes. And was it so incredibly and wonderfully worth it? Undoubtedly so.

A walk happened that afternoon, and a games with friends later, and we did finally make it to the National Gallery to see an exhibit 45 minutes before closing on Sunday. I’m pretty sure things happened this weekend… but brunch has eclipsed them. And I am totally fine with that.

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When we talk about the weather.

Winter2014-166Winter2014-167Winter2014-188Winter2014-163 Winter2014-164Winter2014-187Winter2014-192Winter2014-168 Winter2014-171 Winter2014-174 Winter2014-185Winter2014-178Winter2014-186Winter2014-190 Winter2014-191Last Friday night James and I went to go see Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.”  Have you seen it? I read it in high school and watched the movie many times but James had never seen or read it.  In the past year we decided that we really wanted to make an effort to see more plays, ballets, and concerts here in the city. I don’t want to turn to our kids someday and explain to them that all I did in this amazing city was brunch. Although, as they will be related to me and James, they will probably take brunch very seriously. When I see a play by Shakespeare or Wilde, I wonder if we have gotten dumber as a culture, or if we have just gotten so lazy with our language skills that we have lost the ability to create something like Wilde’s fast paced verbal sparring. Despite the difference of over a hundred years, his words have lost none of their humor today. Muffins will always be funny. In the midst of our laughter, one of the characters declared, “Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.”

And we do.

This week, we can talk of nothing but the weather around here. Last weekend the sun came out and the temperatures sored. We went out without coats and gloves, we turned off the heat, and we put the extra blanket in the closet. James’ brother and his girlfriend are spending their spring break with us and we strolled leisurely through Eastern Market, enjoying the fresh flowers and sun. I baked my first summer strawberry cake and we ate caprese salad and pretended like it was June. James and I took a long walk Sunday and I enjoyed an iced drink, even though it was still cold enough to freeze my hand off.

And then yesterday, the temperature dropped 40 degrees and the wind picked up and we all got inexplicably angry. Everyone I spoke to on Thursday talked about the weather. But really, I’m pretty certain we are talking about something else.

We are talking about the hope that spring brings and our eagerness to see it wash over the gray. We are talking about how ready we are for flowers to fill in the dirt and for the days to stretch longer and push back the night. We are talking about our need for sun and light and warmth and joy. We are talking about our excitement over new life and fresh starts. We are talking about the changes in light that come with seasons, and how that light illuminates different parts of the world for us. We are talking about one of the last infuriatingly powerful things that we cannot control in this modern world. We are talking about a longing so complex and multifaceted that we can’t fully put words to it.  On the cold days that creep back up, all those hopes are threatened and we feel the wrongness of it all through our souls, but we don’t know how to talk about it.

So instead, we talk about the weather. Because by talking about the weather, we are talking about our world and our own tiny little place in it.

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