By Kristin Appenbrink / 04.02.14
It’s finally spring, and you know what that means—it’s wedding season. If you’re part of a happy couple tying the knot this year, you have a lot of planning and organizing on your plate. And once the big day and the honeymoon are over, there’s one last task to wrap up the wedding celebration: sending out the thank you notes.
Even if you don’t regularly send thank you notes (I’m hoping that’s only a small percentage of you!), post-wedding is one of the times in your life to really step up your game. So, let’s go over the basics to make the daunting task easier.
First things first, order them early, preferably when you order your invitations. That way you’ll have them on hand for any gifts that come in early or for vendors who go above and beyond for you as you’re planning your wedding. The cards themselves can match your invitations, but they don’t have to. Feel free to go with something completely different, if you want to use them post-wedding as well. I love the idea of using a photo card for your thank yous with a photo from your wedding, but if it causes delays sending them out, it’s best to go with a non-photo option or use an engagement photo instead.
What to Write
Wedding thank you notes follow the same formula as traditional thank yous. In addition to your thanks, point out an aspect of the gift you particularly love, what you will use it for, or where you will place the gift in your home. For a gift that isn’t your style that you plan to return, focus on the thoughtfulness of the gift. No need to gush about something that you aren’t in love with, complimenting someone’s generosity works just as well.
When it comes to monetary gifts, share with your guest how you intend to use it. If you plan to use the funds you received toward a down payment on a house or to take an international trip on your first anniversary, your guests will love knowing that they helped contribute. Whether or not you mention the amount is up to you, but it’s just as easy to say “Thank you for your generous gift. It will help us put a down payment on our first home this year.”
Who to Send to
A wedding gift isn’t the only gesture that warrants a thank you note after your big day. In the weeks leading up to your wedding, make note of anyone one who has helped out or gone above and beyond for you. Whether these are vendors, family friends who aren’t attending, or co-workers, it’s important to acknowledge your appreciation of their help and support.
Now, for the tough question: Do you send a note to a guest who didn’t get you a gift? The answer is yes. It’s important to thank your guests for being there to celebrate with you. More often than not, your thank you note will prompt them to send a belated gift, since they technically have a full year to send it.
Timing & Other Details
You’re given a bit of an etiquette free pass after your wedding, so you can send out your notes gradually. Aim to have them written and mailed by three months after the wedding. That might seem daunting depending on the size of your guest list, but try tackling them a little bit at a time. And unlike in days past, both newlyweds should write and sign the notes.
And go ahead and mail them as you get them written. There’s no need for everyone to receive your thank you at the same time. If you have gifts that arrive before the wedding, go ahead and write the note but leave it unsealed. Once you’re back from your honeymoon, you can quickly check those notes, add any details from the wedding, and pop them in the mail.
By Erin Phraner / 03.31.14
We all know that packing a lunch is the wise, grownup thing to do—it’s healthier and more affordable than that meat-stack sandwich from the deli (and really, who has time to wait in line for one of those designer chopped salads). But it’s tricky right?
It takes a bit of foresight to master a week of homemade healthy lunches. First, there’s the grocery shopping. Even if you’re proactive and snag all the supplies over the weekend, it’s hard to prepare for the food fatigue you may feel midweek. My tactic is to stick with mix-and-match meals you can cook ahead and enjoy over multiple days in different ways.
The best portable lunch bases, in my humble opinion: Easy-to-prepare pantry staples, like hearty grains. The tasty dose of complex carbohydrates provides a fabulous energy boost and—bonus!—it’ll keep you fuller longer.
Browse the grocery aisle for you favorite whole grains (think barley, quinoa, brown rice) or try this simple recipe for customizable farro salad. I love farro because it’s loaded with more protein and fiber than other grains, plus it’s surprisingly lower in calories. Another virtue: Farro rarely gets mushy! After a few days in the fridge, it still maintains its firm, seed-like shape (making it perfect for a leftover-centric meal such as this).
Simmer a big batch of farro whenever you have free time, then divide it into individual portions—it only takes 20 minutes. Plain cooked farro will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can even freeze it for up to 3 months (just defrost in the microwave as needed). I like to use sandwich-size resealable plastic bags for easy rationing. When you’re ready to pack it up, toss the baggie with your choice of ingredients and you’re good to go.
This farro salad stays fresh and crunchy with English cucumbers, chickpeas (for extra protein), parmesan cheese and a tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling inspired? Get creative! Mix in a few extra spring veggies or your choice of nuts, cheese, beans, etc. The important task is that you keep things simple for yourself. Do that and you might just master this whole DIY lunch thing once-and-for-all!
CHICKPEA-CUCUMBER FARRO SALAD
MAKES: 6 servings
FOR THE FARRO
6 cups water or lower-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
3 cups farro (about 1 pound bag)
FOR THE SALAD
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 medium English cucumber, chopped
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Make the farro: Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, rinse the farro under cold running water.
2. Stir rinsed farro into boiling water and cook, without stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes; drain. Transfer half of the farro to resealable plastic bags and refrigerate for another use. Transfer the remaining farro to a large bowl.
3. Make the salad: Put the sherry and garlic in a small bowl; set aside 10 minutes to infuse. Remove the garlic; set aside. Slowly whisk the olive oil into the vinegar until combined. Finely grate the reserved garlic into the dressing, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the chickpeas, cucumber, parsley and dressing to the bowl with the farro. Toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
By Kim Vargo / 03.28.14
Styling your bookcase can feel a bit intimidating; really, I know. (I’ve been there before, paralyzed with fear, too!) With all the stunning imagery of impeccably styled shelves around the web, you might wonder how fellow home lovers keep things feeling so effortless, right? I truly don’t believe there are steadfast rules when it comes to a beautifully styled bookcase, but if you’re looking at your own overstuffed and chaotic shelves and feeling ready to breathe new life into your display, here are a few easy tips I’ve learned along the way to keep things feeling fun, fresh and most importantly, more like you.
ONE: Pare it down. Keep the worn paperbacks separate and display only the books and magazines that inspire you. If you can’t stand the idea of parting with your beloved reads, stow those less-than-pretty books in baskets, bins or vintage crates. I’ll be the first to admit that Scott and I have a handful of old favorites that we can’t bear to part with (mostly for nostalgic reasons), but in general, we’re the read-and-pass-along kind. To us, after we’ve enjoyed a book once, that book should be passed along and loved by another. Consider donating your one-time only reads, or better yet, tell your friend to enjoy and have her do the same for someone else.
Photo: Better Homes and Garden
TWO: Be mindful of scale and weight. Once you’ve got a good handle on what stays vs. what goes, start adding your bulkiest items to your bookshelf first. We have a healthy record collection that we display on our bookshelf, and we keep these heaviest items down low. To avoid a top-heavy bookcase, larger items (such as baskets, bins or in our case, records) should be displayed on the lowest level. Below, you can see how we did this with our recent bookcase makeover.
THREE: Play with the arrangement. To avoid the overly stuffy library look, think outside the box. Stack your books vertically as well as horizontally, arrange them by type (think: magazines vs. the Harry Potter series), color or genre. Does your bookcase have shelves that can move up and down? If so, move outside of your comfort zone and use this to your advantage! A tall, vertical stack of glossies can be topped with a small bauble with a little shelf maneuvering, and at the same time, don’t be afraid to allow some shelves to breathe with just a single item.
FOUR: Make it personal. Ah, in my opinion, the best part. With your books arranged how you’d like, begin layering in those personal touches – framed family photos, artwork and a collection of meaningful items (what a great way to show off finds from antique fairs, your travels or just something that simply makes you smile!) Have fun with this part. Show off your quirky side and add that touch of whimsy with gilded gold bookends, your prized bowling trophy or your child’s finger paintings. Below, we’ve added an 11×14 Pinhole Press frame, a favorite memory taken in a gelato shop during a quick trip to Paris. We’ve layered small vases holding sweet notes from friends and favorite instant photos.
FIVE: Hey, up there! Don’t forget about the space above your bookcase! Adding a large piece of framed art or even a collection of framed family photographs will add eye-pleasing height to the room. Think of it as cheating the height of your ceilings.
Sometimes a few easy tweaks can really make all the difference. With the impending changing seasons (here in Chicago, spring can’t come fast enough!), a rejuvenated mindset may be all you need to get your home feeling more put together. Go ahead and give these tips a try; you’ve got this. What else have you done in your own home to keep your shelving displays looking their best? What is your most treasured item on display?
By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 03.27.14
When I set out on my journey and took my photography from a hobby to a business five years ago, no one was really talking about lifestyle photography. These days, lifestyle photography is trending. The desire to capture natural, relaxed images is being embraced now more than ever.
Before I even knew what lifestyle photography meant, I would go into people’s homes and film them as naturally as possible. By having conversations with people, I discovered that I could make them almost ‘forget’ the camera and think of me more like a friend, sister or play date. My goal of every session was to tell a story from start to finish – their story.
According to wikipedia, the definition of lifestyle photography is a style of portrait/people photography which aims to capture and document real-life events, situations, or milestones in an artistic manner and the art of the everyday.
If you re-read that definition, the goal of a lifestyle shoot is to document real-life events in an artistic manner. The goal is not to recreate life events or stage lifestyle images but to document life as it happens.
This goal goes beyond capturing genuine emotion. Because, quite frankly, if you pull a velvet couch out onto some grass and people are smiling and laughing with genuine intent, that isn’t a lifestyle image. Unless, of course, you are in the process of moving and have all your furniture on the front lawn ;).
To get to the bottom of what lifestyle means, here are three things that will help you hone your organic, lifestyle photography skills:
Lifestyle is not staged.
When I walk into a home, the first thing I want to do is hang out in the child/children’s rooms. Why? Because this is their sanctuary. It’s where they feel most comfortable. It’s what is natural to them. And children LOVE showing off their room. And, you get what you get in a child’s room. I always tell parents to leave the rooms as is. The socks, the books scattered, lego pieces by the miles. It’s them. As they are. At this exact moment. THAT is lifestyle.
In addition to not staging, there are no outside props brought in. Everything I use in a shoot is found in the home and organic to the folks that live there.
Don’t ‘plan’ for outcomes.
Planning for this type of photography is a prescription for disappointment. I’m the first to say that before a session, send out a questionnaire to the family to find out about what makes them tick. Find out about the personalities of the children. What they listen to, what shows they watch. Learn about your subjects. Then, let them know what to expect from you. You are present to document them as a family. So, if Dad wants to get up and make coffee in the kitchen and little Sam needs a snack – go for it! The more you just let a family ‘be’ the more lifestyle /documentary your images will be. But, if you try to make the family ‘have fun’ and throw them all on a bed and say ‘act naturally’ you will illicit strange (and strained!) looks and the opposite of ‘lifestyle’ images will be produced. Truly try and be a fly on the wall.
Never, and I mean NEVER put down that camera. Everything presented is an opportunity to shoot.
My favorite shots are kids on the move from one place to another, up/down stairs, down hallways with just a sliver of light coming from their bedroom. Life is movement. Life is not STATIC. So when they move, that is the best time to film them and it garners you raw documentary moments.
Now, you may say ‘Jenn, are you at client’s homes for 4 hours to catch life unfolding?’ Not at all. I’m actually with a client for about 1 hour total (after saying hello and getting a feel for the house and the light it presents). But in the beginning, yes, you may be there longer. Stay as long as you think you need to get the story of their family, their child, or whatever it is they hired you to capture.
The more I did this over the past years, the quicker I was at recognizing opportunity and moments that were about to unfold before they even did. That comes with TIME. So, take that pressure off yourself and realize the more time you clock doing lifestyle/documentary shooting, the more aware you will become and the more you can anticipate what will unfold.
Want to start honing your lifestyle/documentary skills? The best way to do this is in your own home by doing a Day in the Life.
From the minute your family awakes with bed head, through breakfast, activities, quiet time, meals, bath time etc. just keep filming. By doing this exercise, you will already start to anticipate what will happen during these types of shoots. And even better, NOT anticipate it and capture moments that make your heart sing because of their raw, un-staged nature.
It is in these moments that life is lived. And you will be there to capture it.
By Bree Hester / 03.26.14
We have had a lot of snow days – 10 so far this year. And, as much as I love a cuddly day at home, keeping the kids occupied for that long is not easy. We did crafts, played games, watched movies, and baked. We did a lot of baking. A snow day is a perfect time to introduce your children to the kitchen.
I think that teaching your children to cook is one of the greatest gifts that you can give them. Not only are you teaching them a life skill (who am I kidding, MANY life skills) that they will carry throughout their life, but the experience is one that they will not forget. It is where memories are made. When I am cooking with my kids, we are talking, laughing and having a lot of fun.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time cooking with my kids. I have picked up a few tricks to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. I think of cooking the same way I do when I am doing a craft. It is an activity, but one that yields something delicious to eat at the end.
1. Pick an easy recipe to start with. Muffins are perfect because you can make them with nothing more than two bowls and a spoon. There are lots of jobs kids can do – measure, stir, put the liners in the muffin tins, scoop the batter.
2. Bring the kids into the kitchen on a day when you are not in a hurry. If you are trying to get dinner on the table on a busy weeknight, or need to bake 100 cupcakes for the bake sale, it is probably not the best time to have the kids helping you.
3. I get everything ready before we start. I pull the ingredients out, get the tools out, and then ask the kids to come help me.
4. It’s going to get messy. There will be flour on the counters, it’s just the way that it is. That is what makes it so much fun.
5. Kids need to help clean up the mess, it is part of cooking and the process. Let the kids clean up the spills, load the dishwasher, empty the dishwasher. It might not be exactly the way that you want it done, but it gives the kids a sense of pride and ownership over the kitchen.
Banana Chip Muffins
MAKES: 18 muffins
2 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line two muffin tins with 18 paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, mash banana with a fork. Set aside.
3. In a large measuring cup or bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add mashed banana and mix until combined. Set aside.
4. In another large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined, the batter will have lumps. Fold in chocolate chips.
6. Fill the muffins 2/3 of the way.
7. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.