how to throw the easiest big birthday party ever

February 25, 2015

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This weekend, we hosted a big birthday party at our house. It was the first time we’ve had more than a few people over in the new place (we’ve only been here about a month), so I wanted the house to look cute and the party to be fun and I have to admit that for a second there, I was a little nervous. It was a big extended-family-and-friends party, but for a three year old’s birthday… which meant making things cozy for the grownups, fun for the older kids and memorable for the little ones. Luckily, there is a simple solution that I would recommend to absolutely everyone in this situation and that I will have to restrain myself from doing for every single party for every single occasion here on out…

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…and that solution is the Bouncy House. For obvious reasons. It was uncharacteristically cold and windy for Albuquerque on Sunday, so we butted the bouncey up to our house and kids just ran in and out and in and out. It kept everyone occupied and let the grown-ups talk. We got an amazing deal and got one for basically the entire day for $70- totally worth it. Plus, they threw in a cotton candy machine, as pictured above. Which brings me to my next point…

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Sugar. So much sugar, all of the sugar, and sugar to the point where you know every kid in your house is going to be bouncing off the walls and you are ready to embrace it, as opposed to bracing for it. If there’s anything I learned from a lifetime of giant Italian family parties, it’s that you should just get over “keeping your house cute” from the start and just let. it. ride. Yes, we put up a basketball hoop in the living room. Yes, we threw boxes and bins of toys everywhere and just let the kids go at it. Yes, we let things spill everywhere without flinching and were totally OK with finger paints getting used on our beautiful hardwood floors…it’s a party! And with kids, the point is for them to have fun. And they did.

(A couple other quick-tips: order pizza. No one notices your fancy homemade food when they’re chasing around their own toddler. Also, I got a giant party tray of mini donuts from the best donut place ever and those were a huge hit. Finally- fun plastic tablecloths- it made clean up soooo easy. Quick wrap ups and some sweeping- took us 30 minutes tops!)

It was the perfect first big party in our new home. The birthday boy had a blast, and we have some special memories. Also, leftover pizza. (But definitely no leftover mini donuts.)

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READ: I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS

January 19, 2015

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When I graduated from high school, my dream was to be a magazine editor. College opened up other doors and I obviously ended up somewhere much different, but my fascination with flipping through glossy pages and studying the names on mastheads had Kate White on my radar years ago.

I loved how she balanced her (fabulous) “day job” as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan with a sensational side hustle (writing murder mystery novels!). I love my job, but lately I’ve been feeling like I want and need to kick it up a notch. Plus, I’ve been looking for ways other women handle work-life balance – and am curious about how career-focused mamas are fitting it all in (not planning on kids for several years, but I like to plan ahead!).

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This addressed all of those concerns and more, with a sassy, bold, take-no-prisoners tone.

The title highlights “asking for money” and “snagging the promotion,” but that’s not what the vast majority of the book is about. Rather, it’s about working hard, working smart, being assertive, planning your moves, and doing it all while still being someone you can look at in the mirror every night.

The sections are “Success: How to Get it,” “Success: How to Go Big with it,” and “Success: How to Savor it.” They cover everything from dealing with nasty co-workers to planning when and how to take maternity leave to orchestrating the right career path for you. It’s a refreshing, different take on the concept of “having it all.”

I read it voraciously… and while I loved it and was hooked every moment, I feel like reading it in a couple days didn’t do it justice and wasn’t the right way to absorb all of the concepts, inspiration and words of wisdom White had to offer. My plan now is to read a chapter a day for the next few weeks… reflecting on what’s said, how it applies to my life and whether it’s something I can adopt to improve my performance at work, enhance how much I love my career, or better balance my work-life obligations.

I also plan to snag every other career book Kate White’s written!

playlist: snow days

January 16, 2015

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The holidays are over but chilly temps are here to stay- at least for awhile. Here are the songs I’m warming up with this month- you can hear the playlist on Spotify.

  • 1.) Shooting Stars, Bag Raiders
  • 2.) Famous, Charli XCX
  • 3.) Trouble, Neon Jungle
  • 4.) Retro, Childish Gambino
  • 5.) The Party Line, Belle and Sebastian
  • 6.) Inside Out, Spoon
  • 7.) From the Night, Tribe Called Red // Stars
  • 8.) Gold on the Ceiling, The Black Keys
  • 9.) I Can Make You Feel Young Again, Copeland
  • 10.) The New You, Jenny Lewis
  • 11.) Make You Better, The Decemberists 

MAUI SIGHTS, SOUNDS & SWEETS

January 15, 2015

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While the Road to Hana was a serious highlight of our trip to Maui, there were also a lot of other amazing sights and experiences (and food) that made the trip so memorable. We took in whale watching, snorkeled with sea turtles and dolphins, munched on lots of Hawaiian food and drank a few Mai Tais (and pina coladas!).

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We stayed in our friend’s timeshare at the Maui Marriot Ocean Club. They also have hotel rooms in addition to the timeshares. The grounds were gorgeous, with great landscaping and design by the pools and an open-air lobby. They had a restaurant we grabbed take-out from one night, which was good, and a seriously beautiful view of the ocean and two islands.

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The resort is in Ka’anapali, an area of the island peppered with hotels, resorts and tourist attractions (but still, a lot of beautiful nature). We stayed just a few minutes away from Lahaina, where you can find blocks of shops, restaurants and nightlife (and where there are a lot of boats docked). There was also a Long’s pharmacy (a CVS chain, and one of the cheaper drugstores in town), which I’d recommend you check out for essentials while there.

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Aside from the amazing Polynesian food we sampled at our luau and seafood/grill dinners we ate out… I ate a ton of snow cones (free at our pool), shave ice and these amazing Honolulu cookies…

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They’re basically shortbread feeling, with kind of a macadamia nut (big in Maui) taste… some also flavored like Kona coffee, chocolate and mango… often dipped in chocolate. We bought a bunch to bring back and I’ve learned they have a location in Las Vegas and also can be shipped. That might happen since I’ve eaten almost all of the ones I bought already…

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Since this was our first trip to Maui and I don’t know when we’ll back, we did a few of the planned, guided excursion tours. As I mentioned earlier, one was whale-watching- and it was amazing. We saw a ton of whales since it’s mating season- including a full breach from a gigantic mama humpback whale. It was magical. I keep saying that word but it really was. We also snorkeled near Turtle Town…we saw a turtle and even some dolphins swimming by the boat! I posted a video on my instagram. The third tour we went on…

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…was for the Haleakala sunrise. This is hyped up as one of the best sunrises there is. You have to leave really early to get a spot- we left our hotel at 2:50 in the morning- and it is freezing. Since we went in winter I wore yoga pants, a tunic, a hoodie, a jacket and a blanket and was still cold… but it was worth it as the sun began to rise and the sky was full of a million different amazing colors. There’s no filter on the picture above…that’s how good it was!

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We went to the Feast at Lele luau on our last night in Maui, and there was no more perfect way to wrap up our trip. They had food and dances inspired by Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand…. and the most amazing drinks and dessert plates. The show was fabulous, and we capped off the night with a walk around the block, popping into galleries.

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Where we began and ended our trip, of course, was the airport. It’s open air, which gets you in the spirit right when you get there. On the day we left, my family’s flight was eight hours before mine and we learned when we got there that you can only check in three hours beforehand…so I spent a lot of quality time reading, drinking iced coffees and just enjoying the outdoor sitting areas they have. It was a peaceful, relaxing way to end the best trip I’ve ever been on!

MAUI: THE ROAD TO HANA

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Most of Maui was magical, but the Road to Hana was incredible. You could spend an unlimited amount of time exploring all of the sights along the road, but we only penciled in a day to do it all. Still, it was beautiful, inspiring and totally worth it.

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We followed the advice in Maui: Revealed, which turned out to be a pretty good guide to the island overall. The tips took us to several waterfalls and gorgeous pools of glittering water– as well as some gorgeous scenic overlooks.

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Because we only had a day to drive the road and we wanted to see as much as we could, we bought tickets to the Garden of Eden- it was totally worth it. The pull-off leads to a botanical garden full of flowers and trees and sights you’d see across Maui, curated all in one place. It may seem like an inorganic way to see everything, but it wasn’t like that at all- it felt like we were walking through a magical rainforest.

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One of my favorite finds: rainbow eucalyptus! This picture makes it look like a painted trunk- but that bark is all-natural. Unbelievable! I also loved the banana, lemon and lime trees, which may be common to some people but were new to me.

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The garden wasn’t built out of nowhere… it was speckled in with existing water, trees, peaks and views. This was one of them. I loved the way they arranged the flowers and trees to frame the outlooks. We spent a couple hours at the garden before heading off to our next destination…

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Wai’anapanapa State Park! This was one of my favorite views in all of Maui. The park has amazing trails, some caves where brave people in wetsuits jump in (I skipped that part…), and a view of the bluest ocean I’ve ever seen. It’s so clean and clear… very little’s been done to commercialize or taint the landscape.

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And one of the most spectacular and unique things I saw on my whole trip: a black sand beach. They’re rare, and beautiful. The sand felt just like the soft white sand near our resort in Ka’anapali, but obviously all the more magical.

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Once we got to Hana, we ate at the Hana Ranch Restaurant- which for whatever reason I can’t find a website for, but it’s really easy to find. The food was fresh and fabulous after a long day of climbing, wading, hiking and exploring. In all, the road was gorgeous, and the experience is totally up to you. I’m so glad I got a chance to see it, and I hope someday I’ll be back!

SO THIS IS THE NEW YEAR

January 1, 2015

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Shaun and I rang in the New Year at our go-to brewery- a quiet but familiar and fitting end to the year. This morning I woke up to lots of snow blanketing the roads and a productive but relaxing start to the year.

I’d like to say the New Year doesn’t feel any different. That I haven’t made silly New Year’s resolutions, that I’m not letting a change of calendar be a change in my state of mind, that I haven’t promised my best friend that 2015 is going to be our “best year ever” after having the same conversation for about five years…but none of that would be true. I love fresh starts – I’ve moved around ten times, the first day of school was always my favorite, and I love meeting new people and trying new things. So don’t mind me if I make the most of any chance to begin again.

The truth is that my transition to the New Year really started mid-December. 2014 was happy, fun, exciting and full of new adventures… but it was also a year in which I went through a lot of new experiences and emotions that I hadn’t had before, and that I had to learn to handle with grace and optimism. I had a tough time being satisfied when situations are less than ideal; at times, I got frustrated by situations that were out of my control. But it was a year of growth, and with the support and love of my family and other half, I feel like I came out much more ready for whatever’s ahead.

My resolutions are not so much brand-new goals as they are affirmations to continue on the path I want to be on, but here we go!

  • Physical wellness: I say wellness instead of fitness because my adventures in “super-healthy eating and exercise” typically start with me in 6x/week barre classes eating carrot sticks for lunch and end in a pile of pizza boxes and ice cream cartons. I’m obviously exaggerating, but my point is that I don’t really need or want a high-impact exercise and diet plan… I just want to feel my best. Eat foods that make my body feel good and give me lots of energy; enjoy exercise that makes me feel active, comfortable and at peace. I’d like to take a few more exercise classes… I never want to spend the money but always end up loving them. I also signed up for Ballet Beautiful…so far I love the weightless workouts. I’m not a huge fitness buff but I always feel great after her videos.
  • Pursuing interests outside of work and relationships: Clearly those are two of the most important and time-consuming things in my life.. and I love both my job and my relationships with family, friends and significant others. But in the past I’ve often been guilty of letting work consume my mind or obsessing too much about how to improve relationships even when they’re already good. Last year I spent too much time doing that and not enough on things I love: writing, photography, road trips and cooking/baking. This year I want to do more of that, and hopefully this blog will help me document that journey :o)
  • Have fun with life changes: There’s a lot changing in my life and the lives of my loved ones this year, and while I’m typically a planner, I want to let myself really enjoy moments without getting ahead of myself. Live in the present, not the future. This is something that I’ve struggled with since I was in middle school, so it’s a learning process, but I hope to spend more time being mindful and present in day to day life.

So… that’s my game plan for 2015. Here’s to another year of more ups than downs and plenty of new experiences! Signing off now for a week-long vacation…I’ll be back with plenty of photos from paradise. -xo

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breaking tradition

December 22, 2014

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Growing up, Christmastime was always my favorite part of the year. My parents did a spectacular job of making the season magical and building traditions for our family. Every year until I graduated from college, I remember waiting at the top of the stairs with my three younger brothers, all dressed in our pajamas, for our dad to get ready with the video camera and for the coffee to finish brewing before we could come down to the family room. I also remember, every year without fail, bundling up in the car with hot cocoa to drive around our neighborhood looking for the best Christmas lights- and, when we got home, my mom beaming at my dad and saying ours were the best.

Since finishing school, I’ve moved around a lot and spent a few Christmases apart from my family. This will be my second in a row- both spent in New Mexico, with frosty mountains swapped in for Chicago’s snowy roads. No doubt I feel a little sadness missing out on the Zucco fun, but I’ll FaceTime with them in the morning and will see them for vacation soon, so it’s been pretty easy to be positive about the situation, and Shaun’s been good about reminding me that I still talk with my family plenty during the season. With all that said… it’s been nice to start building new traditions here.

The way Shaun phrased it to me yesterday was that now, as adults, we’re creating the Christmas magic in ways that “grown-ups” did it for us when we were kids- and it helps that Shaun has a lot of family here, so there are plenty of kids around to create the magic for. We’ve passed on the excitement of chocolate-a-day Advent calendars, explained the Nativity, made gingerbread houses, bought little Nutcrackers (which Shaun’s mini me insists on using for even roasted peanuts), baked cookies and packaged them in little Santa tins, and thrown snowballs with the little bit of snow we got this month.

It’s a bittersweet feeling being on the other side of Christmas in that way. But “grown-up” or not, I still feel the magic, and I get it in different ways now – appreciating decorations in town plazas, snuggling up with cocoa and movies, insisting on corny Christmas carols in the car, and knowing that I have new friends and loved ones to spent the day itself with.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas, with all of the magic the North Pole has to offer. :o)

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snapshots of a perfect weekend

December 15, 2014

This weekend was fun, adventurous, sentimental, productive and relaxing — the perfect balance for making the most of off-work time.

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Saturday Shaun and I made a mini road-trip to Las Cruces in southern New Mexico for a wedding. The drive there was full of fun music, lots of coffee and a couple little stops. The ceremony was sweet and the reception was a blast. We had the best appetizers ever at High Desert Brewery, and walked around Old Mesilla, which is beautiful at Christmastime. We left after a few hours of dancing because we had to be back Sunday morning- which meant a late night fast food run and a lot of The Lumineers to get through the long, dark drive!

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Sunday we baked Christmas cookies and packaged them in tins for family and friends. Growing up my family always baked early in the month- an excuse to be festive for longer. It was a sweet way to spend the morning before an afternoon at the mall and a baby shower (it was a weekend full of life moments)! I still have Monday off work, so some time to get a few errands and some reading done… but I’m already feeling refreshed and ready for the week ahead.

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Last photo- a pretty surprise from Shaun on Friday, setting the tone for it all.

why i’ll miss ‘the newsroom’

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Photo Source: HBO/The Newsroom

Tonight HBO aired the season finale of The Newsroom and I’d be lying if I said my eyes were dry by the end (or, okay, middle) of the episode. The show has been fairly divisive — particularly among friends and co-workers in the business — so I’m familiar with many of the common criticisms surrounding the show. And while yes, there are parts of the show that don’t jive with the reality of a network (or local) newsroom… and while there were storylines that I, as a viewer and as a journalist wish would have been handled differently… there was something about the show that sold me from the first episode and kept me until the end.

Working in news, I’ve met so many people that really do just want to “do the news.” To shoot straight, tell the truth and make a difference. I watched Aaron Sorkin’s post-finale interview, and he said something that stuck with me: “I would like to see a renaissance of decency.” I think there is that sense in a lot of newsrooms. A desire to bring the community together– to provide people with the information they need to protect their families and to engage with their communities. I could go on and on about this, but this quote from the first episode of the show explains it better:

We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
–Will MacAvoy, “We just decided to.”

There are, of course, plenty of people in TV news that are in it for different reasons- some good, some bad. But I do believe a larger number of people go in trying to help others, and every day, go to work doing their best to bring light. This show did a good job of capturing that aspiration. If you liked it too, I suggest you read the “Wires and Lights” speech by Edward Murrow (though if you’re a TV news geek, you probably already have!)

why i’m in love with my hairstylist

December 9, 2014

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Well, first I love her for turning my brassy blonde Lady Lovely Locks (do you remember that show??) situation into this warm shade that feels more like “me” again… but beyond that, I love her because she probably knows more about my life and dreams and inner thoughts than anyone apart from my boyfriend, best friend and mom.

I’m a generally open person (I’m blogging, so…) but I’m also very much a “don’t air your dirty laundry” kind of person – online and in real life. Aside from a few close friends and a couple co-workers who I spend 40 hours a week with…I don’t like to complain or vent… but for some reason, suit me up with a salon bib and it all starts spilling out. I’ve never met a stylist I didn’t like (luckily), but when I met her I was like “oh my gosh, she’s the best.” (Note: I doubt she will ever read this but for some reason she does I also know she won’t even think it’s that creepy because she gets me and where I’m coming from.)

There’s something about seeing someone once every two months, for around an hour and a half, that makes it easy to let it all out… and with her, I do. She’s heard about when I first met my boyfriend, when I first met his son, how things go at work, the moments of drama that surface every once in awhile… and talking about it with someone who is generally detached from my situation- work, relationships and otherwise (we live in the same city, but rarely cross paths outside of appointments), is so helpful and therapeutic. I showed up at the salon today in a pretty good mood… but I left feeling like I’d just let it all out. I think she should call her appointments “hairapy”, that’s how therapeutic they are (I do know how corny that is, thank you very much).

Today, there was something that was worrying me – a situation I can’t control, which I’ve previously medicated with donuts – that I explained to her…and by the time my color had set, I felt 100% better. Here’s to a new positive outlook, letting it all slide off… and auburn hair :o).

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One more picture of my hair, which I shamelessly asked my boyfriend to snap before pizza at Gioco’s (great new lunch/appetizer/sports watching spot in Albuquerque, I’d recommend it…especially the carne adovada nachos) and a trip to the movies for air hockey and Mockingjay (yes, I know we’re little late). It was so good I cried!