Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Dance Party Playlist

What are your plans for New Year's Eve? Whether you're planning on partying with friends or just dancing around your own living room, I've got a playlist for you. This playlist features boogie-worthy tunes, old and new, including hits by Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Iggy, Wham!, Bieber, Pitbull and more. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking back

Sometimes when I'm looking for inspiration, I look back to my old blog. While I'm reading, sometimes I'll laugh, or even cry. 
I read about old heartbreaks; some make me smile and some still tug at my heartstrings. I read about old goals and wishes, and one thing is obvious: my life has been all over the place.

I read about my goals as a teenager: first I wanted to be a journalist, then a teacher, then a journalist again. Today, I am neither.

I wanted to move away and be somebody. Today, I live in my hometown.

I read about how much I loved my boyfriend (now husband.) I read about our awful breakup. I read about us getting back together, and being stronger than ever.

I read about dropping out of school because I couldn't afford it. I read about being accepted to my dream school. I reflect on fumbling my way through college at the local university until I left to work full-time.

And it's all exhausting.

When I started blogging six years ago, I never would have imagined my life taking this winding, crazy route that appears to have no specific destination. I still can't even completely believe that I got married this year.

And my life continues changing: before our wedding, I dreamed about having kids. Now, most of the time, I wonder if I want to have children at all.

It's exhausting when you realize you don't know what you want....

All that I need out of 2016 is happiness, and the ability to feel less guilty about the changes and choices I made in the past.

I am happy now, but sometimes it's hard not to regret choices I've made: Why didn't those things work out? How do other people view my choices? Why am I in this place in my life right now? Where do I go from here? 

But as much as those thoughts weigh on me, maybe I'm actually OK.

Maybe it's all about the destination and not what happens in the end. Sure, I'm not a journalist right now. Or a teacher. Or a mother.

But along the way, I think I've managed to learn about not only myself, but the world around me. I've learned about happiness, love, and getting through tough times. I've developed and grown as a person, hopefully a person my family is proud of, even though I may not have the expected accolades and success. And although I may not have accomplished the goals I once pined over, maybe there's something else in store for me. 

Maybe life doesn't always turn out as planned, and maybe that's just fine.

Right now, I'm just taking one day at a time, knowing nothing is permanent and anything can change. It's both terrifying and exciting.

Here's to 2016 and whatever it may bring. Hopefully I'll make future Jessi proud.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Best Songs of 2015

Musically, 2015 felt like a breath of fresh air. The Weeknd stormed in and made us all want to dance, Justin Bieber grew up and gained a bunch of new fans, and country music had a second coming thanks to artists like Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton avoiding the "bro country" stereotype and creating lasting music. 

It was a good year for music.

This playlist features my "best of 2015," from the songs you heard everywhere, like Charlie Puth/Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" (a.k.a. The "Paul Walker/Fast and Furious song") to pop hits including "Hotline Bling," "Cheerleader," and "Honey, I'm Good."

I also have to give a shout-out to Taylor Swift, who had the best year ever but is not featured on this playlist because she doesn't allow her music on Spotify. (Hat tip to the entire "1989" album, though.)

Check out the playlist below, and let me know in the comments: Do you agree with this list? What would you have added?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

10 Ways I Stayed Happy This Year

2015 was the year of Jessi's rediscovered happiness. 

After a less than amazing 2014, I wanted 2015 to be my year. I wanted to do something for myself that would change my life. For me, that was finding pure happiness.
I've realized that only one person is responsible for my happiness, and that's me. So I took charge and evaluated my life. I asked myself, Where could I improve? What did I want out of this year, and my life? Here's my 10 ways I found and kept happiness in my life this year. 

1. I took "me time." 
Something my husband and I are learning as newlyweds is that it's OK to have our own time. Although we've lived together for a few years, we were always working opposite schedules until the past year. Because of our newfound time together, we were constantly attached at the hip. But we're now realizing that if I want to read while he watches a movie, that's cool. By taking more "me" time for the first time since college, I've been doing more reading, blogging and listening to music. And taking time to do things I love makes me one happy, relaxed girl.
2. I asked myself: 'Is This Worth It?'
It's no secret that I deal with anxiety, and I'm aware that there's not necessarily a "cure" or a good way to stop it in its tracks. However, to help curb my anxiety and stress in situations, I'd find myself asking, "Is this worth it?" As in, "Is it worth it to care about this? To get worked up over this? Will this matter in one year, five years, twenty years?" Most of the time, the answer was "no," and although my worries may not have completely subsided, they did seem easier to handle.

3. I was especially grateful.
I think I realized how grateful I really am during my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year. We were going around the table saying why we were thankful, and I burst into tears. Sure, this isn't completely shocking, since I am an emotional person, but in that moment I realized how much the people around me meant to me. I reminded myself of that often throughout this year, and it made me appreciate each day of my life a little bit more.

4. I worked hard.
It's easy to fall into a slump at work, or to just give the bare minimum day in and day out. But when you give your all, you tend to feel better about yourself. When you work hard, you can come home satisfied with yourself. You'll sleep easier at night, too.

5. I spent more time with family.
If you're not a family person, or if your family stresses you out, I wouldn't recommend this one. But if you're lucky enough to have a supportive family, spending time with them will rub off on you in the best way. 

I also hugged a little longer than usual. (Especially my husband and cats.)

6. And on the flip side, I spent zero time with people I didn't want to see.
Guess what? You don't have to be friends with people you don't like. Seems simple enough, right? It's a hard concept for some people to tackle. Don't waste time on those that don't give a hoot about you! Once you allow yourself to remove those people from your life, your life will change for the better.

7. I tried new things.
I'm not the most adventurous type, so we're not talking mountain climbing or skydiving here, but I did dabble in a few new hobbies to get my feet wet. These things include cooking, baking and photography. (And oh yeah, the biggie: getting married.) Taking time to learn and try new things not only gave me a challenge, but gave me something to look forward to. I've found it's important to have something new and challenging to look forward to when you work in a 9 to 5 atmosphere during the day.

8. I said 'please' and 'thank you.'
Maybe mom was onto something when she drilled this one into our heads all those years ago. It becomes all too easy to gloss over little things that people do for us throughout the day, but when you show appreciation, it will make you and other people feel good.

9. I treated myself.
My husband and I aren't rich by any means, but I was able to do little things for myself as a reward for accomplishing goals or "just because" this year. I spent one long afternoon at the library, I got my hair cut and colored, and I visited a museum with my husband this year. Even if you don't have the means to do something big for yourself, like a luxury vacation, make sure to treat yourself throughout the year in a few ways. It'll feel good to do something for you!

10. I reflected. A lot.
Heck, even reflecting and putting together this post made me happy. By reflecting on my actions, my thoughts and my life, I found appreciation for even the smallest things in life. And when you can appreciate even the smallest things, that's when you've really found happiness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Very Soulful Christmas...The Playlist!

For the final countdown to Christmas playlist, I went with good ol' soulful sounds. This playlist features some of the greats, including Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Aretha and Otis.

Check out the Spotify player below for my soul Christmas playlist. What would you have added to this playlist?

And of course, have a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Worst Christmas Songs Ever

I've spent nearly a month researching Christmas songs and sifting through iTunes, Spotify and more to create a variety of Christmas playlists. Along the way I've discovered songs that have become my new favorites (Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper," anyone?) but I've also found some serious clunkers. (I mean, why did David Hasselhoff ever need to make a Christmas album?)
Santa is not pleased.
After my dad told me about the most depressing Christmas song, "The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot," (the title gives most of the song away,) I realized that for every great Christmas song, there's a few that miss the mark entirely. I decided to seek out the worst Christmas songs ever, and hand out some awards.

Most Depressing
Nat King Cole's "The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot" is pretty self-explanatory. Not only does the little boy not get any presents, but on top of that, he also doesn't have a father, and he spends his day playing with broken toys. You keep hoping this song will somehow have a happy ending, but it never comes. I don't think you'll hear this one playing in the shopping mall this season, but maybe it should?

Honorable mention for most depressing goes to John Denver's "Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas.)" Denver's lighthearted, sing-songy voice matched with lyrics like "You came home a quarter past eleven and fell down underneath our Christmas tree," just don't match. The song tells a somber, realistic story, but how do you take it seriously when it sounds so cheery?

The Most Annoying
This one's a tie between Elmo & Patsy's "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" and Spike Jones' "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth.)" Yeah, yeah, yeah....go ahead and tell me these are Christmas classics. I don't care. The high-pitched voice and whistling/wheezing in "Two Front Teeth" nearly makes my ears bleed. And "Grandma?" Honestly, it kinda makes me sad. It's also annoying at the same time...somehow.

Why did Destiny's Child get rid of four days of Christmas? Why did Cyndi Lauper think there needed to be a "Christmas Conga?" Why did New Kids on the Block ever want a "Funky" Christmas? Why does "Thistlehair the Christmas Bear" sound so much like the story of Santa? Why do the Beach Boys sing about a child assaulting the shopping mall Santa? The world may never know.

If you dare to take a listen, I've included the Spotify playlist of these awful, awful holiday songs. I've also included a few extra. Enjoy, I guess?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Duets Playlist

I've really gotten into the holiday spirit this month while putting together these playlists. I even have a few more Christmas playlists to share with you in the next week. But for today, enjoy some Christmas duets. This playlist features a variety of duos: Nick & Jessica, Justin & Usher, Blake & Reba, and of course... Kenny & Dolly. Enjoy!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Very Rockin' Christmas...The Playlist!

For this week's countdown to Christmas playlist, I picked a variety of rock and roll Christmas songs. I've been listening to rock music for as long as I can remember, so this playlist just made sense. And surprisingly enough, there are a ton of rock Christmas songs out there!

Check out my playlist below via Spotify...and be sure to check in next Monday for the final Christmas playlist!


What songs would you add to this playlist?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

When You Realize Life is Fleeting

In the last year and a half, my hometown has lost two people from my graduating class. They were sudden, surprising deaths of two people I've known since I was five years old. Each time, people came together, Facebook posts were written, and fundraiser accounts were created. But it never gets easier.

To lose people, so young, only in their early's impossible to put feelings into words. And sure, I've known these people for so long, but my sadness can't hold a light to the pain their close friends and family are feeling. I hope they find peace.

Although I knew these people, I only feel like an outsider receiving one message: life is fleeting.

My husband and I were just discussing life's unpredictability just the other day. I opened up to him and told him how scared I am of death. I said that as I get older, I'm beginning to comprehend mortality, even my own. I told him I'm worried to lose loved ones; I'm scared of things completely out of my control. 

After all, life is fleeting.

My husband told me I can't be scared of death. I can't know when it will happen, or who it will affect. Instead, he said, I need to appreciate every day and tell everyone how much I love them. Be there for them. Remember people when they're gone, and live every day I have to live, no matter how simple or insignificant that day may seem. Seems simple enough, right? But it was something I needed to hear from someone else in order to completely understand.

So I'm taking time to remember those we've lost, and the memories we shared. Those memories that included walks together home from school, or the bloody nose I got before he once took me on a date. (It didn't work out, but he was still kind.) I remember study sessions at the bookstore, and Guitar Hero jams in his basement. Our moments together were brief, but they left an impact. Such people with old souls and kind hearts will never be forgotten.

I'm realizing that life is fleeting, and life is precious. Tell people you love them, that you need them, and that you appreciate them. It will change lives.

Monday, December 07, 2015

An Oldies Christmas... the Playlist!

For this week's countdown to Christmas playlist, I went with good ol' oldies. After all, it's hard not to get swept up in vintage Christmas songs like Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" and anything by Frank Sinatra.

Check out my oldies playlist below via Spotify...and be sure to check in next Monday for another Christmas playlist!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Falling in Love All Over Again

In 2010, I fell in love for the first time.
Of course, I didn't realize it for the longest time. He was the one who said "I love you" first, way too soon in my opinion, but somehow it didn't scare me away. In fact, it just made me think about it all even more. 

I visit my old blog all the time: to reminisce, reflect on my past, and to find writing inspiration. I found this blog post I wrote when I first realized I was in love. (Because as a writer, I took to writing about my feelings before realizing they were real....and then later expressing them to the person who needed to hear them the most.)

In the post, I couldn't figure out how love even happens. 

"Basically, how the hell can two people fall in love with EACH OTHER at the same time? How can two people, just two people out of all the people in the world care for each other and dub the other the right one, when they haven't met all the other people in the world? When everything could change tomorrow? How could these two find each other and be content with just the other?"

To be fair, I still think these are legitimate questions. Especially when being asked by a 19-year-old.

By the end of the post however, I start to realize that maybe it is possible, and it can happen. (A.K.A. the cynic in me starts to believe that even I can enjoy this luxury called love.)

But then when I went all in, and I allowed myself to be in love and truly enjoy that relationship, it clicked. 

"I've found that two people can be with each other and REALLY, truly be content. It's like your own little world, or rather, you're living out your own inside joke every single day. Even on the bad days, it's still yours and yours alone. And you wouldn't trade it for the world."

It's funny how I defined love as "your own little world" more than five years ago, and to this day I'm still experiencing that exact feeling... with that exact same person. It was one time that I left my comfort zone (and carefully gave someone trust, something I don't typically do,) and it happened to pay out. 

Sure, it never came easy, and it didn't work out every minute of every day, but it worked out in the end. And all the tough stuff in the middle made the happy outcome taste even sweeter.

Now more than ever, our love is our own little inside joke. Now more than ever, we are best friends. We've just started to build the foundation of our life together, and I wouldn't want anyone else by my side. 

I realize there's a long way to go and a lot of trials and tough times ahead, but I know that we can get through it together. 

He reminded me of that just yesterday, when he helped me through a difficult time. Those moments really show me that together, we've done something right. Even if the rest of the world doesn't know about those things, it doesn't matter. Because we know, and we know we can get through it together.

I think I'm falling in love all over again. Those 19-year-old Jessi posts about love resonate with me just as much now as they did then. Maybe it's the newlywed glow I have. Or maybe it's starting to sink in (all over again) that I have so much to be appreciative of. 

(And, some things never change... This morning I took to writing about my feelings first to sort them out...but this time around he knows he's very loved. There's no doubt about that.)

Friday, December 04, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Christmas has arrived at the LaRue house...
Chris and I spent part of last weekend getting Christmas decorations out of the basement and setting up our tree. (Even the kitties decided to "help.") 
This is the third year Chris and I have set up our Christmas tree together, and this year's holiday season will be even more special since we just got engaged last Christmas Eve. We look forward to giving gifts, driving around to look at Christmas lights, eating my mom's delicious Christmas cookies, and enjoying our first married Christmas. We'll spend the next few weeks wrapping presents and listening to Christmas music, of course. 
Movie theater ornament for the couple who met at the theater.
What are some of your Christmas traditions? Any suggestions on how to celebrate our first married Christmas?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Birthday Wishes for Myself (Bonus: Playlist!)

It's my birthday! I'm officially 25 years old. I'm a big fan of self reflection, so what better time to give myself some birthday "wishes," or rather, goals?

Some things I'd like to accomplish in the next year:

Continue to self improve: Handle my anxiety even better next year than I did this year. I think it requires the simplest of steps: Just take everything one day at a time.

Write more often: I've written more in the last few weeks than I have in the last year. I'd love to keep this momentum going! I feel so inspired.

Speaking of inspired...I'd love to take more photographs. Sure, I'm definitely an amateur and I have a lot to learn, but it's a hobby and challenge I'm excited to take on.

Love deeply. I was so lucky to marry my best friend this year. I'd love to continue showing how grateful I am for his love and my family's love, not only next year but for the rest of my life.

Get crafty. I love to craft, and although I have plenty of pins on Pinterest, I rarely find myself taking the time to complete these projects. This winter will be the perfect time to make some crafts as well as learn how to cook a few meals. 

And finally...enjoy life for what it is. My life may be simple, but it's the best. Never forget to be grateful, love, laugh and simply be happy. I'm happy to be alive.

And since I love music and have a history of making birthday-themed playlists (See this and this...) Here's a playlist of songs (old and new) that I'm currently loving. (Warning: It's pretty eclectic.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Very Country Christmas Playlist

As early as the day after Thanksgiving, I already had Christmas tunes playing. Because December officially kicks off tomorrow, what better way to celebrate than with more Christmas music? To celebrate the season I'll be posting a new Christmas playlist (via Spotify) here every Monday until the week of Christmas. 

Let's start off with my favorite genre: country!


Check back next week for another Christmas-themed playlist by yours truly!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Quarter-Life Crisis? No thanks.

I turn the big 25 next week. Veinticinco. Quarter of a century. 

It is a little intimidating to say the least. After all, I will officially be in my mid-twenties. Closer to thirty than ever before. Old enough to know better? Better than what?

After much deliberation, I have decided I'm not going to let the number get the best of me.
To someone else, 25 years may mean nothing. You're still young! You have so much life ahead of you! Yeah, but there's something...monumental about 25. Thinking about it now makes me wonder: Have I done enough? Have I done the right things? Am I where I'm "supposed to be" by this point?

When my parents were my age, they had already been married for five years and had a four year old child. (Yep, me.)

At my age, I don't have kids, but I am recently married. I didn't finish college, but I have a full-time job. I don't have a house, but I have an apartment with my husband.

Was there a certain order I was supposed to follow? Because if so, I'm nowhere near it.

I'm finding that in my twenties it's harder than ever to not compare my success or my life to my peers. They already own a house, I think. They already have kids...she has such a good job! Am I really that far behind?  

But when I think deeply about what I want, not about what I should be doing, I don't see myself having children any time soon. I see myself saving money for a house I'd truly love to own, rather than jumping at the first thing I see. I'm spending time on hobbies rather than trying to check boxes off my "life to-do list."

Why? I'm happy right now. 

Personally, my biggest success in the last year has been reigning in my anxiety and finding courage to write openly like this again. Right now my happiness (and sense of relief) is good enough for me.

And sure, I may have a "dead end" job according to some, but that doesn't mean I can't work hard at that job in an effort to not only improve myself, but to prove those non-believers wrong. I believe you can find success at anything, as long as you truly dedicate yourself to it.

Yes, I still have occasional doubts about my life right now. I do sometimes wonder if there's something I could have done differently in the past to have a different outcome. I don't think that means I'm ungrateful about my life, but rather that I'm...human.

So although I could be having a good old "quarter-life crisis" next week, I think I'll take the high road instead. I'm going to enjoy what I've accomplished so far, as well as plan for what I want to take on next.

I realize that this life of mine may not go by "the book," but I'm really starting enjoy my own version.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why I'm Thankful

I've had a pretty good life.

Sure, there have been years I've considered rough: There were years I struggled to do well at multiple jobs, moments I've been scared or anxious, and times that I had a major falling out with friends. But honestly, this has been a really good year. And as always, no matter what happens, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Most importantly, my family. 

Sure, they mostly drive me crazy, but they've always been there for me and I know they'd go to the ends of the earth for me. (I'd do the same for them.) I was also lucky to officially add a new member of my family this year (although he's been my family for years,) my husband Christopher. I'm thankful to be surrounded by love and support 24/7. 
I'm thankful for my health, and my family's health. I'm thankful every time my mom picks up the phone, or when my dad makes it home safely from another trip out on the road. I feel lucky to have had my sister at my side during my wedding. 

I'm thankful for my sweet kittens who are some of the most loving animals I've met. I'm thankful to be employed, and to have a roof over my head. I'm thankful to have friends, near and far, who are always there for me, no matter what.

Simply put: I'm grateful. I'm lucky.

In the words of Zac Brown: "I've got everything I need and nothing that I don't."

What are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 23, 2015

On One Month of Marriage

People insisted that married life would be different. That it would change us.

For us, it's been much of the same.

That sounds like a bad thing, but it's quite the opposite. Chris likes the fact that our life together hasn't changed at all. After all, we signed up for the life we already had: working together to create the life we wanted, being happy and enjoying the simple things.

The label hasn't changed us, he says.

As we celebrate one month of marriage today, I fully realize that we are not the same dopey teenagers we were when we first met. We come with a lot of history, stories, heartache, love and compassion. But it all led us here. Sure, we're trying new things, like photography, cooking more often, and Chris has been encouraging me to get back into writing. Perhaps we're the same, but marriage has renewed our inspiration and zest for life.

I wouldn't say anything about us has changed, other than our goals becoming more focused. Now we seriously plan and talk about our common goals, like working extra hard at our jobs and saving for a house. Other than setting up our joint bank account and changing my name, it's still just good old Chris and Jessi. (And the LaRue cats, of course.)

And I love it. I wouldn't change a thing.

Here's to many years of enjoying our lives together, just the way we are.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter hits the Midwest

Winter has officially hit the Midwest. Anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of snow hit our county this weekend! Since I'm not a big fan of snow, I hid inside as it came through Friday and Saturday. This morning, however, the hubby agreed to venture out with me as I took some photos in downtown Sycamore. Although it was cold, it was beautiful! 

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Have you had any snow yet?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

DIY Cocktail Hour/Wedding Dinner Music

Chris and I wanted to have an inexpensive, low-key wedding. To accomplish that, we took on quite a few DIY projects. I think the one that saved us the most money was doing our own music.

It made sense to cut costs here: a DJ for the evening would have cost us about $1,000 at minimum, and with only 30 guests attending our wedding, we didn't know if anyone would actually dance. (Oh, were we ever wrong about that.)
Here's a disposable camera pic for proof.
As an avid music lover, I also took into account the fact that I own nearly 6,000 songs already, so why not put that time, money and effort to good use? Chris and I put together our own dinner and dancing playlists. And they turned out great. With some minor tweaking with crossfading, we were practically pros!

I've decided to share our dinner music here, in case anyone else would like to DIY wedding music. To create the playlist, we decided we wanted this particular playlist to play while guests arrived, during the cocktail hour and during dinner. (This way, no one had to fidget with the music too often.) We had about three hours of music to cover this time, and we didn't have to use it all. 

Thinking about creating your own playlist for the evening? We decided to start with a theme, and build on that. Our theme was cheesy love songs. We mostly built off oldies and classics (see: "Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals, "It Takes Two" by Marvin Gaye, and "Chapel of Love" by The Dixie Cups.) We added country music because we love country, and added some Disney love songs because we're '90s babies. We topped it off with a few newer songs and sprinkled in some Stevie Wonder (because have you ever met someone who doesn't like Stevie?)

I think our music was one of the most unique parts of our big day, and moments throughout the evening showed us we did it right, from a thumbs-up from my dad during "Hey Good Lookin'" by Hank Williams, to grins and a squeal of excitement during "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. People also approved of Beauty and the Beast's "Be Our Guest" when food started to arrive.

That night we actually used iTunes, not Spotify, but I thought Spotify would be easiest to share. We went with iTunes because that's where all my music is, and because it's the easiest system for us to navigate.

Check out our DIY cocktail hour/wedding dinner music, and feel free to cater it to your needs!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Six years later...a blogging anniversary!

I started blogging six years ago today. I haven't been blogging for six years straight, unfortunately, but so many things have happened in between...

I started blogging Nov. 19, 2009 over at The Musings of a Wannabe Star. (Then again, it was called something else back then. It went through quite a few names before I fell in love with that one.) I wrote a series about meeting and dating This Totally Awesome Boy, who became my Totally Awesome Husband just this last month. At my former blog I blogged playlists, late-night ramblings and more. I was honored to be selected Blog of Note in the next year.

Then I got wrapped up in college, journalism and life, and my blog suffered. Then I took a break. But earlier this year I created a new home here at Becoming Mrs. LaRue. And although I haven't blogged nearly as much here as I did at my last blog, I have so much in store. I feel so creative and inspired. And I know this is just the beginning. 

So although I may be a blogger of six years, I think this year's blog birthday marks the start of something completely new.

Get ready for my exploration into newlywed life, photography and more. This is just the beginning! What would you like to see on this blog?

And of course, thanks to everyone who has stuck with me throughout the years and through multiple blog changes... I appreciate you more than words could ever say!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

This Chick is Ready for the Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks are going on tour next year. 

I repeat... the Dixie Chicks are going on tour next year.

It's been 10 years since a controversy pushed them out of the spotlight, but they're finally back. All controversy aside, the country girl in me couldn't be more excited to hear their music again. After all, who doesn't love songs like "Cowboy Take Me Away," "Goodbye Earl," "Wide Open Spaces" and more? 

The group was a hit machine, and I'm a big fan of their music. Needless to say, when I saw the tour announcement yesterday, I almost hit the roof (with excitement, that is.)

My first reaction: I hope they do the old stuff. One year ago I saw Garth Brooks live; it was his first tour in thirteen years, and in my opinion, he delivered exactly what the audience craved: high energy performances and a variety of his old hits sprinkled with the occasional new song. It was perfect. After all, if you're seeing your favorite, wouldn't you want to hear the best?

I hope Dixie Chicks take the same route. Bring out nostalgic oldies like "There's Your Trouble," "Long Time Gone" and especially "Not Ready to Make Nice." Dixie Chicks fans love the oldies. But don't be afraid to show us something new, too.

Their return couldn't have better timing, either: country music is lacking serious female voices and the Dixie Chicks always had power, beautiful instrumentals, strong vocals, and serious attitude. They could be the ones to bring genuine music and lyrics back to country radio. I hope they take on that challenge.

Hopefully see you next summer, ladies!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Thank You for My Mentor

In order to be successful in college (and in life,) I think it's crucial to find someone to mentor you. It should be someone in your field who has the best of intentions for you, all while giving you guidance, encouragement and advice.

For me, it has always been Melissa Blake.

Before I even met her, Melissa was already a known name in my home. She was a columnist for the local newspaper, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out she'd be my adviser when I started working at the community college newspaper almost six years ago. From day one she went out of her way to inspire me, encourage me, and simply be there for me.

I just wanted to use this blog post to say thank you to Melissa.

Now that I'm back to blogging regularly, it just seemed like the right time to thank Melissa for everything she's done for me. I don't think I'd be where I am today, as a writer or as a person, if it wouldn't have been for her.

She encouraged me to freelance for the local newspaper, she gave me my first Associated Press stylebook, and she convinced me to start a blog. At the time those things may have seemed like small, simple gestures, but each one created a huge impact in my life. They led me to be the person I am today: a hard-working writer with a passion for journalism, blogging, and telling a good story.

I hope everyone has a Melissa in their life -- someone who will encourage you, give you feedback, and guide you along your way. If you don't have someone like that in your life, be that person for someone else.

Thanks, Melissa.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Becoming Mrs. LaRue and discovering myself

My love of learning led me to journalism.

I've always loved to read, learn, write and try new things. In school I was an attentive and smart student, and as I grew I realized that by being a journalist I could get paid to meet people, learn new things and explore things outside of my comfort zone. It was like constantly being in a classroom! Unfortunately, there were times that leaving my comfort zone was too much, and it became apparent that journalism wasn't for me.

During the last year after leaving journalism, I started to realize that something kind of major was missing from my life, but I had no idea what it was. At times I felt sad; I felt incomplete. I chalked it up to the fact that I was working 40 hours a week in an office job...not exactly the most fulfilling thing in the world. Then my boyfriend proposed.

As wedding planning began, I absorbed every bit of it. I read all the magazines, I DIY'd things and I blogged about the process. And slowly but surely, I began to feel a spark again. I felt good. I chalked it up to being excited about getting married. Then I realized not only was I excited about getting married, but that it felt good to get excited about something and create something truly beautiful.

The wedding has since came and went, but I have yet to find a lull in the weeks since. I got a new camera and I've been researching photography tips and tricks. I play around with it when I can, and it makes me feel so inspired. I tried a couple of Pinterest recipes for the first time (I don't know how to cook) and I really enjoyed it. I've even marked up a cookbook so I can do more. I've been really listening to music again, as well as writing and reading other blogs. Everything makes me so excited and I feel so full of life. I feel like I'm learning and living again.

Then it dawned on me: I had the power to feel this excitement all along. When I left my job in journalism, I thought my days of fresh ideas, new places and new things were over. I thought I'd be chained to my cubicle, devoid of inspiration. Then I realized I could do something about it. I realized I could be more.

So I am.

I'll be 25 years old in a few weeks; to some that may seem young, but to me it's been somewhat of a wake-up call. What am I doing right now? What do I want to be? Thinking about it makes me realize that I want to continue learning and living, and that means doing it on my terms: blogging, reading, taking photos, even something as simple as doing something fresh with my hair...I'm in charge.

It's reflective of my new blog title as well: Becoming Mrs. LaRue. Sure, I may be actually becoming Mrs. LaRue right now, filling out forms and standing in line at the DMV to change my last name, but I think I'm becoming something new in more ways than one. I think I'll be Becoming Mrs. LaRue for the rest of my life. After all, why should I stay the same person forever? Can't I rediscover myself and still learn things about myself every day?

Not only am I discovering myself as a new wife, but also as a 25 year old, a blogger, a photographer, and whatever else I decide I want to be.

I'm realizing life isn't over when you get a job, when you get older, or when you settle down. In fact, it's a good excuse to mix things up a bit.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Yes, Good Country Music Still Exists.

If you're in the same boat as 98 percent of my Facebook news feed, you caught a glimpse of the CMAs last night and immediately wondered one of many thoughts, all of which I've seen online today: Who is Chris Stapleton? He looks so country! So different! Wow, the awards show actually felt sort for once!

As an avid country music fan myself, I'm here to attempt to show new fans that although current country radio may appear to be mostly "bro country," full of lyrics about pickup trucks and pickin' up girls, there's actually a lot of good country music out right now that just may not be hitting the airwaves. Here's a few of my current country favorites, for anyone who's seeking something that's not Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. (Hint: If you liked Chris Stapleton, you might like these, too!)

Eric Church
This one's a no-brainer, as he packs a mighty punch: he's a songwriter, guitarist, rowdy singer and more. He surprised his fan club members with a gift on their doorstep yesterday morning: his brand new CD before it became available to anyone else. Talk about treating your fans right.
Tracks to check out: "Like a Wrecking Ball," "Sinners Like Me," "Carolina"

Miranda Lambert
I was fortunate enough to see Miranda live a few weeks ago thanks to the impromptu "bachelorette party" my sister threw for me. Miranda is a fierce singer and guitar player. Her latest album, "Platinum" is one of my favorites, but she's had hits for many years.
Tracks to check out: "Automatic," "Bathroom Sink," "Smokin' and Drinkin' (feat. Little Big Town)"

Dierks Bentley
Another singer-songwriter. (Anyone noticing a pattern? Maybe those who write their own music do some of the best work.) Dierks has been putting out music for years, and it has always been steady and strong stuff.
Tracks to check out: "Riser," "Train Travelin'," "Bourbon in Kentucky"

Ashley Monroe
When she's not in Miranda's girl group Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe is doing quite well on her own. She's incredibly reminiscent of the ladies of old school country.
Tracks to check out: "Hank's Cadillac," "Bombshell," "Monroe Suede"

George Strait
OK, this one may seem silly since he's the King of Country, but he recently released a new album, Cold Beer Conversation, and in my opinion it's destined to be yet another classic for King George.
Tracks to check out: "Amarillo by Morning," "Cheaper than a Shrink," "Carrying Your Love With Me"

Kacey Musgraves
When this girl isn't writing killer tracks for other artists, she's nailing it on her own. She's witty, colorful and inspiring.
Tracks to check out: "Trailer Song," "Follow Your Arrow," "Silver Lining"

Little Big Town
LBT has been together since the 1990s, but they really had their biggest payback when they picked up multiple awards at last night's CMA awards. I'm a sucker for their harmonies. The ladies really carry that group.
Tracks to check out: "Girl Crush," "Tornado," "Little White Church"

Honorable mentions: Clare Dunn, Zac Brown Band, Justin Moore, Carrie Underwood

And here's three more for those of you still swooning over Mr. Stapleton: "Fire Away," "The Devil Named Music," "What Are You Listening To?"

Who are your current country favorites?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Our Pumpkin Festival Wedding

Chris and I purposely planned our wedding for the most wonderful time of year... Pumpkin Festival weekend. 

I've lived in Sycamore, Ill. my entire life, and Chris has been here since he was a teenager. Pumpkin Festival is the town's crown jewel of more than five decades, and the festival completely transforms the town. The leaves change colors, downtown is alive with people and decorated pumpkins...And now it will forever hold a spot in our memories as we celebrate our wedding anniversary for many years to come.

Here's a little background: Wally "Mr. Pumpkin" Thurow is credited with creating the festival, when he placed decorated pumpkins on his front yard. Fifty four years later, the festival is so large that thousands of people come to visit, a 2+ hour parade is held, and children's decorated pumpkins scrawl across the entire lawn of the county courthouse downtown. One of the coolest aspects? Non-profits can host craft booths and food booths downtown, so all money spent goes to a good cause. (Here's a story I've written about the festival.) 

Chris and I were married Friday, Oct. 23 in our sweet little town, then that Sunday we watched the big parade with family members. It was the perfect way to celebrate both the festival and our new marriage. Chris' family gifted us a new camera, so we spent the last few hours of the festival weekend taking photos around town. We posed our rings with pumpkins, the statue of Mr. Pumpkin, and more.

Why did we choose such a busy weekend for our wedding? It seemed like the perfect time to get family into town for both our nuptials and the celebrations downtown. We also have dreams of celebrating our anniversary years from now with our children and grandchildren, as we are all staked out along the parade route. 

I can't even put it into words, but our town during Pumpkin Festival and autumn time is absolutely breathtaking.

Here's some of our images from our Pumpkin Festival photo shoot. Click to enlarge:

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Things I Learned During My Own Wedding

Well...we did it. This Totally Awesome Boy and I got hitched on Oct. 23, after more than five years of dating, 10 months of being engaged, and 5 months of wedding planning. Just like everyone suggested, the day flew by and I could hardly sleep the night of the big day because all the memories kept replaying in my head, like mini movies. For being a small, intimate wedding with 30 guests, it had all the power and gusto of a big soiree. And it was a lot to take in.

But in the week following, as life returned to normal, I realized that I learned a lot during our big day. Some things surprised me, and some things turned out better than I ever could have imagined.

Relaxed does not mean boring
We had a relaxed reception with an iTunes playlist, no seating chart, and no bouquet toss or garter dance. We got up and kicked off the first dance when we felt like it, and there was no pressure to follow a specific timeline (other than when the food was ready.) We just went with the flow. And honestly, people enjoyed it. I think the schedule offered people a chance to loosen up a bit, as opposed to feeling uptight.

Goof-ups mean memories
After I walked down the aisle with my father, the officiant introduced me as "Chrissy," which we think was a combination of my name and Chris' name. As everyone stood there in awkward silence for a moment, trying to process what exactly had just happened, someone piped up and politely corrected him. We all awkwardly giggled, but then we moved on. I told Chris later that "Chrissy" was just our new celebrity romance name. 

Old school beats all
We wanted to try a little bit of everything at our wedding, so we put out disposable cameras and a selfie stick for our guests, since we weren't sure which would work better. Later we realized one group used the selfie stick (after we had to show them how to use it) and we still haven't seen the one picture that was taken with it. After we ordered CDs filled with our disposable camera photos, we realized we had more than 100 goofy photos of guests dancing, holding signs and just having a good time. Those photos are an absolute treasure.

True family and friends will always have your back
We had a lot of laidback, DIY elements to our wedding, which required some assistance. Luckily, we had help. We had friends playing our playlist on time, collecting autumn leaves for our scrapbook, and more. Family parked our truck (since we couldn't afford a car and driver,) helped do the bustle on my dress, and helped us clean up and carry everything out of the venue once the party ended. It really surprises you (and feels good) when people step up without even having to be asked.

Just be yourself
Chris and I were so happy for that day, mostly for two reasons: We had a small, intimate day with less than 30 people because we invited only who we really wanted there, and because we had worked hard and saved up to pay for the majority of the day by ourselves. So when the day finally came, we really wanted to enjoy it with genuine smiles on our faces. And we did! We smiled, we danced and we laughed the entire night through. To our surprise, one of our bartenders commented to a family member of ours that they had worked at a few receptions and we were the happiest couple they'd ever seen. That meant a lot to us.

The biggest lesson I learned, though? Have a wedding that suits you. Our small, low-key, intimate day was exactly what was best for us, so we had a good time.

Just a few of our disposable camera gems are below. Also, check out Melissa Blake's post about our big day here! It's a beautiful post.      

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Open Letter to Myself on My Wedding Day

For my wedding, I wrote letters to my fiance, mother, father and sister. It only seemed right that I should have one for myself, too.

Dear Jessi,

Today... you get married.

The once-awkward teenage girl who couldn't catch a date in high school is getting married at 24 years old. Sure, it's much older than when your parents got hitched, but it's about average when compared to your friends tying the knot. But honestly, all that matters is that you know it's the right time for you. And it really is the right time.

See, last year was hell, in a nutshell. You bounced out of college, into a job, out of that job, and into another. At times you struggled to find yourself, and you were almost constantly struggling to be happy with yourself and find inner peace. But no matter how bad it was, you always got to come home to him. And today, you marry him.

Christopher has changed a lot, too. Obviously he's changed from the teenage boy you met six years ago. Not only does he listen to better music now, or lay off the cologne just a little more, but he's also become an incredibly strong person. He takes care of you, and he finally takes care of himself. You two have been through so much together that it boggles me to this day. But after going through all those things together, it only makes sense that you should continue it all together. He really is your best friend.

I don't really have any spectacular wedding day advice to share with you, but I do hope you truly enjoy every stinkin' second of it, because, as your dad puts it, "if you do it right, you only have to do it once." 

And you've been so lucky to have your parents by your side throughout all of this. I hope you remember that for the rest of your life. By answering your worrywart phone calls, to going shopping, to putting together centerpieces, to your dad doing everything he could to make sure he could be home for your big day... your family bends over backwards for you. I know you could never completely explain how grateful you are for all of that, but always carry those memories in your heart. They're good ones to have.

I hope this wedding is fun; I hope it's beautiful. But I hope your marriage with Chris is even better. Continue doing what you've been doing and I'm sure you'll be fine. Listen to each other, take care of each other, and never stop talking to each other. And always, always listen to each other. Make sure to take time away together (away from phones) and enjoy each other's company. Never, ever take each other's company for granted. Life is too short for that.

Finally, I just want to remind you to always love deeply. Love him like you first did in 2010 when you were teenagers and just started dating. Don't be afraid to throw him an old dopey grin. Don't be afraid to be silly. Always be yourselves with each other, especially when you can't do that with anyone else. Know that you have each other, and that's how it should be.

I hope you have the most beautiful day of your life. And I hope your marriage teaches you even more about yourself, and I hope you continue to write it all down. The memories will be so wonderful to look back on someday. I can't wait to see what those memories are.

Happy wedding day.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Success is a Funny Thing (Or My American Dream 2.0)

Although my life changes almost every day, one thing remains constant: I've always got an eye on being "successful."

Since I was a child I've wanted to be considered a true success. I wanted to be the best in my class; when we had fake bank accounts in the fifth grade, I had to have the most money. I had to be an officer in every club, I had to have the most unique outfits and car. Everything I did, I wanted it to be perfect and noticeable.

My methods of measuring success have changed, though. When I was younger I was so dead set on a particular kind of success: college, graduation, amazing job, supporting myself, and maybe a family. Maybe. I wanted to move to a city and rock the world with my writing. Doing it the best and doing it all alone: that was the definition of success for me.

And as I worked my way through college I found myself still pursuing that goal: my last semester in college I had a 4.0 GPA and was about to start freelancing for the local newspaper, while holding the second highest position in my college newsroom, until I took a leap of faith and decided to drop out of school to pursue that journalism dream even further. Even though I wasn't finishing school, something I used to think was crucial to my success, I thought landing a full-time job was even more successful.

...Until I realized how unhappy I was in it. Sure, I was at the peak of success. I was working hard, doing really well, but at the end of the day I came home with a nervous knot in my stomach. I wasn't happy with what I was doing, and although I was proud of myself, I started to realize that maybe success isn't only made up of what can be seen on the surface. Maybe true success digs a little deeper.

When I was 19 I blogged about the American dream: the house, the husband, the 2.5 kids and the dog. I said that wasn't for me: I needed a career and I needed to be a breadwinner. But now, at 24 years old, I'm three days away from my wedding to a man who can support me in every single way. According to my younger self, I haven't accomplished anything in terms of being successful. But in my heart, I know I'm at the top of my game.

I may be in a job that has a path to be determined. I may be en route to having children, buying a house and creating that family lifestyle. But if I'm feeling the most loved I have ever felt in my life, couldn't that be considered a success? Why have I always felt the need to be successful on paper? Why couldn't I let my heart win for once, and truly find success with pure happiness?

Well, now I am. My American dream has changed. I find comfort in my family, love, and where my life is headed. Sure, I don't have the diploma or the six-figure career, but I have the tools and love I need to make my life a success. So it's time to enjoy it, wherever it may take me.