Monday, September 21, 2015

An Open Letter to My Old Self

I stumbled upon a letter I wrote to myself in May 2010. I wrote the letter to my future self, and finding it five years later only seemed fitting. 

It was bittersweet. It gave me hope for about one second, but then it quickly turned my stomach into one giant knot as I found myself analyzing every sentence.

"Did you manage to fully pursue the Journalism degree?"

No, I didn't. 

"I only ask because you have a history of quitting things; softball, art, soccer...none of those lasted very long."

That felt like a punch in the face.

"I know you say now that Chicago is the greatest city in the world, but did you make it to New York? Are you in L.A. now? Are you still in the country? Or are you still in your cornfields town? These are the things I wish I knew." 

Yeah, I'm still here.

"I wonder what you're up to these days." 

Not much, according to your old standards. I'm sorry, 19-year-old Jessi.

The jab about quitting things hurt, honestly. It almost made me cry, because I didn't fully pursue the degree. On one hand, I didn't finish my degree because I was offered a full-time job in the field before I even graduated. So you'd be beyond proud of that. Ecstatic, even.

On the other hand, I only lasted six months at that job because I was miserable, anxious and unhappy 90 percent of the time, and I didn't go back to finish school. So no, I'm nowhere near that office with a skyline view of the city. In fact, my life is the complete opposite. I'm working in an office basement five minutes from my hometown, where I still live. What would 19-year-old Jessi think of that?

I'd guess that 19-year-old Jessi would be obscenely disappointed. But I'd also guess that 19-year-old Jessi wouldn't be able to begin to understand.

Jessi at 24-years-old has learned a thing or two in her time. She's realized that being in her hometown is actually OK, because her fiancé is here and her family is here. (Her family that she actually gets along with pretty well.) 

She's (starting) to realize that dreams don't always work out or come true. She's too stubborn to completely accept this right now, but her fiancé helps her see it. It's because he constantly reminds her that she's worth it and can accomplish whatever she wants, even if it doesn't happen right now, or even if she hasn't decided what exactly it is that she wants. He reminds her that it will all work out in time. (Whatever it may be.)

There was a few things that old Jessi got right. 

"If I had to give you advice here and now, at the age of nineteen sitting on my bed with my laptop burning my legs, there's one thing I'd have to say. Keep thinking big. ... Keep dreaming. I can honestly tell you right now that writing feels amazing, and if you can do it for the rest of your life, don't let anything stop you. Cause I'm really not sure where else you are going to find a passion like this. So I hope you're still writing. Maybe you only do so in your spare time, but I know you have the guts and passion to pursue it the whole way through."

That letter felt like a kick to the gut at times, but it also gave me perspective. Sure, my life is way off track compared to what old Jessi would have expected out of me. But old Jessi never would have guessed that at this point in time I'd be one month out from marrying the guy that I had started dating two months before I wrote that letter

Old Jessi wouldn't be able to fathom the joy of rediscovering blogging at 24-years-old, with a laptop still burning in her lap and a cat curled up next to her side. 

Present day Jessi may not know what she's yearning for next, or what the next big dream may be. Jessi may not always be in the basement, proofreading the hours away, forever. But right now, it may be just what this Jessi needs until the next dream comes along.

- - -

(P.S. Yes, young Jessi, Aerosmith is still together and they are still your favorite band. Some things never change.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What's in a Name?

I'm pretty nervous when it comes to the thought of changing my last name.

Don't get me wrong; I am super excited to marry my future husband and become Mrs. LaRue. And I've definitely been practicing my new signature now and again. But because I've had my last name for almost 25 years, it's difficult to imagine a world without it.

I've been thinking off and on about the change, but I think realization hit me the hardest when "My Last Name" by Dierks Bentley started playing on my iTunes the other day.
"Passed down from generations
Too far back to trace
I can see all my relations
When I look into my face
May never make it famous
But I'll never bring it shame
It's my last name"
After all, I've always been proud of my last name. Haish is a unique last name and it comes with hundreds of years of local history in my community. I'm a descendant of Jacob Haish, an inventor of barbed wire and a man who helped build the community next to mine: DeKalb, IL, home of barbed wire and Northern Illinois University. When I was a staffer on both my college and community newspapers, I would always get the question: "Are you related to Jacob Haish?" 

And I would beam when I would give my response.

"Yes! He would be my great, great, great, great uncle." 

I guess my last name has just always been part of my identity. If I still had regular bylines in the newspaper, I could see myself keeping my name. However, I have a job that doesn't put me out in the public, so that's not as important to me these days. 

My fiancé's name comes with its own meaning as well, though, which I'm excited to embrace. He got it from one of the most important people in his life: his grandpa. He took on his mom's maiden name and stuck to it even as his mom remarried because the name was important to him. The name meant family and stability.

And although his last name is pretty common compared to mine, it would be nice to have a name people could finally pronounce correctly. And although I don't know much about the history, and either does my fiancé, it would be a fun project to take on together someday after the wedding.

I'm excited for that moment when we "officially" become a family once our names are the same, and I know I would like our future children to all share one common name. But I know I'll miss the history and familiarity of my own last name at the same time.

Did you change your name? How do you feel about it now? 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

In Pursuit of an Inexpensive Wedding: Our How-To

Photo by Kelly Bauer
We've known from the beginning that we couldn't afford to host a big soiree for our nuptials. Living nearly paycheck-to-paycheck as a young couple meant that we couldn't invite every person we'd ever met, or have a cake that could reach the ceiling. However, that didn't stop us from planning a wedding that we could love and be proud of. As we close in on just one month to our big day, here's just a few ways we've saved money.

Guest List
For obvious reasons, this is generally the first place to go when making cuts in a wedding budget. We invited 25 people to our actual ceremony, and an additional 15 to our reception. This keeps our costs low and really made us consider who we wanted to be a part of our special day. (Questions to ask when trying to answer that question: How often do we speak to this particular person? What will we think when we see them in our wedding photos 20, 30, 50 years from now?) We also hope that our guests will realize how intimate our day is and realize how much they mean to us as friends and family.

Bridal Party
Cutting down a bridal party will save you money (and probably headaches) in the long run. Hosting fewer people for rehearsal dinners and cutting costs on bridal party gifts can help you save some change. My fiancé and I opted to have one person stand with each of us: his uncle will be his best man, and my sister will be my maid of honor.

Time of year
We are getting married in October, and although the Internet claims fall weddings are "in," it's definitely not the peak summer season for weddings. Because of that, we were able to score a deal on a photographer who has a fairly clear schedule in the fall. Some venues also provide discounts for those looking to get married in off-months (fall, winter, early spring.)

We selected a restaurant's banquet room for our reception. It has room for a dance floor, food (obviously) and ample parking. By selecting a restaurant venue we were able to avoid the costs that come with the idea of a "wedding venue." By putting the name "wedding" or "reception" on a venue, you can see costs skyrocket into the thousands. Restaurants generally cost you a small base amount and the amount for dinner. For example, a local reception hall in our area is $1,200 to rent out, which doesn't include booze, food or anything other than the hall itself. For our restaurant location, we pay for food and service only.

Music is my everything. I couldn't imagine the big day without it. That being said, I already own a lot of music, and it wasn't in our budget to drop $1,000+ dollars for a DJ, especially when our venue has an iPod hook-up included. So, we started digging through my 7,000 songs on my personal iTunes. My fiancé and I spent one day creating dinner and dancing playlists and discovered how "cross fading" your music on iTunes can create a DJ effect by eliminating the awkward silence between songs. We think that because we carefully selected each song, the music will be one of the most unique parts of our day.


We may not be floral artists, but my mother and I created two floral bouquets, (including the bridal bouquet!) seven boutonnieres and five corsages out of fake flowers from our local craft store for less than $100. I implore you to find a florist who can do that for cheaper.

Although we've had more work to do than most (after all, we did spend a few hours just organizing our music!) we have had so much fun creating special elements for our wedding. Plus, we saved money, which was really the only option we had if we wanted to have a wedding at all.

I'm hoping to give you an update on how all of these things actually fared for our wedding in just a month and a half! Be sure to check back to see how it all went down. Hopefully we will be starting married life debt-free!

Do you have any money saving tips?

Sunday, September 06, 2015

When I Knew He Was 'The One'

Teenagers in 2010.

My fiancé and I have been together for more than five years, and our wedding is just a month and some days away. While scrolling the endless wedding blogs and websites, I noticed some recurring themes. These included stats on how likely you are to get divorced compared to how much money you spend on your wedding, the must-do's of DIY and most importantly, when you knew he was The One. What a daunting thought, right?

So I started to think about it, and I realized there wasn't necessarily one single "holy crap, this is the guy," moment. Instead, I feel like I've experienced multiple moments that keep serving as reminders that this is where we are supposed to be.

It's like the night he proposed. He knew that it would mean the world to me if it was a simple proposal, surrounded by my family. So he did just that.

Or when he had firsthand experience of one of my panic attacks, shortly after we first moved in together. The way he handled it reassured me that I felt safe with him.

The most clichéd, but one of the most powerful moments, was when he once picked me up from the airport. We had only lived together for a month when I traveled to Georgia for an entire week for a news conference. When I arrived at the Chicago airport, I remember riding down the escalator and seeing his smiling face waiting for me. For some reason, I burst into tears. It seemed silly, but I really felt like I was home.

Or maybe it was one of the two times we adopted our cats and I saw his face light up as he watched pure joy spread across my face. We were both so happy.

But honestly, the most obvious moment I realized he was 'the one' was probably during one of the most difficult times in our lives. We had broken up for six months, and it was brutal, to say the least. When we decided to get back together, it was tough. We had to build trust again, and slowly let the other into our lives again. It was not something to jump into. So when he wanted to personally apologize to my family for breaking our trust, and for hurting me, I was worried, but I let him do it. Witnessing his hands and voice shake as he expressed regret and love for my family was astounding. 

That particular moment showed me that he was willing to work hard to make our relationship work. It made me realize that he thought this love was worth the effort. My family accepted his apology and we all accepted him back into our lives. And it has made all the difference. Maybe that's what it takes to be The One.