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.