the best gifts i received for christmas

I am so lucky to know many, many generous people who are also excellent gift-givers. Although I like giving more, there’s nothing like the thrill of tearing open paper come the holidays.

These were my all-stars this year on the receiving end. I think you’ll like a lot of them as much as I do.

Image result for sephora collection face mask magic
via Sephora.com
Image result for anthropologie initial mug
via anthropologie.com

My brother’s sweet girlfriend visited and got me a face mask set and an initial mug. My roommate and I tear through masks- we love to try new ones, especially those on the more inexpensive side- and I always need a presentable vessel around for stowing makeup brushes, pens, or safety pins in.

Image result for nordstrom gift card
via shop.nordstrom.com

A Nordstrom gift card is always an incredibly useful and popular gift for me. This is probably the third or fourth year that my aunt and uncle have given this, and it never fails me. I try to buy higher quality shoes, bags, and jeans, and I know Nordstrom is a great place for that due to their stellar customer service, site, and in-store experience.

Image result for bagatelle hooded fur jacket
via nordstromrack.com

I’d been wanting a teddy jacket for a long time, but I fear the trend may be on its way out, so I asked for more of a faux fur look instead. With some help, my father absolutely knocked it out of the park with this Bagatelle beauty. The site lists its color as ’emerald’, but I find it to be a true mix of green and black depending on the light. It’s warm, has pockets, and is quite well made for its near $60 price. Win.

 

Image result for mophie charging phone case black
via mophie.com

My brother, the ever-practical engineer, gifted me a Mophie charging phone case, which I hear are quite the rage in the tech world. I’m always running out of battery, so this is something I’ll use frequently. I’m not sure if this is the exact one he got, but it was black and I’m nearly sure this is the model. A good friend from school, AS, who has a crush on him, told me that he was “extremely concerned” over what color I would want. I’m happy whenever he gets me anything.

Image result for j crew tortoise hoops
via jcrew.com

These J. Crew tortoise hoop earrings had been on my wishlist since the fall. You can’t beat the price, and I found them to be very lightweight but sturdy. If anything on this list could be given to anyone from eighteen to eighty, I think these would be it. My mother knows me too well and snagged the last pair out of our local store.

Really, each year Christmas is less and less about gifts. All I want is to be with my family and our dogs, but I never mind a few things under the tree.

xx

instantblonde

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alexandrite

The birthstones for June, the month in which I was born, are pearl and alexandrite. It’s a blue-green-purple-red stone that glints differently every time you look at it.

I usually wear either pearl or diamond studs on my ears every day, and have a classic pearl necklace. So, for gifting, my parents usually go for alexandrite.

After outgrowing an alexandrite ring I got at thirteen or so, my parents gave me a beautiful pair of alexandrite earrings for my eighteenth birthday. They’re in a three-prong, martini-style setting and the stones catch the light beautifully. My parents even got them with a traditional back as opposed to a screw-back because they know I hate screwing earrings in.

This is the closest example I could find online:

Image result for alexandrite 3 prong earrings
via tictail.com

I really love them, know they have special sentimental value, and think they’re beautiful, but I truly just don’t wear them. They’re smaller, and I prefer a bigger stud. I also worry that I’m going to lose them. (I comfortably wear my faux pearls so if I lose one I can pick up a new pair on Amazon or at Target.) I would wear them all the time in the second hole if I still had my second ear piercings, but I don’t, so, truthfully, I only wear them for special occasions with my parents a few times a year at most.

This all feels so wasteful to me. They’re really a nice gift, and carry a lot of sentimental value as I mentioned before, but I just don’t use them. They literally collect dust on my dresser. This year, I’m trying to have less things. When I think of all the items that I don’t use, these earrings come to mind.

The thing is, though: I don’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings. I know these were a special present intended to be a keepsake but I just feel the need to get rid of them. If I do get rid of them, what do I do? Do I tell my parents I don’t wear them and return them? Do I pawn them, which feels so wrong even though I could really use the money or I’d even like to return it to them somehow?

I don’t know. It feels even worse to just let them sit, untouched. For some reason, these earrings, among other things, have been weighing heavily on my mind and I want to do something. Advice?

xx

instantblonde

merry christmas

This Christmas, I am thinking of all the people that are alone.

Loneliness, whether physical or emotional, can be crippling. I hope that everyone who is by themselves in some way finds even a small testimony of community in something this season.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

xx

instantblonde

P.S. Prior Christmas posts are here: 2015, 2016, and 2017. (How have I been doing this long enough to have four Christmases under my belt?!)

 

holiday gifting ideas

I used to love Christmas, but after growing up a little bit, having some really sad things happen before the holiday, and my parents splitting up, I started to have less affection for it.

However, I love giving gifts, and would consider myself quite good at it. I am usually overwhelmed and, frankly, slightly disgusted by most bloggers’ onslaught of gift guides and affiliate links. Instead, I’m opting to break down a few of my best ideas and some tips I’ve figured out along the way.

Image result for dog portrait watercolor

For my best friend, I got her a simple watercolor of her old dog. I like this idea for any pet owner, and with a nice frame, it’s a good gift because it’s not something most people would buy for themselves. The above is from Wetnose Watercolours by Caroline Grigg, but check Etsy too.

Image result for saban the making of a coach

Something to read is always a great idea. We all want to read more, right? And if we don’t, we appreciate a beautiful, thick coffee table book or cookbook. I bought this biography of Nick Saban, my father’s favorite, for him and it was a hit. For someone who doesn’t have a preference or something that sticks out as a topic, titles I’d recommend are Love Does by Bob Goff, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. For a millenial, I liked Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, or The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, which really works for any age.

Image result for lands end monogrammed blanket

A few years ago, my mother gave me and my brother’s girlfriend monogrammed plush fleece blankets similar to these, and they were a hit. I use mine almost every day. Lands’ End has one that is $19.99, and when I felt it in person it seemed much more expensive. You could also find one at HomeGoods or online and have it done locally, or go with cashmere for someone older or more of a luxe feel.

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I love the idea of something other than a photo being framed and given as a gift. This beautiful hand painted map of Lake Minnetonka, where my brother’s girlfriend grew up, would be so different. I also would consider a nautical map or a custom painting of the recipient’s house, bike, car, favorite vacation spot, or boat.

Image result for bean boots

Sometimes, the classics are best. That’s why I recommend L.L. Bean’s classic Bean Boots for everyone. I have had a pair for years and love them; they hold up beautifully and are quintessentially American. In my opinion, the tan and brown is more universally flattering as opposed to the tan and navy, and the 8″ is much more practical than the shorter 6″.

Now that I’ve inundated you with several ideas for what to give, let me further educate you:

  • Experiences are king. Giving someone something- concert tickets, a weekend away, art lessons, a museum tour- that can be lived is, to me, most special.
  • I sometimes like to give gift cards, but I know they can be impersonal so I always spice them up somehow. For example, this year I’m getting my father a gift card to his favorite brewery, and I added two pint glasses etched with our hometown’s area code and a sweet note.
  • A good way to find out what you should give is to examine things you’ve been given. Usually, this goes one of two ways. I either find items that I use every day and are more utilitarian, or I am drawn to more luxurious splurges.
  • My mother is phenomenally talented in gift-giving and went through a phase in which everyone got baskets. It’s actually a great idea: you pick a theme, collect items that correspond, select a vessel for it to all go into, and doll it up. She has done lavender, boating, our hometown, and sports themed baskets before and all have turned out beautifully. Plus, because it’s so pretty, it usually requires minimal wrapping!
  • In general, I would advise staying away from perfume because it’s so personal. However, if you know someone only wears a certain scent, get them another bottle or look for a gift set with a rollerball or special edition packaging.

Hopefully this helps. Welcome to the busiest time of the year!

xx

instantblonde

dw

A year ago today, DW, a childhood friend and an ex-boyfriend of my good friend, took his own life.

I frequently think about him and what he would be doing right now if he were alive. Sometimes, when I am in conversation with a spitfire like he was, I am reminded of his quick wit and humor.

Recently, though, I was talking about something that related to one of our inside jokes, and I heard his voice in my head so clearly, as if he were whispering into my ear. I wholeheartedly believe that his spirit is around.

This gives me comfort, but my prayer this year and always is that his family and the many, many friends he left behind find some way to connect with him and hear him too.

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we love. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”

xx

instantblonde

it’s just hair

Today, I chopped six inches off my hair for no reason at all.

Sitting in the stylist’s chair is one of the biggest contradictions in a woman’s life: you are powerful, the fate of your hair, which represents so much about you, as your choice, but also powerless, as your fate, the scissors, lays in the hands of someone else.

My stylist, a family friend, G, urged me.

“Go for a change,” he said. “It’s just hair.”

And just like that, spontaneously, I walked into the salon for a trim and came out with a completely different look.

My entire life, I have been known for my long hair (naturally blonde, of course. Never colored, ever.)

But today, G, fabulous, flamboyant, and loud, reminded me. It’s just hair. 

It grows back.

It’s not forever.

It’s really such a small part of who you are.

This reminder, as shallow as it may seem, is just what I needed today. I often am so rigid in my plans, my routines, and my schedules.

It was silly, but the reminder to just let go, especially of something so temporary, was so necessary. Spontaneity is good, and most things, though they feel like it, are not forever.

Cut your hair, leave the job you hate, forgive a friend, stop overanalyzing.

Embrace spontaneity. I did, and I’m just fine, six inches and a pound lighter.

Tina Fey Quote

xx

instantblonde

 

love in any season

The New York Times published a Summer Love collection in 2015 documenting the stories of summer romances in the city. I read it for the first time this summer, and it made me think of my own summer love, which, I think, is safe to say was my first.

The sub-header sums up how I feel in one succinct swoop: “Some of the stories will have happy endings. Others will merely end. Love, after all, is complicated, in any season.”

I was freshly seventeen when I met M, a childhood friend of The Officer (see here and here and here), for the first time. When I pulled up to a party in my neighborhood just to say hi to The Officer, with no intentions of going inside, M leaned in my car, thinking I was someone else. He realized his mistake and introduced himself, and I coolly did the same, because the girl he thought I was was someone I didn’t at all find pretty. I thought nothing of it, besides initial anger that he thought I was her. How dare he.

I ran into The Officer and M at a concert that summer and saved M from being nearly assaulted by a friend of mine (whom I wrote about here when I analyzed her relationship with her ex). M had actually texted me off his own phone, claiming our friends should meet up so we could all hang out and I could see The Officer, who was, according to M, “too scared to text me.” Again, I thought little of the interaction. Then, the next winter, when I came home for Christmas and went to a football game that’s basically a hometown reunion held in an NFL stadium and its tailgate lots, I ran into The Officer and M. While The Officer was annoying me, pining for attention, I talked to M and realized I was kind of attracted to him. I even schemed a ride back from him and his group, claiming that it was easier for me to be dropped off in my neighborhood than with my friends a mere fifteen minutes away. But I really just wanted to be around M a little longer, even if it meant I had to ditch my friends, fake flirt with The Officer, and talk to M while he wasn’t looking.

The spring began and we started to talk while we were both away at school, him in the Northeast and me in the South. We started with conversations about The Officer and why he and I didn’t work out, and then we slowly but naturally moved into discussing our own lives. I listened as he talked about his major, his family, and his fraternity, and I told him about me. We laughed about our failed attempts to find relationships at school, an ironic foreshadowing of what was to come.

Sober FaceTimes that were several hours long and drunk calls ensued. A few jokes that we should have been the “couple”, not The Officer and I, were made, and, eventually, we started to flirt more and more. The drunk calls went from innocent and funny to definitive, “Let’s see each other when we’re both home this summer.” These affirmations came from both of us, and, a few times, I found myself rejecting guys at school to go home and talk to M. I was sad to leave school in May, but I was excited for this possible summer fling.

In late May, M came over when I was home alone, and we watched something on TV while trying to avoid the elephant of sexual tension in the room. Nothing had happened yet because M felt wrong hooking up with me, someone a good friend, The Officer, used to love. (M knew that The Officer once professed his love to me on my birthday and said he used to be obsessed.) I felt paralyzed. I knew that M and I liked each other and had genuine chemistry, but I didn’t want to break up their twelve-year friendship over casual sex, even if it was with someone I liked. Finally, I told M that I’d understand if he didn’t want anything that summer, but he shouldn’t hold back because, due to us being thirteen hours away from each other for the majority of the year, we’d never date, and The Officer and I had truly never been dating, just stuck in an awkward stage of talking. “The Officer and I have never even done more than kissed, and we never dated. He never met my friends or even my parents,” I told M.

That, coupled with the fact that The Officer was moving out West in June for the summer, and the prospect of a low-key, no strings attached arrangement, was enough for both of us to proceed. “What is this?” M asked me, both of us caught between guilt and attraction. “I don’t know,” I said, internally panicking. “Let’s just hang out and hook up and see where it goes.” We kept things pretty quiet, so as not to advertise it to The Officer. That night we were making out on my living room couch at my mother’s when my father unexpectedly showed up and, in a panic, I made M sprint out of my dark house. My father definitely knew what was up, but neither of us acknowledged it. M and I laughed about it for months.

In the next months, we hooked up a lot. I was home alone all the time when my mother was at work and he came over. On the weekends, we did our own thing, but still texted and snapped all the time when we were off partying with our separate friends or at our jobs. It was easy and fun, the first time either of us had consistently been sleeping with the same person.

At a concert at the beginning of June, we snuck off to the lawn area and sat down, drunk off live music and cheap liquor. “Let’s lay some ground rules,” M said matter of factly. “What are we doing here?” Uninhibited, I told him I wanted exclusivity. It’s wrong to sleep with more than one person at the same time, something I still hold to be true. He agreed, and we continued, joking about our hookups and kissing even though I’m sure more than one person pointed and laughed. At the end of summer, he would tell me that hearing Love, a hit from the performer, live and kissing me was one of the best moments of his life.

Exclusivity made us more than just friends with benefits. We had a connection beyond sex, and it manifested itself in a way that I was equally surprised and scared by. Sneaking around when I was home alone turned to dinner out on my birthday, and lunch and ice cream dates. He always paid, except for once when I insisted after fighting him over the entire entree. It wasn’t about money, though. I would later explain to him that while I loved our dates and fancy dinners I would’ve still been with him if he brought me a pack of gum for my birthday.

Summer came to an end, and we both moved back to school. We said our goodbyes, mine tearfully. I will never forget him walking out of my front door, holding my hand, and turning around to say, “Thanks for being the best first girlfriend ever.”

It was the most endearing, heartbreaking thing I’d ever heard. Just like that, my first love had slipped through my fingertips.

But as the New York Times so wisely says, “Love, after all, is complicated, in any season.”

xx

instantblonde