Elsie's Fitness StoryAlmost three years ago Emma shared her fitness story here on the blog. If you can believe it, all this time I have been wanting and planning to share my story too—but so many things were holding me back. One is that I have struggled with fitness all through my twenties and now thirties. I have never felt 100% accomplished in this area, and I'm realizing now that I probably never will. The other reason, honestly,  is that I didn't really want to start an open conversation about my weight. It's embarrassing and vulnerable and no matter how much I frame it up as a "fitness" story, I knew it could circle back to judgements about my appearance, and honestly—I just didn't want to talk about it. Body image will never be my favorite subject. It feels weird to talk about it. 

But whatever!   

Three years later, I am here to share my story. It's like most stories, full of ups and downs. Right now I am in a good place. Probably the best, most balanced place I've been in. So I want to share what is working for me, what hasn't worked and what I would like to improve for the future. 

Disclaimer: This is my story, not an advice column, so please read it as such. There are countless things that have worked for my friends and family (like my husband losing 45 pounds using the Lose It App) that didn't work for me. Every story is personal. 

On Fitness:

One of the biggest things I have learned is that fitness and weight loss aren't the same thing, and they don't necessarily come hand in hand. The best example I can share of this is that when Emma and I trained for our half marathon a couple years ago, I was definitely feeling stronger and more disciplined than ever before in my life. I was running long distances leading up to the race (five miles, then six, then eight, then ten....), and it was a great experience! But I did this at my highest weight ever. And I'm not going to lie...it was frustrating in some ways because, even though I felt accomplished and fit, I was a little disappointed that I didn't lose any weight. With that said, I still saw some improvements in my body, and I think that was a good lesson for me that weight doesn't always equal fitness. 

Our half marathonAfter the half marathon, I continued going to the gym close to my house where I mostly ran and lifted a little bit of weights. I did a couple more 5k races that year. But I started to feel stuck because nothing compared to the motivation of the bigger race, and I felt like I was no longer progressing. That coupled with the fact that I was still dieting unsuccessfully made me feel like I was stuck on a hamster wheel or something. Going nowhere. 

Running with friendsOne night I was at the gym running circles around the tiny little track and I started crying (emo, I know). I knew at that moment that I needed to make a change and find a new way to challenge myself. I also had started to realize that I was very much living in a bubble, seeing the same people and doing the same things every day. And I wanted to do something to force myself to break that comfort zone and become more independent. So I promised myself that I would find a new class to try, a place where I didn't know anyone. 

The next week I signed up for a local Barre Method class. I can't remember what made me choose barre, but I'm pretty sure it was on my friend Elise's recommendation. I felt anxious and weird like on the first day of school, but I did it! I went to a class where I didn't know anyone and it was really, really hard. I kept going, and every time it was really hard I would tell myself, "This is why you are here." I know it's cheesy, but this was a huge turning point in my life and a really healthy step for me as a person and for my fitness.

That was a year ago in March. I am so happy that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried a new challenge. I did a class this morning and it's my favorite way to work out. I learned that group classes are a really good motivator for me, and they're worth the extra money and schedule shuffling that it takes to go regularly. 

FitnessI was always a slow kid when we had to run the mile at school. I didn't run my first mile (without walking) until I was 24 years old. It's true what they say, that it's mostly mental. Because I was surprised that something I never thought I could do became a fun and easy part of my daily routine. Pretty soon I could run three miles and I felt awesome. 

Group fitness classes... yay! Group fitness classes... yay! I just want to encourage anyone who is frustrated or bored with their fitness routine (or wanting to start one!) that you can do far more than you think you can. Take a chance and sign up for something that scares you! It's one of the best choices I ever made.  

On Weight Loss: 

I have been an on and off dieter ever since I can remember. I don't say that proudly. I have tried a lot of different diets and plans that worked for other people and, for reasons I will never understand, they didn't work for me. The math was there, the science was there, but it didn't work. If you've been in this situation, oh man, I would love to have a loooonng coffee chat with you right now because it's one of the most frustrating things. I was never obese, I just wanted to lose ten pounds, and there is a certain guilt that comes with that—like "am I really vain?" feelings, which usually lead me to more donuts. My husband and some of our siblings lost a lot of weight using the Lose It App. I struggled hard with feeling happy for them because I was so discouraged with my own journey. I developed a really unhealthy start/stop, good/bad relationship with food, and the emotions that come with always dieting, quitting, then dieting again were pretty exhausting. 

Lose It! App

I chose to do Whole 30 for 3 reasons (all equally important to me). 1. Because I was starting to view myself as a quitter and I wanted to follow through with a plan 100%. 30 days seemed like a good starting point. 2. Because I want to be a healthy eater. More veggies, less sugar. 3. Because I wanted to lose weight. I had been trying to lose weight for several years. This wasn't my only motivation, but I would be lying if I said it wasn't a goal. I wanted to feel my personal best. I first learned about Whole 30 from my friend Diana who had great success with it. We became each other's cheerleader, and it was really good to have a friend who had already done it to text about random stuff!  

Snap to DianaI won't go into explaining Whole 30 here because you can read all about it on their site or in their books, It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom

So I'll skip to my personal experience! I decided to do the Whole 30 plan 100%, even though it included two things that seemed impossible and brutal to me—giving up alcohol and giving up dairy (cheese + wine night is my ultimate favorite thing). It was only 30 days, right? 

My experience was really, REALLY positive. The thirty days went quicker than I thought they would, I felt like I was fantasizing about donuts and ice cream way less (this is BIG), and I generally liked the food I was eating OK or sometimes a lot (it wasn't torture). I think a big reason why Whole 30 worked for me when other plans didn't was because there is no cheating. On other plans I would focus a lot on my cheat days, my treat meals or ways to get more "fun food" into my day within the plan. Whole 30 completely discourages this kind of thinking. You're not allowed to eat any artificial sweeteners (not even Stevia), which I was really annoyed about at first, but later realized that it was necessary for me to reset my brain. 

After the first month, I decided to do a second thirty days because I felt so good about my progress! My husband, Jeremy, decided to do it with me to support me and also to try it for himself. He already ate super low carb/sugar, but for him, giving up alcohol and dairy were a challenge, but it's been really fun for us to be able to eat all the same recipes. 

I am finally losing weight (slowly, but still!) and now at the lowest weight I have been at since we were married almost four years ago. I'm surprised, though, that I'm honestly more excited about my new attitude toward food than I am about losing a few pounds. For the first time in a while I am not looking to food as a reward or a way to destress after a long day. And I'm really excited about that! 

Doing Whole 30 as a couple kinda ruins date nights. Eating out is WAY less fun on Whole 30 (your favorite meals will be made at home, I promise), and with happy hours out of the picture, we were feeling kind of sad at first. We're routine people and Whole 30 majorly disrupts your routines. With that said, I'm happy to report that after a couple weeks of doing it together, we're finding new things to do together and ways to have fun that don't revolve around food and drinks. That's never a bad thing! 

Favorite recipes: Rosemary Almonds (I still make these all the time and eat them with a dinner or roasted veggies or an apple), Josh's Sweet Potato Hash, Cauliflower fried rice (food-processed cauliflower, coconut aminos, coconut oil, egg, tons of garlic and maybe some shrimp or chicken), Roasted veggies with rosemary, Almond flower chicken nuggets (the ultimate treat—Jeremy makes them), and any kind of dip that makes raw veggies appealing. For drinks I mostly rotate between black coffee (hot), herbal teas (iced), La Croix and, of course, lots of water. For more ideas just look on Pinterest. There is a ton of good stuff. 

My favorite sparkling water*My very very favorite sparkling water flavor is this Target brand Cucumber Mint flavor. It's like sparkling spa water. 

My plans for the future are pretty simple! I want to keep working on my fitness. With our move coming up, I'll have to choose between finding a new group class in my new town or finding a routine I can enjoy at home. I'm definitely open to suggestions! With food stuff I am planning to reintroduce alcohol and then dairy into my diet next month. The rest of the foods I gave up for Whole 30 I may not reintroduce ever because I haven't even missed them that much! 

Black coffee foreverThanks for listening to my story! I completely understand if it doesn't line up with your experiences, but I hope it encourages some of you either to try Whole 30 or to try a new fitness routine that you've been curious about. I enjoyed sharing this. xx! Elsie  

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)           So, I've pretty much had a crush on all the tulle skirts I've been seeing online for quite sometime now. They are just so flirty and fun, and I love seeing them worn with a casual t-shirt and a leather moto jacket for a twist on the fancy vibe they usually have. I've seen a few pretty ones while shopping, but they are always way more money than I'm willing to spend. So I thought it was a good chance to get back into making clothing items from scratch (sounds scary, right?). I used to actually make a lot more items from nothing when I was in high school, but since then there's been a pretty long drought of that sort of thing. This project seemed like a good one to get back in the saddle for. Plus, making it myself was so much less expensive. and I was able to customize the length and layers to really make it fit the way I wanted it to. Ready to make one with me??

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)         With Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores being far and away our favorite fabric shop in Springfield, it's only natural we're teaming up with them on this post. If you don't have one nearby, we highly recommend checking out their online shop. 

-lining that matches color of tulle
-craft paper for pattern
-fabric scissors
-elastic for waistband (1"-1.5" thick)
-straight pins and marking chalk

OK. To find the dimensions you'll need for your pattern, first decide on the length you want your skirt to be (let's say for our example you want it to be 22" long). Then measure the fullest part of your hips (the skirt opening has to be big enough to go over your hips when you put it on), and divide that number by 3.14. Take that resulting number and divide by 2. So, for example, if the widest part of your hips measured 40, the equation would be 40 ÷ 3.14 = 12.73, and then 12.73 ÷ 2 = 6.36. That number would be your hip measurement number for your pattern (just round up to the nearest 1/4" of an inch to make it easier).

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)Use craft paper to cut a large square. Then measure your hip measurement out from one corner (just keep pivoting the ruler to make lots of marks and connect the dots at the end to get your rounded edge). Repeat the process from the same corner to find the bottom of your skirt line, but add the waist measurement to your total skirt length for that number (so if your length is 22" and your waist measurement is 6.5", then measure out 28.5"). Cut out your pattern paper.

Cut squares of tulle that are big enough to fit your paper pattern when the the square is folded in half, and then folded in half again to make a smaller square that is 1/4 the original size. Using the example numbers above, you would need a square that was 57" wide (28.5 x 28.5 = 57) when unfolded. The number of squares you have determines the number of layers your skirt will contain, so buy your fabric yardage accordingly. If you can't find a tulle wide enough to get a square as big as you need, you'll have to sew two pieces side by side first before cutting your square down to size.

Fold your large square in half, and then in half again, and place the pattern so that the corner with the middle of the square is near the waistline of the pattern. Use fabric scissors to cut along the waistline and bottom hemline. Unfold the tulle, and you should have a giant tulle donut!

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)Make as many tulle donuts (layers) as you want, and cut one extra with your pattern out of a lining material for the bottom. If you are going to hem your lining layer, I would cut it the same size as the tulle so it's a little shorter on the bottom when hemmed. If you are going to use a serger to finish the edge (or if you bought a fabric that doesn't need to be hemmed), start out by cutting it a little shorter to begin with. I think these skirts looks best when the lining is a little shorter than the tulle. Stack your layers together (with the lining as the bottom layer) and put a few pins near the waist to secure.

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)        To make your waistband, pin the elastic around your natural waist so that it feels snug but not too tight. Wiggle out of the elastic and sew it together at that point. Trim the ends to 1/2" long, fold the ends down, pin in place, and sew those down to flatten them.

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)  Use marking chalk to mark 4 equal sections on the waistline of your tulle circle. Do the same with the inside edge of your waistband. Use the marks to line up your waistband with your fabric and pin with 4 straight pins at each mark (you'll pin the bottom inside edge of the waistband onto the top of the fabric layers.

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)    Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)  Since your elastic waistline is probably smaller than your fabric opening (that's measured to the widest part of your hips), you'll notice that there is some gapping where the sections of tulle are longer than the elastic. In that case, just pin the middle of each gap to the middle of the elastic section so you now have 8 pins total holding your layers together.

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)       To sew your layers together, turn your skirt inside out and sew a few stitches near where a pin is holding the layers together. While the needle is in the down position, pull your elastic towards you until the fabric gap straightens out and sew along the waistband with a 1/2" seam allowance on the fabric layers. Continue this process of pulling the elastic and the fabric straight and sewing until you get all the way around the waistband. Once you're done sewing, that's it. You can try on your new skirt!

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)  I would say my biggest tip from making my own is to make sure you have all your layers pinned before you sew the waistband on. If you don't, you'll have parts of layers that weren't sewn dangling lower on the bottom and you'll have to tack it on by hand or remove the waistband and start over. Count your layers to make sure they are all pinned first!

Love this! Tulle circle skirt DIY (click through for tutorial)            You can pretty much do as many layers as you want on this skirt without much added cost at all! I used 14 yards for my 8 layer skirt and the tulle only cost $10.36 total because it was on sale that week. Not too bad at all!! Like any other puffy/girly skirt, it's so much fun to walk around or twirl in this. It's definitely a clothing item that really puts you in a certain state of mind as soon as you put it on. Hope you decide to make your own too! xo. Laura

Credits// Author: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Laura Gummerman and Elsie Larson. Photos edited with Stella of The Signature Collection


New orleansNew orleans New orleans  New orleans   I am considering this a special edition of our "Work Wears" feature. This is random, but I thought it might be fun to share some of (well, most of) the outfits I wore on our four day trip to New Orleans earlier this month. 

At the airportThis is not only what I wore to the airport on our way there, I was also wearing this for our open house ceremony when we donated our Habitat for Humanity project house. It transitioned well since it was a pretty laid back event. It felt so good to finish up that project, and then later that afternoon jump on a plane with my husband for a short vacation. Such a fun day!

Cat kimono c/o ModCloth, jeans/Express (old and I added the holes myself over time), tank/Target, shoes/second hand (brand is Luxury Rebel), backpack/ASOS, and suitcase/Kenneth Cole from TJ Maxx

Maxi skirtI love a long, flowing maxi skirt, and this one I've had for years and just love! It's a vintage skirt that has a matching top (although I chose to wear it with a different top here). I've been thinking about using this skirt as a pattern to make another maxi the same size and fit. It's on my list of sewing-projects-that-might-be-above-my-skill-level-but-I'm-doing-it-anyway. Ha!

Skirt/vintage (from the old Red Velvet store), top/F21, shoes/second hand, and purse c/o ChicWish

Black jumperOn the day we took a culinary bike tour of New Orleans, I opted to wear a jumper. It made getting on and off a bike much easier. I wish I had taken a picture of the back of this jumper because it's quite low and I chose to wear a black bra that has an interesting pattern with it. I feel like one of the keys to the whole show-your-bra with your outfit is to make it feel super intentional. :)

Jumper/Dillard's, bra/Free People, shoes c/o Seychelles Footwear, and backpack/ASOS

Denim dressThis was an outfit I wore just for the evening after the bike tour. I love this denim dress although this is only the second time I've gotten to wear it. It's vintage and originally went all the way to my ankles which made it feel heavy and sort of stiff. I decided to hem it a little shorter, and I'm SO glad I did. I also love the back tie detail—perfect summer dress.

Dress/Frolic Vintage (love her local shop in Springfield!), shoes/second hand, purse c/o ChicWish, and sunnies/ShopSosie

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman, Photography: Trey George + Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

On updating an old house   There is a certain pressure that comes with owning an older home to "be true to the era". This is a subject of much debate. On one hand, it makes sense to try to match updates to the era the home was built in. On the other hand, what if you don't like that style? Should you just do it out of obligation? At that point you're paying for updates you don't even love. Or maybe there's a way to find a balance of both?  

When we were shopping for our current home three years ago, we almost bought a cute mid-century ranch. But after sleeping on it, I felt like because of the style of the home, there would be too much pressure to decorate it "Mad Men style". I didn't totally want to commit to that, so we passed it up. 

When we found our current home (built in 1885), I knew I could renovate it without guilt because it had been reconfigured many times and most of the updates were from the 1980s. Still there were some original parts of the home (floors and moulding mostly) that we loved and decided to keep or restore. Since we live in a historical neighborhood (and work in our studio house there too), we have often encountered opinions from our neighbors who believe these houses should be decorated in a very traditional style. This balance of how much to renovate and decorate within the era of the home is something we've talked about a lot, and today I want to open up the conversation to you all as well! 

I definitely believe that there is a balance between leaving everything "old fashioned" and updating it to the point that it loses the things that make an older home special. But where is that line, and how do you create that balance? 

Well, I have a few questions that might help (or at least serve as fun food for thought!)—

On updating an old house    In my opinion, there are no rules when it comes to home decor. But I thought it would be fun to share some things I have learned from renovating our three older homes (my personal home, our studio home and our Habitat for Humanity home). Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments because this really is 100% opinion based solely on my experiences! :) 

-Ask yourself, "Is it really original?" 
Before you decide to keep a light fixture, built in or appliance because it's "original", do the research to find out how old it really is. A lot of my current home looked really "old fashioned" when we bought it (which could lead you to believe that it was original, right?), but after digging deeper, I found out most of the updates were done in the 1980s. Then I didn't feel so bad about replacing the things that didn't fit our style. 

If you're buying a home that was built before the 1930s, it was probably built without electricity (and that was added later). If your home was built before 1900, it was probably built without indoor toilets. So if you buy an older home, it's safe to assume that it has been updated (and often reconfigured) many times. This is why it's hard to find older homes with spacious kitchens and bathrooms.

Bottom line, don't assume that something has a great amount of value just because it looks old. Do a little research first, and then you'll know for sure! 

-Ask yourself, "Does this fit my style and lifestyle?" 
If a feature in your home doesn't fit your personal style (especially if you strongly dislike it) or if it compromises the comfort of your family's everyday lifestyle, those are important points to consider. I know you might feel guilty removing a stained glass window or a clawfoot tub, but if those things are going to keep you from practical, everyday advantages (like a more functional tub for children or a new window that lets in more light where you need it), then maybe it's worth it to let them go. 

A lot of people hold on to features they don't like in their homes because they fear devaluing it or assume that the next owner will have very different taste. But here's how I look at it—if you live in a home for five years with a feature you don't like, wouldn't you be REALLY bummed if you found out the next owner changed it immediately? You don't have a time machine, so you can't know if the next owner's taste will line up with yours or not, but there is usually a 50/50 chance that if you feel strongly about an update, the next owner might agree. Bottom line, don't make choices based on other people's opinions. It's your home, use it to live your best life right now. 

-Ask yourself, "Is it possible this feature will grow on me?"
As someone who changes their mind a lot, I try to never say never and always leave room for change. While I might be anti granny floral wallpaper this year, I might grow to love it by next year. Granted, there are some things I am pretty sure will not grow on me (like shag carpet in the bathroom), but there are a lot of things that fall into a certain gray area. If a feature is on the line for you, consider living with it for a year or so before you decide whether to update. Sometimes time is the best was to gain clarity. 

-Ask yourself, "Does this space make me feel creative and inspired?" 

I told you above about the mid-century ranch we passed on because at the time I was very into reclaimed wood and colorful DIY updates. I didn't feel like that was the best fit for that home. And basically I felt like the home was telling me how it "wanted" to be decorated and it wasn't totally my style. If you are house shopping and you look at a home that makes you feel like you need to decorate it like someone else, maybe it's just not the right house for you? 

In our recent house shopping experience, we had an almost identical situation repeat itself, but with a different style home. Jeremy found a home that he loved (and I liked it a lot too), but it had recently been flipped and was decorated in a style that was fairly close to ours, but a little off. Most of the new features (fixtures, flooring, countertops, etc.) were pretty and things we'd love in other people's homes, but not quite stuff we would pick out. So we decided to pass before even seeing it in person because we knew we'd have guilt changing out features that would maybe be perfect for somebody else. The bottom line was that it was making me feel a little stuck instead of creative and inspired. Beautiful home, but just not the right choice for us because we're people who ENJOY the updating and before/after process. (We picked a fixer upper, of course!) 

On updating an old house These are more points to consider than tips. I am excited to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments! Since I am getting ready to begin a whole new before/after renovation adventure (this time with a home from the 1970s!), this is an important topic to me.

I'm looking forward to hearing about how you have loved and "respected" your older homes while still making them the best-case-scenario for today!  

On updating an old houseThanks for reading! xo. Elsie 

Credits// Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess Actions

Yum! spicy red pepper dip (click through for recipe)  If you've ever had food restrictions in your diet for health or allergy reasons, you know that frustrating feeling of trying to find alternatives for some of your favorite snacks and meals. I did a pretty intense diet change a few years ago to try and correct some health issues I was having at the time, and the list of things that I could eat was so teeny tiny that I just about gave up on the plan. Thankfully, I found a few staple recipes to adapt like this pepper dip and this chocolate pudding to satisfy my snack cravings while maintaining my eating path. Since the ingredients are so simple, I've found that it also has worked for a lot of other people that try to steer clear of their own list of items, so I thought I'd share it with you to hopefully enjoy as well!

Yum! spicy red pepper dip (click through for recipe)Spicy Red Pepper Dip
Adapted from Averie Cooks' Spicy Doritos Cheezy Dip

1/3 cup sunflower seeds (unsalted)
1/2 cup hemp seeds (try sesame seeds if you don't have these)
1/2 of a red pepper (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Yum! spicy red pepper dip (click through for recipe) OK, now it takes hours to make this dip because you have to individually clean each seed and then...JUST KIDDING! Put it all in a food processor (or blender) and blend until smooth. Easy peasy.

Yum! spicy red pepper dip (click through for recipe)      Yum! spicy red pepper dip (click through for recipe)      This dip is great with lots of different dippers, so feel free to try different kinds of chips or veggies and see what combination you like best! If you are timid when it comes to spice, dial back the spices a bit, and if you like it hot, then add a little more. The weird thing is that I don't even like red peppers that much, but I love this dip! Think you'll give it a try? xo. Laura

Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.


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