Friday, November 28, 2014

A Married Thanksgiving

I was so busy cooking in the kitchen yesterday that I didn't even have a chance to pop on in and wish the blogging world a happy Thanksgiving! But I do hope you had a wonderful day. Ours was great. We had a lot of dishes to make-- everything was homemade from scratch with the exception of my pie crust-- and it got a little stressful at the end, just with the timing. That's almost the hardest part, isn't it? Making sure everything is done and ready at the same time. But I told myself and G not to freak because, hey, it's just us! There's no one to impress, and we're not keeping anyone waiting but ourselves :)

Fortunately, despite my worries that the holiday would be lonely or sad as just the two of us, it was anything but. I think the fact that our full menu kept our minds and hands busy helped, but it was truly nice to just sit down to an abundant table filled with food, cheers to each other and enjoy one another's company. Plus, after dinner, there was no pressure to sit and make small talk or feel bad for wanting to just crash on the couch. The hubs immediately got up and changed out of his jeans and into some sweat pants. The perks of a low-key holiday at home!

All but one of the dishes we made were new-to-us recipes and I'm pleased to report that everything came out delicious. The cornbread and ciabatta stuffing with spicy sausage and pecans, which I made the day before, was a big hit (G said, to my delight, "Wow, this is really good stuffing!" after his first bite), and the "best ever" green bean casserole, cooked in our Lodge cast iron skillet, was far superior to the condensed-soup kind. The turkey was tasty thanks to an herb paste smeared over and under the skin and the slightly-sweet, onion-heavy gravy was so good it was addicting, I dolloped it on almost everything. My mom's sweet potato puree was a nice taste of home (and yummy for breakfast this morning). 

Next Thanksgiving, I'll hold back a little on the orange juice and zest in the cranberry sauce (or just use a smaller orange as ours was huge!) and I might try another mashed potato recipe. This one was good, but not out-of-this-world amazing like I hoped. We didn't use a potato ricer or food mill though, just a standard masher, so maybe that's the secret.

Finally, dessert. G seemed to love the 3-in-1 Apple-Pumpkin-Pecan Pie since he had two slices (even while claiming to be already full). The pie didn't set up perfectly but the flavor was there. I'm still an apple pie girl though. And the hubs still favors pumpkin. The battle continues!

I set the table with some of our wedding "china": colorful plates from Anthropologie, green rocks glasses from Bed, Bath & Beyond, gold-stemmed flatware and handblown pink wine glasses from Crate & Barrel. I also busted out the hand-painted lavender champagne flutes we toasted with on our wedding day. Tea lights were placed in vintage glasses that were part of our wedding decor, too. It felt good to put to use all these extra special items.

One tradition that I enjoyed when I spent Thanksgiving with G's aunt and uncle, and extended family, a few years ago was when, after dinner, everyone took turns sharing what they were thankful for. I know this is something many families do but it was new for me. I remember being so nervous. G and I were still young in our relationship and I had just met many of the people around the table for the first time, but everyone was so warm, welcoming and lovely. I'm paraphrasing now but, I shared how thankful I was to be around such good energy and how thankful I was to have G in my life. I started tearing up as I spoke, a mixture of nerves and true emotion, and even though I was mildly embarrassed at the time the moment has remained a wonderful memory on my heart and I like to think it endeared me to the family and solidified my place in it, even early on.

So last night, I placed on each of our plates a paper and pen so we could record what we are thankful for this year. After dinner we took a minute to jot down our thoughts and then we read them to each other. Not surprisingly our thoughts were almost exactly the same! I look forward to making this a tradition for us each Thanksgiving, and my heart swells at the idea of our children one day sitting around the table and sharing with us what they are grateful for.

Full of good food and good wine, the hubs passed out around 11 o'clock, but I was still wide awake. I stayed up with the pups, though they quickly fell asleep as well, most likely thanks to the large chicken jerky treats and several bites of turkey we fed them (it was their Thanksgiving, too!). Jasper, a little cuddle monster, conked out in my arms in a food coma.

Yep, a good day was had by all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wedding Wednesdays : An Old Town San Diego Engagement

Last week I shared my bestie and her fiancé's beachy e-session in Santa Monica, so this week I thought I'd throw it back to G and I's engagement shoot, which happened almost exactly a year ago. I remember it was Nov. 30, the day before the bridal appointment where I finally chose my wedding dress.

Anyway, back to the engagement session. Since we were living in San Diego, we had so many beautiful locations to choose from and, true to form, I had a difficult time choosing. I researched dozens of potential photo shoot venues, including Temecula wineries, and we actually visited a couple places: Sunset Cliffs, overlooking the Pacific, and Marian Bear Memorial Park, which is full of nature and wide open spaces. I debated, back and forth, for days but we finally settled on Old Town San Diego for its rustic charm, historic buildings and abundance of succulents. (I adore succulents. We used them in our centerpieces and as our escorts/favors.)

I am not the most comfortable in front of the camera and I can be highly critical of the way I look, so I felt supremely nervous going into the shoot. I confided this to our photographer, Heidi of heidi-o-photo, as we walked into Old Town and even after just a few minutes she was able to help put me (mostly) at ease with her calm, casual demeanor and her friendly, encouraging words. Overall, the session was a good warm-up for the big day. I'd not only highly recommend Heidi but also having an engagement session with your wedding photographer-- for the photos, for the practice, and to make sure you and your photog are a good fit.

Without further ado, here are my fave images from G and I's stroll through Old Town San Diego, one fall afternoon a year ago...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Family Stones

Sometimes I wish I had endless white walls to fill up with all the beautiful artwork I fall in love with. Because I really do seem to fall for a lot of it. And these new finds are no exception. I've blogged about Minted before, for its lovely, independent artist-made cards and invitations, but did you know the online stationery boutique offers fine art as well? Art of all kinds, in fact, including this new Birthstones collection featuring 12 limited-edition prints by Michigan-based artist Naomi Ernest. The ink and watercolor pieces come framed or unframed and in varying sizes-- 8" x 8" all the way up to 44" x 44" if you're looking for a real showstopper.

This is what Naomi had to say about the collection:
This piece is part of a series created using a combination of ink and watercolor to juxtapose a rigid geometric shape with blended organic color. The process was originally inspired by a personal collaboration with my 4-year-old daughter as we explored individual gemstones. I watched the relaxed and blithe way she chose colors and painted in easy swathes, resulting in beautiful and unexpected dimension.
Aren't they wonderful? I've been obsessed with rocks, shells and gems since I was a little girl. When out and about, especially at the beach, I'd often have my eyes toward the ground and pick up anything that looked interesting. I was always excited when my Uncle Claus, a geologist, came to visit because then I could whip out my new finds for him to examine and he'd tell me their stories.

I think these prints would be a fun and unique way to compose a family tree, with each person's birthstone. The small size would be perfect. And imagine hanging a large print in a baby's nursery? So cute. They'd make a great, out-of-the-box wedding guestbook, too, inviting friends and family to sign around your marriage birthstone (ours would be emerald for May). Or, the complete collection would look amazing filling up a wall in a jewelry-maker's studio. I know I wouldn't mind looking at a gemstone gallery every day.

But maybe I'll just start with my and G's birthstones. Aquamarine for me, a March baby, and gorgeous opal (one of my favorite stones) for my October-born hubby. They make a pretty pair, don't you think?

What's your birthstone? Discovered any fabulous art pieces lately? (Do share!)

P.S. There's a Zodiacs collection, too.

(Images via Minted)

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Thanksgiving Menu

Turkey Day is almost here! And I have the lengthy grocery shopping list to prove it. I spent a day last week researching recipes, and, to be honest, several days debating what kind of stuffing to make-- none seemed quite right!-- before forcing myself yesterday to just pick one already damn it. In case you are in need of some recipes as well, I thought I'd share our Thanksgiving menu.

Here's what we'll be making and eating for our first Thanksgiving together, as a married couple:

(We'll be using onions, carrots and apples cut in large chunks, instead of rack, to keep the turkey lifted out of its juices. Bonus: we get roasted veggies!) 

(Dressing, not stuffing, since it is cooked outside the bird. Store-bought cornbread will make this recipe extra easy and I'll mix in some crusty artisan bread for varying flavors and texture. We're also planning to use spicy sausage for some heat.)

(With a large dollop or two of sour cream mixed in because, well, just because. I'm a little obsessed with sour cream, especially on potatoes.)

(My mom has made this every Thanksgiving for years. It's a Laura Bush recipe that she pulled from Redbook, or some similar magazine, long ago. Sweet and delicious, it's almost dessert. The image above is not of the exact recipe, it's actually from a lightened-up sweet potato mash, but it looks similar to the puree my mom makes.)

(G and I both love green bean casserole, and while we grew up on the Campbell's condensed soup kind, and it is homey and comforting in its familiarity, this recipe was recommended to me highly by a foodie friend. I'm excited to try a from-scratch version.)

(I'm going to watch the sugar since some reviewers commented that this recipe was too sweet, but I was drawn by the use of fall spices as well as orange juice and zest. The plan is to make this Wednesday, to relieve a bit of cooking pressure on Thursday.)

(My mom always bakes tons of pies to suit our family's varied tastes: pumpkin, apple, pecan, mincemeat... G's fave is pumpkin while I'm more of an apple girl. With this recipe, we get a little bit of everything, without actually baking a pie per person. It looks a little labor intensive, but I'll be using a prepared pie crust-- gasp!-- to keep my sanity.)

Since it's just the two of us, we are clearly going to have lots (and LOTS) of leftovers. I see turkey sandwiches, turkey enchiladas, turkey soup, stuffing fritters, mashed potato cakes, etc., in our future... Yep. The best thing about Thanksgiving, in my humble opinion, is the sides, but the second best thing is leftovers for days.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Floating Along

Stumbled upon this while browsing Pinterest and fell in love with it, not just for the image but the words. As I read them, they struck me sharp, like an arrow through the heart, capturing exactly how I feel, the place I am at, in my life.
“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” ― C. JoyBell C.

These few lines describe my uneasy, precarious location so beautifully, that it got me thinking: Perhaps it is not so scary after all. Maybe its a lovely opportunity, a glorious flight, to just let the wind take me, unsure of where I'll settle. Maybe I just need to unfold my wings and enjoy the view.

(Photo by Grace Adams, via Between Studio)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On Thanksgiving Traditions

Like many people, I've been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving the past couple weeks. It started out with excitement. I sat down with G and planned out our menu, what dishes we love and had to have. It ended up being quite the dinner for two average-sized people. But I figured, it's Thanksgiving, the national eat-all-you-can-eat holiday, so what the heck? We'll roast the bird, whip the spuds, and make six more side dishes. Plus pie. You can't forget the pie.

But the closer we get to the day, now only a week away, the more the excitement has given way to what was hiding underneath all those plans: a bit of sadness and a tinge of loneliness.


This will be our first holiday as a married couple and it will be just the two of us. Our families and friends are not coming out to visit, and neither are we hopping on a plane to the West Coast. It simply isn't practical or feasible financially. At first I relished the thought of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) being just the two of us this year. No family drama to contend with. No deciding whose house to go to. The holidays would be quiet, intimate and special. We would start our own traditions, together, as husband and wife.

Growing up, G (who is an only child) and his parents often spent Thanksgiving at a relative's home, where the food and the activities of the day varied (sometimes greatly) from year to year. So as a result, he doesn't feel like he has a specific set of traditions that are important or meaningful to him to carry on. I, on the other hand, do. Though, I sort of grew up with two different holiday season experiences.

When I was very young, my extended family used to all gather at my maternal grandfather's house. A long table, probably 20-feet, would be set up for all of us. My mom, always a frazzled mess in the kitchen, would do much of the cooking, with some help (good and bad) from her brothers and sister. My paternal grandmother, Grandmama, would bring her chocolate pie, which I absolutely loved of course. It was like chocolate pudding in a crumbly graham-cracker crust. What's not for a kid to love? Once dinner was ready, all the adults would sit down at the world's longest table while us youngsters had our meal at the children's table in the kitchen, listening in through the wall as the grown-ups talked, invariably getting into some kind of argument, which is bound to happen when large families with large personalities come together. Those were the Thanksgivings of my childhood. Trade out all varieties of pie for rice pudding, add some carols and dancing around the Christmas tree while holding hands (seriously), and that was my Christmas.

But death changed things over the years. Grandmama went first, then my grandfather, whose home brought us all together. Our large family gatherings turned into small dinners with my immediate family, and sometimes my favorite uncle, at our home. When my older brother died the holiday dinners got even smaller, and much sadder for a time. Those were the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my teenage and college years.

It sounds depressing, and it is in some ways, but nevertheless I find myself wishing I could be home for the holidays. There were a couple years where I didn't spend Thanksgiving, or Christmas, with my family but instead with a boyfriend's family. But even then there was still the option of going home, or stopping by for a few hours. This year that option isn't there. And it likely will not be an option in many of the years to come.

I've always done my best to be home for the holidays because I hate the thought of my mom, my dad and my younger brother just sitting around the table by themselves. Perhaps it is a stupid and self-important thought but sometimes I feel like I'm my family's "glue." On holidays I help in the kitchen. At the table, they turn to me to say grace. My younger brother and my parents have not always had the best relationship, though it is getting better, and he can be quiet morose on holidays (he doesn't appreciate the expectation to pretend like everything is happy and perfect when he feels the opposite, and I don't really blame him). I'm not sure he is even going to go home for Thanksgiving, even though he lives just 20 minutes away. He may have to work or he just may not go, for the above stated reasons. So then it would just be my mom and my dad. Kind of like how it will be here. Just the two of us.


The plan for this post was to talk about Thanksgiving traditions. Keeping old ones, starting new ones. Instead I find myself clinging onto the old, even when the past was far from perfect. It's funny how distance can make you miss the things you didn't even know you cherished. Life is forcing me to change, to let go, and I'm a bit unwilling.

I'm hoping this purging of my thoughts and emotions will help with that letting go part, and let me get back to what I was feeling a few weeks ago: excitement. 

Initially, I told G that I wanted us to roast a turkey, a whole one, but yesterday I cooly informed him it was silly to spend the time and money (we'd need to buy a roasting pan and rack) doing something we have no idea how to do, only to be left with way more leftovers than we probably can handle. So now the plan is to simply make a turkey breast. And, having thought about it a little more, I'm OK with that. I actually like the idea of saving the big roasting of the turkey for when we do host a Thanksgiving dinner for family or friends or both, or when we have a little one whose eyes will widen at the sight.

We'll still make most of those side dishes. Mashed potatoes and stuffing are a given, but I also must have my mom's sweet potato puree and G loves green bean casserole. And we'll shove all the pies we're accustomed to having (apple, pumpkin and pecan) into one with this crazy recipe. Maybe it will be our new favorite, and a new tradition.

In the meantime, until next Thursday, I'm going to cut myself some slack. Our first Thanksgiving doesn't have to be an extravaganza. Small can still be special, and whatever we do this year does not need to be repeated forevermore. The best traditions often come about slowly and by accident, without even realizing a tradition has been made. And new traditions will be added throughout the years, as life changes-- because it certainly always does.

(Top image via The Kitchn, bottom photo from our engagement session, by heidi-o-photo)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love & the Beach : A Santa Monica Engagement

My best friend is getting married!!!!! I'm so excited for her. (Can you tell?) Right now she is swimming in the sometimes stormy sea that is wedding planning (I know all about it), but the beacon, the lighthouse in the night, is this: She is marrying a great, funny, sweet guy who absolutely adores her. What more could you want for your best friend?

Today I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite takes from Marielle and JP's engagement session. But first, a bit of backstory: I have known Marielle for 21 years, since third grade! We met as 8-year-olds on our elementary school playground in Simi Valley, Calif. I was kind of lonely. My first "best friend" and I had a falling out (drama so young, can you believe it?) so I was spending recess alone, by myself. I saw a group of girls playing together, giggling and having fun, and somehow I summoned the courage to go over to them. I'm not sure how very shy me managed to do that but I'm so glad I did. Because when I asked Marielle if I could play, too, she answered without hesitation and immediately welcomed me into the group. The rest is history! We've been best friends ever since.

Marielle and JP also have a long history. The two have been together since 2008, and they actually got engaged on their six-year anniversary this past March. It was important to them that the engagement happen on their dating anniversary, but JP was still able to keep it a surprise. Marielle didn't think it was happening this year, so she was totally shocked when he got down on one knee at the end of their date night, giving her the intimate proposal she always wanted. JP's sister had covertly placed flowers, candles and a Build-A-Bear teddy on their doorstep for Marielle to find when they came home. When she saw the set-up, Marielle still just thought JP was making a romantic anniversary gesture. But the bear held a special message when squeezed, telling her she was "The One," and when she spun around JP was down on his knee with a ring.

Isn't that just the sweetest?!

It was also important to the pair that they get married on their anniversary date, so the wedding is set for March 27, 2015. They'll be saying "I do" at the gorgeous Malibu West Beach Club. Marielle knew she wanted to get hitched by the ocean, and she wanted her and JP's e-session to reflect a beachy, fun vibe, too. That's why they chose the vibrant and colorful Santa Monica Pier. It was the perfect location for a fun-loving, SoCal couple.

Thanks, Marielle and JP for letting me share! Love you guys! So excited for the big day.

(Photography by Simply Perfect Images)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Six Months a Mrs.

G and I have been married six months today. It's kind of hard to believe, in some ways it feels like the wedding wasn't that long ago. And yet, I can believe it, because so much has happened in those six months. 

That whole moving across the country thing, then finding out we're not going to be here as long as we thought... Welcoming a new fur baby into the family... Struggling to find a job (not to mention local friends)... Pursuing new creative outlets... 

It's been a bit of a bumpy ride, for both of us, though I think we'd also both agree the transition has been tougher for me. And yet, there is no one else I would rather be on this ride with. My husband loves me through my moods and my insecurities. He encourages my dreams. He supports me in my highs and my lows. He tells me I'm beautiful when I feel ugly. He cooks dinner for us almost every night. He is probably a better man than I deserve. Our relationship isn't perfect and I think most newlyweds, if they're honest, will admit that the post-wedding period isn't a non-stop honeymoon. Especially when thrust into the midst of so much change.

We are not perfect, but I like to think we are perfectly imperfect for each other.

I have no doubt the next months and years will hold many more ups and downs, but I feel blessed and lucky to know that I will have G by my side through it all.

Today, the words spoken during our wedding ceremony, when our hearts and lives were bound together forever, are playing back in my head:

May these hands be blessed this day. 
These are the hands of your best friend, full of love for you. 
These are the hands that will work alongside yours, 
as together you build your future, your family. 
These are the hands that will cherish you through the years, 
and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other 
when the storms of life break ashore. 
These are the hands that will wipe away the tears from your eyes; 
tears of sorrow, and tears of joy. 
And these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, 
will still be reaching for yours.

I'm sure my hubby would smirk at the utterance that today is our "six-month anniversary" but it is kind of wonderful reflecting on this moment half-a-year ago, the commitments and promises made. These words, these memories, fill my heart with joy and remind me where this crazy journey all began... and where it's going.

(Photos by heidi-o-photo)

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Book Signing with Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my inspirations, an idol, if I can go that far: Anna Bond, the creative genius behind my favorite stationery (and much more) brand Rifle Paper Co. I'm sure you've heard of it and if you haven't, I am positive you have at the very least seen Anna's beautiful illustrations even if you didn't know it. Rifle Paper Co. is everywhere. Even on classic novels! See, that was the reason behind our meeting. The Oxford Exchange in Tampa hosted a book signing with the celebrity stationer, who illustrated the covers and endpapers for the Puffin in Bloom book collection.

You may recall that I was supposed to attend this signing last month (my first trip to the gorgeous Oxford Exchange) but it was canceled due to a family emergency. So when I found out the event was rescheduled for Nov. 15 you can bet I RSVP'd stat and penned (not penciled) that date into my calendar immediately.

I can't quite remember how or when the love affair began, all I know is I am now obsessed with the brand (exhibit A and B) and just adore everything bearing the Rifle Paper Co. name. (It's a bit of a problem for my bank account.)

The signing was at 3 p.m. but we decided to make a day of it and headed over to Oxford Exchange early (if you count noon on a Saturday as early) for brunch. We already knew OE's restaurant is excellent, and it still delivered. Since it was afternoon, G opted for lunch: a Club piled with roasted turkey, avocado, bacon, tomato, bibb lettuce, Swiss cheese and garlic aioli, with slaw and sweet potato fries on the side. I on the other hand ordered breakfast: Pumpkin Pancakes sitting in a pool of a bacon maple glaze and topped with spicy pumpkin seeds. I never order sweet breakfasts, I always go for something savory (usually a Benedict) but I felt helpless to resist such a perfectly autumnal way to start the day. The cakes were delicious and dense, sweet and a little salty from the bacon, and stacked five to the plate! I couldn't finish but gave it a noble effort. 

We lingered over our meals and morning cocktails yet still had about 30 minutes time to browse the shop. Given the occasion, I conceded to my urge to pick up a few new Rifle pretties: the Birds of a Feather Notebook Set and Rose Botanicals Journal (sold out online at Rifle, but available through OE's online shop). A girl, a writer, can never have too many pads of paper.

Soon enough a line was forming and we got in it. G was a happy camper when a server came around asking if anyone wanted a cocktail. Considering he doesn't care all that much about stationery, I think that gin and tonic made his day. Perhaps I should have had one, as I became very nervous, as I knew I would. I've never been to a book signing before and I'm not the fan girl type, so it felt a little odd to fawn over this person and get their autograph. And yet, the whole reason I came is because I do admire Anna Bond. I admire her creative talent but also her entrepreneurial spirit. The fact that she followed her passions, worked hard and, over the last five years, has grown a hugely successful business. Something that started in her garage apartment is now an international and beloved brand with a unique and distinct aesthetic. Anna is the epitome of "do what you love." That's why I consider her an inspiration and a creative's idol.

Now, did I tell her all that to her face? Haha, no. We only had a few minutes to talk. The fact that I had all the Puffin in Bloom books gave me a little more time than most. I opened with something like, "I know you get this all the time, but I love your work." Smooth. Anyway, I preceded to tell her how I used her "Will you be my...?" cards to ask my dear friends to be in my bridal party. And how my husband and I used the Botanicals Garland at our wedding reception. Anna asked if I was from "here" and I told her we are actually from California; that we came from San Diego but are originally from Simi Valley. She then told me her brother lives in California and that she would be visiting him for Christmas, to which I replied that I would be visiting next spring. 

Yep, definitely not earth-shattering conversation. But the whole time she was just as sweet as could be. I asked if we could take a photo together, adding as I fanned myself, "even though I'm all red; I'm a little nervous." And she admitted she was nervous, too. See? Sweet as could be.

[ A display of Rifle Paper Co. goodies in the Oxford Exchange shop. ]
[ Stacks of Puffin in Bloom books. ]
[ The view while waiting in line to meet Anna Bond. ]
[ The book signing took place on the mezzanine-level balcony at the Oxford Exchange. ]
[ Anna Bond was all smiles as she met fans and signed books. ]
[ Left: I'm pretty sure this photo was taken as I jokingly said, "I hope there is no limit to the things you can sign..." // Right: A slightly-blurry photo of Anna Bond and I. ] 
[ My signed books, all stacked up. ]
[ The inside of "Heidi," with Anna Bond's signature on the endpapers. ]
[ A cute holiday card Anna Bond created specifically for Oxford Exchange, to sell at the event. Since only 50 were available, I decided I just had to snap one up. I had Anna sign the inside of the card and I plan to frame it as holiday decor. ] 
[ Sweet Rifle Paper Co. notebooks. ]
[ We ended our OE visit with handcrafted lattes-- vanilla for me, mocha for him-- and a teeny-tiny Oreo cupcake. ]

Do you love Rifle Paper Co. as much as I do? Is there anyone you look up to and would be excited-nervous to meet?
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