Monday, August 26, 2013

Stardust [Sergio Albiac]

If you have known me for longer than 10 minutes, you probably know that I have a bit of an affinity for all things constellation and celestial. (This is not to be confused with bigger ideas of space and the Universe, which despite being fascinating, by-and-large scare the hay-zeus out of me -- INFINITE SPACE whhaaaa? No thank you.) However, I realized that save for a brief mention of my constellation crush, Orion, in this post, I've never actually talked about it here.

That changes now!

First, though, I want to say that one of my favorite things about the internet today is how artists and creatives of various sorts have found interesting ways to collaborate with others, specifically: me and you and everyone commonplace. I went into great detail about my excitement (and involvement) with Foster Huntington's The Burning House, which was my first foray into these online (and free) collaborative efforts. When opportunities like this arise, I'm finding it impossible not to join the legions of others who want to be part of it.

This brings me to the Stardust Project by Sergio Albiac, who (to sum it up) created an imaging program that takes pictures submitted by internet users (those "commonplace" folk I mentioned above) and generates unique portraits using a mosaic-smattering of nebulae images taken from the Hubble. He'll provide you with three different portraits, and they'll also be posted with the thousands of others on his Flickr.

I honestly can't remember how I found out about this project (it was just over a month ago), but you can bet that it took me about .73 seconds to start hunting for a picture to submit.

For the record, finding an image for this was tough for me (*white whine*). I don't have a lot of simple front-facing ones where I'm not wearing sunglasses, or someone isn't in the image with me, or I don't look totally dreadful. Sergio's instructions say that (for the most part) you have only one shot at this, and what you get -- you get.

And most of them, by Jove, are simply stunning.

There is an incredible variety, some with clear faces, and others that look decidedly more like, well... bursts of stardust.

All of the images become clearer when you view them smaller (or squint), which I find particularly fun. Personally, I like the photos where the clarity is a little in-between: the face is not too clearly defined, but the contrast features of the face are still visible.

Naturally, when you're submitting your photo, there's no way to know whether you picked one that will turn out "well" or how you want; the randomness of it, though, is rather exciting, I think. Sergio recommended using something with good contrast, so I kept that in mind.

I decided to use this photo, mainly because of the lines of my and the contrast between my British-white skin and dark hair/background.

I spent a bunch of time looking for the right image, and even though this one wasn't front-facing, it still beat out all the other options, because I didn't want something where my teeth were showing. (This was taken NYE '09/'10, back when I was much thinner.) I bit the bullet and loaded it to Google Drive for Sergio.

Then, I waited.

Then I completely forgot about it.

Turns out Sergio's turnaround time is only about 2-3 days, but I didn't think to check it until almost 3 weeks later. I'm astonished that he can create so many incredible photographs (despite the help of a computer program) and get hundreds of them loaded and sent out nearly every day. I submitted my photo back on the 25th of July, and they were loaded onto his Flickr on the 27th. I had to scroll back 89 pages to find the actual links to my photos.

my Stardust Portraits 3009, 3010, 3011

These are certainly not as clear as I would have liked, but I think they're still really pretty and fun, and you can definitely make out the shape of my face. Without question, the middle one is my favorite!

I encourage everyone to do this, even just for the novelty of having a favorite personal photo "nebulafied." If you do it (or, by chance, have done it), send me or post a link in the comments so I can see how yours turned out!

Happy Monday, everyone!

** all images (except for the untouched photo of me) are property of Sergio Albiac, with links to individual photos available below each one

Friday, August 23, 2013

Food Friday: Haven Gastropub | Deviled Eggs

If you happen to find yourself in Old Towne Orange, I think it's important you give yourself a pat on the back for all you do in your life, and then stop at Haven Gastropub for a beer or Moscow Mule. While you're at it, better get yourself a plate of these. OK, two plates. Just trust me.

In addition to having hands-down the tastiest burger in the Circle (lamb burger, oy vey), Haven also has the best deviled eggs I've ever eaten, ever, in 20 years of eating deviled eggs like a champ. (Though, my sister insists that the deviled eggs at On the Thirty in Sherman Oaks will give Haven's a run for their money... Challenge accepted!)

But these babies? They're classic, without a bunch of fancy frills. The rock salt, the twice-smoked bacon, the addition of dill pickle? Yes, sir. Place a little pickle on top of the egg and have at it.

If there's a Heaven, I'm tellin' ya, it involves deviled eggs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Throw Off the Bowlines

Nothing More by Wesley Bird
I was about 10-years-old. My sister and I were spending a few weeks of our summer with my aunt, uncle, and small cousins at their home in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. During that trip, we visited a family friend of theirs who lived in a house on a lake, with other beautiful homes spaced evenly around it. It was a big lake, but not so big that you couldn't see all the way across and get a glimpse of the houses on the other side.

That afternoon, I sat and daydreamed silly girl dreams about my best friends and school crush, a movie in my mind about what it would be like when I was a teenager.

I will live on the shore of a lake just like this. All of my friends will live around it, too. We'll float on rafts in the middle and swim all day. We'll ride jet skis instead of bikes. When my first love breaks my heart, I'll sit on the dock, crying and contemplating the stars. No matter what happens later on in life, me and my friends... we'll always come back here.

Nothing to write home about; musings of a prepubescent. What strikes me now, as I remember it, are less the details (I hardly consider "lakefront property" a priority and I'm well past my "young love" phase) than the sentiment behind it.

My friends.


Those friends have changed, it's true, but the feeling hasn't shifted. I couldn't appreciate the simplicity of it at the time, but that fantasy (in its more adult incarnations) would continue to go through my mind for the next nearly two decades. A sense of Home, always with others. It's what I want, what I've always wanted. I knew it even when I was ten, didn't I?

Being far away from the people I love has been the hardest part of growing up. I am thankful that staying connected takes just one click, but I wonder if it's the simplicity of that click that's to blame for pulling us apart in the first place. Myself, my friends... we're all intelligent, 21st century, Gen-Y folk who want adventure, travel, exploration, a change of scene, even if it's just to a new state or city that challenges us. It's what led me to Seattle after college, what led so many of my friends to New York City, and others to England and South Korea.

print by December Baby Designs
I long to experience true adventure again; to become a "local" in a new place and see things from an insider's point-of-view. It's not just about traveling, but living somewhere. The idea of getting rid of all my possessions and moving to someplace new, where weekend trips to another country aren't just feasible, but expected. It makes me yearn for the flexibility (ahem, money) to make exploration a standard in my life -- not just a trip that takes a full year of saving and planning.

And yet...

The part of me that yearns for new and challenging experiences in other areas of the world is constantly at odds with the part of me that wants to stay grounded. The part of me that wants to find a home and community near friends and family, where Jonathan's and my children will grow up and cry their own tears on a dock over a broken heart, still can't reconcile the idea of never having lived abroad -- of not taking bigger risks.

I think most people know where they fall on this spectrum. Travel, excitement, adventure? Duh. No-brainer. Settling near family and friends? Totes. Only option for me. But what about when you're limited by your income and work and paid time off, and living impossibly far from those you love sounds about on par with the 4th circle of Hell, yet your heart still feels pulled in the direction of movement... What can you do?

I've never been much of a risk-taker. I'm an introvert, and my first year in Seattle was hard for a reason -- I'm simply dreadful at meeting new people. Making friends doesn't come easy for me, because my standards are so high. (I have some flipping awesome friends.) Also, RBF is at least partly to blame. This is a major reason why moving to someplace new, just Jonathan and me, scares the ever-living-hell out of me. Adventures can be thrilling, but they can also be lonely. But maybe that's the beauty of it?

It's no secret to me now that, when something scares me, I am not the person who goes into it head-on. I usually back away. It's always been this way, but that doesn't mean it's how I want to live my life. Whatever happens, our life choices should never be made out of fear. But how can you make yourself be brave?

via Pinterest

Jonathan and I just signed another one-year lease on our apartment in Orange. He'll work to finish school and keep his contract position at his job -- until they decide, inevitably, to offer him a full-time job. When they do that, he'll accept it. This means we'll be staying in Los Angeles for at least a year after we get married next summer.

This both excites me and makes me terribly anxious.

I have to remind myself constantly that we are only 27. If we move from Orange to Los Angeles next year, we'll only be 28, etc. etc. etc. There's no rush on making these decisions, and it does me no good to ponder things that may or may not come. Who said you had to have it all figured out by the time you're 30?


I remember back to my fantasy at 10-years-old and know that, without question, being near my loved ones in some capacity is an absolute must in my life and in my future. This was the one Truth I learned after three years of growing pains in Seattle. Does that mean travel and living abroad will be impossible? I'm not sure; I can't know.

What I do know is that I am opening up myself to the many possibilities that make me happy and scared. Friends and neighbors, late nights and bottles of wine, exploring someplace new and getting out of my comfort zone.

On second thought, let's just all go adventuring together. That'd make this decision a lot easier.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Getty Museum [Elysium]

Last weekend, Kim, her boyfriend (John), Jonathan, and I spent Saturday afternoon at The Getty Museum in the Los Angeles hills. We've tried to keep doing interesting things around the area as often as we can, but it's consistently difficult to find the motivation to crawl off the couch or spend money after a long week. Jonathan is always on the move for work (still doing the 1 1/2 hour each way commute to West Hollywood from Orange four days a week), and both of our brains are on constant overload with computer stimulation that once they're off, they are off. 

With only a few weeks left before Jonathan's grad program starts up again, and he's neck-deep in work and a Masters thesis, we're filling up as much free time as we can.

Also, who could turn down this view of Los Angeles?

That freeway is the 405, and it is running perpendicular in the foreground to Sunset Blvd. Downtown Beverly Hills is the cluster of larger buildings in front, and you can slightly make out Downtown Los Angeles in the distance, to the left. Kim argues that it's the best view of the LA area, and I think she might be right.

If anything, it certainly gives you an idea of how sprawling and polluted the county is. (Hello, smog blanket!)

The trip seemed appropriate, given that we'd gone to see Elysium (with Matt Damon) that morning. The Getty, like Elysium, was clean, modern, idyllic, and feels like a fortress. I kept expecting to see droids walking around with cocktails. Which, admittedly, is the one thing missing from the Getty.

Top: The Getty, via | Bottom: Elysium, via

They were a good pair for a relaxing and beautiful LA day.

*        *        *        *        *

I realize that over the years I've developed into a bit of a "speed museumer." I don't go all the time, but for someone who doesn't study art, I've gone to so many museums in my adult life, that I've really figured out the right method for seeing as much as possible and only stopping for the things that catch my eye or resonate with me -- saving loads of time. (Unlike my father who stops to read every single description of every single thing oh my god let's GO.)

Vase of Flowers by Jan Van Huysum (1722)
Walking through a museum is always a bit of a game, where tourists stand confused / bored / enamored in the middle of the walkway, sometimes with cameras poised to take photos of photos, etc., and you know you simply want to move along, so you weave through the crowd and inevitably lose everyone who came with you.

When I was young, going to museums -- hell, any historical or scenic hot-spot (Pearl Harbor and the Grand Canyon come to mind) -- made me, how do I say... a crabby-bitch-monster. Truth be told, I think the majority of my attitude could be blamed on adolescent hormones, but in the end it didn't matter what was to blame, I was simply terrible to be around whenever we went somewhere that involved a lot of looking and standing and admiring and learning, etc. It might just be that I'm hard-wired this way, because that impatience has never really left me, even 15 years later. However, now, as a mostly-functioning adult, I understand that this leave me alone I hate you demeanor has nothing to do with not liking museums / natural wonders / landmarks, but rather the fact that I do not like to be told what I should think is beautiful, what is considered interesting, or otherwise interact with people at all when I really just want to think.

Looking and appreciating things or places is very meditative for me, and I prefer to revel in the silence and get lost in my own thoughts rather than keep track of where everyone else is or pretend like I care what they think. Truth be told, I care little about what most people think about things.

So really, it's in everyone's best interest that I move along at my own -- generally fast -- pace, and not let myself get caught up in what other people are doing, because waiting is simply the most irrationally annoying thing that can happen to me in a day.

Elegant Woman by Louis Rolland
Trinquesse (late 1700s)
A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros 
by Adolphe William Bouguereau (about 1880)
It's possible that I move too quickly through museums, but standing around looking at paintings / sculptures / drawings / etc. that bore me sounds like the biggest waste of time. I know that I could learn things, and that's all very well and good, but in the end, I'm not an art student and I don't feel the need to "experience" art with anyone. I've mentioned it before, but art is like music to me: it either moves you, or it doesn't, and no one should ever feel pressured to explain why they like something. It's personal. What is, is.

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy being places with people. I do. In fact, going places alone isn't really my cup of tea if I can help it. I liken it to being at a concert or seeing a play with friends: it's always more enjoyable to go with people, but it's not so fun if they talk through the show. Just be quiet and we'll discuss it at intermission.

misery happiness loves company, especially when you have a pretty view

This museum is large, but still manageable. It's nothing like The Huntington (where you pretty much have to plan your whole day around it), though you could easily take your time, have snacks and coffee, and make a day at The Getty if you wanted. I think it'd be fun to have lunch on the grass, or come when they're having an outdoor concert.

This is one of the few museums in LA that's actually free (though parking does cost $15). If I lived closer, I'd consider putting on my walking shoes, grabbing coffee at the coffee cart, and exploring the park / people watching. It's certainly nicer (and less pathetic) than going to the mall to walk around and look at housewares like an old married couple, which is something Jonathan and I are certainly guilty of, and the fact that we're doing preliminary wedding registry planning is only part of the reason.

Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome by Simon Denis (1786-1801)

I'm not all that well-versed on great places to visit in LA -- especially places that cost me [nearly] $0. Now that the wedding is 10 months away, it's time to actually get serious about saving for the things we know we'll need, which leaves us with the most pathetic spending budget.

Free is good. Tell me about free things to enjoy around these here Southern California parts, maybe?

Thank you. Happy Friday.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Venue Hunt, Part III: To the Mountains We Go

Remember three months ago when I mentioned we'd found a wedding venue? Remember how I'm the worst at updating? Oh, but remember how I love you and I am really, really happy that you're interested in reading about the little things in my life that mean nothing but mean the world all at once?

Ahem. Picking up where we last left off...

Several weeks after beginning our venue hunt for our summer 2014 wedding, I made Jonathan sit down for a serious heart-to-heart with me. As I mentioned before, things started to go off the rails in unexpected ways, and I realized that putting myself (and therefore: us) in a stressful place was not what I wanted for our wedding.

I know. This is starting to seem really dramatic. Like, how difficult can finding a venue really be, and on top of that, why would I let myself get so worked up about it so quickly after getting engaged -- and so far away from my actual wedding date?!

The truth is: we're picky people, but in most areas, our tastes are very simple. Having a wedding that was overly complicated and stressful was not something we wanted. The thought of eloping to a favorite location (Seattle, near the water perhaps) was more appealing than most of the options we were finding, but we were adamant that we find something where our close friends and family who could come would be able to come.

So we sat down and discussed what our ideal wedding would look like. Here's a smattering of ideas and phrases that kept popping up (and were eventually solidified) during our talk:

  • We'd rather elope than spend a dime on something for which we'd have to settle
  • The feeling of a small, intimate, casual, and fun wedding, but without the super small guest list
  • "Backyard wedding"
  • The ceremony, reception, or both venue locations should be quintessentially "Northern California"
  • Golf courses, country clubs, and wineries were still out of the question
  • Focus on "local" and simple options, so that we can keep costs down with flowers, food, decor...
  • Being somewhere that allows us to keep the party going until at least 11 PM or midnight is ideal
  • We need to love the location enough that even if only 20 people come, we'll still be excited about it

With a very quick realization that no one we know has a backyard suitable for the kind of wedding we'd want (one where the neighbors won't start complaining come 10 PM), I immediately took to Google.

Oh, Google. My trusty-yet-fickle friend.

I looked for several days straight, and for the life of me I couldn't tell you the search terms I was using. It was similar to a Buzzfeed black hole, where you're sucked from one link to another to another to another, but instead of GIFs of kittens and TV show personalities, it was overpriced California mansions, industrial lofts, and outdoor toilet rentals.

Inevitably, I found myself here: Here Comes the Bride venue search. Armed with the following filters (Northern California, Private Estate, garden views, and 100 people), I was given a list of options.

I started with the towns/cities I already knew. Nothing I liked. Eventually I moved on to the more obscure ones that were around the Bay Area. Nothing I could afford. Finally, the very last one that I selected (because who the hell under 50-years-old has heard of Graeagle?!), I knew I'd found the one.

This is The Twenty Mile House. It's situated on 200 acres of pine trees, hiking trails, river bed, and train tracks in Cromberg, CA -- just outside of Graeagle, an hour and a half north of Lake Tahoe, nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

It's everything I ever wanted. What's better? Jonathan loved it too.

The Web site has all the juicy details about price, vendors, etc. so I won't bore you with that now. (Eventually, once this silliness is all over, I'll come back with a budget breakdown for anyone who is interested in this particular venue.) All you need to know is that this is a "green" venue, and it partners with all local vendors who specialize in eco-friendly goodies.

Back in April, my parent's offered to drive up to Cromberg and check it all out for us. They met with Kevin, the owner, and asked him a million and one questions that I had prepared for them. They came back from the trip smitten as could be, and my mother (notoriously difficult to please or get excited about things) thought it was the absolute perfect choice for us.

So within a week, Jonathan and I signed a contract... on a place we hadn't even seen in person.

I admit, it was nerve-wracking.

My nerves might have been the thing that kept me from updating about the venue until now. I knew we'd made the right choice, but having never seen the place in person made me feel as though I couldn't really justify it.

Luckily, last month while I was waiting for my lovely best friend to give birth (more on that later), my mother and I took a day trip up there to look around, check out nearby Graeagle, and watch a wedding get set up on the property. I took pictures, but they're all on my mother's phone. So I'll just say this:

I'm elated, I'm excited, I'm itching for this wedding to finally get here already, and I simply could not be more satisfied. This location is heaven on earth, it smells like summer camp (pine trees!), and it's secluded, quiet, and under the stars.

The next 10 months can't go by soon enough.

** All images above are from this stunning Twenty Mile House wedding by Kris Holland Photography. Check it out and gawk. It's okay; no one is watching.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Real To-Do: Seattle, Washington

photo taken by me in 2008, from the ferry coming into Seattle from Bremerton

I've been missing Seattle quite a bit lately, especially the part about leaving my little apartment near the park and having umpteen restaurants/bars/activities at my fingertips. In the three years I called Seattle "home," I set out to devour all of the food, cocktails, hikes, and sights I could manage on a very (very) tight budget.

My dear friend, Jessica, is moving up there this week and all of our discussions leading up to the Big Move made me yearn for the city that I left nearly two years ago. So much has changed (new restaurants and bars!), but so much has stayed the same, too.

I arrived in Seattle with virgin eyes, and a fantasy of what this city and its surroundings would hold. I grew up outside of San Francisco (arguably one of the best cities in the world), so my standards were fairly high. And when you're poor like I was, a lot can be said about a city that has places to go and things to do that don't cost an arm and a leg.

In that respect, Seattle rules all.

There's so much to enjoy in that city, and despite my complicated feelings about living there, I loved it—and still do—very much. I could go on and on about the restaurants, bars, and hot spots that made a lasting impression, because I had the pleasure of going to so many in a multitude of price ranges (thanks mainly to Jonathan's concierge job); the list feels infinite and would be 10 pages long if I just named every good meal or drink I ever had here. However, I certainly have my favorites—ones that top my list of places to go if I had just a week to visit. That being said, I thought I'd share my personal recommendations for what to eat, drink, and do in the Emerald City if you've got the time to spare and money to spend.

So. You're visiting Seattle for the 2nd or 10th time and you're tired of Pike Place Market and Seattle Center trips; or you've just moved there and have no idea where to go or what to do and just want to stay away from the tourists... Here are some of my suggestions* of ways to keep your belly full, your head a little fuzzy, and your body aching from exertion.

Sun Liquor (Capitol Hill & First Hill)
Tini Bigs (Lower Queen Anne)
Dilettante (Capitol Hill)
Zig Zag Café (Pike Place Market, Downtown)
Suite 410 (Downtown)
Tavern Law (Capitol Hill, Pike/Pine Corridor)

Beer & Wine
White Horse Trading Co. (Post Alley, Downtown)
Brouwer's (Fremont)
Stumbling Monk (Capitol Hill)
Pike Place Brewery (Downtown)

Coffee & Tea
Victrola Coffee (First Hill & Capitol Hill)
Fonté (Downtown)
Remedy Teas (Capitol Hill)

Weekday Breakfast
Glo's (Capitol Hill)
Toulouse Petit (Lower Queen Anne)
Serious Biscuit (South Lake Union)

Weekend Brunch
Americana - previously: Table 219 (Capitol Hill)
Oddfellows Café & Bar (Capitol Hill, Pike/Pine Corridor)
Smith (Capitol Hill)
Portage Bay Café (South Lake Union / Ballard / U-District)

Poquitos (Pike/Pine Corridor)
Boat Street Café (Belltown)
Skillet Street Food (food truck / Central)
Rom Mai Thai (Capitol Hill)
Red Mill Burgers (Phinney Ridge)

Delancey (Ballard)
RN-74 (Downtown)
Black Bottle (Belltown)
Café Selam (Central)
Annapurna (Capitol Hill)
Brad's Swingside Café (Fremont)
Purple Café & Wine Bar (Downtown)

Happy Hour (Food) - when the deals are so good that I wouldn't go any other time
Serious Pie (Downtown / South Lake Union)
Deluxe Bar & Grill (Capitol Hill)
Poppy (Capitol Hill)

Schmitz Preserve Park (West Seattle)
Green Lake (Greenlake)
Discovery Park (Magnolia)
Seward Park (Sewart Park)
Volunteer Park & Conservatory (Capitol Hill)

Frye Art Museum (First Hill) - free
Olympic Sculpture Park (Belltown) - free
Seattle Art Museum (Downtown)

Uwajimaya (International District)
Fremont Sunday Market (Fremont)
Ballard Farmer's Market (Ballard)

Elliott Bay Bookstore (Pike/Pine Corridor)
Theo Chocolate Factory Tour & Shop (Fremont)

Note: I don't shop, hence the length of this list. I was poooooor. But I did buy books. And chocolate, because I was never too poor for that.

I hope you enjoyed my list of places that make me happy, even thinking about them years later, and if you're ever in Seattle -- I hope you'll check out a few of them.

Also, I know there are some Seattle friends who check in here, so tell me: what are your favorite spots that I totally need to eat at/visit next time I'm up there?

* These are a collection of my favorite spots in the city, which are limited to the areas (districts) I frequented, most notably Capitol Hill since it was my home for 2 years. There are loads of spots I liked a lot but didn't go often enough to think of it as a favorite, as well as many that I never had the chance to enjoy (Paseo, The Walrus and the Carpenter, to name a few). I am recommending these particular places/eateries/bars because they are spots I would try to go if I were to visit for an extended period. There are innumerable "must" lists that expand on this one, especially since new things have opened up since I've been away.

** All images property of The Sleepy Peach

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Venue Hunt, Part II: Hometown Pride with a Spanish Twist

As I began looking at venue options in Santa Barbara, I started to feel better. During our drive home from the Bay Area, down the 5, it suddenly came to me that I had the perfect ceremony site, and maybe -- just maybe -- it would be nearly free to use.

Back in December, Jonathan* and I spent some time in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria with his family, and one afternoon went out to UC Santa Barbara for lunch at Woodstock's and to walk Ennis around the lagoon to Campus Pointe. It was then that I snapped this photo of the lagoon (and ocean in the distance) from one of my favorite, secluded lawn areas on campus -- right near the Santa Cruz dorms, where I lived as a freshman.

With this in mind as a ceremony venue, I started to do some more intense searches for reception possibilities in the area. It was easy to imagine getting married here, and how fun it would be to have our friends join us in such a beautiful destination. I figured there had to be a reception site that could compliment the beauty of UCSB.

Word to the wise, if you're looking to hold your wedding in Santa Barbara:

1. Better get your wallets out.
2. If you manage to find something affordable, you better book it right away. The cheap[er] options book up fast.
3. No seriously, you better have a big budget, because shit here is expensive.

I exhausted and crossed-off most of the obvious options first, mainly because they were so beyond our budget, it wasn't even worth considering.

After a few different searches using variants of "affordable Santa Barbara wedding venues" on Google, I found an intriguing -- yet unexpected -- option.

from this lovely wedding by EPlove, via
The El Paseo Restaurant is located in an historic courtyard in Downtown Santa Barbara, and is actually a Mexican restaurant -- widely known for their Happy Hours and Sunday brunch buffets. (Random, right?) Jonathan and I had actually been there for brunch just last August with his parents, and I remembered the space being very lovely, with lots of old character -- and just a hint of Spanish flair, mainly in the adobe architecture and tile work.

It was so different from anything I considered, and I actually surprised myself when I didn't immediately go, "Nope! Next!" I dug a little deeper to find out what their pricing was, and what we might be able to do, if we really considered it. The Website explained:

Renting the reception space would cost only a purchase of $12,000 in food and drinks on Saturday, or $6,500 in food and drinks on Sunday.

... and that was it. Despite the fact that Saturday was, without question, not an option -- price-wise -- Sunday suddenly looked a lot more appealing.

I dug deeper.

No site rental. Cost applies to food and drinks -- catering, essentially. 200 people could fit in the space. They have a dance floor. They have bartenders and waitstaff, and plates, and stemware, and flatware. Tables, chairs, linens. They have an on-site, day-of event coordinator. All for a minimum cost of $6,500.

Needless to say, I had to know more. Given the kinds of prices I had seen before, this seemed like an steal! (For reference: in Coastal California, the venue site rental alone (i.e. just to use the space and get your foot in the door) could easily cost $4,500 - $7,000. Ridiculous! That's before catering, DJ, decor, lighting, and additional staff needs...)

Jonathan and I discussed, letting our parents know and find out what they thought. After some back-and-forth, we all agreed that is sounded like a really fun and affordable option. Low stress. Good plan.

I wrote to the manager, and he was quick to respond. He called and we chatted about some things, and I got my questions answered. He was no-nonsense and matter-of-fact with what they could and couldn't do. I loved that. Everything sounded great, so I told him we'd be coming up that weekend to visit and meet with him in person.

Things started to move really fast after that. It quickly became a known fact among us that -- despite not having booked any venues yet -- Santa Barbara would be where we were gonna get married.

We started looking at lodging and vacation homes for us and my family to stay in.

We picked an entirely new "desired date," fully accepting that our wedding would now be on a Sunday.

We started planning an agenda for the weekend, figuring out how to work in trips to our favorite spots.

Before we took our trip up to Santa Barbara, I called the UCSB Alumni offices to find out about what it would cost/require to rent or reserve the grassy area that Jonathan and I both loved. I was passed around a bit, but eventually spoke with someone who told me that I could actually reserve the space (it's officially called Pearl Chase Park -- who knew?) for free! I would just need to go through the business office in order to deal with some contracts. She gave me the contact information, I contacted and left a message for the business manager, and things were officially set in motion!

The trip to visit El Paseo was a very positive one. The manager met with us while they were in the process of setting up a wedding, and we were able to ask him a bunch of questions. He was just as helpful in person as he'd been on the phone, and he let us roam around, explore, and take as many pictures as we wanted.

Essentially, the overall message he gave us was: "It's your party, it's your space. If it's legal and physically possible, you can do it in here."


Despite my enthusiasm about the space, I would be lying if I said I didn't have some initial concerns. The set up is a little strange -- at least given how picky I am about symmetry. There is a large fountain right in the middle of the space, which makes things a little awkward, plus trees (pretty and pre-lit!) that were not evenly planted, making things feel a little off-kilter. It was obvious from the way the tables were set up that they were laid out that way because, well, I suspected no one really thought to challenge whether there was a better way.

I assured myself that if anyone could make the tables fit better, it was me. That's what I do.

We took our last photos, talked a bit about linens (their tablecloths are restaurant table clothes, not event table cloths, so they go only to the chair seat and not the floor -- a big no-no, says my wonderful, event planner friend, Carlin), and how much we thought the addition of market lighting would cost us.

All in all, we left happy. Extremely happy. So happy, in fact, that Jonathan's mother was ready to write a check for the deposit and hand it over that very week.

But I couldn't commit yet. Something still felt a little off to me, and I couldn't put my finger on it...

Then, after almost two weeks, we got some very bad news.

The business manager at UCSB wrote me a message, with a simple message about letting us reserve Pearl Chase Park:

Can't do it.

Given my conversation with the event coordinator three weeks before, I was shocked. It made no sense.

I won't go into the back-and-forth that ensued -- where Jonathan got involved, and even my two UCSB girlfriends who I'd told about the spot volunteered to call and make a fuss about it -- because, in the end, it just wasn't going to happen. Unless we planned on having a guerilla wedding by the lagoon, Pearl Chase Park was no longer an option.

Which meant we had no ceremony site.

So that's how the next week went: me searching, high and low, for a viable ceremony site that actually seemed appealing to me. I'm so picky, you guys. We knew there was no hope of finding anything for free like we'd hoped, so I started to look around the El Paseo area. The traditional ceremony site for couples who have their reception at El Paseo is the El Presidio Chapel just a block away. But I knew it wasn't an option for us; a church wedding was not what I wanted, and it was too pricey to make it worth it for a 25 minute ceremony.

After looking at every venue and rooftop terrace and public park in town, I finally decided to consider the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (Beware: apparently their Web site was designed in 1998.) The lawns are stunning, but very public. (The thought of having strangers stop and watch my ceremony is... not my idea of a good ceremony.) But the price was right, and so was the size.

Then I found an option at the Courthouse that I had never seen before. Inside is a little, historic courtroom, now referred to as The Mural Room.

(Get a stunning, 360º tour of the room here.)

It seemed weird, but... I kinda loved it. It was unique, colorful, it went with the style of the El Paseo, and it was just the right size for our guest estimate.

After contacting the courthouse, I found out that it costs only $275 for a two-hour rental. Without question, the price cannot be beat anywhere.

I started to get excited again, and I vividly remember going to yoga and not being able to concentrate on anything about the Mural Room and what it would mean for the style of the wedding if we were to get married there. That first night, I was on cloud nine.

The next day, anxiety set it.

I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing anymore, and my opinions suddenly seemed entirely questionable.

This lasted for days, and though  my mother was very encouraging about the Mural Room and El Paseo (and everyone was supportive), it was Cassie who sort of pointed out that... "Yeah, it seems really pretty and fun! But... is it really you guys?"

It took the better part of a week to really come to the conclusion that my wedding planning had gone entirely off the rails and that what I was planning was a total 180 from what I had always planned and pinned. I tried to convince myself that Santa Barbara was the perfect option because it's where Jonathan and I met, and where he grew up. The "Spanish" and "Mission" styles were just part of the Santa Barbara package. Plus, the price -- the price, you guys. So affordable... but then again... was it really? I started to question. My mind was doing some serious damage control. I could no longer be trusted.

"They would be the perfect wedding venues... for someone that isn't you and Jon," Kim told me, sympathetically.

I knew she was right.

So after one month of ups and downs, nearly putting money down on two places, and changing around and considering so many options that I was drowning in possibilities, I stepped back and decided -- with Jon's input -- that we would move on.

We'd find something new.

We'd find something perfect for us that didn't make me want to run away to the nearest airport and elope to wherever the cheapest plane ticket would take us.

And find something we did.

* So, I figured I should start writing "Jon" as "Jonathan" because, well... technically that's his name and it's what he prefers to go by. I'm still getting used to saying it (since he was always just "Jon" in college, to me), so bear with me while I make that switch! (You're welcome, honey!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Venue Hunt, Part I: All About the Atmosphere

As soon as Jon and I got engaged, I promised myself that I would take the time to update you all here with every detail of the process, through the venue search, dress hunt, and general engagement jitters (with the planning, not with the fiancé!). I want to remember this -- this time before Jon and I are married and start our lives together as a family.

That being said, the last month I have been up to my eyeballs in internet searches for the perfect venue, debating the pros and cons, soup to nuts, of every location.

It's safe to say that I have a pretty clear vision of what I want. But really, more than that: I have a pretty clear vision of what I don't want. (I know that is the wrong way to approach decision-making, but I digress.) I felt this way about engagement rings; I'm sure I'll feel this way about weddings dresses. I don't believe that there's only one right option for me, because there is such a variety of venues (and rings, dresses, etc.) that so many of them can be "perfect." In general, I believed going into all of this that if the venue had the right bones, then we can create the right atmosphere to best match our personalities.

Historic Cedarwood wedding, photo by Krystall Mann via Style Me Pretty | candle photo source unknown | Babylonstoren wedding, photo by We Love Pictures via Miss Moss | Lago Giuseppe Cellars wedding, photo by MEF Photography via Style Me Pretty

Farmhouse tables, candles and market lights, handmade details, big blooms and wildflowers, surrounded by nature and/or rustic architecture... Low-key, but lovely.

I'm picky. We both are, but I wouldn't say that we have expensive taste. In fact, fancy locations make me nervous; I'd much rather be somewhere with some history, perhaps even something a little shabby.

You know what I mean.

collage and photo source unknown
A little bit of perfect imperfection.

We've always imagined our wedding being a bit like how we live: nice-looking and coordinated, but not so nice that it doesn't feel inviting, or you're nervous to settle in and touch things. Jon and I would rather elope with a handful of witnesses in tow than settle on a venue that doesn't work with our [varied-but-specific] taste. It's only worth it to us to spend money if we feel comfortable and complimented by the surroundings.

What I didn't consider during the last two years of pinning wedding ideas is just how much those details cost, and how quickly everything adds up. Budget, not surprisingly, became a huge obstacle. And we'd only been engaged for 2 weeks!

I think that with the pressure of keeping within budget and trimming away at costs in order to ensure that we can cover the things that are really important to us (late night food, open bar with specialty drinks, a reception that goes past 10 PM, etc.), we started to... veer away from what people would expect.

We started in the Bay Area. I never thought of looking outside of the Bay, but goodness, I gave up within one week. The issue with the SF Bay Area is that affordable venues go quick, and I was adamant about not getting married at a winery or country club. I have nothing against those locations (in fact, we love wine and are members of 3 wine clubs); they work for some people, but they just don't suit our personalities. Plus, it's hard to find places that don't come handcuffed to loads of time/noise restrictions and guest list requirements.

So if you're on a tight budget and looking to have a Saturday wedding in the Bay Area in June -- and you nix wineries and golf courses -- then, needless to say, you're going to have a tough time.

One option we found that we loved was the Brazilian Room located in Tilden Park in Berkeley. We even visited it less than one week after getting engaged, and sneaked a peak at the wedding being set up for that Saturday. We loved the simplicity and bare bones of the room, and knew we could really gussy it up to suit our styles.

Brazilian Room, Tilden Park, Berkeley via Hawthorne Photography

Unfortunately, given the fact that this venue is one of the "hot spots" for affordable weddings in the Bay, by early March every single Saturday from June to October of 2014 was already booked.

That was a pretty rough blow, since [price- and style-wise] nothing that I'd found during my hours and hours of searches the past week had some close.

So it was back to the drawing board.

I knew that finding a venue that Jon and I both loved [and could afford] was going to be a challenge, and I admit... I think I pushed myself a little too hard that first week. By week two, I'd pretty much given up on the Bay Area -- not because I couldn't find anything, but because it felt like too much of a challenge and I was losing perspective. I knew what I was looking for, and knew I needed to really hone in on the areas that were most important...

boober at the wedding - Spring Ranch, Mendocino by Chelsey Paul Productions

This would prove to be a surprising challenge.

Since Jon started a new job as a Data Quality Analyst at Machinima one week after we got engaged, I committed myself to finding the perfect venue without having to worry him too much with details. As much as I wanted his help, I knew working full time (with a commute into West Hollywood from Orange) and going to to school full time on top of that would not allow for a lot of free time to browse venues.

So I put the pressure on myself and expanded my search to also include Jon's hometown of Santa Barbara -- a place I'd originally avoided; I assumed finding anything decent would be completely out of our price range, but I came back with some pretty surprising results.

I'll be back with more about what I found in Santa Barbara, how we were this close to committing, and how I quickly lost sight of what we wanted.

Wedding planning is totes hard, ya'll. Needless to say: a lot has happened in five weeks!

Stay tuned.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jon Proposes [A Scavenger Hunt]

On Sunday, March 3, 2013, I woke up with my dog happily jumping around me, bouncing on and off the bed. Nothing weird about this; it accurately describes every morning.

My sister, Kim, was visiting for the weekend; we'd spent all of Saturday marathoning Switched at Birth -- an ABC Family drama that deals with a girl who is deaf, so there is lots of American Sign Language. Kim is studying ASL and hopes to pursue interpreting, so... watching and loving this show makes sense. That was our weekend. Getting up-to-date on the full series while Jon was out of town visiting his folks in Santa Barbara.

At least, that was the plan. I went to bed on Saturday night expecting to wake up and keep going with the show. Apparently, that wasn't the plan at all.

I woke up (foggily) and knew from the various noises I was hearing that Kim had gotten up to take Ennis and her dog, Gretchen, outside so I didn't think too much about the fact that she was up already. Until I noticed that Ennis had something around his neck. I called him up on the bed and saw immediately that it was  a message in a bottle, with a bit of sand and everything. I also knew, of course, that it was for me and, through my daze, I started calling for Kim while I fumbled to get it open. In the process and spilled sand on the bed. I screamed for Kim through developing tears, saying that I'd spilled sand all over the bed.

I opened the message.

Aaaaaaand I immediately started crying tears of fear and confusion and happiness. It was a weird mix, and all I could think was that my hair was dirty and my armpits were smelly and how Kim had refused (for some reason) to go and get girly manicures & pedicures the day before. I was physically not prepared for this.

Mentally and emotionally prepared, however? Yeah. I was ready.

So I did what any girl would do who was half asleep and suddenly bombarded by romance: I sat there crying for a while. I dunno, it's a blur.

Eventually I threw on a robe and waddled down the hallway into the living room, my face tear-stained and feeling weirdly self-conscious, only to see Kim sitting there with a flippant smirk on her face while tap-tap-tapping away on her cell phone.

On the kitchen table was a Starbucks coffee, a wrapped-up breakfast sandwich, and a note.

(I scanned all of the notes for the blog - in addition to the patterns on the backsides - since I couldn't get very good quality photos with my camera. Deal with it.)

At this point it solidified in my brain that I was about to be sent on a scavenger hunt. Since my brain tends to immediately complicate things and I'm basically the worst at puzzles and riddles, I started panicking about where I was about to be sent and whether I could actually figure out these clues.

Kim, seeing my confusion, assured me that it wasn't meant to confuse me; think simply.

"Do I have to go somewhere? I'm dirty," I sniveled.

She told me to shower and take all the time that I needed. I left my coffee, my breakfast sandwich, and my first clue and went to shower. (I also shaved my legs within an inch of their life, in case you were curious. Also, fun fact: before getting into the shower, Kim asked me, "If I hear a thud in there, should I call for help?", obviously teasing me about how disoriented and shakey I was feeling. Not 5 minutes after entering the shower, I slipped and fell. Twice. Ooohhh, good job, body.)

I got out of the shower, dressed, and considered the clue while I drank my coffee and sriracha'd-up (technical term) my sandwich. Obviously the clue was referring to Ennis Del Mar, Heath Ledger's character in Brokeback Mountain (whom I named my boober after), so eventually I determined that -- if I wasn't leaving the house -- the next clue was either in my copy of the screenplay or the BluRay.

I was right. Inside the BluRay for Brokeback Mountain was the next clue:

When I told mah girl, Kait, the story of Jon's proposal, she got this clue in about .75 seconds. Apparently she knows me better than I know myself, because I read this and almost gave up right then and there. I had no idea. And of course, despite Kim telling me not to, I immediately over-complicated it. Here's where my brain went:

"Constellation? So... stars? Like, celebrities? Hollywood?!?!?"

See what I mean? Pathetic.

I put the clue down and went to do my hair, talking a little to Kim to see if I could get any hints or tips from her about what I should be expecting. She was tight-lipped, which I give her credit for, because she is usually a blabbermouth. (Honestly, no idea how she hung out with me all weekend and didn't give this whole shebang away.)

Mid-blow dry, the answer finally came to me and I felt like a fool. I went into my office to our gallery wall, and pulled off my Hubble telescope photo of the Orion Nebula. (I've referred to Orion as my "constellation crush" since I was about 17.)

Tapped behind it, was clue #3:


Kim called to me from the other room, "You know, you can use Google! You're not on lock-down, dude!"


I started to Google and it popped up after just a few letters: Bird's nest fern, which is my dearest and favoritest plant that I haven't managed to kill yet.

On the balcony, nestled in the dirt with my fern, was clue #4:

I must've started to get better at this game, because I figured this one out pretty quickly. My dress from Free People that I bought last year on sale ($69 down from $299) turned out to be way too small for me, but it was too pretty to send back, so I dubbed it my "goal dress" for when I inevitably have my wedding rehearsal dinner.

Inside the dress, paperclipped to the inside of the tag, was clue #5.

Another easy one: my yoga studio, SunSpark.

To give you some perspective, I woke up at around 8:30 AM, and by now it was getting close to 10:15 or so. At this point, I was feeling a lot less queasy about everything, and started to settle into a normal rhythm of nerves and anticipation. I'm an extremely self-conscious person, and generally don't like being looked at for too long, much less being the center of attention, so the thought of going out and maybe interacting with people... was skeery.

Kim and I leashed up our dogs and went on our way, walking the half-mile to my yoga studio. I was relieved to see that it was Ernie sitting at the front desk (the part-owner of the studio and a super nice guy), and when I walked in, he gave me a knowing and friendly smile.

"I think you have something for me," I said.

He pulled out a clue which matched the others and handed it over.

"How's your morning been so far?" he asked.

"Oh, you know. It's been a morning." Awkward.

"Did you suspect anything at all?"


I thanked him, blushing like a fool, and went out towards the obvious destination: Chapman's Leatherby Library.

It was a gorgeous day. Walking with Kim and the dogs felt pretty great, and even though I was still shakey and anxious, my excitement started to build the longer we walked.

Outside Leatherby, Kim told me to go in alone and find the book I was instructed to get, and bring it out with me. Apparently, it had already been checked out!

Being the idiot that I am (and bad college student that I was), I had a bit of trouble deciphering the library code, but eventually found my way to the Literature section.

Then eventually to a copy of my favorite modern romance: The Time Traveler's Wife. Inside, the next clue:

This meant we were about to turn around and head back towards home. This couldn't be anything other than The Filling Station, our favorite place to get brunch and salads in Old Towne Orange.

So with that, we started back the way we came, all the while shaking out my hands and trying to stop my heart from beating so intensely in them. By now I wasn't so much nervous or anxious, but anticipatory. I wanted to see Jon, and I wanted this to be over, with a ring on my finger. Get 'er done.

A few blocks away, surrounded by the brunch crowd that keep Old Towne bustling on Sundays, I walked up to the hostess stationed outside and gave her my name. I wasn't sure if I needed to get food, or whether she was the right person to talk to; she looked a little confused. She called over another hostess who instantly told me to come inside. She walked around the counter and pulled out a card just like the previous ones.

She smiled, adding, "Congratulations."

"Thanks," I squeaked.

Glancing at the last card, the air in my chest immediately floated to my head.

As you can probably imagine, this one is my favorite clue. It makes me happy every time I see it.

I walked home, hardly saying anything, doing my best imitation of Lamaze breathing to keep myself from falling over. The nerves were back, the anxiousness was all-encompassing. Kim broke the silence with some helpful reassurance, letting me know I would be alright. Just keep breathing.

Kim left me just beyond the gate in the building walkway, right at the bottom of the stairs leading up to our apartment. She took the dogs and had me go up alone.

The door was unlocked, the apartment was dark (as dark as it could be on a somewhat-sunny day), and Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat's "Lucky" was playing quietly from the kitchen. Several vases of flowers covered the coffee table, as well as a dozen or so candles.

A bit apprehensively -- as though I were anticipating someone to jump out of the closet and scare me -- I called Jon's name. After a few times he came out of the back room, dressed to the nines, with a rose that coincidentally matched the dress I was wearing. (Very much a perfect accident.)

Aaaaaaand then I cried. Somehow, though, Jon managed to keep it together. I kissed him as he handed me the rose, and we hugged for a long time. He had me sit down in one of our lounge chairs, which he'd moved to the center of the room.

He knelt down on one knee, then... I forget. I'm sorry, everyone. Honest to God... I barely remember a word that he said.

I know. Not really what you were expecting considering I've been telling you this long story and you were probably hoping for a detailed climax, but... The truth is, I was so happy, weepy, and excited that everything about these few minutes were a blur. All I can remember is that what he said was sweet, personal, and summed up the fact that we are two best friends who took a chance, fell in love, and it's all led up to this moment.

He pulled out the ring. He opened the box. He asked me to marry him.

Obviously, I said "yes," because hello, look at that thing! ;-)

Okay, okay, Jon is also the best guy I could ever hope to spend my life with. A bit more important than a perfect and stunning ring.

But the ring certainly doesn't hurt, either.

We hugged and kissed and held each other for a while, and it was then that I felt everything that had weighed me down all morning, week, month, year drift away from me. I was utterly relaxed and impossibly blissful.

Then we celebrated!

Jon pulled out the bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne that we'd been "saving for a special occasion" since we got it in September 2010. He popped the cork and we celebrated with the tastiest champagne I've ever had, both of us admiring the ring. He admitted that he'd had the ring for almost a month and was so relieved to see it on me and that it fit. He definitely went out of the balcony to admire it in the sunlight!

He also told me that my friend Shannon Gomes was there as well, and she had helped him set up the flowers and get everything in place around town that morning. I was so excited that another friend could be there to celebrate with us!

After snapping a few pictures, we invited Kim and Shannon back upstairs to share our champagne, and thank them for all that they did to help Jon plan such an amazing and personal proposal. (It's no secret that Kim had a pretty heavy hand in the idea!)

It's now been over a month since Jon proposed, and I've been in full-on wedding mode. Venue options, decor ideas, wedding date... it's all on constant rotation in my head -- and my internet searches!

I simply cannot wait to plan this wedding, and really get things rolling. Our families couldn't be happier or more supportive; we're so fortunate and blessed.

But more than that, I can't wait to marry my best friend and perfect match.