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