Friday, September 30, 2011

Kim & Francis' Eastern-Western Fusion Wedding

Fall may be officially upon us, but before I start focusing on pumpkins and Halloween, I'm excited to at long last recap the beautiful weddings I was honored to coordinate this summer, beginning with Kim and Francis’ August celebration. 

You’ve already seen a bit of detail about Kim’s wedding in my recent post showing off her simple and lovely centerpiece design, along with my earlier post about her Vietnamese engagement ceremony. Here are a few more of my favorite images and highlights from a wedding that elegantly combined Eastern and Western tradition for a day that was fun, meaningful and memorable for all who shared it. 

Kim's Vietnamese Catholic parish was already so beautifully decorated that several floral arrangements, plus a handful of DIY tissue paper pomanders, were the only items needed to add a special touch. 

The beautiful and beaming bride, showing off her blue and white rose bouquet. 

Formals at the altar with pro photographer James Le. 

Along with a menu card, Kim prepared a reception program, helping guests know what was coming up next throughout the evening. 

The double-sided head table allowed wedding party members to talk with one another, while leaving space in the middle by the bride and groom for guests to easily see them and stop by to visit. 

Taking a break to catch up with former colleagues and friends. 

One of Kim's outfit changes throughout the night included a traditional handmade Vietnamese ao dai. I just love the way the groom is seen here clapping for his beautiful bride! 

The three-tier cake featured a miniature fountain and lush hydrangeas. 

How cute are these custom toppers, symbolizing that both the bride and groom were born during the Year of the Pig? 

The venue's split-level layout, with the dining room upstairs and the dance floor downstairs, allowed guests to watch the action from wherever they happened to be. 

Chopstick favors made for a useful and fitting favor. 

Thank you, Kim and Francis, for letting me be a part of your day! Special thanks also to my husband Stephen, who graciously assisted me throughout the entire wedding, and to both he and my former colleague Nancy for snapping all of these pictures. 

Ceremony Venue:
Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Parish in Arlington, Virginia

Reception Venue:
Grand Atrium in Vienna, Virginia

James Le Photography

Heather & Stephen Walrath

Coming Up Next...Tiffany & Fiat's June Wedding Recap 

Did you attend or take part in any weddings this summer? I know that for some of you, the answer just might be your own! :)  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

28 Candles

I’ve been so busy focusing on classes and celebrating family birthdays this month that I almost completely forgot about my own! And since I was born on Sept. 28 and am now turning 28, I’ve heard that this actually marks my “golden” birthday – the year in which the date and age match up.

Golden or not, any major celebrating beyond dinner out with my husband is going to have to be put on hold for a few weeks, since I'm swamped with classwork and just kicked off a new freelance project. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use today as a chance to reflect on the future, including the following goals – some serious, some entirely random – for my next 28 years.

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#1 – Launch a small business
#2 – Graduate with my master’s 
#3 – Get and actually stay in shape
#4 – Volunteer
#5 – Raise a family 
#6 – Read
#7 – Write and publish a novel
#8 – Head back to California
#9 – Buy a home
#10 – Travel
#11 – Get an annual Disneyland pass
#12 – Learn to make sushi
#13 – Swim with dolphins
#14 – Try my hand at surfing  
#15 – Take a trip with my mom and sister
#16 – Be someone’s bridesmaid
#17 – Dream
#18 – Get published in a magazine
#19 – Coordinate a beach wedding
#20 – Rock a designer gown
#21 – Play with my kitties
#22 – Renew my vows
#23 – Support my family financially 
#24 – Go to my 20th high school reunion
#25 – Cheer as my kids graduate from college
#26 – Laugh
#27 – Savor good wine & cheese  
#28 – Keep feeling young and healthy, no matter what the calendar says

When is or was your golden birthday? 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Recipe Recap: Mole Chicken Pizza

I hope you all had a fabulous weekend! Despite having a decent amount of classwork to catch up on, I still managed to enjoy spending time with my husband and, of course, taking in tasty eats.

Since moving to the East Coast from California, it’s been a major challenge to find truly good Mexican food here in the DC area. Though we’ve managed to discover a couple favorite haunts, including Arlington’s Guajillo, we also try to do what we can at home to keep our tastebuds from becoming too deprived between visits.

Luckily, my husband loves to cook and experiment with different recipes, so over the past few months I’ve been able to enjoy home-cooked versions of new and old favorites, including gazpacho, sopapillas, spicy black bean soup and mole chicken. And since mole chicken is one of our favorite go-to meals, Stephen decided to mix things up this weekend with a quick and easy pizza-inspired twist I absolutely loved.

Stephen's Mole Chicken Pizza 

Pizza crust 
1 cup mole sauce
½ lb. chicken 
1 poblano chile or jalapeno pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese 
(Oaxacan cheese would probably be even better!)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grill chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces. Spread mole sauce over pizza crust.  Apply layer of cheese. Add grilled chicken and poblano or jalapeno toppings. Bake for around 10 minutes until cheese starts to brown. After allowing pizza to cool, slice and serve. 

Though not necessarily authentic as far as Mexican food goes, it sure was tasty nevertheless, not to mention quick and easy! What new twists on a favorite recipe have you tried lately? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Harvest Kick-Off Wine Country BBQ

Hi everyone! We’re back after a whirlwind but exciting trip to California, where we celebrated Stephen’s grandpa’s 90th birthday and also took my sister to Hollywood’s Magic Castle to ring in her 21st. I’m busy getting caught up and back in the swing of things, so before I start the trip recaps, I want to first share a recent weekend outing that combined two of my favorite things – good food and wine.

Though visiting the famed Napa and Sonoma wineries is always a treat whenever we’re in Northern Cal, since moving to the DC area, we've also grown to love to the laid-back and down-home feel of Virginia’s own growing wine country, home to our East Coast favorite, Vintage Ridge.

Along with serving truly tasty wines, Vintage Ridge delightfully mixes things up by offering food pairings with each tasting, including party platters, gourmet cheeses and other delectable goodies for those who want to enjoy a refreshing glass or two while relaxing on the sunlit patio. As you can imagine, we have a rack full of vintages from this place and also jumped at the chance to join the vineyard’s wine club a couple years ago.

Two glasses of wine & one tasty party platter, ready to be enjoyed. 
Among other fun features, the wine club membership gets us a seat at the vineyard’s members-only fall harvest BBQ kick-off party each year. This season’s party was held in early September, and while the weather wasn’t quite fall-like just yet, the warm breeze ended up being a perfect last hurrah for lazy summer evenings. 

A summer's evening on the patio. 
Rolling hills and gorgeous countryside. 
Though not quite as impressive as last year, when the staff cooked up a truly hearty and delicious meal of steaks, portabellas and baked potatoes, this year’s menu of barbecued kabobs, pearled couscous and veggies, along with an amazing blueberry, peach, cherry tomato, cucumber and basil salad, still made for a fantastic dinner. (And a much healthier one, at that!) Throw in a glass of Syrah and dessert trays of cookies and brownies, and we were good to go! I can’t wait to head back again for another visit once the fall season really kicks into high gear.

Tasty and healthy eats. 
Do you have a favorite vineyard or wine, and what’s your favorite way to kick off the fall harvest season? 

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Magical Place Out West

What a wild week this has been! I’m happy to say that things are finally settling down a bit on the grad school front, where I’m starting to get the hang of basic XML coding and also didn’t score as poorly as I thought I had on my copyright law quiz. Fortunately for myself and my other classmates, the professor agreed to throw out a couple questions that were inaccurately worded.

Nevertheless, I’m very glad to see the week draw to a close, mostly because Stephen and I are heading to our happy place, California, for a few quick days of visits with family and friends. Now, I’m usually not one to make travel plans during the semester, and may not have arranged this trip had I known just what a bear my classes would end up being this time around. But in the end, I'm glad I did, since this brief journey actually marks a very special occasion – the 90th birthday of Stephen’s grandfather.

Grandpa Les at our wedding last year. Courtesy of Alex Neumann Photography. 
That alone is an exciting life milestone to celebrate, but the timing also works out so that my younger sister will turn 21 just a couple days later. So, after joining Stephen’s family in Dana Point for the weekend, we’ll head a couple hours north to my hometown, where we’re got plans to visit Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle for a fun evening of drinks, dinner and shows by several fabulous magicians. Though this venue is usually restricted to members only, Castle photographer Damien Smith – my friend and one of our wedding pros – was awesomely able to get us passes for the night. (Thanks, Damien!)

Birthday girl & maid of honor Kellie. Courtesy of Alex Neumann Photography.
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I know I’ll still have some work to do throughout the trip and some extra catch-up once I get back, but really, this mini-break is just what I need to help keep the important things – family, friends and sharing life’s big moments – in perspective. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I'll try to stop in with a post or two later next week once I have a chance to get settled in back at home! 

What helps you unwind and keep things in perspective when things get stressful? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

College Degrees: Overrated or Vital?

Weeks like this make me ask myself just why in the world I ever decided to go back to school for my master's. Among other things, my time in grad school has led to some difficult career decisions, including my husband's having to turn down good job opportunities back in California, and has of course also required me to pay a small fortune for the privilege of feeling stressed and frustrated much of the time.

After not doing as well as I'd have liked on a quiz for my legal class and also struggling to gain a solid grasp of XML for my e-publishing course, I've been feeling pretty defeated, to say the least. But even in the midst my most frustrating moments, I have to admit that I can still see the ultimate good in this experience, knowing that my graduate degree will hopefully be a valuable investment in my future, just as my undergraduate degree has been.

That's why I was recently shocked to see a news report stating that in the current economy, many high school graduates and some experts no longer see the value of an undergraduate education. Watching this, it was all I could do to keep from screaming at the screen as my blood boiled inside.

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I may have mentioned before that I grew up in a blue collar family with a mother who had a high school education and a father who never graduated from high school. As you can imagine, they have struggled financially throughout their lives, and in my mind, college always stood out as my ticket to living the American Dream. Without a question, it was and continues to be an experience worth so much more than a mere piece of paper, since in every way possible, my college education changed my life for the better.

Along with exposing me to countless possible career paths and new ideas, it put me in contact with professionals and mentors who have given me the tools, connections and inspiration I need to succeed. It was through college that I gained the valuable experience of being the editor of a campus newspaper and through that experience that I gained the opportunity to intern in Washington, DC, opening the door to the job opportunities that followed.

I know people my age who don’t have college degrees, and the difference between where they are financially and in their careers is often very different from where my college-educated friends are. Yes, I know a degree is no guarantee of future employment and that competition is fierce in this job market even for those with advanced degrees. But if it’s so tough even for these people to get jobs, how much harder must it be for those without any type of college degree?

My alma mater, Cal State Northridge. Image Source: citnab 
Of course, I know there are scenarios in which it's possible to be successful in certain fields that don’t require a typical degree, but instead have certifications and training programs of their own. I also know that there are definitely examples of talented individuals who have been enormously successful without the aid of a college degree. However, I still believe that in the majority of cases, especially for those who come from the same background as I do, earning a college degree is the best opportunity for a better future.

Yes, university tuition prices are shockingly on the rise. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, I’m no fan of going into debt. But if going to college is truly someone's goal, I believe there are still ways to make it happen, whether by choosing a state school or community college, taking just a couple classes at a time, or working for a few years to save money, as I've done in order to go back to school for my master’s degree and wedding coordination certificate. 

My sister attends a community college where financial aid is still available, and I myself went through undergrad at a state school with the help of financial aid and scholarships. Other classmates worked their way through, while also balancing families and other obligations. As one of my instructors used to say, if it’s your dream, your vision, you'll do everything in your power to make it work. In order to be successful, you must ultimately invest in yourself. 

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Finally, it's not only up to the students, or at least it shouldn't be. It's easy to be a wealthy (and undoubtedly college-educated) “expert” on the news, or a budget-slashing policymaker here in DC, sitting in a comfortable private office and telling others that their degrees have no value or that federal student aid deserves to be reduced. But it’s not so easy to live the life that results from not having an education, which is something I’m sure the majority of these big shots have never experienced and would never wish upon their own children.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree, and what has your own experience been like?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beauty Buzz: Eyebrow & Facial Threading

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. We definitely did, trying out a couple new restaurants and heading to a harvest kick-off BBQ at our favorite winery. I'll blog about that soon, but first I want to talk about one of the less enjoyable experiences I've had over the past couple weeks.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much of a “beauty is pain” type of girl. High heels giving me blisters? Flip-flops, please. Waxing? Thanks, but no thanks. That’s why when it came to my eyebrows, I’d usually taken a DIY approach throughout the years, also occasionally splurging on pro tweezing sessions for special events.

But since neither method was exactly foolproof or long-lasting, I decided to mix things up a bit this summer by scheduling an appointment for threading, an ancient Eastern tradition that twists and removes hair straight from the follicle, with results usually lasting a month or slightly longer. In addition to my brows, I chose to have my entire face threaded for $40, including my lip and neck areas where small, fine hairs can’t easily be tweezed.

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Upon arriving at the salon, the technician greeted me and then instructed that I lie back in a chair. After rubbing powder onto my skin to help lessen the sting, she unwound a long piece of thread and quickly went to work. What followed were – I won’t lie – 20 of the most painful minutes of my life. While the eyebrow portion of the procedure wasn’t all that bad, the facial hair removal was nothing short of excruciating, the sharp thread burning and cutting across my skin as every last strand of hair was torn away.

Still, as agonizing as it may have been, I couldn’t deny that the end results were nothing short of impressive. My face looked and felt entirely smooth and hair-free, and the next day, as I put on my makeup, I could see and feel a major difference in the way the products adhered to my skin. 

Plus, the technician told me that the first time is always the most painful, and that if I was diligent in coming back once a month, the pain would be noticeably milder, since the hair would have less time to fully grow back. Taking her advice, I made an appointment to return, though my summer travel schedule meant that closer to two months actually went by between my first and second sessions.

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I guess I may have waited too long, because this next session felt every bit as painful as the first. I’m not sure whether it was the extra month that really made the difference or the fact that my skin may simply be too sensitive for this type of process. Either way, though I’ll gladly continue having my brows threaded, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand having my entire face done even one more time, although I do feel that the results are well worth the cost.

Have you ever tried this procedure, and would you put up with something that looked great but was extremely painful? Are there any milder methods you'd suggest I try? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: Reflecting & Remembering

I wasn’t yet living in Washington DC on Sept. 11, 2001. Then 17 years old, I was just starting my second week of college in California when the awful news flashed across the screen, horrifying me along with everyone else throughout my campus, hometown, state and nation.

Unbeknownst to me, those who would four years later become my colleagues, friends and fellow federal aides fled from Capitol Hill in chaotic terror, some frantically trying to reach their loved ones at the Pentagon, most succeeding, some tragically not getting through, then or ever again.

Forever changed, DC was different by the time I arrived. During my first month on the Hill, I quickly learned how to use a gas mask, screen for potentially hazardous materials in the mail, and discreetly summon help to my office. There were emergency procedures, drills and false alarms, though nothing serious ever happened throughout the years that followed. I was lucky. On 9/11, far too many hard-working, honest and big-hearted people were not.

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It’s been 10 years, and some are asking whether Americans have now started to forget. I haven’t and won’t, because even now, I often stop to think how many amazing life moments and milestones I would have missed had I been one of the thousands killed that day, knowing that for so many, too many, this circumstance became a tragic reality.

In the end, whether I'm always conscious of it or not, the events of 9/11 have inspired me to more fully appreciate life, not only for myself, but in memory of those who no longer can. That's something I know will always be with me no matter how much time may pass.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fall Fashion Love: Banana Republic's Mad Men Collection

Ever since the fashion blogs started to buzz with news about Banana Republic’s fabulously feminine Mad Men-inspired fall collection, I’ve been itching to get in on the action. My pocketbook on the other hand, still recovering after shelling out a pretty penny for yet another semester of grad school, disagrees with me ever so slightly.

Still, I’m determined to add a little Mad Men flare to my closest this season, even if it means choosing just one statement piece from my list of standout favorites. So, without further ado, the lucky wish list nominees are…

Image Source: Banana Republic -- $130
This sweetly chic cream lace dress would add the perfect splash of 1960s flare at an early fall soiree. It would also allow me to continue wearing a light shade while simultaneously avoiding any sideways glances from East Coast die-hards set on packing away the bright whites after Labor Day.  

Image Source: Banana Republic -- $198
Though I undoubtedly love my comfy jean jackets and cozy winter peacoats, I’ve never invested in a good-quality trench to get me through the spring and fall shoulder seasons. While it’s definitely on the pricey side, this stylish coat would be versatile enough to pair with a dress or jeans.

Image Source: Banana Republic -- $150
Dressed up with heels or dressed down with boots, this dress features a truly gorgeous pattern and a subdued pop of color that would carry me right through fall, especially when paired with a comfy cardigan.

Image Source: Banana Republic -- $89.50
Speaking of cardigans, I’m crazy about them and already have a closet full of various colors, styles and fabrics, but none in this soft and pretty shade. From the relaxed cut to the elbow-length sleeves, I love everything about this classy pick.

Image Source: Banana Republic -- $250

Roomy and stylish, this satchel would be the perfect companion when heading out for an evening of classes or meetings. Still, at $250, I’m not sure I can justify the splurge, as tempting as it is.

And there you have it. Do you love this collection as much as I do, and which wish list pick do you think I should treat myself to, if any? 

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Fall Mantra

Happy Labor Day, friends! As summer’s warmth gives way to the clear, crisp days of fall, I’m refreshing my routine with a new action-inspiring mantra, courtesy of the creative muses at SELF.     

No one who has ever achieved greatness got there by following an easy path laid out by others. She did it by creating her own vision and striving to achieve, then surpass it. Now that the lazy days of summer are behind you, it’s time to renew your focus. Think about what you want to accomplish, set a goal, and take a step toward it every day. You are standing on the brink of something spectacular.

It's my perfect daily jump-start. What's yours? 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Travel Tips: Cruising vs. Resorts

So much world, so little time. Whether throughout the U.S. or around the globe, traveling is right up there on my list of life’s best and most treasured experiences.

Growing up in a blue collar family, trips were often few and far between, but with each visit to Disneyland, San Diego or the Grand Canyon, my childhood mind would quietly dream of the day I’d set off on grand adventures all my own. And set off I have, each childhood memory making me value and appreciate my ability to travel as an adult even more.

Since I met and married Stephen, we’ve taken several amazing trips together, including cruises to Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Hawaii. Our recent trip to St. Maarten was nothing short of fabulous, and we hope to keep adding to our list in the coming years with visits to Alaska, Egypt, Greece and New Orleans, just to name a few.

One thing our most recent trip made me consider is the difference between cruising and staying at a resort, which both offer very different, yet uniquely exciting, experiences. After trying and enjoying both options, the two of us put together a list of two top things we love most about each type of travel.

Wind-blown while sailing to the Caribbean in 2008. 

* Value – As much as we enjoyed our resort experience, we can’t deny the fact that cruising still seems to offer the most bang for our buck in many cases. Not only are most meals included in the base price of a cruise, which can sometimes be the same or lower than the cost for a resort stay of equivalent length, but they are also usually all-you-can-eat. While we were incredibly fortunate that our hotel stay in St. Maarten was complimentary, we spent a significant amount of money for meals on-site, many of which were good but not quite on par with those we’ve enjoyed on our cruises. The resort also lacked as much variety in the number of restaurants and food options to choose from.

We also spent a good deal on cab fare throughout the week, since the secluded location of the resort made it difficult to get to the starting point for many of our excursions, to restaurants or to other places around the island. (The hilly terrain and narrow roads left us too uncomfortable to rent a car on our own.) On a cruise, transportation to and from excursions is often provided, and many ships dock at a central location, where it's easy to get off and walk to shops and restaurants, albeit touristy ones. 

* Variety – Cruising gives you the ability to visit a number of different locations during one trip without paying for extra airfare or dealing with the hassle of traveling from place to place on your own. The thought of going to sleep in one country and waking up in another with no work on your end is definitely exciting! 

The Westin St. Maarten, a blissful place to kick back. 

* In-Depth Exploring – Staying in one place for a few days gives you the chance to see more and learn more about a certain island or location, as opposed to the typical day or mere few hours you might get via a cruise ship stop. You’ll have more time to head off the beaten path and enjoy local attractions you might not get to experience within the more heavily “packaged” experience of a cruise.

* More Downtime – Being in one place for an entire week made it easier for us to relax, compared to our Hawaiian cruise, when we were in a different port each day and eager to explore. As on-the-go tourists who like to pack in a lot of activities, that style suits us overall, but being in a place that forced us to take a more relaxed approach ended up being an unexpected plus. Kicking back with cabana-side margaritas and spicy tuna sushi rolls? Yes, please! 

How about you? Do you usually go for cruises, resorts or something else, and do you prefer one type of travel over the other?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Online Obsessions: For the Love of Pinterest

I’ve tried -- honestly I have -- to be productive this week. But try as I might, the ever-exciting world of blogs and the web always seems to get the best of me. The newest offender? Pinterest, which I just joined and am convinced has to be just about the coolest site ever.

My first set of pins. Image Source: Pinterest
If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do! It's a crazy fast and fun way to “pin” and catalog inspiring photos and ideas you love from other users' boards or from sites all over the web. Oh, if only reading about subsidiary rights were half as pleasantly distracting.

Are you on Pinterest? Leave your URL so that I can follow along, and come say hi @ I've got a lot of board space to start filling! 

And now, back to my regularly scheduled reading…