Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back: 2012 in Review

From my husband's broken shoulder to the devastation of losing my Nana to advanced cancer, 2012 was in many ways the most difficult year of my life to date. Still, even in light of the tough times this year brought, it also had its positive moments, including my completion of graduate school and our fabulous fall trip to Hawaii in celebration of my in-laws' 40th anniversary. Here, a New Year’s Eve look back at the good, the bad and the ugly of 2012.


-- Began my final semester of graduate school
-- Joined the ROW80 writing challenge as I got serious about working on my first novel, which is still in progress
-- Celebrated Stephen’s 29th birthday, plus the one-year anniversary of our adopting Molly and Twix


-- Saw my article on 2012 wedding trends published via The Favour Shoppe Blog
-- Attended the Kennedy Center lecture Budapest, Prague, and Vienna: Where the Coffee House Influenced the Opera House


-- Attended a Washington National Opera performance of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte 
-- Viewed a special 70th anniversary showing of Casablanca at a local movie theater
-- Took a sushi-making class, where Stephen and I learned how to create delicious California and spicy tuna rolls
-- Toured DC's gorgeous cherry blossoms in honor of the blooms' 100th anniversary


-- Sadly discovered that my 80-year-old Nana had been diagnosed with terminal cancer 
-- Rushed to the ER the very next day after Stephen fell down and broke his shoulder while trying to rescue a stray dog in the street
-- Helped create wedding-related infographics and blog content while working as a editorial consultant
-- Watched the space shuttle Discovery fly above DC en route to its new home at the Air and Space Museum


-- Took the first in a series of trips out to California in order to spend as much time as possible with Nana and my family
-- Completed my two-year term as secretary of the board for Wish Upon a Wedding DC
-- Graduated from The George Washington University with my master's in publishing


-- Breathed a huge sigh of relief when Stephen's shoulder was declared fully healed
-- Saw my article on wedding photography and videography trends published in Inspire Smart Success Magazine
-- Returned to California to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, their last together


-- Attended The George Washington University’s annual publishing conference
-- Celebrated with friends and former classmates at our summer graduation party
-- Attended a tasty BBQ at Vintage Ridge Vineyards, my favorite Northern Virginia winery


-- Channeled my inner teen at the American Idol concert 
-- Celebrated Molly's second birthday
-- Took another trip out to California for more family time
-- Traveled to Seattle, where I explored the city with friends and spent an adventurous weekend hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park


-- Welcomed the final year of my 20s
-- Celebrated Twix's second birthday
-- Attended a Kennedy Center lecture on the symbolism behind Mozart’s Don Giovanni
-- As Nana’s health declined, returned to California once again in order to be with her during the final weeks of her life


-- Said my last goodbyes to Nana as she left this world behind following a courageous six-month stand against her disease
-- Celebrated Stephen’s acceptance into USC’s 2013 distance-learning astronautics graduate program
-- Took part in the White House's Fall Garden Tour


-- Attended The George Washington University’s annual publishing career night
-- Volunteered with a friend to help drive voters to the polls on Election Day
-- Spent a glorious week in Hawaii celebrating my in-laws’ 40th wedding anniversary
-- Attended a Thanksgiving weekend performance of Jekyll & Hyde at the Kennedy Center


-- Attended a Kennedy Center performance of JUBA: Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance 
-- Spent a week in California enjoying pre-Christmas festivities with family and friends
-- Returned to the Kennedy Center yet again for a holiday performance of the opera Hansel and Gretel
-- Celebrated Christmas in DC by enjoying a delicious dinner with a friend and her family 

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Since Stephen will be working overtime tomorrow, we'll likely keep things low-key here at home with homemade pizza, a glass of wine, and maybe even an extra helping of champagne as the night wears on. Do you have any special plans, or will you also be ringing in a quiet New Year? Either way, here's looking ahead to a fabulous 2013! 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours! 

May your day be filled with family, food, friends and lots of fun! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

I’m Dreaming of a LUSH Christmas…

Along with dollar-store jingle bell collars for the kitties, plus a couple secret Santa surprises for Stephen, another fun discovery I made during last week's trip out to California was the existence of LUSH, an innovative beauty brand that specializes in handmade cosmetics. From the decadent bubble bath bars to the freshly mixed masks made with natural oils, fruits and vegetables, my Christmas list definitely got a mile longer the minute I set foot inside their store!

LUSH's acne-fighting Cupcake facial mask. Image Source: LUSH
Even though LUSH does sell a variety of its products online, visiting the store in person was actually half the fun, since the workers were incredibly friendly and quick to offer samples, demonstrations and advice about the best products to suit my skin type and beauty goals. While I definitely couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted inside my carry-on bag, you can bet I’ll be paying a visit to the LUSH nearest me just as soon as the holiday traffic has cleared! 

Are you a fan of LUSH? Which beauty products are at the top of your holiday gift list this year? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not Silence, But Action

Many of my fellow bloggers participated in a day of silence yesterday in honor of the Sandy Hook victims, and while I too am keeping them in my heart and thoughts this week, it is also my personal choice not to be silent. This is because I believe that what we need in the wake of this tragedy, like so many others that have come before, is not merely remembrances, thoughts, words and prayers, but genuine action.

I strongly believe that the increasing prevalence of events like this one is a multi-faceted crisis that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Easy access to guns, the state of our mental health system, exposure to violence within our culture and the way some young men are socialized surely all play a role in contributing to these types of atrocities. No one factor acts alone, and therefore, there is no "easy fix."

So, while I do think that tougher gun control laws and an improved mental health support system would be positive steps in the right direction, I also think that until we get serious about examining all of the interlinked causes and committing as many resources to solving this epidemic as we do to fighting other evils in the world, nothing will change.

Thoughts and memorials are beautiful things, but only action has the power to save lives. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Staying Fit During the Holidays

Greetings from California, where I’m celebrating Christmas with my family a couple weeks early! So far, I’m having a great time catching up with relatives and friends, and it’s even kind of nice to be here ahead of schedule for a change, especially because it means that more people are still in town for dinners, parties and get-togethers before heading off on their own holiday travels.

Speaking of dinners and parties, if I have one key goal for this trip, it’s to maintain the hard-fought health and fitness progress I’ve made throughout the past month. The summer months were definitely a low-point for me, not only in terms of dealing with a lot of stress and tough family issues, but also because my weight shot up and my confidence took a major nosedive.

Image Source: MyFitnessPal

But no more! I’m happy to say that over the past several weeks, I’ve been working hard to get back on track by eating right and working out for 30 minutes at least five days a week. One tool that has definitely helped me stay motivated and on top of things is the MyFitnessPal program, available both online and as a free app.

Tracking my daily calorie intake and exercise sessions has already helped me drop a few pounds, and even though I still have a decent way to go before reaching my goal, seeing the forward progress I’ve made helps give me the push I need to keep trying. Here’s hoping that by the time my sister-in-law’s wedding rolls around next July, I’ll be back down to the weight I was on my own wedding day two and a half years ago!

How do you stay fit during the holiday season? Are there any apps or online tools that help keep you on track? If you’re using MyFitnessPal, feel free to come link up with me @ htsapphire28. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Blogger Linkup: 10 Things About Me

Instead of participating in today's Throwback Thursday, I’m linking up with Sunshine from Such Life in the Tropics for something a little bit different  answering a series of “getting to know you” questions she posed to her readers last Wednesday. I always love writing and reading these types of posts, and because it's been a while since I've done one, I figured this would be as good a time as any to jump back on board. 

#1 – What is your favorite part of the day, and why?

I just love the evening hours. There’s something so calming to me about the day coming to a close, the fading of the colors against the horizon, and the promise of a tasty meal alongside a refreshing glass of wine.

#2 – If you could meet anybody, dead or alive, who would that be?

Abigail Adams, wife of one former president, mother of another, and an all-around smart, inspiring woman who was far ahead of her time intellectually.

Image Source: Wikipedia
#3  Are you a "half full" or "half empty" kind of person?

I try to be a “half full” girl, but it honestly depends upon my mood at any given time. I can start feeling pretty down pretty fast when my stars don't align as I'd hoped!

#4  If you could ask me any question, what would that be?

What was the happiest moment of your life?

#5  Have you ever been to place you feel as if you've been to before, but haven't?

Maybe I will someday, but there are none I can think of at the moment!

#6  What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?

Less focus on power, competition and violence, and more focus on supporting one another.

#7  What are you most grateful for?

My good health, my family, husband and friends, my beautiful kitties, and the freedom to pursue my goals and dreams.

#8  If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job, and if so, what would you do?

I don't currently have a traditional 9-to-5 job to quit, and I definitely wouldn't give up any of my writing endeavors. I would, however, take more of an opportunity to travel, assist those in need and help support my family. 

#9  Who do you consider to be your best friend?

My mom, sister, husband and the amazing girls I’ve known since elementary and middle school.

#10  What would you like me to blog about someday?

Sunshine is a huge animal lover, and I always enjoy hearing more about her fun experiences with her own pets and other creatures! 

Have a great rest of the week, everyone! This weekend, I'll be off to spend another few days with my family out West for an early holiday celebration. Plane tickets for the actual week of Dec. 25 were astronomically high this year, so I'm saving a bundle by traveling right at the midpoint between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I'm hoping I'll be able to share a quick post or two while I'm there, but if not, I'll check in again as soon as I get back. As always, feel free to follow along on Instagram @heather_28 for updates. Happy holidays! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Royal Baby Buzz: Too Obsessed?

By now, you’ve surely heard the buzz about Duchess Kate’s pregnancy, which was officially confirmed  yesterday afternoon. As a former wedding blog editor who followed the royal nuptials right down to the smallest detail, I am of course very excited for Will and Kate! At the same time, I can’t help but feel awfully sorry for these two about having to constantly navigate such personal matters in the public eye.

After all, the only reason the pregnancy was likely announced so early – still during the first trimester – is because poor Kate has been hospitalized with severe morning sickness. I don't know about you, but having my personal medical information publicized throughout the international media is not something I would be especially thrilled about, especially since the coverage comes complete with a few ignorant and inaccurate comments about how morning sickness shouldn't require medical attention. Furthermore, the unending royal pregnancy speculations published over the summer, complete with doctored “baby bump” photos, were nothing short of headache-inducing, to say the least. 

Image Source: Official Royal Wedding Website
Every bit as ridiculous are the statements I’m now seeing plastered across the Web explaining how great it is that Will and Kate are “finally” having a baby. I mean, for Heaven’s sake, these two have only been married since April 2011. That is almost a full year less than I have, and I can tell you right now with absolute certainty that I am still nowhere near ready to start breaking out the baby furniture just yet! 

The truth is that the more coverage I read, the more it bothers me to think that even in today’s modern society, a royal woman’s primary "duty" is still thought to be providing an heir, just as was true hundreds of years ago. Sadly, Kate may have never been accepted as a "suitable" match for William if she was physically unable to have a child, or God forbid, was one of a great many women who just don’t want to have kids.

Do you think people are already too obsessed with the news about Kate’s pregnancy? Would you ever want to live a life in the spotlight for the sake of being a royal? 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Throwback Thursday: Christmas Past

With the holiday season now officially upon us, I’m once again throwing back to the past by linking up with Sunshine at Such Life in the Tropics to share an old photo, along with five fun facts that relate. Since I've been busy reorganizing old family photos featuring my Nana, who passed away in October, I thought this image taken on Christmas Eve 10 years ago would be an especially perfect choice.

1) My mom, sister and I have been going to Christmas Eve dinner at my grandparents' house for as long as I can remember, basically ever since I was born. Some of our long-standing traditions have included opening one present ahead of time that night, spoiling our dinner with Nana’s  famous Italian Anisette Cookies, and laughing our heads off at my grandfather’s annual stories about all the crazy things he and his friends did while growing up in 1940s Boston.

2) Even though she moved to California during the 1950s, Nana never lost her Boston accent. People who are familiar with this type of speech pattern say they can also hear strong hints of it in my voice and my mom’s. Those who aren’t familiar with it often mistakenly believe that I am from the south, though, or say they just can’t pinpoint the correct region. Hearing Nana’s unique voice is one of the things I already miss most and hope I won’t ever forget.

3) I still have this red tank top in my closet and have worn it a couple times in recent years, most often paired with a black cardigan, pencil skirt and heels. The black designs on the front are rosettes.

4) The oak cabinet in the background used to have a giant glass case resting on top of it, which displayed tons of my grandparents’ finest china and mementos from over the years. Sadly, the entire thing crashed to the floor and was destroyed during the infamous Northridge Earthquake in 1994. The earthquake also damaged their home in other significant ways, but fortunately, all were fully repairable. After living through that experience, I am still traumatized by earthquakes big and small to this day.

5) This picture, quite grainy by today’s standards, was taken with a throw-away camera. My grandparents have continued to use them over the years, never wanting the hassle of going digital. They have also never fully embraced using computers, signing up for cable TV, using a dishwasher or placing wet clothes in a dryer instead of outside on a clothesline. 

Want to join in the Throwback Thursday linkup? Grab the badge above, and have fun sharing! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Season Kick-Off

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! Stephen and I certainly did, beginning first thing Wednesday night with an outing to see Jekyll & Hyde at the Kennedy Center here in DC. This new production, staring recording artist Deborah Cox and American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis, was amazingly dark and chilling, making me feel as if I was about to celebrate Halloween rather than Thanksgiving. Plus, thanks to the Kennedy Center’s new My Tix discount program for theatergoers ages 18-30, we were able to get orchestra-level seats for just $30 per ticket – an absolute steal!  

Along with catching up on a few errands that were neglected during our trip to Hawaii, we also spent some time decking the halls for Christmas and scoping out Black Friday bargains for a couple household items we’ve long had on our radar, including a memory foam mattress topper and a good quality set of couch covers. While I definitely don’t consider myself to be a frenzied shopper always in need of the latest and greatest goody, the frugal part of me does admit to loving a good sale as much as the next person.

Did you manage to snag any great Black Friday deals, and are you excited that the holiday season is finally here?   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, Island Style

Even though we got back from our trip to Hawaii last Sunday, after such an amazing week in paradise, I think it’s fair to say that my heart and mind are still running on island time!

From snorkeling with sea turtles to hiking across dried lava fields and ascending the 13,796 ft. summit at Mauna Kea, we had an all-around wonderful time celebrating my in-laws' 40th anniversary. I absolutely can’t wait to head back next summer to see my sister-in-law get married and be a bridesmaid in her wedding! 

Here, a quick photo recap of our jam-packed yet still blissfully relaxing vacation. 

Our Big Island resort, Kings' Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club, located north of Kona, was the perfect place to kick back for the week. It even came complete with a few non-human visitors, from stray cats to wild goats! 

This trip marked my first time seeing a sea turtle up close, along with trying my hand at stand-up paddle boarding. Keeping my balance on-board was definitely a bit challenging at first, but ultimately not as hard as I originally thought it might be.

Our Captain Zodiac snorkeling and wildlife excursion included a stop at the serene Kealakekua Bay, plus a trip past ancient lava tubes. Can you make out the face of Goddess Pele in the rock?  

Also on the agenda was a trip across the island to the area in and around Hilo, where we explored the Pacific Tsunami Museum, sampled tasty treats at Big Island Candies and took in gorgeous views at Akaka Falls State Park.  

Our journey up to the 13,796 ft. Mauna Kea summit offered lunar-like landscapes and some of the most stunning panoramic views I've ever seen. Worth battling the chilly temps and rough drive? Definitely!   

Last but certainly not least, no trip to the Big Island would be complete without spending a day at Volcanoes National Park, even one that happens to be rainy and cold. Although we weren't able to see any glowing lava this time around, watching smoke rise from a volcanic crater was beyond cool.

Of course, no matter how much fun we may have had in Hawaii, home will always be where our kitties are! 

Whether you're traveling or staying close to home this week, I wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great start to the holiday season! Stephen and I are looking forward to a low-key, restful day, along with a pre-holiday trip to see Jekyll & Hyde at the Kennedy Center tonight.

How are you celebrating? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Once a Bride…Finally a Bridesmaid!

Aloha! After months of anticipation, our fall trip to Hawaii is now just one short day away! Not only are Stephen and I excited to spend a relaxing week celebrating his parents’ 40th anniversary, but we also can’t wait to help support his sister in planning her destination Hawaiian wedding, which will take place next summer.

Yes, after being a bride myself a couple years ago and even coordinating weddings for others, I'm about to become a bridesmaid for the very first time! I’ll keep you updated about that second Hawaiian adventure as the plans come together, but for now, I'm off to clear my head and recharge my batteries in paradise. 

Feel free to follow me on Instagram @heather_28 if you're interested in seeing real-time photo updates from our trip. Otherwise, I hope you all have a fun-filled weekend and a wonderful week ahead!

Have you ever planned or attended a destination wedding? How many times have you been a bridesmaid? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day

Happy Election Day, everyone! I’m off to vote first thing this morning, and then a friend and I will be spending the afternoon working as volunteers to help drive fellow voters to the polls. Even though I don’t usually go into great detail about my political views here on this blog, those who have been following for a while can probably make a pretty good guess about where I stand on a number of issues, especially given my Halloween costume from last year. :) 

Yes, to those who know me, it's no secret how passionately I feel about the results of this election, but regardless of my own views, I also feel strongly that everyone deserves the chance to make his or her own voice heard. Therefore, I hope that tons of my fellow Virginians will also head out to the polls today to take a stand in this tight presidential race, not to mention the state and local contests that are on the ballot. 

This is actually my first Election Day since leaving my job on Capitol Hill, and while that definitely feels a bit strange, I’m still very excited (and nervous) to follow the results late into the night, no doubt with a glass of wine (or two) in hand! 

Are you taking part in any Election Day festivities or volunteer activities, and will you be following the returns tonight? 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thowback Thursday: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Happy Thursday! I hope you all had a great Halloween! Despite having tons of candy on hand, we only had about 10 trick-or-treaters come to our door last night, which means that:

* I inevitably snacked on way too much of it myself.

* My husband’s co-workers can look forward to lots of sugary goodness in the coming days.

As we now look ahead to November, I’m also throwing back to the past by linking up with Sunshine at Such Life in the Tropics to share an old photo, along with a few fun facts that relate. Since Halloween was just one day ago, and I also have a family trip to Hawaii coming up very soon, I thought the following picture from our honeymoon cruise a couple years ago would be especially fitting.

1) Our June 2010 honeymoon cruise around the Hawaiian islands marked my first time visiting any of them, and I'm especially excited to head back again, both this month in celebration of Stephen's parents' 40th anniversary and then again next summer, when his sister will be getting married on the Big Island. The Big Island and Kauai by far stood out as my favorite islands during the cruise. 

2) This photo was taken the first night of our trip, when we had dinner at one of the ship's specialty restaurants, this particular one featuring an Asian-fusion theme. The restaurant staff told us it was one of their long-standing traditions to take a photo of each newlywed couple wearing this set of silly dragon masks. They also brought us a special honeymoon cake and gathered around to sing a rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." 

3) We came back to this same restaurant again another night of the trip, this time to visit its sushi bar. To this day, the sushi we ate that night is the best I have ever tasted! The second best was eaten at a little hole-in-the-wall place in my Southern California hometown, which is not coastal, but apparently still manages to attract some outstanding sushi chefs.    

Want to join in the Throwback Thursday linkup? Grab the badge above, and have fun sharing! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone! After an especially stressful past few weeks, Stephen and I will be closing out the month of October with a relaxing evening at home – just us, the kitties and a big bowl of candy to hand out to neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

I hope you all have a great fright night and are ready to welcome November! Can you believe that the holiday season is already just around the corner? I know I sure can't! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy aka ‘Frankenstorm’

As a kid, I remember once watching a documentary that outlined two potentially devastating hurricane scenarios for the U.S. One was a hurricane barreling down upon New Orleans, and the other was a storm tracking up the East Coast and into New York City. I can hardly believe that in my short lifetime, I’ve already lived to see both of these instances play out with varying degrees of damaging effects.

Here in the DC area, Sandy rolled into town yesterday, bringing rain, wind and flickering lights, but fortunately nothing more serious, at least in our neighborhood and those immediately surrounding. I know that for millions elsewhere, however, things took a turn for the much worse, with devastation including widespread flooding, property damage, power outages, blizzards and even the loss of life.

Image Source: NOAA
So, even though the worst may now be over here in our neck of the woods, my heart and thoughts go out to those who are still dealing with the disastrous effects of this storm, as its impacts will no doubt be ongoing throughout the coming weeks and months. To all my friends on the East Coast, I hope you will continue to stay safe, and to my friends elsewhere, thank you for checking in with us throughout the past several days. Peace and love to you, now and always! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

DC Up Close: White House Fall Garden Tour

My first weekend back in DC found the fall season in full swing, including on the South Lawn of the White House, where the grounds were opened up to visitors for the annual White House Fall Garden Tour. Even though the crowds were massive, the 65-degree weather and abundant sunshine made for an amazing afternoon, as did panoramic views of the gardens, surrounding monuments and, of course, the White House itself.

The Kennedy Garden 

The White House 

National Monuments

The Rose Garden 

The Kitchen Garden 

Has the fall season reached its peak in your area? Which annual activities do you most look forward to? Have a fabulous weekend, friends!