Desert Resort Weekend

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At the beginning of this month, James and I had the opportunity to spend a lovely weekend with good friends in La Quinta, a small city near Palm Springs. This has been a rather stressful summer, so this little getaway came at the perfect time.

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We stayed Friday and Saturday night, as well as most of Sunday at our friends’ timeshare. The house had three bedrooms, one for each couple who went, and access to everything you could want for a relaxing weekend.

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We had our own private hot-tub with a fire pit that we lit our first night there while we sipped on frozen margaritas and chatted with friends. Just a short walk away was a swimming pool and a putting green to use at our leisure.

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The inside of the house was astounding. A large living room, kitchen, and dinning area greets guests as soon as they enter. All of the furniture and decor, with primarily wood, leather, and pretty fabric finishes, was comfortable and elegant.

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After two days of relaxing, swimming, and enjoying good company, it was time to head back home. It was cloudy for most of the weekend, but on Sunday the rain finally came. Despite the deluge, we decided to make a few stops on our way back, starting with Palm Springs City Hall.

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We stopped by the Palm Springs visitor center, and then made our way to Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway, the house once owned by the king himself.

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After that, we couldn’t resist the temptation to stop and visit the roadside attraction to end all roadside attractions: the giant Cabazon Dinosaurs.

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The one seen here has a small gift shop inside that exclusively sells dinosaur paraphernalia.

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Our last stop on our trip through riverside county was in downtown Riverside to see the spectacular Mission Inn.

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This gorgeous hotel features courtyards, arches, balconies, stained glass windows, fountains, and just about everything you can think of that can make a Southern California hotel beautiful.

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It was the perfect relaxing weekend we needed. We look forward to visiting this desert resort area again someday.

 


Guatemala

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James and I have been busily preparing for both our wedding and our honeymoon. Planning for an international trip can get a bit daunting, what with having to figure out even the smallest of details such as where will there be public restrooms, how much are toll roads, and how many pairs of socks we will need. The last couple of international trips we took together were a bit calmer. Our trip to Quebec last September only lasted a weekend, and our trip to Guatemala in summer 2012 was easy considering that we were staying with family, I had been several times before, and I speak Spanish fluently. For the two week trip, all we had to worry about was relaxing, and having fun. Even though I had been many times when I was younger, visiting my native country as an adult and with James was absolutely wonderful.

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One of our first stops was Puerto San Jose, where my parents own a house by the beach. We spent two days enjoying the weather, pool, and the coconuts freshly cut off the trees on the property.

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On our first day, we discovered that this little crab had found it’s way into the house from the beach, and took a dip in the pool. Luckily he was quickly caught and taken back to the beach.

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This is the view as you leave the house property and exit the back gate towards the beach.

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We then visited Antigua (antique), a beautiful city that was once the capital of the country, until an earthquake destroyed many of the Spanish baroque structures and the capital had to move elsewhere.

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It was great to see that many of the churches and buildings around the city are still around, albeit crumbling.

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We did most of our traveling by car, which enabled us to view so much of the natural beauty of the country.

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Perhaps James’ favorite place was Rio Dulce (sweet river). We took a boat down the river, surrounded by tree covered hills, and stopped for lunch at a charming restaurant by the water.

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Another stop off Rio Dulce were these stalagmite caves. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a short tour through the caves. In this photo I turned on the flash so that we could at least see something, but our only source of light inside the caves were small flashlights that we each held.

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Next we went to Tikal, my personal favorite place in Guatemala. Of course we had to take the above picture not only for its picturesque qualities, but because this was also the exterior location of the Rebel Base on Yavin IV in Star Wars: A New Hope.

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The actual climbing on the temples was exhausting, but well worth it.

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At one point we reached a clearing, and suddenly saw a large gathering of these little creatures run by. One of them stayed behind the rest of his pack, so we were able to get a bit closer for a picture before he scurried off.

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Aside from the natural beauty of the country, we also saw many lovely towns and cities on our travels from destination to destination. We later visited a cemetery that looked very similar to this one with very brightly colored stone tombs.

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On one day we went to Panajachel, a small town on Lake Atitlán with spectacular views.

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One of the main attractions were the volcanoes on the lake. Here you can see as more begin to reveal themselves behind the first volcano on our river boat trip.

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On one of the last days of our trip we went to the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (national palace of culture), and walked around the historic district to look at the pretty government buildings and museums in the area. I am so glad that I was able to take James to visit my family’s country, and that my parents came with us for the lovely trip. We hope to do a lot of travelling together in our lives, and know that we will definitely return to Guatemala someday.

 


New Sash for Wedding Gown

As I had posted previously, I had made a floral sash to wear around my wedding gown that featured fabric flowers and lace. In April, I had a chance to see it with my dress, and it didn’t work quite as well as it had stand alone. The band felt thick, and the ribbon juxtaposed with the lace on my dress looked too shiny (I felt a bit like gift wrap). Before my latest trip to Rhode Island, I tried out a few different alterations to make it feel more cohesive with the dress, but ultimately I decided that the best course of action was to keep only the flowers, and make a new sash with all new materials.

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This one was made with a much thinner champagne colored ribbon and a delicate lace ribbon with tiny pearls on top.

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Having seen this new sash with my dress, I am very happy with the way they compliment one another. Not being able to see the dress for comparison while I was making the original sash is just one example of the difficulties involved in designing for an event that is taking place thousands of miles away. It has been frustrating, but with the amount of prep that we have done (and re-done again and again as construction of the venue progresses), I’m certain that all of the colors, textures, and geography will work out. We continuously stop to remind ourselves that even with all of the frustrations, we’re so glad to be marrying each other.

 

 


Cats in Space

Comic Con is happening this weekend, and one year ago we were in San Diego to take part in the festivities. “Cats in Space,” a short film starring my two kitty cats, Titan and Atlas, was screening as part of the Comic Con International Independent Film Festival.

Here are some stills from the production. Aren’t they the cutest?

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Paper Flowers

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Our wedding day is fast approaching, and there are still some elements that need to be completed. Over the past few weeks, we have been making paper flowers out of crepe paper as part of our centerpieces. It’s a very tedious process, but this way we are able to design the flowers ourselves, pick the perfect colors, and save thousands of dollars by not using real ones.

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The first step is to cut out the shapes of the petals from crepe paper. There are three different sizes of petals in each flower.

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We chose a delicate pink and ivory for the petal colors, complimented with a red paper center.

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Each petal consists of a piece of of each color twisted together.

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We didn’t have any pips to put in the center, so we unrolled the handles of a paper bag and cut slits all across it.

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The most difficult part is attaching everything with floral tape. It doesn’t seem to stick well to anything except itself and my fingers.

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There are still quite a few to make, but we know that all the work will be worth it when they are placed around the lanterns on the centerpiece of each table.

 


Film Props and Costumes

Over the past few years, we have worked on a number of film projects that required us to create our own props and costumes. We’re always looking for cheap, fun ways to make them, and sometimes we keep them for display pieces around our home. Here are just a few examples of some work we have done so far.

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This Mayan statue of a quetzal was made entirely out of clay. It was a very easy clay to use that dried overnight without having to bake. We painted it with green spray paint, then applied black paint with a sponge, and covered that with clear coat. The back is never seen in the film, so it is unpainted cardboard.

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Here we purchased a skull prop and then melted a candle over it so that the wax would drip down. It was only seen in black and white, so we bought the cheapest candles, which happened to be orange.

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I made these prisoner costumes using black and white striped fabric, but because the white would have been too bright, we bought a dye that would soften it. Coincidentally, the cheapest option here was also orange, which worked out fine for the black and white project.

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There are a few simple elements going into this native costume, most of which were purchased at Party City. James put together the spear by cutting out and painting a piece of cardboard and attaching it to a stick with feathers.

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These military medals and ribbons were made for a sci-fi project that never ended up happening. The metal parts were cut out of copper and soldered together. The ribbons were all sewn together from individual colors and hot glued to the metal. The bars were just photo paper printouts on top of name tags. Although these have never been put to use, we kept them in case they get used for a project in the future.

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Here is a map that James put together in Photoshop. We printed the map on plain paper, and then crumpled up and singed with a lighter.

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This patriotic dancer costume was for another black and white scene (hence the purple ribbon). The main element here is the skirt, which I made by sewing strips of red and off-white fabric together. Unseen in this picture is a star that I put on the back of the cape. For the hat we purchased all of the pieces separately, and then assembled using hot glue and thread.

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Here is another black and white costume that threw together a bunch of different colored elements. Rather than spending a lot of money on a leather aviator hat, I made a simple one out of cheap fabric.

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For this scene, we had to make a stack of antique books with specific titles. We bought used books for a dollar each, and aged them by filing and tearing. To screen print the ink, we tried to burn a screen ourselves, but we could not get it to work. We ended up going to a shop to use their screen printing table. James has repeatedly said that he deeply regrets using real antique books for this. Most of the books were recent releases, but there were a few that were about fifty years old or more. Rather than defacing antiques (which we had never done before and will never do again), we could have purchased journals that have covers that look like textured leather, which we have seen in numerous shops lately.

Currently we are not working on any film projects, but we do have some lined up to happen after the wedding. We are already thinking of how we will execute the props and costumes for those films, and will continue posting more details about past and future projects here.


Bridal Shower

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Last weekend James and I went to Rhode Island for the 4th of July. We had some wedding planning details to sort out, and also had a lot of fun spending time with my family, enjoying delicious seafood, and taking time to relax. One of the highlights of our trip was my bridal shower, which came out just as I imagined and hoped. My sister, who is my maid of honor, and my mother worked hard to make my shower a great success.

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Even before guests arrived, the tone was set with these beautiful invitations made by my sister. She used delicate flowers made out of crepe paper to line the outside flap, and another on the inside. I wore a white flowered lace dress with an open back, and painted my toe and fingernails coral and pink respectively to stick with the theme.

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For the decor, my sisters created arrangements and banners using burlap, ribbon, and gerbera daisies (they know they are my favorite flowers).

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Large jars held flower bouquets, while the smaller jars held little candles inside that were lit as it was getting darker. There were also tiny string lights placed around the garden that lit up as soon as the sun set, giving a lovely feel to the evening.

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Drinks were served in champagne flutes with cute pink stirrers that perfectly fit the corals and pinks theme. Two specialty cocktails were created, one using tropical fruits, pineapple juice, and rum. The other drink was an ode to sangria using champagne, gin and berries.

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The food was primarily finger foods that could be easy to eat, and included many of my favorite things such as seafood, crab cakes, mini cheese-steaks, and bacon wrapped scallops to name a few. Everything was absolutely delicious.

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Favor boxes were made by attaching little daisies to boxes, and filled with personalized chocolates reading “Emily’s Bridal Shower.”

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For dessert we had wine poached pears served with vanilla ice cream, and these beautiful chocolate dipped strawberries made by one of my cousins.

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From the decorations, to food, and of course the company, I can say I had a fantastic time. I am so grateful to my sister who put this party together, and made it such a memorable night. My bridal shower made me realize just how close our big day is, and I’m getting more nervous and excited by the day.


Spinach and Artichoke Dip

 

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Most fourth of July celebrations include a BBQ, summer drinks, and of course snacks.  When I’m hosting I like to have a good variety of dishes that are easy to snack on, but when I’m only bringing one dish to a group gathering my go to is often spinach and artichoke dip. It’s a dip generally loved by all, and a quick and easy dish to make when pressed for time.

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I like to add a few extra ingredients from the traditional spinach and artichoke dip to give it more flavor. It has always been a crowd-pleaser to any event I have taken it to, and makes for easy cleaning when it gets completely eaten up.

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Ingredients:

4 cups chopped spinach

2 cups roughly chopped artichoke hearts

1 cup chopped basil leaves

1 1/2 packages of cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup shredded cheese blend (I buy the pre-blended packages which usually have parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, romano and asiago)

2 tablespoons mustard

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Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Let the cream cheese sit at room temperature for a few minutes to get it softened. Mix cream cheese and sour cream in a pyrex/oven safe dish and mush together using a rubber spatula. Add the chopped spinach, basil leaves, artichokes and mix. Add mustard and parmesan cheese, then cream contents together until fully mixed.

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Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until dip has just started to bubble. Let cool and serve with tortilla chips or chopped vegetables.

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Themed Birthday Parties

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James birthday is this Sunday, and to celebrate his golden birthday I’m taking today off and having a three day weekend for us to do some of his favorite things. We decided to have a leisurely birthday weekend this year instead of throwing a party. Although we have had a lot of fun throwing parties for some of our past birthdays, we felt that with all the wedding planning craziness, a relaxing weekend would be much more suitable.  To give some examples of how exhausting it has been for us to throw a party, here are a few pictures from two of our previous themed birthday parties.

 Nautical Party

For James’ 26th birthday three years ago, we decided to throw a Nautical themed party (his twin brother had a separate future themed party the following day). I had just moved into my new apartment, and couldn’t afford to spend much on decor, so we focused most of the theming on the food.

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We had shell pasta and spinach spaghetti to represent shells and seaweed, and fried calamari as the savory themed foods. For the treats, we made “edible aquarium” jello cups where we filled clear cups with blue jello, green gummy straws for seaweed, rock candy for the base, shark bites fruit snacks, and a gummy lifesaver sitting on the top.

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We set out a fruit platter for our guests to nibble on and James sculpted these little ships out of pears. Clockwise from top: carrack, cutter, caravel, galleon.

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For the cake we decided to buy an ice-cream cake and just decorate the top. We made a little lighthouse out of cookie dough, embellished it with candy shaped like rocks, and then covered the cake with blue frosting for water, and a few shark bites.

 

Dinosaur Party

I absolutely love dinosaurs (who doesn’t?), so for my 23rd birthday a few years ago, I decided it was high time to have a dinosaur themed birthday party. We had friends dress up in dinosaur themed costumes (most dressed up as characters from Jurassic Park), played dinosaur themed movies, and enjoyed themed food. Of course, toy dinosaurs were used everywhere to add decor and fun.

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One of the foods were simple deviled eggs that I cracked and dipped into food coloring before peeling off the shells to give off the impression of a cracking dinosaur egg. Sadly we don’t have any great photos of the eggs, so this one will have to do.

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The other treats were fairly basic, but we thought of creative names for each food to make it fit with the theme, such as pterodactyl nests for stuffed mushrooms, and primeval ooze for spinach and artichoke dip. For the drinks we splashed a little bit of Midori into the cocktails to give off that bright green color.

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A lot of the theming for this party also went into decorating the apartment. We cut dinosaur tracks out of brown construction paper and taped them all over the floor of the apartment. Then we took green streamers and hung them from the ceiling to represent a jungle (sadly, no pictures were taken of those either).

We’ve had a few other themed parties, and continue to think of new theme ideas here and there, but for this year we’re happy to spend James’ birthday relaxing, and my upcoming birthday on our honeymoon. Perhaps next year for his 30th we’ll come up with some fun new ideas.


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