Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My top 13 moments of 2013

Since it's the last day of the year, I wanted to recap on my top 13 moments this year (in no particular order)!

1. Getting my poetry published - It's always a good feeling to have my writing out there, especially in poetry, since my skills in that genre grew tremendously in one year.

2. San Diego Bachelorette - My first time in SD, celebrating with my soon-to-be-bride sister!

3. Finishing college and receiving my degree - A proud accomplishment of course. It's strange to think that college is already over!

4. My first trip to Seattle - It was the first time Michael and I had seen each other this year, after only meeting once in Paris the year before, and now my life has completely changed.

5. Meeting Michael's family - It was a memorable moment and I am glad I get to share in their special days and holidays with them.

6. My sister's wedding - Another sister married, a fun night, and a memorable one for my whole family.

7. Getting a job - My first full-time job, yay!

8. Date Nights - Though it spanned many nights, I had to clump this one together. The best date nights I've ever had: Parachute Concert, Book Bindery, Staples and Fancy, Bottlehouse, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Nishino's, days layingin the park, walking around the city, tv marathons, etc... I could go on and on...

9. Thanksgiving - Spending a week with my family. Priceless. Michael and I's first roadtrip.

10. My Mother's Birthday - Going back home for my mother's birthday and having a whole day of just being with my sisters and my mom is now a rarity. I'll always remember her smile that day.

11. Christmas with the Armfield's - Great company, great wine, great food, and a great Christmas witht the Seattle fam.

12. Spinasse and Beethoven's Ninth - It was such a new and cool experience and the most recent in my memory, that I had to put this down. The music, the food, and a night out on the town with Michael was perfect.

13. New apartment - Because things are starting to feel like home.

Well there it is! What are your top 13 moments?

Wishing you a wonderful new year,

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spinasse and Beethoven's Ninth

This is the face of someone who was spoiled yesterday by the handsome Michael.

Where do I begin? Besides first mentioning that I have such an awesome and stellar boyfriend! (Also, please excuse my dark photos, I didn't want to use flash in the restaurant.)

Yesterday was so hectic as we had so many errands to run right before our date night, but I am so glad we went because yesterday was one of my top nights of the year. Michael took me to Cascina Spinasse, a very fine and cozy italian restaurant right next to a bar we both like, Artusi. The setting was very homey and small that it gave an intimate feel. The server we had was also very knowledgeable that she helped us balance the flavors of our food.

At our server's recommendation we started off with a bottle of Nebbiolo. We've been favoring Nebbiolos after we had such a lovely wine at the Book Bindery, and the one we had below did not disappoint.

For our antipasti we had the Prosciutto di Parma. What I really enjoyed about this was the hint of sweetness from the apples that contrasted with the saltiness of the Prosciutto. Then add the bread and it becomes a delicate balance.

Prosciutto di Parma: Pio Tosini prosciutto 14 month aged prosciutto with toasted mustard seeds, fig vinegar, and ambrosia apples.

For our next antipasti at our server's suggestion, we had the Insalata Di Cavolo Rape. This was by far one of the most surprising dishes. It was such a delicate salad that had a bite and crunch from the radish, but a soft and creamy component from the cheese, and then a sweet, salt, and tart flavor from the vinaigrette.

Insalata Di Cavolo Rape: Shaved kohlrabi and radish with anchovy vinaigrette, capers and parmigiano
For the primi we did two pastas. The first was the house special, a beet ravioli with a three blend cheese. This was another dish that surprised me greatly with its balance of flavors. Sweet from the beets, but creamy from the cheese. Both so soft in contrast to the ravioli but beautiful together.

Beet Ravioli with a three blend cheese
Or next pasta was the Tajarin al Ragu, which contrasted the sweetness of the Ravioli, for this pasta was savory and salty in a good way. The handmade noodles were also so fine and thin that it captured the ragu wonderfully.

Tajarin al Ragu: Fine hand cut egg pasta with ragu
For the Secondi, we enjoyed the Stacotto Di Coniglio. The rabbit was so moist, tender, and flavorful on the savory side. It was divine, that's all I can really say about it.

Stracotto Di Coniglio: Stuffed, braised rabbit with roasted baby turnips
Now onto my fave part of any meal, dessert! Chocolate mousse with expresso gelato with wafers. It was so goshdarnamazingithinkiminheaven!

Chocolate mousse, expresso gelato, and wafer.

Afterwards, Michael took me to the Symphony for Beethoven's Ninth. It was a first for me, I had never been to a symphony before and I was in awe while I was there. Just walking in I felt like I was in some victorian or romantic novel. Everyone was so dressed up and just genuinely awed at the music, myself included. Just sitting there and listening, watching music come alive, it was like being transported to the 19th century or having time transcend for this beautiful moment. Even now during the next day, I still feel in awe at what I heard. I am so lucky and fortunate to experience this and I owe it all to him.

Another great date for the books!

Taking our seats in the center!
A picture behind us, look at how many people came. Full house!
Intermission photo.
The Chorus coming on stage right before Beethoven's Ninth!
The wonderful guy who made tonight possible.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A new place right before the new year

Michael and I are officially in our new apartment! He's definitely a trooper for packing in one day and getting us moved despite his lingering illness (though he is getting better day by day!). We even unpacked in one night and we're now in the process of making it feel like home. To celebrate we went out for dinner after the unpacking frenzie!

The ginger cheesecake we had for dessert!
It's crazy how many times I've moved in a year. From my college apartment to back home, then splitting time between my mom and my sister's house, then splitting time between Washington and California, then moving to Washington, and now moving into the new apartment. It's definitely a whirlwind, but I am so looking forward to something stabilizing for a change. And our new apartment is perfect for that!

After unpacking.
I love the floor-to-ceiling windows, I love the location, and I love the space! Good times will be made here :)
Before unpacking.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lessons after my First Draft

The end of the year has been so busy! This post has been delayed, but finally I am sitting down to write it.

This year I've written two manuscripts, both of which are first drafts. The most important thing about writing the first draft for me was "the act of writing". By that I mean I needed to write on a daily basis or create a large volume of work. My college years were dedicated to small pieces and now that I'm out, I have the time to focus on larger pieces.

To those who want to start out writing something novel length. My advice is to write every day and give yourself a word count per day. Achieve that and you'll get a manuscript done in no time. Remember, to be a writer, you have to be writing.

I may not have tremendous experience in novels, but I hope that in sharing my experience with my work, that you'll feel encouraged to try it for yourself.

So here are a few things I've learned along the way:

1. Your first draft will not be the only draft.
2. Don't wait for the words to come, instead just fill it up with what comes to mind.
3. Don't worry too much about mechanics or misspelled words, that fine tuning of work will come later.
4. I know it's tempting, but don't go back and keep rereading, you need to progress forwards not backwards.
5. Write out of order or sequence, just write something.
6. Read encouraging blogs, or start your own to keep you motivated.
7. Read books that are in the genre you're writing in.
8. Read books about writing.
9. Talk about your story to trusted others.
10. Set a timeline.

To break it down in lengthier bits:

1. Your first draft will not be the only draft. Let's face it. No one's first draft is perfect. So roam free and wild in your writing. In the first draft you get to be really creative, explore your characters, the scenes, and get to know the world you're creating. The "real" writing is in the revision and subsequent drafts because once you get the first draft done the shape of your story takes shape and each revision makes the story/shape clearer and sharper with more direction.

2. Don't wait for the words to come, instead just fill it up with what comes to mind. If you're waiting for that stroke of genius to come to you or the inspiration to write, then be prepared to wait forever for your novel to be done. Write when things are good. Write when things are bad. Don't know what word choice to use? Skip it and put a placer. You can always go back and revise it. Can't get a particular scene down? Make a note with brackets on what will go there during your revision right smack in the manuscript. Remember, the first draft is for you. No one has to read it. [Put all the brackets you want] and then continue with the story.

3. Don't worry too much about mechanics or misspelled words, that fine tuning of work will come later. If you're like me and you cringe at every grammar error, all I can say is I feel your pain, but it is okay to look past it for now. Just keep going with your story. Don't let the grammar hangups pull you out of your rhythm. During your final stages, you'll get the chance to clean up those errors line by line.

4. I know it's tempting, but don't go back and keep rereading, you need to progress forwards not backwards. If you want to change something in the story midway, just make the change there and continue on. You can go back on your revision and change it easily. Characters name, color of their hair, subplot, and whatever, change it later.

5. Write out of order or sequence, just write something. You want to write another scene instead of the current one you're working on? Then go for it, it may even spark some ideas for the scenes inbetween.

6. Read encouraging blogs, or start your own to keep you motivated. Hopefully my blog can do that for you, but please do read blogs from your fave authors and read about their experiences. You can always learn from someone else's experience and it motivates you to keep going.

7. Read books that are in the genre you're writing in. It'll remind you why you're writing in that genre and why you love it even when you have a bad writing day.

8. Read books about writing. Seriously, it keeps you motivated, you learn, and it makes you think about your own writing and writing style.

9. Talk about your story to trusted others. When you talk about it, you give it life. It makes you excited about it. It makes you want to write about it. It forces you to explore your story more when someone who doesn't know about your story world asks questions, giving you a different view point.

10. Set a timeline, because a goal without a deadline is nothing but a dream. I didn't make my deadline, but I still finished. It gave me a direction and something to aim for, making me more accountable for my work. I suggest the same. For my second manuscript it took me about two months. So go at your pace, set your own deadlines whether it be pages, word counts, or whichever.

Happy writing everyone! I hope this post was somewhat encouraging and helpful :)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hoping you had a wonderful Christmas!

Our first Christmas together.
Christmas came and went!

This was my first year away from home for the Holidays. It was kind of surreal and felt strange not to see my family. I missed them so much. Thankfully, I have a great Seattle family that kept me in good spirits and made it such a memorable holiday.

Blaire "trying" to wrap.
Now the end of the year is coming to a close. In one day Michael and I are moving into our new apartment (yay!). The symphony is this weekend (which will be a new experience for me). And I've wrapped up my draft earlier this week and am in the process of doing a read-through (a blog post on the manuscript to follow!)


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trying not to go crazy over here!

Unfortunately, Michael has been sick for two plus weeks and the doctor's can't tell what's wrong with him. Already we've been to the ER and we're now in the process of waiting for lab results. It's a stupid waiting game as we camp out in the studio. I just want someone to tell us what's wrong, and I just want him to feel better.

I've been trying not to go crazy being cooped up inside, but there's no way I'm leaving him home either. I've tried to write my book, but I'm having a hard time focusing. Maybe all I need is coffee to do the trick, so I'll try that. Blog posts, however, are comparably easier.

An update on my manuscript. It's practically done, the story is coming to a close. I think it'll end roughly around 70,000 words instead of the 80,000, but what I'll do is write 10,000 words of notes and things I need to change around draft two. Once done, I'll post a summary on my experience with this first draft.

Another update: If you guys didn't know this already, when I moved to Seattle, I kind of barged my way into Michael's studio (meant for one person) and brought my cat up in November (since apartments in Seattle are so expensive). He's let me live with him for the time being, but now we've found a beautiful one bedroom apartment for us (which is practically double the size of our current studio) that we get to move into on Friday! YAY! Maybe once I have my own closet, it'll start feeling like home!

And it's crazy to think that Christmas is this week! What a whirlwind!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Flowers for Algernon

The snow melted by evening to my dismay, and now we are left with the wet and dreary in Seattle.

Two nights ago I finished Flowers for Algernon. This is another book I'm going to have to recommend. I found the recommendation on a reddit thread, and I'm so happy I did.

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance--until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
An American classic that inspired the award-winning movie Charly. (source: Amazon)
If you're in need of a good book, this is it!

Friday, December 20, 2013

All dressed up in white

Just before going to bed last night I asked Michael to keep the blinds open.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because I want to see the snow!"
I had such a hard time sleeping too. Maybe it was all of the excitement, because I have never seen snow fall since I was like three or four years old, so it kind of meant a big deal!

I woke up around 6:30 a.m., the usual time I get up for work. I opened my eyes, and the sky was pink and orange, but lo and behold there was snow! Being the responsible person I am, I called work to see what time the office was opening (two hours later due to the snow) before launching myself outside to see it!

View from the balcony, looking down into the street.
"It's snowing, honey! It's snowing, honey!" I exclaimed as I threw on whatever would cover and keep me warm. "I have to go and see!"

"Be careful," he mumbled as he rolled onto his other side, continuing to sleep.

On my way down the elevator, I called my mom, waking her up to share the news. Then went outside to walk in it and take a ton of photos!

Stepping out into it! Look at that early morning sky!
7 am, just got out of bed, yet happy as a clam!
Snow falling.
Covering the grass.
Catching snow.

It sparkles!

Some snow in my hair after my walk.
I came back into the apartment so spritely and excited then proceeded to wake Michael by showing him my photos. It was so hard to sit still, so I went back out again to the top deck and took even more photos. The sky finally turned blue as it woke up and voila! Seattle all dressed up in white!

Untouched snow on the rooftop deck.

Getting my footprints in.
The whole skyline, with the Space Needle's lighted Christmas tree on the far right.

It was a good morning for me and a great way to start my Friday! I came back to my apartment, taking in the scene before making pancakes for breakfast!
Can't get enough of it! View from the balcony window.
Such in great spirits that I made blueberry gluten free pancakes topped with sliced bananas and agave nectar.
Blair watching snow for the first time!
Michael snapped this one of me when I wasn't looking.
Happy Friday Everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Aerial Views

There's something about planes that I really enjoy. You'll find me at a window seat, staring out blankly in a daze, thinking up stories, or writing in a little book. Sometimes I'll read, but my eyes will always gravitate to the window from time to time. Oh the sights that you see.

On my way back to Seattle on Monday, the sky was clear enough that I was able to see Crater Lake below me as the plane was passing through Oregon.

I've never seen the lake on land, but whoa does it look amazing from up high! That island inside of it, I learned, is called Wizard Island, which I found to be pretty neat!

Once I was in Washington, I was also able to get a decent picture of Mount Rainier.

Currently there's a storm watch in my area for a chance of snow! Very light of course, that will probably get rained away by tomorrow morning, but I really hope it happens!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mom's Birthday Celebration!

*Warning: Tons of photos in this post!*

Already I'm missing my mom, my sisters, my family, and the California sun. It's really true what they say, you really don't know what you're missing until it's gone.

I'm really grateful I got to go back for my mother's Birthday weekend. I really think my sisters and I made her year.

My mom is everything to my sisters and I. She's a strong and independent woman who raised five girls by herself in an unfamiliar country. She's sacrificed so much for us to have an opportunity to chase our dreams, that we are forever grateful for her. Never has she asked for anything but health and happiness for us, and for that, we owe her everything.

RECAP of the weekend:

My sister Dao (who currently lives in New York) and I arrived in Sacramento late Friday evening. The next morning we surprised my mom to let her know we were here. She didn't expect a thing and her expression was priceless!

It was strange to be back in Sacramento, though I was here just a few weeks ago. But I definitely took advantage of it with some quality time. My sisters and I did a three hour bike ride around Lake Natomas (that really kicked my butt!).

Emily, ready to pound that bike trail pavement!

This is me, completely pooped!
 Afterwards we took my cousin out to bowling for his Birthday and to the toy store so he could pick out his gift.

For my mother's Birthday we got dressed up in our best for family photos!

My mom, me, and Oanh
Bothering my mom as she gets ready!
I was doing my 'mug' face
Behind the scenes! So much light, I can pass as a vampire!
The twin and I
My sisters and I are a bit... sassy!
It's been such a long time since we've done a family portrait. I think to date we have only done it three times. Below you'll fine some old ones and the new ones (I wasn't able to find the first family portrait).

The second family portrait (I was seven)

New family portraits, now age twenty-two!

And what's a birthday without a gift ;) I think we certainly made her day memorable.