So Long, California

BigSur_05_011.19.14_LA_14Over the last few months, two of my very best and most beautiful friends came to visit The Boy and I in LA. I wanted to show them all the magic and splendor of the golden coast, so I brought these ladies to Big Sur–“The Most Dramatic Meeting of Land and Sea”–and Leo Carillo Beach in Malibu. We scrambled over rocky bluffs, peered into crystalline tide pools to spy on lazy starfish and anemones in briney blues and violets, gazed up in awe at the tops of towering redwoods, and scaled peaks to look out across the whole wide earth all the way to the glittering sea.

BigSur_41_011.19.14_LA_341.19.14_LA_60BigSur_03_01BigSur_15_01These pictures are especially poignant to me now, because The Boy and I are packing up and hightailing it out of California. We debated this decision over weeks and months, but in truth it was while we were in Big Sur with Lorenza that my heart made its decision. I was sitting on top of a rock on a mountain overlook, looking down on a valley grove of redwoods that stretched all the way west until the land finally gave way to the Pacific. I felt nothing but happiness and the sun setting on my shoulders. Then something broke inside my head, and I had one of those perfectly clear thoughts: we need more space. We need more room to breathe. We need better air in our lungs. We need seasons, we need change. We need something more than the feverish grit and dizzying, disorienting, omnipresent sunshine of Los Angeles. But, sitting on top of that same mountain, I knew I was not ready to give up the wonders of the west, not yet. So Portland, Oregon, here we come.

BigSur_17_01BigSur_31_01BigSur_33_01I am beyond excited for our new life in a new city. We knew from the start that LA would not be our forever home, and eventually it seemed pointless to keep putting down roots if we weren’t ready to commit. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic for our Tiny Cottage one day.

BigSur_26_01BigSur_08_01BigSur_40_01In many ways, it was the perfect place to live as a newly married couple. 400 square feet offer no hiding places, no refuge, no room for cold shoulders or silent treatments. This house has been a wonderful crash course in marriage. The space forced us to be close, to speak plainly and honestly about our problems, to be gentle with each other even when one of us had had a bad day, and wasn’t feeling especially nice. We had spent so much time apart before we moved into the Tiny Cottage, and it was a little disorienting at first to swing so rapidly from 3,000 miles between us to just 3 feet.

BigSur_37_01BigSur_30_01To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always easy. The Boy was slow to adjust to LA, and for months he was cranky, out of sorts, vulnerable, and lost. It fell to me to pick up the pieces a lot of the time, and quite frankly I did not always accept that role gracefully. We went through a little rough patch in those months, where it felt like we were arguing all the time and getting nowhere.

This was especially tricky during wedding planning, also known as hell on earth. I have one particularly fond memory of the early stages, which happened to coincide with The Boy’s poor mother staying with us for a weeklong visit, where a casual conversation about when we should start hanging lights in the yard erupted into an argument over nothing. I can see his mother so clearly, pretending to read on an airbed in our tiny living room, while we had a heated conversation in undertones just fifteen feet away in the kitchen. Ahh, wedding planning… that perfect melting pot where two different sets of values on family, religion, money, and tradition all come crashing together. Good times.

BigSur_19_01BigSur_21_01BigSur_11_01But little by little, the Tiny House showed us the way. I learned the value of small measures: making an extra cup of coffee in the morning, without being asked… picking up his favorite soda from the grocery store… washing the dishes, even though he told me he’d take care of it in the morning. These things count in a very real way, and they can make all the difference. Around October, without warning, the load got a little easier. We were sweeter with each other, and bickered less. We spent a little extra time in bed each morning, talking softly together about our plans for the day. And we both learned something important, something critical, something obvious but nevertheless difficult about our marriage: sometimes, some days, one of us will have to carry the heavier load, and that’s ok, but it’s especially important, when those days roll around, to not just remember that we love each other, but to say it, too, in gestures large and small, explicit and unspoken.

BigSur_42_01Our new house will have a lot more space, but we’ll carry these lessons there with us anyway. And one day, when we’ve been married a lot longer than we have now, I’m sure I’ll tell someone about the tiny cottage we lived in when we were so young, and so in love, and so full of plans for the future.

All pictures by Xander Keeping.


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Echo Park_28X Echo Park_01Echo Park_81Echo Park_03Echo Park_75Echo Park_13Echo Park_65Echo Park_87X Echo Park_52X Echo Park_18Echo Park_82Echo Park_101The weather in LA has been lovely lately, so refreshing after being home in the snow for a week! The Boy and I have been trying to take advantage, so we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days walking around our neighborhood and taking pictures.

We live in my very favorite part of LA, Echo Park, right in the middle of one of LA’s biggest parks, Elysian Park, which is also home to Dodger Stadium. The Elysian Fields were the Greek mythological paradise in the afterlife, and as a total mythology nerd I get a little thrill out of that. The Elysian Fields were supposed to be a pastoral haven free from snow and bitter winds, where the earth bore sweet fruit and the sun was always shining. Our Elysian is still very much a city park, though very large and not especially manicured, but compared to the smog and ceaseless traffic of LA, it feels like our own little paradise. We love our neighborhood because it’s very quiet, much greener than the rest of the city, and there’s this great feeling of an older artists’ community, where both the people and the houses are a little more eccentric.

There’s also an abundance of exciting nooks and crannies to explore, thanks in large part to the many “secret staircases” in the area, some of which you can see above. The staircases in Elysian Valley traverse the incredibly steep hills that line Echo Park Avenue (our home!) on both sides. Back in the 1920s, when Echo Park was being developed, the staircases served as direct routes for pedestrians in an age where there were far fewer cars. I was so excited when, during one of our first weeks here, I walked up one of those staircases and found myself in a little secret garden complete with a public swing, pomegranate trees, a babbling stream with a footbridge, and a whole flock of hummingbirds.

LA can be a bit intense sometimes, and neither The Boy nor I think of it as a forever home, but some days, when the sun is shining, and the jasmine flowers perfume the air, and I’m standing on top of a very tall hill looking out all the way to the Hollywood sign, I think, “Well this is nice.”


How To: DIY Wedding Photobooth

Kylie & Xander Wedding Photobooth_189Kylie & Xander Wedding Photobooth_114Kylie & Xander Wedding Photobooth_13Wasn’t our photobooth adorable? And I will say: our guests had a blast using it. I was a little concerned, because we had originally wanted to set the thing up outside, but the weather forecast predicted storms, and we couldn’t chance the camera getting doused. I actually said to The Boy: If we move this thing inside, no one will use it. I really ate my words on that one, but I was glad it got so much use!

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Photobooths are super trendy at weddings right now, but renting one can be expensive. Of course, our photobooth did not give our guests the chance to print and keep their photos right on the spot, but we posted them all to an online gallery, and I don’t think anyone minded. All in all, our photobooth cost under 200$, and you could probably do it for less by borrowing equipment instead of renting. But here’s how we did it…

Kylie & Xander Wedding Photobooth_375Kylie & Xander Wedding Photobooth_371You’ll Need

A DSLR camera (someone you know owns one)

A sturdy tripod

A laptop

An extra long USB cord

A ring flash (This isn’t a must, but it’ll make the photos look a lot more professional. There are many kinds of flashes available, we chose the Ring Flash because it was the most efficient in terms of space, cost, and flexibility as far as light power)

A soft box (see above)

You can probably borrow a lot of this equipment. We had some things on hand, and rented the rest from Borrow Lenses.

1) Mount your camera, ring flash, and softbox to the tripod. It’s important to go with a tripod that has a sturdy head, because this equipment combination is a bit heavier than just your average camera. The distance between the camera and the spot where people stand will vary depending on the kind of lens you’re using, so play around with this until you get the framing and focus right. It’s a good idea to mark off the area with tape, so everyone knows when they’re in frame. Pro tip: Have two people of different heights try the booth out when you’re working out the framing. The Boy was the only one who sampled ours, and he’s very tall, so we could only see the tops of our little kid guests’ heads!

2) Set up your ring flash to go off whenever you take a photo. There’s a couple ways you can do this, the easy way and the proper way. First, the easy way: flip up the flash that comes with your camera, when this goes off the ring flash will also go off. There are some problems inherent with this, like weird shadows, so I’ll explain the proper and (slightly) more complicated way. You’ll need a hot shoe sync adapter. Plug it into the hot shoe on your camera (usually located on the top, near the flash). The particular ring flash we rented came with a sync cable, which we connected from the flash to the hot shoe adapter. You’re ready to go! NB: We were using a Nikon camera, so the equipment you use may vary depending on what kind camera you’re using. A little research should clarify what you’ll need.

3) Tether the camera to your laptop with the USB cable. The purpose of tethering camera to computer is twofold: 1) The laptop works as a viewing station, as people take photos, the pictures will appear on the computer’s screen for people to see, and 2) We were using a Mac remote to fire the camera, so the Mac computer was necessary to make that whole thing work. You can actually purchase remotes that will work directly with the camera, but we just happened to have a Mac remote on hand.

3) We used a software called Capture One so that every time the camera took a picture, the picture was automatically saved to the computer and displayed on the laptop screen. Capture One is on the pricey side as far as software goes, but The Boy already owned it. There are lots of less expensive options for tethered shooting software, and many camera companies (like Nikon) actually make their own. The idea behind tethered shooting is that the computer is controlling the camera, so once you have your software you’re going to want to go in and play around until you find the command keys that will trigger the camera to shoot. For Capture One every time you hit the “apple-k” on the keyboard, the camera would take a photo.

4) Download this app. This will allow you to set the Apple remote’s buttons to application-specific commands, which is a fancy way of saying that we programmed the remote to hit “apple-k” for us. The Boy set up the remote so that every single button would trigger the camera, which was useful as the night went on and people got drunker. Nobody was pawing at the buttons wondering which one to use.

5) Type up some brief instructions, basically to the tune of stand in the box and hit the button. It might be a good idea to remind people not to steal the remote!

6) What’s a photobooth without props? Maggie downloaded these free printables, which we had printed at the local copy center. Maggie had the brilliant idea to mount all the props on foam board, which made them extra sturdy. It was a little extra effort, because we had to print the props on paper, then adhere them to the foam, then them out again, then color in the edges of the foam board with sharpie to make them look nice and clean. But it’s your wedding, so a little extra effort can be worth it. We also threw in some fun over-sized sunglasses, and the Mardi-gras beads and leis that Maggie made me wear to my bachelorette party (I am so getting her back for that one when she gets married).

7) That’s it! Shoot away!

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This is just the way that we did it. There are lots of other ways to create a photobooth, many of which are much simpler. For example, you could forgo the laptop and just do this with a camera and camera-specific remote. If you go that route, your guests will not be able to view their photos, unless you hook your camera up to some kind of video output, like a TV. There’s a great post over here that talks through some other alternatives for a DIY photobooth.

And of course, don’t forget to charge your camera battery!

Photo by Katch SilvaA Note on Our Backdrop

Our awesome pinwheel backdrop was created by the ever-rocking Maggie and our incredible friend Serena. Pinwheels are not especially difficult, and there are a billion and one tutorials online, so I won’t bother explaining it. We originally planned to attach ours to The Boy’s tennis court fence with zip ties, but when we had to move the whole thing inside we found that nails worked pretty well for attaching it to the kitchen wall. Something about the way we attached it to the wall, or perhaps all the moving back and forth while we figured out where to put the thing, made some of the pinwheels come apart. Not a single person noticed or cared.

Oh, and guess what? Our wedding is being featured over here today, go check it out!

Bottom photo by Katch Silva. All other photos courtesy of Xander Keeping.

California: I’ll Be Knockin’ On the Golden Door

Well what do you know, I finally got around to posting photos of The Boy’s trip to California! It was his first time in Los Angeles, so of course the firs thing we had to do was go to the beach. Actually, the first thing was tacos. But then the beach! Living in LA, there are many beach options, but I always choose to drive about an hour out of the city to Leo Carrillo. Not only is it a stunning beach (much cleaner than some of the closer ones) with caves (!), but the drive up there is pretty spectacular as well. You have to wind in and out of beautiful Malibu Canyon, and it’s actually pretty terrifying because it’s very narrow, and everyone drives so fast, and it’s a pretty long fall from the road to the bottom of the canyon. But that’s all the fun!

That’s my car! Isn’t she a cutie?

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Like Wine & Cheese: Advanced Style

So as usual I’m the last one on the bus. Why has it taken me so long to hear about Advanced Style, the amazing street style blog dedicated exclusively to the more, ahem, mature fashionistas and silver foxes. I’m in love. All of the ladies (and gentlemen) featured on Advanced Styleserve as a reminder that you can be fun and daring, not take things so seriously and yet still pull off a look of classic elegance. My favorite part is that they all have such fabulous stories, you can tell they have great style in life as well as in clothes. I can only hope I age so well.


All images courtesy of Advanced Style.

Greetings From The Best Coast!

Hey guys! I made it, I’m alive, and I’m back online! California is wonderful amazing, I’m so happy to be here and I can tell things are just going to get better and better. The sun is shining, my shoulders are burnt, and my apartment is so beautiful. I’ll be doing a full post on the apartment soon (I hope), but I can’t post any pictures until it looks exactly the way I want it to (this involves a mustard yellow suede headboard and 1940s writing desk, it’ll be worth the wait I promise.) Until then…

Loving these mid-century vintage shots of motels and roadside eateries. They remind me of the road trip passages in Lolita, which were always some of my favorite, most dog-earred parts of the book. Especially for a non-native, Nabokov’s descriptions of highway  American landscape, of highway diners and motocourts are so lush, so meticulously detailed and spot on. And that’s because he culled them from his own time spent criss-crossing the country with his wife, collecting field research in entomology (collecting bugs! He was a great butterfly enthusiast among many other wonderful things). These photos can be found here, along with many other marvelous retro gems.


All photos found here, via.

How to Feel Like a Fire God

Everybody loves lightpainting, those awesome long exposure photos of people dancing around with flashlights, LEDs, what have you. But I think these photos go one better. The Boy, his brother, and I took these in his backyard a few nights ago. They came out super awesome and it’s an effect that’s easy to achieve.

Attach a clump of steel wool to a long cord, wire, or piece of rope. It should be something fairly flexible, so that when you spin it in a circle it acts like a lasso. Set your camera up on a tripod with a long exposure (slow shutter speed), it might take a bit of finagling to figure out what works best. One person should run off a ways with the steel wool on its leash and a lighter, while someone else stays with the camera. Ignite the steel wool and spin it around, write with it in the air, whatever you think will look cool. As soon as the steel wool combusts the person by the camera should press the shutter release, and that’s pretty much it! If you’re the person swinging the blazing steel wool around, I highly recommend bellowing, “FEEL MY WRATH MERE MORTALS, FOR I AM LORD OF ALL CREATION!”

Bonus: if, like us, you decide to do this at 4:30am, this could be an awesome way to make friends with your neighbors when they come running outside to check out all the commotion after waking to the sight of fire raining from the sky.

Note: The steel wool did not light anybody on fire. A dead leaf caught, but that was it. So basically what I’m saying is I’m pretty sure you won’t burn to death, but I make no guarantees.