the wedding chronicles | decision #4

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

as many former brides have told me and will likely tell you, the photographer is one of the most important decisions you will make for your wedding day.  they all have said, “your pictures are the only thing you have to remember the day by afterwards, so you have to make a good choice.”  if you think about it, it is quite true.  in addition to being reminded of this truth, you’ll get the name of every photographer who has photographed any wedding you have ever been to and even those you never attended.  while a great starting point for ideas and inspiration, be sure you pick the photographer right for you and your big day.  how do you do that, you ask?  like this.

first, like the starting point for many other wedding choices, determine what your budget is.  although you might want the celebrity photographer in town, they might be out of your price point.  and, something else to be said here is that the photographer is likely going to cost more than you expect.  one night i was churning through photography sites on my computer to try and narrow down some options but was derailed when it felt like each one was more expensive than the last!  i understand you don’t necessarily want to skimp in regards to the photographer, but a “starting at” price of $4500 seems high.  but hey, what do i know; it’s not like i’ve ever planned a wedding before.

second, figure out if you want just a photographer or if a videographer is also part of your needs.  the reason i encourage you to figure this out is because the more you want, the more you have to pay, and even though a videographer might sound like an awesome add-on, it also comes at a price.  if you’ve got the budget or wiggle room elsewhere in your wedding, go for it!  i think videographers capture a special essence of the day and create a great keepsake for the future.

third, while flipping through galleries of potential photographers, try to discern what their style is and what they tend to focus on in their pictures and if what they produce matches up with what you and your fiance want.  are they capturing a lot of detail of the day?  are the family portraits high quality?  is the level of professionalism apparent?  now, with this being said let me let you in on a little secret:  after a while all of the pictures are going to look the same.  or almost the same.  what i’m trying to say is that you’re going to get tired of looking through these pictures, and that’s okay.  you have to stop looking at some point, so decide on your top two or three prospects and go from there.

fourth, while trying to pick out some favorite contenders, i encourage you to include your significant other, especially if it’s a man and especially if you think he might not care.  the reason i say this is because the pictures you will have after your wedding day are both of yours, and sometimes a fiance can help you make that tough choice by having a preference of their own.  hopefully it will work out nicely for you and yours like it did for phillip and me.  🙂  we worked particularly well together as a team on this decision.

fifth, once you have a few photographers in mind, meet them in person if possible!  although their site might be informative and the pictures breathtaking, nothing replaces a personal connection, something you can really only gauge by meeting face-to-face.  for phillip and me, we had two finalists that we met for coffee (separately, of course).  the first finalist was nice enough and quite laid back but was almost too laid back for our liking.  our second finalist was extremely professional, asked us questions about ourselves, paid for phillip’s coffee (excellent move if i do say so myself), and even started offering some ideas, not knowing if we were going to go with them or not.  sometimes it might “just be a feeling” you have on whether or not you like a particular photographer, but that’s okay.  this is your day, after all, and you should feel confident about each decision you make, especially such a big one.

sixth, ask questions.  how many hours do you get?  how many photographers will be there?  is an engagement session included?  if your photographer has to travel, are there any fees incurred?  so on and so forth.  just google “questions to ask a wedding photographer” and you’ll get yourself a nice big list of questions with which to pepper your professional.  the photographers we encountered were very open to answering our numerous inquiries, which was not only nice but also the right thing to do.

seventh, if possible, see if you can get an engagement session included.  i think for each photographer we interviewed this was the case, which is a great thing.  why?  well, i initially wasn’t interested in doing an engagement shoot, but then everyone said it was a good opportunity for you and your fiance to get to know your photographer and vice versa.  i mean, it does seem like a good way to get comfortable not only with your photographer but also with getting your picture taken, A LOT.  plus, it’s a good excuse to buy a new outfit and get all dressed up, which is fine by me.

so!  in the end, who did we choose?  we chose a pair of photographers by katie snyder photography.  their reputation, genuine joy, and industry knowledge were among the deciding factors, and what’s even better is that they were flexible with us and are in budget – sign us up!

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 5

Over the past two to three years, I have broadened my horizons when it comes to wine.  Before then, I avoided the wine list mainly because there was a beer on the drink menu I wanted to try or because I knew nothing about wine.  My wife Kari would give me a couple sips of whatever she was drinking while we were out and about, so I came to know what I liked.  If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.  When I learned New Zealand was known for Sauvignon Blanc and that there were a few wineries just a 45-minute drive from Christchurch, I decided to check out the local scene.

My Internet searching brought me to Waipara Hills and its iconic stone building set among the picturesque Waipara Valley vineyards.  I knew they offered samplings, so I approached the bar, eager to dive in with Dennis, the lucky (or unlucky) employee to take me in.  When he asked me what I was interested in trying, I replied, “What do you recommend?”  He came back with, “What do you usually drink?”  I answered, “If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.”  Period, end of statement, no more to be said, but Dennis was looking at me, waiting to list off more wines.  Reading the expression on his face, I let him know I usually stay in my lane with wine, so I will literally try just about anything.

As such, Dennis started me off with a Sauvignon Blanc that had a very intense fruit/sugar taste, which was way more than I had bargained for.  I asked Dennis to turn it down in that respect for the next round, which he did with Gewurztraminer.  Now, I couldn’t pronounce the name if my life depended on it, but I came to learn rose petals, lychee, cinnamon, and ginger are characters commonly found in the New Zealand version.  This particular batch was stored in an oak barrel, and it was a wine I very much enjoyed.  From there Dennis poured a Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner, which were good in their own right.  At that point, I decided to end my wine tasting journey and asked Dennis for a glass of the Gewurztraminer and a cheese plate. I took a seat on the patio, took in the view, and did pretty much nothing for the next hour.

When Kari was in town the following week, we went to Terrace Edge Vineyard, which was just on the other side of the road from Waipara Hills.  Terrace Edge is a much smaller operation but was equally enjoyable and has an awesome slogan:  “A dramatic landscape captured in liquid form”.  Who wouldn’t want to try a wine from a place like that!  Jill the owner told us about all the different wines as we sampled them and how her family bought the vineyard on a whim in 1999.  Her son even studied viticulture in college and now runs the day-to-day operations in the vineyard!  In going to both wineries, the excitement Dennis and Jill had for their craft was obvious, and that’s one thing I noticed about New Zealanders during my time here:  They are very proud and passionate about being from New Zealand and sharing whatever it is they love (wine, glacier hiking, etc…) with visitors.

nam phuong – atlanta, ga

earlier in august i had picked up the local periodical creative loafing and was flipping through the pages when i came upon a story that highlighted and reviewed the best 12 wing joints in atlanta.  coined “the ultimate wing smackdown“, writers and contributors took recommendations from creative loafing loyalists to taste, savor, and ultimately decide which restaurant in the city boasts the best chicken wings.  with five criteria (including flavor, exterior texture, interior texture, value, and overall appearance) by which to evaluate, the judges trekked far and wide to, in the end, crown nam phuong the chicken wing king.

in a mostly unassuming building off buford highway, nam phuong is a spacious sit-down restaurant that, on the tuesday night we went, was quite busy with a very diverse crowd.  now, before i go on to review these chicken wings, let me say this:  buford highway is like the yellow brick road of authentic food in atlanta.  with restaurants that span cuisines from all over the world, the real foodies in this city know that la buford is the place to be, and nam phuong is a perfect fit for this reputable strip.

our group of seven was quickly seated and our water glasses were brought soon thereafter.  as i flipped among the menu’s pages, my eyes wandered around the tables near us, interested to see what other diners had ordered.  big, white ceramic bowls with steam rising out of them were most of what i saw, and even though a big helping of pho sounded tasty, i knew i would have to make a return trip for that.  this visit was for chicken wings and chicken wings only!  at least as far as i was concerned.

matt, anthony, janine, grant, eric, and claire all opted for the pho, which came out quickly and piping hot.  on a cold winter’s day, i could easily picture myself coming back here for a savory bowl of that stuff, but i waited patiently as my wings took a little longer to come out.  i took that as a good sign, hoping it meant they were being cooked to order.  🙂

thankfully i was able to keep my drooling under control once the waiter served me.  the wings were hot and covered in some kind of delicious fish sauce, and alongside was a heap of white rice and some sliced vegetables.  for about nine bucks, it looked like this “appetizer” was going to be more than enough to fill me up!

as the rest of the group happily slurped up spoonfuls of noodles and chicken and broth, i got down and dirty with my wings.  the wings were cooked in such a way that the skin was crispy but also a little tacky with the sauce that had obviously been brushed on at the right moment in the grilling process.  the sauce itself was sweet but also had a little zing at the end of each bite, so it was good i had the rice to help offset the spice.  the chicken itself was very juicy and not dry at all, and i greedily ate every single one of them!

if you’re a wing lover in any regard, i highly recommend you swing by nam phuong to give their wings a try.  this dish is a great value for what you get, the service is fast and friendly, and supporting a local joint just makes you feel good!  so, if you’ve got a hankering for something familiar but also something new, then this place is the spot for you.

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Kiwi Kari and the Glacier

When you think of New Zealand, what first comes to your mind?  Probably something like rugby, kiwis, or, for most people, The Lord of the Rings.  Wait, it’s not glaciers?!  SHOCKING!

Since I have returned from my (all-too-brief) trek to visit Kyle in New Zealand, this has been part of the overwhelming remarks I have heard:  “I didn’t know there were so many mountains!”  “I didn’t know it got that cold there!”  “I definitely didn’t know there were glaciers!”  Up until a few months ago, when spending time in this small island nation became a potential reality, I had no idea either.  Located on the Pacific Rim, these islands were formed by ancient tectonic and volcanic activity, and, yes, that includes the gorgeous snow-capped mountain range known as the Southern Alps.

When I decided to make the 28-hour trip to Christchurch, Kyle told me about this cool activity he had seen information on – a glacier hike.  Knowing I would probably never get the opportunity to do it again, I said, “Sounds awesome!  Let’s do it!”  So, over the weekend I was in town, we packed up the rental car and drove the 4 hours to Aoraki/Mount Cook – the highest peak in New Zealand.

Following a brief safety presentation and donning our winter hiking gear, we boarded the helicopter with our experienced guide Graza and a bunch of Chinese tourists.  The flight from the teeny-tiny airport to the glacier was about 15 minutes.  Along the way we had a bird’s eye view of the Alps, Tasman Lake, and our destination the Tasman Glacier.  As the largest glacier in New Zealand, it was sight to behold!  I have never seen a glacier in real life, so I was in awe anyway, but this thing was a massive representation of what Mother Nature is capable of creating.

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the wedding chronicles | decision #3

THE DRESS

now that phillip and i are less than eight months out from the big day, things are really starting to kick into gear.  the to-do list hasn’t necessarily grown, but we’ve realized that it’s time to start making some more decisions.  the latest and one of the most exciting decisions?  the dress!

most folks consider the dress the crown jewel of the wedding day, and understandably so.  the bride is wearing the dress all day, she’s being photographed in it from sun up to sun down, and it’s the most important dress she will wear in her entire life.  so, it makes sense that people tend to make a big deal about it!  but, with all the expectations that guests have about the dress comes the pressure to feel like you are picking the perfect one.  as alluded to in other wedding chronicle entries, some brides have a specific vision for themselves and don’t sway from that at all.  this could be in regards to the venue, the meal, the cake, and especially the dress.  for those brides, i say, “more power to you!”

my situation for the dress, though, wasn’t exactly that.  i’d first tried several dresses on with my mom back in april, and this past weekend she and my bridesmaid kari and i made a return trip to birmingham to see if i could make a decision.  as far as dress shopping goes, we’re in crunch time and needing to order asap!  the good news was all the dresses i liked in april were still front-runners this time around – they were just so different!  then, our trusty consultant laura at bella’s bridal over in hoover was so good at her job that she pulled even more contenders, and it was then that i realized i might be in trouble.  with so many beautiful gowns surrounding me i now had quite a dilemma:  what part of me was my dress going to represent?  would it be the old soul part of my personality?  or maybe the fun quirky side?  what about a little romance?  and what would others picture me wearing?

if you’ve ever watched any wedding dress shopping shows, the emotion of this important choice can take two routes:  one of excitement and joy or, as we many times see, one of disappointment.  it breaks my heart when i see brides who aren’t surrounded by people who only want to see them happy.  it is the bride’s (and groom’s) day after all, and shouldn’t the bride be wearing something that makes them feel confident and at their best?  yes, and without any reservations or doubts!  so here is my message to dress-searching brides everywhere:  come with ideas, enjoy the experience, stand up for yourself, don’t try on anything outside your budget, and choose a dress that makes you feel like the most beautiful girl in the world.  if this means bringing only a few people to your appointments, then politely do so.  too much distraction and sometimes too many opinions can cloud things, and the last thing you want to do is make a deposit and walk out of the salon with a sinking feeling in your stomach.  this is the biggest day of your life an you deserve to feel great about each decision you make!

with the wrong crowd you can see how things could start to get very stressful very quickly.  and without supportive people around me, i might have spiraled into dress distress!  however, once i focused my thoughts, shut my eyes, and pictured myself walking down the aisle, i knew that my biggest inspiration would be coming from the church and the reception site, which led me to make the perfect dress choice for the occasion.  as the tears flowed and clapping filled the dressing room, i confidently said yes to the dress!  we celebrated and toasted with glasses of rose champagne, thrilled that another detail of the big day was coming into focus.  i feel lucky to have had a pretty easy time searching for and deciding upon a dress and cannot wait to reveal it to everyone in april!

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 4

With my work trip coming to an end soon, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Atlanta.  My family, my house, my bed, chicken tenders, etc…However, I will miss some things about New Zealand.  The traffic (or lack thereof), the pineapple lumps, and the coffee.  “But Kyle, isn’t the coffee in New Zealand the same as in the States?”  Well, yes and no.

In New Zealand, they don’t have the concept of drip coffee like we do in the States, as everything is espresso based.  When I ordered a coffee for the first time, the server asked if I meant a “long black.”  I said “Sure!”, having no idea what a long black was.  Well, after a little research on YouTube, I figured out what a long black is.  Check out this video so that if you ever find yourself in New Zealand you’ll know what a long black is right away!

viva las vegas!

this time last sunday, kiley, kari, and i were recovering from a fun couple of days out in fabulous las vegas!  besides being in desperate need of a girls’ weekend away, we also were in town to see the legendary britney spears in concert!  before we get to that, though, there are plenty of other things to share first.

after getting a good night’s sleep on thursday at kiley’s parents’ house (thanks, mr. and mrs. a!), we woke up and grabbed an energizing breakfast at craft kitchen before taking a smooth ride out east to our first tourist spot the hoover dam.  our trusty transportation for the weekend?  kiley’s dad’s souped up jeep wrangler.  how bada** do we look in this?!

a short 45-minute drive later we arrived in clark county, nv and joined the other masses of international and local visitors as we explored this american wonder.  unfortunately the dam tour was closed that day, but we had plenty of other seeing to do as we followed the roadway and sidewalks to get incredible views of lake mead, the colorado river, and the intake towers, flow gates, and spillways.

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if you ever find yourself in the area, i highly recommend making the trek to the dam.  there’s plenty of parking, plenty of fascinating information, and plenty of good photo ops to fill a few hours of your day.

something else that’s cool?  you can stand in two states at once – neat!

upon hiking back up to the car and chugging some water, we drove ourselves about an hour the other direction to check out an art installation off interstate 15 called the seven magic mountains.  designed by internationally renowned swiss artist ugo rondinone, this public installation is designed to represent the creative human presence in the desert with bursts of “form and color.”  pretty cool, right?

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one of the most fun things about visiting seven magic mountains was people-watching all the visitors who were trying to get the perfect filter-worthy photo for their social media posts.  not wanting to miss out on the entertainment, i snapped an inspiring shoot of kari against these brightly colored boulders.

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and kiley got in on the fun, too, with a model walk of her very own!

we were now in a pinch to get washed up and ready for the concert, so we hit the old dusty and headed back home.

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The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 3

One of if not the most important activities I plan for when traveling is eating!  What is <insert name of destination> best known for?  Where do the locals go?  Most of the time you can find those places via a quick online search, but sometimes you find them just by looking around and keeping your eyes open.  I’ve found a couple places like that in Christchurch, so here are my recommendations for future travelers!

First things first, breakfast, the most important meal of the day.  Unfortunately it’s not a meal I usually have while traveling for work because I’m so focused on getting to the client site.  A quick run to the local ‘bucks is usually all I have time for.  However, since this trip has me staying over weekends, I have ample opportunity to enjoy breakfast, and I found a good spot to do so at Tap N Grind.  While busy, it didn’t have the hustle and bustle, get-out-of-my-way-I-just-want-my-coffee feel to it.  Much more relaxed and casual.  My desire for my Waffle House Peachtree Road Race waffle must have been sending me subliminal messages, as I spotted the waffle and bacon and decided that was the dish for me.  As you can see, it looked awesome and it also tasted awesome.  The waffle was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The citrus mascarpone acted like butter to make the waffle soft but not soggy.  The caramelized banana gave it that little something extra and the variety of nuts a little crunch.  It was so good that I made a point to tell the waitress, who sheepishly said, “We just assume everything in America is better than what we have here.”  I told her she was dead wrong on this; it was hands down the best waffle I have ever had, and even in the top three as far as breakfast dishes go!  When I went back the next week, I had the same waitress and she smiled and asked if I would be having the waffle again, which, of course, I did!

For dinner, I recommend you check out O.G.B. (aka Old Government Building), as it hosted various government departments from 1913 to the 1980s.  After being vacant for some time, the building was threatened to be demolished but eventually made it to a real estate developer.  Today, the bar and Heritage Hotel call this place home.  They have a traditional restaurant space with the bar being in a separate area.  Eating in the bar is the way to go with a speakeasy feel consisting of a wood bar, dark colored walls, and the staff being dressed in 1920s and 1930s attire.  I had the beef rib burger, but just to be clear, we would call this a sandwich in the States.  In New Zealand they call a burger anything where protein (beef, lamb, chicken, etc…) is served between two pieces of bread.  The protein doesn’t even necessarily have to be formed into the traditional patty shape.  To flip it the other way, what we call a pulled pork sandwich, a Kiwi would call a pork burger.  Enough on semantics and onto the food!

The “burger” was cooked very well and had this molasses-like sauce that put it over the top.  It was paired with potato wedges and a house-made ketchup that tasted much more tomato based than American ketchup and, to be honest, tasted better than American ketchup.  The final reason you should go to O.G.B.?  Well, any place that uses a sousaphone as part of its decor is well worth the trip!

weekend warriors

recently my mom spent a couple of her final summer days at the condo with me before getting back to the school year grind at omhs.  while in town, she was kind enough to help us out with some home improvement chores that have been on the list a while but sometimes always seem to bump down in priority as the days come and go.  as a result, phillip and i rode her wave of can-do inspiration and completed a couple other projects on our own!

first up was the shower stall in my bathroom.  now, when you think about showering, you likely are getting in and out and moving on with your life.  naturally you probably don’t think twice about the condition of your shower unless it really is in despair.  for the perfect example, take my shower.  off the bat nothing appears glaringly wrong.  however, it had now come time that the bad grout job done by the previous homeowner be rectified.  enter phillip, me, a very sharp blade, and some very affordable sealant.

before we could apply the good stuff, we first had to get rid of the grody gunk that was already lining the corners of the stall.  thank goodness i have a strong live-in fiance for times just like this one!

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wooh!  i think i just broke a mental sweat watching phillip – good work, honey!  the next part was the more fun part, which was watching our quick weekend improvement come to life.  with a little elbow grease the shower was looking like brand new with some fresh grout from top to bottom in those corners.  now, we weren’t exactly going for perfection, but to the naked eye, things look much better.  i think i feel cleaner already!

with one bathroom marked off the list, we kept the good mojo going and took on our next project in phillip’s bathroom.  a pretty small space to start with, my mom commented that getting rid of this floor-sitting shelf and adding some shelves on the wall would help make the bathroom feel larger.  although it looks pretty compact and out of the way, we didn’t realize until we were done how much more open everything now feels in there.

so, i was off to ikea to find us some wall shelves to replace these shelves.  i wasn’t quite sure of what i wanted but then, out of nowhere, i spotted exactly what i must have.  before i got too excited, i made sure to double-check the shelf size against the wall measurements i’d written when i was at home and…it would work!  even though this new shelf was much longer, only one certainly wouldn’t do.  and, since when decorating things often work better in sets of three, three new shelves are exactly what i took home with me.  i even got lucky and found a very similar shelf being used in one of their many display spaces in the store.  instant inspiration!

i barged in the condo door and was bouncing with excitement about my fortunate finds.  “we must complete this project right away!” i hollered at phillip.  and, like any loving partner, he gladly obliged.  in our case, we were literally working with a blank space just above the lovely yellow tile and the toilet.  doesn’t it just look like it was meant for something more than being a white wall?  i couldn’t agree more!

after very carefully reading the instructions and inspecting the parts and hardware we would need, we got to work.  i was phillip’s trusty assistant and photographer for most of the afternoon, not wanting to miss a beat of the action or a moment of the fun.

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as phillip was putting up the final shelf, i was too overcome with excitement and energy and had to turn away until it was complete.  once ready i opened my eyes and hey, what do you know!  they look perfect!

a big hug and quick kiss later, i shooed phillip out of the bathroom, eager to give these shelves the finishing touch.  after shuffling things around quite a bit and then shuffling them around some more, i finally ushered him back in so that we could stand back and admire our work.  i’ll say, there’s nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment, even for something as “small” as new shelves and a spruced up shower stall, so i’ll take that joy any day.  what’s next, you wonder?  well, it’s your turn to get out there and go all hgtv – we know you can do it!

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 2

It’s time for the sequel, and let’s hope it’s better than the original!  With two weeks in the books, I’ve been able to explore Christchurch and the surrounding area.  First, a quick history lesson before we delve into my adventures.

Christchurch is actually the oldest established city in New Zealand, being founded in 1856.  The best parallel I can draw for a city in the States is where I was raised – Birmingham, AL!  Is Christchurch as glamorous as being on-site in Dallas or Chicago?  Unfortunately not, but I can easily see it being a great place to raise a family.  The next biggest highlight after being the oldest city is one of tragedy, I hate to say.  In 2010 and 2012, the city suffered a devastating series of earthquakes.  Some of the older buildings just were not equipped to handle that kind of natural disaster and have been demolished.

Such is the case for the first landmark I visited, the Christchurch Cathedral.  You’ll have to Google the cathedral to see it in its heyday, but you can tell how beautiful it was by what is left.  I can picture the Gothic Revival architecture and stained-glass windows even in its present state.  Right next to the cathedral is the Citizens’ War Memorial, which didn’t incur near the level of damage as the cathedral but is blockaded due to it being so close to the cathedral.  Each year hundreds come to this Memorial to celebrate and honor the Anzac Day service (New Zealand’s Memorial Day).

Switching gears to something more uplifting, I took a hike along Taylor’s Mistake, a beach and bay about 30 minutes southeast of Christchurch proper.  As you’ll see in the pictures, this hike was no mistake, but how in the world did it get that name?  That name comes from the master of a vessel running into the beach area during the night, thinking he was somewhere else.

Aside from the great views and four legged friends I ran into, the hills above the beach were fortified with two machine gun posts to guard a coastal defense battery.  The machine gun posts were built in response to a perceived threat of invasion by the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the gun pits are still there today!