Alinea Anniversary

September 3rd is my favorite day. In 2012 it was the day Michael and I met. Every year after on this day we usually go out for a nice dinner and celebrate. In 2013 and 2014 we explored some French restaurants in Seattle (Le Pichet and Café Campagne). But this year Michael got us tickets to Alinea. Let me repeat, because this is insane: Alinea. One of the most decorated restaurants in the world.

To quote Wikipedia:

"It currently holds the highest rating of three stars from the Michelin Guide. It has received the AAA Five Diamond Award, the highest level of recognition given by the AAA, in consecutive years from 2007 to 2014. It also ranked No. 9 on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants List, second only to Eleven Madison Park in the U.S. As of 2014, Alinea is one of two Michelin 3-star restaurants in Chicago."

Now, don't go thinking Michael and I eat this way often, because we don't. It's actually a once and a lifetime thing and it was the best meal of our lives.

That morning we flew into Chicago. After an hour of traffic we got to our hotel to freshen up, then headed for the restaurant. I would never guess it was a three-star restaurant looking at it from the outside. It was just a black door with an Alinea valet-sign on the sidewalk. But when the door opens, we were brought into this dimly lit hallway guided by lines of light along the floor leading us to an open foyer in front of stairs. To our right was the open kitchen basked in light and to the left a lounge area.

After giving the hostess our coats, we were led up the black stairs to the second floor where the restaurant was divided into three smaller spaces sectioned off by curtains. In each space the floor was carpeted, minimalizing any noise and the décor minimalistic, with great lighting that highlighted the dishes like a stage, and abstract art along the walls. The staff was all dressed in black suits with white shirts and were always attentive with a great sense of humor. The whole thing felt surreal.

In total we had 23 courses (bite size) with wine-pairings. I wish I could really give you a play by play, but no one else in the room seemed to be taking photos so I didn't think it'd be the appropriate place for that (though I did manage to sneak a few). What I will say is Alinea is worth saving up and flying out to because it wasn't just a meal. It was a whole sensory art performance. From presentation, to taste, to touch, to smell, to even sound, it delights in all the senses and something I've never experienced before. When it came to an end and we were led back the black hallway and through the double doors, I couldn't help but feel an immense sadness that it was over.



helium filled taffy balloon

tropical fruit and coconut ice cream

I know this night will be one I keep in my memory forever. I'll always remember our first night in Chicago like our evening in Paris: magical.

After dinner we went to 96th Floor Signature Lounge in the Hancock building for the drinks and awesome view.

view from the bathroom

the handsome fiancé

Afterwards, we were still a bit hungry since we had skipped lunch and only had a smoothie for breakfast before Alinea, so we ended the night with some pizza before heading back to the hotel.

Our first night in Chicago was so amazing, I wondered that night if the rest of our time here would be just as good.

The painting and the desk.

Since my engagement post, I've been quieter than normal due to my wisdom teeth surgery. I am happy to report that I am finally 100% better. Dry socket was no joke. I've never been on so many pain meds and Advil for a long length of time (I have an extremely low pain tolerance). The worst part was being unable to drink wine that first week, so I am looking forward to getting out and stopping by my favorite wine bar today.

But first, a few updates. Michael's parents surprised us this week with the beautiful painting below:

This, my friend, is a custom painting of Cafe Roussillon, the place where Michael and I met almost three years ago. This is the most thoughtful gift we have ever received, and I love that I can be reminded of that moment every time I see it. I am truly thankful that I will be marrying into such a wonderful family. It still seems all surreal to me.

In other wonderful news, Michael has informed me that he is moving his desk out of our shared office so that I can have it all to myself as my writing cave. His faith in me that I will accomplish my dreams is something I can't even put into words. When someone believes in you and supports you so much, it's enough to combat your own doubtful thoughts and believe it, too. I'm excited to have my own space, but I still have no idea what to do about it. But one thing I've always wanted was a writing desk. Granted, I was using a perfectly old brown desk Michael had in storage, but I just wanted something more me. So I got this:

It brings some color to the room, which will come in handy during those gloomy grey winter months! So far, it's been great working on it and having silence in the room (Michael was always the blast music while he works type, I was the quiet and write in silence type).

From my mentee bio, you probably know that I've entered Pitch Wars for the second time along with my CP Krystal (wish us luck!). I've submitted M4, which I've currently titled, Diamond Queen. I know it isn't perfect and it still has a ways to go, but I am glad I took the chance.

The writing community truly has been wonderful and I love how people really support one another. Even if I don't get chosen, I'm walking away with gained friends and some encouragement to keep on writing/revising/editing.

Pitch Wars Mentee Bio: Hi, my name is...

Michelle. Thank you so much for stopping by to read my mentee bio. For my regular readers, feel free to disregard this post, unless you'd like to learn even more about me ;)

I always feel really self-conscious about writing these bio's so I'm gonna make it short and sweet by writing a couple of lists! If you're not into lists, then feel free to read my blog bio, here!

In a nutshell:

1. A 20-something dreamer, trying to make her dreams come true while working full-time.
2. Currently living in the suburbs of Seattle with my fiance who I met in PARIS (true story), but I'm originally from Sacramento (a west coast, girl for sure).
3. Love, love, love food & drinks. (I'm up for trying any cuisine and any cool concoctions. I'm also the best dessert taster!).
4. Speaking of drinks, my absolute fave is wine, followed by lattes, then tea. You can bet I always have a beverage while I write.
5. I have a little black cat named Blaire who acts more like a dog than a cat.
6. When life and circumstances allow, I love to travel. There's no better high (besides hitting 'The End' on a manuscript) than exploring a new place.
7. My favorite season is Fall. And though I like Summer a whole lot since I get rain the majority of the year, I'm looking forward to the leaves changing.
8. Lying on a cozy carpet, wrapped in a soft blanket, in front of a fireplace with a yummy drink reading/writing = my perfect day.
9. I am the youngest of five sisters, and was raised by the most hardworking mother ever. She took a risk leaving her homeland, doing whatever she could to get to the U.S. so that we could have a better life, and for that I am eternally grateful. 
She is my muse when it comes to writing and living a fulfilled life.
(total mama's girl, I know)

Why I'd make a great CP/beta/friend/cheerleader:

1. I have a passion for writing and reading.
2. Love meeting new friends!
3. I hate to see people give up on what they love to do, so you bet I'll give you a pep talk or two.
(if you need it)
4. I love how the writing community is all about helping each other, and challenging one another to improve upon our craft.
5. I received my BA in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing.
6. I graduated with honors from the University of California, Davis, as the commencement speaker.
7. A few of my poems were published by an independent press.
8. I completed a YA Workshop course at Hugo House, Seattle.
9. Using points 5-8, I've critiqued before so I know what critiques are constructive and what is not. Think of me as the bracing to your building, not the wrecking ball. 
I'm not the type of CP that will tear you down (because I've had experience with those who do - and it's not fun).
8. I am a member of SCBWI. Anyone one else in the Western Washington region?
9. Genres I like to critique/beta read in: anything in YA, and Contemporary NA

For a list of some of my favorite books, check out my bookshelf here

Wanna connect with me? Feel free to use the contact form, twitter, or Instagram on the right side bar. Or leave a comment below.

Thanks again for reading and stopping by!

To check out other mentees and return to the blog hop, click here.

We're engaged ♥

Dear family and friends,
After our amazing wine tour the previous day, I didn't think our weekend (or even life) could get any better this past Sunday. Glad to know I was wrong. I am so excited to officially announce that Michael and I are engaged!

What started out as just a normal day of wine tasting before making the drive back to Washington, will be a day we'll remember for the rest of our lives and I am so excited to share it with you.
At the recommendation of our guide Amy, we headed to the White Rose Estate, in the Dundee Hills. As we drove up we were greeted with rows upon rows of vines until we reached the landing surrounded by greenery, lavender, and the wonderful view.
From the very first taste, we knew this place was magical. The tasting room manager invited us along with a small group downstairs into the cellar where we were able to taste straight from the tanks and the barrels.


When we came back up, it started to sprinkle. Summer rain is always a rare thing that makes me pause and the scent of petrichor is one of Michael's favorites. Looking back, maybe I should have taken it as a sign that this wasn't just an ordinary day.
After Michael made purchases of our favorites (which we will now age and open yearly to celebrate this awesome day), we headed back to the car to put them away. Michael asked if I'd like to take a walk. This was something we always did when we stumbled upon a beautiful vineyard, so I accepted not thinking anything of it. But Michael took me down this row, my hand in his, and when we were one third in, he knelt down on one knee...

MT: *Eyes widen as he reaches into his pocket* Is this a joke? Are you joking?
MA: *Holds up beautiful ring, and I swear the clouds break and sunlight catches it making it sparkle even more* I love you now, I'll love you forever. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?
MT: OMG. *Starts sobbing like a baby, covering my face, while nodding erratically* Yes. Yes!

(obviously Michael is the more eloquent one in the relationship)
Everything after that was a blur. Lots of crying (well mostly on my end), hugging, kissing. Me saying 'oh my gosh' one too many times as we finished our walk and came out the other side, engaged!

It was absolutely perfect. No words--not even this post--can do this moment justice.

Now we can drop the F word whenever we want! And by that I mean fiancé/fiancée ;) Because Michael and I are getting married!!!


When's the date?

No date yet:) Just enjoying the moment while we figure out the details.

How did you guys meet?

Paris, France, at Café Roussillon, September 3rd, 2012 in the evening.
Want more details? Check out my post, 'Love, in the City of Paris.'

Who designed the ring?


Do I love it?


Did you know he was going to propose?

We talked about getting married for a while and I suspected it would be this summer. But at that exact moment, I was completely surprised (hence my dorky reaction). Nervously I had asked if it was a joke because it seemed so surreal that it was actually happening!

Would you like to hear Michael's side of the proposal?

Comment below if you do, and any questions you want to ask him, and maybe I can convince him to do a guest post ;)

Oregone Wine Country

This past weekend was a special one indeed! Michael and I explored the Oregon wine region with Winemaker Tours for Michael's birthday. Our guide Amy planned an amazing itinerary for us filled with amazing wine, delicious food, beautiful sights and great people.

At Bergstrom we tasted different Pinots in different AVA's. It was interesting doing side by side comparisons because each wine had different characteristics despite being the same grape.

On our way to Walter-Scott, Amy told us all about the geography of the area and different families that have come over to start their own vineyards here. Before we knew it we were at our destination. Interestingly, Walter-Scott were sold out of their current releases, so Michael and I got the chance to do barrel tastings for the first time and buy future wines.

Oregon wasn't just Pinot Land. We got to try some neat whites at Brooks and Eyrie.

By the time we got back to our room, we had more than a few bottles and we ravenous for dinner. We ended up going to Bistro Maison in McMinnville. Classic French food that I highly recommend!


I've been in a funk lately since my grandmother passed. I guess this period is grieving, but I've felt a pressing darkness upon my chest. A deep sadness that comes and goes in the most random moments. 
After a talk with my sister, I realized I need to pull myself out of the fog. Remind myself that I am, in fact, alive, and should act so. I am very fortunate to have the life I have, and I shouldn't take it for granted. The days leading up to my grandmother's death, I was really happy, and should aim to get back to that state as long as I honor her memory. Just scrolling through photos on my phone is a reminder of what life has to offer.

Like adorable Blaire and memories like painting with my sister.
Gorgeous summer sunsets.

Beautiful memories at the lavender farm, and making ordinary days extraordinary with some wine and a charcuterie/cheese plate.

And of course, love, and special moments like birthdays! Michael turned the big 28 last week!
Life is beautiful. This past week I've learned it's okay to be sad, but I should also continue to live instead of hiding or idling away.

A Personal Essay: Seeing life through filters of death.

In the east side suburbs of Seattle, it is five p.m. on July 24th, 2015. My cat is sleeping in the closet after throwing up his lunch, tonight's dinner is defrosting on the kitchen counter, and I sit upstairs in silence to write what my heart is trying to explain to my mind. Because across the Pacific Ocean in Da Nang, Vietnam, it is 7 a.m. on July 25th, 2015. My mother will rise soon, if not already, to bury her mother. My heart hurts, and my mind doesn't understand why I cannot bring myself to FaceTime her.

My grandmother's passing is the first death in the family. It was unexpected. Though I've had four days to cry until my eyes burned, and let the news sink in, I find myself okay one hour, and randomly crying the next. Somewhere between receiving the phone call and spacing out, I've found myself viewing life through the filters of death, and how it portrays myself disappoints me.

I've only seen my grandmother twice in the flesh. During my first three week visit in 2009 and the less than two week visit this pass year. When I first met her, I was scared. She was this spritely old woman who woke up at the crack of dawn to go to the market then back, bringing my sisters and I breakfast. She'd push food in front of our faces and tell us to eat, even when my sisters and I weren't hungry. It must be a Vietnamese thing. Woman express love through food. Or at least that's the impression I get from my own mother who always makes me my favorite dishes on my Birthday, holidays, and now, when I come to visit. But my second visit was different. Grandmother was now more fatigued. Observant on the sidelines instead of walking about in the center of things.

Because I am very terrible at speaking in Vietnamese, it is difficult for me to talk to anyone besides the basic elementary words and phrases. It is with deep regret that I could not know her more under the surface then what I've seen. So how is it that I feel this deep void within me?

I hope it is love because the language of love has no equivalent words to describe it. Yet if it is, it's difficult to discern with all the regret polluting it. Because I regret not being fluent in Vietnamese. I regret that I can't bring myself to even dedicate time to it now so that I could remedy this regret with my grandfather and other members of my family over there when the time comes. I regret being so selfish that I had rather study English to write up stories my extended family could never read, despite them influencing me so much that I wish I could show them, but I can't. I regret that circumstances didn't allow my sisters and I to be at the funeral and mourn alongside everyone else. To be there for own mother...

But I hope the void is due to the loss of love. Because if the language of love has no equivalent words to describe it, I hope that they can feel my love despite me standing on the outside, watching with my eyes, my lips closed but smiling, and loving with my heart even though an ocean sits between us.

As a child I observed my mother practicing ancestor worship. My sisters and I helped out, but we never partook in it. I always wondered who the recipient was of the hell notes, paper clothing, and offerings of food. I never asked. Perhaps I never will. But I know when my mother returns and it's time for another ceremony, I'll know that one of the recipients is my grandmother.

Cue waterworks because this is where my heart booms like a thunderclap cracking the black skies as I ask the question: who will worship my mother? Who will continually express gratitude for her life and the life she's given us? Of course my sisters and I all will in our own ways, but what of her ways? Who will give her offerings to her soul, hell notes to spend in the afterlife? Two out of five sisters are Catholic. And the rest of us are not religious. Sure we go to temple and say a nice prayer once in awhile, but is it the same when the buddhist religion means so much to my mother? I know I will try to understand it and practice as much as I can, but this is only one revelation death has brought to me.

The other is that life is fragile. Death knocks. And it will continually knock until its my own turn. There is no guarantee that we will have a long life, so what am I doing to make sure I am utilizing the one life I'm given? Am I being a kind enough person? A good enough daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, etc..? I don't know. I can only be the best me I can be and hope that counts. But right now, I know that I am not, and that's what disappoints me.

I know it's okay to grieve. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be afraid. My heart tells me so. But my mind's not listening. It's imaging a scene a world away where something important is happening and all I can do is sit and type, trying to mediate the disconnect between two parts of myself.