Marriage & the Mountains

The Work to Woo Couples to Northern Arizona to Tie the Knot

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

Sitting creekside with autumn leaves strewn like golden confetti around the newly minted bride and groom, it was easy to see what had drawn my nephew, Josh, and Megan to Los Abrigados in Sedona to be married. The Spanish-styled resort with picturesque grounds next to Tlaquepaque Crafts Village—a venue in its own right—created a short-hop destination wedding for the Phoenix pair. But they are among hundreds, who choose Northern Arizona each year. Wooed by stunning scenery, plus the drama of weather and fiery sunsets yielding transcendent photography, their celebrations go from memorable to magical. In addition, these locations hold the bonus of touring for guests and a ready-made honeymoon on site for the couple.

Though the lure of the mountains and Red Rock Country is a natural choice for Arizonans, brides and grooms come from all over the country. “Ninety percent of my couples are not from Northern Arizona,” said designer and event planner Kim Duncan of Kim Duncan Designs. “Often they have a family or personal connection, but many have fallen in love with the area, and they come from as far away as Washington D.C. or Manhattan.” And why not? The region is a world class destination.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte are monumental landscapes. Arizona Snowbowl affords forest and mountaintop heights. Between historic hotels and patio panoramas, couples can have their wedding cake and eat it, too, in stunning style.

A wedding’s foremost functions include planning and shopping. Combining the two is a great kick-start to the decision process. Northern Arizona hosts two show-stopping events each January to entice couples:  Sedona Bridal Show and Boot Camp and Northern Arizona Wedding Expo. Vendors, such as Classic Party Rentals and Events by Show Stoppers, sponsor Sedona’s largest and most fashionable wedding planning event where brides find nearly 20 venues vying for attention plus loads of vendors. Northern Arizona Wedding Expo is billed as a “one-stop shop” providing brides, “with all the resources at their fingertips.”

Venue and View

Duncan has observed a trend in outdoor ceremonies over the last few years and echoed the thoughts of vendors and couples alike, when she pointed out, “Mountain or canyon views can’t be beat. Sedona and the Grand Canyon have hundreds of elopements each year.” Venues with a view are certainly a draw. From intimate gatherings at Shoshone Point on the canyon’s south rim to formal settings—Flagstaff’s Forest Highlands, Foxboro Ranch, High Country Conference Center and Arizona Snowbowl, or Sedona’s L’Auberge, Agave and Creekside Inn—there is versatility and variety.

Venues coordinate bridal plans from a property perspective with a range of price points, creative suggestions, menu appeal, and reception oversight. Many have indoor-outdoor reservation options for flexibility with weather. Styles range from simple to sophisticated with a ready list of professional caterers and other vendors available.

Planners like Duncan can help with every facet of the wedding planning process, or she can simply tie up the loose ends for couples tying the knot. Bridal services vary to include:   a complete event package, partial planning or day-of organization. The vision begins months in advance with a complete package and handles budget management, logistics, vendor coordination, guest considerations, endless advice, and of course, décor and the untold details figure into it. Implementation of an overall scheme for partial planning can cover a number of tasks at the bride’s discretion, while day-of organization encompasses logistics on the ground plus set-up and clean-up.

The average couple spends $30,000 in an effort to pull off the perfect day, but bridal budgeting is wide-ranging and can run much higher. With wedding blogs and Pinterest, brides are spoiled for choice by ideas and images. Many brides enlist the help of friends and family to create table arrangements and decorator detail to keep it budget friendly. This requires dedication, and realistically, storage space. The days naturally grow short and frantic as the date nears. It’s vital to be realistic about executing the dream, so that stress does not replace joy on the wedding day. Planners can help balance that workload. They are also thrifters with an inventory of items from vintage furniture to arbors and glassware for staging an event or the keen knowledge of where to find it.

Melissa Schulte of Gettin’ Hitched hones a couple’s vision at the first meeting. The bulk of her brides are out-of-towners, and she was a bride herself recently in Pinetop.  Throughout Northern Arizona, she said, “Couples tend toward a monumental view of the peaks or red rocks. The selling point is the weather in all four seasons—it’s unpredictability.” Rain is considered good luck on a wedding day, and the heavens obliged for Schulte’s last four brides, who wanted a shower. Rain or softly falling snow adds a sacred element as well. A tent or ball room, depending on the venue, provides an insurance policy against nature’s extremes.

“Everyone wants a party in the woods,” Schulte said, “but they can easily go about it the wrong way. It’s important to be mindful and respectful of nature and our laws.” The contrast of elegance in a primitive setting sets the stage for memorable ceremonies. Rustic elegance or simply rustic has become the timeless choice for Northern Arizona.  Colors bear this out, integrating neutral shades with metallic sheens, such as rose gold or copper, and blushes.

“Keeping with a rustic theme is on par with Northern Arizona, keeping is simple and down to earth,” said owner Shawn of Foster-Wright Floral Designs. She noted an uptick in numbers as brides moved from thrifty craft strategies during the recession to booking professional arrangements. Fresh flowers require last minute preparation and can cause unexpected pressure for the do-it-yourself bride. Lately, some have sought local blooms, sourced from Whipstone Farms in Prescott, and many add textural aspects or woodsy items for interest.

Today, cutting the cake is akin to slashing through a masterpiece with the artistry available. From cupcakes to tiered cakes, brides gush over the sweet offerings. Choose custom designs from Jacqueline Rose Cakery, fondant or buttercream from Mozelle’s Downtown Bakery or celebrity fave’s Sedona Cake Couture and more. In all, flavor as well as flair is the order for the big day.

Big and Small

Though weddings can range from a cozy circle to a grand affair, Mitch Arnett of Mitch & Denise Wedding Photographers seeks out the charm and beauty of the area.  The Arnetts married in Sedona in 2011. They have shot a handful of church weddings, but he confessed, “Outdoor weddings are our niche.” His latest love is Galinas Tanks, west of Hart Prairie Road, for a vast view of the San Francisco Peaks set amongst the aspens.

Elopements, or small groups of 30 or so people, are on the rise. In generations past, an elopement meant running away to be married, but now, it means running away to somewhere the couple loves. Some sloshed river crossings for a clandestine ceremony along Oak Creek’s West Fork Trail. The time of day—morning and evening are best—and seasons bring shooting opportunities. “I wish for cloudy days or a bit of rain for drama in the skies and softer light,” Arnett said.

Each exchange of vows is as unique and personal as the couple. Imagine a luxe winter wedding at Snowbowl with guests seated on antique couches witnessing a tweed-garbed groom marry his organza bride as flakes fall on the refined, yet rural, space. Delight in modern grey and yellow contrasts of pinstripes and Converse, monograms and paper lanterns. Picture elegance in Sedona, as a New York couple pops the cork on Veuve-Clicquot with sabers on a patio backdrop of red rock. Blend barbecue and burlap, lace and linen, mercury glass and mason jars as a couple joins hands and hearts with their cowboy boots on in a field of flowers.

It’s all been done and more wonders await. Whether it is an elopement at Antelope Canyon or a blowout, complete with snowfall, at Flagstaff Nordic Center, the sealing of hopes and dreams for a bride and groom becomes an enchanted reality in Northern Arizona. NAMLM

Cajun Cuisine Cruising

Satchmo’s and Roux 66 Bring the Bayou Flavors to Town

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Although Mardi Gras may be a revelry in our rear view mirrors, the vision remains vivid. Fat Tuesday, so called for its excess, marks the last merriment before 40 days of piety. The intricate iron balconies of New Orleans are draped in rich purple, green and gold; the gumbo and jambalaya are spicy; the jazz is syncopated; and the bawdiness of Bourbon Street contrast with genteel colonial mansions. The whole of it creates an intoxicating experience. This cradle of culture at the mouth of the Mississippi River blends Native American, African, French and Spanish influences among others. It is especially evident in their language of food, where you can savor sugar-dusted beignets or pork and rice boudin.  Mostly, one senses a party—whether it’s a backyard crawfish boil or festival fun—is always just around the corner.

Our olfactory-driven memories are the strongest, and all of this hit me at the door of Satchmo’s. The spicy smells of Creole cooking took me straight back to our days in New Orleans. And I grinned ear to ear. Owner Jamie Thousand is quick to say a Louisianan might turn up his nose to a batch of Satchmo gumbo offered on their turf. Family recipes are strongly respected and guarded. Thousand honors the Holy Trinity of onion, green pepper and celery in his dishes, but they are also wholly his own.

Continue reading “Cajun Cuisine Cruising”

The Date Night

Stepping Up the Romantic Dining Game for Valentine’s Day—and Beyond

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, February 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

Date Night is a newish term for the long term means of sustaining a relationship.  The Oxford definition reads:  A period when a couple can take time for themselves away from children and responsibilities. Kids and responsibilities acknowledged, as a practical matter, that sustenance should start the minute a couple moves from dating to partnership. There is no quicker way to undermine the love of your life than to take it for granted. Prioritizing and pursuing our lover makes for a woo-nderful life. However, planning is key. Great dates don’t just happen. So what makes for a great date night? Because honestly, who wants a mediocre date night? First and foremost is food—there’s nothing more sensual than sharing a meal. Second is ambience—cue the violins. That’s not necessary; it simply needs to be intimate and inviting enough to catch up on being a couple. Third, make plans for another date night. And when those big moments roll around, like an anniversary or Valentine’s Day, you’ve honed the skills to kick it up a notch.

Cottage Place Restaurant in downtown Flagstaff knows a thing or three about special evenings. It’s been the thrust of their longtime success. Since they opened their doors in 1994, Frank and Nancy Branham have introduced new ways for people to delight in a meal and one another, whether through holiday prix fixe events, a monthly 6-course tasting menu or novel entrees. “It’s a small restaurant, so we think outside the box,” said Frank. “Our upscale, niche wine tasting dinners began in the 90s when no one else was doing it.” Now, some patrons attend each month from Prescott and even Phoenix. As the name implies, the Cottage Place offers cozy seating at tables and banquettes surrounding a fireplace with Northern Arizona scenic landscape art. The demure, familial atmosphere belies the flavor awards garnered. A short list includes:  Wine Spectator Magazine’s Award of Excellence for 15+ years, Arizona Daily Sun’s Best Fine Dining and Wait Staff for many years plus Best Overall Restaurant in 2016, as well as Open Table’s Top 100 Restaurants and Best Overall in 2012. Personally, Executive Chef Frank, a culinary graduate of the “hardknocks school,” has been voted Northern Arizona’s Chef of the Year three times.

Continue reading “The Date Night”


The Commerce Blends Its Story of Place with Lively Food and Spirits

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

In the late 70s, songwriter and entertainer, Peter Allen focused on life’s ageless aspects crooning, “Everything old is new again.”  This timely reference point also marks Flagstaff’s decision to preserve its downtown heritage.

First, some perspective. Several years after its namesake July 4th flag planting on the nation’s centennial in 1876, Flagstaff was established as a railway and a lumbering center. The original structures, built from the forests’ ready materials, burned down repeatedly, and many were replaced by brick and native sandstone structures. In 1926, iconic Route 66 ventured west, carrying tourists to the Grand Canyon via Flagstaff, where they stayed overnight at The Hotel Weatherford with its witch’s cap cupola or Hotel Monte Vista, as did film stars.

With modern trends, some buildings, like Babbitt’s Department Store, endured a space-aged, aluminum face lift. Many businesses exited downtown by the 70s, and the city concentrated on regeneration. By 1990, a formal preservation program began, and the aluminum siding came down, revealing carved, red stone on Babbitt’s with others following suit.

Restoration and repurposing has continued, including innovative eateries, such as Proper and Tourist Home Urban Market propping up the south side with The McMillan, north of the tracks. But not everything can be saved, even if built of stone. The Commercial Hotel was devastated by fire in 1975, and The Commerce, a new craft cocktail bar, stands on the former site. Art within the bar commemorates the event.

Continue reading “HAPPY HOURS & HISTORIES”

U.S. Marine Veteran Jerry Waxman and Inveterate Designer

The longtime Katy resident served his country in WWII and helped his community preserve that memory through the Katy Veterans Memorial Museum

Written by Gail G. Collins

“If we build it, the memorabilia will come to fill it,” Jerry Waxman says of the Katy Veterans Memorial Museum. As a member of VFW Post 9182, Waxman had a vision to honor American veterans and preserve any and all items related to their service. The G.I. Joe style military museum resulted, housing artifacts temporarily loaned or bequeathed to the museum.

To War

Born in 1925, Waxman grew up fast and joined the fight to protect the U.S. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He marched to the recruiting office, passed the tests, and he was in. With his ability to play a few instruments, the recruit discovered it was the Marine Corps band, not the war, he was in. He declined, aiming to fight the Nazis. Waxman was told, “You’re a Marine, and we’re not fighting the Nazis; we’re in Asia fighting the Japanese.”

Next, Waxman boarded ship, headed to Asia, where first-time crossers, called pollywogs, were hazed on occasion. Finally in Asia and ready to fight, Waxman was plucked from the ship and ferried to Pago Pago, American Samoa to finish a mural in the Officers’ Mess. Once aboard ship again, Waxman was surely bound for war. “Nope,” he says with a laugh, “this time I was sent for training in Oregon and worked on the camp newspaper.” After that, Waxman arrived in Quantico, Virginia, where part of his artistic project entailed burning script. He worked on a table protected with butcher paper. Beneath it was a map, outlining possible strategic war plans, which the charring process destroyed. “Fortunately, it wasn’t needed,” he says.

Continue reading “U.S. Marine Veteran Jerry Waxman and Inveterate Designer”


Some of the Best of Our Local Dishes

Written by Gail G. Collins

It’s no secret anymore. Flagstaff’s culinary scene is now the envy of much of Arizona. For a mountain town that still does not top 100,000 people, this place has dozens of independent restaurants achieving a high level of dining in their respective categories. After a few years of basking in the recent lineup of hotspots, we thought we would pause to reflect on a handful of signature dishes by our new dining places and expanded or reinvented eateries with a look across the foodie spectrum.

Craving Crepes at Streetside Saigon

In a nod to the French, the classic banh xeo, a crepe, is revamped with shrimp and shitake, that’s a hit at Streetside Saigon. The rice flour crisp is vivid with turmeric, filled with bean sprouts plus chive and served with a field of lettuce and traditional herbs. Tear off some crepe, tuck it into a lettuce leaf with mint and cilantro, roll it and soak up the lively dip—light, crunchy, healthy and flavorful. Not up for the crepe? Try the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich, which boasts French influence in multiple ways. Streetside slathers their softer-than-baguette bun with pate and hose mayo, piles on tender pork meatballs and a layer of livered carrot, daikon and cucumber for a tongue-teasing combination of tastes and textures. streetsidesaigon.com

Continue reading “STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE”

Roosevelt Alexander’s Lasting Impression

Katy School namesake and education Icon has
made a lifelong career teaching generations of students

Katy Magazine Oct/Nov 2016

Written by Gail G. Collins

Before Roosevelt Alexander graduated high school, he knew educating children was his calling. He answered the call with 35 years of service to Katy ISD. Alexander taught, advanced to assistant principal, and then, served as principal of Katy Junior High School for 12 years. “I have taught a lot of kids in my life and been rewarded by their returning to tell me how much they were helped,” he says.

From a family of teachers

His father died of a massive heart attack at age 36, leaving seven children between the ages of 3 and 14 for his mother to raise single-handedly. Alexander was the youngest and watched four siblings graduate college, earn masters degrees, and teach. With careers in Brookshire, Angleton, Franklin and Hearne, plus Houston, his sisters and brothers tallied more than 140 years of experience between them. Continue reading “Roosevelt Alexander’s Lasting Impression”

Katy Lacrosse

Squaring up the facts on the lacrosse game in Katy

Katy Magazine,  Oct/Nov 2016

Written by Gail G. Collins

 There are currently two Katy lacrosse clubs:  Katy Cavaliers, a Division II team, which merged with other clubs in recent years, and Seven Lakes Lacrosse, playing in Division I. The Cavaliers offer youth programs from kindergarten through high school plus girls’ teams of all ages.

When Kai Knight-Turcan moved from Canada to Texas at age 14, he brought his love of lacrosse with him. Building on seven years of the sport, he continued through high school and went on to play for Southwestern University. “Lacrosse is growing exponentially in Texas and nationwide,” he says.

Kurt Knight-Turcan’s sons play lacrosse and he now oversees fiduciary duties for Seven Lakes Lacrosse. “They love to have a stick in their hands,” he adds. Continue reading “Katy Lacrosse”

A Major ‘Shift’

New Restaurant Bringing New Style to the Dining Scene

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine Sept/Oct 2016

Story & Photographs by Gail G. Collins

Recently, a friend identified herself as a “foodie.” She is among well-nourished, burgeoning company. Different from a gourmand, a foodie does not distinguish between elite eating and chasing down a fusion taco truck. Their interests range from indie bistros, novel menus, farmers markets and heirloom products to local sourcing plus much more. Foodies enjoy the thrill of the hunt for new ingredients and value authenticity. They want to learn new techniques and enjoy the challenge. Such rising passions fueled the Food Network, cooking classes, gastronomic travel, gardening and interdisciplinary food studies at more than 30 U.S. universities and colleges. The continuing craze even spawned Foodies! The Musical—a comedy revue on the habits and quirks of the foodie life.

According to Maxwell PR + Engagement, a high concentration of the 79 million Millennials (aged 18-35) take the cake, as far as numbers, and self-identify as focused on food. Boomers rank second despite more disposable cash and time. The young and hungry set cuisine culture trends, organize living around food, eat ethnic or global meals routinely, seek artisan over brand products, align with organic or whole food movements and find self-expression in fare. Overwhelmingly, the culinary paparazzi share all of it on social media. And in 2014, for the first time, money spent dining out surpassed their grocery budget. Simply put, this particular generation prefers the consumption of experiences, and they utilize food as social capital through exploration and education. Such open-mindedness has created a business opportunity for chefs that did not exist previously.

Enter Shift Kitchen and Bar. Their mission:  To SHIFT the mentality of the “normal” dining experience. In the tradition of small plates, the kitchen serves food as it is made with the aim of sharing amongst diners. This new approach, located on San Francisco Street, is the brain child of Dara and Joe Rodger, who possess a few decades of hospitality practice between them. Dara claims “a passion for pastry and a penchant for perfection,” and learned alongside Bobby Stuckey and Marc Vetri. Native Arizonan, Joe, has stood beside Jeremy Fox and Aaron London with a local stint at Tinderbox, which brought the couple from Colorado to Flagstaff again.

“Flag won out. The area had more of a need for the concept of an open center with upscale plating,” Joe said. “We’re ingredient-driven and add imagination to create magic on a plate.” A premium example is the coconut sorbet popsicle with honey meringue chips and sticks, coconut snow, blood orange gel and panna cotta cubes. The islands call through the rich coconut and tangy citrus droplets, teasing with textures in a light, engaging, barely sweet, refreshing climax to a meal. “The garnish is playful, tying in memory in an approachable treat to ‘shift’ people to a new level,” Dara explained. Continue reading “A Major ‘Shift’”


Mtn Living MagJuly/August 2016

Written by Gail G. Collins

From candy and cocktails to tin signs and television, the retro revival continues to charm us. Does it provide the comfort of simpler times or simply offer a giddy glimpse of yesteryear? Either way, donning rose-colored glasses—like the late, great Beatle John Lennon—helps us imagine things in a better light. The escape to another place and time seems to relieve us of today’s stress even as it breathes fresh perspective into timeworn classics. Continue reading “MAYOR GETS THE YOUTH VOTE”