Masthead header
Nikki Tran Blog | Designer. Artist. Photographer bio picture
  • and welcome to the blog! I'm Nikki, a creative old soul who loves tea time, tip-toeing through gardens, mounds of books, swaying to records, watercolors, sunset walks with Rusty, and star-gazing with Paul. This blog carries snippets of my life with just the two of us - I hope it brings you happiness as you snuggle in with your cup of tea and begin reading. Enjoy, friends! (Latest posts on the right!) --->

Hello hello friends! Start with some music? Why yes, let’s.

It’s a crisp fall day on my side of the screen. Rusty’s curled up next to me while I sit and sip tea at the dining room table. The sky is just about crystal clear, the leaves keep swaying down outside the living room windows, there’s a delicious candle lit (called Pumpkin Pinecone, a mix of fall and Christmas – HomeGoods find), meat is thawing for pasta dinner tonight, and Downton Abbey is playing in the background – SPOILER ALERT!! Poor Sybll has just left us. :( :( :(.

Today’s post is going to be one of adventure, friends. Paul and I just got back from one of our most treasured vacations together, Costa Rica.

Each year we take turns picking the vacation spot – I typically choose more tourist-like spots (Walt Disney World, California, Alaska, next up is Charleston…) and Paul typically chooses more laid-back, take-your-drink-with-you-while-you-swim-in-the-ocean locations (Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica…). He chose Costa Rica back in March and we’d been looking forward to these lazy days for a very, very long time.

I was doubtful that I could love a place more than Jamaica, after all, that’s where we celebrated our honeymoon and 5-year anniversary. Jamaica is incredibly laid-back, the water is crystal blue, the sand is like powdered sugar, and the food is always delicious.

But, we couldn’t have enjoyed our trip more. Everything was wonderful, exciting, relaxing, fun, entertaining, delicious, carefree, etc. Costa Rica looks nothing like Jamaica; it really does look like you’re walking through Jurassic Park. On occasion when driving through the area, Paul and I would look at each other, point out the window, and say, “There it is…” (If you haven’t seen the movies, that sounds odd I’m sure.)

The beaches of Costa Rica are nothing like Jamaica. They’re black. At first I thought it was just muddy, and then someone told us it’s from the volcanic ash. Volcanoes!! So thrilling! The landscape from the beach was not the typical straight horizontal line of ocean. Instead it was filled with rolling hills topped with rough trees and hanging vines. The tide came in each day, carrying with it mounds of broken coral and seashells. On one particularly rainy day, Paul and I spent much of it in the ocean getting swept in from the tide and waves. It was like a mini roller-coaster and we loved it.

We went zip-lining through the rainforest, something I’ve always wanted to do since making my bucket list when I was 17. One of the six lines we went on is the longest line in Costa Rica. They call it the ‘Superman’ line because you lay down like Superman, arms out. face first, plunging across the trees at 70mph for one whole mile. It was surreal and something we’d love to do again and again. At the end, we walked across a rope bridge that hovered over sun-bathing crocodiles, then dropped 30ft onto a plush mat. Exhilarating, friends. Paul wants me to go skydiving now…(he went over 10 years ago…I think I’m too old now.)

We learned how coffee and real chocolate is made. We saw a young man make it in front of us, showing us the varying stages of the bean’s lives, and then we even got to make our own chocolate. Surrounded by a botanical garden with banana trees, we sat in rocking chairs in a replica of a 100-year-old home, and sipped our fresh coffee and ate our tiny tins of homemade chocolate.

Enough talking, time to enjoy the photos! I took my big camera, but because of the rain I only brought it out one day. The rest are taken with our cell phones. I hope you enjoy seeing snippets of this beautiful place, Secrets Papagayo!! Happy Wednesday, friends!! xoxo

The view from our room. Let’s start the day with some sunshine, shall we? (It rained every single day, but we didn’t care. We loved it anyways.)

That’s our room on the top right. The resort is set up in sections. Most people had to take a shuttle to get to the main area, but we got lucky and only had one hill to walk up and down.

We liked to frequent the adorable cafe daily, sometimes twice a day. Their mochas were wonderful.

The view from the top of our hill.

Tide is still out, time to gather seashells.

The coffee shop.

See the black? Not mud, just volcanic ash. :) :)

It’s time for an adventure so we must go back up the hill to the main lobby…

Take in the view – you might not make it back here after this day’s adventure.

On the road, humming Jurassic Park to ourselves…

Before the mighty journey…

To calm the nerves we visited the animal sanctuary during jaguar feeding time.

No more stalling. Time to fly.

This was our “warm-up” line…

We’ve reached the top. Do I look scared? I’m crying on the inside.

Paul dangling in mid-air.


I will not cry. I will not cry…

Good-bye, dear friends!!

The other lines are like baby lines now. Piece of cake.

They thought it would kind to feed us after that rush of excitement. Our view from the luncheon.

Enough adventuring. Let’s go back to the resort – the sun is peeking through!

Time for a stiff drink.

Tide’s all the way in – if you want to get to the spa, you’ll have to take the shuttle. The path from the beach is underwater!


It’s getting dark. Let’s get ready for dinner. But perhaps some coffee first?

Our 7-year anniversary night.

It’s raining all day on our last day. Should we just sit here? No! We must swim in the ocean all day!! And that’s what we did.

Our last dinner – I tried sushi and I loved it!

Happy together, sad to leave.

On our way to the airport, the lovely driver stopped at a fruit cart and bought us all Costa Rican fruits! Tastes like a grape. :)

And that’s it, friends!! Happy Wednesday and happy early weekend!! :) :) xoxo

Hello, dear friends. Do you have your cup of tea? Perhaps a mug of coffee? Are you ready to see my final wedding?

If you’ve been following me for the past year or so, you’d already know I’m officially retired from weddings and other photography sessions. However, after announcing my retirement in 2016 two lovely brides slipped through the sliding door; Linnea and MaryRose. (You can read about Linnea’s beautiful July wedding here.)

I remember the exact night when Mary called me, her excited voice squealing through the phone; ’twas a misty foggy night in December of 2013 and I had just finished an engagement session in Downtown Stillwater. Her and Byron had just been looking at rings and a wedding was definitely in their future. So over the last few years, our lunches and coffee dates and HomeGoods shopping trips have consisted of wedding planning, future dreams and goals, life’s ups and downs, and reminiscing about the year we met, when I had first moved to St. Cloud to be near Paul when he moved away for college.

As she was taking over my shift at Walgreens one night nearly 10 years ago, she told me Paul was definitely going to propose, she could just feel it. A few days later I came back with a shiny new diamond on my finger and our wedding planning chats began taking place in the break room at work, on shopping trips in St. Cloud, and during long drives to teach Saturday morning pre-school classes together.

She’s the type of friend where distance is irrelevant and time spent apart creates zero strife in our relationship. Each time we get together we catch up where we left off, cheering each other on in life’s accomplishments and always being a bad influence on each other when shopping for unnecessary HomeGoods treasures (mostly things for our dogs). I’m so thankful to still have her in my life after all these years. I’m thankful we became friends when we were silly teenagers (even though at the time we disagreed on Team Jacob or Team Edward (we were 19, don’t judge)) and that she was there when Paul and I were married seven years ago, and that she always tries to motivate me to exercise (she has dragged me to kickboxing classes against my will – it’s her way of loving me), and that she trusted me enough to photograph her beautiful wedding day (and fed me mimosas during, too :)).

I love her and Byron together. Byron is completely genuine. He’s kind, he’s crazy about Mary, he spoils their dogs, he’s incredibly hard-working, he’s hilarious – I couldn’t be more happy that my wonderful friend has found a wonderful person to ride the ride of life with. I love you both and I hope you enjoy your sneak peek. Xoxo times a million.

PS. You’ll see Paul in here, but guess what?? This was my first and only time shooting a wedding alone!! Ahh!

My beautiful friend.

Love them all.

:) :) :)

They held the entire day in their wooded backyard, down a windy country road with lots of crunchy leaves.

Everything was done with love, even the flowers were from her friend’s garden.

First look. :)

:) :) :)

Happy tears, of course. :)

The colors were so bold – loved them.

Her smile is so infectious. :)

Love them both.


:) :) :)

What every bride wants to do when she gets to the end of the aisle. :)

It was a bit chilly so the boys lent their coats to the girls. :)

Byron’s brother performed the ceremony – so much laughter and smiles and happy tears.

Just married!!!

Paul and I were huge fans of the puppies, especially Hagrid who reminded us of Rusty. :)

It looks like I don’t have eyeballs in that photo, but trust me, they’re there.

:) :) :)

It’s always so sweet when a momma joins the dance.

So sweet. :)

…and I can’t wait to watch them live happily ever after.

  • Melanie BeilnerNovember 5, 2018 - 11:03 pm

    Hi Nikki,
    I miss you!!!!!

    I’ve only been off Instagram a week and I feel lost at sea! I decided to do some blog reading and find all my favorites again; kind of fun and relaxing! I love this bride’s hair and the red dresses just pop! how fun! I read your post about your Costa Rica trip and those zip lines look crazy fun too!

    I’m trying to figure out my creativity and narrow down what in the world I do!!! I’m frustrated with myself cause everyday I think of new ideas. Selling my creativity has never gone over well with me.

    I want to connect with you once in a while….what are you up to?ReplyCancel

Hi friends. Relaxing music for you? I’ve got just the thing. (When Harry Met Sally always reminds me this time of year.)

I usually write to you in the early evenings, late afternoons. I’m not a morning person. Most people who truly know me can vouch for that. I am no good before 9am. My brain takes a few hours to fully turn on so I get most of my productive creative work done later on in the day. I’d rather stay up until midnight working than waking up before dawn to begin – something about the darkness in the morning makes me antsy and alone. I don’t like it.

So, here I am. It’s 6:10pm here in our home and Paul is just getting on the bus to come home from work. I have a good 30 minutes of quality time with you until I’m distracted by chats with Paul and snuggles with Rusty. Shall we begin?

I’ve been doing a bit of reflecting these last few days on how I can better spend my time. Perhaps I sound a bit spoiled when I write this next sentence, but ever since just taking a part-time job on top of trying to make something on my own, I’ve felt completely off and a bit like I’m always trying to catch up, especially around the house. You people who are not only leaving the house and going to a full-time job, but are also parenting and maybe trying to create your own side business, I give you so much credit. How do you do it? You are probably superheroes. If I had a hat on I’d take it off to you.

I am a creature of habit and routine. Although I loved my summer vacation days as a child and dreaded the thought of homework, I couldn’t wait to get back to school and have a safe and reliable routine. It kept me grounded and gave me comfort knowing I was on some sort of path.

Because this part-time job is new for me (if I didn’t tell you already I’m teaching art classes during the week and I love it) and because I’m still trying to make something of my art as a business, my days are a bit scattered. My teaching schedule changes, sometimes weekly, and when I’m home I’m trying to figure out my priorities with my business since my hours are more limited. Do I work on advertising? Finances? Painting? Designing? Blogging? Photography? Photoshop? And the list continues…

Besides business and jobs and such, I crave perfection in my house as well. I grew up in a home that was always tidy, meals were always planned, and during the holidays home was the most comforting place in the world. Every season my mother pulled out the decor from the basement totes and boxes, put them on the dining room table, and began to pull general decor from the walls, shelves, tables, windows, etc. She had a gift of pouring each holiday into the house at full blast. We watched the most perfect fall and Halloween movies, Thanksgiving movies, and Christmas movies throughout the appropriate months. We ate food that was warm and familiar during the chill of those months, and inside our house was home.

As an adult, I’ve tried to imitate that. I make sure my house looks as cozy as our house looked growing up. I light the pumpkin candles and keep apples hanging in the fruit basket in the kitchen. I have garlands of leaves strewn about the rooms and I have electric jack-o-lanterns lit up at night. And when the mood strikes, Disney’s Sleepy Hollow and Charlie Brown’s Halloween movie is on the TV with the fireplace humming and pouring out heat. During Christmas it looks like an elf exploded in our home. I’m thankful my mother taught me priorities.

Do you want to know the one thing that has been causing me to feel like I can’t enjoy it all and balance everything in my life? It’s the silliest thing. It’s meals. Meals, people!! Because I don’t have time to make home-cooked meals lately I feel as if I’m failing Paul and I. These are the months when I want to have food cooking in the crockpot or a chicken roasting in the oven and the house is enveloped in days gone by. These are my most favorites months of the year. So, we go to the grocery store and pile up on veggies and meat and all the good stuff with organic labels and even with all the best intentions, it usually goes to waste and I feel extremely guilty (I feel guilty just typing that). Instead we’ll go out to eat or one of us will pick up fast food – it’s a terrible habit but we just don’t have time. I’m trying to accept that.

So last night, after teaching and before Paul came home, I “cooked” a frozen bag of pasta, veggies, and chicken for 12 minutes. I lit candles, turned on the fireplace, fed Rusty, started laundry, did the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher and I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder – I know how silly that sounds, don’t worry), turned on Ichabod Crane, and finally felt some relief. By the time Paul came home, the kitchen smelled like fettucine alfredo, the living room looked and smelled like a cozy pumpkin, and we had a whole stack of clean undies to help us take on the rest of the week. I hadn’t felt that productive in weeks and all because I wanted to bring perfection into every aspect of my life. No thanks. It’s frozen pizza for dinner tonight, which means I’ve had this lovely time spent with you.

I’m going to try my best to eliminate some things that add any unnecessary stress in my life, especially during this time of the year when nesting and slow moving is encouraged. What about you, friends? Is there anything that helps you prepare for this season?