Our Christmas Vacation

posted on: December 31, 2006

In 10 days we...
Visited 4 families
Drove through 5 states (twice)
Spent 35 hours on the road
Celebrated Christmas 8 times
Exchanged gifts with 22 people

And somehow in the middle of all of that, I managed to get more sleep in the last 10 days than I'd had in the last month! While it may not have been a true do-nothing kind of vacation, it was a welcome change from our normal work-intensive routine. Plus, we got to spend much needed time with our families... though it never feels like enough.

We started off celebrating with my mom, brother, and their significant others (Jim and Amber, respectively) at our old house in Rochester Hills, MI.

(Pictured below from top left.. Mom, Jim, Me, Alex)

While we were there, I did a mini-photoshoot with Misty in her new outfit. Even though she didn't win the cutest dog contest, she still got a new outfit, and she's still a little diva...

Isn't she such a poser?! Look at her sticking her leg out and tilting her head! ... of course, when she's done, this is how she lets me know...

Next, we celebrated with my dad, stepmom, and siblings in Hartland, MI shortly before heading out to Lansing, MI to celebrate with the rest of my dad's family.

Then, it was back on the road from Michigan to Missouri, but this time Alex and I were able to stop at home in Terre Haute, IN to rest before finishing the 14 hour trip. In the past, we had to drive straight through, which usually meant a full day of sleep to recover once we arrived. We arrived in Missouri on Christmas Eve and headed out to Nevada, MO to attend a Christmas Eve service and celebrate with Alex's stepdad's extended family.

We spent Christmas Day in Butler, MO, and celebrated 3 times, at 3 different homes. First his grandparents, then his mom's, and then his dad's. The day after Christmas we had our final gift exchange and Christmas celebration with Alex's Aunt and Uncle. I don't really have many pictures from those days because I was using my brother-in-law's camera, so maybe he'll post some pics that I can share (hint!) Here's a self-pic I managed to take with my camera... looking elfish in my santa hat. ;-)

(note to self: get anti-reflective coating on my next lenses)

It's rare that we make a visit to Missouri without spending a day in Kansas City, where Alex went to high school and has many fond memories and favorite places to visit. We usually end up visiting the same places: Gates BBQ and Leo's Pizza (after all, they are his FAVORITES), so this time I asked him if we could visit some different places. We drove around and saw some cool monuments, and spent quite a bit of time in the City Market/River Market area which had a lot of cool little specialty shops, even in December.

Now, Alex loves St. Louis style pizza which uses provel cheese, but it's not really to my tastes. However, when we tried Waldo pizza, I fell in love! The combination of cheeses is delicious and the sauce was a perfect compliment!

For dessert, we had to visit McCormick & Schmick in the Plaza, which is the only location we've been to that serves the famous and delicious chocolate bag dessert. The stained glass ceiling and hanging lights are pretty awesome too!

And, of course, what trip to Kansas City during the holidays would be complete without taking a trip through the plaza to see the lights at night? Here's a small taste, pictured from the canal, even this size doesn't do it justice...

We made it back to Terre Haute early Saturday morning, with just enough time to rest before meeting my mom and, now fiancé, Jim for their first trip to Terre Haute. We took them to Clabber Girl for breakfast and the free Saturday morning cooking demonstration, which Alex and I love attending whenever we can.

This demo featured cocktail/party foods and presentation. We learned that you can turn a granite slab into a hot plate!

Then, we did a little tour of downtown, including the beautiful Indiana Theatre..

And then a tour of the local parks, including the fairbanks park along the Wabash River...

Today was spent unloading the gifts we accumulated over our Christmas visits, and planning our schedules and travel plans for the next few months. After tons of visiting and going out, we decided to spend a quiet New Year's Eve at home together. It's been a year full of changes and challenges, but it's also been very rewarding. I'm so grateful for everything that has happened in our lives, and I can't wait for even more excitement next year!!! Happy New Year Everyone!!

LOVE IT: Framboise

posted on: December 30, 2006

I just got home and have a TON of pictures and stories to post from my holiday vacation with family, but before I can get to any of that I want to make sure I told you about MY FAVORITE CELEBRATION DRINK EVER!!! If you live in Indiana, you cannot purchase a bottle of this delectable drink on Sunday (unless you live close to the border of another state which does sell alcohol on Sundays)- so you must PLAN AHEAD and find it TODAY in order to enjoy it on NEW YEARS EVE (unless you'll be celebrating New Year's Eve at a bar with an extensive imported beer selection.) If you missed the boat for New Year's, this would also make a fabulous VALENTINE'S DAY drink to enjoy with your sweetie!! (HINT!!)

Framboise (pronounced fram-bwa) is bottled like a wine, has the fizz of a champagne, but is technically a beer. A Belgian lambic to be exact. This sweet concoction of fermeted rasperries is one of the few alcoholic drinks that has enough complexity in flavors to make all of the tastebuds on my tongue jump for joy. The sweetness of the raspberries wet the front of your tongue and provide a satisfying finish, while the acidity created in fermentation rolls over the sides of your tongue, creating a truly craveable experience.

Framboise should be served chilled in a skinny champagne-like glass so that it can be savored by sipping and so that its fizz doesn't escape too quickly (if you want to be really picky, try finding a true "Lambic Glass".) It pairs very well with a nice dark chocolate, or with fresh berries and sweet whipped cream (this chocolate bag dessert would be the perfect compliment!) It would also be tasty with a simple scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

I think Framboise is the perfect celebration drink because it's a bit pricey to enjoy on a regular basis and you usually have to go to a specialty store to find it. I've seen 750 ml bottles range between $8-$15 with an average price of around $11. If you don't feel like sharing, you may also be able to find smaller 12 oz. bottles for around $5-$9. As mentioned before, it may look like a bottle of wine, but it will be found in the imported beer section. If you're lucky enough to live in or near a city that has a Cost Plus World Market, than you're likely to find a wide selection of lambic flavors at a very fair price. Otherwise, check with your local specialty wine/beer shop. The Raspberry lambic is the only true Framboise (since Framboise means raspberry) - however, a more traditional fruit beer drink would be the Kriek lambic which is made from sour cherries, and thus not as sweet as Framboise.

I was first introduced to Framboise when I lived in Rochester Hills, MI, where my friends and I would visit the Rochester Mills Brewery to hang out after concerts or finals, and occasionally to catch some of our friends performing in bands on the weekends. I asked the waitress if she had a sweet beer, and she introduced me to Framboise- which they actually keep on tap (FYI- Royal Oak Brewery and Detroit Beer Co. carry it as well). Ever since my first sip, I've been in love. I thought I'd never find it again after we moved until I noticed one of my husband's students enjoying a lovely bottle of Framboise at Sonka's here in Terre Haute. I must have felt deprived because as soon as we got back to Michigan for the holidays, I went out and bought several bottles as gifts for my family and one for myself to enjoy with friends we had over while we were in town (though I can't recall if I actually shared any. ;-)).

An interesting combination of drinks that would create a taste similar to that of a Framboise (which I was introduced to by our friend Danielle, who said that she learned of this from some Canadians...), would be to mix either a wheat beer like Bell's Oberon for texture, or a cider beer like Woodchuck Amber for flavor, with black currant juice (which is high in anti-oxidants!) This could be considered the poor man's version, since you can probably make double the amount for about the same price.

Happy Holidays!!!

posted on: December 19, 2006

(pictured above: Jamie & Nathaniel)

As Alex and I get ready to spend hours on the road visiting our Michigan and Missouri families over the next two weeks, I will be thinking of how grateful and lucky I am to have the support of so many amazing people. You have blessed my life in so many ways without ever knowing it or receiving recognition for it. Even if you're someone who just visits my blog regularly and never leaves a comment... thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring. Thank you for understanding.

To my clients, all of whom I consider dear friends- thank you for inspiring me every day - without you, I would be nothing. Thank you for encouraging me and supporting my passion. Thank you for opening your heart to me and sharing some of the most amazing moments of your life with me. I'm humbled by your love and compassion time and time again. Because of you, I strive to be a better person each day.

To my photographer friends whom I've grown so fond of, thank you for sharing your wisdom, your questions, and your ideas. I owe so much of my progress over the last year to the many things I've learned from you, and will continue to learn every day. I never take for granted how far I've come on the shoulders of other people. I only hope that I can continue to pay it forward for others.

To my friends and family, who have been with me every step of the way, thank you for your patience, for never crushing my spirit, and for allowing me the freedom to explore until I found something I was truly passionate about. My life has taken many twists and turns over the years, and no matter what direction I wanted to take, you were always right there with me enjoying the journey. Thank you for continuing to support me in all that I do. Because of you, I am successful in everything I put my heart into.

... and last, but certainly not least... thank you God for bringing all of these amazing people and gifts into my life. Though there are times I don't feel worthy, I am always grateful and careful not to take these gifts for granted. My life is so blessed!

Looking Back on 2006 (The Unabridged Version)

I have to be honest and say that this was a very difficult year for me personally, professionally, and emotionally. I'm of the belief that we are in complete control of our situation and that every outcome is a product of something we create in our life. So, when things go wrong- even if they are beyond my control- I feel as though I have personally failed. Failed to anticipate problems, failed to create backup plans, failed to succeed. I'm an eternal optimist, so even when I'm faced with challenges and failure, I believe there is an opportunity to learn and to become better.

This year started off with me working as a full-time music teacher sub and a part-time wedding photographer. As much as I loved teaching music in the best elementary school I could have asked for, I quickly realized that I spent more and more of my free time planning my life around photography. After my permanent substitute music position was complete, I decided that I was going to make wedding photography my full-time job. There was only one problem - I knew that Alex & I would be moving in Fall 2006, but we still had no idea where. The options were as broad as Australia, New York, and California - so I decided it would be in my best interest to not accept any wedding jobs for Fall of 2006 until I knew exactly where we'd be living and what the costs would be to travel back to Michigan for a wedding.

When Alex was offered the Assistant Professor of Music Education position at Indiana State University in Februrary, I had to make a serious choice about my future. I had a LOT of pressure, from both of our families, to seek a teaching position in music; after all- that's what I had dedicated the last four years of my education too. Early in the year, I had no idea what to expect, so I was taking the gifts and opportunities of life as they presented themselves.

Since I had basically cut off my steady stream of photography work by not accepting fall '06 wedding dates until I knew where we were going to live, I hastily overbooked my spring dates to supplement the loss of work that I anticipated in the fall. This is where my year started to fall apart, and where valuable lessons would soon be learned. By February, it was clear that the computer I was working on was going to be insufficient for the work load I needed it to handle. The crashes were becoming more frequent because the memory and the processor just couldn't keep up with the RAW files of my DSLR, and the memory-hungry, photo-editing power of Photoshop CS2. Despite the problems, my 6 year old G4 was still rocking in so many other ways, so I had a hard time letting go of it. Also, since I wasn't charging enough for my work at that time, I had little to no funds to support the purchase of new equipment. I decided that in order to get ahead and deliver the kind of work I was proud of, I needed a new computer that would take me into the next 3-5 years, so I made a slight change to my pricing which allowed me to purchase the new Intel iMac, which was an excellent business decision.

Another monkey wrench was thrown into the gears when in the middle of a wedding, my not-so-old 20D camera pooped out on me. The shutter button was stuck and then when I thought I got it unstuck, the auto-focus wouldn't work. Luckily I had a back-up camera, but it was loaded with film, which wasn't going to be sufficient for parts of the ceremony that required a much higher ISO than I had available in film. I quickly found a way to work around my digital camera's misbehavior and was able to finish the wedding just fine, but as soon as I got home, I learned that many of the files from the portraits were corrupted and unreadable. I had the horrible, horrible job of telling the bride that I might not be able to recover those images. Fortunately, all is not lost with digital. If you screw up a film negative, you can't go back. But luckily, digital technology is such that even a corrupted file can be recovered with the right software. I was able to fix all of the corrupted images, but not before I invested in my now, FAVORITE CAMERA EVER- the Canon 5D. I have since had the 20D repaired, which was fixed with a simple firmware upgrade, and now have two excellent DSLR Cameras that provide me with a lot of different capture options.

However, with more digital images being captured in larger file sizes and a better computer, comes new software to learn and a new workflow to figure out. I was barely up and running with my new computer before my wedding season kicked into high gear. In the span of one month's time, between May & June, I had eight weddings, back to back. To top this off, I was still processing the images from earlier in the year that I hadn't been able to finish, due to the old computer crashing so often. I had to learn the new software as I went, which took a lot longer than I had desired. However, I was still charging so little that I couldn't afford to pay someone to help me, so I was becoming my own bottleneck to progress. As I was slowly processing previous weddings during the week, I was shooting double the number of weddings on the weekends. BIG MISTAKE.

In the midst of the the work piling up, and learning a new workflow, I also had to deal with getting ready to move out of state from Rochester Hills, MI to Terre Haute, IN. Frankly, I was so overwhelmed with everything going on in my business, that moving was the LAST thing on my mind to the point which I was almost in denial, which shifted almost the entire process and responsibility for moving onto my husband - who had many of his own challenges and priorities to deal with. This was entirely unfair of me, but frankly I was more concerned about my clients happiness than anyone else's at that point, including my own. In fact, there was once an opportunity for me to go with Alex to Kuala Lumpur - a once in a lifetime opportunity, but going would've meant I'd need to find a replacement photographer for a wedding that I had been contracted for. Ultimately, I passed up the opportunity to go to Kuala Lumpur, and stayed to do the wedding instead. I don't regret my decision to stay, but it was a very tough decision to make. My love for travel supercedes my desire to do just about anything else, so I gave up a huge personal desire in order to fulfill my commitment to my clients.

Negotiating the move was probably the hardest thing we had to do. We made two trips to Terre Haute before moving, and in order to secure the apartment we wanted, we had to pay for an extra month that we would not be living there, plus the deposit, on top of the mortgage on our house in Rochester Hils. Fortunately we had anticipated that it was going to be costly to move, so we had done a good job of budgeting ourselves financially. Initially, I wanted to wait to move until Labor Day weekend- when I had left a few weekends free, but that would be much too late for Alex to get started on planning for his fall semester and attending various meetings at the university. We also thought it might be possible for Alex to move first, and then for me to follow later, but then we determined it would require twice as much time from both of us, so we compromised and decided on the first weekend of August.

On top of the financial and sheer logistical strain of moving when we were already juggling so many other things, it was a very emotional move for me. We had spent the last two years sharing our first house with my mom and my brother. The house was so large and set up in such a way that we all had our separate living, working, bathroom, and entertaining spaces which caused us to rarely see each other. Even so, there was a real comfort in knowing that family was always nearby, and that we were rarely ever alone. My mom was also a die-hard housekeeper, and though we rarely thanked her for it, her obsessive cleaning created more harmony in our lives. (Thank you mom!) In those two years, I grew closer to my family than I had ever been before, and I had developed very meaningful friendships with people whom I admire and who are very close to my heart. The thought of moving to a place where I would know absolutely no one, where I wouldn't be taking classes in a social environment, where I wouldn't be working in a place where I could meet new people, was absolutely devastating. When I decided to dedicate myself to photography full-time, it was a decision that would lead to a reclusive lifestyle editing photos behind a computer day after day. To make matters worse, the cable company in Terre Haute would not set up our internet for an entire month, which put me way behind on uploading images, and prevented me from connecting to the rest of the world from my home office. Depression quickly set in and it became harder and harder to enjoy our new home.

It took me quite a while to adjust to Terre Haute. I really didn't get the chance to spend more than a few days at a time here because I had to tavel back to Michigan for weddings, then to Chicago for meetings and a conference, and off to Indy for a day or weekend to meet new clients. I spent a lot of time enjoying everything but Terre Haute. Also, due to the amount of time I was spending on the road, away from my computer, the work I continued to bring in- continued to pile up, which forced me to spend even more time behind the computer when I actually was home. My husband could see that I was turning into a troglodyte, and he did his best to help me get out and meet people by inviting me to every university social event he could find. I never thanked him for that either, but it really meant a lot to me.

The major turning point in my self-happiness came when I joined the ISU Masterworks Chorale, where I was able to be involved in music again, and where I met a great girl named Jamie, who invited me to hang out for drinks after weekly rehearsals. Jamie is now moving to Kentucky, so my Monday nights won't be the same without her, but I'm so grateful for her presence in my life and for helping me feel like part of a community. When I look back on the times when I have been the happiest and the least happy in my life, I can see that there is a direct correlation to my invovlement in music and fine arts. Every time I have tried to live my life without participating in music, or without having an artistic outlet for expression, I have found myself feeling empty and unsatisfied; so photography and being involved in a choir that performs challenging music is a vital part my well-being. I'm really looking forward to next semester when the ISU Masterworks Chorale will be performing Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. You're all invited to Terre Haute to hear me sing in this awesome work!!

So where does all of this leave me now? Well, I still have unfinished business from 2006, but at this point I'm so brain-fried and overworked that I'm hoping my vacation to visit family and friends for the holidays will help me recharge my battery so that I can return to work happy and energized. I do have lots of exciting things happening in 2007 that I can't wait to share with everyone, but I'll save that for another post. For now, I must sleep!!! My husband misses me. ;-)

Joy & Brian's Wedding

posted on: December 15, 2006

As I was looking through these images again, I literally laughed out loud sooo many times!! I think I even woke up my husband a few times because I just could not stop laughing!! Joy & Brian are so much fun, and their families and friends are down-right hilarious!! I'll elaborate when I get to the funny stuff, but for now, take a look at the pretty rings...

Joy's mom pulled out all the stops and brought white gloves to help everyone get dressed!!

The ceremony and reception were held at the beautiful Blossom Heath in St. Clair Shores, MI; and the day was perfect!!

Right as Joy & Brian kissed, their groomsmen released two white doves. The doves flew out of there in a hurry!!! It's amazing I was even able to focus on them!!

Joy used black & white with bright pink roses providing a splash of color! I heard the cake tasted great, but I never got to find out for myself - it definitely looked great!! I wonder if it made a good facial moisturizer too?

It was requested that I do large group shots of the entire families, so while there was a lull during the dinner hour, the DJ had the families come up to the dancefloor for a group picture. I didn't realize I was going to have a free assistant working with me that day!! To my surprise, here comes a friend of the family with his pro gear- bracket and all!! Now, there are a lot of wedding photographers who would get VERY upset about this, but I really don't care, because print sales are just an extra bonus for me. "Uncle Bob" (for lack of knowing his actual name), spent most of his night posing everyone and asking people to look in the camera and smile, which really wasn't much different than "Aunt Jane" who goes table to table with a disposable camera. I don't usually pose people for shots unless it's requested of me, so I'm glad he was doing that on the sidelines and letting me concentrate on what I do best. As you'll see, I had waaaay too much fun capturing all of the candid moments that happened!! Now, say "CHEESE!!!"

Let the dancing begin!!

Joy & Brian had some of the greatest motown music and they tore up the dance floor for their first dance. It was so fun to see a couple choose an upbeat song and put a little swing in their step. (As a side note, all of the music used in their slideshow came from the CD favor they gave to guests at the wedding!) After checking out some of their parent's and grandparent's moves.. I can see who they got their dancing shoes from!!

Shots for everyone!! These people liked to partaaaayyy!!!!

I only wish I could post all of the awesome, crazy, and funny moments that were happening on the dancefloor - but that's what the slideshow is for!! Click on any image to see more images from Joy & Brian's wedding day! Here's my humble attempt to display some of the best moments that aren't tooooo incriminating (the really embarassing ones, I won't post - but I will put in the slideshow!)

And last, but not least, the pièce de résistance... can you guess what dance this is?!?! There's a BIG FAT CLUE on the floor - which also happens to be part of a family tradition.

Joy & Brian - thank you so much for having me on your wedding day!! It was a total blast, and I have plenty of evidence to suggest that everyone enjoyed your wedding as much as I did. ;-)

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