I could write volumes about the highs (trips, time with family, creative pursuits...) and lows (basically any and everything having to do with our ridiculous current presidential administration) of this year, but instead I'll just leave you with these: some of my favorite images from some of my favorite shoots and adventures over the course of 2017.
It's no secret that parenting is all about finding balance: Letting your kids unleash their full creative energy while keeping your house from getting destroyed. Encouraging your kids to play freely while keeping them from hurting themselves. Letting them learn from their mistakes yet intervening to help them make good choices.
The true beauty of the newly-reopened and expanded Minnesota Children's Museum is that it reconciles these paradigms. Getting messy isn't an issue - it's encouraged. The play structures and activities are safe and - even with my avid climbers - there is little chance of injury. Opportunities to make discoveries on their own abound.
The museum understands that kids need the chance to JUST PLAY. Something children and their parents can all use a little more of.
EDITOR'S NOTE: November, 2016 rocked my world unlike any other month of any other year in recent memory. The election of Donald Trump was a game-changer - the sort of devastating, earth-shattering event that puts everything else into perspective and forever marks periods of time as "before" and "after." As such, this project stopped after 13 days. Stopped because it felt trivial and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It stopped because I stopped - stopped my desire to create, stopped by ability to not be utterly depressed about the state of our nation.
For a long time, I simply hid this post; it served as too raw a reminder of how painful that period of time was. But as I look back at the images now, I see beauty and hope in them. Hope I was able to find even then. Albeit unfinished, the project seems to have served some small purpose and for that, it's hard not to be grateful.
November to me is a month of warmth. Not warm in the way August is hot and sticky or the way May is balmy and breezy. It is about a sense of home and nostalgia and peacefulness that make you feel warm and fuzzy no matter the chill in the air or the darkness of the long nights. It is cozy blankets and hot beverages sipped out of oversized mugs. It is glowing fireplaces and the heart-filling laughter of family and friends. It is food that sticks to your ribs and booze that warms your belly. And most of all, it is slowing down and pausing for moments of introspection and gratitude.
For the next 30 days, I plan to offer up thanks for the things in my life - big and small, material and intangible - that fulfill me in some way. And to do so in the best manner I know how: through images.
I'm thankful for kids who are finally starting to realize they are better playmates than adversaries. Also, Julian just discovered he can lift Nora up and they both think it's pretty cool.
I am grateful for our garden. For the bounty of vegetables it produces. For the time it forces us to spend outdoors. For the fertile soil and access to clean water which allow us to grow healthy food. I am thankful that - by participating in the growing, nurturing, harvesting, and cooking of these crops - my children have an understanding of where their food comes from and an appreciation for it.
I am very thankful to live in a neighborhood that puts us within walking distance of parks, restaurants, a brewery, a natural foods co-op, friends' houses, and more.
I am thankful for the beautiful weather we have had so far this month. For the chance it has afforded us to spend extra time outside. For the prolonged season of spectacular fall colors and the way the glorious sunshine illuminated this ginkgo tree today.
I am thankful to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people - both those I've known for a while and those I continue to meet throughout the course of my work.
Thankful doesn't even begin to explain how I feel about being this girl's mama. She is independent and strong and she likes playing with tractors and her brother's ninja turtle gear just as much as she does singing to and "mothering" her babydoll. This little powerhouse waited in line for over an hour today and joined me in the (early) voting booth as I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. The future is female and this one is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
I'm grateful for our dog, Oliver. Our cuddly, stinky, grumpy old man who always seems to know the right time to curl up in my lap. Like today when my election anxiety was at an all-time high and my other methods of coping (stress-eating and blasting hip hop) weren't quite doing the trick.
I am finding it really difficult to find something to be grateful for at this moment on this particular day. Perhaps it's times like this when stopping to look for the proverbial silver lining or giving thanks for the little things matters the most. I can't even begin to process my emotions about this election right now, but I sure do love these little kids of mine, both of whom were very excited to watch the returns tonight and neither of whom made it past 8:30 p.m. Lucky them.
This is not the thankfulness post I had hoped to write on November 9th. Instead of celebrating the historic shattering of glass ceilings and the triumph of love and common decency over hate and exclusion, I am left completely despondent over yesterday's election. I've cried more today than I have in a long time. Like every time I looked at my children's faces and thought about how long 4 YEARS is in the span of their lifetimes.
As this unforgettably painful day came to a close and we sat around the dinner table as a family, this little guy took it upon himself to teach us the sign language he learned at preschool today. The words? PEACE, JOY, HAPPY, and MUSIC. And there we had it: a beautiful moment of light - worthy of immense gratitude - during a dark, dark day.
We could all use a little more light in our lives right now. And Bruce Munro's, "Winter Lights," at the Arboretum was just the thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to preview this impressive art installation.
After having landed myself squarely in the depression stage of [the five stages of] grief and having suffered a migraine all day long, to say that I am grateful to my people for taking care of me would be a huge understatement. My mom - rockstar that she is - played with and read to and cared for the kids all day long. And Andrew ran point on bedtime and cooked us a special dinner AND served it to me in bed. As miserable as today was, it's hard to not feel thankful for having amazing people in my life.
I am thankful to have a plant-filled, light-filled, powerful-woman-filled environment in which to work and create.
I am so grateful to live in a city that celebrates ALL of its inhabitants regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or immigration status.
On January 20th, 2017, Donald J. Trump took the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States of America. Even now those words are hard to type and until last night, they would have stirred up deep emotions of anger and sadness and resentment within me. But today, well today is different. On this, Mr. Trump’s first full day in office, I was among millions of people nationwide (and even across the world) who responded to this threat to our democracy by taking to the streets and marching. It was inspiring. It was uplifting. Collectively, as a society that has been in mourning, it was a much needed rally cry.
The Womens March Minnesota was held simultaneously with marches across the country today, most notably the HUGE Womens March on Washington. The turnout was 5 times what was expected with nearly 100,000 people in attendance in our capital city of St. Paul, MN. Minnesotans from across the state were clearly looking for that community, that kinship, and that platform to have their voice heard after a dismal past few months and they flocked to this event in droves which provided all of the above. Despite the huge numbers, people found familiar faces among the crowds. Others exchanged knowing and sympathetic smiles with strangers. And everyone seemed to benefit from the catharsis of being able to send the collective message that racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred, intolerance, and environmental degradation will not be tolerated.
We - women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault, people of all religious faiths - are not going anywhere and our voices will not be silenced.
Nearly ten years ago, Andrew and I got married in the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos on the Mayan Riviera. We were joined by about 60 of our closest friends and family members, some of whom were experiencing this beautiful place for the first time and some of whom vacation there yearly. Puerto Morelos is a quaint, laid-back town that welcomes tourists from all over the world, but is not overly crowded. The whole-in-the-wall taco joints and shanty bars on the beach far outnumber the fancy sit-down restaurants. Locals flock to the beaches on the weekends with their families and spend the day picnicking and swimming. The coral reef off the shore - second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef - offers up some of the best snorkeling in the world.
Needless to say, it holds a very special place in our hearts.
On our final day in Mexico, we booked a van with Olympus Tours and brought Julian and Nora to Puerto Morelos. I was excited to show them where we tied the knot. Excited for them to see a where local families spent their time. And frankly I was excited to show off my Spanish to these kids of mine who typically groan when I try to teach it to them.
We arrived in the center of town and our driver parked near the plaza. From there, we could walk just about anywhere. We first set off to see the docks where the fishing boats anchor with their catch of the day. We watched the pelicans swooping overhead and the frigate birds riding the wind currents. We stopped at the famous lighthouse that had been tipped by a hurricane many years before and checked out the large, colorful sign reading “PUERTO MORELOS” on the promenade which was new to town since we had last visited.
We set off walking down the beach toward the spot where we got married, stopping along the way to chase sand pipers, collect seaweed, and dig in the sand. The beaches in Puerto Morelos are much different from those in Playa del Carmen where we were staying, because the waves break off shore on the reef rather than on the beach. The water is much shallower and calmer along this stretch.
When we arrived at “the spot” - the grounds of a condo complex where we had our wedding ceremony, we found a sweet couple to take a family picture of us. We found out that they had also gotten married in Puerto Morelos five years earlier and were back with their young child to celebrate their anniversary (something Andrew and I did with baby Julian for our five-year!).
We grabbed some lemonade and guacamole at a nearby the restaurant on the beach and the kids played in the sand some more.
It was hard to tear the kids away from the beach, but we decided to take the main road back to the plaza to show them what the neighborhood was like. They were fascinated to see the elementary school, the playground in the plaza, and some of the interesting architecture in the town. We finished off our visit with cones from the ice cream shop and vowed to return soon.
This was my 5th visit to Puerto Morelos - my first time was when I was a teenager - and this little slice of paradise still felt like a home away from home.
In a move that seemed fitting with the vibe of this magical town, I shot some film while there. Here are a few of my favorite images from the roll.
There are vacations and then there are trips. To me, the former conjures up images of lounging, reading, and drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them. The latter usually involves sight-seeing, activities, and being constantly on the go. I've done plenty of both and have grown to love each. I’m quickly learning that traveling with kids is all about finding the perfect balance between “vacation” and “trip” - keeping them entertained and happy and sneaking those brief moments of relaxation whenever possible.
Paradisus - La Esmeralda grasps this concept fully. They know just how to cater to families trying to strike a balance. The mini bars are stocked with both liquor and chocolate milk. The turndown service at the end of the day includes champagne for the adults and cookies for the kids. And while Andrew and I didn’t go so far as to drop our kids off at the in-house day care and peace-out to the spa, we did decide - after our action-packed second day - to spend our third day hanging around Paradisus and taking advantage of its many amenities. We slept in, watched the sunrise from our balcony, and ordered room service for breakfast. The kids played with Lego sets my mom had sneaked into their luggage and Andrew and I actually got to savor our morning coffee.
One of my favorite moments from the trip came that day when Nora discovered there were kid-sized slippers and a bathrobe in the closet to match the ones I’d been wearing. She donned them and we were “twinsies” most of the morning. It was such a sweet moment and a beautiful reminder that the most meaningful memories can be created even when you’re not actively seeking them out.
When we decided we were ready for an excursion, we didn't need to venture far; the pool and the beach at the resort were all the entertainment we needed. My little water babies loved swimming the ocean - meaning they clung to us for dear life as Andrew and I jumped up to ride each cresting wave. We built castles on the beach and let the waves wash up on our feet and cover our toes with sand. When we needed a break, we headed for the pool where we lounged in cabanas, ordered food and drinks, and relaxed while the kids splashed in the water.
Upon the recommendation from our fabulous butler (did I mention there was a butler?!), Paulina, we dined that night at the resort’s teppanyaki restaurant. Not exactly authentic Mexico, but delicious and highly entertaining for the kids.
When we returned to our room at the end of the day, Paulina had a surprise waiting for the kids: a bubble bath in the huge tub with balloon swords and animals in it. (This was on the heels of a treasure hunt she had staged for them in the room the night before.) They were delighted and it was the perfect ending to the perfect day - one where we had just the right amount of activity and relaxation, the perfect mix of vacation and trip.
To understand why I might consider an all-inclusive resort in a popular tourist area in Mexico a "hidden gem," one must first understand my travel history. I am fluent in Spanish. I have lived in South America and backpacked through Peru, Argentina, and Chile. I have stayed in hostels, camped, cooked my own food, lived on very little money. And I have been to the Mayan Riviera four times, staying in modest vacation rentals in a small fishing village on each visit. I scoffed at all-inclusive resorts and wrote them off as not being an "authentic" travel experiences or as too insular.
That was all before kids.
Now I realize - after having discovered the magical place that is Paradisus - La Esmerelda in Playa del Carmen - that an all-inclusive resort can be an amazing haven of recreation and relaxation and family-friendly accommodations. Were it not for our recent #SCAgetaway, I would never have discovered Paradisus, a place where they provided anything and everything we as a family with two young kids might want.
On the day of our departure, Andrew and I awoke to a 3:45 a.m. alarm, threw on our clothes and woke the kids - Julian (5) and Nora (2.5) - for our 4:15 a.m. taxi pick-up. The plane lifted off under cover of darkness at 6:00 in the morning, the kids sitting wide-eyed in their seats, still in their jammies. Both had flown before, but when they were infants, and neither one remembered the experience. They were mesmerized, terrified, and fascinated all at once. At one point, Julian asked me, "are you sure this is safe?" (something I wonder to myself every time I fly). As the sun began to rise - a spectacular sight from an airplane window - any anxiety melted away to pure excitement.
We were met at the Cancun International Airport by a friendly driver from Olympus Tours who fulfilled my lifelong dream of being greeted at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. We sprang for the private transfer to the hotel which was worth every penny - the kids dozed just long enough in their carseats to take the edge off of their tiredness and Andrew and I took full advantage of the wifi in the van to catch up on work emails (Andrew) and post to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (me).
The VIP treatment continued ten-fold when we arrived at Paradisus - a huge resort situated on the beach near Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera, yet not at all visible from the main road. We were whisked to the family concierge desk via golf cart, where we were fed champagne, outfitted with stylish wristbands, and introduced to our family butler Paulina, who gave us a tour of the myriad amenities available: several swimming pools, a rock climbing wall, babysitting services, tons of restaurants, a private beach, and beautiful grounds nestled among a mangrove forest.
We checked out our amazing room, where sand toys awaited the kids, and we discovered that we even had a jacuzzi on our balcony that looked out over the Caribbean Sea. We immediately donned swimsuits. It was then that getting up so early in the morning paid off: the kids were splashing in the pool and Andrew and I were enjoying margaritas by noon.
The rest of our first day in paradise was spent going from the pool to the beach and back. We had a delicious dinner at the resort's Brazilian steakhouse, and we were all sound asleep by 8pm.
Here are some of my favorite images from that first wonderful day.
Huge thanks to Sun Country Airlines, Paradisus - La Esmerelda, and Olympus Tours for this amazing opportunity.
I could talk about how I've known the Kieners for more than 15 years. How we've been college roommates, travel companions, bridesmaids, poker opponents, drinking buddies, and neighbors during that time. And how our daughters were born a little over a month apart and have become besties. But all of that would still seem inadequate. So instead I'll just leave you with a set of images - a mixture of candid at-home family moments and posed maternity portraits - that I took of this beautiful family of three very shortly before they became a family of four.
This place is so special to me, I almost hesitate to share photos of it. This year, my family celebrated 50 years of coming to Split Rock Cabins, a place that for many of us feels like church.
Our week at Split Rock this July was filled with hours on end spent by the Big Lake, explorations on the Superior Hiking Trail, and visits to some of Minnesota's (and this year, Canada's) finest waterfalls.
After being serenaded by a symphony of tree frogs and falling asleep to the sound of gentle rain falling on the water, I was awakened that first morning by one of my favorite sounds: the long, haunting call of a loon echoing across a glassy lake.
Later that morning, Andrew and I - each with a kid nestled in our laps - paddled out into the middle of the placid lake in kayaks. We caught a glimpse of white about 20 feet up in a majestic red pine on the shore and instantly knew it was a bald eagle. As we paddled closer, it took flight, soaring overhead for a minute before joining its mate in another tree down the shore.
As the eagles made their presence known, the male loon that had been tracking our path from a safe distance, called out loudly. Almost frantically. And it became readily apparent why: nearby a mama loon sat on a nest in the marshy grasses at the edge of the lake.
Thankfully, no circle-of-life scenes unfolded before our eyes. Instead, we just drifted in our kayaks - the kids being remarkably quiet - and watched two pairs of our state's most striking birds in their natural habitat. We were guests on their turf and for those few moments, we felt like the only humans in a world we are fortunate enough to share with these creatures.
I have written before about the mystical quality of Minnesota lake life. "Up North" is more than just a place; it's a state of mind. A way of life. Something we feel nostalgic for even while we're in the midst of it. It's where we go to relax, recharge, and reconnect with nature.
For me, there is a direct correlation between the remoteness of the location and the quality of that unique Up North experience. Hence the appeal of true wilderness like Minnesota's State Parks and the Boundary Waters. Realistically, though, those spots aren't always easy with small children.
Enter Lost Lake Lodge. My friend, Jill, and I were invited up to this small family-owned resort with our families over Memorial Day Weekend (filed under: amazing-experiences-that-have-come-my-way-because-of-photography). Lost Lake Lodge has all the modern conveniences of any major resort on Gull Lake and then some: pontoon boats, fine dining, even wifi. It's a great place for families with kids, with an old-school summer camp vibe and all of the activities that go along with that: campfires, fishing, scavenger hunts.
But tucked behind the cabins that face Gull Lake, the Lodge has its true hidden gem: Lost Lake. The private lake has no boat launch and no motorized watercraft. Save for the resort's small beach, the shores are completely undeveloped, meaning no fertilizer run-off from manicured lawns, no real signs of civilization, and the old growth forests along the banks are still intact. It's as authentic a wilderness experience as I've had in the BWCA, but we were able to stay in a comfortable cabin instead of a tent and eat farm-to-table salads and braised short ribs for dinner.
I am grateful for the opportunity to visit and photograph this magical place. And I'm already lobbying my family to go back. I have the feeling I'll succeed.
Below are some of my favorite photos from our stay.
( c l i c k t o e n l a r g e )
Natalie and Michael love to travel. And they're expecting their first child this summer. They wanted to convey both of these important things in a whimsical pregnancy announcement and asked me to take their photos. There is nothing more fun than working with people who are down to brave freezing temps and indulge my creative whims for the sake of cool photos. Here are some of my favorite images from the shoot with them and the resulting announcement which Natalie and I worked together to design.
( c l i c k t o e n l a r g e )
This week in a special Citinerary, "Weekend Explorer" piece, I shared some photos from our family vacation to the Brainerd Lakes area and I attempted to describe (to the journal's international readers) just what makes cabin country/up north/lake life so special.
Check out the journal article here and see some of the photos from it below.
True Story: when the Mall of America first opened in 1992, I was almost 12 years old and I was obsessed with it. I vividly remember poring over every single word of the Star Tribune's Variety section pull-out feature prior to the grand opening. I knew, before even stepping foot inside its walls, the color of the (then) carpeted floors of the South Avenue wing of the mall and best entrance to use to go straight to the movie theater.
If you had told me that I would someday be offered the opportunity to stay, shop, dine, and play there with my family and get paid for it, my 12-year-old self would have been blown away. In fact, my 35-year-old self was sort of blown away when the offer came in a month ago to do just that in exchange for some photos of the experience. I knew my kids would absolutely love it. I also knew the Mall has come a long way since 1992 and recent updates have made it highly photogenic. Having a press pass - and the authority and confidence that comes with it - was an added perk to the gig and one I wish I'd used even more. Here are a few of the DSLR images I snapped while there.
When the organic, "grain to bottle" distillery, KOVAL, asked me to take over their Instagram feed for a day, I accepted for two reasons: free vodka of course, and I also had the perfect opportunity with an upcoming family vacation to depict their hashtag, #ReimagineTradition.
I was a few weeks away from taking a trip that I have taken just about every week for my entire life and as such is very meaningful to me. As I captioned one photo:
"In 1966, my grandparents began a tradition that my (entire extended) family still cherishes today: a week-long vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior. And even though my grandparents are no longer with us, every July 4th, three generations of their offspring gather at a tiny family-owned resort (which is a also still a working, one-man, commercial fishing camp) for a week of yard games, card playing, hiking, tons of food, and classic cocktails. Of course the latter two have evolved since the days of my grandparents’ Sloppy Joe dinners and Bloody Marys made with nothing but vodka and tomato juice, but the spirit of the trip - spending time with family and enjoying the great outdoors - remains the same."
Here are the images I shot for it, which can also be viewed (with captions) on KOVAL's blog.
When spring teased us all with glorious sunshine and warm temps last week, only to turn gloomy and cold this week - with rain, snow, and hail yesterday - I decided drastic measures needed to be taken. (I know, I know, April showers bring May flowers and all that, but covering up newly-pedicured toes with wool socks and warm boots to endure winter-like weather is downright depressing.) So I opted to escape the weather and go into full-on denial mode. Below is not just your average “top five things to do in Minneapolis on a rainy day” list, but rather my own personal “top five ways to trick yourself into thinking it’s actually spring” list. Grab your open-toed shoes and your sunglasses and join me!