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.
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.
Any of my fellow children-of-the-80s out there remember The Voyage of the Mimi?! Specifically the second voyage where a young Ben Affleck and his pals try to thwart looters from pillaging sacred sites in Mexico? Watching it (on laser disc, obviously) in late elementary school left such an impression on me that when I first visited Mexico years later, I was mildly obsessed with Tulum and made my family go see the ruins.
I was 16 years old and the ancient Mayan city lived up to all of my expectations. It was magical and mysterious. Its fortresses were formidable and its beaches were treacherous and beautiful. We hired a guide to show us the secrets of Tulum and I hung on every word he shared with us about the Mayan history and culture. I vividly remember this visit to the centuries-old city as the first of many experiences I would have where my own tiny place in time and space was truly put into perspective.
If our first day in Mexico was about getting settled in to our luxurious new surroundings, our second day was full of non-stop adventure. There is no shortage of things to do along the Mayan Riviera. We opted to pack two of the area's most amazing destinations into one day and, thanks to Olympus Tours, we were taken from place to place with ease.
Tulum was of course included in the itinerary and the tour bus brought us there first. The kids weren't exactly as awestruck at 2.5 and 5 years old as I was as a teenager, but my little engineer Julian's interest was certainly piqued when he realized that the Mayans didn't use excavators and backhoe loaders and tower cranes to build the impressive structures. The seaside cliffs were just as stunning as I'd remembered them, but sadly the beach was closed due to very high tides that day. We sat in the grass, had a snack, and took in the magnificence of the whole place.
Our second and final destination of the day was the ecological park, Xel-Ha. I had heard of its attractions - swimming with dolphins, floating through blue lagoons, zip-lining over water - and was dying to see what it was about. The moment we arrived, we were all blown away by how wonderful it truly was. The kids were wide-eyed as we made our way past dolphin pools, parrots on their perches, and iguanas sunning themselves. There were hammock groves for lounging, piña coladas for sipping (all food and drink was included in the price of admission), a playground, ropes courses, wild mangrove forests, and perfectly curated gardens.
One thing that immediately struck me was the park’s dedication to preserving the natural wonders within its borders. Andrew and I noticed the compost bins, absence of plastic water bottles, and signs reminding visitors to only use biodegradable sunscreen.
We ate lunch at a buffet of delicious, authentic Mexican food, dropped our clothes and gear off at (free) lockers, picked up some towels, and made our way to the mouth of the river - the main artery of the park. We hopped on inner-tubes - each of us with a kiddo on our lap - and floated our way down into the lagoon. From there, we could disembark at various points - to cliff jump, snorkel, ride the zip line, try the ropes course - or just keep drifting lazily in the turquoise water. We opted for a combination of all of the above and loved every minute of it.
At the end of the day, exhausted after nearly 12 hours of adventure, we boarded the bus back to Paradisus. Just before he drifted to sleep on my lap, Julian said, “mama, can you even believe I tried snorkeling today?!” I just smiled and hummed the Voyage of the Mimi theme song quietly to myself.
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.
There's nothing quite like a mid-week road trip. To the North Shore. With a dear friend who is also a photographer. One who is totally down to spontaneously pull over to the side of the road for those "hey look!" moments.
Eric and I had a fabulous time soaking up the fall colors along Lake Superior, chasing light, and standing in as each other's models. We explored places we'd never been before and hit up some old favorites. My heart and my camera roll are both full after our 36-hour adventure.
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.
Last week, I shared my experience from the beautifully isolated, picturesque Lost Lake, home of Lost Lake Lodge. Well, the lodge also has a gourmet restaurant, which serves up local fare, Asian-inspired dishes, and delicious cocktails. In addition to eating this amazing food, I got to try my hand at shooting it, both in the kitchen as it was being prepared and the dining room. I think I could get used to this whole food photography thing.
Thanks again to Lost Lake Lodge for inviting us up for a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.
( c l i c k t o e n l a r g e )
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 )
U2's The Joshua Tree album was released in 1987. I was 7 years old and I have been in love with it ever since. Early on, I also became obsessed with Joshua Tree National Park, thinking that visiting the place that inspired the name of my favorite album would somehow bring me closer to the music and band I so dearly worshipped.
I finally made it 28 years later, and the park was truly magical. And of course the album provided the perfect soundtrack to the adventure. Inspired by this connection, I created a photo series pairing my favorite shots from the trip (not just of JTNP, but the greater Coachella Valley as well) with songs from the album as titles.
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.
A yoga retreat on an island in Wisconsin? Yes, please. Hone my photo skills by taking some shots for Align by Adrienne? Ok.
I didn't even realize how much I needed this time to recharge and actually exercise for the first time in years until I got there. The setting (at Stout's Island Lodge) was idyllic, the workouts grueling, and the company wonderful.
Here are some of my favorite images:
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.
"Wanderlust" is a word that's bandied about often, particularly in the fog-chasing, open-road-travelling, coffee-drinking world of Instagram photographers. To the extent that I poke fun of it all, I do so only out of jealousy, really. Because, man, do you ever just get hit by a travel bug in that nebulous, visceral way? It's a yearning so strong that it makes you almost ache with the desire to just. go.
This past week, Passion Passport held an Instagram contest in commemoration of Pay Pal's 15th anniversary. They asked users to share their favorite travel memories from the past 15 years for a chance to win some sweet prizes. And since I have no means or time right now to satiate my sense of wanderlust, I settled for a good ol' walk down memory lane and the chance to live vicariously through my former self. I delved into hundreds of slides I shot from a trip 10 years ago and here's the contest entry I came up with:
I didn't win the contest, but I found the whole experience to be highly rewarding. Receiving an honorable mention wasn't too shabby either.
It's no secret that I love Minneapolis. And Minnesota. And the Midwest in general. I was honored when Modern Midwest - a website devoted to celebrating "modern living, Midwest-style" - asked me to compile a set of photos showing off my home state. I selected the theme "Land of Sky-Blue Water," (crossed my fingers that Hamm's Beer hadn't trademarked that phrase), and then chose nine photos highlighting Minnesota's beautiful lakes and rivers. Check out the H2O-centric feature here: