Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in Chicago

Chicago, Illinois
Our family usually has a big dinner on Christmas Eve. In the past few years with the addition of new husbands and wives and lots of children, the family has expanded, much like our waistlines at holiday time, and the clan no longer fits around the dining room table at my mom's house for the traditional dinner.

This year we decided to celebrate early and have Sunday brunch at The Barn of Barrington with all of our extended family. We even had some family fly in from Poland and my cousins surprised us by driving all the way from South Carolina.

Here's the youngest, Ella, preparing to give a concert.

Mini-Chopin concentrates on the keys as her hair flies around à la Paderewski.

Then the moment we've all been waiting for - no, not dessert (although the mousse was exquisite, if I do say so myself)... Presents!!!

I love giving presents. The best part is watching the recipient open his or her gift. Sara is happy with her present, a pink purse made by my sister Alicja.

Opening presents can be tiring!

Olivia sneaked off into a corner to finish looking at her gifts but was soon joined by her curious cousin Sara...

... who was going on and on about something or other.

My grandmother would have loved to see everyone together. She passed away last December at the age of 99 but her presence was certainly felt today. My aunt brought a framed photo of her taken a few Christmases ago to place on the table.

My mom, sister, Michael & I opened our presents to each other the next day. Mom, Alicja & I used to watch Alias together every Sunday night so we got her spy-themed presents including an Alias book and...

night vision goggles.

Even Saba, the dog, got presents. Who knew she was on the Good List?

Chicago may have snow and freezing temperatures but our hearts were warm as we headed back to LA early the next morning.

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Polar Express

We decided to ride the rails to Chicago for Christmas. The Southwest Chief left Los Angeles Union Station Thursday at 6:45 pm and was due in the Windy City 2 days later.

We brought my camera case and Michael's laptop - our tools of the trade - as well as 3 suitcases: the largest filled with presents we checked ahead of time, the medium one held our clothes and toiletries, and the smallest had food and water bottles for the trip.

Day 1

Coach seats on a train are like 1st Class on a plane. Not the most comfortable place to fall asleep but not so bad. I would highly recommend bringing earplugs - the one thing we forgot. Some passengers were up before the rooster and crowed until everyone was awake.

By morning we were in Arizona and then New Mexico.

I didn't expect to see snow so early in our trip.

Soon it was nightfall again. I think we're in Colorado.

I took a photo of our reflection in the lounge car as we're waiting to be called for dinner. Since it was dark I turned the flash backwards to light us while the camera was pointed away from us toward the window.

Day 2

The next morning was a blur of snow. The fog never lifted.

This is my favorite photo from the trip. I love its monochrome - it reminds me of a painting.

The sun was in hiding for the whole day, creating a moody atmosphere.

The roads all seemed to lead to nowhere. This is where horror movies are born.

A lone tree braves the cold as the grass shivers, its blanket of snow having melted away.

We are in Illinois. Farmhouses like this are slowly disappearing from the landscape as new developments take over. Where once there were rows upon rows of corn there are now rows upon rows of townhomes. I used to live in Aurora, about 50 miles west of Chicago, and every few months a new development would spring up in Montgomery or Oswego or Naperville or Sugar Grove. I've alway felt a little sad to see the farms disappear. But as a philosopher once said over a thousand years ago, nothing endures but change.

All aboard!

Our trip is almost over. We had such a great time on the train. All of the Amtrak staff was super friendly and helpful. More laid back and less stressful than air travel, and no need to worry about flights canceled due to weather. We look forward to another train trip - perhaps next Christmas to see Michael's parents in Wyoming or maybe a quick California trip over the summer.

We arrive in Chicago right on time, 43 hours and 15 minutes after leaving LA.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Surfin' Santa - The Making of a Holiday Card

Capitola, California
Growing up in Chicago, winter was frost on the windows and icicles glistening in the sun, snow angels and sledding, quiet evening walks as snow spiraled from the sky, shoveling sidewalks and driveways and stuck cars, dressing in layers upon layers and seeing your warm breath make tiny clouds in the cold air, hot chocolate topped with mini marshmallows and of course Santa with his long white beard dressed in a warm red suit trimmed in fur and tall black boots.

Since moving to L.A. a few years ago, we're always looking for experiences unique to California. Palm trees covered in lights, Christmas boat parades, walks on the beach alongside swimming dolphins and Hunky Santa at the Beverly Center.

This year we headed up north to Capitola for Surfin' Santa. Capitola is a friendly beachside city just south of Santa Cruz.

Santa Claus comes to the Main St. beach the Saturday after Thanksgiving to listen to all the children's requests for bicycles and dolls and cell phones and Wiis. This year he paddled to shore with a couple of his elves, led by his reindeer on surfboards.

As the children waited in line, Michael and I explored the town.

Outside of Cafe Violette, which has the best ice cream, we came across this vintage car.

Even the Grinch couldn't spoil the day for us. We looked in all the little shops along the Esplanade. You can do all of your Christmas shopping here: get t-shirts at Sea Level T's, seashells in the appropriately named Capitola Seashells located in the Mercantile Exchange, and all of your pirate gear at Turtle Shells. The Craft Gallery Annex was one of our favorites for unique gifts from pendulums and whimsical sculptures to address books decorated with sassy women in 50's fashion sporting a witty blurb above their heads.

The best gift of all was from the city of Capitola itself - FREE parking!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!

Los Angeles, California

Hope Santa brings everything on your list!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congratulations Jillian & Randy!

Redlands, California
Jillian and Randy had a very stylish wedding at the Redlands Bowl.

I loved Jillian's look - so classic yet contemporary at the same time.

The flowergirls' dresses featured a black sash just like the bride's dress. Jillian's veil had black edging and she completed the look with black and silver jewelry.

Here's the three of them walking down the aisle.

Their day was absolutely gorgeous!

Did I mention I loved the bouquet? Beautiful deep hues of yellow and orange fitting for a fall wedding and just enough of a splash of color against the white and black decor. The stems were wrapped elegantly in white criscrossed with black velvet.

These shoes went perfectly with the dress! I love that they're not "bridal" but match the style of the wedding. White shoes can be hard to find and for those of you still looking for the perfect footwear, I encourage checking out all designers that make dressy shoes - not just wedding heels. Get shoes you love!

First dance....

The ringbearer wants to cut in.

Jillian's expression is priceless as she tears into the cake. I loved photographing the bride and groom because they truly ignored the camera and just were themselves - smiling, laughing, having fun, enjoying their wedding.

So you like to dance but your significant other doesn't. What do you do? Here's one idea.

He may have taken some persuading, but this ringbearer could cut up a rug. He was doing some complicated overhead arm movements spinning the flowergirl as fast as she could twirl. One day he'll be performing in the Salsa Congress.

It's the end of the night as the newlyweds share a quiet moment alone.

The last photo of the night.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mummy Dearest

San Jose, California
We went to Egypt! Well not exactly... But we did go the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.

We were the only ones in the gardens that mid-morning. As we walked around the pond admiring the papyrus what struck me most was the quiet. It was so serene and peaceful.

The crisp white buildings with maroon and green accents stood out against the deep blue of the sky. I would love to photograph a bride here. Or an engagement shoot.

The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts. After seeing the mummies on the first floor, visitors go inside a tomb, if they dare.

Past the statue is the sarcophagus chamber, decorated by brightly colored murals.

The museum also exhibits many cylinder seals and other Babylonian artifacts. Among these are figures of Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. Ishtar went by many names. The Greeks called her Demeter as well as Aphrodite and the Romans Venus. The figure on the right was found at Uruk.

One Babylonian myth tells of Ishtar descending into the underworld in order to rescue her lover. Now that's a really long-distance relationship!

Do you ever wonder how wedding traditions started? Today some grooms carry their brides over the threshold for good-luck. Don't know if newlyweds did that back in 1,000 BCE, but they did bury small statues of Ishtar, often broken into pieces, before their doorway.

All too soon we had to leave and start our long drive back to Los Angeles.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

More photos of Phuong & Joe...

Santa Clara, California
Here's some more photos from Phuong & Joe's wedding. These were taken by my husband Mike who assists and second-shoots weddings with me.

This is Mike standing in for the bridal party as I take some test shots:

As I was taking photos of the bride getting ready, Mike got these awesome photos of her younger brother getting his hair cut.

Mike is a foot taller than me so we naturally shoot from different vantage points.

I love this photo Mike took as Phuong talked about her husband. He took this with a telephoto from the back of the room while I shot with a wider lens up front.

What a great smile! This is the maid of honor's sister who won the battle for the bouquet against her sister.

I love the expression on Phuong's brother's face as the men of the gridiron battle for position in the garter toss.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Congratulations Phuong & Joe!

Santa Clara, California
We first met Phuong and Joe on their engagement shoot in San Francisco. We were excited to see them get married in a lovely mid-day ceremony at Freedom Hall and Gardens in Santa Clara.

We started the day at her parents' home. Phuong has three brothers. The youngest is getting his hair cut by Mom for the Big Day.

Meanwhile, Phuong is getting her hair and make-up done by a family friend.

Joe, his brother and brothers-in-law are all smiles before the ceremony.

The sun came out for Phuong and Joe's wedding ceremony on this crisp fall day.

The bride and groom are reflected in Phuong's grandma's shades.

Sealed with a kiss!

I love this photo of Phuong taken right after the ceremony. Her mom is bustling the dress.

The toasts were very moving. This is one of my favorite moments during a wedding because you can not only feel the love that the couple has for each other, but also the love and good wishes everyone has for both of them.

The gorgeous (and delicious) cake.

Phuong and Joe waltzed for their first dance. It looked great!

They didn't stop there - here they are dancing to another slow song.

Left, left, right, right, back, back, rock, back, rock, kick turn, and repeat.

The maid of honor dancing and serenading. She and Phuong grew up together and she came all the way from Vegas for the wedding.

Quiet moment after the guests depart.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

There's always next year...

Polka Photos didn't win this year's Hot List contest on My Fox LA but there's always next year - for us and the Cubbies.

Thank you all for voting!!!

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