And just like that….

…..all of my photo sessions are edited and delivered!  And it’s finally time to get my Christmas on.  I am usually way more on top of this whole holiday thing but this year between rushing to get everyones holiday photos done and traveling over Thanksgiving, well, let’s just say my own cards are going to be a bit late and leave it at that.img_8224I love Christmas!  I love everything about it!  I love the decorations, picking out the tree, the music, the baking, the gift giving, the decorations….yep….I said it again!img_8188Now that my daughter is older, she loves to help with everything.  This year, because I was so swamped with editing, she even carried all of the bins up from the basement and unloaded them.  I love that girl!img_8198This is her reading her novel on the couch tonight as I walked around shooting photos.  That girl loves to read.  She asked me tonight to add Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights to her Christmas list….yay!img_8247Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have a fireplace.  I had to hang the stockings on walls or furniture.  I was so happy when we added this room to our house and included this awesome fireplace!  Now my stockings have a perfect home! (Crazy dog bonus!)img_8204img_8202If you hadn’t noticed….I have a thing for little trees.  Especially the bottle brush style.  I probably have 100 of them spread out throughout my house.  I also love vintage holiday decorations.  Here are a few that were handed down from my childhood…img_8194img_8195But, most of all, I love the tree.  Our Christmas tree reads like a history of our family.  Every year, when we unwrap each ornament, it inspires conversations about where they came from and when.  For instance, this was the first ornament that Tim and I bought together…img_8215And this ornament I made when I only had one little person in my life…img_8183And this one was from when there were two boys and no Ella (she hates that!)…img_8240There are ornaments on our tree from every trip I have every taken starting in college.  And now we purchase new ornaments every year for our kids to mark their milestones and likes.img_8239img_8210img_8242img_8212And squirrels…you know there are a few of those on there!img_8225This guy lived at my house from the time I was very small.  I love that he is still around.  I think he used to light up but that part is long gone.  Here we are together back in the 60’s…00360012There is something magical about taking out the same decorations with my children that I remember from my own childhood. Like this gem that I made when I was younger…img_8209Here are a few more quick shots from around the house…img_8226img_8203img_8245The next few weeks will be filled with holiday goodness and fun times with my family.  It will be nice to have some game playing, Christmas movie watching, treat eating time before things start to ramp up again in the new year.  I’m already planning out all of my awesome mini sessions so get ready….it’s going to be so much fun!

Merry Christmas to your family from ours!


A New Leaf

Last month I photographed a cocktail reception that was held after the couple’s destination wedding (Paris!).  The reception was at a very unique Chicago venue….A New Leaf.  I had never been to this venue but I heard from friends that it was different and boy were they right…it was fantastic. I thought I would share some of the highlights of this beautiful event…

img_8490img_8635img_8672img_8491img_8395img_8592The venue is in a space that is stripped down to the bare essentials.  I loved the dark, industrial vibe but it was definitely a challenge to photograph in.  A New Leaf is actually a florist who offers this space next door for events.  They provided the beautiful flowers for the reception as part of the package.  In addition to the indoor space they also had an outside courtyard that would be awesome in nicer weather.img_8608img_8545img_8555img_8565The building includes multiple open levels, cement floors & stairways, vintage brick, and quirky lighting.  The food and drinks were served in the back of the lower level on a long metal table with the biggest flower arrangement I had ever seen.  The levels made for wonderful vantage points to capture shot of the guests. (And one tired photographer by the end of the night!)img_8436img_8564img_8575img_8582img_8716The bride wore a non-traditional red designer gown that was absolutely stunning on her.  I couldn’t imagine her in anything else frankly.  They were a happy couple who couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other. And their children…so sweet!img_8308img_8501img_8518I captured this shot discreetly in the apartment above.  They were thoroughly engrossed in each other while they rehearsed their dance.img_8339The dance floor was on the highest level of the building and, although small, was beautifully lit and the D.J. drew the crowd upward for a night of crazy fun!img_8935img_8930img_8754img_8739I enjoyed photographing this beautiful event and meeting this fun family.  If you are looking for an interesting place to host an event, I highly recommend A New Leaf.img_8614 And…don’t forget to call me…your photographer!


Gluten Free in Florida

As anyone who follows me on social media probably knows, I have Celiac Disease.  That means that I have to eat exclusively Gluten Free.  I remember when I was first diagnosed 6 years ago, I felt totally overwhelmed and sad but now, I see the big difference this has made in my health so it is worth the effort to make sure I don’t ever get “glutened”.  At home…no problem.  When we travel it’s a whole different situation.

no-gluten-fbI have to trust that people in restaurants will take the proper precautions to keep me safe and that is a bit scary.  I use an app called Find Me Gluten Free to locate restaurants that have great reviews and I regularly review the restaurants that I visit there and on my blog to help others with their gluten free vacation choices.

Over Thanksgiving break my family traveled to Cape Coral/Fort Myers Florida.  It was a wonderful and relaxing trip but the best part of all, for me, was the great gluten free food that I enjoyed.  When we arrived, I had not made any plans for getting dinner.  I saw that there were several restaurants on my app that were grouped together so we headed in that direction.  That led us to downtown Fort Myers…a super cute place that looked like it would be fun to walk around and see the sights.  We were tired and only killing time until our house was ready, so we drove around a while to find one of the scarce parking spaces and headed toward the restaurants.  We originally intended to go to a different restaurant but when my family saw Capone’s…they knew it was the place for us.


Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza is a speakeasy themed restaurant that specializes in pizza.  That made me nervous as usually restaurants like that cook everything together in a big oven with flour flying everywhere but they assured me that they would keep mine separate and cook it in a pan.  While they did not have a dedicated gf menu, they do have gf pizza crust and I was able to order the caprese salad.  The salad was good and fresh and I was starving so I wolfed that down without even thinking about a photo.  My pizza was served in a pan and seemed to be made from the Chebe brand mix.  (no picture of that either darn it!) It was tasty and satisfying.  I did have some gluten symptoms the next day but I wasn’t sure if it was from that or something else so I say eat at your own risk.  At least my family was happy!

Another restaurant that we visited was Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill.  It was located right on the water and we sat outside…both pluses in my book!


Doc Ford’s has a dedicated gluten free menu with quite a few choices on it.  I started off my meal with their mussels.  They were very tasty and came with a side of gf flatbread which was nice since a big part of eating mussels is dipping your bread in the wonderful broth.  Thoroughly enjoyed!


For my main course I ordered the Shrimp & Grits.

thumb_img_5520_1024This was prepared differently than I make it as the shrimp had a sort of breading on it and were fried while the cheese grits were served kind of dry.  I was worried about the sauce and/or grits being too spicy for me (I’m a wimp!) but they were not spicy at all.  The flavor was nice and I loved having fried shrimp.  I would eat this again for sure.

thumb_img_5524_1024Overall, Doc Ford’s was a win for me…and I didn’t get sick!  A great start to the trip!!

(As a side note…we visited Doc Ford’s at the end of our trip again and my experience was not as good.  I had the mussels which I enjoyed but the fish tacos that I was served were not good.  The fish was rubbery and bland and the salsa was very hot but not really fresh or flavorful.  I wish I would have had the shrimp & grits again.)

Another win for me was an interesting restaurant called Salty Papas Shrimp House.  It came up with good reviews on FMGF so I thought we would head over.  Imagine my surprise when we pulled up and the restaurant was at the end of a very nondescript strip mall.  Not quite the ambiance of the first place but I am always willing to give it a shot…especially with the good reviews.  saltypapasheader

This restaurant also had a gluten free menu but I was sad to find no fried fish or shrimp.  I started this meal with peel & eat shrimp.  They were so good…I can’t even explain it.  Amazing!  thumb_img_5528_1024

Then I went with my old standby…shrimp and grits.  I figured I liked it so much last time…why not.  This shrimp and grits was totally different from the last.  It was more like what I would make at home.  Check it out…thumb_img_5532_1024

There was sausage, shrimp and veggies and that sauce…my mouth is watering thinking about it.  It was so good I practically licked the plate clean.  Apparently…my family was in agreement with me on this place after they shared this dish…

thumb_img_5529_1024I don’t see this on their online menu and I can’t remember the name but it was an appetizer with fries, gravy, cheese and other stuff.  My entire family (minus me of course) ate every bite of this dish.  Even my picky sons wolfed this down and declared it the best they had ever had.  I would go back here in a heartbeat!


For Thanksgiving we chose a fan favorite…Bistro 821 in Naples.  We had eaten there a few years ago while visiting Marco Island and I absolutely loved it so, since no one in my family is that into turkey, we decided to enjoy some seafood instead.  They have a great gluten free menu.  My favorite dish from our previous visit is the one pictured above….jumbo prawns with crisp sushi rice cake and  Thai chili sauce (the lemon sauce was my own add on and does not typically come with this dish).  These are probably the best prawns I have ever had.  I enjoyed it again this time as much as I did last time.  For my main dish I ordered the sea bass and lobster tail.


I’m sorry to say that I didn’t capture my own photo so I borrowed this one from Trip Advisor.  This is the sea bass pretty much how I had it except there was a half lobster tail and asparagus instead of beans.  That sea bass was incredible.  If we go back, I will probably have that as my dish alone.  So enjoyable.  And still one of my favorite restaurants in Florida!

We had a few other great experiences while we were there but, unfortunately, I did not take photos so I will share the details and apologize for my slacker behavior in the photo department.

Ford’s Garage…..this was a win with my family who loved it so much they wanted to go back again.  For me…it was just so /so.  This is mostly a burger place and their burgers are fantastic.  My beef (LOL) is that they don’t have a GF bun.  So, basically you are just getting a beef patty on a lettuce leaf.  Now, it was the best beef patty I have ever had…don’t get me wrong…but they really need to step up and get a bun.  If Culvers can do it…so can you!

Bianca’s Ristorante….So good we went back twice.  This place was close to our rental house which made it a total score.  Another amazing restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall (it must be a Florida thing).  They were very nice and took time to explain what I could eat.  While they didn’t have a dedicated gluten free menu, they do offer pizza and pasta that is gluten free.  Because all of their dishes are made to order, they can accommodate you with almost any dish.  I had one of their pizzas as a starter and it was amazing.  I also enjoyed (twice) their Kale & Chicken ravioli with alfredo sauce and it was the best I have had since going GF.  The couple who owns the restaurant were very friendly and remembered us from our first visit which was nice.  Seriously…highly recommend!

And….the highlight of my trip was visiting an ice cream shop on Sanibel Island called Pinocchio’s Italian Ice Cream.  Not only did they have a ton of yummy flavors that I could eat, they knew to change gloves and wash the utensils thoroughly before scooping my order.  And….are you ready for this….they had a GLUTEN FREE SUGAR CONE!  As someone who has eating her ice cream in a cup for the last 6 year I can’t tell you how exciting this was.  I had the this Italian wedding cake flavor that was fantastic with a nice almond flavor just like the old Italian wedding cakes of my childhood.  I wish we would have found this place earlier in our trip so that I could have gone there a few more times.

I would consider the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area a perfect spot for the gluten free diner.  I was worried at first that I wouldn’t find any great choices but almost every restaurant we visited would be on my list should be ever travel there again.  I hope this will help you if you are planning a trip to that area.  I would love to hear about your experiences should you visit any of the restaurants mentioned.

And today….as the snow comes down…I am wishing I was back in Florida!


the Beutel family

With Thanksgiving break coming up…we are heading out of town, thus no photo editing will be going on.  This week I have been working night and day to finish up a few more sessions prior to our trip.  One of those sessions was for this family…img_4355We share a special bond with them as families because our sons both have the same rare neuro-immunological condition, Transverse Myelitis (TM). (you can find more info on that here…TMA)  We met years ago when our boys played wheelchair basketball on the same team and have kept in touch, sharing information along the way.  We also enjoy spending time together each year at TMA Family Camp at this amazing place (CCK).  I was thrilled when they reached out to me to capture fall family photos for them!img_4333As anyone who has a dealt with a chronic illness knows….it’s not easy.  It puts a strain on the family that is difficult to explain to someone who has never faced it. This is especially true when the sick person is your child.  They say that facing things like that will either tear you apart or draw you closer together…and if you spend any time with this family you will see that their bond is super strong, loving, and as close as any family could be!img_4138I had so much fun photographing these guys.  They are super silly siblings!  Equal parts of loving and wanting to poke each other every second.  Perfect!!img_4425img_4431img_4443Our day was beautiful…the fall colors were in full swing…and we took our time moving around to get the best shots.  img_4183img_4511img_4823Sometimes it takes a while for kids to loosen up and just be themselves.  I always book extra time with kids to give them time to relax into the session.  I find that when you do that you get photos like this…img_4720And this…img_4699And especially this…img_4806img_4811I hope you guys had as much fun as I did that day!  And…thank you for choosing me to capture these sweet memories for your family!


Family Fun!

I love taking photos!  I love retouching photos!  (seriously…I have a hard time tearing myself away once I start a session)  But…I especially love it when I get to take and retouch photos of people that I care about.  When your family trusts you to capture their very precious memories…well…that makes my job even better.img_9004Last month I met up with my nephew and his family to take some fall photos.  Unfortunately, it started to rain that day and the weather was just not pleasant.img_9096img_8954We snapped a few shots before the girls just were too cold and miserable to continue.  I promised him that we would revisit this as soon as the weather cleared up. A few weeks ago we met up to give it another shot.img_3094Luckily…our second day was beautiful!  The fall colors had finally blossomed and the weather was wonderful.  We captured so many gorgeous photos of the girls that it was hard to choose which ones were the absolute best!img_2509img_2545And the eyes on this girl…O.M.G.  No retouching necessary!img_2866img_2825img_2810Now that the photos have been delivered I wanted to share a few snaps from our session.  Working with people you love makes my job even more wonderful than it already is.img_3049These are some of my favorites….I love these silly girls!!img_2793img_2788img_2785img_2782Winter photo sessions coming soon…get some cute boots and a scarf and meet me in the woods when the first snowfall happens.  Let’s capture the magic together…


The Bridal Portrait Session

The proposal has happened, and the date has been set.  (and hopefully you called me to take your engagement photos)  You’re busy renting a hall, hiring a caterer, a DJ, and a photographer (me!).  It’s such an exciting time in your life!  img_6773Then the actual day arrives and you are up early, butterflies in your belly, thrilled to finally have gotten to this point with everything in place.  The day is full, busy, packed….and you still have to squeeze in time to spend with everyone and to take photos.  Will those photos looked relaxed and natural or will they look tense, rushed and stressed? img_6917 A trend among smart brides is to schedule a ‘Bridal Portrait Session’ separate from the wedding.  Yes…it might mean getting dressed, made up, and getting your hair done twice but it’s also a great time to do a trial run in advance of your actual wedding.  img_6715Bridal Portrait Sessions are a great way to get in all of those special shots that you might not have time for on your actual wedding day.  You can travel to different locations, take your time, be relaxed and have fun.  img_6759And don’t think that these sessions have to come before the wedding.  The photos from this session were actually done after the wedding.  I was booked already for their actual wedding date so they immediately made plans to take these photos later…thus getting amazing, on location, shots of just them together without the pressure of schedules, guests, etc.img_6904I highly recommend that you consider adding a Bridal Portrait Session to your wedding plans.  And when you do….be sure to give me a call!!img_7004XO

Eaker Family

(In the interest of actually fulfilling my goal of posting to my blog more often, I thought I would recap last weekend’s photo fun.  Better late than never!)

Last weekend I was excited to photograph this lovely family.  The main request that the parents had was to capture a whole family photo.  I am so happy that we were able to achieve this given that both of the kids were under the weather a little that day.img_3241I think it’s very hard when you plan something like this in advance, and the available weekends for fall colors are very limited, and then people aren’t feeling their best.  Of course…you would never know it to see these sweet faces!img_3310img_3369Not only did we have some gorgeous fall colors….we also found a nice pumpkin and mum display to take a few photos with…img_3421img_3437We also found this….img_3151She was completely fascinated with the big scarecrow.  So cute!  img_3336I was so happy that they chose me to capture these beautiful shots of their family.img_3236