Archive for Personal Life/Adventures

Late last year, my mom announced to the family that she was going to officially retire. For years, we’ve been telling her – just retire, you’re so old 😉  – jk, mom! But when it finally happened, it felt like more than just an end to her days of working – but the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifice to make myself and my two older brothers the people we are today. Over 40 years ago, my parents came to America from the Philippines to give us a life of opportunity. They lived in a tiny apartment, slept on cardboard boxes, and worked multiple jobs just to make ends meet. They bought their first small house in Bensenville a few years later, and have upgraded houses twice in my lifetime, all the while giving us everything we ever needed – spending way too much on those Abercrombie jeans that I had to have in high school, paying for my college education, and still to this day always willing to give me the shirts off their back (or quite literally the purse in my mom’s hand if I like it).

So while this post isn’t photography related – I had to send some love to my mom and share with all of you how awesome she is. She’s an incredibly supportive mother – never missed a basketball or volleyball game in high school, and didn’t doubt me for a second when I told her I wanted to quit my desk job and pursue photography full time, which meant EVERYTHING to me. Having that support gave me the confidence I needed, and made me believe I could do it. She’s funny, strong-willed, and deserves every bit of free time that she now has (whether you spend it selling random things on Facebook or at the casino is up to you, mom!).

I’m so glad we completely surprised you with this dinner at Gene & Georgetti – even though Dad came a little too close to blowing the surprise a few times! We love you so much and just wanted you to know how much we appreciate everything you and dad have ever done for us… now we just have to get Dad to retire 😉

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My oldest brother Oliver made these BEAUTIFUL center pieces, and the place cards and menus were designed by yours truly.

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I’m a little late to the game on this, but 2017 was an INCREDIBLE year. I’m a big believer of reflection, and taking the time to look back through some major moments to reminisce, learn, and laugh before moving on to the new year. Here’s a look back through the year’s highs and lows, and what I’m looking forward to in 2018 🙂

To start, I don’t think I’ll ever look back on 2017 and not remember NEW ZEALAND – the trip of a lifetime. The people we met, the food we ate, the incredible sights we saw… it was like a dream. Even looking back at the pictures now, they look fake.

Above: Lake Tekapo… just driving these winding roads with the incredible sights was my favorite. Every turn was something new and even more gorgeous.

Above: our favorite little cafe, I’m not even sure what it was called but it was between Mt. Cook and Queenstown and it was so good we ate there twice.

Above: the view of Mt. Cook from inside the lodge. Mt. Cook was my favorite place on earth. This tiny little town, surrounded by nothing but mountains.

Meghan (to the front desk): “Ummm, our cable isn’t working.

Front Desk: “Yeah, that’s because we’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains.”

Meghan: “Oh, okay thanks. Bye.”

Taking a ski plane to the top of this glacier, and then hiking around it tied to a bunch of strangers was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done – and might ever be. I legitimately thought I was going to die on the tiny little plane (it was super windy and we were flying through peaks so the wind would take control of the plane every time we came around a corner). But it was SO worth it.

Bungee-ing in Queenstown – bucket list item ✓

There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe this trip (see more of what we did on the blog at http://bit.ly/2k3MsT6). But I am thankful for the incredible time we had, Meghan’s great company (Cuba 2018???) – I just can’t say enough about New Zealand other than, I want to go back NOW.

To come back from New Zealand after three weeks of being gone was bittersweet. I obviously didn’t want to leave all of NZ’s beauty behind, but it was nice to be home and not living out of a suitcase, of course wonderful to see my boyfriend and cat (I missed them so much!), and I also knew I’d be packing my bags again in just a few days and heading to Telluride for our annual ski trip.

This annual ski trip is one of my faves that I look forward to every year. ALWAYS a good time being surrounded by mountains with some of my favorite people! Next up in just a few weeks… Whistler! After Telluride, it was back to reality. It was great to be home and spend some time with family, friends, and of course get back to work photographing my 2017 couples!

This time at home/back to work also reminded me that I don’t have to travel the world to be filled with happiness… my housewarming party was incredible (we filled the condo with 45 people!), doing Chicago things, being Godmother to my nephew, Evan, Chicago street fests, concerts in the park… all was so much fun and in the comforts of my own city.

And when I wasn’t playing, I was working with the sweetest couples…

above: Zach and Worth got engaged over Fourth of July weekend!!!! Lots of work, sprinkled with trips to the cabin, a quick anniversary trip Charleston with Dan… oh, and did I mention a Seattle/Alaskan Cruise? Thanks, Granny!

And then I came home to more incredible weddings filled with firsts…

above: I’d never seen a bride/groom do the full dance from Dirty Dancing before (btw – they NAILED it).

above: I’d never had it completely downpour an entire wedding day, and beggggg Hotel Lincoln to let us shoot on their rooftop before it opened.

above: I also hadn’t shot at the Field Museum before – and it did not disappoint. It. was. EPIC. And of course, in between weddings and work – I filled it with being silly around Chicago/Northwoods with my loves.

Another first for 2017, I’d never been to Denver twice in one month, but most importantly, I’d never backpack camped in the mountains – I was super nervous, but with the help and guidance of Mountain Man, Dan – we made it 🙂 We even came back to Denver for a night to check another bucket list item off the list: see a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater.


I also made it out to Philadelphia for the first time to photograph my cousin, Tiff’s Maternity Photos:

The fall was filled with tons and tons of shoots. I was busier than ever (it’s a good thing!), and come November – photographed my last two weddings of the year. I couldn’t have ended it better, Nikki + Grant felt like old friends – and Jen + Tyler ARE friends and I got to celebrate with them during Cocktail Hour/Reception while my associates took over 🙂

above: if you can’t tell by my face in the picture above – Jen + Tyler’s wedding was one of my favorite nights of the year! Then came December – which was filled with lots of time wrapping things up for the end of the year, focusing on time for myself/friends/family, and most of all – just doing things that made me happy. These things included: bowling, seeing the Acrocats, getting in the holiday spirit, holiday parties, and lots and lots of cheese and booze.

What a great year it was! I know I missed a ton – one of my resolutions last year was to take less photos and be more in the moment… which was good and bad. I definitely got to live in the moment a little more, but I also don’t have as many pics to look back on so… I miiiiiight try to take a few more pics in 2018 😉 But really, my favorite moments of the year, and of life in general – are usually the moments that aren’t ‘photograph worthy,’ but are the moments that are often overlooked. The quiet moments that were unplanned, the ones that just come together organically – and sometimes the ones where nothing is going on at all. I know for a fact I was pretty darn happy when it was just myself, Dan, and the two cats sitting on the couch. OH! How could I forget – 2017 also brought us a new kitty! Hence, I said TWO cats on the couch. We were/are fostering a cat to help out her owners who just had a baby, and in the middle of us fostering the owners said they didn’t want her back 🙁 So, we’re currently trying to work that out – she’s the sweetest cat but we’re waiting to see how she settles in with our Boyd – because if you know him, he’s a little rambunctious.

Anyway, some key moments that weren’t photographed/mentioned above but definitely have a place in my heart for 2017: Dan moved in. My mom retired. Dan and I got a shared workspace for DMH Woodwork and JTPhoto. Our condo is making progress. Ate some amazing dinners: Giant, Girl and the Goat, Au Cheval, BLVD, Scofflaw, Wasabi just to name a few. Plenty of game nights filled with Blokus, Cranium, Codenames, Slap Jack, Yahtzee, Boggle, Speed… so many good things.

Phew! 2017 – what a fun year. Now, time to look forward into 2018. Sharing goals is scary. It holds you accountable, it makes you vulnerable, and it makes it real. And as much as some of you probably don’t care – here I go:

  1. Finish the office/studio. My goal is to start hosting clients/shooting there by the end of February. Fingers crossed!
  2. Stay active, eat healthier. This is the first time I’ve actually started to notice myself getting older. I need to be more mindful of what I put into my body, and make sure I’m staying strong, healthy, and active.
  3. Finish the spare room in the condo. We recently made some big progress on this, but now the finishing touches!
  4. Knock out the fireplace/redo the living room.
  5. Redo my website, upload more recent photos from 2017.
  6. Hire more associate photographers.
  7. Branch into more studio photography: products, portraits, branding, etc.
  8. Put myself first (not all the time, but more often).

I could add two more goals to make it an even 10, but those would be arbitrary – and I want to focus on achieving these specific goals – not list out two more just because. If you’re still with me this far (I’d be surprised if you were), thanks for reading. I knew I wanted to write this blog for a few reasons. I wanted to write it to make sure I went back over the past year and remembered all the great things that happened. I think these days it’s easy to get lost in a world of comparison, being envious of what others have, ya know – the grass is greener mentality. But, I always want to be thankful for what I’ve been given. That being said, I of course had my share of downs this year, cried many tears of stress, anger, frustration, jealousy – nothing and no one is perfect. But when you choose to focus on the good and be thankful for that – life looks pretty great. And this little 2017 wrap up helped me remember why 🙂 I also wanted to share this blog/peek into my life for future clients – if you’re newly engaged/looking at my work – there are TONS of talented photographers in Chicago. Forget paging through hundreds of my galleries – you like my work? Great. Now let’s connect on a different level. Here’s to every single one of you making 2018 one to remember and filling it with things to be thankful for.

The past two years, we’ve tried to start a tradition of camping somewhere new. Last year, we kept it local to Starved Rock/Illini State Park. But this year, thanks to our Southwest Companion Pass, we took our camping trip out west to Colorado to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. No car camping (last year was a baby step for me since I’d never been camping before!). This year, we put everything on our backs and hiked into our campsite – Pine Ridge (about 1.5 miles uphill from this parking lot). I’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty nervous about it – but Dan is a pro-outdoorsman so if there’s anyone I’d follow blindly into the woods – it’s him.

It was pretty cloudy/rainy the whole drive in from Denver, so I was not looking forward to hiking in and setting up camp, but as we parked and got set up to go… the skies cleared (sort of) and this beautiful rainbow appeared. It was the perfect sign to let me know everything was going to be okay.

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As we hiked in, we were battling against the dark. Our flight out of Chicago got delayed, so we arrived a few hours later than we had originally planned. We needed to get to our campsite and set up before dark, so stopping for pictures was NOT encouraged by ranger Dan – HA! Good luck not letting me snap at least one pic. And of course since I was taking one, he decided to sneak one in, too.

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JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0003.jpgThis was home for the next three nights. It doesn’t look like much, but it was AWESOME. We had the entire campsite to ourselves 🙂 And we lucked out that this particular site had a privy (otherwise we were fully prepared and came with a shovel)!

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Yep, this is where we pooped for three days. I know it seems awful, but when I was expecting to be digging holes all weekend – this was a very welcomed LUXURY!

 

The next day we explored the area near our campsite (actually behind the privy). We climbed up the rocks pictured on the left to enjoy this view and some snacks. After our little break, we hiked up to Ouzel Falls for a light hike. This trail was pretty touristy, but still gorgeous. I’m a sucker for streams and the sound of running water, and I was feeling a little under the weather so this was the perfect easy hike for day 1. The best part was our little chipmunk friend, Alvin, that ate nuts right out of our hands… he later returned to haunt us/steal our trail mix while we were napping in the hammock.JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0005.jpgJillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0007.jpgJillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0006.jpgJillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0010.jpg This was right before I got stuck and had nowhere else to go…
JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0008.jpgThen Dan, of course, showed me up and walked across the higher, more dangerous log over the stream (left). Oh, and that hammock was AMAZING. I could sleep in that thing every day of my life. Those smiles are pure happiness (of course, this was pre-chipmunk messing with us and stealing our snacks).JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0009.jpgThe next day we spent pretty much the whole day hiking up to Finch Lake (~8 miles round trip). On the way, we saw a cow and a calf, and barely any people – which was nice. The only people we saw were 3 locals and they were surprised we had found that trail since not many people take it –  which is always a good sign to us! It was a pretty tough hike, so we set up the hammock for a little nap/snacks. Photo cred for the picture below goes to a tree branch. I hung up my camera and took it remotely from my phone. I’m surprised it turned out because it was SO windy that the camera was swaying back and forth (note my hair).JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0013.jpg
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We had such a fun time – I LOVED unplugging from the world and getting back to nature. Can’t wait for next year’s trip! Does anyone have any suggestions?? Leave your favorite camping spots in the comments below and/or hike recommendations… I’d love to hear what y’all are exploring!JillTiongcoPhotography-PersonalBlog_0015.jpg

As most of you know, last week I was went on an Alaskan Cruise with my boyfriend’s family. His grandmother brought us all on a cruise with her to experience one of her and her late husband’s favorite adventures. This was Granny’s FOURTH time cruising through Alaska and this time, she brought the entire family with her (20 of us could make it, and we missed everyone that couldn’t be there!). Hence the name and t-shirts ‘Cruisin’ with Granny.’ I’m so thankful that I was included on this trip, as you’ll see in the photos (and video coming soon) it was a BLAST. Thanks, Granny and Bo!!

We started with a day in Seattle. I’d never been there as an adult – and I really wanted to explore the Public Market. We did the Savor Seattle Tour, which I HIGHLY recommend. The market gets super crowded, so the tour was perfect as we got to hit all of the best stops, cut the lines, and get a small tasting of everything rather than having to pick one or two spots to taste. We got to try: hot cinnamon donuts from Daily Dozen Donuts, delish greek yogurt from Ellenos (I know you might be asking yourself, how good can greek yogurt really be? But this stuff is no joke. It is SOOOO good and healthy. It was so good I questioned it being healthy. It could’ve been a dessert. Try it.), cherry treats from Chukar Cherries, some reeeeeeal good cheese curds/cheese and crackers/mac and cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, THE BEST CLAM CHOWDER EVER from Pike Place Chowder (seriously, this was delicious. And I’m not even a huge Chowder fan. But this place won 1st place in the chowder competition so many years in a row that they were banned from participating for a few years so that other people had a chance. If that doesn’t convince you how good it is, I got Dan to wait in line for 45 minutes the next day so we could have it again – and if you know how much Dan hates lines, you know the chowder must be good), Russian pastries from Piroshky Piroshky (I’m sure these were delicious and I ate them, but by this point I was starting to enter my food coma and also couldn’t stop thinking about that chowder that I couldn’t focus. Dan really liked them though), Crab Cakes from Etta’s Seafood Restaurant, and finally salted caramls from Jonboy Caramels. Sorry there aren’t any pictures of the delicious food – I was too busy eating to have my camera out 🙂 Seattle was a blast, we even had an Uber driver that sang and gave us a puppet show – if you missed the videos on my Insta story… ask me the next time I see you – oddest experience ever.

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After a quick day in Seattle, we left Sunday for the cruise. It was my first cruise ever, so I was super nervous about being seasick the whole time. Once I got over that and got my sea-legs though, it was awesome. Our first stop was Ketchikan where we did the Deadliest Catch Crab Tour. This was really cool as we got to take in the views, learn about crab fishing, hold Box Crabs aka Transformers, and we saw 4-5 eagles fly around and dive down/catch fish. Pretty cool stuff.

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Next we cruised towards Juneau as we explored the Tracy Arm Fjord that was filled with glaciers and towering cliff walls. We also go lucky the entire trip with clear weather as we were able to see the tops of the mountains, which usually aren’t visible.

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When we arrived in Juneau, we hopped on a quick bus to the Mendenhall Valley in the Tongass National Forest to canoe 2.5 miles to the glacier for the hike. This was my favorite excursion of the trip – the canoe was beautiful, fun, and a total team effort; and the hike was pretty cool, too! If you follow my blog, you know that I hiked the Tasman Glacier in Mt. Cook, New Zealand earlier this year – but this was a totally different experience and cool in it’s own unique way! Thanks to our guides, Josian and Micah, with Liquid Alaska for being fun, informative, and for keeping us safe 🙂

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And then I had the BEST CRAB LEGS OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. One leg per person was enough to fill you up (I probably could’ve eaten two if I had to). How insane was that?? At $25/leg, I thought it was a little pricey – but after realizing how much meat is in one leg, it’s totally worth it. Worth the wait in line. Worth going to Juneau for. Tracy’s King Crab Shack, you’re doing it right.

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After a long day in Juneau, we set out overnight to Skagway. We didn’t spend much time in Skagway though, because as soon as we got there we took a ferry to a small fishing town nearby, Haines (45min trip). If we just took the ferry and back I would’ve been happy as the views were beautiful. Haines might have been my favorite little town we visited. It wasn’t super touristy, and it felt like the real Alaska. We went on a fishing tour with Heather and Asanti of Skagway Salmon Fishing (yup, that’s them on the homepage of their website). They were AWESOME. I highly recommend finding them and hanging out with them if you’re anywhere near Haines. They spend their summers in Alaska and winters in the Bahamas doing fishing tours. They live on the boat we fished on. They are the real deal. Good times. Great people.

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Looking for Mountain Goats…

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Probably my favorite picture that I took on the trip – if you know Chip (my boyfriend’s Dad), you know how much this photo sums him up.

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I caught a little baby salmon (above) compared to the one Rick caught (below)…. fishing is a team sport though, right?!
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On our way out to go salmon fishing, we also through some crab pots in and caught a few on the way back! CRABS CRABS CRABS!

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Picking wild raspberries on the way back to the ferry.

JillTiongcoPhotography-ChicagoWeddingPhotographer_0055.jpgSwitching things up a bit…
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This is granny!

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Family picture time on formal night… this was fun 😉 Despite all the amazing things we did on the excursions, some of my favorite moments were spent on the cruise ship with the family. Hanging in the hot tub/pool, playing cards (who knew Oregon Trail was a card game now), gambling in the casino hitting 24 three times!, hanging at dinner and sitting with someone new every night, happy hours with alaskan mudslides, seeing the cruise band Starship play while I guzzle down another Passionada, eating ice cream/pizza/burgers/chicken sandwiches at all hours of the day and night, watching Alice play piano at the lounge with the piano guy – just spending time with family and getting to know everyone was really special.

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They showed movies under the stars on the cruise ship – Guardians of the Galaxy 2 played so we HAD to watch it. I AM GROOT!

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Cruisin’ with Granny t-shirts! These babies got us lots of attention the entire trip. Thanks again, Granny – I had a blast!

New Zealand is one incredible country. I’m not even sure what to say about this trip. As I’m sitting on my ninth airplane ride in the past three weeks, my final ticket home to Chicago, I’m at a loss of words. I’m sure over the next few weeks, months, and even years, my memories will only grow more and more fond of the kiwi culture. Two weeks will never be enough time to experience the greatness of New Zealand, but we sure tried to pack it all in.

We left Chicago MDW on a Tuesday at 2:25pm, got to LAX at 4:55pm, and flew out at 10:40pm. We arrived in Tahiti PPT on Wednesday at 5:05am, then left at 7:55am for Auckland, and finally arrived to our destination at 12:45pm on Thursday (we crossed the international dateline). Yes, it was as exhausting as it sounds. We had a couple hours to kill in Auckland before heading out to our first excursion, so we walked around and explored. We settled on drinks/appetizers at Northern Steamship Co. and dinner at Depot. Both were good, neither were MUST DOs – but as you’ll see throughout this post, most of my MUST DOs are activity based. The food was overall good, but not as good as I was expecting.

After dinner we drove 3 hours to Waitomo to spend the night at YHA Waitomo Juno Hall. At this point, we had been traveling for over 24 hours so we were pretty much zombies and passed out. The next day, we had breakfast at The General Store. This place is a MUST DO. It was the cutest little shop/cafe in Waitomo, and probably one of my favorite breakfasts of the entire trip. We also purchased local art from the shop which I loved.

After breakfast we did the Waitomo Caves Black Abyss Tour. MUST DO. This was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. We started the adventure by rappelling down into a cave, one of the parts was so narrow that you could only fit one person a time and it was pretty tight. If you’re claustrophobic at all – this might not be the adventure for you. Once we were down there, you could see the glow worms lining the walls of the cave. Then they took us down to a part of the cave where we flying squirreled in the dark (basically a zip line except you can spin 360 degrees around). After that we jumped off a cliff into inner tubes pulled ourselves through the water, then we all connected and floated down the river in the cave in the dark to look at the glow worms. We walked through the cave knee deep in water, army crawled through some tight spots, and even climbed waterfalls before finally getting back to the surface. Yes, I know how ridiculous this sounds – but it was incredible and I highly recommend it.

After the tour we drove back to Auckland for the night. We stayed at the Novotel Airport Hotel because well, after traveling for 24+ hours and caving, we needed a nice hot shower and clean beds. The next morning we took the ferry to Waiheke Island for our Zip, Wine and Dine tour. This day was so much fun and I would say Waiheke Island is a MUST DO. It was the cutest little island filled with wineries, friendly locals, great shopping, and delicious food. Our tour started with 3 ziplines over the vineyards and then a short hike through the rain forest where the tree that inspired the movie Avatar grows. Throughout the winery tour we stopped at Stonyridge Vineyard, Rangihoua Estate, and Casita Miro – all delicious wines, all beautiful landscapes. Shoutout to Evelyn for being the best bus driver/tour guide ever. After the tour we walked around the Waiheke Island shops; ate fish and chips/burgers at The Local with our new Aussie friends Lisa/Jari, and ended the day with a sunset cruise ferry trip back to Auckland to crash for the night.

The next morning we flew from Auckland down to Wellington for explore the city for a day. It was like a little kiwi Portland – filled with hipster bars and little shops. We had breakfast at Enigma, shopped Cuba Street (tons of little shops, highly recommend) lunch at Mt. Vic Chippery (delicious fish and chips), got drinks at Goldings Free Dive (hidden dive bar in an alley, had a Chicago flag hanging – highly recommeneded), drinks at Ekim Burgers and Havana; and got dinner at Mac’s Brewbar on the water because everything else was closed. It rained all day so a lot of the waterfront shops didn’t open. The farmers market and food trucks were great though. We stayed at YHA Wellington City Hostel which was GREAT and comes highly recommended for a clean, safe place to sleep on a budget.

And that ended our adventures on the North Island as we headed to Christchurch the following morning. If I would add anything else to the North Island – I’d maybe see Rotorua for the hot springs, but it wasn’t high on our priority list. People we talked throughout our travels were split. Some people said they loved it and some said we weren’t missing anything. That and I would do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Volcano Hike. It wasn’t in the cards for us – but look into it, supposedly it’s the best one-day hiking in New Zealand. Anyway, we spent just a few hours in Christchurch, shopping at the RE-Start Mall where all the stores are inside shipping crates. There were a few cool shops and a couple food trucks – I got a kebob and it was delicious. Meghan got a pizza from another truck and it was not. Could be the Chicago in us, but it was hard to find a good pizza in NZ. After lunch, we drove to Mt. Cook with a few stops along the way. This was a long day of driving, but the incredible sights along the way made it all worth it. We saw Hokikita Gorge, Lake Tekapo, and Lake Pukaki. The water color was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures…

When we finally arrived to Mt. Cook, it was really cloudy so we couldn’t see the tops of the mountains. We just settled into our room at the Mt. Cook Lodge & Motels and ate there. Mt. Cook is such a small little village in the middle of a national park, so there really wasn’t anything other than the resorts and the resort restaurants. We went to bed hopeful that the forecast of rain tomorrow would change, but unfortunately it did not. Our scenic flight/heli-hike of Tasman Glacier got cancelled due to weather issues. Luckily, Charlie – the owner of the Old Mountaineers Café in Mt. Cook who also runs the tours was flexible and rescheduled us for Friday when the weather was looking better. (MUST DO, even if you don’t do the heli hike or tours, drive through Mt. Cook and go to this Café – it might be my favorite place in the world). TIP: When booking rooms in advance, it’s definitely worth it pay the extra $2 for flexible booking. We had to change our reservations quite a bit around the weather. Locals said they hadn’t seen rain like this during a NZ summer in over 15 years!

Anyway, we decided we’d rather explore Queenstown/Lake Wanaka in the rain than Mt. Cook, so the next day we decided to drive to Lake Wanaka. We found this adorable café about an hour outside of Mt. Cook in Omarama called Kahu Café (MUST DO). Meghan and I both agree this was the best meal we had in New Zealand – it was simple, fresh, delicious, and the surroundings could not have been better. A few hours later, we made it to Lake Wanaka to see the Wanaka Tree, then shipped off to Queenstown for a few nights. We had dinner at Ballarat Trading Co. (just alright, wouldn’t call it a MUST DO) before calling it a night in our Queenstown Hill Air BnB (this area is about a 20 minute walk from downtown Queenstown but had an awesome view overlooking Lake Wakitapu where you could see the airplanes flying in and out of the Queenstown Airport.

The next morning was still cold and gloomy, and it definitely started to affect our spirits a little. We spent the day walking around Queenstown with our hoods up shopping, exploring, eating, and drinking… stops throughout the day included: Ivy’s Box Art Gallery (cute gallery along the Lake Wakitapu path covered in ivy), brunch at Joe’s Garage (where I realized NZ breakfast sauasage was not the same as American breakfast sausage), drinks at Surreal Bar (where the bartender made fun of my accent when I ordered a ‘s-eye-derrrrrr”, and Patagonia Ice Cream (which quickly became a favorite of ours and part of our daily routine). A last minute boat cruise around Lake Wakitapu capped off the afternoon before heading to drinks/apps at Eicharts (historic, cool spot, good food, friendly servers), drinks at Harry’s Pool Bar (a locals bar recommended to us from the bartender who made fun of the way I said cider), and a delicious steak and seafood dinner at Jervois Steak House. Lots of drinks and all of the food later, we made our way back up Queenstown Hill with hopes for better weather to come.

The next day, the weather still wasn’t cooperating so we decided to go for a white water rafting trip on the Shotover River (apparently rafting is the best when it’s raining). We had brunch at Captain’s Restaurant in town (pretty good food, not my favorite ambiance though) before our trip. White water rafting in Queenstown is a MUST DO. The drive on the bus alone was worth it. They took us through windy roads on the sides of mountains that felt like we were going to topple off of at any moment. We saw the rock that inspired King Kong. It was the stuff straight out of movies. And this was even before our rafting trip started. Because of the rain (silver lining) the conditions were so good that day that even the off-duty employees came in to raft with us. The rapids were so intense that 6 out of 9 rafts had flipped in the morning session, so the guides were pretty good about preparing us for that situation. Luckily, our raft never flipped and we made it through – but I can’t say enough how fun this day was. Highly, highly recommended. By the time we came home, we were exhausted – so we just grabbed a drink and dinner at Coalfire BBQ (good, again not the best BBQ I’ve ever had, but pretty tasty) and called it a night.

It was another early morning for us as we drove 3 hours back to Mt. Cook for our heli-hike. On the way there (sidenote: we drove through Lindis Pass which was a curvy road in the middle of rolling hills lined with lavender and wild flowers – really pretty drive – I’d recommended taking it if it’s on your route!), we stopped at the little shop (New Zealand Apline Lavender Farm and Shop) we had driven past on our way in/out of Mt. Cook the first time, but it was so small that by the time we saw it, it was too late to stop. Luckily, we had our eyes peeled for it this time. I highly recommend checking this place out. It was a tiny, one-wall store inside a shipping crate in the middle of a huge lavender field. They sold everything ranging from lotion to candles to lip balm to lavender oils – all of it smelling sooooo good and made right from the lavender in that field.

After we shopped, we drove a little further to Mt. Cook for our Heli Hike. It was INCREDIBLE. We flew in a tiny little ski plane through the mountains (probably the most scared I was the entire trip – super rocky flight, the plane was tiny so every gust of wind felt like it was going to take down the plane. Once we got to the top of the glacier, we snowshoed as a group all tied together in case the glacier cracked any of us fell down into a hole. It was one of the most jaw dropping, humbling things I’ve ever experienced. After a few hours we flew back into Mt. Cook where we had dinner at The Old Mountaineers Café – quite possibly my favorite place on earth. Definitely a MUST DO regardless if you do the heli hike or not. Find Charlie, exchange stories, and tell him I said hi.


 

The next morning, we hiked Hooker Valley. It was a fairly easy hike that takes around 3-4 hours, has great views of the mountains, you cross 3 wobbly cable bridges, and ends with an overlook of Tasman Lake w/ some glacier pieces floating in it (30 years ago, this lake didn’t exist because it was still completely frozen).

We had to be in Milford Sound in two days, so we started our drive with a planned overnight stay in Queenstown to break up the drive. Of course, we stopped at Kahu Café on the way out because it was that good. Seriously, go there. Omarama. Check out the weird antique store in town, too. Anyway, on our way back to Queenstown we stopped in historic Arrowtown to do a little shopping. Tons of great little shops, only takes an hour or so to do it all and we had plenty of time to head back to Queenstown for drinks/dinner. FYI – we were told that Devil Burger is as good as Fergberger without the wait by a local bartender… we tried both. Fergberger for the win.

The next morning, we left at 5am to drive to Milford Sound. It takes about 4 hours winding through mountain roads so make sure to give yourself enough time. We stopped at Sandfly Café in Te Anu for coffee/breakfast (warning: Queenstown/all the towns before Te Anu had nothing open before 9am – even the coffee shops don’t open until then; also this place wasn’t the best if you can find anything else open). We got to Milford and did the 10:30am cruise and then the sunset kayak trip. The cruise was gorgeous – I would definitely do it again and highly recommend it. The kayak trip was really long 4 hours (we did about 10 miles and it was pretty choppy water), so it was kind of difficult but worth seeing the sunset through the cliffs. If you’re up for a challenge, do it. If not, there are other shorter kayak trips you could try. The cruise was better for taking pictures, the kayak trip was more for a workout/adventure. We saw dolphins and seals on the cruise, and penguin during the kayak trip (as well as the seals up close and personal). We stayed at the Milford Sound Lodge which was basically a cabin in the middle of the woods. It was the only restaurant and it closes at 9 so make sure to stop and get gas and/or groceries before getting to Milford if you’ll need it.

We spent our last few days in New Zealand gallivanting around Queenstown. We stayed at Hurley’s (highly recommended, good price, clean, friendly staff, laundry available, and located just 5-10 minute walk off the downtown area). We did the gondola and took the luge down (very touristy; buy tickets ahead of time to cut the line; the luge was kind of random but fun – I wouldn’t say it’s a must do but if you have the time, why not?), had dinner at Fergberger (MUST DO; we were told to call our order in ahead of time and pick it up but every time we called the line was busy so we waited about 20 minutes to order and then another 20 minutes for our food – it wasn’t as bad as it looked – every time we drove/walked past Fergberger there was a line out the door). We also went bungy jumping off the Kuwaru Bridge in the morning – I would highly recommend this or the cliff swing in Queenstown. As you can tell from the pictures below, bungy jumping was awesome, and actually not as scary as you might think. It all happened so fast that you don’t really have time to be scared! Warning: I asked to dip my hands in the water, and I ended up going waist deep!

After bungy, we went to this adorable breakfast spot on Lake Wakitapu called Boatshed Café. The food was great and the view was even better. The rest of the day we spent packing and getting ready for our travels home. Travel Tip: there’s a little mall just outside Queenstown that has a Pak n Save, Briscoe’s, etc. (the equivalent of a Costco, Jewel, and Bed Bath and Beyond). It was great for buying cheap groceries, local beers, or pretty much anything you would need – we needed to get extra duffle bags to carry all our souvenirs home and Briscoe’s was perfect for that. Our last night in Qtown we got drinks at Pog Mahones (little Irish Pub, I wouldn’t recommend it, but we just wanted to sit near the water – instead you should go to the Ice Bar, which we completely forgot about!) and dinner at Fishbone. If you go to Fishbone get the Octopus Tacos. Seriously, maybe even get two orders (it’s an appetizer) and eat them as your meal. They’re that good.

After we left New Zealand we spent 3 days soaking up the sun in Tahiti. A 3-night stay at Manava Suite Resort was included in our flight deal. The resort was just okay. The food was expensive and mediocre, but there was an AWESOME food truck across the street that was cheap and delicious. It opens for dinner at 6:30 and I’d recommend eating every dinner there it was that good. Simple, authentic, delicious. We stayed in Papeete, but if you have the time, go to Moorea or any of the other Tahitian Islands.

That’s it! It was an incredible 3 weeks, let me know if you’re planning a similar trip and have any questions on New Zealand – I’d be happy to help or provide more recommendations. I’m also going to be selling some of my prints from New Zealand so I’ll have more on that soon

I rarely shoot family photos anymore as I’ve been lucky enough to focus on Weddings and Engagements, but when a little lady his cute turns one and just happens to also be my niece, how could I not snap a few pics? I won’t say much because her little face says it all – but I mean, how precious is she? Love this little girl so much, but don’t worry Carson and Chase – you’ll always be my favorite boys in the fam 🙂 To my brother and sister-in-law, you guys don’t look so bad yourselves! Love you all!

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One of my favorite perks of the job is that it allows me to travel. I’ve been able to visit  some amazing cities over the past few years for work – Portland, Santa Barbara, Colorado Springs, and even some places for personal adventures – Barcelona, Florence, etc… but still – New York City was at the top of my list of places I had never been. So when my California based clients Mil + Kris asked me to meet them there for a photo shoot, YES was the only word that came to mind. One of my good friends that I travel with a lot, Krista, had never been either – so I dragged her along with me for a little girls weekend getaway 🙂

Despite being under the weather, we definitely made the most of our jam packed weekend. Here’s what we did during our 3 1/2 days in the Big Apple:

Friday // We arrived super early on Friday morning, and the first thing we did was drop off our bags at our TINY, and I meant tiny Air BnB. It was supposed to be a one bedroom, but really it was the smallest studio I’ve ever seen. It made my studio in Chicago seem like a mansion (which was kind of nice to come home to!). It was definitely our first confirmation of rumors that we’d heard about New York apartments being small. It didn’t bother us too much though, as we knew we’d be spending most of our time out and about the city. We spent the afternoon wandering around different neighborhoods, making a stop along the way at Ess-A Bagel for lunch. I got the Lox on an Everything Bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese. It was delicious (see photo below). After that, we went to the 9/11 Museum and spent over 3+ hours there, reliving the horrifying moments from our memories, and hearing some heart wrenching stories/voicemails from people that were in the towers and/or on the flights. It was such an emotional couple hours… my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that was involved. After spending hours in the museum, we were exhausted from our long day, so we ended our first night at a little Italian restaurant in our Murray Hill neighborhood…

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Saturday // Our second day in Manhattan started bright at early with an 8am shoot on the Highline and Grand Central Station with Mil + Kris. It is so beautiful up on the Highline, I definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the city for the first time and looking for a great place to run/walk take in some views. After the shoot, we brunched at this adorable place down the street from our apartment called Penlope. I had an amazing bacon and egg sandwich, which kept me fueled for our long walk through Central Park. It truly was massive. Krista and I spent the afternoon exploring the park, watching some Rec League Softball Games, as well some Little League Games. After a nice relaxing afternoon – the weather was perfect by the way – Krista and I made our way to Madison Square Park to get a Shake Shack snack… only to find out that it was closed for renovations 🙁 Don’t worry though, we got our fix at another one and Krista got to try her first Shack Burger! So good – if you haven’t been, head over to the one in Chicago (get there right at 11am to avoid out-the-door lines)… in my opinion (and I know I’ll get a lot of flack for this…) Shake Shack holds the #1 spot in my heart, yes… over In-N-Out Burger! A quick regroup at our apartment and we were back out the door to check out Times Square, where it was super crowded and gave me anxiety. We followed that quick stop at Times Square with dinner at Barbetta. The food wasn’t the greatest, but it was near the theater where we were seeing the Lion King – and I will say that the people watching at this establishment was some of the BEST I’ve ever experienced. I would probably go back just for that 🙂 After dinner we saw the Lion King – which as expected – was fantastic. The costumes, performers, and production was incredible… and of course you already know the music is great!

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Sunday // As you can tell, we pretty much jammed everything we could into each day. So being that I was pretty sick (and still am recovering actually), when Sunday morning came… I could barely peel my eyes open. But we knew we had to make the most of it – so we went to the Brooklyn Bridge, watched some street performers, walked across it, saw Lady Liberty from a distance, and got some NY style pizza at Grimaldi’s before heading to see the Mets Game in Queens. Our seats at the game were right behind home plate and the weather was pretty much perfect – so it was a great afternoon 🙂 That night, we went to dinner at Blue Smoke BBQ (SO GOOD!), went to the deck of the Empire State Building, had drinks at a speakeasy above Five Guys (super cool spot), and ended the night at a midnight comedy show at Comedy Corner. Let’s just say it was a 3am night and by the end of the show – everyone in the room knew I was Filipino, from Chicago, had a boyfriend at home, and was in NY with my “white friend, Krista.” Our seats were directly next to the stage, so needless to say – we got called out A LOT. My face hurt after the show from laughing so hard. Definitely recommend checking that place out!

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Monday // By the time Monday came, we had pretty much checked everything off our list of things to do. It was the first and only day that it rained while we were there, so we took advantage of the weather and gave ourselves a nice, chill morning breakfast at a place called Mud, and sat at a Starbucks and read until we caught our flight back home.

In the end, it was an AMAZING trip. I got to see and do everything I would’ve wanted to do – thanks to the awesome planning of my girl, Krista. The weather was great for the most part, I got to experience New York City… but I will say that it definitely made me LOVE Chicago a little bit more 🙂

A few weeks ago, I took a week long trip out to Arizona to visit my boyfriend (who was there for all of March for Cubs Spring Training), and my best cousin friend, her hubby, and new baby Jordy. It was a glorious week spent in warm weather soaking up sun – jam packed with hikes, DDD food spots, and quality time with people that mean the world to me. I left feeling satisfied with what I did with my time there, but you know me – I left with a list of things I want to do during next year’s visit 🙂

A few of my favorites from this trip:

But most importantly, I loved the moments in between. Waking up in the mornings with Alex, spending the day with Tiff and Baby Jordy (yes, even the terrifying car ride where I really got to know Jordyn), seeing Mike and Alex get along so well, laughing so hard with Tiff that I cry – the quality moments that often get overlooked, but are usually my favorite and most meaningful moments. You’ll see a couple of those moments captured below…

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Until next time, AZ.. here’s what I’m hoping to tackle next year 🙂

  • Hike the other side of Camelback
  • Devil’s Bridge
  • White Water Raft the Salt River Canyon
  • Eat Chicken Fingers from Canes

At the end of the month, I’m moving out on my own. I’ve lived with my two roommates for almost two years now – and we’ve had quite the time at 3E. I’ll miss living just blocks from Oak Street Beach, jumping on each other’s beds when we come home late at night, borrowing clothes and jewelry, but mostly I’ll miss those random nights where we have no plans but end up hanging out on the couch, ordering food, and watching a movie together… or more like Sam watches the movie and Sara and I fall asleep within 15 minutes 😉 I couldn’t have asked for better roommates a couple years ago, especially at a time where a lot in my life was changing and I needed my girls. Sara + Sam, I love you girls! It’s been fun and us all going our separate ways just means we have 3 different places to hang at now. We’ve done a lot these past two years, and here’s to making new memories, taking more pictures together, and living it up in the West Loop…

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Every year, a big group of friends of mine do a Ski Trip over Superbowl weekend. Last year marked the first year we went big and took it out west to Breckenridge, CO. The past years before that we kept it local to the Midwest and went to Devil’s Head and Chestnut Mountain – those trips were just as fun, but a little bit different when it came to the levels of skiing (snowboarding for me).

There isn’t much I can say about Montana that my pictures don’t say better, but wow is Montana a beautiful state. The mountains, the trees, everything is just gorgeous. As for Big Sky Resort, it was so nice – I don’t think we ever waited in line for the chair lift, and the runs were basically empty. We rented ski in/ski out houses – and other than the difficulty I had on the toe rope… it was pretty convenient. If you follow my blog, you know I travel a lot…. But this trip is always one of my favorites of the year. Aside from the snowboarding, we also took a day snowmobile trip out to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I have no words to describe how beautiful it was. As soon as we entered the park, a herd of stampeding bison ran right past us, and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. We literally shared the trail with them, and some of the bison were no more than five feet away from our snowmobiles. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking…

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