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Friday, December 30, 2011
And although I am VERY excited for everything that 2012 is going to bring, I'm not quite ready to shut the door on 2011 just yet. Anyone want to take a trip down memory lane with me?
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
The first part of our Christmas vacation was in Prague in the Czech Republic. As I previously mentioned, we went to Prague on our first European trip together and we were excited to go back. Just as the first time, Prague was as beautiful as ever. The architecture and the way the light hits the buildings is just breath-taking.
We spent a few days wandering the streets, visiting the sites. We went to the Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, we walked over the Charles Bridge, through the Old Town Square and we even climbed the Town Hall Tower (Ok, maybe we didn't climb it exactly. There happened to be an elevator. Whatevs)
*disclaimer - most of the photos in this post were taken by Brian, he did a great job!*
Thursday, December 15, 2011
"Peace and joy and love are everywhere
You can feel the magic in the air
Let the spirit of the season carry us away
Hip, Hip Hooray for Christmas Vacation
~Mavis Staples "Christmas Vacation
As you might have gathered by now - it's Christmas vacation time! By the time you read this I will be done (hopefully) with work for the week and getting ready for our Christmas vacation. We are doing it right this year and celebrating Christmas to the max. And who knows how to do Christmas the best??
And the Czech...
And the Italians...
That's right, we're going on a full Christmas market tour and we're hitting up the big guys - Prague and Munich. We are starting off our super Christmas vacation with a few days in Prague to hit up the Christmas markets and have a few potato dumplings while we're at it. Prague was the first European trip that Brian and I went on together over FIVE YEARS AGO!
Good god, did I just type that correctly??
Since we have been there already it will be nice to revisit our favorite places, check out the Christmas markets and tuck in to some goulash and potato dumplings (and a pint or two of Pilsner for Brian). I can't think of anything better to keep me warm!
|Prague Christmas market|
Next up we are off to Munich! The last time I went to Munich was *gulp* eight years ago when I was studying abroad. Pretty much all I remember is spending a lot of time at the Hofbrauhaus and spending the night in the hallway of our hostel due to a very LOUD, snoring guy in one of the bunks in our room. Worst.Guy.EVER.
So, needless to say, I am excited to go back and see some more of the city. And check out their many Christmas markets of course! I might even pick up a cuckoo clock or seven.
|Munich Christmas market|
When we were thinking about where we wanted to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day we didn't have to think long. We tried to convince ourselves to go somewhere new and see another city. But in the end, Italy pulled at our heart strings and won (as usual).
What? It's been two months since we were last there...clearly it's time to go back! So, we are headed back to our favorite spot in the Dolomites - Castelrotto. We first visited this cute town in October, 2010 during our two week trip around Italy. We fell in love with Hotel Mayr and their delicious dinners that we decided to go back last Christmas. This year we decided to do it once again - maybe this will be a new tradition?! What we love about staying at Hotel Mayr is that you really feel like you are at home and with family (even though really, you are with a bunch of strangers). The family that owns and runs the restaurant are so warm and welcoming and really make you feel like part of the family. There are very few things that I look back at with such fondness as I do when I think of sitting with my husband in the hotel living room by the roaring fire, with a glass of red wine in my hand and a plate of homemade Italian Christmas cookies in front of me.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
To be honest, I haven't really don't that much baking this year for Christmas. Usually I do loads of baking to give away as gifts, to bring to work and to serve at our holiday party. But this year I haven't really had the chance to do any of that. Things have been so crazy around here with my new job, my weekend "job" taking children's photos, being pregnant (oh yeah, that little thing) and a slew of other things going on that I'm not quite ready to tell you about (check back after the New Year though!).
We are leaving this weekend for an extended Christmas vacation (more on that later this week), so my holiday baking time is being cut even shorter. A few weeks ago I ordered a few things from Lakeland.com - including a brand new cupcake carrying case (SO excited!! Seriously, what a huge nerd I am). I was getting ready to check out when what to my wandering eyes should appear?
|photo from Wilton.com|
Well, something similar to this, just not Wilton brand (Lakeland must have sold out of their version because I can't find a photo on their website!)
A Christmas tree made out of stacked star cookies?!?! SOLD! In my basket it went.
Over the weekend I finally had a chance to try this puppy out. I have my moms sugar cookie recipe that I usually use for the holidays, but since I didn't know exactly how much dough I would need I decided to go with the recipe on the box. It made just the perfect amount of dough to make two of each stars. I made an extra one for me to snack on and it tasted great!
After all of the stars were baked I took a day off (well, not really, I was taking more children's photos, but more on that later!) and spent all afternoon on Sunday frosting these guys up. It was my first time using Royal Icing and I have to say, I was a little intimidated. I didn't have any quick access to meringue powder, so I found a recipe that used powdered egg whites (can't use raw egg whites now that I'm prego!) and it worked like a charm! I even had a bunch left over thanks to the majority of my frosting being one solid color.
Even though the royal icing process was relatively painless, it did take a while! First you have to outline each cookie with slightly thicker royal icing to create a border. Once that dries (I found that by the time I was done with the last cookie the first few were already dry) you have to thin down the rest of your icing and flood the cookies. And then you have to wait for them to dry before you can stack them. And then...ok never mind, that was the last step.
I put a circle of icing in the middle of each cookie before stacking the next smallest one on top. The only thing that I would change is that next time I will add the lights on after all the layers are stacked. Some of the lights got in the way, especially on the smaller ones towards the top, and the cookies didn't want to lay quite flat. But all in all it was a success! I can't wait to make a gingerbread version with all white icing, how pretty will that look?! Brian took the cookie tree to work today, fingers crossed his coworkers liked my tree as much as I did!
Sunday, December 11, 2011
In case you missed it, here's what I've been up to!
Winter Warming Drink - Irish Coffee
For those cold winter days when regular coffee just isn't enough! This is guaranteed to warm you up from the inside!
Look at my belly!
Week 17 - my belly have officially popped! I say that now...I'm sure I'll be saying it again as I get bigger and bigger! Also, check out my NEW Week by Week page to see my belly grow from 15 to 40 weeks!
I made these awesome Gingerbread Cupcakes by La Casa De Sweets after I saw her post on Twitter. Every Christmas season I become obsessed with all things gingerbread, and have had an even stronger obsession with them this year (maybe the baby loves all those yummy spices!). I brought them to work this week and they all disappeared!
Cute Kid Alert!
I am continuing my photo project that I started back in September of exploring childrens and baby photography. I have had a blast so far and I am learning A LOT! I had a photo session a couple of weeks ago with these two cuties - and the sun actually came out for once! Which means we were able to get some great shots. How much cuter could they get?!
Sure, you read and hear about all the normal aches and pains that are associated with pregnancy, but what about those that you DON'T hear about?? Check out what pain in the...belly...threw me for a loop! While you're there, share you own weird pregnancy pain story with us!
Oh yeah...you read that right! I wanted to make an extra special birthday gift for one of my closest friends here in London, Adrienne, and I knew these would do the trick! Chewy, sweet caramel married with crispy, salty bacon. How could it get any better?! A big thanks to Not without Salt for the recipe - go on over to her site and check it out!
I hope you all had a great week and are gearing up for the holidays! In one week we will be off on our Christmas market adventure (more details on that coming up this week). What do you have planned for the holidays?
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Monday, December 05, 2011
I don't know about you, but around these parts winter has landed. Sure, we will have the odd day here and there where it gets up to 50*F (for ten minutes at 2pm in the afternoon, if the sun is out). But mostly the temperatures are hovering in the single digits (Celsius that is) during the morning and evening commutes, and the wind has reared its ugly head knocking those temps even further down.
What better way to warm up from the cold than a classic winter warmer. Some of my favorites include hot cider, mulled wine and even classic hot chocolate (with as many marshmallows as I can fit in that glass). But for today, I thought I would kick it up a notch and share a boozy winter warmer - Irish Coffee.
I have had my fair share of Irish Coffees (some better than others), but the best one that I have ever had was in the mother land herself - Ireland - at the Jameson Distillery. Last February when we went to Dublin for Brians birthday the girls ordered hot chocolate with Jameson and the boys ordered Irish Coffees. Lets just say the boys won big time.
The taste of Jameson is front and center but manages not to be overpowering. And this is coming from a girl who does NOT like Jameson at all. Like, not even a little bit. But this, this was pure heaven. The rich, bitter coffee was perfectly balanced by the spicy Jameson and topped with thick layer of cream.
We were recently back in Dublin and made another trip to the distillery to share the joy of Jameson Irish Coffee with our friends who were in town. Although I had to sit this round out (that's twice now that I haven't had my own mug of this amazing drink!) I managed to steal a drink from Brians mug. I'm sure this baby will have a taste for Irish Coffee when he/she grows up ;)
Jameson Distillery Irish Coffee
This drinks works best if you have a glass Irish Coffee mug, but if you don't have those hanging about then feel free to use another favorite mug or heat proof glass (for the best results use a glass so you can see the pretty layers). These measurements are straight from the distillery but can be adjusted to suit your taste!
2 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
2 tsp brown sugar
Fresh brewed strong black coffee
Heavy whipping cream
- In a warm mug add 2 tsp brown sugar (one heaping teaspoon will be fine, no need to measure exactly). Add a measure (2 ounces) of Jameson Irish Whisky and stir briefly to melt the sugar. Fill the mug 3/4 of the way full with hot, black coffee.
- Carefully pour a thick layer of heavy whipping cream on top of the coffee. You will have to pour this slowly to make sure that the coffee and the cream don't mix together. To get the best tasting Irish Coffee the coffee and whisky mixture should pass through the cream layer on the way into your belly - so don't even think about taking a spoon and mixing everything together!
Drink and watch the cold melt away!
Monday, November 28, 2011
The first "big" trip that Brian and I took together while dating was to St. Croix in the Caribbean for a little winter sun. We had been dating for six or seven months and although it wasn't our first weekend away with each other, it was the first trip that required a plane ride. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Happily, the trip went off without a hitch (apart from that one time when we were driving down the wrong side of the road - who knew they drove on the left hand side in St. Croix??).
While we were there we bought the funniest Christmas ornament to commemorate the trip, somehow we knew we would be spending lots of Christmas' together.
|St. Croix, 2007|
Monday, November 21, 2011
Last week I sent out a tweet apologizing for being such a bad blogger lately. I'm sure you've noticed that my posts have been somewhat lacking lately. I went from posting 2-3 times a week to barely once a week, if I was lucky. Hopefully you'll forgive me though, now that I can finally share my exciting news!
I am just about 15 weeks now and into my second trimester. Wondering why my food posts went from 100 to 0 in no time flat? Blame that on the nausea which has finally (and thankfully!) subsided. Curious as to where my Friday Favorites and travel posts went (apart from the couple that I managed to squeeze out from our weekend in Italy)? Blame that on the lack of energy and constant need for sleep that I had for about eight weeks straight. I could barely stay awake long enough to eat dinner let alone troll the internet for hours like I normally do. I can now make it through (most of) a full day without needing to sleep under my desk from 2pm-4pm, though just barely.
Baby is growing big and strong and all of our appointments have gone smoothly so far. We have our 16 week appointment next week and we can't wait to see our little one again! Baby is about the size of a medium apple this week and is growing bigger every day.
If you're interested in keeping up with our babys progress and other exciting (well, at least for me as a first time mom!) updates please visit my NEW blog - the mini traveling cupcake! If you would rather not know all the details (I totally get it, it's not everyones bag of chips) then stay right where you are - now that I have my energy back I will be posting as regularly as possible.
Apart from being pregnant and adjusting to that huge awesome news, I have also started a new day job and my weekends have been booked up with children's photo shoots - so I have lots of exciting recaps from those to share with you. We also have some awesome trips coming up (including the ultimate Christmas Market trip) and I can't wait to fill you in once we are back! And now that am back in the kitchen making something other than a bowl of cereal (seriously, I have consumed so.much.freakin.cereal in the last nine weeks) I'll be sharing what I've been busy baking - just in time for the holidays!
Thanks for staying with me while I was so MIA. Here's to a great winter, fantastic holiday season and a healthy mini cupcake!
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I enjoyed my first time taking childrens photos so much and got such great feedback that I decided to do it again. The mother of the little boy (William) put me in contact with a whole bunch of her friends who were interested in having photos of their little ones taken. I am so thankful for this opportunity to grow my portfolio and gain some real experience.
And let me tell you - I am learning a lot.
I am learning my limitations as a photographer. I am learning how to overcome those limitations and grow and improve.
And I am learning how exhausting children can be! Man alive, where on earth do they get so much energy?!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
In case you didn't know, I have a slight obsession with Pinterest.
And by slight I mean I *might* check my pinterest account before I check my emails in the morning.
I *might* have used up an entire months worth of internet on my mobile in two weeks because I was pinning during my morning and evening bus commute...which is 45 minutes in each direction.
(click on my Pinterest button on the right to see what I have been so busy pinning!)
However, as much as I pin away to my little hearts content, it is very rare that I actually do something with the items I pin.
Gorgeous white and grey kitchen with all of my dream appliances? Sure, throw that on my "Someday forever Home" board for that one day when I finally own a home, not to mention a home that is big enough to fit said kitchen and I have enough money to outfit it with all of those fancy appliances. ie - in my dreams
The amazing ivory Dolce and Gabanna ballroom skirt chic-ly paired with a fitted denim shirt? Get up on my "so pretty for my closet" board and stay there! Its highly unlikely I will ever find you in my real closet, oh beautiful skirt...so stay in my imaginary one!
But, I digress...you probably came here for a post about Peanut Brittle. I'm getting there, don't worry.
Perhaps my favorite board is my "Nom Nom" board - otherwise known as the-place-where-I-put-all-of-my-food-inspirations-that-I-cannot-look-at-on-an-empty-stomach. Got that? The Nom Nom board.
Last week I pinned something that looked SO amazing, I couldn't get it out of my brain.
It was homemade peanut brittle. Covered in dark chocolate. Dusted in sea salt.
*cue angels singing*
Now, my extent to working with a candy thermometer includes the few times I have made homemade caramels and a couple of times I made marshmallows. I wasn't too nervous about making the peanut brittle (or toffee as its known to some people) until I started reading the comments below the original posted recipe. People were having problems with the mixture seizing and separating, throwing away batch after batch. Apparently, molten hot boiling sugar butter is tricky to work with.
I jumped right in, and by some grace of the big man upstairs, my toffee came out perfect! It was crunchy and crisp, it didn't have a slick of buttery oil on the top, the crunch of the peanuts and the smooth dark chocolate complimented each other perfectly. And the sea salt...
How did I live before I had sea salt in my life?
The recipe makes a full cookie sheet worth of candy. Perfect for sharing with others (or not, I won't tell). And when all the candy is gone...?
I have can think of one way to use up those crumbs, and it rhymes with ice cream.
Monday, October 31, 2011
During our only full day in Tuscany, we decided to leave.
Tuscany that is. We drove northwest to Liguria. The weather was supposed to be amazing and we wanted to take advantage of it the only way we knew how - by hiking. Before we left on our trip I did a quick Google maps search and found out that the famous Cinque Terre was only an hours drive from our hotel. So, after a leisurely breakfast at Locanda al Colle we were on our way.
At the recommendation of Riccardo we drove to the town of Portovenere and took the ferry to "the five lands". I had visited Cinque Terre with my friend Kelly during the semester abroad that I spent in Florence. I remember it being one of the most beautiful places I had seen that spring. The hiking was amazing, the towns were picturesque and the spaghetti we had for lunch was, for serious, out of this world.
Sadly, that was over eight years ago.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Three years ago this week we packed our bags and moved across the pond. Can you believe that?! Where does the time go...
I thought it would be fun to do a special anniversary edition of Friday Favorites in honor of the last three years - three action packed years at that. Our primary reason for moving was to take advantage of a new continent at our door step, and I think we've been doing a pretty good job...
Here are some of our favorite trips from the last three years -
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
To be perfectly honest, I didn't do much planning for our trip to Tuscany last weekend. A friend had already booked the trip and invited us along with them, so my flights and hotel were already chosen for me. Bonus. All I needed to do was show up.
Things that I can do in life:
1. Show up for a trip to Tuscany
2. Eat cookies
Sadly, our friends had to cancel their trip. We figured we might as well still go, heck the trip was already booked. But now...now I had to do some actual planning.
What airport were we flying in to?
Where the heck is Camaiore??
What kind of pasta am I going to eat?!
See? Things were getting scary, real fast.
Luckily, one thing I didn't have to worry about was where we were staying.
Enter Locanda al Colle.
aka - a little piece of heaven in the Tuscan country side.
My friend found this hotel through Mr and Mrs Smith (seriously, check them out ASAP if you think I am talking about a movie rather than an awesome boutique hotel website) - and let me tell you, the Smiths did not steer us wrong. Neither did the awesome reviewers on TripAdvisor - every.single. reviewer for this boutique hotel on TripAdvisor gave it an "Excellent" rating and wrote a glowing review.
So, did this place live up to all the hype?
You bet your boots it did.
It was more than what we could have imagined or hoped for from a place to rest our feet at night.
Upon arrival the first thing I noticed (besides all of the cute and welcoming nooks on the front patio that just screamed COME HERE AND DRINK A GLASS OF WINE! and all of the amazing flowers blooming around the entire property) was that there wasn't a check-in desk. There was no formal computer system or line of other guests waiting anxiously to get to their room. Instead, I was greeted by softly playing music as I stepped in to the hotels living room. Arianna appeared from nowhere and welcomed me right in. Within moments of telling her my name she had our room keys in hand and was showing me the way to our room.
Immediately upon entering the room I felt at home. I was hard for me not to kick off my shoes right then and there. After a quick tour of the room she was off again, and I was left to my own devices. As I usually do when I first get to a new hotel room, I went through every nook and cranny in the place. No drawer was left unopened, no door was spared from being opened. I read all the welcome pack information as well as had a peak at all the bath goodies and the rain shower in the bathroom. And then, I sat down and took it all in.
The room was impeccably decorated with vintage furniture, interesting mismatched pieces that perfectly fit together in a way that I could never replicate in my own home. The room was a calming mixture of taupe and sage green, eggshell and muted gold with pops of orange and wood furniture. The bathroom was divine. Bath products made from local olive oil, plush over sized towels and the biggest rain shower I have ever seen in my whole life nearly made me want to move right into the bathroom itself.
Of course if I had done that I would have missed sleeping in the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on in Italy. Not only was the bed comfortable and the bedding luxurious - but the pillows! These were the biggest, fluffiest, squishiest pillows I have ever slept on in probably all of Europe. Typically in European hotels (apart from all the big chains, obvi) the pillows are some sort of an after thought. Or maybe, Europeans don't really care about the quality of their pillows too much. All I know is that they usually leave us with a sore neck the next morning. But no...not these....
And the view....
Oh, the view....
If you look hard enough you can just see the coast and Mediterranean in the distance. I was surprised at first but then realized that we were only 5km away from the sea. Amazing, considering it felt like we were a million miles away from everything.
Locanda al Colle is nestled in the Northern Tuscan hills, about thirty minutes drive north of Pisa. Lucca is close by as well as many charming small towns, and the ritzy summer seaside town of Forte dei Marme is a mere ten minute drive away. Normally we stay in Southern Tuscany, so I was a little apprehensive about how we would like this area. I should never have feared (duh, we were in Italy after all). There are more than enough things to do here, I wish we could have stayed for a week rather than just the weekend.
In addition to our perfect room (next time I want to check out one of the Deluxe or Suite rooms which come with private outdoors space) the entire hotel (not that it's that big, there are only nine guest room in total) is decorated impeccably. Much of the furniture was picked up by Riccardo on his travels around the world and many pieces are vintage, perfectly preserved or restored. There is an odd mix of old and new, contemporary and vintage, but somehow it all just works.
The hotel also features artwork by local artists, from paintings to sculptures, displayed inside and out. Find a piece you really fancy? Just ask Riccardo for the price list and he is happy to indulge.
Speaking of indulgence - I haven't even started telling you about the food. Included in the rate was daily breakfast - served only from 9am to 11am (my kind of place - you don't have to worry about getting there early before all the good stuff is gone!) - and is a casual affair served in the communal kitchen. There are fresh breads with jam, cereals and yogurts, usually one sweet and one savory baked item and fresh fruit. Fancy some eggs? No problem! Place your order and Arianna or Riccardo will fix them right up for you, often times sitting down to join the guests for breakfast.
And if you are lucky enough to stay at Locanda al Colle on a Wednesday or Saturday night, you MUST take advantage of the home cooked dinner that is served. The chef (who used to work in a two star Michelin restaurant I might add) cooked us, and the other hotel guests, a delicious four course dinner. The evening starts with a glass of prosecco and canapes in the living room while you mingle with other guests or admire the artwork. Moving into the dining room you have your choice of wine (or more prosecco if that's how you want the night to go down) and then the courses start flowing.
While we were there we had a delicious polenta starter, followed by an artichoke and spec risotto and ended by pan fried sea bass with seasonal vegetables. Each bite was divine. And then, we had dessert. Arianna made an orange tiramisu that was out of the world. The orange flavor was so delicate and it was such an interesting and inventive twist on a traditional Italian dessert. We had an excellent time chatting with the other guests and learning more about Riccardo and his amazing hotel.
Oh yeah...I almost forgot to mention!
Don't forget to bring your bathing suit (like I did). There is a heated pool that is open year round.
Overall I have to give Locanda al Colle is glowing five star review (As if you couldn't tell that already). Not only is the hotel beautifully decorated and as comfortable as your own home (if not more!) but the hosts Arianna and Riccardo really do make this place special. They were both so helpful in recommending local restaurants and things to do, and were more than happy to print out ferry schedules and add their two cents on how to make our stay even more enjoyable. It is amazing to know that this place has only been open for a year and a half - when it seems like they have been doing this all their lives.
The value for money here is outstanding - but you better hurry up and go...this place won't stay a secret for long!
Locanda al Colle
Via della Stretta, 102
loc. Capezzano Pianore
55041 Camaiore (LU)
Phone +39 0584 915 195
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Oh, New York.
How do I even begin to talk about the first great love of my life? I guess I could start off by telling you about how I've missed New York every day since I moved away nearly three years ago (sorry London, it's nothing personal). I could tell you about how I compare every city I visit to the great NYC. New York for me is some what of a cross between your first great love and your dad - a mixture of warm and fuzzy feelings mixed with awe and admiration.
Every time I arrive in New York - whether by plane, train or automobile - the first glimpse of that skyline gives me a lump in my throat, my heart beats faster and I inevitably press my nose up against the glass to try and get the closest look possible.
As soon as I step out into the street I'm immediately overwhelmed by the sites and sounds - hundreds of people rushing up and down the streets, street vendors selling photos and hotdogs and hot nuts, car horns blaring, ambulances screeching by and jack hammers that sound like they are coming from inside your head rather than four blocks away.
To some, it's pure chaos.
To me, it's bliss.
I love how the city keeps reinventing itself. There is always a new, hot club - restaurant - neighborhood - dessert - [insert anything you can think of]. The city is always moving, shaking, pulsing. You can find something to do - ANYTHING you can imagine - at any time of day, any day of the week. If you are bored in New York City, then you aren't trying hard enough.
Hungry? Me too. Where shall we eat? Five star, Michelin star rated high class restaurant? Small, cramped hole in the wall down in Chinatown or Alphabet City? Something in between? Italian, American, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Czech...pick a corner of the world and you can find it in New York.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
To combat my boredom with Project 52 I decided to try and challenge myself in another way. I have been interested in expanding my photography experience into other areas for a while now. I've done plenty of travel and landscape photography, and really liked the fast paced street photography that I did in Vietnam. I would love to try my hand at photographing weddings or newborns or children.
So that's what I did.
I put the word out with a friend of mine that has two little ones and has lots of friends with children. Soon after I had my first "project". The Roos family graciously let me invade their home for an afternoon taking photos of their beautiful children (and one cousin!). The children - Sienna (two and a half), Mia (eighteen months) and cousin William (also eighteen months) - were really good sports, letting a strange lady stick a big, weird camera in their faces.
I'm not really around kids that much so to say I learned a lot was an understatement. I learned how quick you have to be on your feet and comfortable with your camera you have to be. I found myself sticking the settings on Aperture Priority just to keep up with the little ones. I also learned how quickly little kids moods can change - from happy to crying to laughing all in less than 60 seconds!
I would like to give a great, big THANK YOU to the Roos family for letting me photography their lovely kids!