Portraits of a Young Family

A Winter Day in Lincoln Park

Seattle, WA

The weather had been rainy for weeks and it was predicted to continue through my shoot of this lovely family late in January. We kept an eye on the reports and came up with some great covered and indoor locations for the shoot in the case of rain.

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The day arrived and low and behold the air stayed dry and crisp so we opted for this favorite outdoor location of mine, Lincoln Park in West Seattle. Combining canopied trails through the woods, fields surrounded in evergreens, and a spectacular beach with views of the Puget Sound and islands to the West, this gem of a park was the perfect backdrop for a dry wintry day.

Tips for Photographing Small Children: Come Prepared

  • DSC_2308The baby’s eyes and nose were running from the cold, so it was important to have tissues on hand and a cute hat and coat!
  • We did a few posed shots interspersed with periods of letting the family play and relax, perfect for some candid shots and for the baby to burn off some energy.
  • Like most babies, this little one was fascinated by the camera (and by the silly noises the photographer was making,) and looked at the camera frequently for some great shots!
  • Mom had snacks ready for him as soon we called it a day keeping him happy and calm throughout the entire experience.

It’s important to come prepared with little ones: extra clothing, warm layers, tissues, snacks and drinks. We were also a bit flexible on timing so that it would work with his nap and we chose locations for all kinds of weather, making the final call the morning of the shoot. The preparation paid off as it was a smooth, successful shoot and we had a great time enjoying the sun in Lincoln Park!

Puttmann Collage

 

 

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For Food Sake – Dining Out

Dine Around Seattle has had me gallivanting through Seattle’s restaurant scene, snapping and sipping and getting spoiled rotten on the delicious flavors of this city. What a lucky photographer am I.

Dine Around Seattle: Cicchetti

Cicchetti of Eastlake. Braised short ribs with quinoa and roasted carrots, mouth watering falafel, the best Beef Carpaccio I’ve ever had and a damn good cocktail to boot.

What is Dine Around Seattle?

Whether you live in the Seattle area or are just visiting, Dine Around Seattle (formerly 25 for $25) is a fine-dining experience in its fifteenth year. It’s become so woven into the culinary culture of our area, that locals and visitors alike eagerly await its arrival.

Skillet Collage Mirastories

A delightful foray through Skillet Diner’s menu from a golden beet salad to ice cream and waffles.

Here’s how it works… Each March and November, Sundays through Thursdays, the Seattle area’s top restaurants offer 3-course meals for a mere $33. This includes selections for a dinner appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Many of the restaurants also offer lunch for $18.

(Prices do not include beverage, tax and gratuity. Menus are not available on Thanksgiving or Easter.)

Bibimbap, pork belly with kimchee, persimmon salad and fresh escolar with red jalapeno slices. YUM

Chan in Pike Place Market. Bibimbap, pork belly with kimchee, persimmon salad and fresh escolar with red jalapeno slices. Oh my.

In 2015 Dine Around Seattle celebrated what has become the longest running three-course prix fixe event in the Puget Sound focusing exclusively on restaurants that are locally owned and showcase sustainable local menus. So this March, make a date or three to discover some of these fantastic local restaurants, have a foodie experience that’s relatively kind to your wallet and support our local chefs, farms and restaurant community.

Then they might decide they need new photos every year.. ahem.

Day in Seattle – Exploring Elliott Bay

One thing everyone in Seattle has in common is we love water. You kind of have to if you’re from here, but many of us transplants were drawn here by water, from the fresh water lakes and rivers, to the bays of the Puget Sound, that salty seductress whose fingers shape our western edge and envelope our island archipelagos. There are so many ways to taste the salty side of Seattle whether you’re a local, a guest, budget conscious, eco-concious or traveling with family. Grab your camera and prepare to be inspired.DSC_0716

Here is one of my favorite do-it-yourself itineraries for water lovers starting in downtown Seattle:

  • First, ride the King County Water Taxi from the downtown waterfront terminal at Pier 50. Cost is $4 each way if you’re 6 – 65 years old. Kids under 5 are FREE. You get an AMAZING view of the city and about a 15 minute ride across Elliott Bay. PLUS, they drop you off on Seacrest Dock in West Seattle, an incredible neighborhood. (TIP: Avoid riding during rush hour when many locals use this for commuting to and from work. How cool is that?!)

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  • From Seacrest Dock there are options for every traveler:
    • The Land Loving Explorer: Hop on the FREE shuttle that comes right to the dock, and take a cruise through this family friendly neighborhood. There are always lots of events and festivals in West Seattle, including a weekly farmer’s market. Find real time events on the award winning local news source, the West Seattle Blog. Or just hop off at the Alaska Junction to explore the many shops and restaurants including this editor’s fave, the family friendly, eco-conscious, pillar of the community, who make holy good beer and far from average pub food Elliott Bay Brewery. (Look at their freakin’ special right now! SEARED CORVINA $14.95 6 oz. of wild Ecuadorian Corvina sea bass flash seared and finished with a toasted almond butter pan sauce. Served with roasted red potatoes and a small salad of arugula, red onions and grape tomatoes. Pairs nicely with our Organic Alembic Pale Ale. See what I’m saying?)
    • The Professional Relaxer: Walk 20 feet from the dock to Marination Ma Kai for some Hawaiian inspired tacos, or kimchi quesadillas and frosty beverages, while you sit on the patio with a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline. They provide heat lamps and blankets on cold days, a very nice touch! Don’t forget your camera! Phones don’t quite do it justice.
    • The Eco-Concious Adventurer: Walk 20 more feet to Alki Kayak ToursDSC_0746 for a plethora of human-powered rental options in addition to kayaks, like bicycles, skateboards, fishing boats, and inline skates! Take your pick, then paddle, peddle or skate your way around Alki Point to the only sandy beach community in Seattle, Alki Beach. [Alk-eye] say it right. See Seattelites brave the sun in shorts and sandals on this sandy strip complete with beach bums, surf shops, ice cream parlors, pizza joints and cruising convertibles. It even has it’s own statue of liberty where the Denny Party first landed. Hands down one of the best spots for watching people, birds, whales, seals and the sun setting behind the Olympic Mountains.
    • The Water-Lusters: If you’re like me and you want to be as close to water as possible, especially on brilliant Seattle summer days, then join Alki Kayak Tours for the Elliott Bay Tour from 2:30-4:30 for a paddle exploring Historic Elliott Bay with outstanding views of the Seattle Skyline & Olympic Mountains. Or opt for the Sunset Tour two hours before sunset. Watch the sun melt into the Olympic Mountains as it creates a light show off the Seattle skyline. No previous experience is needed because their super pro guides will outfit you and fully instruct you on paddling technique and safety before leaving the beach.

Don’t forget to keep $4 in your pocket, so after you have had your fill of sites, sounds, flavors, activities and hopefully sunshine, you can hop right back on the Water Taxi and get delivered to the downtown waterfront, a satisfied sauntering distance from most city hotels.

The Word on Wallabies

Everything I know about Kangaroos & Wallabies as learned on a recent close encounter.

mira-poling-anselmi-wallabies 4I had an opportunity recently to come face-to-face with my own total ignorance about Kangaroos and Wallabies.  Kids, do not use this as a reference for reports on Kangaroos.  “They don’t have big envelope flaps in front like cartoon characters,” said owner of the Fall City Wallaby Ranch in Fall City, Washington and kanga-daddy character himself, Rex Paperd.  Oh.  Who knew?

Where I imagined said flap to be appears to be an innie bellybutton that opens right up to what is basically a womb.  It is insane and amazing and after peering INSIDE their pouches and making eye contact with the wee Joeys inside, you find yourself completely baffled about evolution and how these animals ever came to be.
mira-poling-anselmi-wallabies 2The Joey is actually born when it’s the size of a jelly bean and then crawls its way into the pouch on its own.  It then gestates inside the pouch for 10 months and cannot survive outside of it, making it, according to Rex, the only species that gets to peer its little head out and take a look at the world it will eventually inhabit.  I tried to will one to stick its little head out for a photo, but alas, they did not cooperate.

Another interesting fact:  Turns out Kangaroos cannot move their hind legs separately.  It’s like they’re hinged together, that’s why they jump!  But when not jumping, they use their tiny t-rex arms to create a tripod with their incredibly strong tails, then move both hind legs forward together.  It is a crazy feat of nature.  Cute little tripods.mira-poling-anselmi-wallabies 1
The Final Thing I Know About This Subject:  A Wallaby is just a tiny Kangaroo!mira-poling-anselmi-wallabies 3

They are so cute and soft and these ones were incredibly tame and allowed us to pet them.  They also like to grab on to your arm and clothes with their tiny arms!  Of course if they get a really good grip, they could rear back on their tail and kick you to kingdom come.  OK, maybe not that far, but it would probably hurt.  This didn’t happen to us, but m point is that you probably shouldn’t approach one of these in the wild EVER and especially don’t let them get a good grip on your arm!

Captured on a friend's phone, not terrified at all.

Teddy the Kangaroo and I captured on a friend’s phone… not terrified at all.

Mary Sue and Collin

This couple was so darn cute and in love.  They had a small ceremony on a beach on Vashon Island, followed by a reception at a hall called the Grange, near the ferry terminal.

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Crafty with a vintage style, their friends helped them transformed the hall into a paper garden of red and turquoise with glass plate flowers leading up the walkway and candlelit paper lanterns leading the way home.

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Congratulations newlies!  All my wishes for a wonderful journey together!

Iceland Travel is Hot

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Blue Lagoon

It seems like every time I open a newspaper, surf the internet or turn on the radio I am hearing about Iceland. It is a special little place and it has just arrived in the global spotlight in a big way. Icelandair is doing a fantastic job at landing hubs in major US cities and attracting travelers that just a year ago would have never dreamed of spending their vacation time in Iceland.

DSC_0144I had a recent opportunity to spend a few days on this rock and I could easily tell that Iceland deserves at least a week if you can swing it. If you can’t spare that much time, don’t worry, there is SO much to do and see within 90 minutes of Reykjavik. Flights are direct from Seattle, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Denver, Orlando, Minneapolis and now Anchorage, and they all take around 7 hours. (!) The time flies by with the personal entertainment system in your seat, or watching Northern lights out the window, and in what feels like no time you can be in another country that at times feels like another planet.

DSC_1817Explore Reykjavik if you can. There are great shops, restaurants and people, but be warned, shops open up late by American standards and the nightlife doesn’t really get going until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Several locals commented how when something is popular in Iceland, they ALL have to do it. We lucked out staying at the Icelandair Hotel Marina while we were there because it is the popular hot spot for locals right now. We were dumbfounded to arrive after a full day excursion to find a bar had popped up in the lobby (“was that there before?”) and the whole place was packed for happy hour with locals and travelers alike.

DSC_9478The hotel is right on a working dry dock on the water front and has a nautical theme. The place is very creatively designed, full of art, modern, but comfortable and totally Icelandic. They pull off mixing plaid fabric with other patterns, thrift shop tchochkis, rustic wood sculptures, and stuffed Puffins, and make it look chic. The rooms are very European (read small by US standards,) but have balconies over the water and fabulous art and character. For instance our TV remote was hanging in a little net fishing bag below the TV and one wall was made up of a map of Reykjavic.  At the least try the breakfast they serve.  It was one of my favorite parts of the trip, similar to breakfasts I fell for when I studied abroad in Scandinavia.  Serve yourself a medley of toasts and toppings, fruits and pastries, juices and coffee.  You even get your own pot of coffee which was perfect for a couple of caffeine junkies from Seattle.

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Me and my guides after hiking the glacier in the background.

I highly recommend taking guided excursions rather than going it alone.  For many reasons, the first of which is that the driving can be terrifying.  Signs and lines are mere suggestions, and certain things are not marked with signage at all.  Secondly, the Icelandic people are fantastic and your guides are likely the closest your going to get to knowing any of them.  With a population somewhere around 350,000 people, they’re practically all celebrities right now.  In fact, one of our guides was a local celebrity and had been in some American commercials too.  Also, they keep the groups small and you get to go places and do things you wouldn’t otherwise be prepared for, like caving in the lava tubes or hiking on a glacier.  I saw Americans on all of my tours, and they were actually all cool. Everyone was on an adventure, trying something new and having fun.  I was really proud of those who I could tell were so far out of their element, but giving it a go. DSC_1582 We went with Icelandic Mountain Guides who are one of several tour operators that partner with Icelandair to offer packages that include excursions and hotel rooms.  Most other travelers I met had come through one of these package deals.  One couple had even diverted their plans from Peru!  We went hiking to some natural hot springs one day and then went for the lobster dinner and Northern Light watching tour in the evening.  We didn’t see Northern Lights, but I still played with some night photography and the bountiful  lobster made up for it.

Which brings me to the food.  Most of their unique national dishes are a little hard for Americans to stomach.  Smoked puffin for instance, also fermented shark and Minke whale.  One guy joked to me that he wasn’t sure if the National drink Brennevin is drunk with shark to drown out the flavor of the shark, or if the shark is supposed to help counteract the Brennevin.  DSC_1726And then he laughed.

My husband and I are adventurous eaters so we ordered a chef’s tasting menu at the Fish Market, a highly recommended restaurant from head chef Hrefna Rósa Sætran of the Icelandic National Culinary team.  As we suspected, we were made to eat some traditional dishes and we got through on their mercifully small portions and had a really fantastic and artistic meal.

Speaking of art, I want to go to Iceland Airwaves so bad!   Iceland has put out some big stars like Bjork and Sigur Ros, but this music festival in Reykjavik every October, showcases lots of other amazing Iittle known Icelandic bands, as well as an international line-up, in venues all over downtown, including shows in the Blue Lagoon!! (Refer to first photo.)  Lots of bands are said to have gotten discovered at Airwaves including the hugely successful Of Monsters and Men. This is the festival most in Seattle know because our beloved radio station KEXP broadcasts live from their every year.  My favorite up and comer playing this year Mikhael Paskalev.

I found myself scheming on ways to get back before I had even landed back in Seattle.  There is so much more to say about their fascinating history and quirks, but you have to experience it on your own and discover them along the way.  Watch the Icelandic movies and documentaries on your Icelandair flight, they are a great way to learn about the country before you get there.  I had such a hard time leaving, I watched them all the way home.  I’ll be back.

Traveling to Colombia- Safety and Chocolate

This Spring my husband and I began an adventure I have been waiting for for a very long time.  This wasn’t just a vacation to Colombia mind you, we were out to Travel, to explore, to learn, to open our eyes, to build relationships and to see about some chocolate.

Granja Luker by Mirastories © 2013

We were greeted with fresh juice from tree tomatoes, (tomate arbol) a fruit that doesn’t even exist in North America.

We had 3 weeks to see as much as we could while attempting to get a little bit of relaxation too. We were visiting the Coffee Triangle for a few days on an invitation from the Colombian chocolate maker Casa Luker.  My husband started Tall Guy Chocolates and had chosen to use a particular variety of Luker Chocolate after much testing and tasting.  He learned that they were a pretty interesting company doing some pretty cool things in Colombia “the Luker Way.”  He reached out and with open arms they reached back.  Next thing you know we’re in Colombia being whisked through the coffee region, winding through steep, coffee covered hills to their educational farm outside Manizales called Granja Luker.  That’s where we met Albert.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

Alberto, the Chocolate Legend

But we’re not quite there in the story yet.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

How are we so lucky to be here!?

In planning our trip we had done our research and heeded the warnings of danger, but we also saw a place with a lot of stigma to overcome that has had a great safety record for a decade and a burgeoning tourism sector that helps the economy.  We met incredibly friendly Colombians along the way, Maria Carolina, Mauricio, Alberto, Javier, Maria del Rosario, Oscar.  Willing to help us with our crappy Spanish and practice their English with us while sharing their many exotic fruits and advice on where to go… and where not to go.  In the popular places for travelers you feel safe, especially if you take standard traveler precautions (don’t have all items of importance in one place, having back-ups, copies, a money belt, traveler’s insurance, using hotel safes, etc.)  In the end we didn’t need any of that stuff, but knowing we had taken those precautions made us confident and able to relax.

We planned our trip as a loop (of sorts) around the North, from Bogotá, to the Coffee Triangle, to the mountains in Santander, “the Adventure Capitol of Colombia,” to the forested foothills on the Caribbean Coast.   We still have many islands, mountains and cities that are safe for travelers to explore for future trips.  Hopefully one day the southern region and Amazon forest will be safe enough for responsible travelers to experience as well.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

Tall Guy Chocolates’ very own Cacao Tree

For now, I highly suggest the route we traveled, for diverse combination of adventure, culture, nature, mountains, beaches and cities.  Topped with CHOCOLATE.

Most people don’t think of Colombia as a chocolate producer, production of other things may come to mind, like coffee of course, but not chocolate.  That’s because the Colombians, whho prefer to drink their chocolate, consume 99% of their production themselves.  Albert wants to change that.  His gospel is that of Cacao Fina de Aroma and he wants the world to know about it.  That’s the good stuff, the stuff that only makes up about 5% of the chocolate out there.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

For forty years Alberto has studied, cultivated and mastered the art of growing Cacao and he’s sharing what he has learned with rural farmers all over the country and with anyone who really wants to know.

He and the others at Granja Luker are helping replace coca with cacao and it’s changing lives. In addition to supplying grafts and tools, their own Luker Foundation reaches into these communities, builds schools, latrines and medical clinics among other things and they measure the hope of the children year after year, just by asking them if they have any.  Now they say they do.  Tiene esperanza.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

These are the ideal trees grown in Granja Luker to supply the grafts for farmers throughout the country.

So this is what chocolate looks like.  The pod grows on a tree and inside it is this slimy, white, tangy, but sweet pulp engulfing the seeds.  The seeds, halved in the photo, are then fermented, dried, roasted and then split into shell and nib.  The nib from inside that seed is starting to resemble what you know and love as chocolate.

Granja Luker Chocolate Plantation educational farm by Mirastories © 2013

This is chocolate.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

Our first lesson in chocolate

Through their research they have discovered that the white seeds are what produce the finest of the fine Fina de Aroma.  The strains of trees they have created are a hybrid of the finest cacao in the world, Criolle, but it’s susceptible to disease and thus not sustainable. So blended with the disease resistant Forestoria they created Trinito.  Alberto’s baby.

This story unfolded for us throughout the day from a classroom where he showed us slides battling college Biology classes and equally over my head.  He had it down to a science, literally.  We got the  student for a day treatment, even though they invited us to stay longer and we wished we had had more time.  We stayed in the dorm room where the visiting farmers stay, where there is a hand wash basin outside the window for all the laundry of the farm.  They never asked for anything in return.

Granja Luker by Mirastories © 2013

The daily lunch that farmers in this region have eaten for as long as they can remember. It was the best traditional dish we ate on the whole trip. Rice, beans with some sort of meat, ground meat, sausages, a sweet plantain, an arepa (smashed corn fritter sort of,) a fried egg and a hunk of avocado.  Of course we could not finish our plates, but not for lack of wanting.

They are teaching the agroforest technique to farmers, not only because of it’s horticultural benefits, but because it creates a short-term, medium-term and long-term income structure from plantains, cacao and hard wood.  The farmers leave with knowledge, grafts, tools, a support system and a buyer- Casa Luker.  We visited their factory in Bogotá where they receive and process the beans into various forms including the bars that we fell in love with in Seattle, Washington.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

He insisted we put our hands in the fermenting vats of cacao beans to feel the heat. They were hot. And they had that fermenty smell you get in breweries and wineries too.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

After about 7 days of being turned in the fermentation bins, the beans are laid in the sun to dry.  Love the clever rolling roofs on tracks for rainy weather.

The Origins of Chocolate by Mirastories © 2013

Then it’s bagged and sent to the factory in Bogotá. Voila.

And this was all in the first few days of our trip!  We planted our own trees, labeled with our names and all were assured that we would be back someday.  I sure hope so.  Interested in setting up this tour? Contact me through the contact page.  They said they would welcome people we send them.

Stay tuned for more Colombia adventures!