My First Cactus, And How It Brought Me Home

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I haven't always had a great relationship with house plants.

As an adult, I came to see them as a MAJOR nuisance. Don't get me wrong - I've always loved growing things. I have an elaborate garden every summer, where I toil happily until the fall. The winter provides a welcome respite from digging in the dirt, that gets me all jazzed up for a new planting season. So I never understood why I couldn't keep anything alive in the house.

My journey with houseplants started as a kid. We had a very tall cactus that had been with my parents since it was just a small windowsill plant. I grew up with this cactus towering over me, it was taller than me for most of the years we had it, and eventually it moved to Alberta with us. I loved to dig my little nails into the flesh between his spikes. It felt just dangerous enough to be exciting! Would mom walk around the corner and get mad? Would the plant feel bad? Would my finger slip and get poked by a prickly spike? I was probably seven years old. The most satisfying part was pulling my hand away and watching the bitter, white cactus blood ooze out through that perfect crescent-moon-shaped wound my nail had left behind. I know it was bitter because I ate it more than once - it always looked good, but it never tasted any better. The cactus didn't adapt well after the move. I think it saw it's final days in Grimshaw Alberta, after a tumultuous cross-canada UHaul adventure when I was about nine. Everyone's favourite kind of road trip - amiright?! (Read: sarcasm)

Our family cactus was a living symbol of the life I left behind in Ontario. As I watched it slowly lose the fight against a new climate, I decided we were never going home. When it finally got hauled out to the trash, I ached. 

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Nine years later I left small-town Alberta for what I saw as a temporary stop on my way back to Ontario. Edmonton. It was 2005 when I realized I'd now lived in Alberta as long as I'd lived in Ontario. A devastating epiphany. If I stayed one more year... this would be the place I'd lived for most of my life. I had to finish school and get out of here. 

During college, I probably bought a bamboo plant every time I went to Ikea. They always died, and I'm just now realizing why - I kept putting them in the bathroom where there's LITERALLY NO SUN. Ikea also brought a large tropical plant into my life, that lived the longest of any plant I've ever had since. I think it stayed with me from 2005 until 2008. It even put up with me decorating it at Christmas each year. But by 2009 I was done being disappointed by house plants. At least outdoor plants have a pre-determined growing season. They grow, they are harvested, they have served their purpose and they're gone. Not house plants.

House plants greet you each day with enthusiasm. A predictable joy, living in an otherwise inanimate room. Until one day they've fallen over. 

This brings me to my life with Neil. When I met Neil in 2012 I still hated Alberta. I was almost ready to ditch Edmonton altogether, but I hadn't decided where to go next. I felt trapped in Edmonton by my career because I was scared of starting over, but I wanted out. To be honest, it seemed like all my friends felt the same way - and that was the real problem.

Falling in love with Neil was terrifying because I knew he would be one more thing that was going to tie me to this city. Neil loves Edmonton, and coincidentally he also loves houseplants. When he first told me he wanted a lot of plants in our house my face twisted into the subject of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'. All I could see in my head were the dried up leaves and water stains left all over my dad's neglected living room when we moved him out of his last house. Dead houseplants had been involved in many of my life's major disappointments, and although I may have been over-reacting, the answer was a hard NO. Not in our house, not in our life. There will be no droopy, sloppy, plants screaming neglect from the corners of this living room, reminding me that everything is temporary, and everything I love will someday die. 

But then things started to turn around...

Neil became this secret door to a whole new Edmonton I hadn't seen before... in fact, it was a whole new Alberta. I met people who were creating things and proudly boasting Edmonton as the home and inspiration to their creativity. Edmonton had a spark that had previously eluded me. Instead of seeing this as a place I needed to escape to be successful, I started to see it as a place I could draw inspiration from, and incorporate into my work and art. I realized that being happy in a place has a lot to do with the people you know. I had like-minded, amazing friends, but they all wanted to leave Edmonton. They kept moving away to be closer to industry hubs that had more opportunity for them, and it made me feel constantly left behind. It was comforting to have a friend who I knew wasn't going to move away. Neil was here for the long haul. At the very root of it, he had put a lot of time and passion into building a bike polo league here, and he wasn't going to leave that anytime soon. We moved close to Mill Creek, I fell in love with hiking in the river valley. We invested in a studio, I met more awesome people and started collaborating. We discovered the wonders of day trips to Elk Island. We joined Ritchie Community League and got involved with their events. I started photographing things that I adore about the prairies. We finally decided to stay - and bought a house in Ottewell.

I call myself an Albertan now, and when I'm traveling I cut the sarcasm from my tone when I tell people where I'm from. I didn't think this was my path, but here I am - I actually love this place! 

Let's get back to my journey with houseplants. Just like Neil unintentionally encouraged me to embrace our city, he also opened my mind to plants. Succulents started showing up everywhere - at the grocery store, the greenhouse, Ikea, the farmer's market. FINALLY! A plant without leaves to dry up and fall off. I was in love. We could finally compromise. Neil could have plants, and I could be happy. I bought cactus after cactus, succulent after succulent. Unfortunately, they all died in our basement suite due to a lack of light. So that brings me to the present! Now that we are in a house, with big main-floor windows in every room I've gone a little crazy for these house plants. With dry soil, sporadic watering, and no attraction for my cats to eat them, they are the perfect living decor! I have eight thriving collections of succulents and cacti, and I'm actually feeling a little bit addicted. My new challenge is to SLOOOW DOOOOWN because we only have so much counter space. 

Our friends Sarah and Sklar (above) have a whole room in their home dedicated to plants and terrariums. They came over one night this month to build some Terrariums with us for the new place. Here, some lessons from Skylar:

1. Plant 'Like With Like'

Choose plants with similar leaves to go into terrariums together. Something with a fatter leaf holds more water, so it doesn't need as much attention. Something with a small, thin leaf is going to need to be watered more. Your terrarium will live longer and look better if you match up plants with similar needs.

2. Choose Your Soil

The internet suggests using activated carbon in your soil to fight off fungus. I don't know if that's what Skylar brought over, but we definitely had a specific mix of soil. It was also gravely to encourage proper drainage and allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.

3. Know the Needs of Your Plants

Do you know why all my plants kept dying? I wasn't getting the right plants for the available growing conditions in my home. I probably needed tropical plants that naturally live near the ground in low light under the canopy of the rain forest. They may have flourished in our basement suite. If you get your plants from a greenhouse they will be able to tell you how often to give the plant water, what kind of light to put it in, and how big of a pot it may need. Let's all learn from my mistakes and remember that impulse-buying a plant is about as careless as impulse-buying a pet (something I've also done in my life). 

I'm still on the search for a cactus like the one that followed me to Alberta and left me in Grimshaw. Wish me luck keeping the next one alive long enough that it might one day tower over a mischevious toddler just like me!

Jocelyn + Morgan: Friends To The End

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In many ways, working with couples on a regular basis helps me to re-align my own relationship with my husband.

Each time I photograph a couple I get to peek into their world and get inspired. First, the excitement around their wedding is contagious. It always brings me back to how I felt when I was engaged, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have had what they have now. Second, I get to learn from them. I get to see how they relate to each other, and how they raise each other up. I often go away thinking about how I can incorporate some of what I learned from their relationship into my own.

Today I sat down to make a slideshow of Jocelyn + Morgan's images, and I realized it has given me the opportunity to share some of these lessons with you. 

I was reading an article recently about making friendship a priority in your relationship, and it reminded me of Jocelyn & Morgan's engagement session. The author spoke about tips and tricks for how to become closer friends with your partner, and even though many of them were cliché and the article left a lot to be desired... it was the heading that really intrigued me.

'10 Habits of Happy Couples who Make Friendship a Priority'  

Jocelyn & Morgan's engagement session was like a date night with a photographer! They picked three things they have fun doing together, and we went from there. It honestly was like hanging out with two best friends for the night, out on a great date! 

So I was thinking, what small things could I do today, and every day, to make sure that my friendship with my husband stays vibrant?

Here's what I've come up with:

Make Time for FUN

If you're anything like me (and Jocelyn, and Morgan!) you probably find it's WAY too easy to take on new projects. I often find myself in a place where the things I've committed to are exciting and they make me happy, but they may be demanding too much of my time.

Here are some ways I can plan ahead today, to make sure we have fun this week: 

I can look at my calendar, choose a day, and tell my husband to keep the day free for a surprise. Then I can watch him squirm for the next two weeks while I plan this "surprise" in secret. 
I can write a note, or cut a comic out of the newspaper to sneak into his lunch tomorrow morning. 
I can find a new recipe and make dinner with him when he gets home. 
I can dig out a board game or a deck of cards and make sure we have some fun tonight, instead of disappearing into our own little worlds after dinner. 

 

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Get Out of the House

Whenever people have asked us for marriage advice my husband has always said, "When things get hard, go for a walk." I think this has worked for us because getting caught up in the day-to-day can make the annoying things about our relationship stand out. When we finally get out of the house and do something fresh we remember that life together is better. 

Today, we can:

Go for a walk
 Go see a movie
Catch some local live theatre or an improv show
Sit on the deck, wrap ourselves in blankets, and pop a bottle of bubbly! 
Be tourists in our own town and visit the Muttart, City Hall, or Fort Edmonton Park
Pack a picnic dinner and go to the neighbouhood park for dinner after work
Go watch a local sports team play

 

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Try New Things Together

New experiences provide opportunities to surprise and impress each other the way we did when we were dating! I might forget how smart he is until he blows me away with his math skills solving a problem in an escape room. He might not know that I was a woodworking wizard in high-school unless we take a workshop together where I can show off my skills. These moments are critical in the effort to fall in love with each other again and again as our lives get more predictable. 

Today, I can jot down new activities in Edmonton that we haven't done yet, as a roadmap for the next time we have a day off together... 

Escape rooms
Attractions
Restaurants
Shopping centres
Classes & Workshops 

 

Put the Phones Down 

I don't even want to know how much time I spend scrolling through Instagram. Let's be clear - I LOVE Instagram - but I can still admit I would have more time to play board games, read a book, or watch Netflix with my husband if I didn't have an iPhone glued to my right hand all day long.

Some guidelines that could make our house more social: 

No phones to distract us from catching up at dinner 
No phones in the bedroom so we can have better conversations or read a book together before bed 
No phones in the morning so we can get ready and have breakfast truly together

It's not the rules that matter, it's the act of creating boundaries so that the time and attention we have for each other is respected and treated as sacred. 

 

Take Time to Appreciate Eachother

What if we never took for granted the amount of help and support we get from our partner? What if we stopped EXPECTING them to always be there for us, and instead showed appreciation each and every time they helped us out with something? If my friend made me dinner I would try to repay them in some way, so when my husband makes me dinner (almost every night) why don't I look for small ways to repay him with kindness?

I think I'm pretty good at gratitude, but here's a list of things that go above and beyond my usual thank you: 

Pouring him a bath if he's had a hard day
Bringing home a bottle of his favourite beer, wine, or soda
Organizing or deep-cleaning an area of the house we've been putting off 
Bringing him a coffee mid-day at work
Making him a DIY gift just because (Click HERE for great DIY gift ideas)

If I can translate even one of these ideas into reality today, I believe my relationship will grow a little brighter. Bottom line, when we give our attention to others it gives them the desire to pay attention to us. My husband is already my best friend, so I better make sure he can tell. 

Enjoy Jocelyn & Morgan's engagement session. I hope it inspires you to plan your very own date night with your partner & best friend! 

New Vendors, New Friends

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a very small, exclusive bridal show called Love In Yeg. The organizers, Amy and Sidd, did a great job of creating an atmosphere where we were able to have a lot of one-on-one time with couples planning their weddings. That was the best part. It wasn't hurried or hectic, it was relaxed and spacious and I had time to have a real conversation with each person who stopped by to meet me. 

The part I didn't expect was the effort they put in to make sure the vendors had a positive experience with each other. From a private vendor social where we could get to know each other in advance, to champagne after all the attendees left, it was a lovely way to meet some new people who love weddings just as much as I do!

What better way to pay that positive energy forward than to feature some of the creative people I got to work with that day?! 


Tickled Floral 

Tickled Floral is a vendor I met at a wedding last September. I was so impressed with her bouquets I asked her to collaborate with me on my booth for Love in Yeg. She created all the floral arrangements in the photos above and did a wonderful job combining outdoor boreal forest elements with the soft, elegant look I wanted to create. I can't say enough nice things about Wendy's work! 


Cofee Jockey 

Coffee Jockey is a DJ and Espresso service offered by Sarah & Skylar, a husband and wife team. They have extensive knowledge of fine coffee, a beautiful espresso machine, and spend a great deal of time creating a custom playlist for your tastes. The picture above shows Skylar in his comfort zone. He was our DJ whe Neil and I got married in 2015 and he did an amazing job putting together a playlist that met my obscure requests and kept everyone on the dance floor all night! 


Therese Lopez

Therese Lopez Florals is one of those vendors that stopped me in my tracks when I walked past her booth! Although I had never met her before I had to ask if I could photograph her flowers. She was bubbly and inviting, and I got the impression right away that she must be a delight to work with! She had all sorts of creative little projects on display, like the fresh flower comb in the photo above, flower crowns, boutineers made from the tiniest little flowers, and overhead arrangements in copper geometric himmelis. I'm so happy I got to meet Therese! 


Wedding Design by Anika 

My old friend Anika Loewen has recently popped back into my life with her graphic design business Wedding Design by Anika. Every time I see her latest designs I am blown away by how elegant and unique they are. She does things with paper cutouts that I've never seen before! She can turn paper into lace, art deco geometric shapes, frames, pretty much anything. Visit her website and I'm sure you will be impressed!  


Two Buds Floral 

Margaret-Ann has the best tag line, "Flowers by nature, art by design." I love how that encapsulates what she does with flowers. This is the second time I've had the honour of photographing one of her floral canopies. Check out what she did with moss and some chalkboard paint to display her show-day giveaway! Two Buds was right across from me at the show and I have to say she definitely knows how to have fun. Her and Anika were dancing and laughing, and lifted the energy in our vendor corner all day long! 


 Logo courtesy Studio 96 Website

New Relationships 

Something really exciting that happened for me that day was the ladies from Studio 96 stopping by my booth! They took some of my samples and contacted me later to invite me into their roster of vendors that they use for their in-house curated weddings. As a bride, you can book with Studio 96 and they will plan your whole event from top to tail. I'm really looking forward to collaborating with them in the future, and I can't wait to shoot some images in their unique space! 


But what about the couples I met that day? 

I love the conversations that start when I photograph rings. Everyone has a story about their ring that tells me a little bit about their relationship and what this commitment means to them, so I offered every bride-to-be a free image of her engagement ring. Here are some of the pictures I took that day. Each one is a little glimpse into the different people I got to chat with at Love in Yeg

Coming Next...

In May I get to photograph Sammy and her fiancé, the winners of the door prize raffle. I am SO EXCITED to create these two the engagement collection we have been planning together.


Lastly, a shoutout to the two who made it all happen! 

 Photo by FO Photography 

Photo by FO Photography 

Amy & Sidd have already been mentioned a couple times here, but what you might not know is that they are also wedding vendors! Their company Everly Invitations is Amy's graphic design brand. She creates custom invitations, wedding stationary, basically anything you need to check 'wedding invitations' off your list.  I'm sending a big shout out to them for bringing this group of vendors together in such a welcoming way. I can't wait to see how this community grows into next year's event! 

Sending out the first Carrier Pigeon

 Illustration by  Tania Rose Marg  of Ivoryisis on Etsy. 

Illustration by Tania Rose Marg of Ivoryisis on Etsy. 

Mail is really important to me.

Mail can mean a lot of things now. It can mean an email, or a voicemail, or an instant message, it can be sent through text, SMS, or whatsap... or it can be an envelope delivered to your house with the care and precision of human hands. 

Something I have noticed at work is that a lot of people born after 1990 aren't 100% sure how to send a letter with confidence. If you are one of the many adults who struggles with where to write the address, place the stamp, or how to craft a well-written letter - here we go - this is my basic introduction to the magic of mail! 

Step One: Write a letter important enough to be worth the wait. 

Think about what the person you are writing to might like to know, think about the letter as a time capsule. This is something they might come back to and read again in 5 years, or even 10. What has happened in your life recently that is worth documenting?  

Updates about school, your hobbies, or your family members? 

News about mutual friends? 

Any interesting news about your town or city? 

Holidays, birthdays, achievments?

Something new you have learned that may be ineresting, a funny joke, a movie you enjoyed or a new game you learned that they might like to play? 

A good place to start is to think about the last time you saw the person, and then consider what you would tell them if they were there in front of you. 

Don't forget to ask them what has happened in their life.

A good letter is equal parts invitation and request: An invitation into your life and a request to be a part of theirs. 

Step Two: Collect small treasures the reader will enjoy

This isn't 100% necessary, but I always enjoy a letter more when it comes with a few surprises. This is the joy of snail mail after all, it's not just words on a digital screen, it is a collection of tangible things you can hold in your hands.

I like to include local postcards or ads with interesting designs that remind me of the person I am writing to, or the things they are interested in. 

Sometimes I will send something from my region, like a dried flower,  or some seeds from my garden that can be planted and grown. 

Photographs are always a nice inclusion as they add to the time capsule value of a letter. You can write the date and location on the back of the image. 

Sometimes you can find free IOS AP cards that have the download link for a free Ap, those are always a neat addition. You could also make a playlist and send them the download link, or include a USB in the letter with your "modern mixtape".  

The possibilities are really endless. 

Step Three: Prepare your package 

Here's the part that has to be done right. I have had letters show up torn open, with key parts missing. I have also sent a whole parcel to a friend who had moved and it was lost forever. These are my main suggestions: 

Always check with the friend to make sure you have their most current address. People move a lot, and if they live overseas or in another city you might not know they have moved. 

Choose the right envelope with the right protection for your contents. You might want a bubble envelope if you have delicate pieces. 

For safety, write the words "Deliver to" above the address you want your letter to go to. In some countries the delivery address goes in the top left (where we Canadians write our return address). Once I had a letter come back to me, and the post office told me it was because they had an employee from another country who misunderstood which address they were to deliver it to. They told me to always use the words "deliver to" and "return address" above my two addresses. 

Get insurance if the contents are valuable (this comes from Canada Post when you send the package). 

Don't send cash 

Get a tracking number if you can. 

Step Four: Drop off at the post! 

The time has come to drop your package in the mail - stop at the post office so they can measure out the right postage for you and VOILA! Off it goes to its new home. 

It is important not to assume any stamp will work. A permanent stamp (marked with a "P" in the corner) is good for a normal envelope with a normal piece of paper inside it, within Canada. If you think your letter is a little heavier or your envelope is an odd size go get it weighed and measured so you can be confident it will arrive on time.

Unless you have a tight deadline for your letter to arrive, you can choose the cheapest option. It doesn't make it any less dependable. It will just take a little longer.  

Step Five: Be Patient

There is nothing worse than ruining the letter you just spent all that time putting together by calling the person and telling them all the news you just sent them in the mail! 

I promise it is worth the wait. 

If you haven't heard back from them in the next 2-4 weeks it's okay to check in and see if they received the letter. 


I was inspired to create this how-to when I recently got a long letter from a friend who lives overseas. She often surprises me with an update on her life, and she always drops in right when I have big news to share too. It always gives me such a lovely feeling to know that she has a life all the way around the globe that she wants to share with me, and that is why it's so important to remember once in a while to be the one who sends out the first carrier pigeon. It is one thing to diligently respond to the letters of others, but it is quite a bit more special to surprise them from time to time with the evidence of the time you spent thinking of them.

Good Luck! 

Lessons From The Back Country

 Elk Lake, 2016

Elk Lake, 2016

I am an optimist.

I live my life by a mantra coined in college,

"Onward, with confidence."

I generally see this as a good quality, although sometimes it lands me in situations I am ill-equipped for. Recently I was asked if I would like to hike 12km into a back-country hut, on snowshoes. I readily accepted the invitation, without worry that I had never walked on snowshoes before, had no concept of how far 12 mountain kilometers really is, and didn't have any of the gear required to spend 4 days in December back-country. I love hiking, so how could this be any different?! 

Over the next few weeks Neil and I purchased what we would need for the trip. To my benefit, Neil is not an optimist. Time and again, this is how we save each other. In this case he recognized long before I did that it would be hard for me to walk a full day uphill into the hut, carrying a heavy backpack. To minimize my pain and anguish he came up with a brilliant idea. He googled "Gear Sled" and discovered the wonders of the BACK-COUNTRY PULK. Being as handy as he is, the result was nearly flawless. He pulled all of our luggage behind him for the majority of the trip, and hauled everyone's garbage out at the end of our stay. 

We joked about his status as a professional amateur, but really, he's a hero. 

The walk in was hard. I went through highs and lows of, "Oh man this is so awesome!" and, "Dear lord get me out of here!" The climbs up were punishing, and the downhills were elating. At times I looked at Neil and said proudly, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done!" followed a couple hours later by, "I'd rather jump off that cliff than climb up this hill." As an optimist, it was my ability to completely ignore how far 12km really is that allowed me to push on. Each time we crested a hill I believed the cabin would be right there. Every time a climb got tough I convinced myself that the hut was probably just over that tree line. The last 2km, though, were a straight shot down. I could see the distance we needed to cover, with no sign of the cabin ahead. Although this was downhill, I would argue that it may have been the toughest part mentally because I could see how slow the progress was, and how much farther we still had to walk before we found the warmth of the cabin. When we finally arrived at the Elk Lake Hut and met up with our friends my adrenaline was pumping so high I couldn't even sit down. 

I had done it! I had walked over an entire mountain in the snow, on these snowshoes I had never used before in my life! I could do anything!

Then I crashed HARD. That night I drank wine, played games, and had fun... but in the back of my mind, I was DREADING the walk out in two days. I really wasn't sure I could do it again. 

On our second day I woke up to find my body was not nearly as sore as I would have expected. It was as if my body knew that I could not afford crippling soreness when I still had to survive the winter wilderness for a couple more days. It spared me so I could enjoy the rustic pleasures of bunk-bed style loft sleepers, day hikes to the neighboring lakes, and walks to the winter outhouse. It was during our day hike that Jen described this as "Type II fun." Her theory on fun is as follows: 

Type I: You enjoy it while it's happening, and you remember it fondly. It is awesome from beginning to end. 

Type II: It may be punishing, scary or hard at the time, but you remember it fondly. When you think back you realize how awesome it was. 

Type III: It is not fun at the time, and it is not fun when you remember it... but maybe for some reason you still think it's cool. 

Type IV: It's not fun at the time, or when you remember it, and it just wasn't fun. 

She told me I might not realize it right now, but tomorrow, or maybe on Saturday I will love it. She was right. The trip swayed between Type I and Type II fun for me. I only have one regret. I wish I had skipped the day hike on day 2 to stay at the cabin, sit by the fire and read my book... or maybe that I had gone out and found a place to sit and watch the snow fall with a cup of tea. In retrospect what I've learned is that I like to have quiet reflection time and I found that the group moved at a quick and steady pace the whole time. We were always cooking, eating, playing games, doing essential chores like filtering drinking water, washing dishes, etc... or we were out walking. Next time I will carve out some time to sit still and reflect by myself in my own little corner of the wilderness. For me, that is what nature brings me. Peace and Calm. There was a brief moment during our day hike when Neil went ahead to tell the group we were breaking off, and I was left completely alone. It was instantly my favourite part of this entire adventure. 

 I stood there and watched the snow fall, and was so stricken by the profound, bottomless silence that surrounded me.

We were lucky to be traveling with a lot of very experienced, and knowledgeable friends. Here are some lessons from the back-country, that I'm glad someone was there to teach me: 

1. When the creeks and rivers are frozen you can collect buckets of snow for drinking water. Once they melt you can purify them through a filtration system. Voila - delicious water! 

2. Always close the lid and door on the outhouse, which should have a latch for the outside too. You don't want to find the wildlife in the toilet... 

3. If there is a styrofoam toilet seat in the outhouse - just use it. It's a lot better than freezing your tush off! 

4. Don't leave the TP in the outhouse. It gets all moist and weird from the cold air. 

5. Always bring a headlamp. You need this for trips to the outhouse at night, sledding in the dark, and reading in the cabin. The oil lanterns on the wall are not very bright, so you need to bring your own electricity. 

6. Invest in Hut Booties. They are the best thing ever - a super warm slipper that is waterproof and grippy on the bottom. They pack small and they can be worn in and out of the cabin without having to lace up your winter boots over and over.

7. The options for packable food are endless! Here are some great ideas that we will use again. Pre-mixed cookie dough in zip-lock bags allows you to bake fresh cookies! Ichiban noodles are nice and light. We made breakfast burritos and wrapped them in tin foil. Perfect for reheating over the wood fire. Pre-made pita pizzas are also light and easy to reheat. Popcorn kernels! Easy to pack, and delicious fresh-popped and tossed in salt and pepper. We also drank lots of hot apple cider with rum. That was probably my favourite thing. 

Despite my fear at the onset, the trip out on Friday was a lot more enjoyable for me than the trip in had been, probably because I had done it before and I had clear expectations. The first 5km of the trip out was straight uphill. This was hard. We were the first to leave, and at least 7 inches of snow had fallen over our tracks since the day we hiked in, so we were cutting a new path. It was extra hard for Neil with all the weight in the pulk that he was hauling. I carried my backpack for the first section because I wanted to get some weight out of the sled for him, but he told me I was faster without it and he'd rather just take it for me. Eventually I got the ultimatum that I had until the next hill to give up my backpack. I graciously gave in. On the hike out I decided to take pictures of some of the difficult parts, because I wanted to remember them too. In the picture below you can see the white snowey path laid out behind me (under the power lines), the bottom of the mountain where we started and a clear path up to where we had arrived. I remember when I looked behind me here I couldn't believe how far away the beginning of that white strip was, and although I felt like I could collapse I decided to take a photo instead. 

The final 5km of the hike home was perfect.

I honestly don't think I've ever felt so great in my life. The pace was steady, the terrain was pretty level, and all the hardest parts were behind us. I knew the car was there waiting in the parking lot, and a hot bath was just a few hours away! The last hill went by like a downhill ski, exhilarating, refreshing, and fast! I could have kissed Neil a thousand times over - this was the craziest thing we'd done, and we had now accomplished it together. 

On the way home we stopped with Jen at the Boston Pizza in Cochrane and then arrived back in Edmonton by 10:00 that night. We still made time for a hot salt bath before bed, just to make sure our muscles could mend. 

At 7:30 the next morning disaster struck. I woke up with the worst stomach flu I've had in years. I have a stomach of iron, but on this rare occasion... I actually threw up... again and again and again. As a result, I had to cancel all my plans and spend new years 2017 asleep. I can't say if I got sick because of some kind of food poisoning, an actual flu bug, over exertion, dehydration, or some other cause. All I know is next time we go on an adventure like this I am booking more recovery time afterward. The optimist in me had me scheduled back to work the very next morning. Thanks to my incredible colleagues they covered my shifts without worry and I've almost made a full recovery. 

Even after the flu, this week was still fun. Type I fun, and Type II fun. I can't think of a better way to start the year than by proving to myself that I can do something I've never done before. I know there are many people that hike a great deal farther, climb higher, push harder, and exercise daily the willpower and discipline it takes to not lay down in a snowbank and die because you think you can't go on. I am not one of those people. I am just an ordinary girl who likes to look at nature and admire its beauty.

But I made a commitment last year to interact with nature in a new way; to accept the challenges it has to offer, to not only admire what is lovely about it, but also to take part in what is wild about it. 

I can say that this trip was the perfect gratification of that commitment, and the beginning of a new relationship with the wilderness. This adventure gave me more than just a pretty picture. It gave me a new confidence in what I can push through, and a different understanding of how I fit into the picture. One of my favourite scientists, David Schindler, says he is, "sick of hearing people talk about being surrounded by nature, or out enjoying nature... like we are something separate from it. We are not separate from nature, we are a PART OF nature. We are nature." I have rarely felt more a part of nature than I did on Friday, breaking a path in the fresh fallen snow, sharing a road with a towering bull moose lounging at the edge of the tree line, experiencing the nature of one's own bodily limitations, and realizing the relationship between food and fuel by noticing those spikes and dips in the energy available to push on.

I may have been ill-equipped for what this trip had to offer, but I am grateful I had the confidence to do it anyways! I'm sure some people would think I'm dramatic when I say the only way to survive out there is to keep moving forward, but that was really how I felt. In my day to day life when something gets too hard I can usually take a break. I can stop to rearrange my priorities, and come back to my biggest challenge with a clear head. Out there you can't. If you give in to the desire to sit in a snowbank and pout you'll just get cold and waste precious time. You'll spend more time out in the elements, and could put yourself at risk. You need to push on. So there it is, that's my principle lesson from 2016. Confidence can get you into the game, but only stamina can bring you through to the finish line. 

 Elk Lake Crew Dec 28-30, 2016

Elk Lake Crew Dec 28-30, 2016

Finding My Way Inside

Constantly in life, we are told that the magic happens when we step outside of our comfort zone. We all know that we grow the most when we step away from what we know and work to learn new things. I have taken a big step in that direction this winter, to challenge myself in new and frightening ways!

I have leased a STUDIO!

I've teamed up with Makers  & Mentors (a mother-daughter pair who teach artisan workshops) to create a collaborative space that doubles as a photo studio. Our space is in Timbre Studios, and although it's not 100% set up yet I have already done three shoots there. 

The thing about having a studio is - it is forcing me to reimagine my style. I have become so versed in outdoor shooting, weddings, and events, that it is very rare I have had to photograph a person in an unnatural environment. I am starting to settle into the process now, but some things that I am learning and growing into are:

1) How to get people to feel comfortable in a small room with lights shining in their faces. 

2) How to instruct people into different poses more frequently - I can't move around them for a different angle and background... my only variable is THEM. Encouraging changes in the way they are sitting, standing, relating to one another, interacting with the camera, etc. has been the steepest learning curve of all. 

3) Dealing with mixed light. The overhead lights in our studio are a cozy in-home yellow feel, while my studio lights are bright white like daylight. When they mix the result is BAD. Adding equipment as I go, and finding out just how many lights I need to mimic natural daylight has been interesting. Surprisingly, what I've found to be my favourite is just shooting with only the natural light in the building, and not using any of my professional studio lights. I find my subjects are more comfortable, I have more flexibility with what angle I can shoot from without adjusting any lighting first, and I am able to be more spontaneous when shooting. Luckily I have a camera that can handle low light very well, and the ability to scrap the traditional studio set up when I need to. 

I'm not surprised to find that I don't like shooting in the traditional "studio" way - with vinyl backgrounds, props, and lights. As in everything I do, I'm a little bit left of center. I'm not sure I will always want a studio, since my first love is still shooting outside, but this has already been a fantastic learning experience for me to grow my skills and diversify my style. 

Here are some samples of what I've been able to create there so far, with a few of my incredible clients! 

Timbre Studios is hosting a public open house on December 16, 2016. Register for a free ticket here and come check out the studio! There will be fires, Mayday Hotdogs, and Blindman Beer, as well as a DJ and several other great start-up businesses for you to meet! 

See you there! 

Honeymooning

 Akumal Beach, Mexico

Akumal Beach, Mexico

Neil and I had a destination wedding in Halifax, so we waited a full year before we took a traditional "get away from it all" honeymoon. We went to Mexico just after our one-year anniversary and were amazed to learn, after we had booked, how many people we knew had been to Tulum. Everyone we talked to mentioned the ruins, the resorts, and the beaches. In my perspective, above all those things, Tulum is an amazing place for the animal lover. We got to feed monkies, swim belly-to-belly with dolphins, play games with incredible parrots, and that's not even including the massive coral reef there, which is one of the best if you like fish! 

My top recommendation if you're planning a trip to the area is the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary. They take in all sorts of animals that are rescued from illegal housing, the circus, or unsafe living conditions. I can't express how amazing it was to feed the little squirrel monkies and have them jump up and down on our heads!

Next time, I've promised Neil more relaxing and less adventuring... the jury is still out on whether I'll be capable of delivering on that promise!

 The Grand Oasis, Tulum

The Grand Oasis, Tulum

Cory + Kelly

Let Your Photographer Know You

In the midst of this summer/fall rollercoaster I've been able to fit in some of my favourite clients... the people I get to spend next summer with! Kelly + Cory have booked me for Canada Day 2017, when they will tie the knot. My engagement session with them got me thinking about the importance of getting to know your photographer.

I was referred to Kelly and Cory by my friends at Coffee Jockey (a dynamic wedding DJ duo) and we had our first blind date at Remedy a few days later. I'm glad they could tell from that first hour together that we were going to be a good fit because I could too! Still, I want more than a coffee date to prepare for the wedding, so the next step when you book with me is always an engagement session. The engagement session is a crucial part of my business model because it is a crucial part of my creative process. I offer that session for free so we can both get our nerves out - YES, I GET NERVOUS TOO! I guess I'm a bit shy about gushy lovey stuff, so it really puts me outside my comfort zone to ask people I hardly know if they'll share a kiss, look longingly at each other, etc, let alone be as bossy about it as I need to be to get the shots I want! 

The engagement session is my pre-drinking party. It loosens me up with my couples so I can see how they react to certain kinds of direction. This is where we joke around and take pictures of their pets to ease the tension. We find topics that we can talk about between shots, and most importantly, I learn how they communicate with each other, the camera, and me. If there is something I ask them to do that makes them uncomfortable I remember that for next time. Since "next time" is usually their wedding day, when I want them to have ZERO discomfort and 100% confidence taking pictures with me, I can't think of anything more important than this pre-wedding meet, greet, and engagement session.

There is another aspect of the engagement session that has proven invaluable for me, and that is the delivery process. When I deliver a photo set I pay attention to which images my clients share, which ones they download first. This gives me a clear indication of what they like. If they download all of the bright airy photos, and not the darker ones with more mystery, then I know the photos I take on their wedding day should allign with the bright, airy feel. If they don't share any of the pictures where they have serious, pensive looks on their faces then I know they want me to capture them smiling and laughing. That doesn't mean I will shoot less of the mysterious shots, or the pensive faces. I shoot those pictures for me, because those are the ones that keep me excited as an artist, but I will spend more time editing and delivering the pictures that I know will make them happy. As a people pleaser, there is nothing more gratifying for me than feeling like I've done my research, I've made a personal connection with someone, and I am going into a wedding 100% prepared to deliver what they want. 

After saying all that, I want to air out the idea that an engagement session with me can be LITERALLY ANYTHING. I have had some couples say to me that they aren't really the "engagement pictures" type, or that they don't really stand and pose very well. I wanted to book with Kelly and Cory while they were getting tattoos together, but due to logistics we ended up doing and in-home/outdoors lifestyle session instead. These are never just stand and pose photos with me, and I always aim to capture my couples in a place of authenticity for them. I want to challenge the couples of the world to stop thinking of engagement photos as a way to show off how perfect and cute your relationship is, and instead think of them as an opportunity to conserve a timeless reminder of this time you are sharing with one another. Go to a place that's special to you - go have fun somewhere, choose a rollercoaster, a poker game, a night at the movies. Do whatever you usually do together, and in the end the by-product will always be a collection of amazing photos that show off how perfect and cute your relationship is, but they will show it in a unique way that is distinctly YOU. 

Inviting your photographer along to get to know not only how you stand in front of a camera, but also what you do together for fun will be the beginning of a strong relationship, and result in better, more authentic pictures. I can actually say that I know Cory and Kelly now. I know their pets, and how passionate they are about rescuing and fostering animals. This will no doubt give us better conversation on their wedding day, but it also equips me to communicate with them better, and notice ways to capture their personality in the moment that I may have otherwise missed.

Mac

 Mac at 8 mos.

Mac at 8 mos.

Someday Mac will grow up. It's something I turn over in my head every time I take photos of a baby. Will this be the picture that gets copied 30 times and every aunt and cousin gets one in the mail? I better get an honest moment, his true expression, in case it ends up being the picture that defines for him what he was like as a baby. Maybe it will pop up over and over in every photo album... until all of a sudden he's 30 and it doesn't anymore. After everyone has cleared out their albums and he's finally found a desire to reconnect with his past he might ask his mom what photos she's got stashed away. Maybe she'll pull out one of mine and he will realize that it's one of the images of his childhood that gives definition to his personality in some small way... "You were always such a pensive baby, with flashes of joy between looks of deep thought."

I can't wait for the babies in my photos to age, to photograph them again and again and see how their personalities evolve and if there are remnants of their baby-selves bundled into those personalities. Will Mac be a pensive person with flashes of joy? Or will he evolve into an out-going joker who smiles all the time?

Watching someone grow up is one of our chief life lessons. It is only after doing so that we can understand our own beginnings, and the way that our parents see us.

 Mac, just a few weeks old

Mac, just a few weeks old

The Art of Seeing Each Other

The art of seeing each other every damn day. I don't just mean getting out of bed in the morning and glancing at each other while we think about what we'll eat for breakfast, or what we are going to wear to work. I mean looking at each other and seeing the joy in your partner's triumphs and also the pain in their struggles. It means knowing when they need you to leave them alone, and when they need you to get in the way... and finding the energy to act accordingly. Every. Damn. Day. If you've found a person you want to make that commitment to there is joy in it, but also responsibility. You're not just taking care of yourself anymore. You're taking care of a relationship that brings meaning to who you are and what you do with your life. As Carl Sagan said, "For small beings such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love." Don't forget to look at each other and really see that.

Fabiana + Joseph

One of the most inspiring weddings I have to share with you was that of Fabiana + Joseph. Their story in itself is an inspiration, hailing from Mexico and England, and meeting in Asia before getting hitched in New York City in 2012, these two had a wedding that made it's own rules from beginning to end. Fabiana arranged for us all to have rooms at the Gershwin Hotel in NYC, and travel together to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens on the day of the ceremony. She hid her colourful dress under this black coat until we arrived. Her husband Joe painstakingly crafted their ring boxes out of origami, and most impressively - Fabiana's entire bouquet! They got married by a pond of Koi fish to the gentle strumming of Beatles music and afterwards took a stroll down Cherry Lane for photos in the blooming cherry blossom trees.

This wedding was a major inspiration to me when I was planning my own 3 years later. Fabiana had shown me that a beautiful wedding doesn't need a white dress or a certain number of bridesmaids. It can be whatever you want. It is, after all, YOURS!

TGIF

To wake up each day and meet the challenges and rewards of the world without judgement or weariness is to live our lives as a life-long child. I challenge you to go out this weekend and discover something new with an open mind. Go to the museum, start a new book, sit under a tree and dream... No matter how small, what do you plan to do to ignite the child in you?

After the Storm

"This is the first time we've gotten to talk to each other all day!" I hear it every time I pull a bride and groom aside to do portraits. On a Wedding day they've often met face to face for the first time in front of an audience to say their vows, only to be pulled apart afterwards by loving words and celebratory hugs from all of their family and friends. It is a beautiful rush - all of it, but I can't tell you how much quiet joy I see when a couple is finally alone for photos. The storm has passed, their family is occupied, and they both have settled into the comfort of the commitment they just made to each other. Thank you Katie+Lance for sharing those special moments with me!

Terrain Musings

I've heard it said that there are types of people who feel most at home in a certain place. Mountain people, prairie people, ocean people, that are shaped by a certain terrain and cannot fully live without it. For me all places are paramount. I need the mountains to feel strong and humble, to be reminded of the majesty and measure of the earth. I need the prairies to feel grounded, still, cradled and secure. I need the ocean to remember the freedom in uncertainty, and endless possibility.

Each of these places shapes my relationship with the earth. In the mountains I am a part of her - united with the wind and the rock. In the prairies I may borrow a piece of her to do with as I wish - a partner with a privilege to grow and harvest, and a responsibility to return what I cannot use. Where the ocean meets the land I stand at her mercy - small and exposed.

I need all places to feel whole.

Showing my Work at VASA

Last winter I decided to give art markets a try, and while I was displaying my images at one of these pop-up sales I was approached by a curator from VASA (Visual Art Society of St. Albert) who was interested in showing my work at her upcoming Spring Gallery. So I applied, and later had the honour of showing some of my images and photo transfers there. It was a sweet thing to see other people enjoy work that I created for myself. Thank you VASA for the experience!

Nick

 From Nick's graduation photoset, that we shot at the University in April. 

From Nick's graduation photoset, that we shot at the University in April. 

Today Nick graduated from University. It's funny how well you can know someone without really noticing who they have become or how they have changed since your friendship began. I just read an article written for the University of Alberta with a feature on Nick, about his honours project, and while reading it I learned new things about my friend, after knowing him for 12 years. They weren't things that surprised me, but they were things I'd never put into cohesive thought before. The writer described him as someone with a, "fluidity of mindset that allows for serendipitous opportunities..." and it took me reading it in someone else's voice to recognize that yes - my friend is very spontaneous! This is the guy that decided to spend a weekend at Coachella with me when he had mono, and dragged me off to Montreal on a whim for his 25th birthday. Someone who basically wrote the book on taking a year off to do something completely different. I gather the interviewer listened to his story and knew right away that Nick was a free spirit, going in whatever direction he detects the strongest pull. I've known Nick for so long that he has grown and changed into this more refined version of himself, and I didn't notice he was any different than the guy I met 12 years ago. Today is a good lesson for me to remember that the people I love are not one-dimensional, frozen in time once my brain has done what it does best and categorized them away in a certain place. They are fluid, they change, they grow into themselves. I need to pay attention or else I might miss the opportunity to see something in them that will make me love them even more.

 When your subject is your best friend you get to share the cutaways! 

When your subject is your best friend you get to share the cutaways! 

Jaclyn + Ted

Jaclyn and Ted got married in Jasper on a summer day in 2014. Their wedding was unbelievable. They chose a spot in the basin between two mountains, right on the banks of a glacier blue lake. After this incredibly intimate ceremony they took us to the Jasper Riding Stables for what felt like a country carnival. They had a rainbow of Jones Sodas on ice, an interactive guest book and candy bar, and their midnight snack was smores around the fire. Jaclyn and Ted were the most care-free couple I had met yet. They planned a wedding exactly how they wanted from beginning to end, without getting caught up in tradition or rules, or what other people sometimes think we "ought to do" when we get married. I find these weddings so inspiring because they remind me that the happiest moments in life are the ones where we let go of expectations and go for what we want. Rain or shine, these two were ready to stand up in front of the people they love and commit their lives to one another amidst some of natures greatest monuments, the Rocky Mountains. When their guests were tuckered out and heading home, Jaclyn and Ted were still dancing, their satisfaction apparent in the joy with which they said good night to each of us.

Welcome to the 'Moonstruck' Blog

If you haven't met me there is one thing my friends and family will tell you in an introduction; I am 'forever nine'. This nickname was coined by my husband, to point out my insatiable hunger for life. I am not shy to ask questions or show my sense of wonder in any situation, and I simply enjoy every second I have. Whether I am photographing fish heads in the supermarket or wandering off the path to collect that one perfect pinecone I thought I saw, I am always lost in the moment... moonstruck by the world around me. 

As a wedding photographer I have the privilege to be with people on one of the most exciting days of their lives, and it is my responsibility to preserve the way that day felt for those who wish to remember. My hope is that these photos mean as much to the people in them as they do to me, for each image I create becomes a part of my story, an unforgettable piece of my human experience. This art form and the people in my photos have irreversibly enriched my life. 

I have been changed by you, and I am totally moonstruck by your stories. Thank you for letting me tell them.  

Lessons in Ritual

The first time I smudged was just after school... I remember a college friend explaining a shamanistic background in her genealogy, and that she'd been taught to burn herbs. I'm sure there was more to it than that, but even that was more than I understood. I enjoyed it though... the smell of it, the way the smoke danced, and the ritual to it. It felt important. It brought a moment of quiet to a busy room.

Five years later I ended up in Fort McMurray teaching art projects for Learning Through the Arts, and there it was again... I recognized the bundle of sage in the FNMI liaison's office, and then a week later was invited to a training session with a local Elder. This time it was explained to me by Issapaaki from the Blackfoot nation, it's meaning, the protocol involved, why I was seeing it everywhere. I asked too many questions, and got too excited, and then Issapaaki lit the sage... and again, it brought quiet to a busy room.

After three years of working in McMurray with those kids and artists and Elders I learned that smudging was just the shadow of an enormous mountain that had been hidden from my view, as if it had been cloaked in invisibility. Each time I returned to the city the cloak was lifted a little farther off. I learned so much about #indigenous history, tradition, and protocol... I cannot even begin to describe how many things I did not know, that I SHOULD have known. There is a whole history to this place we call home that many of us have never even had the chance to wonder about because it is locked up in the memories of those who wish not to share, silenced by the bystanders who chose not to tell, and dismissed by those of us who don't know how to listen. There are too many pieces to the history of Canada that are unrecognized by too many Canadians. Even amidst blaring calls for an amendment to the way our history is presented in schools, touring Alberta classrooms brought me face-to-face with countless horrid misrepresentations in classroom posters and books, and also in the perceptions of students and the way they spoke to each other. It left me over and over again looking at the people around me and trying to find a way to explain that I've been to these communities, I have sat and shared with these people, and this literature is wrong, these images are wrong. But there's no way to tell people that. That's the weirdest thing about this kind of racism – yes racism. It has somehow gained so much traction that I get looked at like I’m a monster when I point out a mistreatment or misrepresentation. If I correct an insult or challenge an assumption I am put down for rudeness, or silenced by the awkwardness that falls over the room.

It didn’t make sense. I was seeing all this misunderstanding all around me… it was like everyone was in a dream I couldn’t wake them from. You could call it blissful ignorance, but once you leave that bubble it’s not blissful anymore. It’s alienating and it ties your stomach in knots because you can’t get back in and you don’t know if you even want to. The only places that felt honest were my classrooms where Issapaaki had taught us the truth, my youth groups on the reservations, and my little group of artists in Fort McMurray. At least here people were awake.

After a few awkward exchanges with relatives and friends I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. Eventually I stopped trying, and then I detached. I had to compartmentalize because this fight was so big and it made me feel so small. See, I have the privilege (and I use that word with intention) of learning these things third hand, of not being affected by the injustices personally, but being able to grieve and then leave that pain in the place where it resides. Not everyone has this privilege, and I would like to say every day I stand with those who don’t… but I have to be honest. Most days I lack the courage to say anything at all. So today, on National Aboriginal Day, I am using all my courage to share this rant, this love letter, this truth with those of you reading. I love and respect my indigenous friends, neighbours, and fellow Canadians. Thank you for everything you have shared openly with me. Every bit of it has enriched my life in ways I never knew possible, and although we cannot yet share the joy without recognizing the pain I hope to see that day come. As a wise woman once said to me, “The world is brimming with ignorance … we can but chip away at it.” I hope that I have made some small difference in your lives as well.

//Happy Solstice //

Winter Infusions

The snow came to Edmonton this week... I often dread the snow, but this year I'm filled with the magic of winter! On Monday I was surprised by the nostalgia of hunkering inside on a cold day, on Tuesday I noticed the fun of snow crunching under my boots, and today I am sharing the winter concoctions we mixed up for the holidays. These infusions will sit for one to three weeks before they are ready to enjoy, just in time for Neil's parents to visit from Nova Scotia!

FIG Infusions

This one was the easiest! We did two jars, one with Bulleit Bourbon, and the other with Alberta Premium Whiskey. 

  • Cut up 4 dried figs and place in the bottom of a jar
  • Pour 1 cup of liquor over top 
  • Seal Jar
  • Wait 1-3 weeks (when the liquor tastes like figs we'll know it's ready) 

HONEY HABANERO 

This one was more exciting with a little more prep and lot more spice. We found this recipe on Boozed + Infused, when it's ready we'll tell you how it is! I tasted a little drop of the honey when it came out of the pot and I could certainly feel the heat! 

  • Put 1/4 cup honey in a pot 
  • Add 1 1/2 ounces of water
  • Add 1 medium cinnamon stick (we snapped ours in half) 
  • Add a habanero pepper cut into quarters (seeds intact if you like it really spicy!) 
  • Add lemon zest from 1/2 a medium lemon
  • Bring to a simmer and let the mixture simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring often
  • Remove from heat and let the mixture cool completely
  • We used a mesh strainer to syphon out the solids as we poured the honey mix into a jar
  • Cover with one cup bourbon or whisky (we did one of each!) 
  • Seal tight
  • Boozed + Infused suggests to strain through a coffee filter the next day and then let rest for a couple more days before drinking. We haven't gotten that far yet...

WINTER SPICE WHISKEY

This is the one I am most excited for. This is a tweaked recipe from Boozed + Infused, and the Orange peel makes it look so inviting! 

We put all these ingredients in a jar and have to wait 6-12 days (depending how strong we like it) 

  • 3 whole cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • the zest from one whole orange
  • 1 medium cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 2 cups Alberta Premium whiskey 

If you have any ideas for cocktail recipes we should try with these liquors please let me know in the comments :)