Portraiture Shoot: Sara

Just today, Facebook notified me that Sara and I have been friends for a year. We met at the Yoga Pod holiday party one year ago last night, rubbing elbows as we both sidled up to the bar. The next thing we knew, two hours had passed and we hadn't moved, sharing truncated versions of our life stories and gawking at the similarities between our paths. 

Sara and I became fast friends, the kind that check in a few times a month via text and meet up for bleary-eyed brunch every quarter or so to impart the latest life offered to us. At these brunches, we dive right in; within five minutes, we're talking about our complicated relationships with our fathers and how those deep-seated complexities seep into other aspects of life. Y'know, the fluffy stuff. 

Sara recently launched her own #girlboss venture, Anahata Wellness Collective, where she provides a range of wellness practices to heal the mind and body, while strengthening the connection between the two. (She's also offering sweet yoga retreats in the Colorado mountains and Cambodian jungle for those who need a super recharge.) 

To support a fellow solopreneur in her new venture, I brought Sara into the studio for a fun session in front of the lens. Her dope leather hat from Montana and her copper-and-feather earring from a Costa Rican mystic brought out the somatic shaman vibe that resides within her—and the graceful beauty it emanates. As always, a huge thank you to Rick for his guidance and two cents. 

Portraiture Shoot: Chantalle

You know that friend whose certain je ne sais quoi lights up a room: a thousand-watt smile, an incredible mane of hair, or a larger-than-life personality. And you know that knee-jerk, intuition-led reaction of, "I need to photograph this person." 

Yes? No? Do what? I'm sure you can relate in your own way. 

After meeting Chantalle about a year ago — and immediately fawning over her camera-ready features — I finally got her in the studio last Friday. We warmed up with a few easy shots with the beauty dish and rim lights to illuminate Chantalle's incredible hair. It's always fun to watch the progression of a photo shoot unfold as the minutes go by; stiff limbs become loose, a rigid neck sways to the side, eyes steady with ease and confidence. 

About 30 minutes in: "Wait, hang on," Rick said, "I have an idea." 

(When this happens, always wait.)

Rick pulled a red taffeta dress from his wardrobe and held it against Chantalle's shoulder. "I think it'll fit perfectly," I said, "it's size tiny." While Chantalle donned the dress, Rick unpacked his lipstick armory, rife with just about every red MAC shade available (or unavailable). Matching the lips to the dress, we finished her look with a loose french twist. I was going for a Sue-Bryce-meets-Game-of-Thrones look, and I think it translated nicely in the final shots. 

For the last session, we played in the white studio with the beauty dish and natural light. Rick has this great skylight that he's rigged with a pulley system. When you pull the doors open, the studio floods with natural light. We put my camera on a tripod (which slows me waaay down) and opened up the aperture to 2.8 for a super-short depth of field. The results? Lots of blurry throw-aways, and a few stunners that made the practice of patience well worth it. 

As always, an enormous THANK YOU to Chantalle for her giggles and gentle beauty, and to Rick for his infinite expertise and guidance. Oh, and the lipstick. If you're a photographer looking for a great place to shoot, Rick's studio in downtown Boulder is the most definitely the place.

Want to be my next model in the studio? Email me at laura(at)darlingcreativellp(dot)com. 

"We're just here to relax."

No spoilers here: we love to travel. Exploring far-away places is one of the foundational layers of our relationship. In the early years, we set the standard for the travel style that suits us best — a funky car, a sturdy tent, a cooler, and enough money for gas and food to keep us on the road for at least a few weeks. 

With the standard set all those years ago, there've been a few kinds of travel that we've steered clear of, drawing the presumptive conclusion that we're "not the type." One of these kinds is the all-inclusive resort: in my wary mind, a gluttonous and greasy overindulgence of mediocre food and weak drinks in a corny setting smeared with cultural mockery and good intentions. Loud and chaotic, the resort is likely full of drunk Americans behaving badly, and guests are saddled with pressure to participate in humiliating, group-oriented events. 

Luckily, I was way off.

Earlier this month, we gave ourselves a break from the grind with a long weekend in Puerto Vallarta, a town we hold nearly and dearly for reasons I'll mention in a bit. A too-good-to-pass-up Southwest Vacations offer led me to book four nights at La Grand Fiesta Americana, a name that translates to "The Big American Party." (Gulp.) "It'll be fun," I thought, "We'll embrace the ridiculousness and enjoy ourselves." 

While there was plenty of enjoyment at La Grand Fiesta Americana, there was zero ridiculousness. The resort — an adults-only establishment — is clean, serene, and quiet, perched on a cliffside at the southern end of Banderas Bay. Only open about a year and a half, the resort is still new and gaining exposure; while we were there, occupancy was only at (a blessed) forty percent. The rooms are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the service is meticulous and kind. Rarely do we actually relax on a vacation; we're too busy zipping around visiting sites, taking day trips or seeking out that one restaurant I heard about. This time? We sat. We ate. We drank. And we sat some more. On tropical vacations, couples are often asked the special occasion behind their visit: an anniversary, a honeymoon, a babymoon. Our answer? "We're just here to relax." And that we did.

On one of our days, we paid homage to our vagabond roots by wandering the streets of Puerto Vallarta, eating questionable street food ladled from a bucket, haggling for a pair of huaraches, and visiting our old haunt, Gaby's. We even contacted our — ahem — raicilla dealer, Muriel, who sells his homemade Mexican moonshine while he tends bar and waits tables. If you happen to go to Gaby's, ask for a sample of the raicilla. Once you've regained consciousness, ask Muriel if he's got any bottles to sell.

Puerto Vallarta is a city that holds a special place in our hearts. Just 45 minutes south of San Pancho, the village where we spent six weeks last winter, Puerto Vallarta means a lot in terms of shifts in life and love. The last time we visited the city was on my 35th birthday, when we drove down for the day to wander, shop, and eat. Then, we were just 72 hours from leaving the comfort (and confines) of our tiny San Pancho apartment, venturing back onto the road and into van life. At the time, I was unsure of what the future held in many respects. So much has changed and evolved since that era; we’ll always consider Puerto Vallarta my city of clarity, focus, and reconnection. 

Check out my Trip Advisor review of La Grand Fiesta Americana if you're curious about the ins-and-outs of the resort. 

Sunset drinks on my 35th Birthday in Puerto Vallarta

GirlSquad Goes to Cabo

When you fly into the Los Cabos airport, you don't see the ocean. Like, anywhere. What you do see as the plane approaches the tarmac are the barren, crumbly hills that make up the majority of Baja's bony peninsula. Cactuses dot the parched landscape, as do other scrubby flora and the holes of burrowing animals. First thoughts for first-timers may include, "Where the hell am I?", "Where's the ocean?", or "When did we make a wrong turn for the moon?" But once you've scurried, eyes down and pace swift, through SJD's shark tank and sidled up to the buzzing outdoor bar, you'll realize you're in the right place. 

This trip—a well-orchestrated, highly anticipated girls trip to Cabo San Lucas—was nine months in the making between seven close friends (and two sorely missed absentees). From location scouting to arrival times, we wove our intention into every stitch of planning: to relax and reconnect with ease. No packed itineraries, no mega resorts, no conga lines. Just us, a house, a pool, a stereo, and a fridge stocked with rosé and croissants. 

Because of our intention, our days were filled with just that: ease. In the mornings, we'd shuffle into the kitchen to make coffee and assemble our own breakfast—some opting for savory ham and egg melts, others satisfied with bread and strawberry jam. We'd sit poolside, discussing the things that longtime friends tend to discuss: kids, husbands, parents, in-laws, other friends, estranged couples, and pretty much anyone else who wasn't sharing the same oxygen. And because we're an aging group, add to that moles, wrinkles, botox, skin cancer, 401(k)s, menopause, politics, nursing homes, and the '90s music we're still listening to because we just can't let it go

As Bestie Bev and Sweet Sarah expertly documented, our group left the house exactly...twice. On our first outing we ventured into the city, where we shopped for the sweetest little Mexican dresses you'll ever see in your life, drank margaritas resembling toilet bowl cleaner at Sammy Hagar's (in?)famous Cabo Wabo Cantina, and said a tired "no gracias" to the four thousand men who assured us we'd enter their shop and find exactly what we're looking for. That night, we dined with our toes in the sand at The Office, a popular gringo spot featuring live music, deliciously fresh seafood, and a bandeliered tequilero who pours tequila directly into your drunk face. (My drunk face chose to sip tequila from a champagne glass, instead.) 

The second outing was for our swanky dinner, where we dined overlooking the cactus garden at Toro, a pottery-lined Latin kitchen founded by chef and restaurateur, Richard Sandoval. Our table was seamlessly waited on by a small army of attentive servers wearing maroon button-up shirts and eager smiles. Toro's food was incredible: fresh, inventive, perfectly seasoned. We left with several to-go boxes, falling prey to the eyes-bigger-than-the-stomach effect that often plagues vacationers in fancy restaurants. The shining moment of the evening was at the end: on our way out, Jill stopped by a large table of older couples—seemingly in their 60s and 70s—to tell a gorgeous, silver-haired woman in a perfectly tailored dress that she looked radiant, and that we'd been admiring her all night. Her husband, an oxygen cannula strapped to his nose, smiled and agreed.  

On day four, we took the morning to explore our own neighborhood, Pedregal. A searingly insistent sun spotlighted the way to our beach, where hot sand led to a surf so intense and powerful, we were warned to stay away from the water. Like, don't go anywhere near the water. The warning wasn't for naught; while absentmindedly chatting with a fellow beach-walker, a rogue wave nearly knocked the two of us over, soaking my jorts and coming within a hair of drowning my camera lens. (Insert ninety seconds of muttered expletives and flared-nostril breathing while I double-checked that my camera hadn't succumbed to salt water.) After twenty minutes of full sun exposure, we were ready to head back up the hill to our pool and our umbrella. That night, our last in the house, we toasted over catered tacos and margaritas to friendship, self-expression, and a long weekend very, very well spent. 

And that, in essence, was the entirety of our trip: talking, listening, laughing, reading, eating, drinking, napping, sitting together just as easily in deep conversation as in shared silence. These are the things that make longtime, long-distance friendships easy, as well as meaningful. And these are the things we love about each other most. Hasta el próximo año, mis amigas. Los quiero mucho.