This sweet family used their session last year to announce baby #2 and now, this year, look at Nile’s adorable little smile and swirl of hair! Kane is still very much into football, as you can see, but not so much into having his picture taken, haha. It is so much fun to see families back year after year and to be able to watch their babies grow, even if from a distance.
Completely unknown to each other, they had long tailgated in the same lot, had a bunch of mutual friends, and grew up going to the same places. It wasn’t until one of Taylor’s friend got ahold of her phone and decided to send a friend request to “a cute guy” on Facebook that their worlds collided. “I was sitting at work when I got a Facebook message saying, ‘Did we meet this weekend in Des Moines and I just don’t remember? I feel like I would definitely remember if I met you.’ I opened that message and was so confused. Who is this guy and why is he messaging me?! Then I saw the notification that said “Stanley accepted your friend request.” My what?! Nooo, I did no such thing!” Taylor says. But despite the little prank of a friend request, they kept the conversation going and soon found out all of their could’ve-met moments in life!
It wasn’t until they had already been talking for quite some time and hung out a few times that they realized they should probably go on their first official date. Taylor describes that first date. “That night, I realized the true depth of our relationship. I knew I enjoyed talking with him, he made me laugh, and I could see a great relationship with him, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I truly needed this person in my life. He made me feel at peace with who I was and where our relationship was going.”
“Talking to her and being with each other in the moments came super easy so I was never too nervous after the first time we met so each time after that I just felt at ease and everything came so easily,” Stanley adds. Stanley proposed this past August with a sweet proposal that brought their relationship full circle. “Over the last few years we had started going to FryFest in Coralville on the Friday before the Hawkeyes opening game, so it had kind of become a tradition. On the day leading up to it and on the ride down from Cedar Falls, we had talked a lot about our friends and everyone around us getting engaged lately. I had purposely tried to throw her off the track that I planned on proposing soon. After getting down to FryFest, we went right in and I was somewhat stressed out because we were late getting there.
“So I hurried us around the booths in the convention center and she was starving at the time and needed to get something to eat from one of the vendors outside. After hustling her up to get some food, I told her I wanted to go drive by Kinnick Stadium and take a look. (It was a bad excuse at the time, but I was flustered and just needed some reason for us to go get in the truck and start driving to where I planned on proposing.) She was thrown off by this and confused since the plan was to watch the concert and enjoy the activities surrounding Fry Fest. After getting in the car I drove straight to Myrtle Lot, which is where we have always tailgated and has become a really special spot for us. After getting there I told her I was just planning on turning around in the parking lot and she was getting upset since the people taking money to park in the lot were there and collecting money to get into the lot. I was able to get in and I parked the truck. After driving over to the spot where I had kissed her a few years prior in the very beginning of our relationship, I got out and asked her if she thought this was that spot and she thought it was. So I pulled out a chalk stick and wrote our initials down on the concrete. She thought that it was really cute, but I don’t think she realized that I was about to propose because she had started to turn to head back to the truck so I had to grab her hand and stopped her. That’s when I got down on a knee to propose.”
“I cried a lot of happy, ugly tears,” Taylor says. “But I made sure I said yes through all of the blubbering!”
We flew into Puerto Rico on Thursday and spent the day Friday in El Yunque, both hiking and then finishing out the afternoon with an engagement session. Saturday was our only day that was completely free of other obligations so we started the morning by finding a parking spot in Old San Juan (bless, we nabbed street parking and thank God for our tiny little car!) and walked to Castillo San Cristóbal, one of the Spanish fortresses on the island. (This was also the place my sister and brother-in-law got married 10 years ago!)
Construction on San Cristóbal began in 1634 (it wasn’t completed until 1790!) and, for that reason alone, it was extra fun to walk around and feel the history. I am always fascinated by standing in a historical spot like that and imagining what was happening around me in that exact location 200 years ago, 100 years old, etc. Like, if I could just ghost myself right into the past, what would be happening around me? That was slightly more “fun” to imagine in the main corridors than in the dungeon with its chicken-scratch drawings on the wall from prisoners awaiting execution. As we walked around and enjoyed seeing the sights, I told Kevin just how sad and burdened it feels to know that so much of our nation’s history (basically, all of our historical buildings, honestly) were built by slaves. So there’s always this hand-in-hand juxtaposition of being awestruck by the history of a place and also deeply saddened by it, knowing the terrible injustices that formed it.
San Cristóbal was built over a 150 year span to protect El Morro (which is about a mile walk up the road) and the city from land attack. (It is the biggest European fortication in the Americas!) We had been able to visit this fort last time we were in Puerto Rico (the wedding was there, after all!), but we hadn’t had time to see El Morro so, when we were done at San Cristóbal, we walked the mile-ish distance to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, most commonly known as “El Morro.” The difference between the two, visually, was fascinating! Most notably, El Morro has a lot more green space, but it also has a lot more color: yellow and blue painted walls instead of the natural stucco of San Cristóbal. Both, of course, have lots of brick and stone, but they definitely did not look like sister forts. (Possibly cousins…) And while San Cristobal can boast to being the biggest, El Morro is considered the most iconic, especially given its location at the entrance to the Bay of San Juan. It has 6 levels (doubling the 3 that San Cristóbal has) that face the Atlantic Ocean, all of which were designed to create “a devastating artillery fire over enemy ships.” By the time of its completion around 1790 (it was started in 1539!), it had the reputation of being unconquerable and was the most feared of all the Spanish colonial fortifications.
On the way out of El Morro, we ended up taking the scenic route along the water on the outside of the city walls all the way over to the original “La Puerta de San Juan”, the bright red San Juan Gate, which was built in 1635. In colonial times, passenger ships would anchor away from the pier with smaller boats bringing the passengers to shore. All visitors would have to enter through the gate and they would go straight up the street into the San Juan Cathedral “to thank God for a safe voyage.” Because of our route, we were able to walk through the gate (I don’t think we would’ve noticed it otherwise from inside the city) and then continue walking around Old San Juan. We saw cruise ships coming in and grabbed lunch and I took so many pictures of the bright walls and beautiful doors. By the time we were done, it was early afternoon and we headed back to our apartment and then hit the beach.
The beach that afternoon was one of my favorite trip memories and not because of the physical beach itself, but because we played in the water, getting hit by waves, and laughing for 3 hours and it was probably the closest I’ve felt to being a newlywed since, well, being a newlywed. (Any parent knows how mind-consuming it is taking care of kids so you can understand that feeling of “being young again” when you spend years being wrapped in parent-mode and, suddenly, on a random Saturday afternoon at a beach in Puerto Rico, you don’t have to think about naps or kid-friendly dinner foods or appropriate meal times or bed times or kid safety, etc.) The beach access was a quick walk from our apartment and it was the perfect afternoon for being in the water. (We didn’t even know it at the time–that it was such a perfect beach day–but when we went to the beach again on Monday and the undertow was so dangerously bad that we couldn’t stay in the water, we realized how lucky we were to have been able to enjoy Saturday’s perfection.)
The last time we were in Puerto Rico was 10 years ago and, though we did get to see some parts of the island (one of the most magical including the bioluminescent bay “Mosquito Bay” in Vieques! There are only 5 in the world, 3 of those are in Puerto Rico; Vieques is the most protected–and therefore, brightest–one in the world. Hurricane Maria caused a lot of destruction on the island as we know and it disrupted the delicate balance of the bay and the beloved Mosquito Bay went dark. But, to everyone’s surprise, the bio bay not only recovered, but they say it is brighter than it ever was in the past.) thanks to my sister and brother-in-law and their rental car, we spent most of the time at our resort. This time around, we had our own rental car and a few things we wanted to do in our free time that we hadn’t seen or done last time. We flew in on Thursday, arriving in the late afternoon. With an engagement session Friday afternoon, the wedding on Sunday, and a day after session on Monday afternoon, we planned out our pockets of free time to include what we missed before, starting with El Yunque bright and early on Friday.
El Yunque is the national rain forest that takes up a large chunk of land on the eastern side of Puerto Rico and it was probably a 45 minute drive from where we were staying in Ocean Park. This day of hiking and random rainstorms served a dual purpose since we were doing part of the engagement session that afternoon in the rain forest and I wanted to make sure I had specific spots scouted out beforehand. There were a few ideas I had in mind for photos based on internet research beforehand, but some areas, we found out, were still not accessible due to closed trails still under maintenance from Hurricane Maria. (Thankfully, the USDA government website was helpful with updated maps showing closed trails.) Unfortunately, one of the places I had really been looking forward to–La Mina Falls–was closed, but we found so many other really gorgeous spots that I wasn’t even sad about it.
Since we spent about six hours there prior to the session starting, we got to see so much of El Yunque! We started at Yokahu Tower and then went to Mt. Britton Trail, heading all the way up to Mt. Britton Tower. It was during this time that we got hit with our first torrential rainstorm. For a while, we tried to find shelter under some trees. With the rain blowing almost horizontally, it worked for a bit until the weather amped up and we decided to run back to a little camping shelter we had spotted earlier. We ended up staying there, waiting it out and within 15 minutes, the rain stopped, the sun came back out, and the humidity was back to 98%.
We stayed in an AirBNB in Ocean Park with an easy little walk to the beach. We were also walking distance to some delicious restaurants, notably La B de Burro (we ate there on Thursday night after getting settled in and it was hands-down the most delicious Mexican food I’ve ever eaten), Kasalta (famous for serving Barack Obama in 2011 and also, dishing up amazing quesitos, which are a Puerto Rican pastry stuffed with a cream-cheese or chocolate mixture–both equally amazing– coated in a sugary caramelized syrup and baked), and Pirilo Pizza Rustica (where we ordered a carry out pizza one evening and devoured the entire thing back at our house). Since we had a kitchen, we also loaded up on some basics at a nearby grocery store to make breakfasts and backpack lunches.
Emily with Soiree texted me one afternoon a few weeks ago asking if I’d be available to help out with a styled shoot at Bella Sala and I was delighted to be able to join the quickly-collecting team of vendors! It was a really busy afternoon (I was utterly exhausted that night), but so much fun to be able to shoot all these setups.
We were graced with a gorgeous set of rings from M.C. Ginsberg Jewelers and the stunning oval solitaire diamond in particular was absolutely breathtaking. Allegra provided the paper suite and printed details and Borrow My Vintage was so kind to set up a beautiful lounge in the reception space. The florals–ahhhh, so perfect–were provided by Hydrangea Bloom and our models (hi, Katie and Derek!) brought their dog, Charlie, along who even got fitted with a floral collar! Hair & makeup was provided by Sugar Salon (makeup by Erin and hair by Stephanie) and the gowns and suits were fitted by The Bridal Shop by XOXO Bridal.
Bella Sala hosted us all so graciously and I’m especially excited to see their space after the remodel this spring! A whole wall of windows! New light fixtures! And, as you’ll see below, brand new chairs and tables that are so beautiful, they’ll make your heart go pitter patter.
We got to shoot Laura & Matt’s snowy engagement session just 2 days shy of the one year anniversary of their first date. They had met online, but they both felt so drawn to each other, it was only a week later that they met in person at Pullman’s for lunch. “I knew I wanted to meet [her] in person, and soon. I was very happy she wanted to meet so soon too. I felt the butterflies even more than I normally felt when meeting a new woman and when Laura got there, the butterflies increased. She was even cuter in person! After we got past the normal meet and greet things, we kept talking about anything and everything that came to our minds and really got to know each other well. After three hours of fun, engaging conversation, it was time for Laura to leave. I didn’t want the date to end,” Matt said.
“I walked away knowing I would never have a first date again,” Laura recalled. “I called my mom and told her to get the invitations ready. I just knew. I had known about halfway through the date. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is the man God created for me.’ I told him not even two months after being with him that I was going to marry him and he was over the moon. I still remember his grin.”
Once they knew they were going to get married, Matt’s first thought was to propose in Disney World. They were already excited to be going there for Laura’s work conference so it only made sense to him to propose too. “After I got the ring from our jeweler (which was a close call getting it done in time), I knew everything would work out. I planned to propose in front of Cinderella’s castle and have the Disney person taking our pictures.”
Laura knew it was coming–in fact, I had talked with them right before they left and I had told them to text me a picture afterwards!–but she said she was still surprised and overjoyed. “I cried with happiness because it was such a beautiful moment. I was bouncing and smiling and I just wanted to hug him. People were clapping for us and just writing this, makes me cry those happy tears again.”
I love finding out what my couples admire most about each other. It’s always such an intimate look into their relationship beyond just “we love each other.” Laura said, “That he cares so much about what is important to him. His faith and the way he looks at and love me are what I really admire. He makes me feel very cherished and isn’t afraid to show emotion or talk about feelings.”
In turn, Matt said, “Out of all the attributes I love about her, the one I admire most is her drive. When she puts her mind to something, she will not stop until it’s done. I’ve learned a lot from her about this and feel like I’m becoming a more driven person because of her.” He also went on to add that she is the most loving person he knows and is sweet beyond measure.
They knew they wanted snow for their engagement session and so we had to reschedule from a few weeks ago when we were supposed to get snow, but instead got only ice. Thankfully, I was pretty sure that by the end of January we’d have snow and so rescheduling was pretty easy. It was definitely cold out (hello 30-degrees!), but they were such troopers and I just adore how their love shines through in all the photos!