Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Best of Western Washington

I was quite honored last month to be named "Best Photographer" in the wedding category in King5's Evening Magazine Best of Western Washington contest. There were almost 600 nominees in the contest and because of the wonderful support of past clients and hundreds of other people who had become familiar with my work over the years, I won. In fact, I garnered more votes than any other vendor in the overall wedding category.

Unlike many other photographers, I didn't offer free stuff in exchange for votes. I noticed other nominees offering potential movie tickets, Starbuck's cards, Target gift cards etc. I instead relied on people voting for me that believed in my work and believed in me personally. I was truly humbled by how many people were supporting me and saying nice things about my photography as well as the positive experience of working with me. The only teensy (tongue in cheek) incentive that I offered was something I promised I'd give everyone if I wound up winning the contest. It was nothing much...just a FREE PONY! And I made good on that promise by uploading a small gallery of my favorite pony pictures available for download in high resolution to my supporters. Here's a few portraits of my friend Pierre who lives at the farm across the street from my studio. :)

"Word of mouth" has been how I have allowed my business to marketed forever. My passion lies in the photography, not the marketing, and word of mouth, via social networking, is how I won this contest. I had to supply a little description of my work for the contest page and it really does illustrate how I truly feel and the reason why I do what I do.

"Life zooms by...but a photograph can slow it down. I first realized that when I begged my parents for a camera in 6th grade and I've had one in my hand ever since. It's truly an honor to be invited into someone's life to capture a moment, or a celebration, or just a memory. My goal is to capture what my heart sees. Sharing that is one of my greatest joys."

Thanks to all of you who voted for me. If you're stopping by for the first time and looking for a photographer for your wedding next year, perhaps I'll be offering YOU a free pony (or some other cute animal) if you support me in the 2013 contest. Until then, in the now immortal words of Carly Rae Jepsen, "Here's my number (studio 360-779-7663), so call me maybe!"

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Run of Hope

Last Sunday was a day that I still can't get out of my mind. The day was filled with so many wonderful things. Amidst the complete and total chaos of almost 1200 walkers and runners at Seward Park there were some absolutely incredible people. The Run of Hope is in its 4th year now and I've been lucky enough to emcee it each year. On September 30th over $300,000 was raised in the fight against pediatric brain tumors bringing the 4 year total to just over $1,000,000!

In every fight there is a champion, and it doesn't matter whether or not they 'win' the battle. The winner is the person who champions the cause, the moment, or the struggle, with energy, emotion and Hope. Seward Park was filled with champions a week ago and at every turn I kept bumping into them. There were doctors and researchers who have dedicated their lives to caring for children and finding a cure for pediatric cancer and there also were families who have endured the worst nightmare imaginable, losing a child, and yet on this day they were filled with Hope and united with a common goal. These families raised money and walked or ran in honor of their own child or the children of others. My dear friends, the Strauss family, who lost their daughter Gloria to cancer in 2007, were there in force to rally support for their cousin Stephanie who is struggling bravely at the moment.

The energy at this event was so hopeful because something tangible was being done to find a cure for cancer. That Hope at times was tempered with great loss. My heart was heavy when over the course of the event I spoke with 5 different moms who have all lost a child to cancer in the last few years. Their strength is beyond belief and should be an inspiration and a call to action for anyone that can help in this fight. One mom in particular, Heather Hughes, lost her beautiful daughter Sarah to cancer two years ago. The "Sarah Mary" award now goes to the top fundraising team and quite fittingly, Team Sarah Mary with their overwhelming support, has won this award every year. I had the great pleasure of meeting Sarah a few years ago and I still remember her engaging smile and the quiet grace that she so willingly shared with everyone.

Every little bit helps. A year ago, with my friend Ann Marie, we started Team Ninja! with only a week to go before the Run of Hope, and still we raised over $800. This year, I got Team Ninja! going just two weeks ahead of time and thanks to some very generous friends and the incredible Dice family (whose hilarious daughter Maggie is a cancer survivor), we raised almost $4400. Next year we will start earlier and welcome as many fundraising Ninja warriors to this fight as we can. You just can't go wrong with Ninjas on your side and together with all the other people that are passionate about this cause and this event, I sincerely do think there is Hope for the future.

Faces of Champions:

Race founder Erin Cordry's son Max, brain cancer survivor with little brother Beck on his shoulders.

Maggie Dice, cancer survivor and all around awesome kid.
Four incredible people, from left Cory, Rich and Jim who have decades long résumés at Seattle Children's and Run of Hope founder Erin
Fellow cancer survivors and great friends Eloise (whose senior portraits I just took) and Max

Team Ninja! greeting participants at the finish line.
Fellow Ninjas, Gracie and Kara in a familiar pose!

Run of Hope founder and professional instigator of awesomeness, Erin Cordry
I have no idea who this is, but she screamed "Hope" at me without saying a word!
Auctioneer Larry Snyder with daughter and official race "starter" Daniela.
The Strauss family with friends (but 8 of them are Strauss')
Next year, with your help, the Team Ninja! army will be even bigger!

Heather Hughes, Sarah's mom, with her father.

Sarah, bless her sweet heart.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remembering Henry today

Thinking about my little buddy Henry today on what would have been his 12th birthday. He left this world at just 10 years of age in December of 2010 and will be dearly missed forever.

In the hospital, December 2010
Driving Daboata in summer of 2010

Henry was the littlest wiseman that I have ever met. He taught without speeches or words but with actions. He loved life, his friends, and his dear mother Lihua and cancer didn't stop him until the very end. During his struggle, cancer it seemed at times was just an inconvenience, a bump in a road that he so enjoyed running down.

At the zoo in November 2011
He didn't complain about needing a wheelchair on our trip to the aquarium. He just saved up his strength for when he really needed it, like examining an amazing fish or browsing the toys in the gift shop. The rest of the time, on that day that I'll never forget, my daughter Alex (who was the same age) would push him in his wheelchair. His little crush on her was so sweet and genuine.

At the aquarium, October 2010

December 2010
Henry had an agenda in life. He had stuff to do, places to go, people to see, Lego's to build. He learned English in no time flat and made friends so very easily. I visited him in the hospital just a few days before he passed away. His cancer was relentless and his pain was increasing. I heard him exclaim to nobody in particular, "This is the worst day ever!" It was a brutally honest thing to share and it was utterly heart breaking. He was helpless against the pain, and I and everyone else in the world was helpless to stop the suffering. That is such a terrible feeling and there just MUST be something that can be done about it. Lihua was an incredible mom and she did absolutely everything that she possibly could for Henry. They loved each other so much. Even though she is back in Xian now in central China, her heart is really here in Seattle where her boy was laid to rest.

Yesterday, my dear friend Ann Marie and I visited the cemetery where Henry is buried on what was already his birthday in China. We knew that Lihua would appreciate that Henry was still lovingly remembered. Ann Marie brought a card and some toy cars and we stayed quite a while reminiscing about the wonderful experience of getting to know Henry and Lihua.

How fitting that Henry's birthday falls during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. His loss is yet another tragic reminder of the ravages of pediatric cancer. My hope is that by remembering and celebrating a life like Henry's, and all the other kids who were taken from us too soon, the cumulative compassion can be directed towards finding a cure.

One way to help and to provide hope is through the Run of Hope, to benefit pediatric brain tumor research at Seattle Children's Hospital, where Henry was treated. The event is on the very last day of this month of cancer awareness, Sunday, September 30th at Seward Park. If you'd like to join me on Team Ninja! or to support this effort to strike back against cancer then please visit the link below.

Team Ninja! at the Run of Hope

Henry at beaming at camp in the summer of 2010, having one of his best days ever.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Classic moments

Weddings are full of them and at times they happen so very fast. I love trying to catch them before they get away. Being able to pause and reflect on a great moment in life just makes it all the more meaningful. The jumbled awesome chaos of a wedding, an event, or just a day in your life can be remembered and reflected upon so much more clearly through even a single photograph. It's as if the photograph opens a little door in your mind and when you pass through it, so many other memories of a great day come rushing back.

I thought I'd share just a few favorite photographs from very recent weddings and I will share more soon. Each one of these photographs involves a couple with a great story to tell. It was my honor to provide them with something to help them tell that story for years to come.

This is one of the sweetest photographs that I've ever taken. It just keeps grabbing my heart every time I look at it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's been 5 years

It was 5 years ago today that cancer took the life of beautiful Katie Gerstenberger. Time diminishes a lot of things in life but certainly not loss and definitely not LOVE. Katie is loved by her family just as much today as she was back in that heart wrenching, although at times quite joyous, summer of 2007.

Katie would have been 17 years old now, the same age as my son Miles. What would she have grown up to become? The sky was the limit for that feisty, energetic, creative and compassionate 12 year old. Her older brother David has impressed me so much over these past 5 years with his maturity as well as his goofiness. David and Katie definitely knew how to have fun and were the very best of friends. I'm positive that wouldn't have changed at all.

I've shared this photograph before but I have to again. I took this two weeks to the day before Katie died. It was a day where she was able to fulfill one of her short life's greatest dreams, to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. Katie's cousin Andrea and her fiancé Mike moved their wedding up a full 6 months to make Katie's dream come true.

Katie glowed that day and never more so than in the split second whenshe shared a moment with her mother Karen before the wedding. They loved each other so much and I think this photograph proves it.

Karen's grief journey has been excruciating, enlightening, thought provoking and inspirational. She has turned her grief into a message of hope and understanding for those families whose lives are turned upside down by illness. Her message can also be a reality check for those who might take life a little too much for granted. Her mission now is to improve family centered-care at hospitals throughout the country. This desire led her to write a book, "Because of Katie" chronicling with astounding honesty her family's journey from diagnosis to treatment, through surgery and recovery, from relapse to hospice, through Katie's final days, and then finally, the path towards healing. Karen's candor is remarkable and the way she processes the emotions of such a personal story and then articulates them so beautifully is a rare gift.

You can find Karen's book here;

Because of Katie

Katie would be proud to know how much she is still loved and how much she continues to inspire people all these years later. Her care team at Seattle Children's Hospital all have fond memories of her. One of her Childlife workers recently told Karen that she uses what Katie taught her every single day in her work with critically ill children. Katie's legacy is still incomplete. She has many more lives to touch and the undying love of her mother Karen will see to it that this happens.

I feel blessed to have known Katie and honored to have had her amazing mother Karen in my life, all the way back to when she herself was a feisty 13 year old flipping me crap in our 8th grade math class. How unsurprising that she wound up having a daughter possessing so many of her unique and wonderful qualities.

The Gerstenbergers experienced a staggering loss 5 years ago but their love continues to grow. Karen, her husband Gregg, David AND Katie are still bound together by this love and time can never take that away.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Pineapple update

Please take a moment to read an update by dear friend Anna "Jiffy" Davies, about the incomparable Leslie "Pineapple" Krom. A lot has happened to Pineapple in the last few months, some of it incredible and some it devastating. Still, she smiles through the turmoil and revs up her life engine even louder. She's determined to continue to make a mark in this world. With your help, she can fulfill her dreams as well as give her the opportunity to continue to inspire others with her unwavering passion for life and for living in the moment. ♥
Leslie's Bucket List Fund 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


My brain has been buzzing the last few days, filled with the memories and moments that made up Camp Goodtimes 2012. The strength and integrity of these kids completely blows me away. In the face of the hardest struggle imaginable, they stand tall and strong, and at Camp Goodtimes they stood as one. The danced, they sang, they cried, and they willingly and joyously offered an arm or a hand to anyone who needed them. They sent out shock waves of love and compassion that are still circling the world.

On the last night of camp, I put together some slideshows and videos, and for one video I picked the song "Titanium". The song has been stuck in my head for the last month or so because of its incredibly rich and emotional tone. When I put it together with slow motion video of the kids it just grabbed my heart right away. I showed it that night to the entire camp and it perfectly expressed what I wanted to say to the kids. I was also thankful that a cute little girl smiled and handed me a Kleenex during the video. Tears of joy are good for the soul in my book.

It wasn't until today that I looked up all the lyrics to the song. What I found was incredible. The words apply perfectly to these amazing kids and their families who stare down the cancer monster daily. Their strength, their hope, and their yearning to make the most of everything single moment of their lives vibrates with such pure emotion that I wish I could just bottle it up and share it with the world. These kids understand the value of 'now'. They know how beautiful a moment can be if they just open up their hearts and pour themselves into it. I'm in awe of them and the volunteers too who give so selflessly.

Last week will never happen again. And that is completely OK. Every camp session is a kind of performance art. It is unique and beautiful because of all the wonderful elements that the "performers" bring to it.

Last week an extended family was created and I was honored to be there to witness it and become a part of it.

Titanium- by David Guetta, featuring Sia

You should it loud,
but I can't hear a word you say,
I'm talking loud,
not saying much.
I'm criticized,
but all your bullets ricochet.
You shoot me down,
but I get up.

I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away,
ricochet, your take your aim and fire away, fire away.
You shoot me down, but I won't fall,
I am titanium,
you shoot me down, but I won't fall,
I am titanium.

Cut me down,
but it's you who'll have further to fall,
ghost town and haunted love.
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones,
I'm talking loud, not saying much.

I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose, 
fire away, fire away, 
ricochet, you take your aim,
fire away, fire away.
You shoot me down, but I won't fall,
I am titanium,  
you shoot me down, but I won't fall,
I am titanium,
I am titanium,
I am titanium,

Stone hard, machine gun,
fired at the ones who run stone hard,
as bulletproof glass,
You shoot me down, but I won't fall,
I am titanium.  
You shoot me down, but I won't fall, 
I am titanium.  
You shoot me down, but I won't fall, 
I am titanium You shoot me down, but I won't fall, I am titanium. 

I am titanium.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A boat ride to remember

Tony blew me away yesterday. We had made arrangements for him to bring his girlfriend, Desirée, and some other friends on a harbor tour at Argosy Cruises on the Seattle waterfront. I had wanted to see him ever since he told me months ago about his recent cancer relapse and subsequent terminal diagnosis. I was anxious to hear how he was doing and how many more items he has been able, through amazing kindness, to cross off his bucket list. His big item, meeting Katy Perry, is still on the list but progress is being made. His video to her has already collected close to 60,000 hits on YouTube so I'm hoping that he will be able to meet her sometime soon. 

In making arrangements for the boat ride he shared with me that he was planning on asking Desirée to marry him during the tour! When that shocker finally sunk in I was just hoping that everything would go just as he wanted it too. Tony is truly deserving of some good news nowadays.

I waited for him on the pier with tickets in hand as it was getting closer and closer to the boat's departure time at 1:30. Because of traffic and parking they actually missed the boat. Luckily (and perfectly) Argosy added another tour at 1:45 and Tony, Desirée and four wonderful friends all jumped on the Lady Mary for a one hour tour.

The rest was absolutely classic.

Yesterday wasn't about a prognosis or the unknown for Tony. It wasn't about the chaos of his cancer journey at all. And it wasn't just about was about them. It was about two young people deeply in love who both said yes to love. The future might be unknown but what Tony and Desirée do know is the most important thing. They know how much they love each and they are looking forward to tomorrow with hope and excitement. How incredible is that?

Congratulations to Tony and Desirée!

Saturday, July 7, 2012


A friend of mine from Camp Goodtimes, Tony Harrison, is in the battle of his life right now. He has just been given a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Tony is only 20 years old and has been fighting the monster for 4 years now. His recent bone marrow transplant was his last chance at getting his life back. Tragically, his cancer has now returned. Listen in his own words as he reaches out to his family and friends and then continues to express his Bucket List, which is very modest. His only extraordinary wish is to meet Katy Perry. Tony is a very talented musician himself and has always looked up to Katy Perry. Does anyone out there have any connections for this big wish or even the little ones?

Please pass this around and perhaps you can help make Tony's dreams come true. He has always been such a genuine young man and has shown so much compassion towards others. He now is deserving of some of that compassion returning back to him.

Tony breaking the news of his diagnosis;

Tony's Bucket List;

Tony reaching out to Katy Perry;

Tony at Camp Goodtimes in 2009.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering Rhema

I have to completely change gears from my last few posts now to share some thoughts about a friend of mine who will never be forgotten. Today marks the one year anniversary since cancer took her life.

I've been meaning to share the story of my friend Rhema Butler ever since she passed away last June. She's been in my thoughts ever since and my heart will always ache for her family. I guess I've been struggling with the idea of how I could possibly do justice to such an amazing young lady in mere words. The answer to that is that I simply can't of course. Wrapping one's brain around the devastation caused by childhood cancer is impossible. Cancer is relentless and delivers nothing but pain, suffering, worry, grief, and sorrow to children and to their families. And it happens so completely indiscriminately.  It's like the "Cancer Cards" are just floating through the cosmos and then merely handed out at random with an accompanying card on plain stationary with the inscription, "Here you go...your life now sucks."

Rhema was just 14 years of age. She was diagnosed with a rare type of pediatric sarcoma 3 1/2 years ago. She was a warrior, plain and simple. The pain and suffering that she endured was unfathomable. But at the very same time, her will to live and determination to enjoy each day was unwavering. She was loved by all who met her and most deeply by her adoring family. Her mom Kirsten was with Rhema every step along this path and was always there to catch her, guide her, hold her, listen to her and most of all love her.

I met Rhema through my friendship with forever 10 year old Henry Xu who passed away in December, 2010. Henry was the biggest little man that I have ever met and he knew Rhema through Ronald McDonald House. They shared a lot of good times together and they also shared a similar type of cancer. The day I met Rhema was at Henry's memorial service. There she was in her wheelchair accompanied by her mom Kirsten and she arrived to pay her respects to a young boy who died from the same disease that she was then fighting. Rather than shy away from such a sad day Rhema attended and paid her deepest respects to her friend. In one of the most heartbreaking moments that I have ever witnessed, Rhema scooted up to Henry's little open casket and paused for a few minutes to say goodbye...the strength that she showed in that moment was astounding and I am still in awe of it to this day.

A little while later just outside of the church sanctuary, I was introduced to her by my goofy camp name, Mooselips, and she knew that I was Henry's friend and had taken so many photographs of him. She asked me, "Would you take some pictures of me sometime?" I responded, "Sure, how about now?" This was the first photograph that I ever took of Rhema.

and moments later, Rhema with her mother Kirsten

When I would visit her in the hospital what struck me most was her quirky, inquisitive voice, and careful but deliberate choice of words. Actually that's not altogether true. Come to think of it, it was her honesty that stands out the most. She was genuine, real, and unpretentious and even while spending time with me, a person she hadn't known for very long, she was completely herself. Her gift to me was not holding anything back just because she had a visitor in the room. At times she would cry out in excruciating pain and Kirsten would just hold her until the pain subsided.

 In between pain episodes Rhema liked to look out the window at all of the construction going on for the huge addition to the hospital. She and Kirsten had all kinds of theories about the construction workers and discovered that their "cuteness quotient" was directly related to their particular job. They were just cracking me up!

Sharing a laugh with big sister Kirsey

The quiet casual moments never seemed to last very long though. Sadly, Rhema's constant companion was pain, and trying to manage that was a full-time job for Kirsten. I just kept thinking that a cure has GOT to be found because suffering like this was completely unacceptable.

One day I stopped by the hospital to visit and Kirsten had just stepped out to do an errand. The nurse had called Rhema and asked if she wanted a visitor. Without even asking who it was she said, "Yes!".  It was in the middle of the day but Rhema was laying by herself in almost total darkness with the blinds drawn. Across the room the small TV was turned on but Rhema wasn't really paying attention.We wound up having the nicest visit together that day and just talked about any and everything. She even let me take this photograph.

Most other 14 year old girls in May of 2011 were making their plans for summer, with the end of the school year coming up. In fact, Rhema did do a little of that. I gave Kirsten the application information for Camp Goodtimes and the two last spaces of the summer would be available for Rhema and her older sister Kirsey. That was such a simple dream...just to go to camp with her sister. Tragically, during the last week of May last year, Rhema's condition started to deteriorate rapidly. Still, she loved being with her family and even loved having visitors. She was so tired and groggy from all the medication that she could barely keep her eyes open, but she tried anyway because she just didn't want to miss anything.

Rhema with her big brother Kyran

Kisses from her beloved niece Hallie
Just days before she passed away, she wanted to go for a little "outing". In other words, she wanted to get out of her bed, get in her wheelchair and just do a little lap around the cancer ward. Can you just even remotely imagine that being the most adventurous thing that you could do on a given day? Bless dear Rhema's heart, and Kirsten's too. Kirsten would do anything for her dear "Ladybug" and they did go for a "roll" that day. One little person that they wanted to visit was a fellow cancer patient, cute little 4 year old Mia, who was one of Rhema's favorite people. Mia lit up when seeing that Rhema was cruising around. Tragically, Mia passed away this past April at the age of 5. Another monumental loss for the world.
Rhema's dear friend, sweet Mia.
Rhema wasn't just loved, she was adored. She always had her mother right beside her and there was always someone there to hold her hand. She was fiercely protected until the very end.

Rhema was and still is an inspiration to so many. One incredible friend, Jacob, within weeks of meeting Rhema for the very first time, was inspired enough to start the wheels in motion to create a Guild for Children's Hospital. His dream came true with the formation of "Rhema's Reality".

Rhema's Reality on Facebook

Jacob, Rhema's Reality founder

Rhema never asked for much. She just wanted a life. And she truly deserved one. This Ladybug just wanted to fly and not be held down by anything. That was a simple wish. Despite her cancer she was growing up at record pace, at times exhibiting the wisdom of someone far beyond her years. The thing that never changed was her deep love for her family and most especially for her mother Kirsten. In the most heartfelt tribute I've ever seen, Rhema thanks Kirsten for all she has done for her. Kirsten posted the video on Facebook and I've shared that on my own page. My Facebook

Rhema had a smile for anyone and everyone no matter what she was going through at the time. Her grace under such terrifying circumstances was astonishing. Throughout her struggle she was genuine, honest and compassionate and she held her family and friends closely and tightly in fact that even though she is no longer physically here, she became a part of all those that loved her, forever.

I'll always be thankful for that one little moment when Rhema just wanted me to take her picture. The friendship that followed with her and her family is one that I will always cherish.

Thinking of you today dear Ladybug.