Behind The Scenes of The Ueno Home Photo Shoot

Having recently gone through my first home photo shoot with Kristyna Archer, I can confidently say it was fun, challenging, exhausting, creative and rewarding.  On one hand, I am relieved it’s over.  On the other, I want to go back and savour the moments that were caught on camera.  Yes, I know.  For someone who doesn’t have an obsession a passion for interior design and photography, you may think I am nuts. And that’s totally fine.  But the mere fact that I was able to merge the design of my house with a professional photographer gave me a little slice of heaven.  And so, while I patiently wait for the images to be edited and perfected, I am here to share with you some of the behind the scenes I snapped with my iPhone.

The Flower Prep

The Staging

Kristyna Working Her Magic

The Mess That Nobody Talks About
(and this was a FRACTION of what the mess actually was throughout the day!)

The Portraits Slash Outtakes 


Italy’s Best Kept Secret: Livernano


There’s a good chance I may never get a moment like this again.  This moment where I sit outside in 74 degree temperature with a light breeze and the sun shining just enough rays onto my face and arms.  This moment where my feet are met with stoned grounds and my taste buds indulge in a chilled rose wine.  Where plants of fresh freesia surround me, smelling of a light, sweet perfume.  Where in my view, all I see are magnificent mountains of lush green trees, huge vineyards stacked with Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet grapes.  Olive trees.  So many olive trees. A fresh garden that is used daily to prepare the meals.  Basil.  Saffron.  Arugula.  Eggplant. Romaine.  Tomatoes.  Cucumbers.  Zucchini.  This moment where beautifully designed villas made of gray and white and olive colored rocks create an estate that you only see in the movies.

This moment, with Rick, is in Tuscany, in the Chianti region on a piece of land called Livernano, at The Hotel Livernano.


It’s the moment on vacation where Rick and I look at each other and ask ourselves how the heck we got here and immediately start to plan for our next adventure back. (We decided on 2015 for our 5-year wedding anniversary to renew our vows with our closest friends and family.)


Three-and-a-half hours from Florence by choice.  We could have taken one of the main roads to get here in an hour.  But, since we rented a charcoal gray stick-shift Fiat, we felt compelled to seek the adventure, get lost.  And that, we did.  When your iPhone dies and your Blackberry doesn’t work and you are driving up and down winding roads that are maybe the width of a couch in the midst of vineyards and trees and not amidst any human beings, that’s the moment you know it’s going to be worth it.  And it was.  And we miraculously made it.  Without one fight or argument during the whole route.  We agreed on that at the start of the journey.  No fighting allowed.  If we get lost, we get lost.  If one of us is to blame, oh well.  This is the beauty of traveling, right?!

Welcomed with a glass of chilled Rose and a loud “Bonjourno Mr. and Mrs. Ueno!” I silently thanked God for this part of our trip in Italy.  As Rick and I rested before dinner (there is a prix fixe menu each night at the villa restaurant that you choose earlier in the day), we had the pleasure of meeting the owners, Bob and Gudrun Cuillo.  Bob is one of Rick’s boss’s closest friends and is actually considered more family than friend and deemed a “character.”  Character, he was.


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We ended up sitting with Bob and Gudrun for hours, breaking bread and drinking wine together.  We learned about their life.  Their wine business.  Their car dealership businesses. Their dogs.  Their millions of dollars made, and lost (but clearly they came out on top). Their marriage.  How they met.  Their challenges.  We ate and drank until late in the evening, hours after the sun had set.  We said goodbye.  And they invited us to their home for the following day.  To give us a private experience educating us on how the wine is made.  Blog post on that soon 🙂

I leave you how I started.  With the wind blowing scents of freesia and the mountains covering the land.  Italian words echoing from the kitchen.  Chilled sparking wine that tasted like the best glass of sparkling wine you ever drank.  Under the Tuscan sun.  In one of the most beautiful places I have been.  Livernano.  If you get the opportunity and want to experience something incredibly beautiful and unique and delicious, go to Livernano and stay at Hotel Livernano.  And as an extra bonus, try to meet Bob and Gudrun.

Friday Feature: Florence, Italy

ann-ueno-florence-italyFlorence.  One of the most touristy cities of Italy, but completely warranted and understandably so.  Holding the capital title in Tuscany and considered the birthplace of The Renaissance,  Florence is rich in history and is deemed one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes.  I wholeheartedly agree.  And you will too if you go or if you have been.  Many people asked me what day trips I would take from Florence.  None.  I actually think there is so much to see and do in Florence that I would wonder why anyone would want to leave the city for the day.

Tiny, cobblestone streets that barely fit a Mini Cooper yet are jammed with people, bikes, outdoor cafes and Vespas zipping by.  Food that is what you imagine and hope Italian food to be.  Fresh pastas covered lightly in olive oil, tomatoes and basil.  Steak Florentine that would potentially convert a vegetarian.  Creamy, dark chocolate and pistachio flavored gelato that you dream about over and over again.  A city you can walk and walk and bump into leather markets and farmers markets and piazzas and pizzerias.  Shoe boutiques, paperies, clothing stores. Florence is one of the reasons I love Italy so much and when I come back, Florence will be one of my stops.  Until then, let me take you through a few highlights of our time in Firenze!

The hotel.  We had booked three nights at the Hotel Brunellleschi and upon arrival, they were oversold and had to send us to The Grand Hotel Villa Cora, a five-star resort about 10 minutes from the city center of Florence by car.  Disappointed we were.  Until we arrived.  It was a beautiful oasis you only see in the movies.  Seriously.  The design of this mansion had me running around shooting every possible 19th century chair and landscape I possibly could.  If you are looking for an upscale hotel stay, want to splurge and be a bit away from the hustle and bustle of Florence (especially during peak season where there are so many tourists everywhere!), I would highly recommend this hotel.




The food.  Yes, I know, really surprising that I blog about the Italian food from our travel.s

  1.   Le Pool Bistrot at The Grand Hotel Villa Cora.  The first night we were there, we didn’t want to leave the property as it was so wonderful.  And the menu here looked creative and unique so we went for it.  I wouldn’t recommend making a trip to this restaurant, but, if you are staying at the hotel, definitely experience it.  It was worth it!
  2. We had a quick drink and aperitif at The Golden View Open Bar which overlooks The Ponte Vecchio bridge and offers really nice views, especially at sunset.  Slightly touristy, but I would recommend it for a drink before dinner.
  3. We experienced two really traditional Osteria’s of which both I would recommend.  Boccanegra and Osteria Cipolla Rossa.  Go and go.
  4. For lunches, we honestly stumbled into places and of course, every single place was amazing.  Do the same.
  5. Last, I LOVED the gelato at a gelateria called Bellamia.  But, I won’t say it was the best that Italy has to offer.  Why?  Because in my experience, every single serving of the ice-cold creamed yuminess was amazing.  This one just stood out for me.

Shopping.  I did the most damage here.  The shoe outlet store by Hotel Brunelleschi (we ended up there for our last night). The leather market where I became friends with Lorenzo and plunged into love for a black, form-fitting leather jacket.  The jewelry store near the train station.  The paperies.  The markets on the Piazza Repubblica.  The list goes on.  As does my credit card bill.



The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main church of Florence.  You will most often hear it be called Il Duomo.  Seeing this amazing church 15 years ago was breathtaking.  And it was as breathtaking, if not more, today.  It’s one of the main tourist attractions in Florence and you honestly see it from almost every single place you are walking, eating, sitting, shopping.  I personally think the outside is more beautiful than the inside.  However, I still recommend doing the tour inside.  And this time, inside, I lit a candle.  I lit a candle and stopped and released all thoughts into a few quiet moments in this beautiful church.  I stopped to pray for the women in my bible study.  That they would all experience becoming mothers to healthy babies.  And I prayed for all women out there that have struggled with loss and confusion and pain while trying to have a baby.  I will always remember Il Duomo in Florence for that very moment.

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Duomo in Florence

Last, I just am in love with the beauty of Florence.  At every single turn, there is a moment, a plate of food, a historical element that must be captured with the lens.  It’s filled with the lovely sound of Italian voices and the smells of the most delicious pizza and pasta you will eat.  Ahhh, Florence.  Thank you for your hospitality, for making my jeans a bit tighter and my smile a little wider.

{Photography Credit: All images in this post are my own.  Please give credit where credit is deserved 🙂  Grazie!}

Photo of the Day: Reflection of Rome

As I glance through the hundreds of pictures that we have taken, this one is a stand out. First, it’s completely unedited. Second, it’s in a beautiful locale in Rome, right on the Tiber river where Rick and I walked and walked after dinner on one of our last nights in this magical, historical city. Last, I just love the literal reflection and the symbolism here. When I travel, reflection is much of what I do. Reflecting on the past, reflecting on the fresh, sweet basil I just enjoyed, reflecting on the new people that have come into my life. Reflecting on the glory of God and the grace He has bestowed. Reflecting on the simple, yet profound art of travel and the richness it brings into the lives of millions of people each day. Therfore, this shot is appropriately named Reflection of Rome.


Travel Stories: Highlights of Rome

It seems like Rome was months ago at this point of our travels throughout Italy.  However, it was just over a week ago that we checked into our hotel, dropped our bags, exhausted, and jetted out to not miss a thing Rome had to offer.  The juxtaposition of Rome is absolutely incredible: Rich history amidst an urban chic metropolis.  Spanish Steps just a few meters from a Chanel store.  Roman ruins standing next to 19th century homes.  Pope Francis and young Italian children.  Wine from 1990, Prosecco from 2010.  The tourists sprinkled among the locals.  Tiny smart cars, huge tour buses.  The romance and slower pace of Rome at night, the energy of Rome during the day.  It’s truly a remarkable city and one that I want to share my personal travel stories, the moments or people or things that stood out for me, for Rick, for us.

It comes as no coincidence that our first night in Rome was introduced with a rich tradition featuring a glass of champagne.  We stayed at the St. Regis and every night at 7 p.m., there is a tradition in the lobby where a server opens a bottle of crisp, delicious Perrier-Jouet Champagne with a sword.  Yes, a sword. They deem this moment the opening of the night, appropriately named open the bottle, open the night.  And a perfect way to open our vacation.  And perhaps a great concept to bring back to the Ueno home for our upcoming parties 🙂


I would say that on almost every single trip I have taken in my life, the people I meet on my journey are what turns travel into a unique, memorable experience.  And this time, it is no different.  From our lovely tour-guide-turned-friend, Damiana (and her amazing husband, Luigi) to the man who sliced me the best piece of Prosciutto, to Ivana and her husband chatting with Rick and I about life and work and travel, I feel very blessed to have gotten to experience Rome from a local lens, making my trip that much richer.

The fresh food.  Ahhhh!  The fresh, melt-in-your-mouth food. I now 100% understand and appreciate why anyone wants to eat local, wants to eat organic.  There is an immense difference in the flavors and freshness of the foods in Italy and being a foodie, you can imagine how my stomach smiled with each bite, with each meal.  From the thin crust tomato and basil pizza to the sweet and slightly thick balsamic vinegar to the peppery arugula greens and the creamy dark chocolate gelato, eating the food in Italy is truly a bucket list experience and one that I look forward to checking off my bucket list again and again.

And speaking of food, I have to say that coming from Chicago, where there is always a healthy argument between which is better, deep dish or thin crust pizza, I was excited to not only eat the thin crust pizza in Rome, but to eat “fast food” pizza.  It’s like their coffee bars.  You stand, you order, they hand you a pizza that is folded in half like a red sauce, buttery crust and mozzarella sandwich, and you stand and eat it.  It was just what the doctor ordered and just what Rick and I did after a long morning of touring.  I may be on team thin crust now.  But don’t tell anyone from Chicago I said that.

IMG_2257While there are hundreds of sights to see in Rome there is one sight in Rome that I loved the first time I had seen it 15 years ago and I loved it even more this time: The Colosseum.  Considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture with construction starting in 70 AD, the Colosseum was an amphitheatre, a place where the Romans would go for entertainment.  I think this is one reason I love this historic concrete and stone landmark so much.  And for me, I am immensely attracted to the exterior design of it.  The symmetry.  The arches.  The textured, gray and tan and ivory stones.  The circular shape.  The way the sun makes its mark on it during the day.  The way the golden lights shine through at night. Created for entertainment.  And admired by many. Imagine having an event there now!




Another highlight was the streets of Rome.  Given it’s a walking city with much to do, Rick and I spent hours and hours hitting the pavement, taking pictures, soaking in the culture, appreciating all that happens on the streets.  Not only are they beautiful with their slim, grayish cobblestones,  but they are global, they are colorful, they are energetic and they are filled with life, literally.  From the outdoor cafes, to the rich historic landmarks, the streets of Rome will forever be implanted on my heart.

The wine.  Enough said.


And my second favorite drink of choice in Rome (ahem, in probably the whole word), coffee.  Or in Italy, espresso.  Or if I want to sip a bit longer, a Cafe Americano.  It was fun to experience a true Italian bar where nothing is to-go, everything is served in glassware and it’s fast, furious and delicious.  And one thing I learned is that you are supposed to let the espresso flavors sit in your mouth for at least two hours.  Don’t chew gum.  Don’t brush your teeth.  Don’t wash it down with anything else.  Savor the flavor.

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Last, but not least, one of the absolute highlights of Rome was experiencing it with the love of my life 🙂


Italy: Photo of the Day in Chianti

This is one of the incredibly lush views we have from our villa in Chianti.  But, there is something special about this picture.  Can you see what I’m talking about?! Here’s a hint: the wine from this vineyard would be an Asian-Italian blend.


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