Family Photo 2015

My mother usually gets what she wants. Not from life necessarily, but from her children. She doesn't ever beg or cajole because as a woman who spent her entire life giving to us, we spend the rest of ours trying to give back what she sacrificed to provide.

My mom caught the bus with me to the library every week, packing snacks for the hour and a half ride. She walked with bags of clothes to the laundromat and made up games as I helped her fold. She took the position as a prep cook at summer camp so I could attend for free. My mom hung flyers at my high school when I ran for senior class president. She helped me with scholarship applications so I could afford college. My mom supported my decision to leave law school, making burritos wrapped in foil when I applied for jobs shortly thereafter. When I got my first camera, she said I'd succeed because that's what she did so well: she believed when others didn't.

So when my mom asks me to photograph the family every year for her beloved Christmas card, I have no other answer than yes. But (and this is a very big BUT), I have a tendency to be demanding (I SAID STOPPPP TALKING!), dramatic (ARE MY WORDS FALLING ON DEAF EARS?!), and divaesque (I'M GOING TO WALK OFF THIS SHOOT IF YOU DON'T START PAYYYYYYING ATTENNNNNTION!). Our family shoot is such a hot-mess, but so entirely predictable. Someone's late, she got lost, your clothes don't match, it's so hot, stop breathing on me, there's a fashion crisis, someone's yelling, she's crying, stand together, hug, smile, we're done.

And yet. After the shoot, we make our way to dinner where we sit around an oversized table and recount the day with embellished stories, laughter, and a toast to the thing we love most: each other.I came across this photo of my mom and my first thought was: gangster. My mom is quiet, kind, and all things good…but she isn't a pushover. When it comes to her Christmas photos, she's serious. Mafia serious.

Typical scene in my family: my brother annoying my dad and my mom at the center of it all.

Here's a candid photo my brother snapped of JD and I trying to pose a big latino family. We weren't messing around. Clearly.

After much prodding, I convinced my younger siblings to get in front of my camera (which is no small feat). My brother, Sebastian, melts my heart. The moment he was born, I loved him fiercely and protectively. He's now a full-time photographer in the automobile industry and loving the hustle.

My little sister, Zoe Belle, is the coolest of the bunch. She's a stylist and personal shopper at Macy's…her ability to choose clothing and style a person is impressive and I wish I had more of her flair. We chat via FaceTime every few days, she teaches me SnapChat, and she tells me what's cool. Basically, I need her in my life for more than obvious reasons.

Three of the world's greatest people are in these photos. My parents and my husband have the largest part of my heart. They've shaped and molded me into who I am today and I'm indebted to their patience and devotion.

My twin sister, Bianca, is still doing amazing things with A21 (an powerful anti-human trafficking organization) and her husband, Matt, is an administrative pastor helping churches in Europe grow and build communities of support and love.

Alexandria and her husband Martin (side note: if Jesus were Mexican, I think Martin would look like him) are doing really well. She's a graphic designer and painter using her talents to help the world. Martin works in the music industry as a part of Orange County's coolest concert venues…he does admin, hosts the bands, and pretty much runs the place, partly because he's good at what he does, but–mostly–because he's kind and dedicated to whatever he puts his mind to.

I placed these photos together because I owe Zoe an apology. During the shoot I was mean to her, so she threw up her arms and said, I'm so annoyed with you!!! In an attempt to fall back in her good graces, I should admit I can be a jerk sometimes and I don't deserve her grace. Also, I should say she has great hair.

Alexandria and my mother are carbon copies of each other. They're both free-flowing hippies with hearts of gold who fell in love with great men.

Many thanks to Sebastian for the photos of JD and I…and many thanks to my sister for wearing a white jacket and throwing off the color palette 😉

When I say it's hard working with my family, I'm not kidding. Most people would have better luck herding cats at the end of a rainbow. Here I'm asking my family to get organized…clearly they don't listen…and, yes, that's money on the floor. Why? No idea.

Here I am trying to lay down the law…but it's still not working…

When I saw this photo, I imagined my parents were praying for me. Lord, our daughter needs patience and kindness…forgive her for being bossy…

After many attempts and poses, we ended up with one–ONE–photo what worked. And that? That's a success as far as I'm concerned!

On a technical note, I used the 35mm lens for the family photo and the 50mm for individual photos. I used the self-timer on my Canon 5DMIII camera, while placed on a tripod.

On a personal note, as much as I joke about photographing my family, I know it is a gift. We are together, healthy, and bound by the invisible cords of devotion. For this and so much more, I'm thankful.