A Mexican wedding-themed dinner in the backyard of the bride’s parents’ home in Grand Traverse County at the end of June.
I first met Erin Schlitts when we were entering our sophomore year of high school, back in July 2001, when we both tried out for the Northstar 86 club soccer team out of Traverse City. I was one of five girls from the Benzie Central Girls Varsity Soccer team to make the team, and Erin was one of about five girls from Traverse City West High School; there were also girls from Traverse City Central, Traverse City St. Francis, Suttons Bay, and Petoskey. Over the course of two years on the team, we had a great time — summer tournaments and fall seasons, as well as an indoor winter session or two each year at the now defunked Just For Kicks (RIP).
It was considered “cool,” back in those days (and, given what I know from now coaching the Benzie girls soccer team, I feel like it still is), to have friends who attended other schools and could come to your homecoming dances or for weekend sleepovers. (Remember that this was pre-social media, when you actually had to meet someone face to face to call them your “friend” — well, unless they were your pen pal, but how many of us had those? #notIsaidthefly)
Anyway, as tends to happen, I lost touch with a lot of my buddies from the Northstar soccer team when we all graduated from high school. Fortunately, Facebook became a thing near the end of our freshman year of college, so I was able to virtually “friend” all of my soccer buddies and keep stalker-ish tabs on them, which has lasted into adult-hood. Erin was one of those people who showed up in my newsfeed every now and again as having done something cool — traveling around the world, attending Burning Man, surfing in California. And apparently I show up in Erin’s newsfeed every once in awhile, too, because that’s how she came to hire me to photograph her post-wedding party at the end of June at her parents’ house, just outside Traverse City, after her actual wedding ceremony on June 9 in Los Angeles, where she and now-hubby Kiko Dontchev were living at the time.
“Hey Aubrey! It’s been forever, but I’m reaching out, because [we] are having a low-key wedding celebration in my parents’ backyard this summer, and I’ve been trying to come up with a photographer. You popped up in my Facebook feed, and I like your photography style. We are expecting 65-75 people for food, drinks, and general merriment. There won’t be a ceremony, as we [will] already [have been] married by the time of the party.”
#beholdthepowerofFacebook Seriously though, so glad that it worked out, because it was really fun to shoot!
As always with these posts, I like to give a few details about the bride and groom, as well as about their event, so here goes: Erin and Kiko have been living in Los Angeles for the past seven years, and they are in the process of moving to Florida this fall, but first they took an around-the-world honeymoon trip from the end of June through early September, which included stops in Japan, Indonesia, Dubai, Paris, and Bulgaria. (They actually still haven’t made it to Florida — which is probably actually a good thing, given the hurricane damage — because they are meandering their way across the country from L.A. with their stuff, making backpacking and fishing stops in Montana and Wyoming, plus Burning Man in Nevada, of course… and, of course, I know all of this from Facebook stalker-ing.)
Why the move? Kiko is an aerospace engineer and has a good job opportunity in Florida, and Erin has been itching to get out of L.A. for a while now, so they are happy to be on this new adventure as they begin their lives together as a married couple. However, Erin and Kiko have been together for a very long time — 12 years, in fact. They met in 2005, when Kiko and his housemates at the University of Michigan had a party and invited the girls who lived next door.
“At the time, we lived above a grad student that didn’t like us much and loved complaining when we made any noise,” Kiko says. “She called the cops on us that night, and when they came, one of my neighbors got scared and ran up to my room with me. That girl became the love of my life, and I couldn’t be happier that we’re still sharing amazing moments together.”
At U of M, Erin studied English, and then she got her Master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA in 2013; Kiko got both his Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and his Master’s degree in Space Systems Engineering from U of M. While in Los Angeles, Kiko worked for Space X (you know, Elon Musk?), and Erin championed affordable housing projects for Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a non-profit organization that has been restoring, building, and managing affordable housing for more than three decades. (Read about one of her recent successes here.) Erin is, as mentioned, originally from Traverse City, while Kiko graduated from Huron High School in Ann Arbor, though he was notably born in Bulgaria and much of his family still lives there.
While their L.A. wedding was more Hollywood glam in theme and style, their Traverse City celebration was a Mexican wedding theme. It rained pretty hard right as the party was getting started, so everything got a little wet, but then the sun came out and the rest of the night was beautiful. Friends were encouraged to dress up, Erin’s mother had all kinds of fun and funky decorations throughout the backyard, beer selection was all of the summer favorites (Bell’s Oberon, Short’s Soft Parade, and Modelo, for good measure), and the party was catered by Osorio’s Mexican restaurant, based out of the east side of Traverse City, near Acme. (Nom nom nom, it was so delicious! Spicy goat meat, all kinds of salsas, salted-rim margaritas, and, of course, tres leches cake!) The Elliott-Schlitts’ backyard butts up to a horse farm, and there were purpley-pink sweet peas blooming in the field, so that added a magical component, as well. There were a few friends in town from Los Angeles, and family in from Bulgaria, too. Extra special was the fact that both of Erin’s grandmothers were there, and photos and old wedding dresses from both Erin’s and Kiko’s families.
Kiko’s sister, Mira, spearheaded the enactment of some Bulgarian wedding traditions, such as the couple holding a piece of bread over their heads and tearing the bread in two — whoever gets the bigger piece is who is predicted to win all of the arguments throughout their married lives; in this case, Erin won. Then the mother of the bride feeds some of the bread to the groom, and the mother of the groom feeds some of the bread to the bride. Additionally, they put several red and white flowers into a vase and kick it onto a white tablecloth to determine whether the couple’s first child will be a boy (red flower) or a girl (white flower); in this case, the prediction was a boy.
Overall, it was a fun and beautiful Northern Michigan evening; a great way to begin the 2017 wedding photography season!
Check out my favorite photos below,