Travel Tuesday: Continental Sunsets

You know, there are just some days where you wake up on the wrong side of a good mood and it just seems like there’s nothing to be done about it. Today is definitely one of those days. On the bright side, it’s also Travel Tuesday! It does cheer me greatly to be able to take some time on my lunch break to check out some awesome places and people around the world (smile).

One of my favorite hobbies – especially when I travel – is photography. I don’t pretend to be a professional, but I take great joy in learning the craft (smile). My favorite time of day to take photographs? Sunset. Hands down, no questions asked. I love the soft effect, the myriads of colors, and the general feel a setting sun gives off. So today I thought I’d feature some of my favorite sunsets from around the world (smile).

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Sunset

Arizona (North America)

Puerto Pensasco Mexico Sunset

Mexico (North America) [Side note: Stand in for South America. Long story]

Scotland, Sunset, Tree

Scotland (Europe)

Thailand

Thailand (Asia)

A few quick tips for taking sunset photos:

  • Plan ahead when possible. Try to accidentally-on purpose find yourself somewhere with a good focal point (sailboats, trees, etc.) in time for that magic moment.
  • It’s difficult to shoot into the sun and get a detailed photo – silhouettes can be great anchor points.
  • Use a variety of settings. Exposure, focal length, white balance, position – switch it all up! It’s amazing how many varieties of the same sunset you can get by just experimenting. Manual or auto there’s no excuse for standing still!
  • Look for the beauty around you – sunspots, reflections, silhouettes, or a gorgeous glow all around. Sometimes not shooting directly into the sun can have an even better effect (like the photo up at the top).
  • Keep shooting! Sunrise or sunset there is constant change happening. A photo that’s unimpressive in one light may look stunning 5 minutes later. Eyes wide open! (smile)

What’s your favorite time of day for photos??


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for even more fun!!

Travel Tuesday

Learning to Live a More Mindful Life

yoga mat, Mindfulness in Plain English

Two of my new favorite things :)

Over the last several months I’ve made mention of some of my health frustrations. I’ve seen four different doctors so far and I’ll be adding number five in a few weeks. Of course, each doctor seems to have a different opinion about the final diagnosis, but I’m hopeful we’re getting closer (at least consensus seems to be building). I’ve certainly developed a new level of understanding and sympathy for those people that have gone through years of this type of cycle. After a trial run of a drug went terribly awry, I quickly decided to try a more holistic, mindful approach to feeling better. I’m not cured, but it’s better than any “magic” pill the doctors have come up with so far!

After reading countless books and articles, I found it fittingly ironic that they all essentially lead to the most common sense answer possible – pay attention to yourself. The world you create and the habits you subject your body to all have consequences; it’s all cause and effect. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I am becoming much better equipped to deal with the consequences of my actions (smile).

Over the past year I’ve made some major turnarounds in my lifestyle, with my primary goal being a serious reduction of the stress in my life. So I dumped the diets, the gyms, and the negative people. I stopped burying myself in novels and movies and started taking a more mindful approach to the life I actually live every day. I dropped the fad diets for more common sense eating. I stopped the self-imposed guilt trips about not going to the gym (and the anxiety of actually going to the gym) in favor of more physical daily activities. I stop when it hurts but I also work to push through the fatigue that accompanies most days, instead of using it as an excuse. I’ve been working hard to surround myself with more caring, positive people in place of choosing to be around those who sound so much like me on the bad days. Hanging out with like minded people can be a good thing, but not when it’s the misery-loves-company crowd.

When I went for my check-in last week, my doctor and I were both surprised and pleased with the results! The symptoms of the underlying problem are still there (unfortunately), but I’m at least superficially healthier than I possibly ever have been. To me, the greatest surprise in all of this has been the impact on my attitude and mental health – even as a born pessimist I feel more optimistic about life than I have in quite a while! Despite knowing that something is up with my health, I know that it can be overcome, and I attribute that attitude directly to all of those positive, sunny people I’m lucky enough to have in my life (smile).

Even with all of the positive changes so far, I still have ongoing issues with allowing too much stress into my life. So I’ve been learning more about practices such as yoga and meditation to support my goal of a more mindful awareness. The yoga is wonderful – it helps with the aches and pains of both body and mind. I find myself excited about class each week and I’m really looking forward to building more practice into my routines. The meditation, however, has been a challenge. It’s hard to dedicate time and to ignore two insistent kitties who are too focused on competing for my lap to notice I’m trying to accomplish something. It’s definitely a work in progress (smile).

Once I have a more definite diagnosis, I’m hopeful that I can tailor my lifestyle more specifically. I’ve been reading up on various homeopathic “remedies” to help with the immediate symptoms and I’m looking forward to sharing those and how well they may or may not work out (smile). I don’t kid myself that I can magically cure what ails me – but I do intend to proactively do whatever I can to help myself feel better while the doctors work it all out amongst themselves!

Weekly Photo Challenge: [Sailboat] Silhouette

This week’s photo challenge is all about silhouettes. The funny thing about silhouettes is how difficult they are to take on purpose. I know that sounds funny, but most of my best ones are due more to luck than intent. I think maybe I overthink things a bit (go figure – smile). So here’s to lucky sunsets and great memories!

Sailboat, Silhouette, Beach

Key West, FL

Happy weekend everyone!!

Y*mmy: Triple Lemon Cupcakes

My office is (almost) equally split between choco-holics and lemon-heads. Personally, I fall solidly in the lemon category (although I’m not one to complain about chocolate either!). This month’s birthday happened to belong to one of the biggest lemon-heads in the office, so I was super thrilled when I found this recipe for Triple Lemon Cupcakes! The combined textures and subtle layerings of lemon were absolute perfection – some even said they’re the best thing I’ve ever baked! That’s pretty high praise from the choco-holics (smile).

triple lemon cupcakes, recipe, baking

Gather your ingredients

Triple Lemon Cupcakes

Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine melted butter and sugar together with mixer until thick and yellow (approx. 20- 30 seconds). Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add in vanilla extract, lemon juice, and zest.

Alternately mix in the dry ingredients and milk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Divide batter among liners, filling 2/3 full. Bake on 350 degrees for 13-18 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before moving on.

triple lemon cupcakes, recipe, baking

Bake 13-18 minutes at 350 degrees

Filling

  • 1/2 cup lemon curd (jarred or from scratch) for the filling

To fill the cupcakes, cut small bit out of the top center of the cupcake (about the size of a dime). Fill each hole with lemon curd.

triple lemon cupcakes, recipe, baking

Fill ‘em up!

Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, for desired consistency

In a mixer (or with a hand mixer) beat the butter until creamy. Add in salt. Incorporate powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it’s all added. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Add 1 tablespoon of heavy whipping cream and mix until smooth. Add more cream as needed for desired consistency. Frost cupcakes using a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with a tiny whole cut in one edge.

triple lemon cupcakes, recipe, baking

Frosting on top

triple lemon cupcakes, recipe, baking

Y*MMY

*Note: The original recipe can be found here on CrazyForCrust. Although I made a few changes based on my personal baking preferences, this recipe is largely unchanged from the original. I highly encourage you to check out the original website for tips, tricks, and other yummy recipes!

Question of the day: Choco-holic or Lemon-head??

Travel Tuesday: Yellowstone Wild

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone! I seriously keep thinking today is Wednesday for some reason and it has me all thrown off. Anyway, this week is going to finish up the bulk of the Yellowstone story, although I’m sure the random photo will still pop up here and there – it was a pretty epic trip! (smile) I truly loved Yellowstone, and I’ve already been plotting a winter trip to the park with a friend of mine – we’ll see how that goes!

Last week I did a photo journal of some of the geothermal features of the park – this week is all about the wildlife, waterfalls, and a wealth of stunning vistas.

Wildlife

Yellowstone National Park is home to a number of animal species small and quite large. There are over 67 species of mammals, 322 recorded species of birds, and 16 species of fish. The largest species include bison, bear (grizzly and black), elk, moose, mountain lion, and wolves (among several others).

It’s amazing how quickly common sense seems to leave people once these animals are in sight – the rules clearly warn visitors to keep their distance but they just can’t seem to help themselves! There are more people hurt by bison than by bears each year in Yellowstone. Regulations state that visitors should keep a minimum distance of 25 yards from bison or elk and at least 100 yards from bears. I recommend a long range lens personally…much less expensive than hospital and/or car repair bills!

We visited the park in early June, which happened to coincide nicely with the elk’s birthing season. Oddly enough we saw very few baby elk, but the moms were definitely on the lookout! We had one elk in particular that liked to hang out near our cabins – if she was grazing, we were stuck inside (the car or the cabin) until she moved on. Otherwise she – and the others – had no compunction about chasing you away! These guys are agile and rather sizable up close! It’s best to heed the park rangers advice and keep your distance as much as possible.

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Waterfalls

Yellowstone is also home to its very own “Grand Canyon.” This formation is a bit smaller than the Arizona version, but it’s still pretty impressive. The canyon also contains one of the highest waterfalls in the United States!

There are no shortage of other waterfalls throughout the park as well. Some are located along the roadways and others are a hike (long or short, depending on preference). My favorite that we saw were the Fairy Falls. It felt like a long hike given that we went towards the end of our day, but it was well worth the journey. They’re a bit further back and it’s amazingly peaceful. I highly recommend the trip to see them if you’re in the area (smile).

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Wealth of Vistas

The fishing bridge was closed to fishing (ironically) in the 1970s due to over-fishing. It was (and is) a spawning area for cutthroat trout making it a very popular fishing spot prior to its closure. It’s still a lovely place to sit and admire the views (smile).

In 1988 fires affected roughly 36% of the park. While the areas are on the mend today, signs of the fire are still highly visible. The largest fire, the North Fork Fire, started from a discarded cigarette. It burned over 410,000 acres.

If you couldn’t tell, I think I fell a bit in love with Yellowstone and the general area (smile). Even outside the park (which technically some of those landscape shots sort of are) there seems to be something breathtaking around every corner. I’m not at all sure I could handle the winters up there (I’m a wimp when it comes to snow), but it has certainly peaked my curiosity to explore the area further!


Come join the fun!!

Travel Tuesday

Shark Week

You guys…it’s shark week! For someone who has always been terrified of sharks (thanks to an unfortunate incident in my formative years), it’s funny how fascinated I am with this annual Discovery Channel event. I used to say it was a “know-you-enemies” thing, but now I feel like that’s not entirely true. I still don’t want to go swimming with sharks, but I have a new appreciation for the giant fish – they are, after all, just animals. Watching some of these shows is a lot like watching a scary movie for me, but I like to think I come away somewhat more educated (smile). The conservationist in me can’t help but feel for the species given the shark fin craze and senseless killing. So many animals pose a danger to humans, it seems unfair to carry an agenda against an animal that’s only doing what comes natural to it. It’s really interesting how a growing familiarity with the water has changed my views on the fun and the “dangers” below the surface. Needless to say, I’m definitely looking forward to the new programming this year (as well as a few old favorites)!

As for the rest of my weekend, it’s been completely unproductive – at least in terms of my “to do” list. Instead of staying close to home and checking off the list, I went out and about with good friends. I can’t say I regret it in the least (smile). Lately I’ve been spending entirely too much time ticking boxes instead of living life. I have a new focus for the future, which has been really liberating, but that’s no reason to forget to live in the moment. So this post is 12 hours behind and totally off the originally scheduled topic, but I have a huge grin on my face and some wonderful new memories. #sorrynotsorry

Tomorrow was supposed to be a bonus day off but I ended up getting called in anyway. I was pretty bummed about that at first, but I know the to do list will get done sometime. Not some random someday, but at some point. It’s good to remember that flexibility (and a carpe diem attitude) isn’t procrastination – it’s just living. (smile)

Pacific Ocean Beach

So beautiful and unassuming…

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend! Happy Monday (to those already there)!!

Weekly Photo Challenge: [Tree] Texture

This week’s photo challenge is all about texture in the world. I admit I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with this one at first – primarily on the difference between texture and pattern. I mean in some cases the pattern creates a texture, right? Anyway, in the end I decided to just go for random (smile).

yellowstone national park, tree

A wildfire “survivor”

Yellowstone National Park, Petrified Tree

Petrified Tree

Happy weekend everyone!!

Travel Tuesday: Geothermal Yellowstone

Hooray for [Travel] Tuesday! Okay, so maybe I’m not that excited about Tuesday, but this link-up does make me pretty happy (smile).  Today feels like a good day to continue the Yellowstone adventure with a special focus on the National Park’s geothermal features.

As I mentioned in the formal introduction post, Yellowstone National Park boasts over 10,000 geothermal features and 300 geysers. This makes the park home to approximately one half of the world’s active geysers! I was really surprised by this statistic at first, but once you enter the park it begins to make sense. There seems to be geothermal features popping up (sometimes literally) all over the park. There have been quite a few articles lately highlighting just what a pain this can be for park rangers.

Unfortunately, you can’t take a long, leisurely swim in these hot springs, but they are still quite beautiful to look at! The temptation to test out the temperature was just too much for my dad so he stuck a hand in. My brother and I of course followed suit (although for myself a finger was enough) – after all, if dad does it, it has to be okay, right? Ha. Anyway, the one we tested was definitely hot! I can’t imagine what some of the “hotter” ones must feel like. We made stops along the way to see the geyser basins and they also did not disappoint! It’s truly an amazing thing to watch all the eruptions – large and small. I’m pretty sure we just hit the highlights of what the park has to offer, but that was more than enough to convince me a return trip is necessary! (smile)

So I won’t pretend to know everything about geothermal features and/or geysers. I’ll just let this small selection of  photos speak for their beauty (and highly recommend a click over to the National Park’s website) (smile).

What geothermal features have you visited??


Come join the fun with Bonnie!! New co-hosts also announced this week!

Travel Tuesday

 

Pondering Summer [August Goal Check-In]

As predicted, July was a crazy sort of month. It was filled with a lot of stressful decisions and (luckily) unexpected beach time. I guess you could say it all balanced out (smile). August promises to be a busy month as well, but I’m okay with that – I’m hoping it makes the time go by quicker so we can move on to cooler weather! I definitely want some semblance of all four seasons in my next location (smile).

Huntington Beach California Water Flower

Huntington Beach

July Recap

1. Personal decisions. This one is technically from June, but better late than never, right? I’ve recently realized that I actually have a future plan in mind. I know that sounds weird, but for so long all I could tell you is what I didn’t want – so it feels weird to have a solid direction again. Unfortunately, step one was making a tough personal decision and hurting feelings, something I absolutely hate to do! However, I feel good about where I’m going and really excited to have taken the first step!

2. Plan a baby shower. Done and done! Only a few weeks until I head out to California for all the fun and (embarrassing) games! (smile)

3. Call my grandparents every week. Mixed results on this one – I haven’t called them every week, but I’ve been checking in every other week at least. I know I need to bump it up another notch; I just need to figure out the best way to keep it in the schedule.

4. Organize all my photos. This one is a complete fail. I did manage to get the hard drive out of my old computer, but haven’t plugged it in to get the photos off yet. I’m moving this one to August.

Puerto Pensasco Mexico Sunset

Puerto Pensasco Sunset

August Goals

1. Organize all my photos. As stated before, this has to happen!

2. Finish blanket for baby shower. In the winter months I normally really enjoy crocheting. Recently I got it in my head to make a baby blanket for my BFF, but with the shower fast approaching I need to get a move on!

3. Order a PMP study guide. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification for a while now. I think I should have the requisite qualifications by the time I study up for the exam, so I just need to get my study guide and get going! It’s part of step 2 on the new life plan (smile)!

What are your goals for the rest of the summer??

Summer Book Challenge: July Books

It’s time for my final check-in for the 2014 Summer Book Challenge! I’ve had a lot of fun completing this challenge, and part of me wishes I hadn’t finished so quickly! My July reading wasn’t as prolific as May or June, but it was filled with perfect easy summer beach reads (smile). So without further ado, I give you my final two books for the challenge -

Born In Trilogy, Nora Roberts

30 points: Read a pair of books with antonyms in the title.

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts (416 pages, 3 stars).

Born in Ice by Nora Roberts (368 pages, 3 stars).

I feel like I took the easy way out on this particular challenge, but when I saw these books I couldn’t resist (it’s surprisingly hard to find books with antonyms – that are worth reading). These books are the first two in a trilogy that tells the story of three sisters and their struggle to overcome their upbringing and find happiness. The books are set in Ireland for the most part, and they’re varied enough to actually be interesting (as opposed to formulaic and sappy). They were the perfect beach books and I highly recommend them for “light” reading. I’m looking forward to reading the third installment this weekend (smile).

Previous Points: 170
This Month: 30
Total Points: 200

FYI – this challenge runs through the end of August so there’s still time to join in the fun!!


 Worth Mentioning

In addition to the books listed specifically for the Summer Book Challenge, I’ve also squeezed in a few others that I feel deserve an “honorable mention,” if you will.

Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy by Fan Macilvey (5 stars) – I enjoyed this book so much, it got it’s very own review.

Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell. (5 stars) – Very well written historical fiction about music, Mozart, and Venice in the late eighteenth century.

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman (3.5 stars) – I thought this book had a fairly original story line, which I enjoyed. The ending is a bit…predictable I think (at least for a “mystery” of sorts). Overall it was a good read though.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (5 stars) – One of the few non-fiction, non-biographical books I read this summer, I highly recommend this book for everyone – but especially for the introverts out there. It’s full of “ah ha” moments and a definite confidence booster (smile).

What have you been reading this summer??