PonderTheIrrelevant


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Dolphin On Top

This week’s photo challenge is “on top.” While visiting my friend in southern California a few weeks ago, we decided to go on a whale watching tour, hoping to catch one of the gentle giants on top. Unfortunately, we only had a few quick glances of whale tails (still cool to see). The trip definitely wasn’t a bust though – in addition to the whale tails, we had a gorgeous afternoon out on the water and saw (literally) hundreds of dolphins! These guys were having such a great time with the boat, it was hard not to be equally happy and carefree (smile).

Dolphin, Pacific Ocean, California

Dolphin On Top

To watch these guys in action click [here].

Happy weekend everyone!!


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Y*mmy: Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes with Berry Cream Cheese Frosting

Just in time for Easter weekend, I wanted to share this fabulous recipe I found on Pinterest for Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes with Berry Cream Cheese Frosting. Not only are these babies tasty, they’re also beautifully colorful! The fact that the whole she-bang is easy to make is just the proverbial frosting on top (smile). Enjoy!!

Lemon-Poppy Seed Cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup butter (slightly softened or room temp)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon zest or grated lemon peel

Blackberry Buttercream

  • 8 oz cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 1/4 cup of butter, slightly softened
  • 4-5 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2-3 heaping tablespoons of berry preserves (try a combination for extra yum)
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips melted and slightly cooled
  • 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (you can also use milk if you prefer)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Fresh berries

Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake/muffin tins with paper bake cups.

In a medium bowl combine flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium until creamy. Add sugar, lemon extract, and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape the side of the bowl down, if needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Stir in the lemon zest.

Spoon batter into prepared cupcake cups, filling each about three-fourths full. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan on wire racks for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from cupcake/muffin tins and allow to cool completely on wire racks.

Frosting

Melt chocolate in microwave for 20 second intervals (stirring at each break) until melted, set aside. In a large bowl cream lemon zest, butter, and cream cheese together. Slowly blend in the sugar, two cups at a time beating well after each addition (reserve the 5th cup to use as needed). Add lemon juice in between each round of sugar about 1 teaspoon at a time. Beat in the berry preserves and melted (slightly cooled) white chocolate. Continue mixing until everything is well incorporated. You may need to add more sugar and/or lemon juice until you find the right consistency and/or flavor (it’s always a personal preference really). Frosting can be stored in the fridge with plastic wrap if you are not going to use it right away.

I used a homemade pastry bag to decorate the tops of each cupcake. [To make a homemade pastry bag use a gallon size ziploc bag. Roll back the top, fill with frosting, squeeze frosting into one corner, and snip a small section off the corner. This gives you a little nozzle to disperse the yummy goodness (smile). Just remember to start with a small hole, you can always go bigger!]

lemon cupcakes, berry cream cheese frosting, recipes, baking

Best DIY frosting helper ever!!

The original recipe {here} called for buttercream frosting, but I prefer cream cheese. I’ll let you decide which you prefer (smile).

Do you have a favorite (non-candy) Easter dessert??


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Travel Tuesday: Saguaro National Park

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone! I’m only a little tired after staying up well past my old-lady bedtime to watch the eclipse last night. I haven’t had a chance to really look at my photos from the event, so the jury’s still out on whether it was worth it. If nothing else, maybe I learned a few tricks for the next one (smile).

I think I’ve mentioned on here in passing that I’ll be meeting my two favorite guys (aka brother & dad) in Montana for a week long adventure in Yellowstone National Park. It’s finally getting close enough that I can allow myself to get excited (smile), and full planning mode has been activated. I love parks – local, state, and national – I believe they are all a treasure to society. So I thought it would be fun to focus a few Tuesdays on those national parks that I’ve been lucky enough to visit so far. First up – and in keeping with my accidental Arizona April theme (like that alliteration there?) – Saguaro National Park.

Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson, Arizona and is actually divided into two sections – east and west of the actual City of Tucson. The park as a whole hosts over 1.6 million individual saguaro cacti on just over 91,000 acres of land. Officially established as a National Park in 1994, the park receives approximately 800,000 visitors each year.

You can drive through the park, hike one of the numerous trails, or even pitch a tent for a few days if you’re so inclined – just watch out for the spines! The Sonoran Desert boasts one of the largest varieties of life, both in animals and plants, yet it is also one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent. Temperatures in the summer often (okay, almost always) climb well over 100 degrees and less than 12 inches of rain fall in a typical year. The fact that so many plants and animals have adapted to thrive in such an environment is absolutely amazing to me!

 

Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert, Tucson, Arizona

Love how unique all of them are :)

As the name implies, the park protects the great Saguaro Cactus. I wrote a post about those spiny giants the other day, which you can read [here] for more information. On the west side, you can also stop in and visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This place is more like a living museum and has many hands on activities for those interested. I highly recommend a stop in if you’re in the area – it’s well worth the time!

Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert, Tucson, Arizona

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum = well worth a visit :)

Visiting the Park:

The Tucson Mountain District (west park) is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily. The Rincon Mountain District (east park) opens the gates to vehicles at 7:00am and closes at sunset. As I mentioned before, the two portions of the park are separated by the City of Tucson. It can take 30-45 minutes to drive between the two portions. You only need to pay the entrance fee once, however, as the pass is good at both locations.

The entrance fee to the park is $10 for a vehicle and is good for 7 days. If you’re biking, it’s $5 per person.

There are visitor centers at either location and both also offer various guided tours to the public.

Words of Wisdom:

Water! As always, take so much more water than you possibly think you could need. If you exit your vehicle and take more than a few steps away, take that water bottle with you! I know it seems extreme, but it’s quite an easy place to become disoriented in certain areas.

Dress appropriately! Yes, it is sometimes incredibly hot. However, should you get lost or be out for an extended hike, longer clothing will keep you alive for well…longer. At a minimum, bring along a light button up shirt that you can wear over tank tops, etc. Also, depending on the time of the year, the temperature in the desert can plummet right along with the sun. It’s always best to be over prepared.

Sunscreen! It’s sunny out in the desert (go figure), so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen. If you’re out and about in the park, make sure you take it with you for re-application.

Watch out for the wildlife! In addition to rattlesnakes, there are also these lovely creatures called Gila Monsters. Sure they look like cute little lizards, but they are actually quite poisonous. There are also a number of large spiders down in the Sonoran Desert.

Watch out for the plants! These guys haven’t survived this long in the desert without some pretty good defense mechanisms. In my experience, I’ve always found it better to just assume everything can and will bite back.

Watch out or the people! Although the area is generally quite safe, there is a bit of an issue with the border being relatively nearby. If you see anything suspicious, do not investigate. Generally no one will bother you if you don’t bother them (much like the animals and the plants – smile).

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Come join the fun with Bonnie, Melanie, and Tina!

Travel Tuesday


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Growing up Introvert

Introverts seem to be in the “news” quite a bit lately. I’ve been reading more and more about the introvert/extrovert dynamic, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this subject getting attention! I especially love that this discussion is happening across a broad array of platforms. From the New York Times to some of my favorite blogs, the word is getting out – introverts aren’t weird, we’re just not extroverts (smile).

Introvert

Yep, I said “we.” In comparison to my closest family (i.e., parents and sibling), I am outgoing, sociable, and adventurous. As much as I love those identifiers, none of them make me an extrovert. The difference between my family and I is that I have learned to work the system. I push my limits as far as possible, determined to make my box bigger every chance I get. I attribute this primarily to a mix of a small amount of sibling rivalry (I’m the baby after all) and a huge amount of wanderlust.

One of the perks to loving to be alone is that it allows time for free reign imagination. I wanted to go to Paris from the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower in a magazine (well before I knew what Paris really was). When I had the opportunity to visit in high school, you better believe I did everything necessary to get on that plane. But oh man, that trip almost killed me! It was a guided group tour in March. I’d never been on a plane before, much less an 8-hour transatlantic flight! I had no concept of jet lag or how to handle it, and worse yet, I had no room for escape! I was in a hotel room with two other girls and even the bathroom wasn’t really a sanctuary. I don’t think I spoke to anyone for a solid week when I returned (smile). But after my recovery, the wanderlust that was a small spark before ignited into a full on inferno. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to my travel plans, but I was determined to see the world and not just as a tourist but as a traveler.

Introvert, travel

 

It wasn’t until college that I heard the word “introvert” after my first brush with the Myers-Briggs personality test. (Oh Psychology 101, you were worth it just for that one lesson!) I remember being an odd mix of tears and giggles reading those results – I finally had a name for my weird little personality – a name I’ve embraced ever since. (If you’re curious, I’ve posted results from on online version of the personality test here.)

After my personality “discovery,” I did all I could to learn about the different personality types. Of course no one is one thing 100% of the time; we’re all a beautiful mix of personality that no test is able to put into a neat little box – which is a wonderful thing (smile). I found it helpful, however, to understand my dominant personality traits and how those best mixed with society. I can’t tell you how many times being able to explain it to someone else has helped find peace in a relationship – personal and professional (maybe even more so professional).

Introverts aren’t necessarily shy or even quiet (at least not all the time). We do, however, appreciate alone time. I can give a speech to a crowded auditorium, mingle in a crowd, or lead a group tour, but at the end of the day it’s essential that I have time to regroup and recharge. I have it in me to be who I need to be on those occasions that call for a bit more social effort, but only because I love myself enough to know that it’s perfectly okay to spend nights and/or weekends home alone with my kitties and a good book. It’s taken quite a few years and some interesting experiences to finally find comfort in who I am, but I feel like I’m making great progress (smile).

So for all the “shy,” “quiet,” aka “introverted” people out there that prefer an afternoon reading or just being on your own doing your thing, don’t ever feel guilty for being who you are. The world is a wonderful place filled with all sorts of personalities and no one is better than any of the others. Embrace who you are and enjoy life! We’re all learning, and I think that’s a lovely thing (smile).

If you’ve never tried one of these personality tests before, you can try an online version of the Myers-Briggs test here. Have fun!


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

This week’s photo challenge is to showcase a monument. I have been lucky enough to see quite a few of the world’s monuments and have always been intrigued by the unique visions of the designers of each. I was overjoyed to finally visit the Eiffel Tower my first time in France; don’t get me started on seeing Big Ben in London or the Statue of Liberty in New York. But one of the most profound monuments I’ve ever visited is the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. True, there are no massive buildings or statues – just row after row after row of names. It’s a very profound monument to the rise and pride of man, be it for better or for worse.

 

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington D.C.

Reflect

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington D.C.

Remember

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington D.C.

Review

 What’s your favorite monument??

 


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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge | Big Saguaros

This week’s black and white photo challenge is for “big subjects.” The saguaro cactus was the first thing that came to mind (I was just at Saguaro National Park over the weekend, so I guess that makes sense). The saguaro (pronounced “sah-wahro”) is native to the Sonoran Desert, which covers a portions of Arizona, California, and northern Mexico. I’ve listed a few facts after the photos – enjoy!

 

saguaro, Tucson, Arizona, black and white, photography

For reference of scale, my lovely assistant her is 5’2″

saguaro, Tucson, Arizona, black and white, photography

Looking up, up, up

Fun Facts

  1. Saguaros are the largest cactus species in the US. – they can grow up to 40 feet tall and weigh more than a ton!
  2. Saguaros can live between 100-200 years.
  3. Despite the intimidating spines, Saguaros often serve as homes for birds, which carve out holes in the plants. The birds usually wait for these holes to dry out before moving in.
  4. After the saguaro dies, its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and even parts of furniture.
  5. The saguaro bloom is Arizona’s state flower.

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Come join the fun!!

Cee's Black and White Photo Challenge

 

 


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Travel Tuesday: Touring Tucson

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! It’s time to take a break  join Bonnie, Melanie, and Tina for a bit of globe-trotting! (Way better than working, right? smile)

After a quick trip down to Tucson over the weekend, I thought it would be fun to share some of the quirkier spots around the city. Whenever I travel anywhere, I always try to find the quirkier/off-the-beaten-path attractions instead of or in addition to the more popular ones. Variety is the spice of life, right? I even have a couple (as in more than one) guidebooks for quirky Arizona and I’m determined to see as many sites as I can while I’m here (smile)! So today’s overview will be a mixture and just a taste of all the fun things that Tucson has to offer!

Rattlesnake Bridge

Complete with fangs and a tail that rattles (thanks to a motion sensor tucked away somewhere), this Diamondback rattlesnake stands guard as a pedestrian bridge over Broadway Boulevard. You do have to know where you’re going to find this bridge, but it’s worth the search. There’s a park on one side complete with picnic tables and swings for the kids (or the young at heart).

El Tiradito (The Wishing Shrine)

The Wishing Shrine is located in the Old Barrio section of downtown Tucson. As the story goes, this is the only Catholic shrine in the US dedicated to a sinner buried in unconsecrated ground. It’s said that the man buried there died fighting for his love. Visitors light candles for the man’s soul to be freed from purgatory and many leave written prayers for the healing of broken hearts. I fully admit that it’s the story that caught my attention. This place also takes a little searching and there’s not really much there, but it’s hard not to be taken in to the spirit of the place. An extra candle can’t hurt.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

The Mission is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located approximately 10 miles south of Tucson on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. As you’re driving down Interstate 19, it’s pretty hard to miss the building. The Mission was founded in 1692 and is absolutely beautiful. It’s literally a photographer’s dream come true (or at least one’s like me that love old religious buildings). The bright white building cannot help standout against the desert landscape, and if you’re lucky enough to be there when there are storm clouds rolling in you’ve found pure magic. The inside of the church is simple yet stunning nonetheless. There’s a small gift shop as well as an information room. Depending on when you go, some of the local Native Americans set up stalls in the parking lot to sell fry bread (heavenly) and various crafts.

Around Town

Perhaps my favorite part of Tucson is how well it’s aged. It’s the second largest city in Arizona behind Phoenix, but it’s not as botoxed. Not to say it’s not a modern city, but a lot of effort has gone into retaining the old architecture and the neighborhood feel. One of my favorite activities is simply driving/walking around town to see what can be seen. Tucson boasts one of the largest gem and mineral shows in the world, a huge book fair, and several other events throughout the year. It’s a nice break from Phoenix and a lovely place for exploring new (and sometimes somewhat random) places.

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Come travel along!!

Travel Tuesday


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Pondering April Ambitions

Whew! March was a fun month, but oh so busy! I’m looking forward to a quiet spring in Phoenix before the true summer hits. There are all sorts of fun things to look forward t0 – Game of Thrones, wildflowers, open windows, and kitty time in the sunshine (smile).

I think March has been the most successful month so far in terms of sticking with my goals. Maybe I made them too easy (smile), or maybe they were just something I really felt compelled to do. Either way, it worked!

Here’s a quick recap:

Strengths Finder 2.0

1. Take an aptitude test. I actually ended up going with the Strengths Finder 2.0 test/book. My friend had experience with the test through her job and highly recommended it. It involves 30 minutes of answering questions and then essentially gives your dominant strengths. I enjoyed the fact that it places so much emphasis on the positive. Instead of constantly trying to improve our weaknesses, this book encourages us to improve our strengths. I found it truly interesting how radical this idea is! It certainly helped me realize some of the reasons why I’m so displeased with my current work efforts, and gave me a few ideas for improvement. I even signed up for the first class I’ll need for a new certification! It starts in May and although I’m a little nervous, I’m definitely excited. I consider it a win all around on this one! (smile)

2. Be present each day and appreciate the time with my family. I was a bit nervous about spending 17 consecutive days back at my dad’s house. That’s probably the longest stretch I’ve been back in well over a decade, which is an odd thought. But I actually found a great deal of relief being there and being able to spend some time with my family. I ran into some hard realizations, but they helped me let go of a lot of guilt so I’m grateful for them. I tried to consciously engage with my family and we actually all had fun – for once I didn’t want to come back to Arizona! I never thought I’d see that day…

3. Find something satisfying in each day – and photograph it! So my photos weren’t always posted on the exact day, or always in exact order, but I count it as a win just remembering to take the time to snap the photo (smile). It was a fun effort and I’m glad I’ll have those memories documented.

4. Just breath – and write. I love writing this blog, but I also generally tend to devote most of my writing efforts here. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it’s also helpful for me to write about all of the stuff I don’t feel comfortable posting to the world. I revised my posting schedule a bit and restructured the timing of the different types of posts in an effort to give me time to enjoy both my blog and my journal. I had great success with this last month and I feel like it helped my mental health quite a bit. I’m hoping I can continue on in the coming months!

Now for April’s Ambitions!

1. Open up. I am the epitome of an introvert. I could stay in my own little world for months at a time and be relieved that I don’t have to conform to any expectations but my own. But being a hermit isn’t the only way to get around that issue. I need to be more open and honest with myself and with others in my life. This is sort of the umbrella goal for the month.

2. Write more freely. I want to write more – both in my personal journal and on this blog. I love sharing travel stories and my photos, but I want this to be a personal space as well. I’ve noticed that the blogs I most enjoy reading all have a more personal component to them. Seeing as I’ve been at this (seriously) for less than a year, I’ve got a lot to learn! But I’m excited to do just that (smile).

3. Volunteer. I recently shared my passion for animal charities and volunteering with shelters. Writing that post made me realize just how much I missed being a part of that experience, so I’ve decided to take the plunge and commit this month to volunteering at a local animal shelter. I think it’ll benefit me just as much as the cute & cuddly (big smile).

4. Spend as much time outdoors as possible! This perfect weather only lasts so long here in the desert. I intend to enjoy every possible moment I can of it outdoors!!

wildflowers, instagram

Looking forward to seeing many more of these :)

What are your ambitions for April??

 

 


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Creative Collective: A Little Zen [Garden]

Oh Pinterest how you have saved my sanity on those long, crazy days where I cannot bear one more contract email!! I’ve found fun things to decorate my home, my wardrobe, and my hair. I’ve discovered countless recipes – some good, some not so good. I go to you to cure boredom, to take a break, and to find the answers to so many questions. I don’t know how you so quickly became such a crutch in my life, but I’m certainly glad you’re there (smile).

Okay, gushing ode to a website done.

This week’s creative idea from the Creative Collective (sponsored by the inspiring Melyssa over at the Nectar Collective) was to find something on Pinterest that you’ve always wanted to do and make it happen. I definitely have a “Do It Myself” board along with the best of intentions of giving these projects a try (smile). I’ve completed a few projects (like this one), but I’m always up for motivation to complete another!

As much as I do love spending time on Pinterest, it can certainly turn into a time sink if I’m not careful (an issue primarily when at work). So I decided that perhaps it was time to create a zen alternative – appropriately enough a mini zen garden!  This wasn’t exactly a do-it-yourself pin, but it was something I knew that I could do myself so I decided it would be a perfect project for this week’s creation (smile).

Here’s what I was aiming for (pin found here):

And here’s what I ended up with – pretty good if I do say so myself! (pleased-with-myself smile)

 

zen garden

I feel more zen already! :)

You’ll notice that the one I was aiming for features a small cactus/succulent. I fully intend to add one to mine as well, but (shockingly enough) such plants are harder to find than one might think in the desert! Once I have my little cactus in place, I’ll post an update. My original intention was to bring this into the office with me, but I’ve been having such fun with it at home I may just have to make another (smile!)

What’s next up on your Pinterest DIY??

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Come join the fun!!

The Creative Collective


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Travel Tuesday: Cathedral Rock | Sedona

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! I’ve been sadly absent these last couple of weeks and must say I’ve missed these posts! But I’m back now (smile) to join up with Bonnie, Melanie, and Tina to take a trip to Sedona, Arizona!

Sedona is widely known for it’s red rocks and vortexes. It’s a lovely small city in between Phoenix and Flagstaff making it the perfect weekend trip or even a comfortable day trip. There are hikes, tours, spas, crystal specialists, and many other fun/mystical activities in Sedona depending on your preference. I’m personally a sucker for the crystal shops and the hiking – both offer stunning views of unique rocks (smile).

So far, my favorite hike is up to the formation known as Cathedral Rock (I’m sure the name has something to do with that). I generally go through the Crescent Moon Picnic site over to Red Rock Crossing. This path takes you along Oak Creek where you can picnic or play in the water at you leisure. You eventually come out at Red Rock Crossing where you can either cross the creek and continue the hike up to Cathedral Rock, or you can sit tight and take pretty photos from afar. Personally, I have not ventured all the way to the rock formation itself, but I hear it’s a very intense hike – if you go all the way be sure to start early and take plenty of water!

There are stacked rock totems at various intervals ranging from pretty basic to very impressive. There are several legends associated with these rock stacks, mostly spiritual. Creating a stack is considered an exercise in the imagination, balance, and patience (smile).

A few words of wisdom:

  • Bring lots of water – no matter what time of year
  • Watch the weather – Sedona is infamous for pop up storms
  • Watch for wildlife
  • Be prepared to get (at least) your feet wet
  • Don’t follow the trail past the creek crossing without a map – it gets very tricky very quickly

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Come join the fun!!

Travel Tuesday
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