How Blogging Has Changed My Life

Monday was my one year (official) blogging anniversary! It’s crazy how time works – in some ways it feels like yesterday I started this adventure and in others it feels like I’ve been doing this for years. Looking back at the posts from this last year, I’m overwhelmed at how much can happen and how much can change in a mere 365 days. In truth, it gives me hope for the future (smile). I’ve also realized how much I’ve learned and grown from my blogging experience! I had no idea how multi-faceted this “hobby” can be – I thought it was just a matter of writing words and adding a photo here and there. Little did I know about hosting, coding, social media, emails, and all the other lovely aspects of blogging. It’s a little amazing to look back now and see how much many areas of my life this little blogging habit of mine affects on a daily basis.

Cactus, Arizona, Sunset

New Horizons

Social media. Before I started blogging in earnest, I had a Facebook page and an Instagram account I rarely used. Now I have a blog specific Instagram, a Twitter account, and accounts on several other social media sites that I had never even heard of! I thought I hated the idea of social media, but now I’m completely addicted!

Photography. I’ve been interested in photography for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only invested the time to truly learn the technical side in the last few years. Reading other blogs and participating in various photo “challenges” has really opened up new levels of creativity for me and my camera. In addition to the technical aspects, I catch myself looking at objects and angles in ways I never would have before. I also find that I’m much more willing to make the extra effort to capture really cool shots to share (smile).

Writing style. I was afraid that law school had condemned me to a lifetime of technical writing. I loved writing fiction and “fluffier” pieces when I was younger, so it’s been really nice to learn to relax a bit and enjoy the process again. Lifestyle blogging has allowed me to combine non-fiction and a more relaxed writing style in a way that I feel comfortable sharing. It’s also allowed me to give myself permission to start writing poetry and fiction in my personal life again, which has been so liberating! Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to share (smile).

Motivation & Awareness. Whether it’s traveling, visiting a local attraction, trying a new recipe, finishing a DIY project, or simply completing my goals, this blog has proved to be a great motivator to get s**t done! There are quite a few days when that editorial calendar gets me off the couch and in motion – and that’s a really good thing! I’ve been able to accomplish so much that it inspires me to keep going. I also find myself on the alert for fun things to share with you guys – on the blog but especially on social media. Now I’m always on the lookout for a fun story or cool snap to share!

Community. I always say that I really started blogging to be part of the community, but I don’t think I had any true idea of what that meant. I’ve met some really amazing people from literally all over the world through blogging and learned so much from those people and their own blogs. I’m a relatively shy blogger person, but I can’t tell you how reassuring it’s been to receive such positive responses when I reach out to others. There’s also a wealth of encouragement and support that I never could’ve expected. Now I know that community doesn’t just mean “people with similar hobbies,” it means friends. Thank you to everyone that’s a part of my community – you guys are all so awesome! (big grin)

Has blogging had any impacts on your life??

Travel Tuesday: Hollywood Stars

When I first moved to Phoenix, one of my top priorities was exploring everywhere within a day’s drive (smile). One of the first places I just had to see was Los Angeles. The magical, mythical L.A. I have to tell ya, I was sorely disappointed that first trip and I’ve yet to recover on subsequent adventures in the City of Angels. Don’t get me wrong, I love the southern California coast, but I could live without venturing further inland. I realize this puts me in a minority (smile). Nonetheless, I had sights to check off my bucket list, so a friend and I bravely ventured forth to play tourists for a couple of days. We had a lot of fun exploring the different neighborhoods and seeing the famous sights but one of my favorite parts was definitely exploring the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Welcome to Hollywood

The stars are located along both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The first star was laid in March 1960 and belonged to Stanley Kramer. Now there are over 2,500 stars with approximately 2 additions per month!

Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Hollywood Boulevard

As the Walk of Fame is, essentially, just a sidewalk, the attraction is open 24/7, 365. There is no fee to visit and there are no “official” tours (although there’s always someone nearby to offer). The same goes for the dedication ceremonies – there’s a public viewing area, but no tickets, etc. The schedule for the star ceremonies can be found on the official website.

And now, a few random star facts:

  • Over 10 million people a year come to “walk the Walk.”
  • A star can be awarded posthumously, but the individual must have been deceased at least 5 years.
  • About 200 applications are received annually; only about 20-24 stars are selected each year.
  • The emblem inside the star indicates the honoree’s category. There are 5 possible categories – Motion Pictures, Broadcast Television, Music, Broadcast Radio, and Theater/Live Performance.
  • It is possible for an honoree to have more than one star (under the different categories) – Gene Autry is the only honoree to have stars in all 5 categories.
  • Two pairs of stars share identical names representing different people – Harrison Ford and Michael Jackson.
  • 12 stars are identified with one word stage names.
  • The largest group of individuals represented by single star is the estimated 122 adults and 12 children collectively known as the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.
  • Mickey Mouse was the first animated character to receive a star.
  • The youngest star recipients are Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen (at 18 years old).

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

Travel Tuesday

Happy [Official] Blog-iversary!!

Fireworks

Exactly one year ago today I published my first “official” introduction post. Little did I know what an adventure this blogging thing would be! (smile)

I had had the page a while before I really decided to give this blogging thing a true shot. Frankly, I didn’t have much faith in myself to see it through long term, but I am oh so glad I did! I can’t imagine not having this space now – it’s become a natural extension of me. There have been amazing ups and not-so-great downs, but I feel like I’ve learned so much and met so many incredible people all thanks to this little blog here!

So I want to dedicate this day to you guys – THANK YOU to everyone who stops by, hits that like button, takes time to comment, and all the others who follow along! Whether I’m sharing travel stories, recipes, or life struggles, it never fails to lift my heart when I see the responses each post gets. (smile) I am so very grateful for each and every one of you!

Here’s to another year of learning, growth, and friendship!!

Tips for Living a More Mindful Life

Last week I shared a bit about my own personal journey into living a more mindful life. This week I thought it would be fun to share a few of the tips I’ve picked up along my way. Hopefully they’ll be as helpful for you as they were for me. (smile)

Arizona, hike

Watch a sunset & breathe

Pay attention to your body. I entitled this living a more mindful life, but really so much of life is about your body. That includes the literal way it feels as well as your 6th sense gut feeling. If you really listen to your body, it will tell you what changes you need to make. Some are obvious – ice cream equals very bad equals lactose intolerant (something which can apparently happen rather abruptly as I’ve discovered the hard way); some are not so obvious – you feel incredibly tired because you aren’t active enough (paradoxical much?). I also recently read an article on unconscious body language, which I found fascinating. If you really don’t want to do something or to be near someone, you’re body will unconsciously close in on itself. I’d never thought much about it until I read that article, but that fight or flight panicky feeling is really just my 6th sense/gut feeling steering me in the right direction. I find that gut feeling is almost always more accurate than whatever my mind argues.

Treat yourself. I like making other people happy. I enjoy going out of my way, in fact, to do things for other people. But if you neglect yourself in that process, then you quickly become too exhausted to help anyone. So once in a while, buy the really good bottle of wine or the crazy expensive makeup just for yourself. Have a spa day – at a spa or just at home. Indulging yourself every now and again is an amazing battery re-charge for saving the world! (smile)

Set loose goals. Losing weight, exercising more, volunteering, moving across the world – whatever it may be, set goals for yourself. Write them down – short term and long term. If they require hard deadlines (apply by x date or forfeit) then honor those. But if you don’t have a wedding dress to fit into or a college application/resume to build up, then allow yourself time to accomplish your goals. You aren’t going to lose 50 pounds in two weeks – at least not successfully. And chances are you won’t be able to use that “couch to 5k” program to run a marathon. Build the long term goals into your day in such a way that they just become part of your life. If you can do this, then a bad day is just a bad day – you know there’ll be tomorrow. It takes a tremendous amount of the pressure off and leads to more long term success.

Stand up and move. If you’re stuck at a desk job like me, moving enough throughout the day can be a real difficulty. I purchased a FitBit tracker several months ago and I was appalled by just how sedentary I was throughout the day! Yes, I now have daily goals with the tracker, but I was shocked at how much better I felt just by an extra trip to the bathroom or a jaunt around the block at lunch. If you feel weird wandering aimlessly around, use the printer on the other side of the office or just walk out to your car for a forgotten something. I try to get up at least once every hour just to stretch and rest my eyes. I’ve seen a marked difference in both energy levels and attitude just by making such simple changes. This method is also a great starting point for folding in a more official fitness routine into your life.

Sit. Yes, this seems totally opposite from #4, but the world is all about balance. Sitting at a computer doesn’t count for this – instead sit still and listen to your breathing, watch a sunset, cuddle a furball, read a book, meditate, do something that disconnects you from your computer, phone, tv, etc. for 15 minutes. Whether you do this daily or just once in a while, it gives your body and mind a moment to pause and reset.

Say no. Whether you simply don’t have time or you just don’t want to do something, say no. Saying no rarely has life-altering impacts. Frankly, if it’s something you have a strong gut feeling about (see #1) then whatever the outcome, it’s probably for the best. Have faith that the universe will work itself out – and those that know/love you, will still know/love you.

Say yes. You’re gut knows when to say no and when to say yes. If you feel the flight or fight instinct kick-in, chances are that No is the more appropriate answer. But if you feel nervous/excited/a little unsure, then say Yes. Step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. You’ll meet new people, see new things, and gain a whole new confidence from being brave enough to try. And that confidence is what builds a strong foundation for doing all of the above. (smile)

Do you have any tips/tricks of your own??

Weekly Photo Challenge: [Driving into the] Fray

dust storm

Driving into the fray

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is “fray.” Of course that can be interpreted in many different ways (which is probably one of the reasons it was chosen – smile) – there’s the fraying of objects such as cloth, rope, etc. and then there’s the “into the fray” of a challenge of some nature. I decided to go with the latter after coming across these photos today.

That photo up there is of an oncoming dust storm I was fortunate enough to encounter on I-10 en route back to Phoenix from California last month. I add those details as some justification for my stupidity in actually battling through this beast instead of pulling over with the sane people (chagrined smile). My thoughts went something like this – “Oh it’s just a dust storm. I’m tired, I want to get home. Maybe if I keep going I’ll get ahead of all this traffic. That guy’s doing it, I’ll just follow him.” All good until I get inside the monstrous cloud of dirt. See dust storms are called storms for a reason. The winds can be incredibly strong and there’s usually just enough moisture mixed in to create mud. There were points where I couldn’t see that guy I was following – but I also couldn’t see to pull off the road! It was a little like being in a car wash…only you’re getting washed in mud. Ha.

Obviously I survived and I did get in front of the traffic (minor victories!). But to say my nerves were also a bit frayed is both a bad pun and an understatement – Phoenix wasn’t too far away luckily. I definitely have a new respect for this brand of dust storm (oh yes, there are varieties); I think I’ll take the whole “pull the **** over” warning in my head a little more seriously in the future (smile).

dust storm

At the edge of the fray

Happy weekend everyone!!

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??