Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's New Years Eve, and I just realized that I'm part of the last group to celebrate the transition into 2015, as I'm spending the holiday out in Hawaii.  It sounds like a warzone outside because apparently Hawaiians love their fireworks tonight!  Anyway, just like the year before it, 2014 was overwhelming with adventures - both major and minor.   Some of my favorite things included getting to ski a ton, visiting one of my favorite cities - London - twice, re-exploring places I've been to gather new perspectives, and really upping my photography game.  I also beat my record and flew over 56,000 miles, and probably made a land mileage record this year as well with road trips.    

As for the 2014 resolutions, not surprisingly, I didn't complete everything I set out to do, but I hit the major ones. For the second year in a row, one of my resolutions was to take a photo of five interesting places.  This year, I was really happy with many of my photographs, so it was hard to be constrained to only five, but here they are:

1. Abandoned farmhouse in Palouse, Washington

2. Maroon Bells at sunrise outside Aspen, Colorado

3. A reflection of the Space Needle in Seattle on the exterior of the EMP building

4. Old harbor in Ghent, Belgium

5. Haystack Rock at sunset at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Sadly, the one resolution I was really hoping to keep ended up fizzling out.  I had wanted to meet up with friends I had not seen in over 2 years yet we live in the same metro region.  It seemed so silly that I was keeping up with peoples' lives over social media and not talking to them directly to hear their stories.  I was able to get together with two friends early on in 2014, but just scheduling those was super hard.  Then I just got really busy and lost track of time!  I still do want to make more of an effort in maintaining strong contact with friends this upcoming year, though I'm not going to bother with a resolution, lest I just disappoint myself again.

Finally, the other major resolution I wanted to accomplish was doing a 365 day photography project on Instagram.  While I ended up getting bored with it quickly, mostly because the photos I was taking were not as good as I felt they should have been because I was feeing pressure to take one of anything just to fulfill the daily minimum, I did finally start to really use my Instagram account and have discovered some fantastic photographers on the app that have inspired me by their compositions, destinations, and processing.  If you are curious what I posted, check out my Instagram and follow me!

So what about 2015?  I am thinking that I'm going to be resolution-less.  I still want to visit two new countries, which are already booked.  I also want to do a third round of photographing five interesting places.  My friend just told me that those can't be resolutions if I know I'm going to do them and they follow a pattern.  OK, well then I am thinking that I'm just going to let whatever happens in 2015 happen, and have fun while doing it.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

Here's to finishing out another great year in 2014.  Happy new year everyone!

Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2014 by Julie


Sunday, December 28, 2014

I wanted to make a treat for my friend who is a big fan of the taste combination of peanut butter and chocolate.  I was all set on brownies with Reese's chips, then my mom asked if I had ever had these bars.  It's a recipe modified from the popular Cake Mix Doctor.  A recipe from a box of cake mix?  That's is fine by me because that eliminates a lot of mess and ingredients!  The result is a chewy mess of peanuts and gooey chocolate that satiates any peanut butter/chocolate craving!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars


  • 1 box plain yellow cake mix (Do not use "pudding in the mix" versions!  I know Duncan Hines makes a non-pudding box.)
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 12-oz package of milk chocolate chips
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped, unsalted peanuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. Line a 9x13 baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil across the pan and out each side for handles to lift the bars from the pan after cooling.
  3. Spray foil with cooking spray to prevent sticking
  4. Melt the stick of butter, set aside
  5. For the crust, place the cake mix, peanut butter, melted butter and eggs in a bowl and beat on low speed for 1 minute.  Mix will be thick and a little greasy.
  6. Reserve 1 1/2 cup of the crust mix for later
  7. Spread the remaining crust  mix over the foil lined pan, pushing with your fingers until it is pressed evenly into the bottom of the pan.
  8. For the filling, place chocolate chips, 2 Tbsp butter, and condensed milk in a microwavable bowl and melt the chocolate in the microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, stopping to stir frequently to prevent the mixture from curdling.  
  9. Stir in vanilla to the melted chocolate mixture, then spread over the crust.
  10. Top the chocolate layer with the reserved 1 1/2 cup crust mixture, crumbling it up with your fingers into crumbs the size of peas.
  11. Scatter the chopped peanuts over the top.
  12. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  13. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before removing with foil handles.
  14. Place on a hard board (cutting board) and chill in the refrigerator 15-20 minutes or until the chocolate is set.
  15. Cut into bars and eat!

Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2014 by Julie


Friday, December 26, 2014

Must Read

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I picked up this book because it has made the top of several Best Books of 2014 lists, and I was not disappointed.  The story flips between two characters: an orphaned German boy with a gift for mechanics, especially radios and transmitters, that gains the attention of the Nazis who see a use for his talent; and, a young, blind french girl who is forced to flee Paris during the Nazi invasion with her devoted father -- a locksmith at the geological museum who has a secret.  Focusing on the summer of 1944  in a small town on France's northern coast where both characters coincidentally reside, the author builds their stories through chronological flashbacks that you just know are going to lead to an intersecting point. Imagine the vast amount of talent it takes to successfully write from the perspective of a blind girl. Anthony Doerr does a beautiful job creating a very descriptive and captivating narrative.  He selected two complex characters driven by needs the average person cannot understand, placed them in horrible situations, and masterfully captured the beautiful simplicity of decency.

Lazy Weekend

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

If you've read my other book posts, you know I adore Jojo Moyes.  I struggled not giving this book a "Must Read" rating for that reason, but the story was not as enthralling as her other recent books.  I think the reason is that instead of focusing on one main couple, she told the stories of four roommates - all war brides from Australia being sailed to England to meet up with their husbands after the war is over.  Having four spotlights detracted from the strength of one very good story.

Skip This

The Andy Cohen Diaries by Andy Cohen

I like Andy Cohen.  I like the shows he has produced for Bravo TV.  I did not like this book.  I found the tone of the writing to be a little arrogant, especially with the name dropping everywhere.  I thought this book was going to be much more centered on inside scoop on his daily dealings with the crazy people from his reality TV shows.  Oh well!

Posted on Friday, December 26, 2014 by Julie


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wishing you a very safe and happy holiday season for you and your family from me and mine!  It's been a very busy but very fun year, and I'm looking forward to bringing you all  new adventures and delicious baked treats for 2015.  Thank you!

Posted on Wednesday, December 24, 2014 by Julie


Saturday, December 20, 2014

I haven't done much holiday baking this season, but I did decorate a few cookies.  During this time of year, I prefer to switch from a butter cookie base to gingerbread because that's the quintessential taste of Christmas, I think.  I did about five cut out shapes, and ended up liking three of them.  The silly cartoon Christmas lightbulbs are very easy to make, and you don't even need the little red Santa hat to still make a great design.

As for the other two cookies that turned out well, they are my own personal snow dance for more mountain snow!  It's been a slow start to the ski season, and I was hoping to get some time on the slopes out west this month, but sadly it's looking like that's not going to happen anytime soon.  I guess I will just drown my skiing sorrows with these ski postcard cookies and snowflakes.

If you want the recipe for butter cookies and royal icing, you can find them by following this link. Any gingerbread cookie recipe should work for these particular cookies.  The decorating tips I used were a #1 for detail and #2 for borders.  For the icing flooding, I used standard Wilton squeeze bottles.  Clear sanding sugar was sprinkled on the Santa hats.  As always, I recommend using Americolor gels for the coloring.  And a great website for cookie cutters and other supplies is Karen's Cookies.  Finally, for the best tutorials on cookie decorating, visit The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle.

Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2014 by Julie


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Oregon coast is a beautiful stretch of the western coastline of the United States.  Not surprisingly, with Oregon's rainy reputation, the weather can be very temperamental and ruin photography plans. So, it has taken me a few tries to get these photos, and while I am not 100% satisfied with the results and want to return to some spots to try again, I think that they still provide great visual representation of the regional features.  Of course, I am very happy with the glowing sunset on Haystack Rock in the photo above.  It is one of my favorite photos, and I have it hanging on my wall at home.

Just north of Lincoln City is Devil's Punch Bowl State Park.  There is a great ocean well cut-out that is visible from the viewing area next to the parking lot.  I had some neutral density filter problems on this shot, so I didn't get the long exposure I was hoping to achieve.  

Seal Rock is a small town south of Newport that is the location of a grouping of large rock formations that, with a little imagination, look like giant elephant seals.  The photo, while not ideal, still captures a typical day on the Oregon Coast - lots of grays and greens, with some mangy seagulls to add to the image.

And now the infamous Thor's Well off Cape Perpetua.  This is an often photographed salt water fountain best seen at both high tide and sunset.  This is a spot I will have to revisit because not only was high tide nowhere near sunset that day, but it was storming and the water was wild.  It still made for a photo full of movement, but I resorted to making it a black and white image to compensate for my dissatisfaction with the grayness of the day. 

Finally, here are a few images of the Oregon Coast that highlight the great rock shapes formed over thousands of years from ocean movement and the beautiful evergreen trees that line the shore.  And, not surprisingly, gray skies in every one of them.  Oh Oregon, you have not changed one bit since I grew up there; and, while I miss some things, I certainly do not miss all that rain!

Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2014 by Julie


Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's that time of year again.  Time to stress out over what to get for your favorite people, that is!  Well, I'm here to help.  I scoured the internet for some ideas that I think are great and step away from your typical types of gifts.  Hope you like my ideas too!

First, who doesn't love the craft beer trend?  Why not consider this Craft Beer Caddy for the beer lover in your life...

I saw this Unicorn Mug and it made me smile, plus it's big enough for a nice mug of soup for a cold winter day.

Speaking of convenient food serving items, how about Personal Fondue Pots, for those days where you are craving melted cheese but don't want to make a big pot.

This Funny Squirrel Feeder is great for someone who loves animals but loves to laugh even more.

This Wine Handbag makes me want to shake my head, then turn around and buy one for all my fashion-loving friends.

If your preference is for a reusable wine purse with a tap, check out the Wine Purse with a drink bladder that attaches to the tap.

Now here's a great stocking stuffer for a shoe lover...I might modify this saying to say "...wear cute shoes that also don't kill your feet after one hour"

A nod to my favorite holiday movie...A Christmas Story.  How cute would these be wrapped around a tree?

How about for a lover of surrealism art...a Dali clock for a shelf.  

And for the bibliophile that is looking for new authors...a book subscription service.  I know I get overwhelmed when I'm looking for a great new book.  Why not leave the decision to an expert?

Or for the avid reader who wants to show off their favorite classic books on a t-shirt, check out the clothing and gifts from Out of Print Clothing.  This company was co-founded by a person I grew up with, and they even use an old library card as the clothing tag with signatures from others that I know. More importantly, they donate a book for each item purchased to a community in need.

For the time constrained traveler, a guide on how to cram an amazing vacation into a weekend.

Again, for the shoe lover a fashionable winter boot wedge from Sorel.  These are currently in my closet, FYI!

Got a music lover in your life who needs some new tunes, get them The New Basement Tapes album. Five songwriters were given a box of Bob Dylan lyrics that have been in storage since 1967.  They each wrote songs to accompany their favorite lyrics and recorded them to make this album.

And finally, a convenient way to actually print out your iPhone photos...

That's it.  All my ideas for the winter holiday season!  Good luck with your shopping!

Posted on Sunday, December 07, 2014 by Julie