Thursday, December 31, 2015

I was bored today and decided I wanted to actually learn the lyrics to the favorite New Years Eve tune of Auld Lang Syne.  Quickly, I realized that instead of learning the meaning, I would much rather be putting my newly acquired terrible Scottish accent (obtained after watching too much Outlander and spending a week in the Highlands this summer) to work singing every verse EXCEPT the first and most popular one!  Have you ever looked up the lyrics?  They're incredible.... that is, incredibly fun to try to sing!  The last verse is my favorite.  Put on your tacky Scottish Jimmy Hat (google it) and sing with me:

And surely ye'll be your pint' stoup
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll talk a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

The meaning is nice too:  Let's go buy some beers and catch up and reminisce about old times.

Speaking of reminiscing, this past year has been a rollercoaster, with some memories making it onto my set of all-time favorite experiences and some events I could have done without.  One of best things to come out of the year is that my photography has gotten notably better, I think, and I chalk that one up to simply taking the camera out more often.  Despite our complaints as kids, it's looking like our parents may have been right when they passed along the "practice makes perfect" wisdom.

Here are my top three "highs" from the year:

1. Continuing my travel binge! 

International travel included checking the box on some new places (Norway, Portugal, and Puerto Rico) and revisiting others (Scotland and Iceland).  Of course, there were also a few road trips, several jaunts up to NYC for some Broadway entertainment, and some time spent on the ski slopes!

2. Seeing one of my favorite bands, right next to the stage, in a tiny venue with just 699 other fans!

Mumford & Sons remains one of my favorite bands, and with the hiatus officially over when they released their new album in the spring, I got to see them live three times this year (with plans for at least one more time in 2016).  One of those live events was a "rehearsal gig" they played prior to the album release - where they announced the concert maybe 24 hours in advance, I got tickets in the morning, and was seeing them in person that night.  The best part about that whole show, besides having Marcus Mumford sing inches above me while standing on his stage monitor, was that I met two fantastic fans who have now become my friends.  Oh, and of course meeting/talking to the band after the show, and again at their New Jersey festival stop was not too shabby either!

3. Hamilton!

Ask anyone who has been around me these past few months, I am completely obsessed with this hit Broadway show!  I was lucky enough to get a day-of returned ticket to see it when it was off-Broadway at the Public Theater.  While I didn't get to see Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton that day, I was still completely blown away.  I have not been this excited about a Broadway show since RENT in the mid-90s.  I saw it again in October in its Broadway home, this time with the show creator, Lin, in the lead role, and I cried three times.  2016 is going to be very good to me since I've got tickets for the spring and fall to see it again.  While that seems ridiculous to already have plans this far in advance, if you've tried to get tickets to the show, you know what I am talking about.  The only way to get them for reasonable face value amounts and in a good location is to buy them early, and yes that may mean 11 or 12 months in advance!

Alas, not everything went as planned in 2015, and I ended up spending a lot of the mid-year months rehabilitating my knee after I severed my ACL, requiring surgery.  I wish I could say I was really diligent with continuing my rehab after my insurance stopped paying for it, but this gal has definitely neglected her squats and wall sits.  I could really feel the difference when I hit the ski slopes for the first time this season.  My legs were not as strong, and I tired quickly.  Yep, that post-surgery muscle atrophy is definitely a real thing! On top of my own health mishaps, I had a family member who also suffered a scary health event as well.

On to the new year....

In light of all that, it looks like 2016 is turning into a year of health reform!  I got a Fitbit for Christmas that I've been trying out this past week.  So far, the feedback I get on my daily report is not surprising - sleep more, move more.  What Fitbit doesn't know is that I was a super klutz on Christmas morning and slipped on the wood floor in my ski socks carrying a load of ski gear to the car and mildly sprained my ankle (still skied though!).  I'm going to need that to get better and back to normal soon so I can start my healthy journey!

Of course, I'm not going to give up on my travels and adventures in 2016. I've got passport plans for New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies (I've been obsessing about Banff for the last two years!) already on the books. Much of my other free time will probably invested in local microadventures or short road trips.

I also have two other things I want to do in 2016 that are not necessarily resolutions but they are positive changes.  The first one is that I want to finally cancel my cable TV account.  I'll still need the internet, but I want to see if I can successfully switch to just online content providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.  Since I don't watch a lot of live TV, I am thinking that this is an addiction I can break that will benefit me both mentally and financially.  The second thing I want to do is focus on creating and maintaining a new website for my photography.  I'd like to be able to provide a way for people who like my work to get a copy for themselves, if desired.  So, if you are one of those people, stay tuned!

Other than get healthy, travel, watch less TV, and get my photography website finished, my only other plans are to continue to scratch off items from my baking to-do list!  While a five item to-do list is small, I am hoping it will be big in returns.

I hope that you had a healthy and happy year too - you and all your loved ones - and wish you all the best in the new year!  And, of course, thank you for joining me on my adventures!


One more thing, on my 2015 Holiday Gift Guide earlier this month, I highlighted a great computer novelty item for Lego enthusiasts - a laptop cover made to work with Legos called Brik Book.  I got mine in the mail, and check out my design I made for it!  A camera!  Shocking design, I know.

Posted on Thursday, December 31, 2015 by Julie

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Recently, I was nominated to do a nature photography challenge by a Facebook friend where you post a photo a day for 7 days.  It actually was more of a challenge than I thought it originally would be because I realized that my travel photography is not necessarily landscape photography as well. Since it's the end of the year, when people love to look back on their last 365 days, I thought I would broaden the challenge and select my Top 10 Favorite Photos from 2015!

10.  The first photo I wanted to highlight was from a trip to a local butterfly garden in Washington D.C.  There are things I don't like about this photo and things I could have done better, of course, but it is all overshadowed by the perfect playfulness of these two butterflies mirroring each other.

9. I chose this photo of Lyme Park in England because, while the colors and reflection are great, it's Colin Firth's home...I mean fictional Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame's home, Pemberly, in the first BBC movie!!  It's not compelling or original, from a photography standpoint, but it's meaningful to me.

8. If you live in Washington D.C., you know what a madhouse it is late March into early April with the blooming of the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin.  I took my camera down twice this past year during less crowded times, sunrise and evening blue hour.  Most people like to, understandably, include the monuments for context, but I liked this photo the best out of my set because of the dreamy fallen petals on the water, painted soft yellow by the morning light. 

7.  This past February marked my first view of the popular Northern Lights, followed by more light shows in Iceland last month.  We had a week of cloudy weather on the Lofoten Islands in Norway with very short intervals where the clouds cooperated and broke to give us just a glimpse...more like a tease.  With a forecast for clearer skies in Sweden, we left Norway with every finger and toe crossed.  And luck came ten fold, producing a magnificent show of the aurora borealis on our last night there, which concluded with this massive corona directly overhead! 

6. I found myself exploring and photographing several abandoned places in Maryland and Pennsylvania in 2015.  I first went to a silk mill, then a woolen mill, a vintage car graveyard, a forest of abandoned streetcars, and finally one of the Steel Belt's old metal works.  It was in that blacksmith shop where I captured this rusted lift clamp in the perfect light angle that produced beautiful leggy shadows against this dirt swirled floor.

5.  The first of two shots on this list from Iceland last month.  There are two great features of the popular Jökulsárlón glacial lake....the ever changing icebergs in the lake and the washed up bits of ice on the nearby beach.  I was spending time over on the beach, continuing the frustration I had from prior days getting the right piece of ice, dealing with waves, and managing light.  Fortunately, a rogue wave came up and soaked my bottom half, which made me stand up and turn around where I, then, saw the sunset skies above the glacial lake.  I packed my things up quickly and hauled butt over to the other side of the road to capture this incredible moment of soft pastels on the lake.

4. It's funny because most of the time I don't like taking portrait orientated photos, but my top four picks are exactly that!  The first was taken at Elgol Beach on the Isle of Skye at sunset.  I love the lines, both horizontal and diagonal, and the glowing sea moss on the rocks.  The long exposure on the sea worked out really well too!

3. This shot is my favorite from Norway.  It is a reminder of our frustrating weather - cloudy and sometimes stormy skies, warmer than average temps, and lower than average snow coverage - and how despite less than perfect conditions, the sun can make a brief appearance and make everything great.  The glowing sun highlighted the aqua blues in the fjords and made the red boathouse just pop!

2. I call this photo the Lisbon commute home.  It really does encapsulate the Lisbon experience, with the hilly cobbled streets, the river below, the pastel homes, the streetcars, etc.  

1. And for my last photo, we head back to Jökulsárlón in Iceland.  I have to credit a professional photographer friend, Justin Reznick, for finding this particular baby iceberg.  He has a stunning photo of it on his iPhone using the Snapseed app.  The difference between his photo and mine, though, I think is the soft, firey sky - a difference of timing luck that gives the photo the extra dimension it needed to make the little berg pop even more!

There are so many more photos I wanted to put on this list, many from my trip to Scotland in the summer, but overall I think the ten on which I settled really tell the story of my year. It's been a great one for travel, growth in photography, and life experience in general, but more on that in the next day or two!  

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 by Julie


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Once again, it's time to put your clever cap on and buy some gifts for friends and family.  Here's my collection of ideas I've curated from things that have caught my eye recently.  Perhaps one of them may suit your gift giving needs this month.  Happy hunting and happy holiday season!

The Thoughtful Gift

Book Shaped Stacking Serving Plates and Platters - $9-27 from Gonereading
I am in love with these plates!  They are a sweet presentation piece for the food you've worked so hard to prepare that will definitely be a conversation starter.  Don't miss out on the open book shaped saucer for your teacup!

Sur la Table Cooking Class - typically $69 or more
When I have the time, I like to check the cooking class calendar at my local Sur la Tables.  Specifically, I like to find the classes that not only have a great menu but also, ideally, have a free giveaway.  I have received a free skillet, a free chef's knife, and a free set of mini Le Creuset pots in the past.  So those classes are kind of the gift that gives more!

Craft Beer Club - $39/month
For the beer fan in your family, how about a monthly case of American craft beer (4 styles, 3 bottles of each)?

Let Me Entertain You

Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Album - $19-22 on Amazon or iTunes
I am obsessed with this show!  But more interesting to me is the number of people I've discovered who are equally obsessed yet have not seen it live.  If you have not heard of the Hamilton musical yet, it's the product of a music and lyrical genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who picked up a copy of an Alexander Hamilton biography for a vacation one year and came home with the book's adaption into a mixtape concept album that morphed into a musical-based staged drama.  Check out this recent story from Charlie Rose and 60 Minutes on Miranda and the cast.

Sara Bareilles "What's Inside: Songs from Waitress" - $8-9 from Amazon or iTunes
Do you remember a 2007 movie starring Keri Russell as a struggling waitress in an unhappy marriage whose pies and new baby girl allow her to find the strength to escape and make her life better?  Well, even if you don't remember the movie, it is being adapted for the stage with a score by popular piano songstress, Sara Bareilles.  I heard one song, and I was hooked.  Check out "She Used to Be Mine" and be prepared to cry.

Amazon Fire Stick - $39 (on sale)
I'm slowly trying to move away from cable TV because the cost is getting out of control, and consumers have very little power to stop it.  Fortunately, I don't watch a lot of sports or television news, so I have some flexibility to find something without having to find a replacement for live broadcast events.  The first step was to figure out if entertainment providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu would still give me my TV fix.  

The Fun Gift

Cards Against Humanity Game - $25 from CAH website
This game for adults is a consistent party pleaser.  I have never laughed harder than when I've been playing this game.  It's not for those who get offended easily, though.

Mini Action Cam - $139.95 from Amazon
If a Go-Pro is out of your reach price-wise, or if you want to see if it is something that will be used frequently enough to make it worth the investment, this looks like a good starter action cam.

Brik Book - $45
I just bought this!  It's a cover for a MacBook Pro that is also a Lego plate.  Of course, this gift assumes you have extra Lego tiles around to decorate it.  If not, then head over to Bricklink and pick up a variety.

Spartan Knife Block - starts at $64
Perfect for the chef with a sense of humor!

The Easy Life

FitBit Charge - starts at $120
Take your fitness monitoring to the next level with this version of the popular Fitbit that also allows you to monitor your heart rate!

Braided Firewire for iPhones and iPads - $39 from Alto
I travel a lot, and sometimes in a rush to pack things up I toss my cords into my bag only to have to sort through a tangled wad when I get to my destination because of the waxy coating on the cords. Enter this tangle-free cord!

The Everyday Messenger Camera Bag - $249 with accessory add-on options
This bag made consumer headlines over the summer as one of Kickstarter's more successful campaigns. Backed and co-designed by Trey Ratcliff, a popular landscape and travel photographer who posts at, this bag is supposed to be one of the most well thought out camera bags.  Mine will arrive soon, and I have high hopes because I'm still struggling to find my perfect gear bag.

The Splurge

A Micro 4:3 Drone Camera $4500-8000
A couple of people had this drone on my recent trip to Iceland.  It is the only drone on the market with a decent camera, so that is why I chose it for a splurge gift.  There are other features, as well, that make this drone superior to others on the market.  Of course, you're going to pay for all of these features, plus the special designed travel suitcase and other accessories.  Having said all that, before buying a drone you should make sure you or the person receiving the gift understands all flight restrictions, both domestic and internationally. The FAA will prosecute people for violations and they are banned in U.S. National Parks.  Many ski resorts have also banned drones.  So with the limited flight areas, it may not be a good investment.  Also, having witnessed this in Iceland, the performance is less than ideal in cold weather.

A USB Old Fashioned Typewriter - $899 from Uncommon goods
No one actually NEEDS a typewriter shaped peripheral keyboard for their tablet, but it's in the splurge category and it's cute!

Vintage Skeeball - $6995 from Restoration Hardware
Skeeball is my go-to carnival game!  I would be lying if did not at one point try to rationalize in my brain how this skeeball machine could fit in my house and my budget.  It's not going to happen, but if anyone wants to buy me this, it will be welcomed with open arms!  Sorry, in advance, for the noise neighbors!

Posted on Tuesday, December 08, 2015 by Julie


Friday, December 4, 2015

While Iceland is a wonderful spot for some wide angle landscapes, it provides an equal amount of opportunity to let your abstract creativity fly.  The winter snow, glowing turquoise icebergs and ice caves, and frosted sand dunes are great sources of interesting lines, patterns, and colors that equally trick and please the eye.  Here are some of my favorites from the black sand beaches and the glacial ice cave we visited.

All of the following sand photographs capture the various patterns created by the winds on the sand dunes, topped with some frost from the previous day's snowfall and the morning's low temperatures. The black sand creates great contrast that can be captured from several directions!

That last one captured the rising sun on the sand waves, which gave it the warm glow.  Next, when we visited an ice cave, created by glacial expansion last year, we unfortunately were unable to walk deep into the cave for safety reasons.  The ice caves in Iceland are different every year, in look and location, and there are local guides who are trained to know which ones are safe to visit each day.  We had hoped to visit one of the most popular caves, however we heard it required a kayak trip to enter.  Actually the day we went, even kayaking was not possible because that water had frozen over, but not enough to support walking on it.  Anyway, the cave we went to was more like a grotto.  Our guide tested the thickness of the ice in several spots and gave us a safety boundary that just barely let us into the cover of the ice arch.

With these limitations, our only option was to shoot the details of the cave, and perhaps play with some of the shots in post-processing.  The ice in the ceiling of the cave produced some great turquoises highlighted by the exterior light like stained glass.  There was one shape created by the ice that someone said reminded him of a horse with its head bowed in respect.  See if you can spot it!

I also had a little bit of fun playing around with processing of some of these ice cave photos.  For instance I took this original photo:

And played around with color saturation, shadows, highlights, clarity, and contrast to get these fun variations:

For a reference perspective on this ice cave, here are two photos I took on my phone of the glacier and the crumpled glacial ice that formed the cave after it grew to crash into the lava rock.

Posted on Friday, December 04, 2015 by Julie