Wednesday, June 26, 2013

park day (in the rain)

We dog sat on Monday and decided to take Scooter the Boston Terrier to Wright Park in Tacoma.  Wright Park is a beautiful place full of rolling grassy hills, a fun new playground and spray park, botanical conservatory (admission charged) and plenty of good food (coffee, burgers, froyo) within walking distance.  Next to Point Defiance, I'd say this is my favorite T-Town park to spend an afternoon.

In was a nice warm afternoon when we started at the playground, but started raining hard and we decided to dash/meander from shelter to shelter under each towering green tree all the way back to the car.  The squirrels found it very exciting to watch.

The rain let up and the afternoon finished with a bowl of frozen yogurt (serves mostly as candy topping delivery) at Gibson's across the street.  It was then that the sun made it's reappearance, in typical Northwest fashion.  :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

50 photos a day - summer begins

We've been spending a lot more time outdoors lately now that the weather has warmed up, so I've been attempting to shoot more landscapes.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How traveling can make you happier

photo courtesy of S. Holland Smith

In my 34 years of life, I've discovered that only one thing really helps me to unwind and rejuvenate in a healthy way - traveling.  I'm very much a home body and a creature of habit and routine.  Routine can easily become mundane and turn into boredom and stress without me even knowing.

We live on a fairly tight budget, so there's not a lot of extravagant travel happening in our household.  Occasionally we get to venture farther abroad, but adventures are usually contained inside the state of Washington.  Lucky for me, Washington just happens to be one of the most amazing place to explore in the entire U.S. - from the San Juan Islands to the rugged coast to sunny Wenatchee and the majestic evergreen Cascade forests, Washington is a rich and varied landscape full of exciting places within a few hours drive of our front door.

I can drive two hours in any direction, get out of my car and I will be in a new landscape with new people (if there are any people) and having an experience I've never had before.  If I drive three hours or more, look out!  It's suddenly a Lewis & Clark expedition.  But I don't have to think about it too hard - I just pack up the car with some food and water for the day, throw in the camera, coats, a blanket and a few activities for the kids and go.  

It's kind of my zen practice of living in the moment and being present instead of thinking about my future, my past.  No worries for the day, just actively engaged and enjoying the moment.  Smiling as we greet others on the trail or chat with locals in their small town store, seeing deer pop out of the forest, seeing the sun set over a new vista, listening to the quiet (the QUIET) outside the city - these are all reasons we keep going.  

Our family travels have certainly had their ups and downs - days where it poured rain, so we sat in the car and listened to the radio and laughed before giving up and driving home.  Nights where I didn't sleep and alternated napping and weeping as I longed for my bed.  When we camp, it can be way too hot, way too cold, way too many mosquitoes, our tent blows away, but we keep at it.  We keep adventuring.  Besides, these experiences build our rugged character and make for great stories around the next camp fire, so there's always a bright side.

Traveling is the only part of my life that's unpredictable, and that brings me a kind of reckless joy.  When I get behind the wheel for one of our road trips, I am brave and utterly optimistic and hopefully when I walk out the door.  Even my kids sense the difference in me.  It's a breath of fresh air and a break from the norm, and it's definitely cheaper than therapy.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

fort flagler state park - a family camping review

As avid summer car campers with kids, we are always looking for new and interesting places we've never been to.  On busy Father's Day weekend, we opted for Fort Flagler State Park to camp, explore and relax by the waterfront (with a last minute booking no less) as we welcomed in the 2013 season of summer camping.

A picturesque setting that's only an hour and a half from the Seattle/Tacoma area (by ferry or driving around the sound), Fort Flagler is host to a myriad of activities ranging from combing the beach to watching the spectacular sunset to exploring the miles of trails that lead to mysterious and exciting abandoned military buildings from the early 20th century.  With close proximity to tourist-friendly Port Townsend, Fort Flagler is a near perfect weekend getaway for families with children of all ages.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon just in time to enjoy exploring the beach before we retired to our campsite to cook dinner and roast marshmallows.  The next day (Saturday) was spent exploring the incredible waterfront trails and defense batteries, encountering many deer and woodland critters along the way.  The trail can be tiresome for littles, so bring plenty of water and snacks and be sure to take lots of breaks (and maybe send Dad for the car when you get to the military housing quarters at the other end).  At the bluff peak we watched two paragliders take off into the blue and napped in the sun for a few before making our way to the park museum that housed many interesting historic artifacts to do with life at the fort in the early 20th century.  The rest of the afternoon was spent on the expansive lawn near the beach playing soccer and eating burritos, in between bouts of crab hunting and shell collecting along the shore.

The first camping trip of the season is always either the most under-prepared or over-prepared event or the summer.  This year I definitely bent toward underprepared.  Forgetting bug spray was a mistake I'll never make again when camping in the woods!  The kids hid in the tent and played games until mosquito hour was over (from about 6:30 until 8!) while I zipped up my hoodie and dodged the little bloodsuckers while frying up grilled cheese sandwiches.  As with any state park campground, the sites were fairly close together and the company you keep is always a crap shoot.  The young party a few doors down made quite a ruckus until 2:30 AM or so, and everyone but me slept just fine.  But the next night was quiet and quite lovely to wake up to in the morning (the pancakes were much prettier on day three than day two).

We left fairly early on Sunday morning and visited nearby Port Townsend on the way outta town to enjoy some pizza and pick up some souvenirs.  We were home by 6 PM to water the garden and chat with the neighbors before slumping in front of the laptop for a movie, followed by an epic slumber in our own beds.

Best camping sites: Plenty of great spaces to choose from, but 12 is the creme de la creme - an expansive, grassy site right on the bluff that's surrounded by flowering shrubs, plenty of privacy and an incredible view of the sunset.

Sites 1 - 14 also have views or are nice and close to the water, 24, 30 and 33 are expansive and private in a more wooded setting.

Littles:  Critters everywhere, combing the beach.
Middles:  Riding bikes and scooters around the campground, playground.
Bigs:  Exploring the forts, walking to the on-site store for ice cream and treats.
Mom & Dad:  Amazing sunsets, quiet and remote location that's easy to get to.

Watch out for:  The marine air can be chilly at nights, so bring warm clothing and good quality sleeping bags.  As with all camping in the woods, there can be lots of mosquitoes, so be prepared.  Families with smaller children or wanderers/explorers, may want to choose a spot further away from the bluff in the upper campground for less worry.  Plenty of spots in sites 33 and up offer room to roam and  loads of privacy and are quite beautiful in a more forested setting.

Nearby alternative campgrounds:  Fort Townsend, Fort Warden.

Closest store/town:  Nordland General Store, Nordland, WA.  Stop in for supplies and enjoy a great wine and beer selection, local cheese, organic coffee and old-fashioned kid favorites like Lemonheads.  Be sure to visit on your way out of town to chat with friendly locals and enjoy an iced mocha for the road.  There's also an on-site store at the campground essentials like firewood, bug spray, replacing broken flip flops.

What to visit nearby:  Port Townsend has quirky waterfront shops that families will appreciate, including two toy stores full of Legos, Schleich animals, stuffies, and games.  Eat at Waterfront Pizza's quaint upstairs dining room to please everyone in the family - plenty of books and crayons will keep kiddos busy.  Along with your family size pizza, order the Caesar salad for a unique twist on an old classic.

Rugged to Glamping Rating (scale of 1-5):  3 - Plenty of room to spread out if you find one of Fort Flagler's many spacious and picturesque camping spots, but be sure to bring the bug spray!  Mosquitoes abound.  Steer clear of the bluff sites if camping with little ones, be sure to snag one if camping with older kids!

How to get there: Directions and map can be found here.

(Thank you to S. Holland Smith, my darling husband, for letting me use a few of his photos in this lot.) :)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Can Photography Be Self-Taught?

I sure hope so.  I learn by doing, making mistakes, trying again. has some great workshops for beginners.  I wanted to learn some more photography fundamentals, and found a great course that took only a few hours to complete.  I learned Photoshop tips I've used a few times since.

But the best thing I've ever done for myself to improve my skills is ask a photographer friend if I can shadow her at her studio.  I watch over her shoulder, ask questions, practice shooting with her as a model.
She happens to be a gorgeous model.
I'm starting to see the world around me differently.  I'm so excited by the world of photography and all the things I've learned so far.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Staying true to oneself - simplifying life by identifying passions

Photo courtesy of S. Holland Smith
I have three favorite things in life, aside from my beautiful family - travel, art, and food.  Pretty much everything in my life revolves around these three things.  Today as I reflected on what I love most in life, where I've been, my accomplishments, my skills and abilities, I realized that everything I do in life is motivated by these three loves more than anything.

I've tried a million jobs, but the only ones that make me happy generally don't pay very well, and they involve using my creativity.  I cobble together work so I can afford to travel instead of buying nice clothes or furnishings.  I spend way too much on fancy groceries.  Honey goat cheese from Trader Joe's is amazing, by the way, especially with a nice fruity red.

Nothing is more of a soul-killer than worrying.  But I need to ground myself in reality, right?  How can I dream and plan and live out my bliss-filled future with all these worries?  Can other creatives relate?

Suggestions welcome.  Sort of.

For me, I have never been able to get too comfortable in one place. I start to worry and then I get depressed.  I fear the comfort will end, the money will run out.  I'm wracked with guilt about the fact that instead of enjoying all of life's blessings, I'm worrying that there might be something better I'm missing out on.  The fear creeps in.  I beat myself up for wanting more, wanting change, wanting to roam and pursue my loves.  Can I be a good mom if I bring my kids on the road?  Can I make art and enjoy cooking/eating/savoring if we're constantly traveling (won't I be tired?)?  Am I selfish?  What if it turns out to be the worst mistake I ever made?

I learned a hard lesson this year about staying true to myself.  I'm not willing to give up on myself or my dreams just yet.  I feel like the road is becoming clearer.

In my dreams, I am an achiever, an explorer.  My American Dream is engaging in opportunities that I create to better myself and enrich my life, even though it can be really hard work and at times seem really self-indulgent (and the pay is crap).  My dream is to do all this and still love myself for it.

I need to listen to my heart.  No more auto-pilot-survival-mode, no more "supposed to's" in life, just pursuing the fulfillment that comes from seeking new experiences that ignite my passions.  I want to teach this to my children and show them that enjoying life can be simple if you're brave enough to go after it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

house show fundraiser recap

Last week some friends and I put together a little house show with a few Seattle/Tacoma area bands to raise funds for the Food Connection's Backpack Program at our local school.  The Backpack Program has become a cause that's dear to my heart.

We raised over $300 for the program.  A big thanks to the musicians who played - Pablo Trucker, Apartment Lights, Luke Stevens.  The show was intimate, beautiful.

Here are a few photos I took.  It was way too dark and my exposure could have been better, but I have been playing around with Photoshop actions and having fun.  It's tough to set up a good shot when you're manning the door.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

50 shots a day

I thought I would set a new goal for myself and attempt to take at least 50 shots (photos, not booze) a day to keep my camera work fresh.  I figure that even if I take 50 crap photos, at least I might become more adept and sharpen my skills, scout locations, learn how to better set up shots, so on and so forth. The process has been a great learning experience.  Learning more and more in Lightroom, and have begun to dabble in Photoshop with more specific adjustments and actions I've found as well.