Being Social with Butterflies

We spent a lot of time with butterflies this summer. Butterflies are weird. I mean, they are bugs, after all. And I capital-H hate bugs. But there’s a difference between the bug on the wall of my apartment and bugs flitting about a garden, hovering over beautiful flowers while I hover over them with my camera in hand.

Our first butterfly visit was the garden at Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous house about an hour south of Pittsburgh. Sweltering in the August heat, I could not stop myself from snapping.

img_8931img_8982img_9122img_9140img_9035img_8906-2img_8915-2img_8988Our second garden was closer to home. After a weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland, we stopped by the Butterfly Garden at Brookside Gardens. Brookside Gardens is a beautiful area independent of the butterflies, but the butterfly garden was the icing on the proverbial cake. We even got to see some caterpillars before they transformed!

2016-08-20-23-03-062016-08-20-23-06-09-22016-08-20-23-06-402016-08-20-23-12-222016-08-20-22-47-412016-08-20-22-49-012016-08-20-22-53-452016-08-20-22-58-252016-08-20-22-59-20-12016-08-20-23-01-38-12016-08-20-22-46-112016-08-20-22-50-10-12016-08-20-23-25-102016-08-20-23-38-34The butterflies like M!


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First, a mea culpa. I have been AWOL, but this time it’s not just good ol’ laziness to blame. Election time is busy season for me, and I have been swamped with work. You know how accountants can’t breath or sleep during the first half of April? That’s me in September and October — just guzzling Diet Cokes faster than I can buy them. So that’s my excuse. Now the fun stuff.

M and I had our first collaborative effort published. Really, M gets most of the credit. He’s written a couple of articles about an amazing art exhibit called Washed Ashore. His latest is published in Sierra Magazine, and I contributed the photographs! Go us.

Washed Ashore is the brainchild of artist Angela Hazeltine Pozzi. The Oregon-based artist noticed the tons of plastic and debris littered across our beaches, and decided to turn the garbage into art. Her staff is made up of volunteers, and they spend hours collects, sifting, and organizing piles of beach garbage. Toothbrushes, bottle caps, beach toys, shoes, flip-flops — everything you can think of — become a piece of a sculpture.


Chompers the Shark

The Smithsonian Zoo in Washington D.C. hosted an exhibit of Angela’s sculptures this summer, and M and I had a great time exploring and taking pictures. Here’s the most amazing part: Angela and her group don’t paint any of the items they collect. They use all the debris exactly as they found them.

When you walked into the zoo, you were immediately met with a giant, colorful parrot fish named Priscilla.




The exhibit has since left the Smithsonian Zoo, but it is moving across the country and will even make a stop at the State Department here in D.C. Check out the website for details on where the Washed Ashore animals are going next. Here are some of my favorites.


SeeMore the Sea Lion Pup


SeeMore the Sea Lion Pup


Sebastian James the Puffin


Flash the Marlin


Lidia the Seal


Close-up of Lidia the Seal


Octavia the Octupus


Whale Bone Rib Cage


Smith’s Jelly

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Welcome to Pittsburgh!

After seven months of dating, M and I finally took a trip together. More accurately, I went to Pittsburgh for work and M tagged along. But we managed to squeeze in some tourist time – my first real tourist effort even though I’ve been to Pittsburgh a handful of times.

Here are some thoughts. Pittsburgh is hilly, folks! I’m going to have to get into some serious shape if we’re going to do more Pittsburgh exploring. Pittsburgh is also a growing, trending city. In the four years since I started working for a Pittsburgh-based company, I’ve watch the city change: Rising skyscrapers, new restaurants and hotels, hip neighborhoods flourishing in the place of hollowed-out factories. Just walking around with my camera in hand was entertaining enough for me.

My favorite building hands-down is the PPG Place – a multi-building complex that takes up six city blocks. The 19,750 pieces of glass offer stunning reflections of Pittsburgh, especially on a sunny day. 





There’s plenty of old-fashioned architecture too.




And opportunities for self-portraits abound.


We set aside one evening to take the cable car up the Duquesne Incline to the top of Mount Washington. The cliffside neighborhood offers stunning views of Pittsburgh’s many bridges.


Photo credits to M on this picture of the incline.


The glorious view that meets you at the top.






St. Mary’s on the Mount lit up as the sun dipped into the ground.



I dragged my tripod out for this view. Totally worth it.



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Part 8: Hiking Professor Creek

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point
Part 5: Canyons For As Far As The Eye Can See
Part 6: Waking Up At The Crack of Dawn To See Dawn
Part 7: Into The Fiery Furnace

With two national parks so accessible from Moab, it’s easy to ignore the rest of the surrounding area. But do so at your own loss! There are so many interesting sites and activities in the Moab region. From kayaking, to bike riding, to paddle boarding, to more hiking – there is something for everyone.

Our last day in Moab, we decided to wander off-the-beaten track. Our google research turned up the Professor Creek Hike (AKA Mary Jane Canyon), an 8 mile out-and-back hike through a small stream bed, deep into a canyon, and ending at a waterfall. When I say through a stream – I mean that literally. You WILL get wet. We found it impossible to stay dry, and 10 minutes into the hike, just gave into to the adventure.

At the same time, I recommend wearing some kind of sneaker and/or hiking shoe. The stream bed is very rocky and requires some maneuvering. You do not want to expose your toes to open rock, and some ankle support is helpful. We wore our regular sneakers and threw them in the wash when we got home from our trip.


Our sneakers at the end of the hike.

As we started hiking, we marveled at the natural beauty and the sense of solitude we felt. The cold water sloshing on our feet was refreshing as we melted under the hot sun.




This incredible structure overlooking Castle Valley is called the Priest and Nuns, for the obvious reason.




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About a mile and a half into he hike, the canyon walls start to rise. They continue to rise until you are hiking through a narrow slot which provides generous shade.





The hike ends when the stream bed collides with a sputtering waterfall. At that point the water is quite high.


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Part 7: Into the Fiery Furnace

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point
Part 5: Canyons For As Far As The Eye Can See
Part 6: Waking Up At The Crack of Dawn To See Dawn

Five months before we even landed in Colorado, my sister and I booked two spots on the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike in Arches National Park. While most of the hikes in the park are open to the public, Fiery Furnace is limited to a small group of people per day. According to the National Parks website, “The Fiery Furnace is a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls. To enter the Fiery Furnace, visitors must accompany a ranger-guided tour or obtain a hiking permit at the visitor center.”

The ranger-led hike is three hours long with many stops along the way to to talk about the geology and history of area. The website labels the hike “strenuous,” but I’m not exactly an Olympian and I was just fine. There are some tight spaces that involve a bit of scrambling, but those were my favorite parts!

The hike starts off with a scary sign and an introduction about the geology of the rock maze we’re about to enter. Confession: I spent more time taking pictures than listening…



Our group took a break when we reached the cave below, featuring a natural arch. The guide talked about… something… Honestly, I was just taking pictures.



I love the way the light peeks through the rocks.






We took another rest stop at this natural water hole and the double arches below. Our guide told us about all the different types of bugs that live in the water. He warned us not to step or fall into the hole, lest we kill all of the bugs.




We reach a particularly narrow stretch that involved some scrambling and creative maneuvering.


My sister captured me at my most graceful.




There were lizards everywhere.



At the end of the hike, as we emerged from the furnace, we are treated to a beautiful array of red rocks.



If you like guided hikes, Fiery Furnace is a must. If you get a little bored and prefer to roam on your own – like I – Fiery Furnace is still fun, and offers an exclusive peek into a different part of Arches National Park. Just remember: Book early. These tours get sold out! 

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Happy Birthday!

Crap, has it been a year already?


Here’s the one nice part about getting older. It is the only way for things to change. For wounds to heal, for memories to fade, for new people and opportunities to present themselves. This year came along when I desperately needed something in my life to change. So I am happy to be older, happy to look back on the past year and remember all the amazing, new things.

I am happily in a new relationship with the wonderful M. Most importantly, my almost-four-year-old niece has given M her imprimatur of approval. I literally traveled around the world to Vietnam with one of my best friends and added two new national parks to my list (Arches and Canyonlands) with my sister. Finally, I have a bunch of exciting trips to look forward to, from Spain to Cleveland to a potential trip to Cuba (!!!!).

M and I - baseball game

Our first baseball game together. Cubs vs. Nats. Cubs win!

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Lisa and I laughing it up in Vietnam.

Life is far from perfect. There are stressful, difficult, blah-filled days. Like every human being, I worry about mundane things and big life things. There are things I should worry about, but stupidly push them to the space in my head where thoughts magically disappear. I struggle to remind myself that I can’t control everything and everyone (though the world would be a better place if I could). But….I am affirmatively happy. It is amazing how one person can change so much. I am thankful for that gift every single day. And I am looking forward to the many things M and I plan to share together. Especially the end of this oppressive heat wave. Until then, I am ensconced in my woman cave and have no intention of leaving.

Here’s to another year. And here’s to me.



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Part #6: Waking Up at the Crack of Dawn to See Dawn

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point
Part 5: Canyons For As Far As The Eye Can See

We were determined to see sunrise at least once on our Utah trip. Really, really determined.

So we set our alarms for 4 a.m. We snoozed once, cracked our eyes open, and groaned.

“Do you want to get up?” I mumbled.

“Whatever you want,” my sister mumbled back.

I contemplated closing my eyes and falling into an oh-so-tempting sleep. And then I thought of those magnificent pictures of Utah’s arches ablaze in the rising sun you see in every gift shop, and I said, “let’s go.”

Spoiler alert: My pictures do not look like the famous photos you see in National Geographic. Sigh. I think we misjudged exactly where the sun would be relative to the arches. That, and I’m not actually a professional photographer. But waking up at the crack of dawn is a good way to get pictures of Moab’s famous arches without a throng of tourists in the way.





You can see the moon!





In order to get a shot Turret Arch framed by the North Window, I had to do some tricky climbing to a spot behind the Windows. Probably not the smartest thing, but I survived in one piece.





And of course, goofy, I’m-exhausted-and-can’t-be-held-responsible-for-my-actions pictures.



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Part #5: Canyons For As Far As the Eye Can See

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point

Canyonlands National Park is home to, well, canyons. It is much larger than Arches and much less populated. The park offers many hikes, mountain biking trails, and off-road routes. But we were dead tired after our hike around Dead Horse Point State Park, and all I really wanted to see was Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch is one of Utah’s famous arches, dressing the walls of many a Moab hotel (including our own).

You might be wondering, how many pictures can one person take of a single arch? Wonder no more. The answer is: A sh*t ton of pictures. That’s how many.

It’s a short quarter of a mile hike to the arch. Calling it a hike is a bit generous, but it is uphill. And then all of a sudden – bam – there it is. Miraculous and captivating. By mid-afternoon, the sky had turned a stormy grey/purple which made for a dramatic scene through the window of Mesa Arch.








After Mesa Arch, we made a short stop at Grand View Point Overlook before heading back to our hotel. I’ve seen a lot of canyons in my travels, and sometimes, they blur one into the next. But Grand View Point Overlook offers a unique view of Canyonlands. We were exhausted, but it was definitely worth the drive.





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Part #4: Hiking Dead Horse Point

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch

On our second day in Moab, we headed west of Arches National Park to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park. Dead Horse Point State Park is a hidden gem. It’s not one of the major national parks advertised in all the magazines, but it’s beautiful and feral, and we had it all to ourselves.

Once we entered the park, we got a map from the visitor center and settled on a five-mile loop around the park. The hiking is easy to moderate at an altitude of 5,900 feet, but little elevation change. The most difficult part of the hike is the constant maneuvering from cairn to cairn, with the occasional rock scramble. As we hiked, we were rewarded with vast and stunning views of the Colorado River as it winds its way through never-ending canyons.

Dead Horse Map

As we set out, the first thing we noticed was the electric blue water in the distance. It looks supernatural, almost like an alien colony. Sadly, it’s not that exciting. The blue water is a potash mine. Miners pump water into the ground, bringing potash ore to the surface in a potassium-filled brine. As the water evaporates,  salt crystals form. The water is dyed a bright blue to speed up the evaporation process, which takes about 300 days. Dark water absorbs more sunlight and facilitates evaporation.

That’s a lot of science when I really mean to say, the views were amazing. The electric blue water contrasted brilliantly with the deep red canyons and the occasionally stormy clouds.








My love affair with Utah’s stark, half-dead trees continued. As did my sister’s teasing laughter.



A little less than halfway through the hike, we reached Dead Horse Point – the point where the Colorado River curves around the canyon. The sweeping views are breathtaking. (As an aside, “breathtaking” describes pretty much every single sight on our Utah trip to the point of being utterly trite.)




A picture of our faithful cairns. There’s a very good chance we would have hiked straight into the canyon without our trusty cairns guiding us. They were not always easy to spot!


Dead Horse State Park is a short 37 minutes from Moab and on the way to Canyonlands National Park. If you’re looking for a strenuous calorie-burning hike, Dead Horse Point will fall short. But if you want to have a massive canyon to yourself while getting some moderate exercise, this park will hit the spot.


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Spain, Here We Come


I finally have a big trip booked and placed on the calendar. With the crazy election cycle this year, I haven’t taken a big trip since Vietnam in November. There was a short jaunt to southern Utah over Memorial Day weekend, and a few weekend trips planned to various U.S. cities revolving around work. But you know that adrenalin pumping, saliva watering sensation when you book the flights for a big trip? I finally have that feeling.

I asked M where he’d like to go and he picked Spain. Being the art aficionado that he is, that makes perfect sense. He’s dying to spend hours (if not days) in the Prado in Madrid. We are both fascinated by religious history and can’t wait to hit up Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. And I can’t wait to see the crazy modern Gaudi houses in Barcelona.

We will start in Barcelona, make an oddly shaped U down to Andalucia, and end in Madrid. The map below shows our basic itinerary with potential side trips included.

I booked an amazing business class flight from Washington, D.C. to Barcelona on American Airlines. It costs 115,000 miles (57,500 per person) and a mere 11 dollars. Even better, we fly out of DCA – only 10 minutes from my apartment. There are no direct flights to Spain from DC (who knew?), so we have a short stopover in JFK.

M has never flown in business class so I am over the moon about sharing this experience with him. That American has an amazing business class product will make this trip that much sweeter.


Our flight home is less than ideal, but we were dealing with mileage constraints and limited award inventory since it’s Christmas week. I booked two economy seats on Lufthansa for 60,000 United miles and $142 via Frankfurt. Not the best flight, but pennies compared to what a ticket would cost.

And now comes the fun part – the planning. The hotels, the trains, the sights, the little off-the-beaten track stores and markets – I love the process of putting a trip together.

There are so many things we want to see and so many parts of Spain we had to leave off the list. We are not so young that we can hop from city to city every day, and we both like to travel at a more leisurely pace – getting to know the nooks and crannies of cities apart from the major tourist attractions. And so I crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and a ferry to Morocco off of our list, and M begrudgingly acknowledged that we probably won’t make it to Aragon. We will just have to come back a second time!

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