National Harbor, Maryland

Scenes in National Harbor, Maryland

While the east coast of the U.S. is known for having beautiful sunrises, anyone who has visited the west coast will say the sunsets here pale in comparison to those in west coast cities like San Diego. 

This adage was proven wrong during my recent visit to National Harbor, Maryland, part of the greater Washington, D.C. area. I was in National Harbor for my first in-person professional development conference since February of 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down.

During our brief stay in this 300-acre waterfront development along the Potomac River, I had a chance to see for myself why Expedia has ranked National Harbor as one of “The Best Places to Catch Astounding Sunsets” in the United States.

With views of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Washington monument, National Harbor is packed with 40 restaurants, a marina, public art displays, the largest casino outside of Las Vegas, and attractions such as an outdoor theater, and a 36-foot carousel. The area even has a circus.

My personal favorite thing to do was ride the Capital Wheel. This 15-minute experience takes riders 180 feet into the air, treating them to unique waterfront views of Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. 

Like the professional development opportunity that brought me to the area, the Capital Wheel ride provided me with a much-needed lift and a new perspective. When I was firmly back on the ground, I was inspired to capture the scenery around the Wheel in a different way.

Sierra Nevada Brewery Tour

A collage of five images from the brewery tour. Collage includes a hand holding hops, the front of the brewery building, a copper kettle, beer making equipment and beer glasses.
From holding hops to watching ingredients spin around in copper kettles, the Beyond the Pale tour of the Sierra Nevada Craft Brewery immerses visitors in the beer-making process.

You would probably be hard-pressed to find someone who likes beer less than I do. Despite not being a beer drinker, I truly enjoyed the “Beyond the Pale” tour that gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at the Sierra Nevada Craft Brewery in Mills River, N.C.

Our visit to the Sierra Nevada property was part of a long weekend trip we recently took to Asheville, N.C.

The 90-minute tour begins with a video telling the story of Ken Grossman, who created the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and founded what has now become a global brand. 

It was fascinating to hear about the obstacles he overcame to launch the company. For example, he welded together spare parts from an old dairy farm to create one of the first incarnations of the brewery.

From there, we walked the halls where the hops are stored and had the chance to touch, smell, and hold these key ingredients in our hands.

We heard about the intricate process that makes great beer as we peered into the quality control lab, watched as the ingredients spun inside the copper kettles used as part of the process, and looked inside the packing area.

We finished in the tasting room and had the opportunity to sample 8 different kinds of beer. 

Craft beer aficionados (like my husband) will love this tour. As for me, I enjoyed learning about the science involved in making the beer. As a marketer in my professional life, I appreciated the storytelling, branding, and experiential marketing on display throughout the tour and the property. And, I always enjoy a new place to practice my photography skills.

The metallic and glass surfaces of the brewing equipment posed a challenge, as did the limited amount of time available to set up for shots. I minimized reflections by shooting without a flash and finding creative angles. I was also selective in the shots I took to avoid holding up the tour or missing out on some of the experience.

To sign up for your tour, visit this site.

The Glorious Views of Asheville, N.C.

Located in the western part of N.C., Asheville is one of the most diverse and scenic cities in the state. Its location along the Blue Ridge Mountain range makes it a popular fall destination for tourists looking to see beautiful fall foliage.

A 4-hour drive from where I live, we have been able to make a few weekend trips in late fall to Asheville over the years, visiting the famous Lake Lure, where scenes from one of my favorite movies were filmed. We have also toured America’s largest residence Biltmore Estate, climbed to the top of Chimney Rock, and explored downtown Asheville, which is home to the Asheville Art Museum, one of the oldest art museums in the state.

For the first time this year, my family had the opportunity to spend a long weekend in Asheville during the spring. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given the city’s reputation as a destination for seeing peak fall color. I learned the Asheville area is a great place to visit any time of year. From layered mountain sunsets to hidden waterfalls, we were treated to glorious views. 

Our trip included a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, downtown Asheville, a visit to the Flowering Bridge in Lake Lure, and a landscape photography lesson in the Blue Ridge Mountains with WNC Photo Tours.

More in-depth posts showing behind the scenes of Sierra Nevada Brewery and lessons I learned from my lesson with the amazing J, founder and owner of WNC Photo Tours, will be added to the blog soon.

For now, I wanted to share a few quick scenes from one of my favorite N.C. cities.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden

My husband and I are always looking out for nearby locales we can explore together and feed my photography habit. As long-time residents of the city and frequent explorers of local parks, museums, and arboretums, it is hard for us to find previously undiscovered places.

A few weekends ago, we were thrilled to find out about Juniper Level Botanic Garden, a place we’d never heard of before, on our local TV station’s list of top public gardens in the area.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden is a 28-acre research, educational, and display garden, located in the southern part of the county, about 20 miles from downtown Raleigh. Plant Delights Nursery, which funds the garden, is located on the same property.

After making a spontaneous trek out to JLBG, we learned that visits are typically scheduled in advance unless it is an open garden day. We were lucky that there were no other events happening on the premises and the friendly front desk staff accommodated us.

The garden and nursery are quite impressive, with a rock garden, several water features, lots of sitting areas, and a gorgeous array of unique flowers and plants.

It would be generous to call us even beginning-level gardeners, but we both have an appreciation for plants and the hard work it takes to maintain landscapes. We left the premises with a plethora of imagery and a catalog chock full of information to help us learn more about the plants that thrive in our region.

JLBG is committed to expanding knowledge of horticulture through research and classes dedicated to raising awareness of best practices and dispelling gardening misinformation. Many of their lectures are available on the Plant Delights Youtube channel.

San Diego, California

A cliff overlooking the aqua and navy blue water of the Pacific Ocean.

La Jolla, California

Traveling has always been a priority for our family of three. As someone from a small town who had barely left my home state before going to college, I wanted my daughter to grow up knowing through first-hand experience that the world is vastly bigger than her immediate day-to-day surroundings.

Beginning when she was four years old, we started planning summer adventures in the U.S. and abroad. Our travels have included Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Jamaica.

Since 2020, the pandemic has forced us to take a hiatus from our annual summer trips. As we look forward to possibly traveling again this summer, this post reflects on our last family trip in July 2019. 

San Diego, California was our destination. We unknowingly booked the trip for dates that coincided with the last few days of ComicCon. We were thrilled, upon our arrival, to get a flavor of the hoopla surrounding this international event. During our stay, we visited the famous San Diego Zoo, took a day trip to La Jolla, and went to a Padres game, our first-ever Major League Baseball game.

Sunset at San Diego State Park

Besides glimpses of ComicCon and experiencing one of the best zoos in the world, I will never forget the incredible sunsets we saw. This trip was my first time visiting the West Coast of the U.S. – and I’d always heard about the epic sunsets there. The nightly sunset views from Coronado Island where we stayed, and from Pacific Beach, where we went to see the sun set over the famous cliffs, were some of the best I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime.

To see more views of San Diego, check out the San Diego gallery on my photography web site.

What I Learned in My First 6 Months of Blogging

This month, I am celebrating my 6-month anniversary as a book and photography blogger. Sixty posts, 2,012 views, and 880 visitors later, what do I have to show for this milestone?

Well, I’ve had fun, explored my creative side, and made lots of connections with other writers, book lovers, bloggers, and photographers. But, most importantly for you, I’ve learned a few lessons you can benefit from if you’re planning to start a new blog or relaunch a stalled one.

So, before I break out the balloons and champagne to celebrate, here are a few words of advice for you.

Have some content banked before you start.

My bank of original photos has been a source of inspiration for post ideas.

At first, you are likely to be bursting with ideas and energy for your new blog. That’s a great place to be in, but be sure to pace yourself with posts. Resist the urge to post everything you create immediately and bank some of those ideas and posts for later. Trust me – you are going to hit a time when you’re short on inspiration or time to create new posts and you’re going to need to draw on your content bank in order to be consistent with your posting. When those times have hit for me, I have been grateful to have had a reserve of book reviews and photography to lean on.

Just start.

This one is for all of the overthinkers and over-analyzers out there who have a tendency to get stuck revving your engine at the starting line. Don’t wait until you have years and years of content stored up or until some magical date in the distant future. Why? The danger of waiting too long is that you run the risk of never getting started – and it would be a loss for your audiences not to get to read your perspective. This almost happened to me. I first had the idea for a blog in the mid-2000s but was overwhelmed by the idea of starting. I sometimes wonder where my blog would be had I just jumped in then. Don’t wait for the perfect time to get started – just get going already.

Speaking of perfection – it is highly overrated.

There will be things you can’t get perfect at first, no matter how hard you try. You may want to get into blogging because of a love of writing and connecting with others, but your technical skills aren’t the best. Or maybe you love showing off your web development and design skills but the writing part doesn’t come naturally.  For me, I struggle with troubleshooting formatting issues in WordPress. If I waited until I could figure out how to fix every minor alignment issue before posting, I’d never get anything posted. I’ve had to learn to get posts up to the best of my ability and accept I will make mistakes and that’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. The only way to get better at the parts that are a struggle is to do them.

For the wanna-be bloggers who haven’t taken the leap, what’s holding you back?

For the more experienced bloggers out there, what would you add? 

My Happy Place

A small wooden pier with a yellow, peach and turquoise sunrise sky overhead.

It only takes a few seconds of looking through my galleries, posts, or feeds to discern that I’m a fan of the beach. Sunrise or sunset, winter or warm weather – it doesn’t matter the season or hour. All are good times for strolling the shore, snapping pics, and clearing my mind.

When I’m struggling mentally, there’s something about looking at the vastness of the ocean and hearing the sound of the waves that puts everything in perspective for me. If it is an injection of wonder or joy I need, I can usually spot an energetic dog or free-spirited toddler frolicking on the beach.

The beach has also proven to be a source of creative inspiration. Beach sunrises, sunsets, and waves have been obvious catalysts for interesting – and commercially successful – photos that have caught the attention of buyers and national outlets like The Weather Channel. 

A Christmas tree made out of sand. It is decorated with red and tan seashells and a starfish on top.
Impromptu beach scene featured on social media

Things like piers, seagulls, shells, clouds over the water, palm trees, ships, random sandcastles, and even thick fog have also provided an endless source of photo inspiration. One of my most successful photos on social media was an impromptu capture of a small sand structure shaped like a Christmas tree and decorated with seashells.

Time by the ocean has also inspired my writing, my career, and other creative endeavors. The name of my blog came to me and my husband during a long walk on the beach last summer. Laying on the beach has also sparked ideas for essays, marketing strategies, and articles.

I am fortunate to live within a two-hour drive of the beach, so it’s an easy day trip if I’m in desperate need of a few hours in my happy place. But, even if I can’t physically get to the shore, I’ve found that looking at photos or watching videos from previous trips can have a similar effect.

Where is your “happy place”? Wherever that place is, I hope you get to spend time there soon.

Why Photography is a Great Hobby

In honor of National Hobby Month, this post explains why photography is one of the best hobbies you can choose. Whether you are looking for a new pastime or you need more reasons to justify your photography obsession, this post can help.

Here are four reasons why photography is one of the best hobbies for anyone:

  1. Photography can be done anywhere.
Pink gladiolas against a blue sky.
Backyard photo inspiration

From still life indoors to people walking on the street to the small wonders of nature, everyday life offers an endless source of photo inspiration. The flowers in my backyard, my goofy dog, and even my bookshelves have made great photography subjects when I couldn’t leave home to take pictures.

And, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. Most smartphones come with excellent digital cameras and basic editing tools built-in. Be sure to check out my tips on getting the most from your smartphone camera!

  1. Taking photos for fun relieves stress.

Taking photos can be a great stress reliever. Nothing gets you out of your own head faster than looking through a lens. Getting behind the camera forces you to be in the moment and observe what is around you. Anxiety over impossible deadlines, paying bills, or the dumb thing you said at work gets drowned out by focusing on capturing the scene in front of you. 

Close up of a magnolia blossom
Photo from a lunchtime walk to destress from work.

For me personally, relieving stress has been the biggest benefit of taking up photography. If I’ve had a bad day at work, heading outside with my camera helps me leave the stress behind. There’s something about capturing a breathtaking sunset, an expansive sunflower field, or the delicateness of a magnolia blossom that helps me put everything in perspective.

  1. Images give you a way to express yourself.

Humans are creative beings and we all have stories to tell. Photography is a fantastic way to express yourself and tell these stories. Color choices, framing, lighting, composition, and editing are just a few of the tools you can experiment with to give others a window into how you see the world. 

I tend to have a positive outlook on life and I enjoy spreading happiness and cheer. This worldview is expressed in my photography through bold, brightly colored landscapes and images that capture small moments of joy.

  1. It pairs well with other interests.

Like fine wine pairs with cheese, photography goes well with so many other hobbies, skills, and interests. Whether you like to hike, write, or travel, photography can enhance your existing passion or talent. 

Photography has been the perfect companion hobby for one of my other hobbies–writing. Writing has been a lifelong hobby of mine, but I was finding it challenging to find a regular outlet to exercise my writing muscles. I was also having trouble finding new ideas for things to write about. My photography explorations have inspired writing prompts. Sharing my photography has also given me the chance to build new writing skills through drafting captions, alt tag descriptions, social media promo text, and blog posts.

Similarly, if you travel, birdwatch, or hike for fun, photography can help you capture and preserve the sights you see.

For the photography lovers out there, what reason would you add? 

And for those who want to take up photography but haven’t yet, what’s stopping you?

Sunday Scene: Chinese Lantern Festival

One of the things I love most about being a photographer is the new experiences it has brought me and my family. 

Over the last two years, the three of us have sought out and visited state parks, nature preserves, and historic sites that we wouldn’t have otherwise visited so I could refine my photography skills. 

The Chinese Lantern Festival in my home state is the most recent example of an opportunity we wouldn’t have considered before my photography obsession.

My husband, who accompanies me on almost all of my photoshoots, read about the exhibit online and thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to practice my nighttime photography. 

I am grateful he bought tickets for us during the recent holiday break. We were blown away by the incredible artistry in these magnificent displays crafted from silk by Chinese artisans.

I especially loved the variety of structures, which included butterflies, peacocks, sea turtles, and a dragon, and how the bold colors of the lanterns glow against the dark night sky. It was an immersive, magical experience we were fortunate to enjoy on an unseasonably warm winter night.

What kinds of new adventures have you had because of your hobby?

Best Sunsets of 2021

Photography has helped me realize that no matter what happens, I have the opportunity to experience a beautiful ending every day by watching the sunset.

Each one of these nightly displays is different. Some are soft and subtle, while others are bold and brilliant. My personal favorites are the deeply dramatic ones. But, every one of these daily closings is remarkable in its own way.

As we say farewell to 2021, I wanted to share some of the best goodbyes I have had the chance to witness this year. All photos were taken by me with a Canon Rebel T7i.