Photo Adventure: New Toys!

1 Mar

My brother (the great enabler of all things involving photography) gave me new toys for the holidays.


I was excited to play with them, but I was hopelessly lost at first. (After several minutes of struggle, I finally realized why I couldn’t get any of my new filters to attach to the lens; there was already a UV filter on it. Yes, I’ve had this camera for two years. No, I never noticed it before.) I’m going to be the first to admit that I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am having fun.


Half Dome through a fisheye lens


El Capitan and the Three Brothers with a wide-angle lens


Yosemite Falls and the Merced River with a ND8 Filter (I think.)


El Capitan, with orange and blue filters


El Capitan and the Three Brothers, with fisheye? wide-angle? I don’t know.


Tenaya Creek. I’m not even going to try and guess what I used here.

I still have a bunch of macro lenses to play with!


Photo Adventure: Death Valley

24 Jan


Hey, remember when I came back from vacation three months ago and I was all excited to blog about it, but instead of posting I dropped off the face of the earth instead?

Yeah. Sorry about that.

However, I did have a wild time in Death Valley (those are the salt flats at Bad Water above) and I still want to share my pictures. There are lots.

Scotty’s Castle


In retrospect Scotty’s Castle was a weird place to start my Death Valley trip because I came to the park expecting rugged desert scenery and instead found myself wandering through a pristine dessert mansion. However, the story of Death Valley Scotty and Albert Johnson is wonderfully entertaining, and the house tour was one of the best National Park Service tours I’ve been on.


Ubehebe Crater


I had only a little time at Ubehebe before the sun went down, but the hike around the crater is easy and the scenery is amazing.





Fall Canyon


I took a short hike in Fall Canyon on the recommendation of a park ranger. It piqued my interest because I’d never seen a box canyon before. It was cool, but slightly creepy. Every time my feet shifted a rock the sound would echo back from the canyon walls. This was particularly alarming, since I’m used to being on constant alert for rockfall. I was acutely aware that I was alone in a fairly remote spot. It also didn’t help that, for some weird reason, I kept imagining the Sand People hiding around every bend. (Thanks a lot,  George Lucas.) I didn’t make it all the way to the dry falls, but I would love to go back and explore the canyon again with a friend.


The alluvial fan at the bottom of the canyon.



Because Fall Canyon cuts through several rock layers, the occasional flash flood has deposited a rainbow of rocks on the canyon floor.

Mesquite Flat Dunes


I spent way more time at the sand dunes than I intended, and looking back at my pictures and paintings, apparently became temporarily obsessed with line and texture.






(The sunset colors weren’t too shabby either.)


Wildrose was easily my favorite part of the park. Although I saw more people there than I did at Fall Canyon, this section of the park seemed more remote, and very wild. It also had the best night sky viewing I have ever seen.







A California Christmas

24 Dec

This will be my first year spending Christmas in California.  Since I’ve moved here, I had a job that allowed me to travel home for two weeks every year at Christmas.  I recently got a new job (which I love) so now I only get Christmas Day off and I decided not to try asking for more time off after only three months.  I guess because I’m spending the actual holiday here, I’ve been noticing the more distinct ways Californians celebrate the season.

1. Rain is an acceptably dangerous meteorological condition for staying off the roads.  Fog counts, too.

2. You can go kayaking to look at Christmas lights.  And decide that the jacket you wore might be a bit too warm.


3. There’s a minor earthquake and people talk about it for about five minutes before forgetting it ever happened.

4. You insist on wearing a jacket, scarf, and hat while sipping a peppermint mocha even though it’s pushing 75.

5. When you say you’ll miss having a white Christmas, someone suggests going to the mountains.

6. All the amusement parks are open and decorated for the holiday.


7. You don’t have to juggle your giant winter coat while ice skating across a frozen parking lot to do your last minute shopping.

8. Every house has a fire in their fireplace.  Seriously, most people I know in Ohio don’t even have a fireplace.  My apartment here has a fireplace.

9. Tamales are a common Christmas dinner.

10. People decorate their boats.  And parade them past people who can’t afford boats.  It’s very jolly.

11. Every now and then shopping centers will erupt in fake snow.


Wherever you are this Christmas, have a happy one.  I’ll leave you with a kind of melancholy Christmas song that Robin shared with me this week.

~ April

Photo Adventure: Aspens

29 Nov

I came back from vacation all excited to share my adventures and then, well, November happened.

I don’t know how all those NaNoWriMo writers do it. I would love to join in and churn out a novel one November but ever since my freshman year of college November always blurs past in a streak of papers, finals, meetings, seminars, long work days, and minimal daylight hours. This year I’m barely managing a blog post.

So, my apologies for being late, but here are a few photos from my October adventures in the Eastern Sierra. You may notice a theme.


Aspens at June Lake


More Aspens at June Lake (Also doesn’t this picture remind you of The Road Not Taken?)


Kelsey and Rebecca Among the Aspens


Aspens at Convict Lake


More Aspens at Convict Lake


Aspen Leaves on the Shore of Convict Lake (Also, More Aspens on the Opposite Shore)


Aspens From the Ground Up


Devil’s Post Pile; Cool, but Sadly Lacking in Aspens


Five Positive Things You Can Do to Prevent Vandalism in National Parks

1 Nov

I went away on vacation and I have about a billion things to share about it, but while I was gone my feed went crazy with this story.

A woman from New York used her Instagram account to show off a series of paintings she left on natural features in several National Parks across the western United States. While her act of vandalism is deeply disappointing, the thing that horrified me more were the comments left on blog articles advocating for punishments that are far more heinous than any act of vandalism.

The bloggers who originally reported the story have asked that the internet focus its efforts on being more positive, and I agree. So here’s my contribution:

5 Positive Things you can do to prevent vandalism in National Parks


Graffiti in Golden Gate National Recreation Area

1. Learn how to take care of the places you visit.

There is a brilliant set of ethics for minimizing impact in nature called Leave No Trace. If you already know about it, great! However, realize that the way they are applied can vary from place to place. The best practice in one park may not be accepted in another. Learn how to practice Leave No Trace in each park you visit. The park rangers I know would instantly love any visitor who came up them to ask how they could do this.

2. Donate to friends groups.

The National Park Service has been hit hard by the sequester, which means less money is available for projects and staff that could prevent vandalism. Fortunately, most major parks have non-profit organizations that help raise money for specific projects. Here in the park I love, the Yosemite Conservancy sponsored a project to restore an area impacted by eco-graffiti. If your favorite park doesn’t have its own friends group consider a donation to the National Parks Conservation Association.

3. Encourage others to care about parks.

We need more people who care about our parks, and for that to happen we need more people to have meaningful experiences in them. So take someone you love to your favorite place and teach them how to take care of it.

4. Pick up trash, even if it’s not yours.

There is a controversial idea called broken window theory. It suggests that trash and broken windows creates the appearance of disorder, and invites more crime. Although it originated in urban areas, the same idea is often applied in parks. The thought goes, a place impacted by litter makes people think that no one cares, or that it’s OK to leave trash or graffiti. Whether you agree or disagree with broken window theory, cleaning up trash is an under-appreciated way to have a positive impact. By picking up litter, you are setting a good example, for others and possibly inspiring them to more positive actions, and preventing further damage.  Additionally, if you want to serve parks in a more structured activity you can participate as a National Parks volunteer.

5. If you see something wrong, speak up, but do so gently.

Have you ever been yelled at in a way that made you want to just keep doing whatever it was that you were being yelled at for?

I firmly believe that most of the people doing damage to our national parks don’t realize that is what they are doing. They don’t understand the impact their actions have on the ecosystems or on other people’s experiences.

Studies in Petrified Forest and other parks have found that park signs phrased with a message that highlights positive behaviors are more effective than signs phrased negatively. (“Please stay on the trail.” vs. “Please don’t go off the trail.”)

So rather than getting angry with these visitors, approach from a positive place. “Isn’t great we have this beautiful place? When you paint on the rocks it makes it look less wild, less scenic. Please leave it as you found it.” If you can’t do something like this without getting angry and yelling, you are probably going to be more effective by reporting the behavior to a ranger.

The outpouring of comments on this story shows that people really do care about parks. But if we care about our parks there is more we should be doing than being belligerent in the comments section on news articles. So if you care, really care, about our nation’s parks, please, start advocating for them and set a good example when you visit them.


P.S. On a related note, more recently there was another incident in Yosemite where social media was used to prosecute illegal activities in the park.

Wedding Craftiness

13 Oct

When we started planning our wedding, I was most excited about all the crafty projects I would get to work on.  Okay, that and marrying the love of my life, but let’s focus on what’s important here. I feel pretty privileged to have planned a wedding in the age of Pinterest.  I’m not even sure what people did way back in early 2010 before it arrived on the scene.  Naively, I thought that since we weren’t planning to have ice sculptures and fire dancers, putting a wedding together would be pretty straightforward, but sometime between the millionth paper flower and the fourth out-of-budget dress, I realized that even without those extras, planning a wedding is still planning probably the largest party of your life.  And it’s a lot of work to entertain, feed and decorate for so many people, especially with pretty much everyone one you talk to subtly, or not so subtly, hinting that you’re doing it all wrong.

Luckily, even with the stress of the event that I tried so hard to avoid, I absolutely loved our wedding.  Besides being surrounded by loved ones, I was also pretty proud of all the DIY projects we worked on.  We ended up turning an Elks Lodge into an outdoorsy retreat.

All the pictures in this post were taken by our awesome photographer Richard Fadera from Shuttered Light, unless otherwise noted.

Greg and April

One of the things I was happiest with were the bouquets.  I knew I wanted to do paper flowers, even though some of the succulent bouquets were pretty tempting.  I had all of the bridesmaids tell me what their favorite books were and I used them in the bouquets.  I used this tutorial.  We had some great moments like The Red Wedding, the black speech of Mordor and various other wedding-inappropriate passages.  My mom helped me make the flowers and Amanda, my maid of honor helped assemble them the night before.  I purchased ferns, baby’s breath and lemon leaves from Blooms by the Box.

Copyright Richard Fadera, Shuttered Light

For the fathers and groomsmen, I made little buds with a burlap leaf wrapped with twine.  The groom’s flower was made from lego instructions.  The mothers got corsages made from a fabric flower with a burlap and lace leaf attached to a ribbon.  The bridesmaids and flower girls had the same kind of flower in their hair.

Greg and April

After a few frustrating conversations about our hatred of ring bearer’s pillows we finally bought a piece of wood (used for smoking on the grill) from World Market and my husband wood burned it with our initials.  I decided against a wedding band because I like my woodsy fair trade engagement ring too much.  His ring has a meteorite band through it.

Greg and April

My husband is a Lego fan so we wanted the Lego cake topper, but he kept worrying that it would look cheesy.  Instead of leaving it as it was, he wrapped the cardboard arch it comes with in twine and added the lego flowers.  We also switched the lego people’s heads so they looked more like us.  You can’t see it, but he’s holding a lightsaber.  I have the One Ring.

Greg and April

The letters were painted by my mother-in-law for my bridal shower.  My husband made the hobbit sign as a surprise (it’s still in our living room) and he made the wooden trees (sequoias and pines) that were on every table.  His nephew even collected pinecones for us.  There are a few sequoia pinecones courtesy of Robin, but they were responsibly removed NOT from National Park land.  We’re good stewards. :)


We didn’t get professional pictures of the favors, but we had napkins that my husband’s aunt and sister spent all day sewing while we went cake tasting.  We tagged them with a note like this.  One Saturday, my sister-in-law and I spent the day making and decorating tree cookies for all the guests.  Turns out, people don’t think they’re Christmas trees if you serve them in August.

There were tons more things… bags I made for the bridesmaids, the starry backdrop behind the head table, the save the dates and invitations, the National Park signs at all the tables… Not to mention the alterations Robin did on her dress!  We just couldn’t capture it all, but I think every detail was worth it.  Even if we didn’t have an ice sculpture.  Now, who’s getting married next?  Pinterest is still full of ideas and I think I’m about ready to get started crafting again.

Greg and April


~ April

Sexy McGregor

4 Oct


The inspiration for this concoction came, oddly enough, from one of Rebecca’s students, who informed her that in Scotland banana boats are filled with Bailey’s Irish Cream instead of the typical chocolate and marshmallows.

We thought this was a swell idea and gave it a try. Unfortunately this resulted in a smokey mess, and let me tell you, the odor of burned Irish Cream is as tragic as it is acrid. Fortunately for everyone, we didn’t give up and instead tried heating the ingredients together in a double boiler. Somewhere in the process we decided to add chocolate and dump the concoction over ice cream and the results were, well…


It was like a night of romance in a highland castle with a tall, dark, kilted, stranger who is quite possibly named something like “Duncan Fionnlagh McGregor.*” Our friend Margaret dubbed it the “Sexy McGregor” and by that name it shall forever be known.


Sexy McGregor
Two bananas, chopped
1/2 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/4 cup chocolate chips and/or chocolate sauce (optional)
Ice cream (Also optional. We won’t judge if we catch you eating it with a spoon if you promise to return the favor.)


Combine bananas, Bailey’s, and chocolate in a double boiler. Stir until the concoction gets bubbly and your knees go weak with desire. Dump over ice cream immediately. (Or if you have the patience and chastity of a nun, chill and serve later.)


The version of this with melted chocolate chips doesn’t look as pretty, but it’s good enough to give you a case of the vapors.


My #HeForShe Moment

25 Sep

Even though I absolutely love my job, I try not to talk about it much on this blog. I’m going to break that self imposed rule for a moment because something happened a few weeks ago that was so positive and inspiring that I wanted to share it. I put it off for awhile because I couldn’t find the right words. Then this week my Facebook feed exploded with posts about Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N.

I knew I had to sit down at the computer and wring the words out somehow, because what I was trying to say so closely echoed her purpose.

It happened at a staff training, and the topic was how to deal with difficult clients. We shared difficult situations we had experienced with clients and gave each other feed back. As you may have guessed already, we are a touchy-feely let’s-talk-about-our-feelings and hug-it-out kind of group.

While the training didn’t provided a thunderstruck revelation, I walked away from it with new ideas. Then, as the session ended and we transitioned into other topics, Steve, one of the men I work with, raised his hand. I can’t quote his exact words but what he said was essentially this:

“I just want to recognize, especially for the other guys here, that many of the women who work in this organization have had their authority questioned or diminished by clients because they are women. It’s not something that I know how to fix, but it’s something we should be aware of and try to think of ways to work together and be allies for them.”

I was floored. Here’s why.

First of all, even as a woman and fairly well informed feminist, gender was the last thing on my mind. It was clear that the most upsetting situations I had been in were when clients questioned my judgement, ignored me, or dismissed several years worth of experience. These were the events that stuck with me, that still made me feel lousy months later. At the time I even noticed that some of these clients interacted differently with my male colleagues. Yet when we discussed how to work with these clients, my focus became what I should have done differently, and not that I was treated differently.

More importantly, I was floored because even though I hang out with a touchy-feely crowd that values diversity, I had never heard a man that I actually know speak up for women like this. It’s not that my male friends or co-workers don’t say positive things about women, but it was the first time I’ve heard one of them speak up to acknowledge gender inequality.

Steve seemed nervous to broach this topic, uncertain and careful of the words he chose. And while I can’t speak for them, I don’t think it sounded like he was accusing the men I work of having it easy. He didn’t use that horrible, loaded, gut wrenching word “privilege.” Yet he acknowledged that inequality exists, and that some of the solutions offered in our training wouldn’t be effective if screwy gender dynamics were working against you.

Then he encouraged us to challenge that. He didn’t say that the women needed to just work harder to get along with difficult clients, or that the men we work with should step in and fix it for them. He invited everyone to fight this problem together.

His handful of carefully chosen words couldn’t go back in time and change the actions of these clients, but they did make me feel better. And they open up the possibility that in the future I (and my co-workers) would be more understanding when we see someone struggling with sexist clients.

And, damnit, being touchy-feely doesn’t mean that we aren’t smart. Even if we don’t find a magical solution that fixes the problem, I feel better knowing that our brilliant collective mind is working on it.

So, why did I feel the need to share this?

In part because I hate the word “privilege,” and the confrontational ways it is often addressed. I think it’s important thing to be aware of, but I want to see how we talk about it change because, frankly, phrases like “unpack your privilege,” make me want to run away screaming. I really admire how Steve managed to acknowledge privilege in a gentle way. Rather than shutting people down, his comments created further discussion and they also made me reflect on my own privilege.

I also wanted to share because I have felt crushing frustration after seeing the ugly backlash against women and feminists. The positive words of a single individual might be a small victory in the long run, but they are worth celebrating.

Finally, I hope that others will be encouraged to speak up in similar situations. This is exactly what the U.N. HeForShe campaign is advocating. It was a powerful thing, to hear someone else speak up for me. It’s not that I needed Steve’s words to validate my own experiences, but it is a personal relief to know that the people I work with (of all genders) are aware of this imbalance of power.

I went to Steve later, to tell him how much his comments meant to me. Steve works with children in Vietnam suffering from Agent Orange exposure, and he told me that his perspective was greatly changed by the experience of realizing that he had something in common with someone with fewer opportunities.

So speak up, even if you are nervous or fumble your words. Even if you are laughed at or not taken seriously. Someone will hear you, and I can now say from experience that even if it doesn’t change someone’s mind, it will mean the world to those that you are defending.

To get involved with the HeforShe campaign check out their homepage, or the UN Women page. There is also an awesome blog post about privilege that I think everyone should read.


DIY Community Prayer Flags

20 Sep


Tibetan prayer flags are a popular household staple in my mountain loving community. I suspect the tradition trickled in with the mountaineering enthusiasts who climb in Tibet and Nepal. I love prayer flags, but I feel a bit weird about hanging them in my house because I’m not Buddhist. For a long time I have wanted to make set of flags that represents the people I live with, and I finally got the chance a few weeks ago.

-White or light colored fabric:. I used about 3/4 of a yard of muslin I had leftover from another project to make about 40 4″x4″ flags.
-Sewing machine or needles

-Pentel Fabric Fun Pastel Dye Sticks:
-String: I used 15 feet of parachute chord for about 40 small flags, but you can use whatever material you want.
-Rotary cutter and mat, or scissors
Iron, ironing board, and scrap paper: for setting the dye


Making the flags. Cut the flags to the dimensions you prefer, plus an inch of seam allowance on one side: I made our flags 4 inches by 4 inches, so I cut the fabric into 4 inch by 5 inch rectangles. This size was the smallest size I could make them and still have enough room to decorate with the dye sticks. Fold over the seam allowance and sew to make a tube at the top. This is where you will thread your string.

Decorate the flags.


I laid the flags out during a gathering and asked folks to decorate them with their hopes and dreams for the future.

I was quite happy with the Pentel Pastel Dye Sticks that we used, but there are a ton of other options. You could experiment with one of the zillion fabric paint products out there, sharpies, no wax batik, screen printing, or block printing. I loved seeing my friends’ creations.


The dye sticks need to be ironed to set the dye. It only took about fifteen minutes and a few pieces of scrap paper to get all of them done.

String your flags

I brought along a big tapestry needle to help with the threading process but I didn’t even need it. The parachute cord threaded through the flags easily.


Hang your flags

Take a million photographs because you love them so much.


It was wonderful to throw a simple prompt at my friends and see the beautiful flags they created. I love all of them.


I also had the rare and thrilling experience of spending less time on a project than I thought I would. I was expecting the project to take at least three hours, but cutting out the flags, sewing them, and laying out all of the stuff took about two hours. The finishing process after they were decorated took only a half hour. I can’t even remember the last time this happened!


I totally want to do this again.



Seascape Painting Party!

15 Sep

My friends Lauren and Glikin of Raw Roots Farm are expecting a baby soon. When they asked me if I would help them paint an ocean scene in the baby’s room I said “Absolutely Yes!!! But…I have one condition.”


This past weekend they invited a crew over for a painting party.


There were gray whales and dolphins.


Sea turtles….


and baby sea turtles!


So what was my one condition?


That they let me paint Rainbow Fish of course!


Can I just admit that I’m already insanely jealous of this kid?



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