Photography, travel

Visiting the Fishes

For our final spring break adventure, we took a day trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Located at the Inner Harbor, we visited on a cold, overcast spring day.

Rescued near Long Island, this turtle only has one flipper. You could say he’s “all right” (Shout out, Arrested Development fans!) No word on if he’s named Buster or not.
A stingray in Blacktip Reef

The Aquarium is divided into three main sections. The reef is the largest exhibit. Visitors walk through, starting at the surface with rays and turtles and then trailing into the depths to see the sharks. Other fish exhibits are studded throughout.

A second area is devoted to Dolphin Discovery. The aquarium has five female dolphins and two young males. We stayed through feeding time, which Fox loved.

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Downstairs, in that same section, there is a small cafe and a lovely and surprisingly peaceful display of jellyfish.

Super proud that I took this shot on my iPhone!

There is a third section that houses a rotating exhibit by Animal Planet. Currently, it’s the wildlife of Australia. When I heard about all the snakes on display, I fled so I didn’t see the exhibit. Fox and The Pilot seemed to like it though.

I remember these bubble tubes from going to the Aquarium with my sister as a kid. They look like something out of Star Trek to me.
I loved that they had quotes on the walls throughout the exhibits. This one says “With every drop you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea.” Sylvia Earle.

There is also a big gift shop and a spacious cafe, with lots of healthy options. We had a great time and Fox can’t wait to go back.

Photography, travel

Chips and Caverns

Here’s another of our spring break adventures. We took another day trip to Shenandoah Caverns and the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory.


We hit the potato chip factory first (hey—gotta have your priorities straight!) Route 11 is a small company, local to the area. I especially love their sweet potato chips. Yum!


Through the glass of their small showroom, we got to see the whole potato chip process from frying to seasoning to bagging. We also learned that they remove the skins from the potatoes with sandpaper. Kinda neat. There are samples to try as well as bags of chips to buy. That day, we got to sample salt and pepper chips. Pretty tasty.

Tea Garden
Tea Garden

Around the corner from that, we went to Shenandoah Caverns. Though Luray Caverns is more well-known, Shenandoah is a lot of fun too. They also have a tiny 1931 elevator to access the caverns.

Cascade Hall

During our about one mile walking tour, we saw hanging strips of bacon, the Grotto of the Gods, and the Capitol Dome, among others. Fox really enjoyed his time in “the caves.” He learned how to distinguish stalactites from stalagmites—stalactites come from the top.

Capitol Dome

Photography, travel

Visiting with Mr. Jefferson

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During Fox’s recent spring break, we took him on several adventures. We took a day trip to Charlottesville, Virginia to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson started Monticello at 26 and honed it for over 50 years, seeking to create his version of the ideal home.

In a time before refrigeration, Jefferson stored fresh fish for the table in this pond.

Fox knows Jefferson as the 1-2-3 president. He was the first Secretary of State, the second Vice President, and the third president. Much as The Pilot and I remembered from our own school trips there, Fox loved the clock on the wall of the entryway the best (it tells the days of the week)—though they had to cut a hole into the basement for the last three days.


We were there in very early spring so most of the grounds weren’t quite in bloom. They have a gorgeous new visitors center and buses that carry you to the top of the hill to walk around and see the grounds. (Back in my day, we had to hike from the parking lot 🙂

View toward Mulberry Row and the vegetable gardens beyond.

Even at six, Fox really seemed to enjoy his glimpse into history. Monticello is definitely worth a visit, if you happen to be nearby.

A fun perspective shot of the back of the nickel Monticello with the real thing (my mom is holding the coin 🙂



Cherry Blossoms

With Waterlouge
View of the Jefferson Memorial across the tidal basin

I grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs so I’m used to cherry blossom fever. The Pilot and I got married at peak bloom thirteen years ago so we both have a special soft spot for the delicate pink blooms. We decided to take Fox to see the blossoms at the National Cherry Blossom Festival this year. Here are some shots we took this year. I also included some shots treated with the Waterlogged app.

Another view of the tidal basin, Jefferson Memorial, and cherry blossoms in bloom.
Close-up of the blossoms.
With Waterlouge
View of the Washington Monument through the blossoms (with Waterlogue app)


Japan gifted the trees to us in 1912 and, after the first batch fell to disease, the second trees were planted all around the city, but most famously around the tidal basin at the Jefferson Memorial. They bloom for only about a week each year, an event prized by tourists and locals alike.

If you just want to see the trees, the Capitol side garden has a beautiful grove that is not nearly as crowded as the tidal basin. We actually had some of our wedding photos taken there and they are some of the best shots of all.

Reserve your paddleboat early!

We did have a wonderful time but the festival is very, very crowded so it’s difficult to maneuver around the narrow cherry blossom paths. If you want to ride the paddleboat on the basin, make sure you reserve online. The National Mall is also in walking distance, as well as the location of the closest Metro stop (Smithsonian), so you could combine your visit with a trip to one of the museums. We hit Air & Space that day too. As there is no nearby parking and traffic is very heavy, Metro transport is also recommended.

View of the trees in the Smithsonian Castle courtyard. (With Waterlogue app).
View of the Smithsonian Castle (with Waterlogue app).


They usually bloom the first week of April so if you’re planning for 2016 book now!

Lost Art of Second Chances, Photography

Visiting Massachusetts

This sailboat directly inspired the scene with Jack on Plum Island early in The Lost Art of Second Chances. He sees the sailboat and choses to take the chance to go to Italy with Lucy.
This sailboat directly inspired the scene with Jack on Plum Island early in The Lost Art of Second Chances. He sees the sailboat and chooses to take the chance to go to Italy with Lucy.


Last week, I talked a bit about the backstory of Lucy’s cat, Frank, from The Lost Art of Second Chances. This week, I thought I’d talk about Lucy and Jack’s (the heroine and hero of the present day story) hometown of Applebury, Massachusetts. After a quick consultation with my handy dandy Google maps, there, in fact, is no such place as Applebury, Massachusetts. It’s a fictionalized version of a place called Amesbury, a small town about an hour north of Boston.

As I have family and friends that live there, I’ve been many times, most recently in October 2011. Probably because I’d just been there, I chose to set my novel there, in the fall, when I started Nanowrimo 2011.

While we were there, we enjoyed a trip to Cider Hill Farms. How gorgeous are these pumpkins? And if you ever go, do not miss the hot cider donuts. Cider Hill Farms didn’t make it into the book, except as the name of Jack Hamilton’s single apartment building.

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We also visited nearby Newburyport several times during our visit and enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner there. Jack mentions that he has an office in Newburyport as well as in the city and is coming from court there that day in his first scene with Lucy. There is a district court there but I have never been there. I have been to their awesome fall festival and snapped these shots there.


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Later, when Jack wants to escape his unhappy and ill-fitting career as a lawyer, he goes for a walk on Plum Island. We had a wonderful time walking there at sunset. I’d just gotten my DSLR camera and my uncle (a professional photographer) taught me the basics of how to use it that day. So, here’s what Plum Island looks like at dusk.

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As you can see it’s a beautiful area of the country.  In next week’s blog, we are off to Italy…

Disney, Photography

Cruising on the Disney Dream

So, since I got hit with the plague in December, I forgot to tell you guys about my Disney cruise over Thanksgiving. Fox, the Pilot, and I sailed on the Disney Dream out of Port Canaveral for a four night cruise of the Bahamas.

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We stayed on deck five in a deluxe stateroom. I chose deck five because of the extra large veranda which we loved having but it also turned out to be on the same deck as the kids areas and close to the restaurants. I highly recommend this choice. The staterooms are very narrow and I hated that we had to walk past the bed to get to the living room. I seemed to constantly be tripping over the bed. The bathrooms are split, with sinks in each which really helped get ready to go in the morning.


Our first port was Nassau but, on the wise advice of our travel agent, we decided not to go ashore and enjoy our day on the ship. Fox loved the Aquaduct, a clear waterside that goes around the ship. I rode it once but found it challenging to ride with contacts in and am still mourning the loss of my favorite hair clip. They spray water in your face at different points. Fox did not view this as the challenge that I did and adored riding the Aquaduct at every opportunity. He also loved playing in Nemo’s Reef (an adorably themed water playground) and the two pools.



The second port was Disney’s private island at Castaway Cay. We loved spending the day on our own private beach. I highly recommend renting the inner tubes in advance, though we were able to do so on the island. We enjoyed a restful day at the beach before heading back to our giant floating hotel.



Our third day, Thanksgiving, was at sea. As our travel agent correctly predicted, the pools and amenities were far more crowded that day. It was also windy and cold on the deck as we sailed up the Atlantic. That night, though at sea, we could see stars for miles. Even though it was cold and breezy, we loved identifying constellations from our balcony



Fox really loved the Oceanears club. He still talks about the different activities, especially the dance parties, they had there. Because we sailed on a Very Merrytime Cruise, the ships were already decorated for Christmas. They did an amazing job with a life sized gingerbread house and gorgeous garland and trees everywhere.


So, how was Thanksgiving dinner? It was the best one ever. They served perfectly moist turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and roasted veggies. I loved the roasted parsnips as an addition to the meal and think it will be making an appearance on our Thanksgiving table next year. There are three dining rooms on the ship and your assigned servers rotate with you every night.


Animator’s Palate is a fun theme that uses the latest technology to give the kids an interactive experience with Crush, the turtle from Nemo. He chatted with Fox and it’s still the highlight of his cruise experience. He’ll tell anyone that will listen that he talked to Crush. Our second night was our least favorite restaurant. It’s the Enchanted Garden. The restaurant itself is pretty but the food is reminiscent of the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. Just okay, not great. The Pilot and I loved the Royal Court restaurant, decorated with a Cinderella theme and with the best food of all.

For me, one thing that I struggled with was not being able to be connected much while at sea. When I worked in an office, I would have welcomed the chance to be incommunicado. Now, as a full-time writer, I did not like feeling out of touch. The Pilot and I cruised for our honeymoon and I never worried about safety but I have to admit to a touch of vulnerability and anxiety about something going wrong while we were sailing with Fox.


If you ever have the opportunity to take a Disney Cruise, do it. It’s well worth the fun and the memories. Fox wants to go on the other three ships (Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder) and even informed his grandparents over the holidays that he’s spending his birthday in Alaska (probably not this upcoming one though 🙂


Waterlogue App

Doesn't the Lego Cinderella's castle look dreamy?
Doesn’t the Lego Cinderella’s castle look dreamy?

For my 40th birthday, the Pilot and Fox gave me a DSLR camera followed by an awesome lens that Christmas. My uncle, a former photography teacher, gave me lessons and I took a formal class. And guess how often I use that gorgeous camera?
About as often as I use my good wedding china.

Cherry tree at Winterthur
Cherry tree at Winterthur

That is to say, on special occasions a few times a year. I drag it out for the holidays, at the first sign of spring, and during autumn photo walks. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Canon Rebel T3i as well as my awesome glass (that’s lenses for the non-photo buffs). It’s just that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Tulips at Winterthur
Tulips at Winterthur

The rest of the time I’m snapping photos on my handy-dandy ever present iPhone. Then, usually, using a spare five minutes to create a collage, run it through instagram, and share it with the world. Fox has a well-documented life and very indulgent grandparents 🙂 Suffice it to say, I love my photo apps.


One of my all time favorites is Waterlogue. Have you heard of this one? It’s the one that turns your photos into gorgeous watercolors. I could play in it for hours but, instead, I thought I’d just let the photos do the talking today.

Sunflower series (original photo credit to my sister, Meredith Runion)
Sunflower series (original photo credit to my sister, Meredith Runion)

Painted in Waterlogue

Painted in Waterlogue

Waterlogue looks great for still lives—those gorgeous flowers the Pilot brings for no special reason, a bright orange display of pumpkins, or the beach scene. I’ve had less success with pictures of people.

Myrtle Beach (original photo credit to Meredith Runion)
Myrtle Beach (original photo credit to Meredith Runion)
Same photo, just processed differently in app. Myrtle Beach (original photo credit to Meredith Runion)
Same photo, just processed differently in app. Love how this one looks like a vintage postcard. Myrtle Beach (original photo credit to Meredith Runion)

Have you used Waterlogue? Thoughts? Impressions? Hints for creating successful watercolors of people? Share in the comments.

Just a few more Myrtle Beach shots. I’m thinking of framing these for our powder room.

Rainy Beach
Rainy Beach
Stormy Myrtle Beach
Stormy Myrtle Beach
Another great shot by Meredith Runion. Love the pop of colors from the umbrellas.
Another great shot by Meredith Runion. Love the pop of colors from the umbrellas.