Category Archives: Photography

Butterflies, Granola, and Seriously Strong Women

screenshot202016-11-032021-12-32My latest article in Edible Nashville is out at last! Once again I had the delight of writing the “food hero” piece for the issue, this time covering the marvelous women who make up the Blue Monarch recovery center.

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granola-portraitThis center welcomes women who have been trapped in cycles of addiction and abuse to a beautiful farmhouse in Middle Tennessee where they can recuperate with their children. As part of their recuperation, the ladies are invited to work in the onsite industrial kitchen where they make…wait for it…granola! It is through this granola business that these women gain substantive work skills and honest paychecks which amount to, for many of them, completely novel experiences.

As it usually goes with these projects, I collected WAY more information and stories and photos than I could fit into a short article. I often leave these projects feeling like there is so much more I could have done to create awareness for the seriously wonderful work being done. In that spirit, I wanted to share with you the stories of two of the women who had been through the Blue Monarch recovery programming. Their testimonies speak to the radical transformation possible for people who otherwise feel trapped and helpless.

One of the amazing things about these stories is how ready these ladies were to tell them. Their histories are not pretty, to say the least. Their pain is prominent, but they’ve come so far and they take their memories in stride. They have seen how powerful their stories are in inspiring others; they don’t hold back from the messy details. When I arrived, they greeted me warmly with big smiles and immediately launched into stories of rape and overdoses. Those juxtaposed smiles startled me at first, but made much more sense when they got to their happy endings. If you had come that far, you’d be smiling too.

So here are the stories of Brandy and Donaree excerpted from an earlier draft. Enjoy.

“Looking at the stunning Blue Monarch campus, it is hard to imagine a better place to recover. Any visitor would be thrilled merely to relax on that porch. But for residents, Blue Monarch is nothing short of a miracle. Many arrive at Blue Monarch after living in cars or in homes plagued with abuse. Some of them were given the choice of Blue Monarch or a jail cell. Understandably, newcomers often burst into tears at the sight of the beautiful yellow home full of spacious rooms where they can care for their children in safety and rest—a luxury many of them never fathomed.

donaree-masters-1The Blue Monarch difference is especially evident in the ladies’ testimonies. Donaree Masters, a graduate who now runs the granola kitchen, was raised in an alcoholic home where she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In her mid-thirties, she began a twenty-year meth addiction that ended with her arrest. By the grace of God, she says, Blue Monarch accepted her into the program in 2013. Looking at her now, radiant and smiling, the very picture of health, you would never recognize the woman from her mugshot. “Even if I had never had my addiction,” she shares, “I could not be in a better spot than I am in now. The beauty of what happens here, seeing these women growing and learning—being here is a dream come true.”

brandy-granola-prepBrandy Wilson, a current resident soon to graduate, similarly beams with hope and wellness in spite of a childhood riddled with drugs and abuse. Removed by the state from her drug-infested home, Brandy spent her adolescence moving between thirteen different foster parents, some of whom molested her. When she turned eighteen, she moved in with her biological mother and together they would regularly get high on pills. This new ‘normal’ came to a traumatizing halt when Brandy returned from an errand to find her mother dead from an overdose in her car. Adding to her grief, Brandy’s continued drug use lead to many months in prison and losing custody of her daughter. Facing additional jail time after a broken house arrest, Brandy pleaded with the judge for help, for some alternative to falling back into the same patterns. Miraculously, the judge remembered Blue Monarch and allowed her to apply in lieu of further prison. Brandy, who was pregnant at the time, gave birth to her second daughter at Blue Monarch, and made enough progress to regain custody of her elder daughter while in the program. Brandy has since completed her GED, won scholarships to attend a local community college, and been baptized together with her seven-year-old.”

 

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How to Bermuda, Part 2

Last week I began a step-by-step guide to travelling in Bermuda on a (relative) budget. In Part 1 I covered planning tips and getting oriented when you arrive. In today’s Part 2, I will cover highlights of attractions and activities.

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Sunset at Marley Beach

Ah, Bermuda. Land of pink beaches and crystal clear turquoise water. Swimming there is like swimming in a giant liquid gemstone and every bit as sparkly. On this most recent trip, due to budget and the warm weather we were very happy to stick the water. Bermuda is also famous for its sailing, golf, wreck diving, and moped rentals, though we did not partake this time around. Even so, we learned quite a bit about some seriously fun places to explore, and here are some of the highlights.

 

  1. Beaches, beaches, beaches. 
    “The water was so warm I couldn’t believe it!” our Bermudian host told us as he recalled his last dip into the blue waters. Indeed, this past summer experienced especially warm weather, but even so July and August are high season for a reason in Bermuda with water temperatures so deliciously inviting you could stay swimming for hours at a time. Given this, we sampled as many beaches as we could fit in a five day visit, and here are our top finds:
    Marley Beach: Smaller and unassuming, we had this beach mostly to ourselves and spent the majority of our last day lounging in the shade of boulders and watching the shades of blue in the water transform as the sun coursed the sky. The water is slightly rougher than other locations, but still great for a joyous dip. Located just west of the Swizzle restaurant on South Road, a small driveway will take you down to the beach entrance.

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    Warwick Long Bay

    Warwick Long Bay: This stunning stretch of pinky, creamy, fluffy sand will have you wondering why you bother going anywhere else on vacation. We very much enjoyed watching  rainbow-colored parrot fish meander through the clear crests of waves. Again, we felt wonderfully secluded as there were so few people around. Located along South Road, Warwick Long Bay is its own park and you will find a pathway down to the sand from a small parking lot.

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    The path connecting the Warwick Beaches 

    Jobson Cove and Stonehole: Between Warwick Long Bay and Horseshoe Bay there is a sandy pathway connecting a series of coves, each of which look straight out of the pirate stories of our dreams. Tall rocky outcroppings frame calm swimming areas and even provide shade in the afternoon. It was very fun to beach-hop via that path.
    Coopers Island Park: On the Southeastern corner of the island you will find a former Air Force base turned park preserve. A semi-paved path passes through a fence and loops around the peninsula taking you to some of the prettiest white sand beaches on the island. This would be a great place for kids, especially, as the water is extremely calm and stays shallow a long ways out. Toward the tip of the peninsula, large stones create mini bathtubs in the water, perfect for relaxing. At the far end you can climb an observation tower for 360 degree views of the island and ocean. You also might even be able to spot turtles from that vantage point!

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    Coopers Island 

    Other notables: You might hear tell of the beauty of Horseshoe Bay. For our tastes it was too crowded to find any pleasure in being there, what with the hoards of cruise ship visitors clamoring around the bar. Even so, if the party atmosphere is your thing, then go for it. Tobacco Bay just north of St. George might also be a spot for you, and supposedly has some decent snorkeling, but we didn’t get that far. We did hear that snorkeling is good at Church Bay west of Horseshoe, and that Elbow Beach is lovely albeit shared with a big resort, but again, we ran out of time to see those.

  2.  dsc_0198Blue Hole Park/ Tom Moore’s Jungle 
    This FREE park is totally worth a few hours of your trip. There are two ways to get in there: first, from a pathway starting behind Tom Moore’s Tavern (incidentally the oldest eating house on island!) and second from a pathway and parking lot across the street from the entrance to Grotto Bay Resort. Well-trodden, though unmarked, trails will lead you through the park. Don’t be afraid to follow smaller trails as many of them lead to pools of blue water full of fish or small caves to peruse. We came through the Grotto Bay entrance. This path leads you to a clearing with a big tree in the center. The pathway on the left led to the Blue Hole, a large swimming spot full of bright turquoise and highly-salinated water ready for the plunging. You can either take your time entering the pool to the left of the deck area, or launch yourself off one of two nearby heights. The trail just beyond the big tree led to Tom Moore’s Tavern and, just beyond a large pool of fish, off to the right and up a little hill to the swimming cave. The swimming cave was worth the whole excursion. I highly recommend bringing water shoes as you will be climbing over wet rocks to enter and exit the water.
  3. Exploring St. George 
    Established in 1612, this pristine piece of colonial history welcomes guests with cute shops, decent restaurants, windy cobblestone lanes, and several interesting activities including a daily reenactment of a nagging wife dunking and a walk around St. Peter’s church, still standing after 400 years. We enjoyed our lunch at the Wahoo Cafe before heading out to Coopers Island via a shuttle that left from the information center.
  4. Hamilton Harbor Festival
    Wednesday night in Summer sees Hamilton’s Front Street closed to traffic and filled with food stands, tents with local artisans displaying their wares, and multiple live bands. If you are around the Hamilton area on a Wednesday, this is definitely worth a detour.
  5. Other Considerations
    One thing we did not do but I was curious about was the Railway Bike Path. It stretches across most of the island right down the middle and shows off parts of the island you otherwise wouldn’t see. I hear the best place to rent pedal bikes (as well as mopeds and scooters) is at Elbow Beach. Ah well, next time. I also would like next time to see a sunset from the western shores. We walked up to Gibbs Lighthouse one afternoon and enjoyed the view over the northern harbor.

A few more thoughts on Bermuda:

  • Walking in Bermuda is possible, but just be aware you will be walking mostly on grassy areas next the road and there is little to no shade to protect you from the sun.
  • I had originally hoped to bike on the streets but it took about two minutes on the island to realize that would probably be a bad idea. Sharp turns, blind corners, tall hedges, and barreling buses don’t mix well with cycling. I saw one or two people doing it, but I can’t imagine ever enjoying it.
  • Only residents are allowed to drive cars on the island, meaning you cannot rent them as a tourist. That is why many tourists go for either the bus or a moped rental, assuming they don’t cough up for taxis.
  • Once again, eating is very expensive. We scoped out some of the cheaper places and enjoyed our meals at both Swizzle locations, the Pickled Onion, and La Trattoria (though such a price tag for pizza stung). Because we had a kitchen, we ate most of our meals at home. We shopped at The Market, which is walking distance from the Hamilton bus terminal, and Modern Mart on South Road which has its own bus stop.
  • Tourist information centers can be very helpful, but we got some incorrect information from the one in St. George and never saw the one in Hamilton open. Like I said in Part 1, there is no information center at the airport. In short, prepare to get chummy asking locals for advice. Also, get your bus tickets and maps from the bus and ferry terminals.

That’s it! Feel free to contact me with questions. And Enjoy! We sure did!

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How to Bermuda, Part 1

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View from Gibbs Lighthouse

“You took da bus?” cried our hostess in her endearing accent. “All da way from da airport?” She said it like she had never heard of any tourist doing something so complicated.

Traveling well requires a good bit of creativity. Or money. Often both. But creativity can kick in to help you save money, learn more about a local culture, and help you have a much better trip. You can also have some fun surprising locals with your cunning.

Bermuda, one of the havens of the super-rich, proved on our recent visit to require ample creative problem solving in lieu of shelling out for exorbitant taxi rides and restaurant meals. I gathered that, because many of the tourists were either so rich they didn’t care what the taxis cost or had arrived on cruise ships with prearranged island tours, we remaining DIY-ers  had to fend for ourselves. We learned a lot about Bermuda through pure scrappiness, and I am proud now to share with you what we learned.

  1. WHY BERMUDA…
    My parents honeymooned in Bermuda and always described it as paradise with pink beaches. This proved fully accurate. The water is so clear that you can see rainbow-colored fish straight through the cresting waves. Rocky outcroppings along the southern shore make for secluded swimming grottoes so picturesque it hurts. Bermuda is a world-class destination for golf, sailing, and scuba diving, and offers many other activities including cave swimming, kayaking, and renting mopeds. Located in the middle of the Atlantic at a similar latitude level to North Carolina, it is decidedly not Caribbean, and for much of the year has significantly cooler temperatures (averaging around 75-80 in the summer). It is a quick flight from East Coast cities (less than two hours) and we found the best deal from New York’s JFK. The Bermudian dollar is fixed to the value of the American dollar, and the currency is interchangeable, so easy peasy. All told, Bermuda makes for a seriously nifty getaway.

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    Jobson Cove

  2. BEFORE YOU GO…
    One of the most important things to know about Bermuda is that it is very expensive to be there. Almost all of the country’s GDP comes out of off-shore banking, which means they produce virtually nothing of their own and import everything they need. This means you will be paying $17 for a sandwich, $30 for an entree, and $7 for a loaf of bread. This shouldn’t turn you off to visiting, but you need to be aware. My husband and I made it work on a budget by cooking breakfast and one other meal in our apartment rental, and then sharing an appetizer and an entree at a restaurant for the remaining meal. Another way to ease your wallet pain would be to bring non-perishable and non-produce snacks from home like pretzels, trail mix, etc. along with refillable water bottles (the water is safe to drink).

    In planning our itinerary, I was surprised to find few guidebooks, and even fewer recent guidebooks, available for our type of traveler. The Fodors I perused proved a waste of time; no way was I going to believe that the cheapest accommodation ran north of $300 nightly. I’m also not into birding or shopping and wasn’t planning on playing golf this time around. Given this, I spent my prep hours looking at TripAdvisor reviews for activities, taking notes on the nicest beaches, the prettiest nature preserves, and must-see historical landmarks. In the next installment, I will cover top attractions.

  3. LODGING…
    Finding lodging on a budget was no easy feat, especially in high season. Originally I set out to find a hotel to benefit from amenities like airport shuttles and pools, but ultimately suffered from sticker shock, feeling frustrated by the thought of spending more than $200/night on decrepit rooms desperately in need of refurbishing. Bermuda, however, is full of alternative lodging options including B&Bs and apartment/house rentals. We had good luck with VRBO, finding several solid choices in our preferred price range. Our first VRBO inquiry led to even better luck because, though that particular unit was not available, the property manager sent us back a list of available units that were even CHEAPER AND NICER than the one we had wanted! The company was Bermuda Accommodations Inc., and I can recommend them highly. We booked a small apartment with a fully outfitted kitchenette, a king size bed, a huge bath tub, AC, and charming hosts, all walking distance from the nicest beaches on the island.

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    Marley Beach, our favorite

    This leads me to location. Much of the island’s attractions are spread out across the island which means you will be doing some commuting between them. This will be slow going. The speed limit is only 25 mph, though it actually feels fast on those narrow, windy roads—believe me. At this pace, the two main villages, Hamilton and St. George, are about a half-hour apart. The nicest beaches are 20 minutes south of Hamilton. The Dockyards are about 45 minutes away from everything. This said, it is important to choose your lodging to be closest to the features you will use most often. If you want to be near the nicest beaches, then stay along the south coast in Warwick Parish. If you want to be closer to multiple public transit routes, restaurants, and night life, stay closer to Hamilton. If you want old-world charm, shopping options, and access to Tobacco Bay, stay in St. George.

  4. WHEN YOU GET THERE…
    Your plane will soar over waters that grow increasingly turquoise the nearer you get to landing. You will step out of the airport and breathe in the salty, sunny air. Then you will realize there was no information booth in the airport. Customs just dumped you onto the curb to be accosted by taxi drivers. No maps, no guidance, no functional pay phones. We went around asking employees for tips and eventually figured out the buses.

    From the airport, you have several options to reach your lodging. The first is to have arranged it ahead of time if your lodging offers shuttle service. The second is to pay for a taxi. This might be the easiest option, but depending on where you are located, be prepared to spend, especially if you get in on a Sunday when they charge 25% more on fees. The third is to take the bus. There are several buses that pick up in front of the airport and go either to St. George or Hamilton. Reference where you’re staying on this bus map and pick your route. You will need to pay in cash until you can get other bus tickets. They do not give change, so have some coins ready to pay exact fare. If you are transferring to a second bus, ask the driver to give you a transfer slip, and he or she will tear off a piece of paper noting the time. Remember that the pink poles at the bus stops lead you toward Hamilton, and the blue poles lead you away from it. NOTE: Depending on how crowded the bus is, the driver may not let you on with luggage. We were told they rarely enforce this, but there are between 0-1 luggage racks on these buses, and some bus rides are packed full.

    You can buy bus passes and individual tickets at the bus terminals, ferry terminals, and information booths. These tickets also work on ferries. They offer multi-day passes as well as packets of tickets. Probably the best way to save money was to estimate the number of trips you will be taking and buy a packet of 15 All-zone tickets. This way the tickets can be used by whomever (whereas the passes can only be used by one person at a time) and you save a bunch of money by buying in bulk. Just remember to ask for those transfers!

    Stay tuned for Part 2, Top Bermuda Activities!

 

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A New Edible Video!

I recently completed another video project for Edible Nashville Magazine, this time featuring The Grilled Cheeserie’s chef, Crystal De Luna-Bogan as she prepares her favorite way to eat watermelon–with chopped mint and a hibiscus lime granita. This dreamy fruit salad was the perfect treat for a sticky summer Saturday, and I had fun capturing the process on film. Check out EdibleNashville.com/recipes to make it yourself, and enjoy the video!

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Photo Friday! Sojourn to Twin Falls

There are not many places in Nashville to escape the relentless summer heat, but with a little planning, a 90-minute drive can get you to to a number of swimming holes and waterfalls perfect for those much needed respites.

Last weekend we trekked out to Rock Island State Park for a bit of hiking, swimming, and waterfall admiration. The big falls there, Twin Falls, looks like something right out of The Jungle Book. Several foot paths traverse the park and some of them lead to delightful swimming spots. There is also a wide, natural sand beach along the river with views of a towering cliff face and swooping hawks. We got a couple of burgers from the local Rock Island Market and Cafe (very tasty) and had ourselves a lovely picnic.

Here are some of the photos from the journey. Enjoy, and happy Friday!

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Twin Falls

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This was Archie’s first time swimming…the flailing was hilarious and painful, what with the scratching

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Lazy River. But no, it does not go in a circle.

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This was the more popular swimming location.

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The swimming here was lovely and cool. Bit of a current though, and deeper than you think.

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Archie and Em

Proud of our brave little buddy.

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Keep Calm Cucumber Sandwiches

The Brexit has happened!

Regardless of your feelings on the momentous decision made yesterday by the Brits to leave the European Union, we can still all do as the Brits do:

Keep Calm and Carry On (And drink tea). 

high teaPausing your afternoon for tea and a snack is indeed a very civilized activity and, I believe, quite good for one’s peace of mind. If you want to step up your game, here is my own cucumber sandwich recipe–easy peasy and great for impressing guests. You can also add some scones, cakes, clotted cream, jam, and/or biscuits and make for a truly fancy high tea (guests optional).

If you have never had a cucumber sandwich, you are in for a treat. They are filling, refreshing, slightly sweet and slightly tangy, and great for breakfast or whenever you set your tea time. I recommend using a mandolin for even, thin slicing. I also suggest peeling the cucumber, unless it has a very thin rind as in the case of hydroponic cucumbers (a tidbit I recently learned!).

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Emily’s Cucumber Sandwiches

1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fresh mint, diced (alternatively, you could add a dash of paprika)
dash of salt and pepper
1/2 cucumber, thinnly sliced
4 slices bread of your choice

Mix first six ingredients thoroughly until you have a smooth texture. Spread on bread slices and assemble cucumbers for even distribution. Slice off crusts for extra fanciness, if you choose, and cut sandwiches into triangles. Serve with your favorite tea.

 

 

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On Idyllic Sleepy Hollow Summers

As I sit here wilting in the Nashville heat (Good Lord, it’s only June), I think back to my idyllic childhood summers in Sleepy Hollow, New York. We had it good. Real good. And now I sigh thinking of that golden afternoon light, those humidity-free days, the berry picking in the woods, the comforting sound of river waves lapping against the shore, and the sandwiches. Yes, sandwiches are very important.

If you’ve never been to the Hudson Valley, I highly suggest arranging a sojourn. In Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson spans a whopping three miles in width, making for an excellent vista and a spacious watersports playground. The view is in fact so good that when the Rockefellers built their Rockwood Estate, they also bought the bluffs across the river to maintain an unadulterated landscape. Along with the Rockefellers, those of us on the east side of the river enjoyed the daily treat of watching the sun set itself down in swirls of purple and orange glory behind the Palisades. Then, the next morning, we greeted the sun again as it illuminated every green and blue crevice of the cliff face. I tried to paint it once, but the colors changed so fast I couldn’t keep up.

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Growing up, the river was a refuge, a place for breathing freely and remembering the important things. My other refuge was the woods. The extensive Rockefeller properties have long since become a state park complete with carriage trails, grandiose stone bridges, babbling brooks, and towering oaks and hemlocks. The last two weeks of July were my favorite. The entire forest would erupt in delicious red berries. We called them red-caps, but I don’t know why. They looked like bright red raspberries, but were juicier and fell apart in your fingers. I would stay in the woods for hours walking and feasting on berries. Sometimes my siblings and I would manage to pick enough for pies, and then sometimes we would even leave enough uneaten to actually make the pies.

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Between the enticements of playing in the woods and swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing in the river, summer days went by fast. I think longingly now of capping off those days with dinner at the beach. My family would pack up the picnic basket, either with homemade goodies or our favorite local take-out fare, and set up for an elegant though rustic dinner at the beach. I like to think the setting made the food taste even better. I like remembering how all of my family enjoyed this time together. I like thinking about dining with my toes in the sand.

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There is so much to say of that near-perfect summer locale, what with trips into the city to see a show or visit a museum or eat in Chinatown, or treks up to the Shakespeare festival at the Boscobel estate, or vacations in the Adirondacks—a mere five-hour drive to an ancient, wilderness paradise. But for now I will explain about the sandwiches. Growing up in New York I took sandwiches for granted; every corner had a deli and every deli had fresh ingredients served up on fresh, fluffy, crusty bread. I have since learned that the rest of America does not adhere to this same reverence for sandwich craft, and it saddens me greatly. I salivate now thinking of the best local deli, Rocky’s, where they even fried up homemade kettle chips to accompany your Italian Combo or Chicken Parmesan. What makes New York sandwiches so special? Many things, but mostly the bread. No New York establishment would ever dream of serving old bread, let alone lifeless, tasteless hoagie rolls or whatever concoctions Subway and the like manufacture. New York delis  employ fresh kaiser rolls, or fresh baguettes, or classic New York bagels, or hearty multi-grain, and all of them perfectly match the ingredients they house. My kingdom for a decent sandwich.

For the record, Potbelly is the best sandwich chain if you are in a pinch.

Anyway, summer in Sleepy Hollow…those were the days.

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Swan Lake, Rockefeller Park

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Babbling Brooks

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Climbing Mt. Marcy, Adirondacks

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Fourth Lake, Adirondacks

 

 

 

 

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Photo Friday: Springtime in Nashville

Back when we lived in Chicago, the change of seasons would happen suddenly. It would feel each year like the city would decide overnight that it was Spring. Nashville, by contrast, has had a gradual season shift, and it’s been very pleasant. Everyday the landscape paints itself with green and yellow speckles, and every corner has a different tree erupting in white and purple flowers.

It’s been delightful watching Nashville bloom this Spring. See what I mean.

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Photo Friday: Chattanooga Dreamin’

Josh surprised me with a weekend getaway to Chattanooga last weekend, complete with a fancy meal at St. John’s Restaurant (FABULOUS) and a two-night stay at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. It felt great to be exploring another new city with my camera. Here is what I saw…

art museum

brick shadows

bridge

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flowers on fence

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horse sculpture

josh in chair

market light

pizza wall

plant and door

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