[Seattle Sights] Wanderlust at the Woodland Park Zoo

Admittedly, it wasn’t until these last few weeks, being stuck inside with my thoughts, my books and crafts, camera lenses and unpublished blog posts, husband, mother in law and cats – that I finally realized: I have taken far too long of a hiatus from writing. It’s like ideas oozing out of each and every part of my brain right now, almost like the dam of my mind has been reopened and can’t stop pouring out experiences, learnings and epiphanies that are ripe for sharing; as I gallivanted through my memories – I realized I never shared the entirety of one of my favorites – the Woodland Park Zoo.

Hailed as a winner of multiple awards for Best National Exhibits by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and only second in number received to New York’s fabled Bronx Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo encompasses 92 acres of public spaces and exhibits in the heart of Woodland Park, with over a thousand animals and three hundred species, not to mentioned over thirty endangered and five threatened. And to boot, the park is equal amounts nature as it is plants – bringing to life over 50,000 shrubs and herbs, 7,000 trees and over a thousand different species of plants.



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Boasting several different park entrances, you can make each visit equally unique by switching your style up and diving into a new arena. From the African Savanna to Tropical Asia and the Tropical Rain Forest, the Northern Trail and Temperate Forest to Australasia, the entire world seems to exists in the extreme microcosm of the Woodland Park Zoo.

My ultimate favorite: Molbak’s infamous and seasonal Butterfly Garden. With dozens of varieties of butterflies, this area is full is wonder and beauty – with hundreds of butterflies flying around you, it feels like you’re in a whimsical sort of wonderland. Any way you spin it, each adventure to the Woodland Park Zoo is unlike any others – I’ve collected a few of my favorite snaps from my last visits, enjoy!



On your way out, a great spot to soak up some final sunshine is over in the Rose Garden. The perfect setting for an afternoon or sunset stroll once the park has closed down, there you’ll find incredible landscaping, fragrant blooms from all over the world and a lovely reflection pool. Ever-changing with the seasons, the Rose Garden is a solid bet any time of year.


With over a dozen distinct eco-systems and geographic zones to roam through, and a diverse cast of characters within – you shouldn’t stress about fitting it the whole Woodland Park Zoo in during one visit, plus – let’s face it, the animals keep vastly different schedules than us and are often asleep during the day, which can make it hard to find them. The more times you visit, the more you’ll be able to take in – plus, it feels good to support a great cause, so I’m all for forking over the money for my membership. Within two visits, your membership will pay for itself, not to mention get you additional perks including discounts in the restaurants as well as the general store.

Become a Woodland Zoo Member here!

For more on the Woodland Park Zoo and my favorite – their incredible seasonal Butterfly Garden, visit their website and socials; or once this stay at home order is lifted – if you’re in the area, stop by for a visit – I promise you, it’s worth it.

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[Oh, Snap!] The Magic of Macro Lenses

“The right perspective makes the impossible possible.”

Photography has the power to explore the world in ways others have deemed unimaginable, and macro photography specifically has a unique ability to bring life to the smallest of scenes, and to give us a different perspective of the world to wrap our head around.

Often called macrography, or photomacrography, macro photography gives an extremely close up view of small living organisms and objects that you wouldn’t normally have such a detailed view of. The metaphorical equivalent of making a mountain out of a molehill, the end result, is making the minuscule seem larger than life.

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

 William Thackeray

As I’ve developed more and more of an interest in photography, I’ve loved being able to explore the natural world around me through new eyes. Some of my favorite things to take macro photographs of are textures, bubbles, fungi, flowers with water drops, oils and my cat’s eyes – though since they’re not so good at sitting still, I haven’t exactly mastered that one yet. Total caveat, but – if you’re ever at a loss on photographic creativity, I highly suggest picking up The Photographer’s Playbook by Jason Fulford. Rich with assignments and ideas, this book has become an invaluable tool when I’ve felt a mental block in my process and I’m sure it’ll help you as well.

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
Robert Capa

My Picks for Best Macro Lenses

Depending on what type of photographer you are, there are several different types of macro lenses to choose from – back in 2014, I started my journey with a simple clip on extension for my smart phone and now, 6 years later, I’ve moved onto using a Macro lens as well as a macro lens extension that fits on a 78′ thread. Below I’ve outlined some of my favorite picks, for whether you’re a cell phone photographer, semi-pro or completely invested in your hobby.

For your Smart Phone: Shuttermoon Cell Phone Camera Lens Kit

Coming in at a sweet price of $17 for the basic edition, and $30 for the deluxe edition – the Shuttermoon camera lens kit comes stocked with either 5 or 11 different types of clip on lenses, depending on which option you choose.

The basic kit comes with the following goodies and is a great starter set for the new shutterbugs that aren’t ready to commit to a DSLR camera.

  • 198° Fisheye Lens
  • 0.63X Wide Angle Lens
  • 15X Macro Lens-
  • 2x Telephoto Lens
  • CPL Lens- 

Ballin’ on a Budget: Opteka Achromatic Macro Lens for DSLR

Taking a small step up from cell phone photography, the Opteka macro lens is a simple addition to your prime lenses and can fit on most 52mm and 58mm Threads. Coming in hot at $24.95, this is the perfect photography addition for anyone delving more into their photographic experiences. I use mine on our Canon, but there are several different models available.

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This is the macro lens that I take most of my current macro photography with, and it works fantastically with plants, flowers and fungi.

  • Olympus M4/3
  • Canon EF-M
  • Canon EF
  • Pentax
  • Sony A

Best of the Best: Canon Macro Lenses

Once you’re comfortable shooting with an extension on your lens, it’s only natural to want to evolve into using an actual macro lens. Now, this is where things start to get a bit nuanced – just within the Canon family, there are a handful of choices, and you’ll only know which one you want if you know what type of subject material you prefer to work with. To be honest, I consider camera lenses a ‘gateway drug’ into photography: once you acquire a few, you realize you need more specialized and specific ones to add to your mix, and your collection starts ever growing – so, consider yourselves warned.

My personal go-to is the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM, for $299 – it’s a great bang for your buck, but here are some additional variations:


Do you have any tips or tricks for Macro photography? Let me know in the comments and feel free to even share one of your favorite Macro photographs; as always, happy shooting!

[Wander Washington] The Magic + Majesty of Mount Rainier

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

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Whether you’re coming into Seattle or exiting the city stage left, there’s one piece of nature that simply towers over the rest, sitting pristine and pretty at 14.1 thousand feet above sea level. We know it now as Mount Rainier, but past indigenous tribes proudly remember and revere it was Tahoma, or Tacoma.

Located about sixty miles southeast of Seattle, the spectacular – and active! – stratovolcano has become a larger than life icon of the Pacific Northwest landscape. Made of alternating layers of lava, ash and pyroclastic ejecta flows, Mount Rainier effortlessly towers over the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range with 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent sparkling snowfields, earning its status as the most glaciated mountain peak in the contiguous United States. At the top of the summit, the geothermic heat spewing from a duo of volcanic craters prevents the rims from getting snowed in or iced over, forming the world’s largest glacial cave network of ice-filled craters.

While the current top formation of Mount Rainier is estimated to be approximately 500,000 years old, the mountain and the entire Cascade Volcanic Arc is considered part of the ‘Lily Formation’ and spans from roughly 840,000 years old to a whopping 2.6 Million years old. Many eons and moons ago, it’s purported that Rainier was around 16k feet high – but with increased volcanic activity around 5,600 years ago around 3600 B.C., the volcano erupted, removing the top 2k feet and causing the northeast side of the mountain to collapse. Now known as the Osecola Lahar – or mudflow, a wall of mud, rock and debris over 100′ high cascaded over land and into the waters of the Puget Sound, nearly 50 miles away. Though small eruptions have happened since with a frequency of every few hundred years, the last major eruption of Rainier was about 1000 years ago – to which many geologists say, we could be due for a ‘big’ one, and it could be absolutely disastrous to the whole planet.


“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”


Home to dozens of roaring rivers, reflection ponds and lavish lakes, the spectacle of the park shimmers and sparkles in full color from every which direction. Boasting assorted entrances, a plethora of unique micro-climates, and dozens of viewpoints and over 130 interpretive trail descriptions – you can essentially guarantee a completely new trip with each visit. I happened to fall in love with the park in a little under six hours, but with multiple lodges and camping spots on site, not to mention the vast amount of hotels around the base of the park, you can completely make a weekend of your visit while you marinate in every last inch of wildlife.


“Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.”


With the velocity and veracity of shifting weather patterns, not to mention changes in altitude as you traverse the mountain – it’s also entirely possible to experience every season within a full days adventure. During our stay the other weekend, we were greeted by ambient low level clouds, only to peter out into gloriously clear sunshine at Sunrise Ridge, then a hail storm as we etched our way around the mountain, followed by an intense game of hide and seek with a bog of fog, and finally one of the most glorious lightning storms I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting under. That said – word to the wise, pack enough extra clothing that you can be warm and dry if the rain starts in, or have a tank top and shorts for when the sun finally manages to break through the day.


For more on Mount Rainier, head to their website or social channels – or simply pack a bag, and plan a visit!

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[Oh, Snap!] Lensball: Playing With Perspective

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“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett

From morning til night, each one of us is creating our own visual catalog of the day with our own distinctly unique perspective.  For each and every second of it, we’re consciously flooded with sensory stimulation from a 360 perspective; subconsciously, we’re processing patterns, unraveling narratives and unlocking clues to questions we’ve yet to ask.  To me, this is why photography is such a transformative art form – to be able to capture moments and make memories tangible; to hold onto our emotions and to those we care about in the present; to tell our own stories in our own way.  The power of photography has catalyzed my creativity from an early age; but after we adopted our Canon 6D, my love of the art has transformed completely.

In Alex Grey’s ‘The Mission of Art‘, he posits that the reason painting evolved was because of the introduction of photography.  For centuries, the best way to depict a landscape or scene was to do so as accurately as possible; to retain the original qualities of the subject.  However, with the advent of the camera – the need for replication started to dwindle, and be replaced with cubism, surrealism, expressionism, and the like.  Fast forward to now, where we all have a camera in our pockets and at least two (or more) forms of social media accounts to post photos on.  Those same driving factors that lead to abstract art are creating a shift into abstract photography; employing digital editing, prism lenses and other incredibly fun photo warping tools.
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Enter: Lensball.  By far, my personal favorite trippy little photography friend; Lensball is high grade crystal glass photography sphere, here to refresh your perspective and refresh your image skills.  Coming in two standard sizes, the Lensball Pocket is 60mm while the Pro version comes in a 80mm version.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand,  and Heaven in a Wild Flower,  Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour

First things first: everything is a toy if you play with it; so, play! Find fun lines and eye catching center pieces to flip and reverse; discover inventive ways of placing the glass to create your images beyond your hand; manipulate your subject matter into something magical.
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Our engagement photo, shot by the talented Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny)
My only roadblock to conquer so far was how to get an in focus shot on a manual focus lens while flying solo – but with a little practice, I think I’ve finally mastered the art.
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One quick warning – because this is a glass orb, the Lensball behaves like a magnifying glass in the sun: it can burn your hand if you’re not careful how you hold it and prolonged exposure in bright light can even cause a fire, so be wary of where you point it and set it down. Catch my Lensball in action in my Flickr album, or Follow me on Instagram! If you’re interested in one of your own –  peep their website and social media pages for incredible amounts of inspiration; their photo ambassadors are unreal. Or, just cave in and snag one (or a couple!) already – you know you’re curious!

Lensball | Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

What are some of your favorite Lensball shots? What about best toys to create with??  I’m eager to ingest all this knowledge into my photography lexicon; let me know in the comments below!

[Self Discovery] Falling for Autumn

 

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower 
– Albert Camus –

• 🍃🍂🍁🍂🍃•

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As of this past weekend, Summer officially gave way to Autumn and up here in the Pacific NorthWest, we’re experiencing all the Fall colors in all of their glory.  There’s a cornucopia of shades springing out from all the flora and the fauna; flowers, trees, bushes, ivy – you name it, it’s changing – and essentially right in front of your eyes. Sunflowers, Rhododendrons and Roses are shedding their vibrant petals, much to the late season chagrin of bees and hummingbirds.

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With our recent move up to Oregon, some of the top comments we’ve heard across the board are about the abundance of unfavorable weather and consistent rainy, grey skies;  neither of which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing yet.  Instead, I’ve taken full advantage of the sunshine, with the Canon 6D in tow and gotten to know the new neighborhood.  Not to mention, Fall is an excellent time for letting go and turning into oneself to rediscover what makes our inner fires burn brighter. watching as leaves descended in a dizzying dance to the ground, it felt like I was letting go of my past, and shedding my seasoned skin for a chance to refresh the soul and hibernate the spirit, only to emerge refreshed next Spring.

Here are some of my favorite snaps of the change in season; can’t wait to share more!

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For more on the beauty of Fall, or just Corvallis, check the Flickr Album!

 

[LA Life] A Tranquil Trip to the Self Realization Fellowship Gardens

The happiness of one’s own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one’s own happiness, the happiness of others.”
– Paramahansa Yogananda

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The bumper sticker is faded, a bit roughed up and dirty – but the words “Never Stop Exploring” boldly expresses our want, or rather need, of constant discovery and wanderlust. Affectionately called the ‘Adventure Wagon‘,  what was formerly my family’s car and what I learned how to drive on back in the day has become a staple of our current lives.  Turning 20 years old this year, it’s taken us throughout the better part of the West Coast, roaming between Oregon, Southern California and Canada, and experienced it’s share of music festivals; truth be told, my favorite adventures are the ones that it takes us close to home.Untitled

Truth be told, this past year was a monster unlike any other for me – and as it seems, for most of us.  Between some of the highest highs and the lowest lows, we traveled a lot less than ever this past year, especially as we slowly dissolved ourselves from the festival scene. Recently, these little country cats have turned into city kitties and we’ve fallen in love with the Museum of Modern Art in Downtown Los Angeles, the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room‘s at The Broad and simply roaming the streets of downtown in search of amazing architecture and technicolor street art. Instead of gallivanting to new states, we found ourselves in a slow state of finally appreciating our surroundings within Los Angeles proper, and it was absolutely wonderful. Between the beaches in Malibu and Venice, hiking trails in Hollywood, desert landscapes of the Antelope Valley and Salton Sea, the Griffith Park Observatory, and the Angeles National Forest, it’s been nice to finally marinate in the beauty of what’s in our backyard. With the year drawing to a close and no holiday vacation on tap, the last few weeks of light work turned into the perfect reason to get one last round of exploration in for the year, and I couldn’t think of a better way to look ahead into 2018 than a tranquil trip through the Self Realization Fellowship Gardens in Mount Washington, featuring sprawling lawns perfect for stretching, yoga, and ample seating while you take in the salacious views of Downtown Los Angeles and marinate in the wonderful pockets of nature..

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The Self Realization Foundation itself was founded back in 1920 by yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda as he first came to America. Considered far and wide the father of Yoga in the West, Paramahansa Yogananda is attributed with introducing his practices of Kriya Yoga and meditation to both Indians as well as Westerners.   After coming to the United States, he lectured and traveled along the East Coast, gaining notable followers from Mark Twain‘s daughter Clara Gabrilowitsch to soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, leading him to establishing the Self Realization Center in Los Angeles.  As the first Hindu teacher to truly live in the West, over time and even surpassing his death, Paramahansa continued to influence key movers and shakers across the board with his essentially self titled autobiography “Autobiography of a Yogi“, from Steve Jobs to George Harrison and Elvis Presley.   Since then, the Self Realization Fellowship has been dedicated to carrying on the ethos and humanitarian work of their founder.  The foundation themselves reaches worldwide, with a goal of fostering “a spirit of greater understanding and goodwill among the diverse peoples and religions of our global family, and to help those of all cultures and nationalities to realize and express more fully in their lives the beauty, nobility, and divinity of the human spirit.”

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Enjoy a panoramic view of the city by the sundial, or relax in the luscious lawn with lovely little flowers and well groomed trees in vibrant shades of green. Following the paths through the gardens, dip into the ferns and marinate in the calmness of the small waterfall and pond in the center.  When you continue, you’ll find various benches hidden between bushes and off the beaten paths, and a set of stone chairs and table perfect for an afternoon picnic.

The paths at the SRF are open to visitors from 9am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and from 1-5pm on Sundays. For more photos from the gardens, head to my Flickr – and keep in mind, I’m really just learning the Canon 6D – so more to come from that in a bit! For more on the Self Realization Fellowship Gardens, head to their socials or pay them a leisurely visit.

Website | Instagram | Yelp | Facebook

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[Traveling Tales] Serenity in the Sequoias


With the sporadic influx of pseudo-Winter weather in Southern California over the last few weeks, a fresh blanket of snow had dusted over the local mountain ranges and springtime blossoms were peeking out with pastel colors against fifty shades of green.  Once I caught wind of the awe inspiring pictures of Yosemite’s fabled February Firefall, the itch for wanderlust had flooded back through my veins.  Twenty minutes and an excited conversation with Danny later, and we were scheming about what shenanigans we could get up to for the weekend.  Since the weekend before was a beautiful three day Valentine’s Day and President’s Day twofer, we realized that there would be very few people on the roads traveling about – which made it perfect timing for a quick weekend adventure.

A self professed ‘city kitty’ of sorts, I can easily count the number of times I’ve played in the snow on one hand.  So, the genuine prospect of an outdoors adventure prancing around a crystalline cloud makes me giddy, like a school girl crush on the first day of Summer. After consulting the map, we realized a 36 hour trip to Yosemite was a bit lofty – but the good news was that we could cut our travel time in half and finally enjoy the stunning scenery that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have to offer.

After some quick research of the area, we devised what I thought was a genius game plan. First, we jotted up to Project Survival Cat Haven for a quick stop and a Caturday inspired tour of the big cat sanctuary and conservation center.  Between the gorgeous Lions, Bengal Tigers, Lynx, Leopards and more – the feline fanatic inside me was absolutely satiated. Then, we headed off to King’s Canyon to frolic in the snow and gallivant around Grant’s Grove.

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A full day of snow filled adventure later, and we were ready to turn down for a delicious meal overlooking the Kaweah River in the sleepy town of Three Rivers, right outside of the southern entrance of the park.  Once we found our cabin for the night, we nestled in and reflected on our incredible day, while memories intermingled with the rich aroma of a Winter night’s fire and laughter. The next morning as the sun slowly soared over the mountains, we found ourselves enraptured by beauty at each and every angle, from geometric reflections in the pool to the warm aroma of rosemary and lavender. After some hearty conversation with some of the locals, we were off, off and away – but this time, into Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest.

Founded back in 1890, Sequoia National Park stretches to over 400,000 acres of land with topographies that range from 1,000′ to 12,000′ – including the highest point within the Great 48, Mount Whitney. The park contains 34 separately stunning groves of Giant Sequoia Trees, accounting for nearly half of the Sequoia groves in the world. A member of the Redwood family, Sequoias are considered to be one of the oldest living entities on Earth with it’s  oldest members dated at an awe inspiring 3,266 years old; for some perspective, the oldest living tree is an astonishing 9,550 years old.  Featuring fibrous, fire resistant bark – the Giant Sequoias rank in as the world’s largest single trees, and largest living thing by volume.  The world’s largest tree by volume, the General Sherman clocks in at over 52,000 cubic feet, stands over 280′ tall and is aged between 2,200 and 2,700 years old. The park also contains the next four largest trees in the world – including three additional Sequoias that lie within the Giant Forest.

Sequoia-44One of my favorite things (and there were a lot of favorite things) about the park is the varieties in the terrain, yielding a complex menagerie of landscapes within a small area. In addition to the incredible Sequoia themselves, the flowing Kaweah River was roaring with delight while wildflowers sprang out sporadically from behind bushes and gold dusted rocks. Waterfalls peeked from around each and every bend, with small off the beaten path hikes and trails, while incredible granite monoliths like Moro Rock and Hospital Rock towered above us like a watchdog.

Heading up the mountain one more time, we ascended in direct proportion to our excitement – with changes in elevation causing me to constantly bundle up in more warmth around each and every turn. Eventually, we arrived at Big Trees Trail – the home of the General Sherman, and you better believe there was a whole lot of tree hugging going around.  Their warm rich color paired with vibrant evergreen needles against the pristine white snow made for a nearly spiritual moment seeped in serenity.  Ravens and red tailed hawks flew to and fro while the trees beckoned to us gently in their stillness; standing in their shadow, a wave of humbling calmness washed over me as I finally felt like I understood the true gravity of the world.  Stuck within a moment of lucid beauty,  I found I’d lost track of time and couldn’t tell if we’d been standing there silent for moments, minutes or hours. I left the forest feeling transformed, transfixed on what felt like a life changing experience underneath the stunning Sequoia.

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Hands down, the National Park Systems is one of the best gifts that the United States Government could give back to the people and slowly but surely, the country mouse is coming out of me and I’m truly enjoying submersing and submerging myself within its ubiquitous beauty.  If last year I could find the time to work and play at a new music festival every month, this year I can certainly commit to a new national park every month.  And now, with this past trip under my belt, I have to admit that Sequoia now has a special place in heart and is my favorite park that I’ve visited so far, with Zion and Red Rocks coming in as close seconds.  If you have grandiose plans of traversing the park soon, be aware that Generals Highway is closed between Lodgepole and Grant Grove – and the depending on your proposed route, your detour can be an incredibly narrow and windy road (trust).  The closure will be reopening in Mid March.

What’s your favorite National Park and which ones are on your bucket list?

 

 
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