Relax & Renew: Costa Rica Yoga Retreat

I planned this yoga retreat long before I knew how much I would need it at this time of my life. I did my first yoga retreat several years ago, in Nicaragua, and I loved it. I’ve been doing yoga for more years than I can count at this point, but retreats are special. It’s a great opportunity to deepen your practice and spend time with like-minded people, exploring a new place. Ever since Nicaragua, I’ve kept an eye out for the right retreat and timing and, luckily for me, a studio I practice at locally, Radiance, was putting together a retreat. Before I could find a way to talk myself out of it, I put down my deposit and was locked in. I didn’t anticipate that by the time I was boarding my plane, I’d be in the midst of a divorce and trying to come to terms with my senior dog being a newly diagnosed diabetic, but I’d like believe the universe had set me up to be right where I needed to be when I needed it most, connecting with the best people to help me on my journey.


After two flights and a long, sometimes bumpy van ride, we arrived at Ahki Retreat. I’m not sure I can do justice describing how it really is a paradise setting, so I’ll just let the photos do the talking for me. We spent a week here, doing two yoga practices a day and eating amazing vegetarian food for all our meals. I am the furthest thing from a vegetarian in real life, but I promise you, if the staff at Ahki were cooking for me at home every day, I would be in a heartbeat. So good. When we weren’t yoga-ing (or eating), we were hanging by the pool (there is no better nap in your life than one on a swinging bed in a poolside cabana), getting massages and body treatments, and exploring everything Costa Rica had to offer by going horseback riding, surfing, shopping, stand-up paddleboarding, and ziplining.


I did both the horseback riding and the ziplining. I don’t have photos from the ziplining – I was way too terrified to even think about taking photos! – but I do promise that it was worth it. After I got past wondering how to say “holy shit!!” in Spanish, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am terrified of the idea of falling, so doing it was a big step in addressing and overcoming that fear, and the ziplining guides were awesome. I highly recommend both a sunset horseback ride and ziplining if you find yourself in this area of Costa Rica!


We also spent some time in the closest “big” town, Nosara, getting ice cream and shopping. Towards the end of the week, we went out for dinner at La Luna, where we enjoyed a lovely, leisurely dinner literally on the beach while we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean.


I am so grateful for this trip, the experiences I had, and the people I met. I can’t wait to do it again. Pura Vida!


The Library of Congress

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, containing over 164 million items, including over 38 million books. The Library is the research arm of Congress, but anyone 16 and older can register for a reader card and have access to the Library’s resources for doing research. Twice a year, the Library opens its main reading room to the general public for viewing. Being such a huge bookworm and having Columbus Day off work, I headed down there to check it out.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have lived in the DC area for almost 15 years, and this is the first time I’ve set foot in the building. And I was really missing out. Aside from the reading room, the whole building is really a work of art. I was so happy to be able to spend some time enjoying such an amazing space that houses so many treasures. I hope you enjoy some of the photos I took, and if you are ever in DC when the reading room is open, I highly recommend taking the time to take a peek.


Yep. They have a *real* card catalogue.


Most of the items they had on display were (really impressive) facsimiles, but this is the real deal – a Spanish dictionary from the 1600s. They have others in storage so are allowed to have this original out for people to touch. The librarian who showed it to me said a lot of people who do research on that time period will use the dictionary so they are getting the original meaning of the words. So cool to be able to see and touch a book that old!



Travel: A Family New York City Adventure

I was lucky as a kid – we went on family vacation together every summer. But until this past Labor Day weekend, I couldn’t tell you the last time we’d all gone somewhere together – maybe sometime when I was in college…? After this past Labor Day weekend, I remembered why it had been so long….


My dad is a huge folk music fan. I grew up listening to my dad play guitar while we sung along to John Denver, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Woody Guthrie, and Peter, Paul, and Mary (“Puff the Magic Dragon” was a favorite song of mine, even though I cried (yes, really) whenever Puff slunk into his cave, sure it meant he shuffled his way off the mortal coil). So when my dad heard about an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York that chronicled the blossoming of folk music in Greenwich Village in the 60s and 70s, it seemed a perfect reason to head to the city. My parents had never been to NYC and it had been almost 15 years since I had been there – why not go?

So we found an (overpriced) hotel a few blocks off Times Square and headed up for the long weekend. And we crammed a *lot* into those few days. And as much as I can joke about going on vacation with my parents now that we’re all adults, we really did have a pretty good time playing tourist in the city, and I figured I’d share a bit of our adventure with you. Hope you enjoy!

nyc4Times Square and Jared making friends with the T-Rex at the Times Square Toys R Us (which has since closed! So I’m glad we got to go there and poke around!)


We drove up, but my parents’ flight was late getting in, so we headed over to Rockefeller Center for cocktails and people watching before stumbling across a delicious Cuban restaurant for dinner


All ready to go on the top of the tour bus on the first day!


At the museum. Someone was a little bit excited….


The paper is the handwritten lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind”


I spent a disturbing amount of time being fascinated by this light fixture and the spiral stairs in the museum. I want them both.


Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall at night


The *highlight* of the trip for my dad – open mic at The Bitter End! This venue, which opened in Greenwich Village in 1961, hosted a ton of folk music artists during the height of the folk music revival. It meant a lot to my dad to get to sing and play at the same place as so many people who have influenced him – and he did a great job! (I admit it…I teared up a bit…)


The city from the top of the Empire State Building


The city from Liberty Island


Light Painting Workshop: Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

One of the coolest things about photography (or art in general) is there is always the chance to learn something new and keep growing your abilities. The day I think I know all there is to know about photography and can’t do anything to get better is the day I know I should put away my camera. There is always always always some new aspect to explore! So, with that in mind, last month I made the trek with my friend Evan to the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA) in Weston, WV, for a light painting workshop.

The workshop was put on by a great local group, Road Runner Photography Tours, and I admit I had no idea what I was getting into. I was intrigued because I had heard of light painting but knew nothing about it and because I LOVE old, falling apart buildings and ghosts, so going to TALA for anything was a dream come true. The leaders of the tour were awesome – gave a great lecture beforehand to help educate us about light painting and then walked around the asylum during the night as we worked to help set up some interesting shots with different techniques and answer questions.

If you’re not familiar (like I really wasn’t), light painting is just what it sounds like – set yourself and your camera up in a dark or low-lit space and then illuminate parts of the space with different light sources. You can use anything from regular hardware store flashlights to heavier duty lights  with colored gels to glow sticks and colored light sabers – all kinds of neat stuff. There also doesn’t really seem to be a “wrong” way to do it – it’s a lot of trial and error to create the effect that you’re looking for. The key is really to have a tripod and a vision, because for most instances, you’ll want to take several different exposures with different ways of light painting and then layer them together in post-production (I use Photoshop) to make a composite.

If I came away from this workshop having learned anything, it’s that I have a LOT more to learn. As I went through my images, I was definitely making a mental list of what to do differently for next time! But I feel that, for my first time giving this a shot, these didn’t come out too shabby at all. Hope you enjoy!

The one below is a composite of three different images – we lit each room individually with its respective color and then I put them together in post production.

TALA3One of our great instructors, Denise, posing as an asylum patient for us

TALA7This is a cool effect created by having white lights on the inside of a bicycle tire and spinning it on its side on the ground, creating this neat dome of light

IMG_6522 TALA5The glowing “waterfall” is created by someone spinning flaming steel wool (sometimes called “woolies”). I’m not going to give a “don’t try this at home” message, because obviously people do and are fine, but I will say to keep in mind that this is METAL or FIRE and so obviously precautions need to be taken. I found this blog post that gives a great explanation on how to create this effect safely, and if you have any doubts about whether you’re comfortable doing this or not, don’t do it

TALA1 TALA4 TALA6 This is actually probably my favorite from the night, and it’s not a composite – the typewriter (which I loved on its own!) was lit in just one shot IMG_6543


And leaving you with one final woolie!



A Travel Story: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

As you can tell, 2013 has already been full of adventures for me. New Orleans last month and I just returned this weekend from a week-long yoga retreat in Nicaragua. It was an amazing experience! It was wonderful to be in nature and away from it all, enjoying morning and evening meditation and yoga classes as well as relaxing on the beach, drinking smoothies, and exploring what a beautiful country Nicaragua is. I also have to give a lot of kudos to Yogaville for organizing this wonderful trip, and express gratitude to all the people who shared the week with me. I never knew it was possible to connect with such a diverse group of people so strongly in such a short time!

We flew into the capital of Nicaragua, Managua, and then took a 2.5 hour ride to San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific coast. At the top of a very steep hill, we discovered our resort, Buena Vista Surf Club, located just above Playa Maderas, one of the top surfing beaches in the country. We had run of the resort for the week, and the owners, Marc and Marielle, and their staff (Ashley, Jose, Alex, and Jet) were beyond amazing. They were helpful and cooked the most delicious vegetarian breakfasts and dinners your can imagine. They were cheerful and blended right in with our group, even joining us for some of our yoga classes. The resort is an eco-resort designed by Marc and Marielle to blend seamlessly in with nature. They have treehouse-type bungalows for guests, as well as a beach house slightly down the hill (where I stayed with three other ladies). The first night there, I watched the sunset from the balcony of our beach house and then enjoyed a deep relaxation class before dinner. It gets very dark very quickly there, so by the time we opened our eyes at the end of our relaxation session, we were gazing up at glittering stars – what a start to the trip!


The main house where we ate our meals and had our yoga classes


The view from the deck – we spent our yoga sessions gazing out over the trees at the oceanIMG_4897_2 IMG_4895_2 IMG_4893_2 IMG_4828_2

Looking into the living room our our beach house, which I shared with three other women as well as an assortment of spiders and a few very chatty geckos


The balcony of the beach houseIMG_4831_2

A sailboat out at sunset

IMG_4836_2 IMG_4839_2

Our second day there, I spent time reading and relaxing, as well as exploring the beach, drinking the first of many fruit smoothies (big fan of the pineapple-banana combination), and eating guacamole and veggie tacos at the shacks on the beach. We also spent beach time during the week boogie-boarding (many thanks to my new friend Padma for helping me learn to do this by just handing me the board and giving me a shove, literally and figuratively, and to Swamiji for showing so much joy and excitement in this activity), enjoying deep discussions in the sunshine, and making friends with the stingrays (no one stepped on any, but goodness, it is startling when they just start swimming over your feet and legs!)

IMG_4852_2 IMG_4848_2 IMG_4853_2 IMG_4847_2_edited-1

Aside from the stingrays that liked to boogie-board, there were plenty of other interesting creatures and beautiful flowers. Lots of really lovely birds flying about, dolphins frolicking in the water, geckos, creepy bugs hanging out by on the doors of the beach house, scorpions (note: if getting stung by a scorpion is on your bucket list, I highly recommend against it – I got a nasty sting our last night there that we’re 95% sure was from a scorpion, and it hurt like hell), and MONKEYS. How much fun is it to wake up to the noise of howler monkeys? (OK, only sort of fun, at 4 AM, it’s really a bit more annoying. The monkeys also thought we were incredibly interesting – they would often come and hang out around the deck during our yoga classes (probably laughing at us).

IMG_4885_2 IMG_4886_2 IMG_4888_2 IMG_4868_2 IMG_4968_2 IMG_4961_2 IMG_4967_2 IMG_4869_2 IMG_4871_2We didn’t just hang around the resort and do yoga – we also did some exploring of Nicaragua. One day, I went on a catamaran sailing trip, courtesy of Nica Surf and Sail. Zack, Byron, and Geraldo were really knowledgeable and friendly and we had a great trip. We did some sailing, then dropped anchor in a quiet cove called Playa Blanca, where we got to swim and walk on the beach, and also have homemade guacamole and salsa on the boat. We sailed back to San Juan Del Sur just in time to still see the sunset from the boat.

I also have to add that one of the most amusing things about the sailing trip was getting there – we had to take a taxi from the resort to the pier in town. Imagine a taxi – now erase that image and imagine a beat up old pick-up truck, with room for 4 passengers…a 6 people needing to get into town. Well, Nicaraguans are prepared for that – the bed of the pick-up taxi is outfitted with boards along the sides to make benches. So…along with another person from our group, Rene, and Dunia, the woman down the road from the resort who gives awesome massages, I rode into town in the bed of a pick-up. While a bit dusty, the breeze was surprisingly refreshing, and it is at least a good story to tell!

IMG_4909_2 IMG_4904_2

I admit it, I broke the “no alcohol” rule while out sailing – the Jimmy Buffett part of my soul just didn’t think it was acceptable to be on a boat without a Mai Tai, and I had to try the Nicaraguan rumIMG_4910_2 IMG_4916_2

The statue in the distance is a giant Jesus statue. Who knew, Ohio’s Touchdown Jesus has a Central American cousin? ;)

IMG_4922_2 IMG_4920_2The day after sailing, we went on another adventure, to the Masaya Volcano and then into Granada for lunch and some sightseeing and shopping. Masaya is an active volcano, and it was pretty impressive to see the smoke pouring out (and to smell the sulfur – whew!). We didn’t have much time in Granada, but it seemed to be a quaint city with a lovely center square (lots of vendors!) and good spots to eat (we enjoyed lunch at the Garden Cafe). During our drive, we also made a quick stop at Lake Nicaragua, which was beautiful.


The garden courtyard at the Garden Cafe – great smoothies and brownies!


From the edge of the Masaya Volcano


An amazing example of the resilience of nature – even if the lava fields around the volcano, flowers are still growing


Masaya from a look-out point above

IMG_4941_2_edited-1 IMG_4925_2

Lake Nicaragua


After those two adventures, I spent the last few days of the trip just relaxing and visiting with the others on the retreat. I feel like the photographs don’t even really do this place justice. I had never given Nicaragua a thought as a vacation destination, but I am so glad I went, and I highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity!

A Travel Story: New Orleans

New Orleans has been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve always heard such great things about this city and I always wanted to check it out – and now I can say that I have! I headed down with two of my friends, Kim and Susan (who you’ve seen featured in other blog posts!), over a long weekend and we tried to cram as much into the weekend as we possibly could.

We stayed at the Royal Saint Charles, which is just a few blocks outside of the French Quarter. Nice hotel, but if you book online I STRONGLY recommend calling to ensure the hotel has your specifications as far as the correct room needed.

IMG_4478_2After we got settled into our room at the hotel, we wandered down the street and met one of Kim’s friends at the Davenport Lounge at the Ritz Carlton for some cocktails and to listen to Jeremy Davenport play some jazz.

IMG_4474_2 IMG_4477_2We were tired from all our traveling, so we didn’t stay out too late, but were up bright and early the next day for beignets from Cafe Du Monde. We got our powdered sugar bites of heaven to go and ate by the river.

IMG_4479_2 IMG_4481_2 IMG_4482_2After breakfast, we just explored the city. We wandered through Jackson Square and checked out the St Louis Cathedral….

IMG_4606_2 IMG_4487_2_edited-1 IMG_4489_2

…admired all the beautiful architecture in the French Quarter, including the houses decked out for Mardi Gras….

IMG_4523_2 IMG_4614_2

…..lots of buildings still had gas lamps outside…..


…..The Cornstalk Fence hotel…just loved the fence, easy to tell where it gets its name! IMG_4618_2

We also went to the Historic New Orleans Collection and did a tour of the Williams Residence, which was neat to see, especially all the gorgeous courtyards, and then we followed it up with a mimosa brunch at the Court of Two Sisters.

IMG_4498_2 IMG_4499_2After brunch, we stopped in at the Mask Gallery to marvel over the beautiful masks they have. Amazing works of art! I couldn’t make up my mind, so I got a traditional Venetian mask and a mask by Judith Rauchfuss, who makes the masks for Cirque du Soleil.

IMG_4494_2 IMG_4632_2That evening, we stopped at Carousel Bar and Lounge for a drink (I recommend the French 007) before heading out on our ghost tour. We had a two hour walking tour full of ghosts and New Orleans history, with a break at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for a to-go hurricane.

IMG_4597_2 IMG_4509_2 IMG_4513_2 IMG_4516_2

The next morning, we decided to continue on the ghost theme, so we wandered up to St Louis Cemetery #1. Marie Laveau is reported to be buried in St Louis #1 and many people leave tokens and mark (illegal!) on the crypt in which she is rumored to be interred.

IMG_4551_2 IMG_4547_2 IMG_4539_2 IMG_4532_2 IMG_4534_2_edited-1 IMG_4556_2 IMG_4557_2 IMG_4540_2_edited-1After our cemetery tour, we got some lunch and cocktails (Kim was happy she finally got her oysters) and then we took the streetcar to the Garden District, where we walked around looking at the houses, including Anne Rice’s old house, and did some shopping on Magazine Street. I got a great hat at Goorin Brothers and a fabulous necklace at Trashy Diva.

IMG_4563_2 IMG_4571_2 IMG_4566_2 IMG_4568_2 IMG_4622_2 IMG_4628_2After our shopping adventure, we took a nap and then headed out again. My fabulous friends took me to Muriel’s for a wonderful belated birthday dinner and afterwards we enjoyed a night out on the town.

IMG_4575_2 IMG_4595_2 IMG_4593_2

I was beat when I got back to town, but it was worth it to be non-stop for the weekend, and I can’t wait to go back to NOLA again!

A Travel Story: Paris, France

Let me start this out by saying I love travel. Not only that I love it, but I feel like it’s a really important part of who I am. I like exploring new places and new cultures. I like getting beyond my own corner of the world. I recognize that I am lucky and was able to start traveling, both in the States and internationally, at a young age. I really appreciate the fact that I got the exposure to other people and places. I wish everyone was able to have that experience – I truly believe it helps understand both the differences in other people and our fundamental interconnectedness. I try to, at least once a year, get somewhere new.

This year, I went to Paris, France. It wasn’t my first time in Paris, but since the last time I was there was on a high school trip, I had a wholly different appreciation for the city. This was also a special trip because I went on it with my mom and grandma. My mom and I gave this trip to my grandma as her Christmas gift. She had made a comment off-hand to my mom after having heart surgery a few years ago that now that she was getting older, she would never get to see Paris and that was a place she had always wished she had gotten to go. My mom telling me that really stuck with me, and we decided that if we had the ability to make her dream come true, then we would do it. So – off to Paris we went!

My mom and I planned the whole trip online and, to be frank, really did minimal research, so we were really pleased with the hotel we ended up at. We stayed at Citadines Prestige Saint-Germain-des-Pres, which ended up really being an excellent location. Close to the subway, close to several tour bus stops, close to several wonderful restaurants worth sampling, and we literally walked out the front door to see Notre Dame just a few blocks down.

We arrived in Paris in the early afternoon and we didn’t want to make our jet lag any worse, so we decided to do some exploring. Since Notre Dame was so close, we started there. After we toured Notre Dame, we wandered to the Luxembourg Gardens. It started raining almost as soon as we got there, so we quickly ducked into a cafe in the gardens and I enjoyed a lovely rich hot chocolate and a macaron. Once the rain died down, we wandered through the gardens. The next morning, we got on the metro and headed to Montmartre to explore (note: do not venture into the Paris metro unless you can manage a lot of walking and stairs! Yeesh!) Bumming around Montmartre involves walking up lots of hills, so we stopped along the way for a drink at a cafe and to explore shops, the street artists’ both, enjoy a croque monsieur, and pay a visit to the Dali museum. We toured Sacre Couer and on the way back down stopped for a glass of wine before ending up outside the Moulin Rouge.

After a nap to recover from all the walking in Montmarte, we went out and go dinner, then wandered along the Seine. The sky was this beautiful deep sapphire blue – it was a lovely night to be out walking around!

The next morning, we were off to the Louvre, which was also walkable from our hotel. We stopped on the way for breakfast at a cafe, and after spending some time taking in all the art, did a little shopping nearby, stopping at Fragonard for some wonderful perfumes and La Maison du Chocolat for some sweet treats (the champagne truffles were a hit in my office.)That evening, we went on a Bateaux-Mouches dinner boat cruise. It was actually timed pretty perfectly, as it started raining while we were on the boat, but it did preclude me from getting a lot of great photos. Oh well – enjoyed the food, wine, and champagne, and definitely the company!

We were up bright and early the next day so I could go to the Catacombs. This was my only “must see” for this trip. It was well worth the 90 minute wait in line, the 130 spiral steps down, and the 83 spiral steps back up (my cardiologist would be proud). After the catacombs, I met up with my mom and grandma for some nutella crepes. Then we took a hop-on, hop-off bus and checked out Les Invalides and Place de la Concorde.

That night for dinner, we wandered down to a pizza place on our street. I wouldn’t have expected to find amazing pizza in Paris, but I was wrong. I got the four cheese pizza, which had really unique cheeses on it, to include Camembert. After pizza we wandered down to this fruit bar that I had been eying since our first day and got great cocktails and dessert.

Our last full day in Paris, we got back on the hop-on, hop-off bus and checked out the Paris landmarks, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t go up in the Eiffel Tower (three hour wait!) but we enjoyed walking around the park around the tower. We also just did some wandering around, which gave me the chance to just snap a few random shots of Parisians out and about in the city. We finished our day with dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, La Rose de France, which was in a small square, a bit hidden behind the buildings in the area. It was near another restaurant we had discovered and loved, Restaurant Paul. I think one of the best things we did on this trip was not plan our meals ahead, because it gave us the chance to discover some wonderful places on our own, just based on our mood.

All in all, this was an amazing trip – definitely hard to leave and get back to real life. I’m glad I had the chance to have this experience with my mom and grandma! What is your dream place to visit?