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Monday, August 06, 2018

Visiting California: Lake Tahoe in January

Mike and I love snowboarding.  We love snow in general.  I probably get a little bit more excited about snow than he does, but the point is we both love it.  Which is why it was a bit disappointing our trip to Lake Tahoe was scheduled during an unusually warm January.

Most of the snow was melting, and it was in the 50s almost the entire time we were there.  That made for some pretty warm days on the slopes, plus slushy/icy conditions as the snow would melt and then refreeze overnight.

We made the best out of it, but after a few days at Heavenly, ultimately decided we much preferred our trip to Breckenridge, CO in 2015.

From our trip to Tahoe, two things stand out: my impromptu sunset drive to Emerald Bay and the fishing charter we booked for our last day.

Mike and I drove out to Emerald Bay one morning, but the fog was still so thick, all of the views were obscured and we couldn't see much beyond the trees 10 feet in front of us.  We did find a cool view of the lake from a park on the shoreline, but still...fog.



So after we enjoyed the switch back mountain road, we turned around and headed back to the hotel. That evening when the sky cleared, I went back out on my own to see what I could see.  Mike was tired, plus he didn't pack waterproof shoes. I knew I wanted to get to Emerald Bay, one of the most famous photo spots in South Lake Tahoe.  I parked along the side of the highway and followed a trail up the hill to a waterfall, but the view of Emerald Bay was obscured by trees.  There was still a lot of snow on the trails, and even in my snow boots I had to go slowly.  I knew sunset was coming quickly, so I hiked back down to the highway where I could hear water flowing, and climbed down a snowy bank to a hidden stream and cascading pools to be greeted by an unobstructed view of Emerald Bay, just in time to catch the bright purple sunset. It was truly amazing.


On our last day in Tahoe, we finally got to see the lakeshore without fog. We enjoyed an early lunch by the beach and then boarded a fishing boat for a four-hour excursion on the lake.  The views from the boat were amazing, and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Mike caught two...trout? bass? I don't know what they were. But he took one of them back to the hotel and cooked it for dinner.






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Monday, July 30, 2018

Visiting New York: A Quick Trip to Syracuse


Last October I spent a long weekend in Syracuse, NY as part of my graduate program at Syracuse University.  My dad lives nearby in Pennsylvania, so we also used it as an opportunity to meet up and do some exploring.




On our first day, we did a quick tour of a few local waterfalls.  The most remarkable was 167-foot Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park.  The trail to the falls was quick and easy, albeit a bit muddy.  Some of the river bank is habitat to a few protected species, so you’re really not allowed to wander around, but the designated path and adorable footbridge still afford some great views from above and below the waterfall and along the gorge. 

At the top of the waterfall, a paved trail lets you explore further upstream, and my dad and I couldn’t resist building a few cairns like we always do on our trips together.



After that we drove to 137-foot Pratt’s Falls at Pratt’s Falls Park.  This park offered a lot more as far as outdoor recreation is concerned, and the path to the waterfall was a bit more strenuous.  At least when we went, the view of the waterfall wasn’t quite worth the trek to get there.  It’s quite far away from the vantage point, and unless there’s been a lot of rain, the flow of water isn’t very dramatic.

On our last afternoon, after a quick tour of campus, we decided to take advantage of the warm weather and drove out to Fort Ontario on a whim. Fort Ontario, in the City of Oswego, is situated on the southeast bank of Lake Ontario.  Not only did we get to see a really unique historic site, I got to visit the one of the Great Lakes I hadn’t seen yet. The Fort was built in the early 1800s and used by the U.S. Army through World War II.  At one point it also served as the only refugee camp in the country for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.



We did venture into town on the hunt for ice cream, but most places were closed for the season.

One evening, we were fortunate to get tickets to the Russian Grand Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake at the downtown Crouse Hinds theater.  Before the show, we ate dinner at Jim’s Fish Fry, a real local treasure my dad couldn’t resist trying.

The next couple of days I spent on campus fulfilling my requirements as a student before flying back to Virginia. 

Syracuse in the fall is hard to beat, but I returned again in May for my graduation ceremony. It was a bit warmer and wetter, but still a wonderful weekend of celebration.  The next time I’m in that neck of the woods I’ll be enjoying it as a proud alum.




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Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Storybook Baby Shower

One of my best friends from college is having a baby. Her sister graciously asked me to help host a baby shower this month in honor of the new arrival and I was delighted to be a part of it.  The shower was all about storybooks, and the food was even inspired by tales like Chicken Little and Green Eggs and Ham.

I offered to make the diaper cake, which I designed around a "bedtime story" concept, complete with cozy dream blanket and teddy bear.  I was so proud of the diaper cake I told my boss I was going to quit my job and design diaper cakes full time.


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Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting Colorado: Grand Lake Wedding

This is really less about visiting Colorado and more about our rental car fiasco.

Mike and I flew to Denver in July to celebrate a friend’s wedding (and yes, I'm just now blogging about it).  Our flights out west were uneventful and our baggage made it unscathed.  Not so fortunate was our friend Tammy, whose suitcase was unzipped at some point in transit and was overflowing when it appeared on the baggage claim.  Her bathing suit bottoms and razor were mysteriously missing.

The real drama began after we left the airport and boarded our shuttle to the rental car place, which of course is conveniently situated about 100 miles (give or take) from the airport.

I booked our rental car on CarRentals.com and the cheapest option was through Fox Rent a Car.  Let me tell you now in no uncertain terms: if you’re flying to Denver, do not use Fox Rent a Car.

When we entered the building at 11:30 a.m., the check-in line snaked through the lobby.  Children were running rampant, bouncing off chairs and couches, screeching like wildlings.  Other wary travelers stood in line, eyes down, defeated.  I joined them.

I waited in that line for at least an hour before I finally made it to the desk where a cheerful but sloth-like cashier was waiting to "help" me.

She asked the typical questions about insurance and offered to upgrade our vehicle for a nominal fee.  I hate sedans, and I figured a small SUV might be better equipped to handle the mountain roads, so I agreed.

The small SUVs pictured on their pamphlet are Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers, but please do not make the mistake of assuming that is what you will receive.

We drove off the lot in a red Dodge Journey and let me tell you, that candy apple finish pretty closely matched the color of the blood I was ready to spill after driving from Denver to Grand Lake in what is LITERALLY the worst vehicle EVER.

The stupid thing maxed out at 55 mph on flat interstate.  It accelerated about as fast as hamster in molasses.  Going up any incline greater than 1% felt like the engine might shudder and explode at any second.  At one point, not long after we began our ascent up the mountain (still on the interstate, mind you), the oil overheated and, according to the dashboard display, our speed was compromised (as if it hadn’t been from the start).

Even going downhill, the engine was revved and the transmission wouldn’t shift properly.

It was truly a nightmare.  I mean I am still having nightmares about it.

Somehow we made it the more than two hours it took to get to Grand Lake, where the festivities were held.  We rented an adorably tiny cabin just blocks away from the water via Air BnB.

The weather didn't quite cooperate, and we battled rain each day of the trip.

But we love Colorado, so we made the best of it and enjoyed the company of Mike's friends.  The wedding (which I didn't take any photos of) was beautiful.

I really don't have anything else to say about it, so I'll end on this note:

NEVER rent (or buy) a Dodge Journey.
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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Dress Obsessed: Shopping For Your Inner Geek

My friend and co-worker Kristi is always wearing the most unique dresses.  I asked her if she'd write a guest post about her favorite places to find her amazing outfits.  Thanks for sharing, Kristi!

When I was a little girl, my fascination with Disney animation easily translated into adorable dresses and cute printed blouses fit for a princess. Little girls had plenty of options to feel comfortable while also sporting a look that showed off their current interests. My parents often filled my closet with clothes that showcased my love for Tinkerbell, Mulan, Belle…believe me, this list could go on forever if I continued.

But as my interests expanded, it was difficult for me to find clothing I would consider “adorable” or “cute” when it came to comic book icons, Japanese animation, etc. Even Star Wars, which holds one of the most iconic characters for me, Princess Leia Organa, was in short supply of outfits for those who were interested in showing their passions in the form of dresses. And as I was growing older, I was breaking away from Disney’s prime audience for those princess collections. I was no longer a teeny human and therefore the expectations of fashion sense and personal interests were expected to change.

Well, my interests didn’t change. I was still exploring the realm of “geekdom” but with a much more limited wardrobe. I sported printed t-shirts and hoodies regularly to let the world know, “YES, I’M A GEEK AND I LOVE IT!”  The t-shirts were my canvas…but even though these outfits were comfortable enough, I never felt the same as when I was a little girl wearing my princess dresses. I felt my outfits were just something I threw together to get me through the day, not something I enjoyed.

For me, I had low self-esteem and my wardrobe wasn’t helping me overcome those judgmental stares. I compared myself to those around me, assuming it was so much easier for them to find a personal style. Many of them were prettier than I was, braver than I was. And I harbored this constant insecurity throughout high school.

College came and went.  I typically wore pajama pants and hoodies (unless of course I had to go in front of the camera, then you bet I was in a nice blouse) to class. And as I began my career in Public Affairs, I was slowly trying to develop a style I could call my own…however, apart from the nice blouses and dress pants, it was boring to me. I wanted to showcase my interests; I wanted to feel pretty for myself.

Fortunately, we were entering a time when body types were celebrated instead of ignored. Women of all shapes and sizes could find clothing that fit their needs and their style. Lady geeks no longer had to struggle to find the fashion for their interests because more designers were coming forward knowing the struggle so many faced growing up. For we who wanted to be all dressed up and proudly showing off our geek pride, it was our time to shine.

My dress journey began sometime in 2012 and has become somewhat of an obsession. My outfits helped me break out of my insecurities, allowing me to feel proud of who I was. I was no longer afraid to walk out into the world and show everyone just how much of a geek I am. Even in my constant struggles with being a plus-sized woman and trying to better myself, I can still feel beautiful in what I wear and how I present myself.

And let me tell you, the first time I wore one of my Disney dresses out in public and people were coming up to me and sharing how amazing I looked and how awesome my dress was, it felt…AMAZING! Each dress I wear, more and more people come up to me to tell me they love what I’m wearing and to say how awesome it is to see such cute outfits that showcase the geeky side of life. Many of them ask where they can find such clothing for themselves and I’m thrilled to point them in the right direction. I want more and more women to feel how I feel every single day. Empowered to look amazing and be the geek they are.

Hot Topic

It’s never shocking to me when I mention Hot Topic in a conversation about clothing, someone immediately goes, “isn’t that the punk store in the mall?” Why yes, yes it is.

“Hot Topic is the destination for music and pop culture-inspired clothes and accessories, plus fashion apparel for girls and guys.”

Started in 1988, this place continued to develop into one of the biggest pop culture paradises for teens and even adults.  Licensed merchandise cycles in from the most iconic bands, Disney, Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars…again, I can go on and on. These guys know how to cater to my fellow geeks.

I’ve got to admit though when I was browsing the Hot Topic website one day and came across a section of dresses, I was shocked and a little unsure if I wanted to jump in and make a purchase. Many of these outfits I couldn’t find in the store (mind you, this was 2012) so I couldn’t just try them on and see how they looked on me. And of course there were the prices…for some, $50+ for a dress isn’t a big deal but as someone who wanted to make sure that what I was getting was actually going to fit, I really was unsure about putting money down.

However, something amazing happened. A SALE POPPED UP THE NEXT DAY! Really, that’s not so amazing, because let me tell you Hot Topic is having new sales each week. Literally just checked this morning, 20% off select styles throughout the store. I saw this sale and thought to myself, “Well, if it doesn’t fit my style, I’ll just return it.” If you get something mailed to you and it doesn’t fit, you can either mail it back for a return or exchange or go to your local Hot Topic and return or exchange it. The worst that could happen is that it didn’t fit me so what did I have to lose.

Well, I ended up losing a lot of money…because I fell in love and thus went on a shopping spree. The thing about these dresses at Hot Topic is that each style is made to fit a variety of body types. The designers of these dresses want to ensure women are able to find something related to whatever interest they hold, something cute and appealing that they could cherish in their collection. Materials and styles range from casual to fancy. I literally had to pull myself away from buying a very beautiful Disney Princess dress because I probably wouldn’t have worn it anywhere (it was meant to be a prom dress).

Nowadays, these dresses can be found on the racks in your local Hot Topic. And more and more are popping up every day. Best advice I can give for those interested in checking out Hot Topic: check in frequently to see what new sales are popping up. Sign up for their electronic newsletter; they’ll let you know what’s available in the store that week due to your specified interests. Also join their HT Guest List program. It’s free to use and you’ll get points towards your purchases (this is for everything in the store, not just the dresses). Get enough points and you’ll have money to spend in the store.




The Dress: Limited Edition Alice through the Looking Glass Alice Adventure Dress

One of my favorite dresses I’ve ever bought from Hot Topic is this limited edition dress from the Alice through the Looking Glass collection inspired by the costume designs of Colleen Atwood. Now this dress was a constant battle for me because I kept thinking to myself, “would I ever wear this dress?” I’m a big fan of exploring other cultures, especially those of Asian origin. I fell in love with the purple satin design and the intricate detailing, many of which would not have noticed the Wonderland symbols in the fabric. But again, at the time of release the price of this dress ranged at around $80+ and through my own personal monologue I decided to step away and let this one slip by me. Within a few weeks, most of the sizes were gone and I figured this dress wasn’t meant to be.

In May of this year however, a huge sale occurred in the Hot Topic online store. I decided to search the available inventory and by my surprise I found this dress once more gracing the lineup of dresses…for $20. I dared to see if they had my size and by god…there is was. I don’t think I’ve ever clicked checkout so fast on a site before.

Slipping the dress on, I noted how comfortable it felt and how easy it was to slip on. The material itself is a polyester/cotton/spandex blend. The back zipper is handy for those that need it, the sweetheart neckline is a fun style I enjoy, and the color is so bright. My only real nitpick of the dress I received was the collar. It may just be a defect in the one I own but the collar almost always flips itself and needs to be adjusted to ensure it stays on correctly. This style of dress is also meant to fit your specific size that you ordered, so when it comes to my weight loss journey, there will need to be some adjustments made to the dress in order to continue to fit me.

This is just one of many dresses you can find at your local Hot Topic store or online at www.hottopic.com.
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