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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How To Pack For a Camping Trip

So you want to go camping? Summer isn’t over yet and there is still plenty of time left to enjoy the hot, muggy Southern Virginia weather. For many, camping is the ideal way to spend time outside without shelling out big bucks on a lavish vacation. If you’re going to pitch a tent for the weekend, here are some tricks and tips to help you make the most of your adventure.
  1. First, make sure to spend a small fortune at the grocery store on food and drinks so you can really enjoy your weekend living like a caveman.
  2. And if you’re over 21, don’t forget the adult beverages. As the great Ron Swanson once said, camping without beer is just sitting in the woods.
  3. And don’t leave out the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate for those s’mores you’ll be too lazy to actually make.
  4. Overall, it’s important to purchase items that can be stored in a cooler.  Items like bread and lunch meat taste even better after melted ice leaks into their containers.
  5. When you get home from the store, it’s time to dig out all the camping gear from your horribly unorganized garage.
  6. You’ll definitely need a tarp or two, especially when those predictable summer thunderstorms roll through and catch you completely off guard.
  7. Make sure your pack plenty of twinkle lights.  You’ll want to be able to navigate to your tent after dusk, and this also ensures your campsite is visible from outer space.
  8. Don’t forget your kindling to make fire starting a breeze.  All that useless dryer lint you’ve been hoarding in the laundry room finally has a purpose!
  9. Bug spray is also important, o-zone layer be damned.
  10. Comfort is key when you’re sleeping in the wild, so pack the biggest air mattress money can buy.  Don’t worry about fitting anything else in your tent.  But remember, a four person tent is really only big enough for two American sized people.
  11. You’re also going to want a portable bluetooth speaker so you can play music that is just loud enough to disturb your neighbors and ruin the peace and tranquility of the great outdoors for everyone.
  12. By this point you’ve probably packed so much stuff that you need to take two cars.  This is the most practical and efficient decision.  If you don’t look like a migrant fleeing oppression, you’re doing it wrong.
  13. Make sure you know ahead of time how to activate the hotspot on your phone so you can have Wi-Fi access. Otherwise you might miss out on Donald Trump’s latest tweets.
  14. When you get home, unpack everything to dry it out and leave it spread out in your garage indefinitely. 

Following these simple steps will help ensure your weekend in the woods is a huge success. Have fun!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Visiting Virginia: Paradise Found in a Shipyard's Shadow

It is difficult to define the word “paradise” because it means something unique to everyone. To me, paradise is an isolated cabin in the Colorado wilderness. To you, it might be a white sandy beach beside turquoise waters in the Caribbean.

But paradise also can be found at a wooded site on Victory Blvd. between Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) and St. Juliens Creek Annex, where 40 acres of restored forest and once-spoiled wetlands form Paradise Creek Nature Park, a lush sanctuary on the edge of Portsmouth’s urban sprawl.

I drive past the park every day during my commute to work but never quite realized exactly what was hiding across the street from the historic Cradock neighborhood. Dense vegetation obscures the entrance; and when I visited one Sunday morning in August, I nearly missed the turn.

I parked my car in the gravel parking lot and the first thing I noticed was a statue of two steel workers made using metal from ships disassembled at a nearby scrap yard. The sculpture represents the delicate balance between industry and nature on the Elizabeth River, a theme that resonates throughout the park.

After a quick glance at the map, I decided to begin my adventure at the main entrance. There are two miles of well-marked gravel paths, all of which are named after various flora and fauna. You can walk or bike your way through the park, and dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed.

I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife and followed Otter Trail beneath overcast skies around the park’s perimeter past the handicap-accessible kayak launch and Wetland Learning Lab, two of the many features designed to encourage community recreation and education.

The Elizabeth River Project (ERP) has been working since 2001 to restore Paradise Creek, a small tributary on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. The river has served as one of the greatest industrial harbors for four centuries, and hastened by human development, became one of the most polluted.

While there is no escaping the area’s commercial roots, and even though neighboring boat repair shops, energy plants, and heavy machinery are visible from virtually every angle, the park is a gleaming example of just how resilient the environment can be.

During spring, summer and fall, the park offers self-guided wildflower walks, and the wetlands provide ample opportunity for songbird and waterfowl sightings. Acres of invasive species were cut down, and there are now more than 10,000 native trees, shrubs and flowers throughout the revitalized forest. The ERP also facilitates park programs like clear-bottom kayak tours, ranger walks, and a Great Migration Bird Walk.

The network of marshy waterways, which used to be covered with mud dredged from the river, is now a wildlife refuge offering a picturesque backdrop for educational programs and public leisure.
If you’d like to explore from the water but don’t own your own kayak, NNSY’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) at Scott Center Annex offers equipment rentals for both military and civilian employees.

Much of the north shore of Paradise Creek served as a Norfolk Naval Shipyard landfill from World War II until 1983. The shipyard, working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, celebrated the Navy's completion of restoration activities Aug. 23, culminating 36 years of investigation and remediation.

Otter Trail ended at the park’s Wetland Footbridge, where I enjoyed a scenic view of Paradise Creek with Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge on the horizon. I continued on Fox Trail, which loops around the north end of the park. Connector trails provide easy access to bench-lined Wildflower, Songbird, Blue Heron, and Osprey Trails, which zig and zag through swaying trees, tangled vines, and thick undergrowth, making it easy to forget our bustling shipyard is just across the river.

My morning at the park was peaceful and offered a reprieve, however brief, from the asphalt suburbs that cover most of Hampton Roads. So whether you are seeking a lunchtime respite or an educational weekend activity for the family, I encourage you to check out Paradise Creek Nature Park.

You can find a map and more information about Paradise Creek Nature Park at

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in Norfolk Naval Shipyard's monthly magazine, Service to the Fleet.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The 5 Best: Pens for Everyday Writing

I've always been a bit of a handwriting freak. R/PeanshipPorn is one of my favorite subreddits.

I think it began when I was young. I remember my mom teaching me the "right" way to hold a pen between my thumb and forefinger. She said holding it that way would give me those most control over the shape of the letters to ensure my writing was neat and legible. For the most part, she was right, and I still hold my pen that way (unless I'm in a hurry and resort to scribbled note taking).

Anyway, because of my obsession with handwriting and penmanship, I've also developed a somewhat unusual but not totally extraordinary love of pens and it's totally normal no reason to judge me KEEP WALKING.

Nothing is worse than finding yourself without a pen and being forced to use whatever your friends or coworkers have lying around. It's like eating with a stranger's fork.

But in college, I borrowed stole a pen from a classmate and it ended up being the first pen I've ever used until the ink ran out - that's how much I loved it. For a while, it was the only type of pen I would buy because I felt so emotionally attached to it. I did eventually start branching out, and have found five pens to be the most reliable and comfortably suited to my handwriting style.

I have listed them here for you, in no particular order.

1: Pilot G2 Limited (Fine Gel Rollerball)

I love the weight of this pen! The barrel and grip fit really nicely between my fingers. It's a little bit thicker than what I usually write with, but the ink flows smoothly and it's really nice and bold. If you're feeling fancy, you can buy a Mont Blanc refill from Staples, sand down the plastic end a tiny bit, and it will fit nicely into the Pilot for a deeply discounted fine-writing experience.
Buy it here.

2: Uni-Ball Signo 207 (Ultra Micro Gel Pen)

This is another pen that's really comfortable to hold. It's a micro tip, so that makes it easy to write small and detailed when necessary.
Buy it here.

3: Pilot Precise V5 RT (Rollerball)

This pen leaves nice, juicy ink when I use it, which is honestly infrequent because it's not as comfortable to hold, but if I'm feeling frisky, I'll reach for this one.
Buy it here.

4: Pentel RSVP (Fine Ballpoint)

This is my all-time favorite pen. I keep about five of them in my purse at all times. The ink isn't as dark and bold as the others, but it's so easy to write with and feels great in my hand.
Buy it here.

5: Sharpie Pen (Fine Marker/Pen Hybrid)

This is my second favorite pen and my go-to pen for keeping track of to-do lists and appointments in my planner. My planner paper is thick enough to prevent bleed through, which happens on thinner paper when I use this pen.
Buy it here.

BONUS: Adrienne's Favorite

Adrienne, my friend and classmate at Syracuse, has some of the most beautiful handwriting I've ever seen. When I decided to write this list, I knew I had to show you a sample. Adrienne says, "I fell in love with the Pilot Réxgrip 0.5mm pen when I lived in Japan and mass ordered a supply of them."

What do you think? Do you use any of these pens? What are your favorites?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Visiting Virginia: The Portsmouth Path of History

Gosport Park is a one-acre slice of land where the 249-year history of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) is frozen in time.

The park is part of Portsmouth’s Path of History, a self-guided walking tour featuring a string of historic sites tracing the routes of Old Towne back to 1752, from the home of the Union Army’s Provost Marshal to the house where President Andrew Jackson once visited.

I visited the Path of History and Gosport Park during a quick lunchtime adventure, which I began at the Portsmouth Visitor Center on Crawford Parkway.

The Path of History links Gosport Park, off the north end of NNSY, with the three-acre Fort Nelson Park at the entrance to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, the nation’s first Navy Hospital.

The entire Path of History is a lot to see in one lunch break, and after picking up a map and plotting my route, I decided to focus my trip on landmarks between the Visitor Center and Water Street Ferry Landing.

The Path of History’s pictorial signs, which provide important details about the many significant locations and centuries-old structures, preserve more than 250 years of American history.

The Path of History is punctuated with shade trees, public green space, and brick sidewalks, and the cool air of a mid-October morning made for perfect walking weather.

After leaving the Visitor Center, I stopped at the Lightship Portsmouth, a National Historic Landmark. Like lighthouses and buoys, lightships were navigational aids. The Lightship Portsmouth is now a museum and the quarters are fitted out realistically and filled with fascinating artifacts, uniforms, photographs, and models.

From there I walked down London Street and around the block to Glasgow Street, taking in the varied styles of 18th and 19th century architecture. I continued down Water Street to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, which overlooks the Ferry Landing, and just a few strides further, the Fresnel Lens, a well-maintained retired lighthouse light bulb, which once served as part of the Hog Island Light off the Great Machipongo Inlet on the Eastern Shore.

On my way back to work before my lunch break was officially over, I made one last stop.

At Gosport Park, more than a dozen signs featuring key milestones in the shipyard’s history mark various artifacts, such as two 75,000-pound propellers, a refurbished sail from ex-USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN 618), and Navy guns that were once used on vessels built at NNSY.

The park, which is located conveniently across Lincoln Street from Quarters A, is easy to visit on foot through the Trophy Park Gate (Gate 3). The shipyard’s historical brick wall provides a charming backdrop for an afternoon stroll or early-morning visit, and the various relics on display offer a glimpse into the past of which NNSY is so proud.

This November marks Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s 250th birthday. If you haven’t walked the Path of History yet, now is the perfect time.

Whether you decide to wander around on your own or follow the tour sequentially, the Path of History has preserved the historic relationship between Portsmouth and Norfolk Naval Shipyard through more than two centuries of change.

You can find a map and more information about the Path of History online at

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Norfolk Naval Shipyard's monthly magazine, Service to the Fleet. Thank you to Marcus W. Robbins, NNSY Historian and Archivist, for his contributions to this article.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Washington D.C. Engagement Photos

Courtney and Mike asked me to take their engagement photos early this year.  It was still technically winter in D.C. and the Cherry Blossoms weren't quite in bloom yet, but we managed to chose a day when the weather was behaving and I think we got a few really great shots.  Courtney and Mike (and Courtney's parents) met me at the Tidal Basin and then we walked to the Lincoln Memorial.   These people just like to have fun together, and it was a real treat to spend the day with them.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Chesapeake Senior Photos

Taking Julia's senior pics really made me nostalgic! I miss those worry-free days!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Chesapeake VA Family Photos

Had a great morning in Chesapeake battling mosquitos to get these family photos for my friend Kim!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Family Photos at Fort Monroe

I met Derek and Allison almost two years ago now.  When we met, it was just the two of them. They were getting ready to celebrate their fifth anniversary.  Fast forward to 2017, they added a dog and a baby to the equation almost simultaneously, and now they're getting ready to leave town so Derek can pursue his PhD through the Air Force.

I feel so fortunate to have met this beautiful family, and we will definitely miss them.  Allison asked me to take some photos of them before they left, and I'm glad we were able to get it on the calendar.

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