Cantigny Park Summer

Wow, you’ll be delighted by the flower gardens at Cantigny Park in St. Charles, Illinois. I took one look at these flower beds and exclaimed, “I want that at my house!” While that’s mostly a pipe dream as I live in Phoenix, I was able to take home some ideas about color combinations. Look at all the reds, oranges, pinks, and yellows!

I am going to do some research to see if I can add these small yellow sunflowers to my garden. I just love how they look against the green hedge in the back.

I’d also like to add a birdhouse to my garden–whether it’s an all white number or a bright pop of color as in the pedestals above. The ones pictured are by Lazy Hill Farm Designs.

I love orange flowers, and echinacea say summer to me like no other flower does. I love them in the tall grass. The Cantigny Park flower beds also featured them with snapdragons, a new love of mine.

Pink and orange in one flower, oh my! This snapdragon really does it for me. Plus, I’m learning that a pop of yellow in a garden really highlights the other flowers.

The rose garden did not disappoint. Here are a couple yellow roses for you.

What’s not to love about a pink dahlia with black foliage? I love how one petal in the flower below is waving hello.

I love all the reds and oranges in the flower beds. Perhaps a bit more blue salvia for interest would be nice. I just love all the color.

If you are visiting Chicago and would like to make a day trip out to visit the garden at Cantigny Park, they have a nice little cafe, Bertie’s Bistro, where you could eat lunch. Although, if I am in that area, then my most favorite restaurant is Riganato Old World Grille in Geneva. They have the best calamari I’ve ever tasted, but that’s a topic for another blog.

I have a few “keepers” from this day in my portfolio, Midwest Summer Blooms. Check it out and let me know if you have a favorite.

The Dahmen Barn in the Palouse

The Dahmen Barn at Uniontown is a retail space for creatives in the area.

If you visit the Palouse region of Washington state, make time to visit the Dahmen Barn at Uniontown. Not only is it a nice place for creative travel photography, it’s also a nice tourist stop to enjoy local artists’ creative projects.

The Dahmen Barn is a reclamation project in which the original owners and the community worked together to create the artisans retail and community creative education space. I love that it has gotten so successful they had to expand. It’s a lesson to other small towns on ways to make use of old buildings, recognize the creative work of artists and what they produce, as well as building a tourist attraction that keeps people coming in from out of town to explore.

The wheel fence at the Dahmen Barn site and surrounding pastoral landscape.

The 1000+ wheel fence surrounding the Dahmen Barn is a big eye-catching draw for inbound visitors. It was started by Steve Dahmen and created over the course of 30 years. The history of the Dahmen Barn, the fence and their creative community endeavors is fascinating. Do check it out!

Photographing Dahmen Barn & Fence

There are 100s of creative compositions possible at the site. The main photography challenge is focusing in on the details without the composition starting to look busy. because of the surrounding buildings and traffic.

The front side of the building shown in the first photo above faces east, which would catch the morning light, or shooting in the opposite direction as shown in the second photo, you may be able to get some color in the sky during sunset. It just depends on the type of composition you would like to capture — something with the old barn or a pastoral image with the wheel fence. Then, of course, the detail shots are also interesting.

When to Visit

For green fields and spring wildflowers, the end of May or first part of June is ideal.

My Portfolio

If you’d like to see my portfolio of images from the Palouse, see Palouse Barns or Palouse Landscapes.

San Gimignano Landscapes: A beautiful area to explore and photograph

San Gimignano surprised me. I didn’t know there was an area as beautiful as that around Pienza. However, San Gimignano is filled with beautiful landscapes. The gorgeous views seduced me into slowing down and taking a bunch more photos.

See all the picturesque landscapes below. The next time I go to Tuscany, I will plan on splitting my time between the Pienza area and the San Gimignano area rather than going to Siena.

What’s your favorite area of Tuscany? I hope to go back many times and keep exploring.

Where to Go in Tuscany: Pienza

Driving north from Rome, this picturesque view is the first glimpse I had of Pienza.

Pienza provides charm galore and makes for the perfect hub for your visit to Tuscany. Not only will you find amazing landscapes in the area surrounding the town, but you’ll also have a chance to explore the historical town, see and photograph charming flower-filled doorways and enjoy delicious food at a number of restaurants.

Where to Stay

I had a wonderful stay at the Piccolo Hotel La Valle on the edge of town (outside of the ZTL). I really appreciated the helpfulness of the staff at the desk. Not only did my room and the patio (see photo below) have a gorgeous view, it was also a very convenient to walk into town at night for dinner. I like that feature a lot. After a day spent driving around scouting photography locations, it was nice to have a short walk before and after dinner. Plus, if you’re traveling solo as I do, you might like to know, I felt totally safe walking alone at night back to the hotel.

Tuscany landscape
View from Piccolo Hotel La Valle, Pienza
Pienza doorway with flowers and bicycle
Pienza Doorway

How to Get to Pienza
You can rent a car at the Termini Train Station and drive north out of Rome on the expressway. It’s a little nerve wracking getting to the freeway, but once you get there, it’s just like driving on expressways here at home. Occasionally you have to stop and pay toll by cash or credit. Conveniently, there are gas stations with cafes along the way just like rest stops here at home.

When you get to Pienza, it’s pretty easy to avoid the ZTL traffic zone. It’s well marked, and there are a few public parking areas at the edge of town.

A pop of yellow flowers and a brick wall. What more do you need?
Perhaps, magenta flowers are more your taste?

Where to Eat

Buca delle Fate – This restaurant had the most delicious gluten-free pasta. I tried several varieties including the truffle pasta. They were all really good. Plus, I had a steak with arugula that was quite nice. I also appreciated the kind service of the staff.

La Mensa del Conte – This restaurant is very knowledgeable about gluten free dining. I enjoyed both the pasta and steak here. They have a very good olive oil with peppers in it, but the highlight was the gluten free cheesecake served in a small jar. So good!

Weekend Photography Escape to Huntington Beach California

If you love photographing beach landscapes, then Huntington Beach, or Surf City USA, as it’s popularly known, is your happy place. However, what you might not know is that Huntington Beach is also a perfect weekend photography escape for nature and bird photography, too.

Nature Photography in Huntington Beach

Butterfly at Shipley Nature Center
Butterfly at Shipley Nature Center, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

You can spend a nice couple of hours at Shipley Nature Park photographing birds, trees, butterflies and flowers. You can even see a few ducks in the pond. As you’re exploring, keep in mind that the pond loop is not actually a loop as the pond is overflowing its banks in some areas requiring you to backtrack. It’s not a major issue, but one that’s helpful to know before you start your walk. In addition to the birds and ducks, you might even see a coyote.

The most dramatic location to photograph birds and other wildlife is at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Great Blue Heron in palm tree
Great Blue Heron at Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

Be aware that in February, when I visited, it was still quite cold before the sunrise so layers are key in winter months, even though it’s Southern California. You might also want to wear a head lamp if you’re starting out before it’s fully light in the sky. There are a few muddy areas and puddles to navigate around, depending on recent rainfall. I’m happy when I can avoid getting my feet wet within 5 minutes of leaving the car.

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, photographed with the Panasonic 100-300mm for micro four thirds cameras.

The morning I was there, I saw ducks and birds of all sorts, including snowy egrets and blue herons. Look for the Great Blue Heron nests up in the palm trees. They are such majestic birds. I fell in love with the snowy egrets’ wispy tendrils of feathers, which they develop during breeding season.

Beach Photography and Seascapes

You could spend all day photographing the action at the Huntington Beach Pier. No matter the time of day, you’ll see surfers trying to catch a wave. Photographing the pier at sunset must be on your shot list.

Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset
Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset, captured with the Panasonic Lumix f3.5-5.6 II for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Other not to miss photography opportunities include shooting under the pier at sunset. The shot underneath the pier with the waves crashing in against the moorings can be a really dramatic shot.

Down Under Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset
Down Under Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset, captured with the Panasonic Lumix f3.5-5.6 II for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

One other shot you might be tempted to get is a shot of a lifeguard tower. If this shot is on your shot list, you’ll want to get there early before lots of people clutter your shot. You’ll have to get creative to get a nice background without a trash can in the shot. Or, you can take out the trash in post (pun intended).

Beyond Huntington Beach – Extending Your Weekend Escape

If you have more than a long weekend, you might also consider spending a few days in Crystal Cove or Laguna Beach, which are both only a short drive away.

Crystal Cove Cottage 45
The “Sugar Shack,” a Crystal Cove Cottage, photographed with the Panasonic Leica 25mm 1.4 for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The Crystal Cove Historic District rents cute cottages like the one above. It’s a small little beach community and restaurant that is part of Crystal Cove State Park. You can spend a few hours taking shots of the cute cottages, tide pools and other parts of beach life.

However, if you have more time, it would also be nice to spend a few days in one of the cottages. From what I hear, they rent out fast once reservations open.

Laguna Beach tower, photographed with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for micro four thirds cameras.

Laguna Beach has a must-get shot: the mysterious tower. To get the shot, you have to scramble over uneven rocks and then take your shot when the least number of other tourists are in your shot. Otherwise, it’s a time consuming task to erase them out of your shot in post processing.

Restaurant Recommendations

It wouldn’t be a weekend escape without trying a few new restaurants. I really enjoyed lunch and the view at Bear Flag Fish Company in Pacific City. You can have a seat at the bar for a meal and enjoy the view. I can recommend the fish tacos and guacamole. You can get the fish tacos with whatever fish is fresh the day you’re there. I had mahi mahi, and it was excellent. The guy sitting next to me highly recommended the tuna poke. He also had the pot of clams and muscles, which he said were very good. If i lived here, I would be a regular at this place.

Behind Bear Flag is a food court and you’ll not be disappointed by the coffee shop nor the homemade ice cream shop.

Fish Camp has a really great lunch/dinner menu. You choose your fish or seafood, how you’d like it cooked, and your sides. Plus, one of the best parts is you can carry in a bottle of wine without paying a corkage fee.

Duke’s which is right at the start of HB Pier is a nice convenient place to eat after shooting the sunset. I had the seafood pot which tasted delicious, although the portion size was a little small. You’ll have room for an app or desert if you order it.

For breakfast, I can recommend Green Street Cafe for gluten free pancakes or waffles. It’s near the Bolsa China so you could shoot and then stop in for a breakfast with them.

Patrons of the Sugar Shack Restaurant enjoying February sunshine.

Also, the Sugar Shack right on Main St is a nice, busy place for breakfast. Seating inside is first come, first served. OTOH, if you’d like to sit outside on a sunny day, just add your name to the list hanging on the wall outside the entrance.


I stayed at the Sun N Sands, which is right on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to locals). While you won’t have an ocean-facing view, you can hear the surf at night. The lady that runs it is super nice. The beds are a little soft, but comfortable, and the shower is a little small, but the water pressure was really nice. It was a great budget find right on the coast. The WiFi was a bit spotty, and not powerful enough to upload files or stream a movie. However, if you’re just going to check email, you’ll probably get along fine. All told, I’d stay here again. That is, unless I wanted to splurge with hotel points at one of the fancier places up PCH in Pacific City.

John Wayne Airport, Orange County – SNA

This airport is super easy to fly into and out of on your return home. On the days I traveled, it was easy to catch a Lyft in the parking lot across from departures. Just walk across the street to the parking garage and follow the signs. However, if you need to pick up luggage in baggage claim, you’ll need to go downstairs to pick that up and then walk across the street and ride back up in the elevator to get to the proper level for shared rides. Still, it’s pretty easy.

Let me know if you have any questions. I really enjoyed my weekend escape to Hunting Beach. It’s the perfect long weekend photography escape.

Wickenburg Arizona 30th Annual Fiesta de Septiembre

Ballet Folklorico de Santa Maria

Not only is September a time for fall festivals, it’s also a time to appreciate the contributions of Hispanic Americans. The historic town of Wickenburg, Arizona celebrated its 30th annual Fiesta de Septiembre on Saturday, September 1, 2018 to kick-off National Hispanic Heritage Month, which officially begins on September 15.

Fiesta de Septiembre attendees enjoyed music and dance performances, as well as sampling and voting for their favorite guacamole, salsa, and margarita.

Arizona is a Mexican food mecca!

Ballet Folklorico

Led by Director Larry Carrillo, the Ballet Folklorico de Santa Maria entertained the audience with dance performances from many different regions in Mexico. As the applause testified, the dancers are quite accomplished and have performed for audiences across the USA, as well as internationally, charming viewers with varied costumes and choreography. According to Mr Carrillo, one of the awards they are most proud of is representing Arizona at the Okayama International Festival in Japan.

Nayarit, Mexico costumes and dance performance.

A dance and costumes heralding from Guerrero, Mexico.

A costume and performance originating from Chiapas, Mexico.

A costume and dance performance from Veracruz, Mexico.

This dance performance originates from Jalisco, Mexico.

Mariachi Music

The Mariachi Azteca de Oro band thrilled the audience with their passionate vocals and instrumental performances. Wearing charro costumes and playing violins, trumpets, and guitars, the band members entertained attendees with several songs.

Hispanic Heritage Month Origins

Official Hispanic Heritage celebrations began in America in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the first week-long celebration honoring the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. In 1988, President Ronald Regan signed the law that established the National Hispanic Heritage Month, running September 15 through October 15 each year.

Take a moment to watch this video from ASU students on dispelling Hispanic stereotypes. Be sure and check out what Hispanic Heritage events are happening in your area. Here’s a list of Hispanic Heritage events in Phoenix.

Worth Takeaway in Mesa is Worth a Taste or Two or Three

If you’re a fan of chicken salad, you’ll love Worth Takeaway in Mesa, Arizona. As you can see from the picture above, the chicken is hand pulled and not small chunks of lunch meat.

I really enjoyed the sweet potatoes that were served as an alternate to bread, making the “sandwich” gluten free. Apples and blue cheese rounded out the tasty salad nicely.

According to their website, the owners of Worth Takeaway take great pride in sourcing local ingredients for the menu items. I agree with them that doing so makes for a greater connection with the community. Plus, local ingredients makes for tastier food.

Next time I visit, I’m trying one of their custom made sodas. According to their Instagram, the new holiday feature is Cranberry Orange Thyme. I have also got to find out if their Blackberry Lime Greek Yogurt with homemade granola is gluten free. The person ahead of me in line ordered it, and it looked fantastic layered in the cup.

The entire restaurant has a pleasant simplicity that will feel welcoming and not at all fussy. I loved the small cactus in clear glass that was set on each table. It’s a very nice Arizona touch.

When you stop for breakfast or lunch at Worth Takeaway, you can also pick up a custom bunch of flowers. I really liked the fresh modern greenery with white mums and roses, along with the maroon daises. It’s a fresh take on a Christmas flower arrangement.

You can find Worth Takeaway at 218 West Main Street in Mesa for breakfast or lunch. You’ll notice it by the patio seating out front and the “W’s” on the front windows. Parking was easy. I didn’t have any trouble parking on the street on a Sunday afternoon.

Drop me a comment below, and let me know if you’ve eaten here. I’d love to learn of your favorite menu item.

Get Energized at The Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale

The Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale from the front drive on Drinkwater Blvd..

If you’re thinking about joining a health club, The Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale offers an inspiring choice for local residents with a Spa & Swim Club membership. It’s $300 for the year or you can try it for 6 months for just $200.

It’s an attractive offer because in addition to being able to access the 24-hour fitness center, members also get access to two heated or cooled pools. If you don’t live in Phoenix, you’re probably not aware that outdoor pools without heaters get too cold to use comfortably after September. Plus, the pool water in the summer time can reach 90 degrees. So having access to pools that are comfortable year round is a nice benefit.

As if that wasn’t enough, members also get 20% discount on spa treatments and food and beverage, as well as one free night per year.

It sounds like a great deal to me!

Plus, the Saguaro is speaking my language with dynamic exterior paint colors, which provide an inspiring counterpart to the desert landscape.

The yellow pop of color provides a nice welcome to members and visitors, as do the palm trees and saguaro cacti.

The front drive of the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale is lined with palm trees and saguaro cacti.

I took a room tour while I was there and the rooms on the ground floor facing the pool have a nice patio with lounger, which would make for a nice staycation or restful space for out of town guests.

You will really like the park entrance to the hotel as well. This entrance to The Saguaro, while still colorful, has a more serene feeling with the trees shading the pathway.

The Saguaro Hotel, Scottsdale, Arizona

From what I heard from the desk clerk, the meeting rooms are  popular with local businesses who need offsite space for meetings. I’m not surprised. The setting of The Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale would make for both inspiring meetings and restful breaks after sessions.

My Obsession With Agave Gardens in Tucson

If you’re visiting Tucson, I highly recommend you check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a hybrid botanical garden and zoo designed to educate visitors about the Sonora Desert.

While you can’t go ten feet without seeing a saguaro cactus in Tucson and the Saguaro National Park is well worth visiting, at the Desert Museum, I re-discovered my passion for agave. Here’s a photo post with my best shots from their Agave Garden.

I am usually good about taking a photo of the placard next to each plant so I can remember the name of it, but there were a couple I couldn’t find. Can you help me name them?

I’m thinking of printing one or more of these. Which agave photo do you like best? I’d love it if you’d drop me a note in the comments. Thanks!

Now on to the agave…

Twin Flowered Agave


Bald Agave


Hohokam Agave


I’ve named this agave Pink Tucson Agave, but maybe you know its real name?


What’s the name of this Agave? I’ve named it Tucson Agave for now.


If you are visiting Arizona, I recommend you take time to visit Tucson. It’s a fun city with lots of great art, food, drink and outdoor activities. I have certainly enjoyed my time here.

Hello From Steller’s Jay

Hey, Pay Attention!, Steller’s Jay, at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

This little Steller’s Jay flew past my head as I crouched down to take a photo of another bird. He landed at my feet and proceeded to hop around to get my attention. For a moment, I thought he might peck my toes. It was really cute how he cocked his head and looked up at me.

Then he flew up to a nearby pillar and sat really still while I took a few shots.

Hello, Steller’s Jay, at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

When I sat down next to him, he sang me a little song. Then he pecked at the brass ties on my shirt. I’m guessing his song was something like “feed me, feed me, please, I’m hungry.” I imagined I still smelled like the Thanksgiving dinner I had enjoyed earlier.

The behavior of this Steller’s Jay is true to form. According to the Cornel Lab website, these birds:

…are bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy. Steller’s Jays spend much of their time exploring the forest canopy, flying with patient wingbeats. They come to the forest floor to investigate visitors and look for food, moving with decisive hops of their long legs.

Mr. Steller’s Jay, you inquisitive investigator you, what wisdom do you have for me?

“You never know what you might learn if you ask more questions!”

My cousins would tell you that asking questions is something I’ve been doing since I was a little child. However, it’s worth remembering.

Nature Photography

Whenever I photograph birds or animals, I always send out loving vibes to let them know I appreciate them. I think it calms them and lets them know I mean them no harm. I also think it calms and centers me, enabling me to take better photos.

Nature photography is not easy. It’s an exercise in patience. The animals have minds of their own and sporadic actions, which means it’s challenging to catch them in the right light and frame them perfectly.

Whenever I visit a garden or zoo with an aviary, I like to practice my skills. It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or so, and if I’m lucky, I might come home with a shot or two that I’m willing to save.