Sunday, August 20, 2017

On Lake {Alpine} Time

So, last year, for my birthday, we took a belated celebratory trip up to Lake Alpine to explore the beautiful scenery.  It is near Bear Valley, which is a popular 'escape' town, up in the Central Sierra Mountains.  I say belated, because we had planned to do this closer to the weekend of my actual birthday, but since we ended up getting rear-ended on the day before, we ran into this unexpected delay.  Anyway, here are the photos from that excursion!

These first few photos were from the Hell's Kitchen Vista Point, where you can walk around and get some amazing views.  This area is really pretty when it's covered in snow also!!

Just trying to get a unique perspective among the scenery...

Obligatory couple "selfie"! =D

Such pretty views!  I actually have a similar shot of this area, but covered in snow, taken back in February 2010.

Practicing my macro skills with this interesting branch formation...

Panorama shot, with Jacques being silly.

Seriously, I could not get enough of this area!

Here's the start of the pictures at Lake Alpine, walking around the area.  This was very serene and peaceful!

Another peaceful shot of the lake in between the trees.

Catching some canoe-ers rowing down the lake!

I liked this view of that log lodged in with the water...

Can you find the pup in this shot?! :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alcatraz, 53 years later...

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California, which operated from August 11, 1934 until March 21, 1963.

The main prison building was built in 1910-1912 during its time as a United States Army military prison; Alcatraz had been the site of a citadel since the 1860s.  The United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch on Alcatraz was acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, and the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized to meet the requirements of a top-notch security prison.  Given this high security and the location of Alcatraz in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America's strongest prison.

Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons.  One of the world's most notorious and best known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1,576 of America's most ruthless criminals, including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate).

Above information courtesy of Wikipedia



So now that you know exactly what Alcatraz was, I'll share my photos from my two experiences visiting this incredibly interesting site.  Our first visit was with my dad back in February 2015 and most of the photos from this post are from that.  I didn't get nearly as many photos during our second visit, because of course, I'd already seen everything.


First off, I wanted to capture this old sign from the ferry, as we were approaching the island.

Still on the approach; that building in the back is the main prison and held all of the inmates.

One of the guard towers; these were manned 24 hours a day, with no exceptions.

Just a pretty view of a smaller dock located around the island.

Inside the old army barracks building, which eventually was converted into apartments for the families of the staff.

A view of some of the remaining area from the civilian part of the island, away from the prison.

A view of the trees, taken from the perspective of a small circular window inside the main prison building
In a prison of strict regimentation, the yard offered rare freedom of movement, association and choice.  Some inmates chose to play baseball or run laps.  Others simply walked to the top of the bleachers and looked out at what they were missing.
Recreation yard for the inmates.  That grassy area at the back was a makeshift baseball field.

Looking back at the main prison from the recreation yard.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Volume 1

So at the beginning of this year, I committed myself to a reading challenge on Goodreads, promising to read at least 30 books over the course of the year.  So, inspired by that, I'm going to post a compilation of these books and my personal reviews on them here.


{ I will be posting them in 3 separate 'volumes' with 10 books per post.  Any bonus books that I get through will have their own post as well. }

( 1 )


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I'd bought this book months before actually deciding to sit down and read it, from seeing the movie first.  I know books can provide so many more details and insights into the characters, so that's why I wanted to read it.  So here's what I thought:

First off, this is not a book for the faint-hearted reader.  It definitely has some truly disturbing and intense imagery and scenarios.  Having said that, the book is written in a way that leaves you itching to know what really happened on that fateful January night.  I saw the movie before reading the book, but it had been so long that I was still surprised by the ending, and of course, there are always many more details introduced from the book.  I also loved Ms. Flynn's way of describing emotions felt by Libby as an adult.

Read from December 5, 2016 to January 5, 2017

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( 2 )


Dark Horse by Tami Hoag

"Life can change in a heartbeat, in an instant, in the time it takes to make a wrong decision... or a right one." -pg 554


That quote pretty much sums up the theme of this book.

I've always loved horses, so this book immediately piques that interest.  After only reading the first chapter, it has already given me a glimpse into the equestrian world, specifically in dressage, which is described as a form of equine ballet.  I had to look it up via video and it's simply beautiful!

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with this intense mystery and I loved seeing the way the case changed Elena throughout the pages, giving her a new outlook on the messy turmoil that was her life in the beginning.  The writing flowed in a way that made me anxious to see what would happen next and I can honestly say I've never read 550 pages of a book so quickly before!  And to think, I originally bought this book from the clearance rack at a half-price bookstore... one of the best $2 I've ever spent!

Read from January 7, 2017 to January 14, 2017

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( 3 )


First Year of Marriage by Marcus & Ashley Kusi

(I received a copy of this book, via a group on Goodreads, in exchange for writing an honest review.)

I liked the advice given in this book.  You can really tell that the couple writing it knows what they're talking about, from firsthand experience.  I thought the two of them sharing their personal perspectives throughout the book really enhanced it as a whole, because it felt more like talking with a friend, rather than just reading a 'lecture.'

I very much enjoyed the use of the comparison of marriage to two people on either end of a canoe, and how you have to make sure you're both on the same team, i.e. synchronizing your paddling and working through life's obstacles (wind & waves) together.  If either one of you goes your own way without letting the other know, you're in danger of falling apart (tipping over).

There is a definite theme to this book about using everything that is discussed, to build a strong foundation that will give you a lasting and fulfilling marriage and it's a great resource to have on hand for future reference, should you ever need a reminder. =]

Read from January 22, 2017 to January 23, 2017

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( 4 )



Collide: The Secret Life of Trystan Scott by H.M. Ward

πŸ“– This book starts a series of 'reading prompts' that I'm following for the next 12 books or so.  This is the "book that I chose for the cover."  Seriously, I looove that cover!!

So this book was rather difficult for me to get into, to be completely honest.  It didn't seem to grab my attention right from the start, as other books have.  I felt like I kept waiting for something meaningful to happen, but it never does... and the book ends so abruptly, and while your mind acknowledges this, it still feels like you should be moving forward.

Also, I didn't care for the writing style, as each chapter was written from either Mari's or Trystan's perspective and while Mari's chapters use the first person narrative, Trystan's use third person and it just made the flow of the story too choppy and disjointed for me.  Plus, given the name of the book, I would have expected the first person narrative to be used for Trystan's chapters.  Also, the book starts out with each character reliving the same moment, so you're basically reading the same scene twice, with the story progressing a little bit at the end of the chapter.  While I understand how this can be an interesting concept in theory, after awhile, it just gets repetitive and tiresome.

However, if you're looking for an overdramatized teenage romance, you'll be happy with this read. ;]


Read from January 14, 2017 to February 26, 2017

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( 5 )


Hard Rain by B.J. Daniels

πŸ“š I'm reading this freebie via B&N Readouts, after being intrigued by the first chapter.  It's somewhat clichΓ©, yet still it piqued my interest enough to want to read about what happens next.

First off, the mystery far outweighs the romance of this book for me.  The way it weaved such a complicated web is what kept me coming back to the book every day.  And though I had my guesses throughout the book on who was the killer of Maggie McTavish, I was surprised to find out who it really was in the end.  As for the 'forbidden' romance between the two main characters, I didn't care for the way their [near] intimate scenes were written.  It was too clichΓ© and a tad unrealistic, like a sappy romance novel that's trying too hard.  Though I do understand what the author was trying to accomplish, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.  Fortunately, as the mystery unravels, there are far less of these scenes, which just made the book more interesting for me.

Overall, I'd say the book is very intense and full of suspense, mixed in with all of the drama that comes hand in hand with vindictive, manipulative & jealous wives and girlfriends.  Maggie seemed to be hated by these women, just for being who she is  possessing a carefree, wild personality and natural good looks, who's in touch with her emotions in a deeply passionate way.

It also ends with a cliffhanger, which I guess I should've expected, seeing as this is the 4th book in a series of six.  It definitely ends in a way that makes me want to read the entire series, just to find out what Harper's mother's true intentions are, regarding the rest of her family.

Read from February 2, 2017 to February 22, 2017

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( 6 )



Clockers by Richard Price

πŸ“– Reading prompt: the book I've started but never finished

"Being in this business was like walking blindfolded through a minefield.  It was hard to know what to do or what not to do [...]." -pg 23


I'm not at all familiar with the world that this book is set in (a drug-dealing, murder-filled New Jersey neighborhood), which I think is why I've always lost interest in it, the few times that I've started reading it.  And while I did grow up in a world where I knew drugs existed, I think I'm hesitant to embrace the idea that there are places in this world where people are that desperate for the stuff.  I suppose, on some unconscious level, I just don't want to believe that a community like that exists.  As a person who has never done drugs (and never will), it's difficult for me to understand the lure that it provides for those who are drawn to the habit.

Anyway, the book doesn't really take off for me until the actual murder happens.  There's a lot of backstory about the main 'clocker' named Strike, along with the world in which he inhabits, and who he interacts with on a daily basis.  And the same is being done for a cop named Rocco Klein, to whom Strike's brother Victor gives a willing confession of murder.  He immediately believes that Victor is innocent, which sets him off on a mission to find the real killer.

I'm glad that I powered my way through all 593 pages of the book this time, even if only to get to the very last chapter, where one thing starts happening right after another, the tension-filled pages refusing to allow my eyes to drift from the story.  Overall, the book had me consistently torn between utter annoyance at the attitudes of the 'clockers' and pity at the type of life that they seem to be stuck in, with no way out, except death.  It was an incredibly gut-wrenching, brutally honest read.

Read from February 26, 2017 to April 19, 2017

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( 7 )


The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

πŸ“š I was really excited to see this book on B&N Readouts for March, because Jeffery Deaver is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I'd always wanted to read a Lincoln Rhyme novel!  And he definitely does not disappoint -- the intensity starts right from the very first chapter, with a gruesome death via a malfunctioning escalator in a busy mall, conveniently giving the suspect an easy out, whom Detective Amelia Sachs is in the process of pursuing.

This book is an eye-opener for how certain devices and appliances in your home (or in public) can be the death of you... literally!  All thanks to an advance in technology known as smart controllers that can be operated remotely from a smartphone or tablet.  It makes me happy to know that the only similar device we have in our house is a smart TV, so all we are in danger of is being bored to death by a show that we don't like?  Hah.  Anyway, I loved how some of the different stories collide with each other towards the end, and there are plenty of plot twists thrown in there as well, one in particular that I never would have expected.

Not to mention the complexity of 'Unsub 40', as he's referred to throughout the book.  He hates consumers, those rich people who buy expensive appliances and devices, and who have forgotten the importance of sitting down to dinner together with your family or having a deep conversation with someone you love.  And while I can understand where he's coming from, that is definitely not a valid reason to commit murder!  Though we learn later in the book that he also has another motive inspiring him to murder people with the products they've bought.  And at the closing of his case, I couldn't stop the pulling of my heartstrings at the situation that he's found himself immersed in.

Read from March 1, 2017 to March 26, 2017

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( 8 )


A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

πŸ“š Initially on the fence about delving into this B&N Readouts freebie, but the era in which it takes place is what draws me to the story (1920s New York, "Roaring Twenties & the Jazz Age").  After reading the first few chapters, it seems that the premise revolves heavily around adultery, as it is clear that 44-year-old Theresa Marshall is a married woman having a sexual relationship with Octavian Rofrano, a 22-year-old "boy."  Enter 19-year-old Sophia Fortescue, who is engaged to Theresa's brother Jay, yet also captures the heart of Octavian from their first meeting, the chemistry between them causing her to doubt her own decision of accepting Jay's marriage proposal.

Throw in the murder of Sophie's mother 16 years ago, presumably at the hands of her own father, and the book gets even more interesting!  I actually had to re-read parts of this book, seeing as B&N suffered a glitch where it left out some important key chapters, containing newspaper articles that shed a whole different light on some of the characters and their interactions with each other, not to mention what is supposed to be an 'outsider's perspective' to what's happening.  (Damn you technology!)  I didn't like Theresa at all; she came off as a conceited & manipulative woman and she just got on my nerves more than anything else.

Overall though, I enjoyed the book.  There were some odd phrasing choices at times, and random interjections, but I suppose that's just how the author interpreted the era in which she was setting her story in.  I did really like the descriptive writing and I had no problem visualizing scenes in my mind, as I read it on the screen.  Though I will say that I felt it ended too abruptly, like there was more to the story that fell victim to the editor's cut or something.  That being said, this was still an entertaining and fun read that I enjoyed!

Read from April 2, 2017 to April 23, 2017

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( 9 )


Jack: The Tale of Frost by Tony Bertauski

There's just something about the retelling of a classic tale that I can't resist.  And after reading the first book in this series (Claus: Legend of the Fat Man), I couldn't wait to dive into this one.  I remember buying the first 3 books in the series on a whim, simply because of how interesting & mysterious the descriptions were.

Anyway, I love how this book starts out, jumping several hundred decades into the 21st century, from where the first book ended in the early 1800s.  The dialogue is slightly awkward at times, but I love the suspense, that gradually builds up throughout the first half.  The last part of the book is filled with plot twists and I liked how it transformed my feelings about certain characters and this brutal taste of reality that they have to find a way to deal with.  The progression of the story definitely surprised me, more than once, after offering vague hints about what was going on, glimpsed through Sura's experiences. I loved seeing how "Pawn" had developed throughout those long years and grown to adapt to the human aspect of the world, fully embracing the joy of Christmas as well.

However, I was slightly disappointed when there was no mention of Jon Santa (from the first book).  He was one of my favorite characters and it would have been nice to see what he'd been up to all those years also, since I know he's still alive, considering his complete transformation into an elven.  I thought it was ironic how Mr. Frost and Jon ended up switching places, species-wise, with him being reborn as a human at the end.  Overall, I found this book to be a very enjoyable and enchanting read!

Read from April 25, 2017 to May 12, 2017

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( 10 )



Flury: Journey of a Snowman by Tony Bertauski

First off, I love the concept of how this book is written.  The story once again introduces a brand new set of characters, starting out with a young man discovering some journals that his great-grandfather had written in the 1880s, after he survived a tragic accident that left him stranded in the Arctic.  The story combines the two time periods via a retelling of the words written on the ancient pages, through a teenager's outlook.  I would have loved to find something unique like that, and have the opportunity to get to know a relative in that way, that most people don't ever get to meet, 'seeing' their world through their own experiences.

This was, by far, my favorite book of the series.  I love the way it explores the full range of human emotions, experienced through the complex character of Malcom Toye.  It was interesting to see how things panned out in the end, not to mention the surprises along the way.   And how he chose to deal with the events that he couldn't control.  

Read from May 12, 2017 to May 27, 2017

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As of right now, I'm about 2 books behind schedule, but hopefully I can catch that up over the next couple months, through whatever is provided in B&N Readouts.  I wasn't interested in May's selection and January's I just plain forgot about it, so I missed out on extra book opportunities there.

Anyway, stay tuned for my next batch of book reviews!  Hopefully I will be able to knock them out faster than I did these first 10.


Legend: πŸ“– = reading prompts πŸ“š = B&N Readouts

Monday, May 22, 2017

'Sac-of-Tomatoes' in Spring


Back in April 2016, my mom traveled out here to California for one of her semi-annual visits.  She had never been to the State Capitol building before, so we decided to use one of the days that she was here to take a drive up to Sacramento.


I love capturing the beauty of the surrounding area, so I didn't mind taking her up to the 'City of Trees' for a day trip, although I have to say that the drive up there is really boring!  I only wish we could have had time to visit the Old Sacramento Historic District.  Anyway, here are some of the shots that I took:

Full view of the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento.

Capturing the phrasing.  I forget which building this is, officially, but it was located to the side of the main Capitol building.

Again, the phrasing.  This was on the other side from the previous photo's building.

Just walking around and capturing the view!

Of course, I couldn't leave out the flora!

More of the scenery, just outside the Capitol Building.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Finding Fascination in Small Spaces


Back to the last day of February 2016, we randomly decided to visit this small community park in Clayton, California.  It was a nice little place to relax, have a family picnic, or enjoy a baseball/soccer game with your kids.  And the views of the hills were so pretty!  I tried to capture a small part of it in the following photos.

Starting out with this different perspective from the fence next to the road leading into the park.

Focusing on these little berries in the bushes...

I liked how this tree was all alone with the hills in the background.

There's just something about broken fencing that attracts my eye lately...

Remember those views of the hills that I was talking about earlier?! ;)

Catching the sun shining, with silhouetted hilltops and a tree!

And of course, I couldn't forget the flora! ♥

The view of the road leading down, back to civilization.

Me on the little mini-trail through the park, courtesy of Jacques.
That's all I've got for this park.  Short and sweet and to the point!  It was really a nice little community park.  If I'd grown up out here, I could see myself having played lots of soccer games or attended family reunions there.

Coming up next:

Another visit to the State Capitol building in Sacramento, and ALCATRAZ after that!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

♥ When Two Become One ♥

So... again, I'm going to have to briefly break the cycle of posting in order, because of a rather life-changing event that happened exactly a week ago.  I'm sure you can guess from the title of this post where I'm going with this... Jacques and I finally tied the knot, after nearly 8 years together!  And I couldn't resist not sharing the photos right now.  So here goes!


First off, I was not expecting to get much in the way of pictures, because Jacques hates getting his photo taken, and I was a bit self-conscious about me in a dress (I am so NOT a dress person!) but I have to say that I'm beyond happy with how they turned out.  My sister-in-law took over the photography and she did such an amazing job, and got more pictures than I could ever have imagined!

This might turn into a rather long post, so bear with me!  It's so difficult to narrow it down sometimes.  Starting off, here are the "pre-ceremony" shots:

In the midst of getting my hair done at the salon, courtesy of my sister-in-law who paid for the visit as a wedding gift!

Final result!  This is the best shot of the back of my hair.

Dad & I, when I was stuck in my room before going downstairs.  We kinda went picture-crazy...

Dad & I again, I love this capture!

My parents & I!

Mom & I <3 (still in my room)

My sister-in-law, Jennifer & I

Two of the amazing women who helped me through the planning process!! 

I was so in love with my bouquet and how it turned out! <3  SO. IN. LOVE.
(this capture was actually taken by me, still bored in my room upstairs before the ceremony started)