And Suddenly It’s Fall

summer highlights 2015

Summer was a bit of a whirlwind – a couple of trips, lots of work, and very little sharing in this space along the way. Now that summer is over, I’m left with a mountain of great photos and experiences, but very little time for blogging. I’m hoping to pull aside a few favorite moments – including our visit to Bodega Bay, the town in which Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed – to share in more detail. But in the meantime, here’s a round-up of some of my favorite summer pics:

  1. Joe enjoying the view at Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma Valley
  2. Installation at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA
  3. Hamilton Pool, Austin, TX
  4. A visit to the State Capitol Building in Austin, TX
  5. Shed, Healdsburg, CA
  6. San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
  7. Bodega Bay, CA
  8. Wine and cheese tasting at Gary Farrell, Sonoma Valley, CA

Summer Vacation


We just returned from a trip to South Padre Island, a beach along the southern-most tip of Texas. Having visited Texas beaches along the gulf before, my expectations were fairly low and I left home with a ‘just happy to get away’ mindset. But once we arrived, I found that the South Padre beaches were not only nice, they were also relatively uncrowded for this time of year. J and J had a blast fighting the waves, boogie boarding and swimming in the hotel pool. We also visited Schlitterbahn Water Park, which I think the kids would list as their favorite part of the trip. My favorite was the Birding and Nature Center (where we fed birds right out of our hands) and, of course, the views of the ocean which provided quite a few opportunities to snap some gorgeous vacation photos. (more…)

Digital Image to Printed Page: Custom Journals for Kids

My process for creating awesome and inexpensive custom travel journals for my children - so easy to create these on your phone.

Remember in the 80s when you made collages out of cut-up magazines, stickers and other print ephemera? Maybe you don’t. Anyway, these days collaging has gone digital, and my children love taking photos and layering on all sorts of drawings, stickers, text and other digital effects.

As soon as I saw how much my daughter loved taking pictures with her new phone, I introduced her to A Beautiful Mess, an app that let’s you add doodles, text, filters and other effects to photos. Soon after, she introduced me to Pic Collage. It’s been photo-editing bliss ever since.

With all of the images we captured at Disneyworld recently, I decided to up our game in the photo documentation area and create journals for Jason and Jenna using some of my photos along with some of the photos they ‘enhanced’ in their favorite apps. (more…)

Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyworld!

How to surprise your children with a trip to Disney: tips and a boarding pass template.

As I hinted in this post at the end of the year, we had a big surprise in the works for our children’s Christmas present. It was a crazy hard secret to keep over the 6+ months of planning. In the end, our pet fish nearly caused an unintended reveal on Christmas Eve. My daughter spotted my husband leaving the house to take the fish to a friend’s. I’m not sure how well his story about Jeremy wanting to “practice having a fish before buying one” covered our secret, but it was all he could think of at the moment. (more…)

A Tour of Tastings in Napa Valley

A Tour of Tastings of the Non-Wine Variety in Napa Valley We recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and, while we certainly enjoyed the wine, the highlight of our trip was definitely the food. Here are a few ideas for tastings in Napa Valley of the non-wine variety:

Gourmet Food Tour

I learned about the Gourmet Food Tour (1) of downtown Napa through a website called Peek, a travel tour site featuring off-the-beaten path tours and activities in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including Napa. We didn’t take the tour, but now that I’ve discovered I love the food as much as the wine in Napa, it’s definitely on my list for next time.

Wine and Cheese Pairings

Many of the wineries feature food and wine pairings as part of their tastings. Two of my favorites are the St. Supery Cheese and Wine Pairing Class (5) (great if you want to understand how different food flavors influence the taste of wine) and Domaine Carneros (2) (perfect if you want a light snack while sampling the sparkling wine and enjoying the amazing views from their patio).

Napa Valley Distillery

If you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails as much as wine, Napa Valley Distillery (3) is a must-see destination on your itinerary. I like to go just for the display of tiny bottles. It’s located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, which is worth the stop just for the selection of gourmet food, drinks and home decor accessories all under one roof. The distillery features an extensive collection of bitters, spirits and syrups, all of which can be sampled in their shop for free or you can attend a Craft Spirit Tastings.

Gourmet Grocery Stores

There is no shortage of places to stock up on gourmet foods in Napa Valley. In addition to assembling your picnic fare, many of these offer samples of locally produced culinary treats, including oils, vinegars, cheeses and tapenades. We visited Oakville Market (4) and Dean and Deluca (6).

Olive Oils

The Napa region is filled with olive oil shops and at one point my husband and I joked that we had purchased more olive oil than wine during our trip. In addition to oils, many of these shops also feature flavored balsamic vinegars and tapenades, all of which can be sampled for free. We visited Olivier (7) and St. Helena Olive Oil Co (8), but there is also Lucero Olive Oil and several others.

Culinary Institute of America

One of our favorite stops during our trip was the CIA (9). For food enthusiasts, the school offers a variety of tours, tastings and demonstrations, mostly during the weekend. If your visit falls during the week as ours did, you can still visit the large gift shop, Ghiradelhi Chocolate tasting center or one of the school’s restaurants. We stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a basket of organic cherry tomatoes direct from their garden.

Photo Challenge: Texture

I haven’t participated in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge in quite a while, but this weekend’s trip to Yosemite has me in full-on picture taking mode. The theme this week is Texture, something this park has in abundance.

Here are a couple of my favorite Yosemite texture shots so far:

Fallen Tree at Mariposa Grove

Fallen Tree at Mariposa Grove Yosemite National Park

Detail Views: Boulder and Tree


View of Half Dome from Glacier Point

Half Dome at Glacier Point

Yosemite Valley Near the Village

Yosemite Valley as seen near Yosemite Village

All photos were shot with a Canon 6D. The landscape views were shot with a Canon 24mm-70mm f/2.8 II lens and the detail views were shot with a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.


Travelogue: A Beach Trip to the Gulf Coast

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? View ideas for visiting the Orange Beach / Gulf Shore area with children.

A few weeks ago we took an extended weekend trip to the beach. Although we live in Texas and could have visited the beach along the Texas coast, we decided to head further east where the beaches tend to be nicer and better suited to swimming.

There are a lot of great destinations along the coast, but we decided on Orange Beach, which is in Alabama about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Florida. The beaches have beautiful white sand and the water is perfect for swimming.

We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach and didn’t seek out a lot of activities beyond lounging and playing in the sand. But we did explore the nearby area a bit, so I thought I would share some ideas for taking a beach trip to this part of the country with children.

Where to Stay

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.
The beaches along the Gulf Shore, Orange Beach and Pensacola region are filled with affordable, family-friendly hotels and rental properties. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach. It’s located right on the beach so you can easily transition back and forth between beach and swimming pool. I highly recommend getting a room with a beach view. The photo on the left above is the view from our room. Sitting and watching the activity below was lots of fun for our children, who had only visited the beach once before this trip. You can also rent chairs on the beach, which is a nice option when you know you’re going to be coming and going and you don’t want to lose your spot (or leave your personal belongings to ‘reserve’ it) while you’re gone.

Where to Eat

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.

When it came to meal time, we mostly looked to the area immediately near our hotel. Wintzell’s Oyster House definitely turned into our favorite dinner spot, and we ate there twice over the course of our trip. We also stopped at The Gulf on our way into town. I love this location. It’s right on the beach so the kids could play in the sand while we sat on sleek lounge furniture under umbrellas enjoying lunch. The kids’ favorite meal destination was Lulus. They have a large play area in the center of the 3-restaurant complex that includes a sandbox, an elevated rope course and many other just-for-kids activities.  Plan on spending awhile here. I wasn’t sure whether to include this location under ‘Where to Eat’ or ‘Things to Do.’ It’s a bit of both and the wait for a table seems intended to build in plenty of time for play. During our visit, we chose to eat at the upscale Lucy B. Goode (and the food was wonderful), but in retrospect I think the original restaurant, Lulus, would have been a more child-friendly option.

Things to Do

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.

The beautiful beaches are reason enough to visit this part of the country with children, but the Gulf Coast area also has many bays that are perfect for taking boat rides. There are many options for renting boats and/or going on tours. We read about several dolphin tours and even saw a pirate-themed cruise pass by one afternoon. If we were staying longer, I definitely would have looked into the pirate cruise for the kids. Since our trip location was partly driven by visiting friends and family, we were able to spend an afternoon taking a ride on a friend’s boat. This was a highlight for Jason and Jenna, who loved sitting at the front while we raced along the water. 

This was our first trip to the Gulf Coast, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be our last.

Yosemite: A Photography Packing List

Trip to Yosemite: A photography packing list with top app recommendations for photographing Yosemite

Next week, we’re heading on a trip to California that will include a few stops, including Yosemite National Park. I’m crazy excited about visiting Yosemite, mostly for the opportunity to take pictures with my new camera.  Here’s my list of essentials for the trip:

The Basics

Lightweight jacket / Comfy walking shoes / A backpack

Serious Gear

My camera / My Favorite Lens / A Lens I Rented Here / A Grid System for Chargers, Batteries, etc.

Just For Fun

I recently bought some film for my vintage Spectra Polaroid camera. I haven’t had much success with it yet, but if I’m ever going to get some good shots, I’m thinking Yosemite just might be the place.

The Impossible Project Polaroid Film

Essential Apps

  • Canon EOS Remote: One of my favorite features about my new camera is the ability to connect to my phone. This app makes it all possible.
  • VSCO Cam: This has become my go-to app for editing and filtering my iPhone photos
  • The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite: I haven’t explored this app very much yet, but the contents look amazing. It is based on the author’s book of the same title and it provides comprehensive recommendations on where to shoot, settings to use, time of day, etc.
  • National Parks Yosemite Guide: This is the official guide to Yosemite and it provides a general guide to what to what to see and do in Yosemite along with maps for getting around.


Note: post contains affiliate links


Our Vacation Story on Steller

We just returned from vacation, and, on the way home, I realized it was the perfect time to try out the new storytelling app that I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Its called Steller, and it allows you to create a digital storybook with your photos, videos and text. Our vacation was pretty awesome, and this app is a great way to capture our favorite moments.

You can view it by clicking the image below:

our vacation story on the new Steller app
Check out my story on Steller.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

This week’s photo challenge is The Sign Says. In a world full of signage telling us what to do or what not to do (no parking, do not enter, yield), it’s nice to come across a more uplifting message.

Storefront, New York City

sign says 1

Martha Stewart Headquarters, New York

sign says 2

Perot Museum of Science and Nature, Dallas

sign says 3

But the occasional negative sign is fun too:

Marais, Paris

sign says 4

all images: julee dyer

Summer Trip: Napa

I’ve been in full-on vacation planning mode the past few days. In less than two weeks, I’m heading out on what has been dubbed a ‘wine and culinary adventure’ with my great friend, Tara. The trip includes stops in Napa, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but planning the Napa portion has been my focus this week. I can’t wait! Here are a few spots on our itinerary:

travelplanning: napa itinerary

The French Laundry / Oakville Grocery / Silver Oak / Kara’s Cupcakes / Hotel Yountville / Cakebread