My Quest to Live a Meaningful Life

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. ~ Maya Angelou

Sometimes in this rapid, almost dizzying pace of life, we all need to take a step back and simply breathe. Throughout our days, we are inundated with a never-ending list of commitments, obligations and distractions that at times can be utterly overwhelming. That is when it is time to take a step back and simply just be still for a moment. To listen to that inner voice within your heart asking you what matters most and why am I here.

Put simply, I am here to live a meaningful life. And how? Through my never-ending quest to….

Explore

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” – . Danny Kaye

Condoriri trailhead Bolivia

Climbing up to top of Austria Peak

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Our group heading down the trail on Kilimanjaro.

Annapurna Trek Nepal

Me and my Dad at the start of the Annapurna Trek. November 2010.

Be Curious

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges
Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Nature’s mirrors of reflection

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another”  – Mahatma Gandi

This past June, we took a family trip up north to Ely, Minnesota one of the main launching off points to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW or BWCA). This expansive wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota covers 1,090,000-acres (4,400 km2) of the pristine Superior National Forest and is filled with lakes, streams, waterfalls, forests and wildlife. Its preservation as a primitive wilderness began over one hundred years ago, and its protection was solidified in the signing of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978. Today, the wilderness area is managed by the US Forest Service.

The BWCA is a magical place where you often feel as if you are stepping back in time to an easier, more peaceful way of life. You are awoken each morning to the melodic cry of the loon or lulled to sleep at night by the chirping of the crickets or croaking of the bull frogs. You can easily spot deer and sometimes fawn and if you are lucky you may even see a distant mouse, wolf or a bear. It is a truly remarkable place that has given us so many gifts and with the passing of the US National Parks 100th birthday I was reminded how blessed we are to have such an amazing network of protected parks (both national and state), forests and wilderness areas around the nation.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Sunrise

Conservation/Environment Global Issues Minnesota SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY United States Weekly Photo Challenges

A Rare Weekend Away

This past weekend my husband Paul and I had a rare weekend away without the kids. We have been married for 16 years and together for 22 years (where did the time go?) and have only been away together as a couple without the kids a few times since we had our first child 11 years ago. After such a crazy summer, filled with a ton of travel for me, a new puppy, and a chaotic schedule of camps, soccer games and playdates for the kids, we needed this time alone together as a couple more than ever before.

A weekend away along the South Shore of Lake Superior, home to the stunning Apostle Islands and quaint Bayfield, Wisconsin was the perfect antidote to a stressful, busy life. I realized how tense I have become and how incredibly important it is in life to take a step back and relax. I also realized how important it is for a marriage to have time alone together away from the kids. As much as we love our children, we rarely spend time alone together except for a nice dinner out or a walk around the lake with our dog. Getting away from it all together was the best thing we could have done!

IMG_4785

Sailboat Ride in the Apostle Islands

Sailboat Ride in the Apostle Islands

IMG_4806

North America TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY United States Weekly Photo Challenges Wisconsin
Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota

A Summer of Minnesota Sunsets

There is something about summer that is truly fun. It is a time of year that I always feel once again like I am sixteen. The warm summer skies and sun make me come alive with energy and a sense of utter freedom that I only feel this time of year. Perhaps it is because after months of being trapped indoors, I can finally be outside for hours and hours every day. Or else it is the warm humid air or the feeling of the silky cool lake upon my skin that bring me back to my amazingly fun days of youth. The smell of lake water a constant reminder of my childhood growing up surrounded by lakes. The fragrance of roses, watermelon, sunscreen and an evening fire.

Summer is the one time I allow myself to truly let go, to dive in and embrace life. To not be stuck inside on my computer but to be outside running, biking, walking, swimming and reading under a big shade tree. To drive with the windows down letting my long hair blow wild, singing to the radio at the top of my lungs.

This summer I took on a new adventure and tried my best to head down to the lake every night and catch the sunset. As long as there were some clouds to add color and it wasn’t raining, I either jumped on my bike or took the dog down to the lake to capture the stunning views of summer’s ultimate gift: Her extraordinary sunsets. For me, this has been a summer of sunsets and here are some of my absolute favorites from my lovely neighborhood lake.

Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY United States Weekly Photo Challenges

Morning at the Bell Tower in Prague

Prague is one of those cities that seduces one’s soul. It is a magically beautiful city that is easy to fall in love with its architectural charm, its open air squares, cobblestoned streets and endless array of terra-cotta rooftops, medieval churches and spires. Voted as one of the top touristic destinations in Europe, Prague has obviously been discovered and the best way to see her unspoiled beauty is to get up and going early.

On our last morning in Prague, we set off right after breakfast to Old Town Square to climb the Bell Tower knowing that if we were lucky, we would beat the crowds. Our timing was perfect and there is nothing quite like getting a bird’s-eye view of the city as it wakes up and comes to life.

Old Town Hall (Staroměstská radnice) was built during the reign of King John of Luxembourg in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration. The oldest part of the complex consists of a lovely Gothic tower with a bay chapel and a unique astronomical clock – known as the Orloj –which is the oldest and most elaborate functioning astronomical clock in the world.  Although watching the hourly presentation of the “12 Apostles” is a huge tourist attraction, the real pleasure of the Old Town Hall is its remarkable views of the city from the Bell Tower.

As you climb up a series of winding steps, you are delighted with a sense of awe and wonder at the views below. Here are a few of my favorites.

Bell Tower Prague

Bell Tower Prague

Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges
Strada Sforii Brasov

The Narrowest Street in Eastern Europe: Strada Sforii in Brasov

Nestled majestically below the peaks of the lush Southern Carpathian Mountains in Central Romania lies the historic, medieval city of Brasov, one of Romania’s most visited cities. Awash with gothic, barque and renaissance architecture, this once walled city is home to many beautiful historic buildings and churches dating back to the 12th century.

Brasov was founded on an ancient Dacian site by Teutonic Knights in 1211 at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. Beautiful churches and buildings were built along with fortifications (a wall and three lookout towers)  to protect the city against enemies in medieval times. Today, it remains a charming city to wander and explore, enjoying its stunning architecture, its delightful walking streets and mass of fabulous outdoor restaurants and cafes. It is also an excellent launching off point to many hiking trails and medieval castles.

One of the most famous streets in Brasov is Strada Sforii also known as “Rope” and “Skinny” Street as it is the narrowest street in Eastern Europe. Dating back to the 13th century, Strada Sforii is approximately four feet wide and it links Cerbului Street with Poarta Schei Street. The street was originally used as an access route by firefighters but today is one of the most interesting and fun tourist attractions in Brasov as visitors and locals alike wander its narrow, winding path.

Strada Sforri

The entrance to Strada Sforri

Adventure Travel CULTURE Romania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Walking tours Weekly Photo Challenges
Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího

The ornate details within the Basilica of St. James in Prague

Tucked rather discretely among the opulent, ornate buildings in Old Town, Prague lies the Basilica of St. James (Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího). From the outside, this rather nonchalant church can easily be missed however once inside be prepared to be spellbound by its elaborate, thrilling beauty.

Bazilika svatého Jakuba Většího

Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges

Looking up to the Sky

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow”. –  Helen Keller

Lately I’ve been a lot of looking up. Craning my neck to look up to the sky and watch the clouds move or capture the illustrious hues of a summer sunset in Minnesota. For me, looking up has always been something that inspires me in a metaphorical kind of way. I often think about my favorite Helen Keller quote and of all the obstacles she had to overcome in life to achieve her dreams. I am reminded to look up more often instead of looking down or even worse, away.

Sunset Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis MN

I have been spending a lot more time this summer chasing the sunset. Perhaps getting a new puppy has inspired me to get out even more than I normally do (which is a lot as I love being outside). Yet little did I know how important it was to find peace and beauty each and every day by watching the sunset. Even if I only am there for a few brief moments to look up and capture the spectacular dance of changing colors and light, it has an extraordinary impact on me. I feel lighter footed when I leave and more connected to our planet and the comings and goings of each day. Furthermore, I finally feel at peace. 

CULTURE Global Issues TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges
Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Ely: The Start of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”. –  John Muir

About five hours north of Minneapolis and 14 miles short of the Canadian border lies Ely, Minnesota, population 3,460. Despite being near the notoriously named Embarrass, Minnesota which often wins the award as the coldest place in the US during winter, Ely is a magical place. Laying on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and the Superior National forest, Ely is one of a handful of launching off points into the some of America’s great outdoors.

Named by National Geographic as one of the 50 places to see in a lifetime, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is blessed with some of the most pure and raw nature you will ever see. Stretching over one million acres of pristine wilderness and graced with over 1,000 untouched lakes and streams, the BWCAW offers over 1,500 miles of canoe routes where you will likely not see a soul except the lone moose, wolf or black bear. The BWCAW has been a rite of passage for many adventurous souls who search for both challenge and peace as they set off portaging through the various pristine lakes and natural beauty of this amazing place.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Sunrise

Adventure Travel Family Travel Minnesota TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Trekking/Hiking Weekly Photo Challenges
Bell Tower Old Town Prague

A bird’s eye view of Prague from the Bell Tower in Old Town

Prague does not disappoint even in the rain. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world filled with history, culture, and architecture that will make you swoon. Left basically untouched by the destruction of WWII and kept tightly sealed behind the iron walls of communism for 40 years, Prague has come to life over the past decade as tourists from all over the world come to relish her fairytale beauty.

I too was swept away and seduced by the delights of Prague, and I couldn’t stop looking up at the immaculate detail on each and every building. Sometimes however it pays to look down. One morning before the crowds stormed into Old Town Square I climbed the Bell Tower for an aerial view of the city. Despite the poor weather conditions – it was rainy and gray – I was able to capture these shots of the serpentine curves of the city and red rooftops below.

Bell Tower Old Town Prague

Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges
sunset on Lake Harriet, Minneapolis MN

Pure Minnesota

“When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator”. –  Mahatma Gandhi

There is nothing more spectacular than a Minnesota summer. After a long, snowy and cold winter when the sun sets before five summer arrives and the world comes to life again. The birds sing, the air smells of flowering trees, and the sunsets that grace our 10,000 lakes are out of this world.

I am fortunate to live in a large city that is filled with culture, fantastic restaurants and tons to do but is also blessed with nature. Minneapolis is nicknamed the “city of lakes” and right outside my door is one of four urban lakes that flows through the heart of the city. I spend time here almost every single day, year round, running, biking and walking. They even plow the snow off the running and biking trail in the winter.

I’ve seen bald eagles, loons, muskrats, red foxes, turtles, blue herons, white egrets and even wild turkeys, all along my most favorite urban Lake Harriet. It never ceases to amaze me that in the heart of a city you can see so much nature.

My most favorite time to enjoy the lake is in the summer when the sun doesn’t set until almost ten o’clock and it is warm, humid and inviting. Last night, I took a walk before bed to catch a glimpse of the dramatic sunset. It had been hot, humid and stormy yesterday so I know I’d get a purely sensational sunset and I was right. Here is pure Minnesota in all its glory. It is not fly-over land like some east and west coasters like to call it. It is beautiful and I sometimes have to pinch myself how lucky I am to live in such a wonderful place.

sunset on Lake Harriet, Minneapolis MN

Minnesota TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY United States Weekly Photo Challenges
Hrad Karlštejn Crech Republic

A Day Trip to the Karlštejn castle in the magical countryside outside of Prague

There is no better time to visit Prague than in the springtime when the city is waking up to blooming flowers and sunshine and the hordes of tourists are just beginning to arrive. The city becomes alive with outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars where you can sit and watch the world go by. The rain is tapering off and the unruly level of tourists (that most likely make summertime in Prague unbearable) is still at a manageable level.

We thoroughly enjoyed our four days in Prague, spending hours on foot exploring this spectacular city awash in history, culture and charm. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Prague with her immaculate architecture that has made this city one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe. Little did I know, the Prague countryside is equally as lovely and magical as the crown jewel herself.

On a Saturday morning, we decided to hire a driver for the day and headed out to explore the glorious Prague countryside and see what the locals do in their spare time. It was a stunning May day with brilliant blue skies, a gentle breeze and not a sign of rain. We were grateful to have it after spending our first few days in Prague in the drizzling rain.

Prague, Czech Republic

Leaving Prague

Our driver was an amiable young man who filled us in on the history of Prague. He had an encyclopedia of knowledge and a wonderful car with a front to back sunroof that gave us a bird’s-eye view of the passing countryside.

After leaving the city, it wasn’t long until we reached the lush fertile countryside. We immediately came across brilliant yellow fields of flowering rapeseed which emitted a delicious, heavenly fragrance that filled the car. We learned that rapeseed is the main crop allowed by the EU in the Czech countryside and accounts for about 75% of cultivated fields. It is used to produce canola oil.

Rapeseed

Rapeseed

Czech Republic TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges