52 Photo Challenge: Week 16-Flat Lay

“Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
Smell the sea, and feel the sky,
Let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic.”
—Van Morrison

This week my assignment for the 52 photo challenge was to create something with a flat-lay setup. It’s supposed to be an image where you lay objects out on a flat surface and photograph them from above. I wasn’t thrilled about this idea, especially since I was spending the weekend along the beautiful California coast. So, you will see the first few images are sort of my attempt at this (the sand is a flat surface, right?) #4 might be the closest I got and it’s not my favorite.

Instead, I offer you mostly shots from my weekend away. Let me know if you have a favorite and thanks for the birthday wishes. I’m feeling full of saltwater kisses and ocean breezes.





















  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
  • If you want to join the 52 Photo Challenge, you can find all the information at nicolesy.com

52 Photo Challenge
Week 1: Bokeh
Week 2: Silhouette
Week 3: Black and White
Week 4: Motion Blur
Week 5: Texture
Week 6: Framing
Week 7: Leading Lines
Week 8: Negative Space
Week 9: Patterns
Week 10: Symmetry
Week 11: Green
Week 12: Sidelight
Week 13: Sense of Scale
Week 14: One Lens
Week 15: Series

Travel: Historic Shelburne Hotel

“It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”
—Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

After spending two nights in Astoria, Oregon we traveled to the beautiful and sleepy town of Seaview, Washington. We were lucky to get an attic room in the Shelburne Hotel which was built in 1896 and is the longest continuously operating hotel in Washington State. The big draw for me was the feeling of stepping back in time, but it was the rumors of ghosts that excited my daughter. Who doesn’t want a little adventure?

From the moment we parked our car and walked in the front door we felt welcome. The hotel is very LGBTQ-friendly and has a tremendously calm feeling. We arrived early and the staff encouraged us to explore the hotel while they finished cleaning our room. One employee showed us the secret library (swoon) and told us a bit about the local spirits—Georgina in the garden beside the large tree, the original caretaker Charles Beaver in the second-floor hallways, and a girl named Nina in the attic.

Now, before I go into the details of our possible ghost encounter, I want to share these photos taken with my iPhone 13 to give you a sense of the place. Almost all my photos are slightly crooked or off, which fits the mood perfectly.

All the stained glass was rumored to be repurposed from a church in Morecambe, England, that was being torn down and dates back to the 1800s.

The very creaky stairs up the attic.

Our bedroom. The little nook off to the left is where my daughter slept.

The hotel restaurant was divine. I particularly loved the wine and crème brûlée.

Now, here’s the part I’m a bit hesitant to share. You see, almost all of what happened can be explained away with logic. However, if you choose to believe in spirits…

After eating in the restaurant we retired to our attic room. We got into our pajamas and watched a few episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race before deciding it was time to rest. My daughter climbed into the little nook area and I sprawled across the bed. Before I went to sleep I said a prayer of protection and asked to be left alone. My daughter said she wanted to see a spirit and was open to an encounter. The bed was comfy and although we both heard some creaking on the stairs and a few bumps on the outside walls, I drifted to sleep fairly quickly.

I woke several times with an incredibly warm feeling against my back as if a dog or small person was curled up beside me. The room was cold but I was sweaty and uncomfortable. Each time it happened, I sat up and checked on my daughter and found her sleeping peacefully in the little nook. In retrospect, I should have been scared as I’m usually a complete baby about such things, but I wasn’t.

About the fourth time this happened, I whispered into the room.

“I need my rest.”

A few minutes later I felt a hand tap my left leg three times. It was comforting, which if you know me, is highly strange. I’m the type of person who jumps if someone comes into the room unannounced. I’ve been known to freak myself out and think someone was in the backseat of my van while driving home late at night and pull over at a gas station to check every inch of the back in the bright lights. I don’t even like scary movies, yet this touch on my leg felt natural and not at all scary.

At 3 a.m. I woke to my daughter softly calling my name. I sat up groggily and saw she was still in her nook but she looked strange.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know…”

She was terribly cold and shaking violently.

“My stomach hurts…”

She has a very sensitive stomach, particularly while traveling, and I figured maybe the rich dessert didn’t sit well with her. I didn’t want to tell her, but I started to get scared for the first time. The room felt different and I quickly turned on all the lights. Her skin was ice cold, her face pale, and she couldn’t stop shaking. At that moment I wanted to pack everything up and leave, but before I could say anything else she ran to the bathroom and threw up in the sink. Within a few minutes, she started to feel better and crawled into bed with me. The heat I’d been feeling on my back was gone, but so was the scary feeling that had arrived when she felt sick.

Unable to go back to sleep right away, we watched another episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and then turned out the lights. I said another prayer of protection, including my daughter this time, and fell asleep fairly quickly. The warm feeling on my back didn’t return and I didn’t wake until I heard the call of a common starling outside the window in the morning.

My daughter woke up a few hours after me and told me what she saw right before falling asleep. A young girl was standing near the foot of the bed looking at her. She was wearing a white dress and had short black hair curled around her face. She didn’t say anything and her face didn’t show any emotion, but after seeing the girl she was able to sleep soundly.

The staff told us that sometimes things get moved around in the rooms, but we didn’t notice anything different in the morning. I showered and we had delicious coffee and tea in the lobby. We wrote down our story in a journal kept behind the front counter and left. We talked about our experience and could explain all of it away. It wasn’t until arriving at our next hotel we thought perhaps we did experience something supernatural. Digging through my bag to get my swimming suit for the hot tub I found this:

One of the first things my daughter said when we walked into the attic bathroom was, “Look at this cute makeup towel!” My bag was never in the bathroom and we didn’t take the towel off its hook. Maybe, just maybe, Nina gave it to us as a souvenir or perhaps an apology for my daughter getting sick. Regardless of how it came to be at the bottom of my bag, I’ll be mailing it back. We won’t soon forget our night at the Shelburne Hotel.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you’ve had any experiences like this. I’d love to hear it!

Note: To my regular readers, I’m back home now and will return to writing poetry and short stories soon. I’m also terribly behind in reading all your beautiful blog posts and hope to get caught up this week. Be ready for a batch of comments on your blogs soon!

Photography: South Lake Tahoe

 “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I was gifted an overnight trip to Tahoe with my daughter and her best friend. I didn’t know how badly I needed this break. It gave me the chance to get away from my chores, marvel at the beauty of the world, make up stories about monsters hiding in dark snow, and sing in the car at the top of my lungs.

While my life has been hard lately, it’s equally beautiful. It’s the dark bare trees standing up in a field of white. I’d like to share a few things with you.

A childhood friend died unexpectedly last week. Cori introduced me to Sweet Valley High books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have fond memories of playing in her pool, doing runway shows in her hallway, and snuggling in blankets to watch movies. I’m devasted for the sister left behind as she’s now lost her father and both her older sisters. Why does tragedy strike some families more than others? It’s wildly unfair.

My daughter continues to struggle with her mental health. This week we had some of the hardest conversations I’ve had in my life, but we are moving forward. She’s getting stronger and bolder about her recovery. Healing isn’t linear and sometimes those steps back are necessary to take another leap forward.

My mother is moving more than 500 miles away in less than two weeks and I’m not ready for her to go. I’ll be helping her move and I know this is good for her, but I’m grieving the loss of being able to see her whenever I want. Super plus side, I’ll get to take photographs in Washington and I’ve heard it’s breathtaking.

I’ve been reading poetry monthly at a wonderfully inclusive and supportive bookstore called A Seat at the Table. They’ve offered to help me launch my book career by hosting a reading/book signing for my 52-short story collection in early May. I’ve got a lot of work to do before I’m ready, but it’s exciting and feels like purpose and joy.

I’ve not posted as much lately and I’m behind in reading my favorite bloggers, but I’m back at it today. Thanks to those who continue to root me on, your support means the world to me. Let me know what you think of these Tahoe photos and have a wonderful week!

  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

Poetry: Dolphins in the Green

within this wild cacophony of silence
sit the words we don’t say anymore
scattered wispy threads of dead conversations
tucked into seat cushions and under rugs

watching with its tranquil virescent leaves 
serenely placed on a lacy white doily
the tenacious fuzzy buds burst forth
to dance and sway as vermillion dolphins

“look at that,” I half-whisper
glowing screen still cradled in my palm
your tired eyes sweep the room
smiling when you see the fresh blooms

are you remembering roaring ocean waves?
swigging rum under the starry night sky?
black stone beaches, curvy thin roads?
slippery volcano hikes amongst the misty clouds?

I’m too afraid to ask anymore
with the ghosts of words dancing about
so instead I silently smile back
staring at the plant by the window

Photography: Little Whale Cove

She closed her eyes. She drew her shoulders back. She took a slow and steady breath.
There was tension in the air. A weight. A wait. There was no wind. She did not speak. The world grew and stretched tight.

-Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things

There’s nothing quite like standing on the beach at sunset and watching the sky and water play together with a dance of reflection and light. On our recent trip to Oregon my daughter and I sat apart from each other in complete silence watching the sun slowly descend into a bank of clouds. It was slow and sudden—a beautiful, fleeting moment of peace.

Today’s photo selections are of the place my father lives in Oregon called Little Whale Cove. It’s a hidden and magical gem we feel incredibly grateful to visit each summer. I hope you enjoy them!


Stay tuned: Next week I’ll be sharing photos of our visit to the West Coast Game Park Safari.

What to see more?

Photography: Depoe Bay, Oregon

I’ve spent the last week traveling through Oregon with my teenage daughter. We started at my dad’s house in Depoe Bay, moved to Bandon, and then finished in Rainbow. I took hundreds of photos. Oregon is photogenic as heck! I’ve decided to split them up and share some each Monday for a few weeks.

My photos today are of tiny Depoe Bay and our whale watching excursion through Dockside Charters. We saw four tails and lots of spouts of water, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture a great photo within our hour trip. It didn’t stop us from having a blast standing at the bow of the ship as we bounced through the ocean laughing and scanning the water. It’s an experience neither of us is likely to forget.

I hope these photos of the peaceful coolness of the Pacific coast bring you a little bit of joy.


What to see more?

Pretend Venice is the place for me

vegas2Sitting alone, I sip a warm foamy cappuccino and read about feminism and race in America. Occasionally, a slender gondola slides into the canal beside me, the rich operatic voice of its striped-shirt operator tenderly serenading a couple. I smile in appreciation, as he takes one hand off the long wooden oar to tip his straw hat in my direction.

This is how I do Vegas.

I’ve never been here before, but at nearly 40 years of age, I have some idea of how this trip is supposed to go. I’ve seen the movies. There should be debauchery, nudity and mass alcohol consumption followed by a musical montage of me in a strapless black dress with a heavy diamond necklace kissing the dice of some hot millionaire who later loses everything by betting on 21 red. Oh, and gangsters with pinstripe suits with piles of cocaine. And tigers. And an elaborate heist set to a jazzy soundtrack with dreamy Clooney-types.

OK, maybe Hollywood Vegas isn’t the real deal, but by all accounts, I’m an epic disappointment in the revelry department.

I’m tempted to blame this failure on my age, but the truth is, Vegas is a super sized let-down when you are alone.

Bachelor/bachelorette parties, Elvis weddings, trips with friends and maybe romantic second honeymoons, sure. But touring around solo, not so much.

So, what was I doing in the Sin City on my own? My husband was here on business, so for the price of a cheap plane ticket, I could escape the dishes, laundry and carpool for a few days.

Don’t mind if I do.

However, it meant either sitting all day in my hotel room waiting for hubby to get out of his meetings, or exploring the GlitterLand alone.

Since I see myself as adventurous, I step into my cons and some butter-soft LuLaRoe leggings, high five myself for being so grown up, and head out to explore.

Vegas did not disappoint in the eye candy department; a massive dragon made of tiny red and gold lights, roman statues, Parisian murals, Elvis and “Hangover” look-alikes, bright neon lights, Harry Potter-like false ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, groups of tourists snapping endless selfies, mascot Pikachu and Hello Kitty holding hands, a rooster statue roughly the size of my house, curving escalators and endless confusing hallways.

Vegas also didn’t disappoint in the depressing department; smoke-filled rooms filled with vitamin D deprived gamblers, an unhinged homeless man loudly declaring the end of times, tiny pictures of naked woman littering the few patches of bare earth, stumbling drunks at 10 a.m. puking outside the Denny’s, aggressive men handing out pamphlets for “free shows” and the creepy Freddy Krueger who thought I’d enjoy him jumping out at me.

All this by 1 p.m.

I was exhausted by the sheer bigness of it all. I longed for when I used to drink, so I could numb it all down a bit. Instead, I decide to get some gelato and head back for MTV or “The Golden Girls” in the safety of my hotel bed.

But first I pass the homeless teenager with the padlock through his nose, lying in filth, drawing with a pen on small squares of cardboard images of such beauty I couldn’t look. His extremes terrified me.

The elderly man playing a violin while breathing through some clear tube, creating a kind of haunting sound, which I felt inside my bones.

A woman, who looked around my age, laying under some bushes with a blanket of plastic bags covering her mostly naked sore-covered body. The filth making me recoil with embarrassed pain.

The contrasts were so bright, so vivid, I became uneasy on my feet. The splendor and the filth. The strong and the weak. The privileged and the oppressed.

I wanted to permanently close my eyes.

“Somebody help me!”

A young woman, maybe early 20s, runs by me with a small boy, maybe 4. She is crying and telling the now gathering crowd of onlookers, she’s being followed by her ex-husband who is going to kill her. She points across the street, but I can’t make out anyone looking our direction.

“I have scars all over my body,” she cries. “He has been beating me for 10 years. I can’t get away from him.”

She takes out a cellphone and calls the police, giving them a report number and saying she needs help.

“I just need $200 for a bus ticket,” she says through tears.

“I just want to have fun,” the boy says.

The crowd slowly slinks away. What is wrong with these people? I stand next to her smiling at her boy and wishing I had snacks in my purse. I always have snacks. Shame on me.

“I’ll stay with you until the police come,” I say. “We will figure this out together.”

She looks around uneasy.

“Umm…,” she says. “I just need $60 and I can leave this town.”

“I just want to have fun,” the boy says again.

“Come with me inside the casino,” I say to her. “I’ll talk to the security guards and we will get you help. We can call a shelter and get you off the street right now.”

“I’m not allowed in there,” she says, eyeing the security guards I now see walking toward us.

I blink at her and finally see the scam. I see it as plainly as all the other people who already walked away. She grows uncomfortable and tells me to please go. I want to ask her why she is doing this. Maybe she isn’t running from an ex-husband who beats her, but clearly there is some reason she is on the street with a small kid trying to scam people for money.

My heart hurt.

I felt wounded.


I hug her, awkwardly, and tell her I wish her well.

The boy repeats his line a third time.

“I just want to have fun.”

“Take care kiddo,” I say and walk away.

Vegas is too much alone.

That night, my husband and I see a show about star-crossed lovers while snuggled together on a couch. I sink into him and allow myself to feel protected and safe. Privileged. Blessed.

I still see myself as an explorer, but in Vegas, I’ll stick to the fake blue skies of Pretend Venice with my overly priced cappuccino.


And then I lost my mind…

Walking to my car I was so engrossed with my phone that I didn’t even realize I had arrived until I bumped into it. I unlocked the door and continued my texting conversation without missing a beat.

That’s when I saw a shadow.

It was just a moment of darkness and then the light returned.

Immediately I locked the doors and started my car. I set down my phone and returned to reality.

I was in a parking garage.




As I drove down the ramp toward the exit, a tiny little whisper entered my mind.

“What if that shadow was someone in the parking garage about to rob me?”

Good thing I locked the doors.

I’m safe.

Inserting the parking ticket into the machine, I exit the garage and wind my way through downtown to the freeway.

Time to get my dance on.

“If you feel like happiness is the truth…”

Not this song AGAIN! I snap off the radio in frustration and enter the freeway.

Some quiet is a good idea.

“What if that shadow was someone in my car?”

Wait…WHAT? Stop it.

“What if they are waiting until we get far away from the city to stick a knife to my throat?”

NO! Stop it.

“What if I never see my children again?”

AHHH!!!! Stop it!!!

The thoughts start spiraling down into a deep, dark place filled with regret, fear and panic.

Sneaking looks into my rearview mirror becomes too scary and I almost pull over on the freeway and run away from my car.

Stories I’ve heard of women being raped and left mutilated on the side of the road start playing in my head. Every image of abuse and death that I’ve tried to suppress start playing like some absurd, grotesque slide show of my impending demise.

“How could you be so stupid to not check the car?”

There it is.

The reason it all started.

I didn’t check the car. I paid no attention to my surroundings.


I almost roll down the window to chuck it, but realize it might save me if I am indeed sharing the car with a murderer hiding in the third row. He could easily be under that giant karate duffel bag back there.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

I look back and it seems the duffel bag has been moved from where I remember seeing it last.

Panic time.

I turn the music on and off for several minutes trying to decide which is worse, hearing my attacker or being surprised when he jumps up to kill me.

Every passing car I search their faces to see if they are signaling me that they see someone in the back.

I swear I can feel pressure in my back, like someone leaning on my seat.

Now I’m crying.

My poor kids…would they know how much I loved them? Would they remember all the little things I did for them? Would they forever be haunted by the memory of me leaving them to see a play?

How could I be so selfish to go see a play without my family?

What is wrong with me?

The freeway exit is ahead and I’m now convinced this is the moment my attacker is waiting to pounce. He has enjoyed watching me panic. I can almost hear his breath.

I exit and stop at a red light.

Should I run? I could just leave the car right here and run for it. The gas station is right there…


I turn on the interior lights and look around the car.

I’m alone.

The duffel bag is against the back door and nobody is behind it.

Light turns green and I drive the rest of the way home in a daze.

In just two days I am flying on an airplane without my family.

I am headed to Florida to stay with a very dear friend and her beautiful family. It is an early birthday present from her and I’m so grateful.


The fears that spiral in my mind have gone into hyper drive. Untruths are being yelled in a voice so loud that it’s hard to hear anything else. I’ve been tempted to cancel…to crumble and fall into a heap so I can feel safe.


I am going. When I am quiet I can picture the beach. I can see their happy faces and almost feel their hugs. The break from my life that I so desperately crave is just within my reach.


Fear feels like such a part of my skin that I can’t seem to shake it.

It is following me as I count down the days and is clouding everything I do this week. I’m not going to share all the horrible, ugly things that keep surfacing.

Trust me. It’s stupidly dreadful.


I am going.

Yesterday my sister heard my panic and did something amazing. As an early birthday present, she took me shopping and bought me a heap of adorable clothes that fit. I’m more grateful to her than I can even express. Feeling better about how I look is helping me to shake some of the fear loose.

My kids are going to be fine. Daddy and grandma have fun things planned. They will be loved up and safe. This is their chance to miss me and I them.

Fear and guilt are my two favorite punishments that I live in daily.

They are making me so tired.

My body and mind are craving this trip.






I am going.

See you soon.