Congaree National Park

Monday, April 11, 2016
Who would've thought that South Carolina would be home to one of the most fascinating National Parks in the country?

This park has been on my bucket list since I moved down here.
My NH family was in town for the Easter weekend so I decided it was a perfect time to visit.

Known as the Redwoods of the East, this park has some of the coolest, tallest trees East of the Mississippi.
The park is lined with cool boardwalks you see us standing on in the photo above-- they go for miles and miles.

One of the first things that caught my eye was how fat the trees were at their base.
We learned that this is because they sit in water, so the base absorbs it and becomes swollen.
This makes a great home for lots of little creatures like this one...

Crawdad. I used to play with these allll the time growing up in Indiana.
As a kid there was nothing more exciting than running outside during a rainstorm to watch these little southern lobsters crawl up out of their holes in the ground.

On a more serious note, the most interesting part about this park is the history. Some of the biggest trees in the park were around 1,000 years old! Imagine the things they've seen...

In fact, it's been said that slaves who escaped plantations would run to this forest for refuge because with all of the trees it would be difficult to find them. I kept thinking to myself how incredible it was that maybe the tree I'm leaning against was once a resting place for a tired, frightened slave. Just wild.

The park is free.
I highly suggest checking this place out if you ever find yourself exploring the Palmetto State!
It's about 20 minutes outside of Columbia but feels like 20 minutes out of the dinosaur age.

Spring in the South

Monday, April 4, 2016
As I've said before, I can't envision myself living in South Carolina forever.
But it's such a picturesque stopping ground.

Once I no longer live in this place, the one memory that will hang with me until the day I die is the peach trees in bloom every March.

They are one of the first signs of Spring here in the Palmetto State so not only do they invoke a feeling of rebirth, they're also candy for your eyes. The first Spring I lived here, I could not believe this movie-set like scene was right down the road from me! Never in my life have I seen anything like it. Hundreds of fruit trees in bloom at once.

Like all good things, they only last for a short while so Mitch and I got out and took some headshots before they turned into long, green leaves!

I loved working with different focal points and lighting in these shots.
Of course the natural ones where I wasn't posing are my favorite.

Let me know if you're ever in the Charlotte area and want some headshots done!

Runaway to the Sea - Leap Day in Hilton Head Island

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
This past February I kept getting strong intuitive messages that I needed to ride a bike by the sea.
Not exactly sure how, when or where this would happen, but the messages would not subside.

Being a human, I kept playing the brain/heart tug of war.

Ohhh cruising on a beach comber in the bright sun while waves crash against your tires would be SO NICE!

It's too expensive, you shouldn't waste your PTO, pay off your debt first, DON'T GO.

Well, the last weekend of February rolls around, and guess who won.

And as usual it was pure magic.

We decided to drive down to beautiful Hilton Head Island to bring this daydream to life.
What a quiet, whimsical, hidden gem...

This island is the land of retirees. Loaded with golf courses and stunning retirement homes, it's a great place to go for some peace & quiet.
It also has THE BEST bike trails of any place I've ever been.

We stayed at the Oceanside Marriott Resort - the same place we stayed for our One Year Anniversary. (See the link for the full story) -- If you've been a long time follower of this blog, you might remember our last visit to this hotel was not a very fun one. But we decided to give it another try since it was off season and we loved how easy it was to rent bikes on site. That and the oceanfront views can't be beat!

When we arrived and checked in I briefly mentioned our last stay and the hotel manager immediately said you know what? Since you're giving us a second chance, here's $100 credit towards anything you want.

And in that moment all of my brain stressing out about not being able to afford this little getaway vanished.
That $100 credit paid for our bikes, meals, everything.

Everything always works out.
A mantra I will forever sware by.

So not only is Hilton Head great for bike riding, but the beaches are out of this world. I see at least one dolphin every time I visit the lowcountry. Every time!

We woke up before the sun on Leap Day so we could watch the sunrise while riding our bikes down the beach. And wouldn't you know it, a dolphin decided to swim directly next to me, so close to the shore I could have walked out there and touched him.

Not a bad way to spend a day that only comes around every few years.


If you ever plan a trip to Hilton Head Island and want some ideas for fun things to do and great places to eat, let me know! And of course I'm going to recommend staying at the Oceanfront Marriott. They really are the best. Multiple pools, hammocks, bars, an awesome spa... and right on the ocean. Heaven.

As for eats, we found a really great gluten free cafe called Watusi. You can eat outside in the sun and the food was delicious! It was my first time eating a 'sandwich' in so long since going gluten free. The bread was gluten free but you would never know....that good.

Oh and the coffee was strong ;)

Folly Beach, SC

Thursday, March 10, 2016
Hi internet friends.

Back in January we ran off to Folly Beach on the South Carolina coast line - right outside Charleston - for an amazing yoga/meditation class taught by Rachel Brathan.

It was life changing. I have since been practicing light yoga every morning.
But that's another story.

Folly Beach is one of the coolest, most beautiful spots in South Carolina.
If you're ever in the Charleston area, a visit to this mini Key West should definitely be on your list.

We stayed at Tides at Folly beach in an oceanfront room. It was unbelievable.

But don't take my word for it - let the photos speak for themselves.

Find me on snap chat: stephaniep111
Instagram: freespiritfun1

Much love!


Monday, January 11, 2016
We just fostered a kitten named Nicholas for 2 weeks.
It was quite the whirlwind experience, and nothing like what I expected.
So before my memories of him drift away with the winds of time, I wanted to write them down. 

This is the story of Nicholas.

One day when I was a little girl I asked my mom about my name.

Why is my first name Stephanie?
Your great grandmother's name is Stephana. We wanted to name you after her.
Ok - well why is my middle name Nicole?
And the story began....

When my mom was pregnant with me, it never crossed her mind to find out the gender until she gave birth.

When she was pregnant with my older brother she just knew it was a boy. Call it motherly instinct but she was positive about her prediction and named him Ben before he was even born.

So when she got pregnant with me shortly after, she again chose to not find out the sex.
And again, she was convinced it was a boy. She was confident that sometime in December she would give birth to a curly brown haired boy and name him Nicholas.

All throughout her pregnancy with me, she would talk to her belly and refer to it as Nicholas.

So when I was born you can imagine the shock and surprise when it was a brown haired girl!
What's neat is my mom actually had a tape recorder on during my birth. I listened to it once and although you cannot see her face, you can hear the pure shock in her voice:

"Doctor: aaand... it's a GIRL!!
Mom: Oh!? Oh!... Oh wow...she...she looks just like me! SHE looks like ME!"

Pleasantly surprised but not wanting to let go of the idea of Nicholas she held for 9 months, she made my middle name Nicole.

It was because of this story that growing up my mother always told me that I would have a Nicholas in my life. Husband, best friend, child....somehow she knew a Nicholas would show up in my life and leave a lasting imprint on my heart.


My whole life I have loved animals. I resonate with them on such a deep level.
I've always wanted to volunteer at shelters but the overwhelming sensation of grief, sadness and anger that crashes into me every time I walk into a shelter kept me away.

Flash forward to 2011. I got my first 'real job' out of college working for a large business.
I walk into my first 'real meeting' excited like Yeah! I did it! Got my business degree now I get to talk business with experienced people. Sweet.

But as I sat down in this board room a lump grew in my throat.
Maybe I'm nervous?
No, I feel prepared.

Then about 5 minutes into the meeting my mind wandered away from the topic at hand and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Here I am in this fancy room all nice and warm, sheltered from the elements outside.
Abundance of food and clean water at my fingertips.
Talking about how we can maximize profit for an already multi billion dollar business...

All the while there are animals being tortured, homeless, neglected...all over the damn place. Probably right  down the road. And here I was doing absolutely nothing about it. 
My eyes swelled up and I was immediately questioning every choice I made in the past 5 years.
 This is not how my heart dreams of spending my days.

Ever since that day I've made more of an effort to spend my free time educating people on the importance of spay/neuter, adopting instead of shopping, and I even worked with the Humane Society of the United States on a Meatless Monday project urging school systems all over the country to not serve meat on Mondays.

And now here I am. 27 and living in the South, a part of the country notorious for animal abuse and over crowded high kill shelters. I promised myself that when I buy a house with land, it will be packed with rescue cats and dogs. I hold that word... just watch.

But again, I start to feel like there's more I can do.
Right now.
And I need to just do it.

So after Christmas I took a class at my local shelter on becoming a foster parent to homeless cats and dogs.
I work from home so I thought it would be perfect.

I had no idea that a few days after my class I would receive my first case. I thought these things took time!

When I arrived at the shelter the following Monday night to pick him up, I knew I was fostering a kitten but had no idea how many or who I would be receiving. As I walked in and told the lady I was a foster parent here to pick up a kitten she walked me into the kitten room - cages full of kittens crying and reaching their paws out through the cage. She wasn't sure which one I would be taking and she couldn't reach the shelter manager to ask her because her phone died. So I reached out to her on Facebook and within seconds a message popped up:

You will be taking home Nicholas!

This boy.
Stealin' hearts and rippin' farts.

As soon as he arrived at our apartment he was ready to play with every object in sight and snuggle on our laps when he wore himself out.
Although our 2 full grown cats were hesitant (and pissed) about him at first, it wasn't long before he won their hearts over and became one of the tribe.

I never thought that I would get so attached to an animal in just two short weeks.
I went into this understanding that it was strictly business.
Especially since I knew that at the end of my time with him, Nicholas would be going to his forever home to live his life happily ever after.

But the love we humans have for animals runs so deep.

Love is the basis of everything. Of life. And there are many types...
The love we have for our parents is one type. The love we have for our boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses is another. And the love we have for our children is completely different than those two.
All strong, passionate, and different in their own way.

But then there's the love we have for our 4 legged friends.

So strong that it can crack the hardest heart and let light shine through.
Or break your heart so deeply that you avoid animals all together out of fear of ever feeling that type of overwhelming grief again.

But it's so blissfully beautiful.
How unconditionally they love you back.
I mean, it's a love where you know they will never intentionally or accidentally hurt you or break your heart. It's the purest form of love out there....

Nicholas snuggled up close with me every night.

He ate popcorn and watched movies with me. He made me laugh so many times at how wild he would get to the point of chasing his own tail.

I hurt my back from sitting so still in my office chair while holding his fuzzy little sleeping body, head nuzzled in my neck, just so I wouldn't wake him up.

And it became a morning routine to open the dishwasher all the way as I was cleaning dishes after breakfast just so he could climb in and explore.
Every time.

One of the sweetest things about my time with Nicholas was witnessing his first look into the outside world. I perched him up on the ledge of the window and watched him go still as he felt the warm beam of bright morning sun. Then open his eyes to watch in complete astonishment a flock of birds fly overhead.
 Having lived in a cage with no windows for his whole 8 weeks of life, this was really moving to watch.
Not sure who enjoyed it more: Me or Nicholas

So you can imagine the pain that overtook me this morning when we had to return him to the shelter. As I held him tight and gave him one last kiss on the whiskers, I felt my heart break into a million pieces and blanket the ground around my feet. This was my boy.

The way the tears rolled down my cheeks as I waved goodbye to his little face looking  back at mine behind the bars of a cat carrier, you would think I was at a funeral.

I don't know what this sweet boy's future holds. But I can only hope it involves lots of unconditional love and plenty of dishwashers to climb into. It would make my life to see him touch grass for the first time.

While my heart aches that I cannot keep him forever, Nicholas has been a blessing in disguise.
The shelter loved my photos of him so much, that they actually invited me to come on board as their photographer!

I started this past weekend and absolutely love every part of it. While I still get hit with heavy energy every time I walk into the shelter, as soon as I get behind the camera I'm able to let it go.
I'm doing this work to help these animals look their best and find forever homes.
Using art to make a difference. I would have never thought I would be that lucky.

And as I watched Mitch pull away to bring Nicholas to his next chapter of life, I called my mom to cry.
She said:
I always knew there'd be a Nicholas in your life....


Before I sign off here, there's one more interesting twist to this story.

If you're an avid reader of this online diary of mine, you might remember that this past June I wrote about my 2 year anniversary trip out in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And you might remember this moment....

"So, what did you write?"
Me: "Change the world and Save Animals"
Happy: "Give it 6-8 months and you'll be on your way."

7 months later:

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