Friday, July 29, 2011

Liebster Blog Award

It must be awards season, because I'm a bit knocked over to receive another award this week!  This one is called the Liebster Blog award, and it's for smaller blogs that people think deserve some additional attention.  

"Smaller blogs," in this case, indicates 300 or fewer followers.  Yep, that’s me!  I’ve got 87 Google followers as of the time of this post, and have been excited to see that number grow and grow since just four months ago when I started blogging.  I have no clue how many email or reader subscribers I have because for some reason Blogger, in all its Google splendor, does not tell me that in my blog stats.  I have to go to FeedBurner, another Google product, to do this.  Sheesh.  I’m working on it.  But I digress.
Since I just presented the One Lovely Blog Award yesterday to 15 blogs, I'm going to call out from that list three of my favorite blogs that are smaller, but shouldn't be, because they're awesome.
1.  BirdHouse:  Steph has received some deserved attention lately from some "bigger" blogs because of her amazing craft room makeover, and her MCM dresser was also the first project featured when I started my Metamorphosis Monday series.
The yellow lamp and trestle desk are two other awesome DIY projects from BirdHouse

2.  Signed by Tina:  I featured some of her creative IKEA hacks a while back, and her design style continues to mesmerized me.  I had trouble picking just one photo to show you.  I don't know what Tina calls her style, but I say it's got lots of black & white glam with a  dose of rock-n-roll.  She mixes retail items with clever DIY’d projects, and it all comes together to create a totally unique space.
A view of Tina's living room.  She has amazingly impactful photography all through her house.

3.  Swoon Worthy:  The lovely Redlilocks (she has red hair, people) is a Pennsylvania girl who’s loving life in the UK.  She and her man are in the process of renovating a very old house that has lived many lives before they came along.  Like me, she can’t stand to live in a house that’s totally not her style, so they did some “good enough for now” makeovers to start with, and now they’re going back and doing the “real makeovers” a room at a time.  Her sass and sarcasm keep me reading, in addition to the renovation updates, of course.
I would never have thought to pair this sofa in front of that wallpaper, but I'm smitten.

Ladies, you each intrigue me in your own ways!  Now, please pay it forward by highlighting 3-5 other small blogs that you feel are deserving of more followers, and pass the award on to them.

Thank you so much to Kari from Newlyweds on a Budget for presenting me with the Liebster Blog award!  Kari is very crafty, and she’s busily trying to turn her married student housing apartment (read:  cinder block walls and tiny kitchen) into a home for her and her hubby on a very tight budget.

I’m off for a girls’ weekend out in the boonies with no internet service, which means I’ll be getting even more behind on my Google Reader.  It’s a scary situation.  And no more posts from me until next week.  I’m looking forward to a couple days of card games, tasty food, drinks, and girl chat.  It’s always a crazy time with this bunch, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

One Lovely Blog Award


I am so flattered to have been presented with the One Lovely Blog Award by Caroline of c.w.frosting


No worries, I will spare you all the long acceptance speech.  Instead, I will just say a big THANK YOU to Caroline, and to all my readers.  I feel like blogging has become my job, one that I enjoy very much.  Of course, The Mr. would appreciate if I received a paycheck, but an award is just as nice!  (Well, except when I want to go shopping.  I don’t think HomeGoods will accept the One Lovely Blog Award as a form of payment.  But it should be worth a bit of in-store credit, right?)
Anyway, accepting the award means I am required to share 7 things about me.  Here’s more than you wanted to know.  You could say I’m a bit wordy.  But if you read my blog, you know that already.  So here goes.

  1. I can’t not eat cookie dough.  Most any dough will do, really.  But oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough is my favorite.  Cookies taste better to me raw than baked, so I usually put some extra dough in a container in the fridge rather than baking it all.  But I have to hide it from The (Cookie-Dough-Loving) Teen.  Luckily The Mr. is freaked out by raw eggs, so I don’t have to share my dough with him.
  2. My favorite color is probably white, which is actually the absence of color.  I like things fresh and clean looking.  But turquoise is a close second.
  3. When I was a preteen, my criteria for a home included that it not be any farther than 10 minutes away from a mall.  As a high school senior, one criterion for choosing a college was that it be small enough that my professors know me by name, but large enough that if I were dating someone and broke up, there would be plenty of other fish in the sea.  I had my priorities straight, obviously.
  4. I am horrible at interpreting song lyrics.  For many years I thought Prince was singing “Baby Come Back” rather than “Little Red Corvette.”  Let’s just say I follow along with a song’s beat a bit more than the storyline.
  5. Online reviews are my friend.  TripAdvisor is my go-to for restaurants, hotels and things to do when traveling.  Amazon is great for researching products and reading user reviews, even if I don’t actually purchase from their site (although often I do). has tons of recipes added by people like us.  You can search by item or category, and sort by user ratings.  My pet peeve about online reviews?  When people write “I just received this product and can’t wait to use it.” or “I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but it looks really good.”  Seriously?  If you haven’t used/eaten/done it yet, you have nothing to review.  So just don’t.
  6. I’m usually running late.  Time seems to slip away from me.  If I have somewhere to be at 4pm, I usually procrastinate about getting ready until about 3:05pm when I realize what time it is and freak out.  Even if I’m all dressed and ready to go early, I most certainly will fill all the “extra time” with another activity, which distracts me from watching the clock, and then I have another freakout when I realize it’s later than I thought.  I’m one of those people who is embarrassed by being late, so I always feel bad and apologize.  I’m bothered by people who show up late and don’t seem to care, although at the same time, I admire their free-spiritedness.
  7. If I were single, I would totally be a crazy cat lady.  We have four rescues, and it’s so hard for me not to bring home every kitty at the shelter.  Petting or snuggling with a cat calms me when I’m upset or stressed, so I have to admit they help me as much as I’ve helped them.
House 011
This is Noodles in her "roadkill pose."  Don't you just want to rub that fuzzy belly?

Now I have the pleasure of passing along the One Lovely Blog Award to 15 other bloggers.  What a treat!

Congrats, and thank you for inspiring me!  If you would like to play along, here are are the rules:
  1. Tell us 7 things about yourself.
  2. Pass this award on to 15 bloggers who inspire you.  Share the love!

Thanks again to Caroline for bestowing the One Lovely Blog Award upon me.  It only took me (cough) 15 days to discover her gracious offer, due to vacationing and being very behind on my reading blog subscriptions, and her email to me hiding away in my spam folder.  Yikes!  My acknowledgement may be a bit delayed, but what a way to start the day today.  Cheers!



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A review of Nicole Hill Gerulat’s “Photo 101” textbook

I’ve been trying to improve my photography skills since I started blogging in March, hoping to permanently transition myself to the manual settings on my camera.  I took a photography class back when we had a film SLR, and after the class I understood how to change my aperture and shutter speed to achieve a nice photo.  But once we switched to digital, even though both cameras were Canon Rebel models, the buttons were completely different on the DSLR and I was feeling all discombobulated.  Of course, I procrastinated about reading the manual to reacquaint myself, and as time passed, I simply forgot what was what.

I’ve been wanting to take another photography class, and heard good things from a blogger about the online classes offered by Nicole Hill Gerulat.  While checking out Nicole’s online class info, I came across her book, called “Photo 101.”  Reviewers said it actually taught them how to use their camera, unlike their user manuals, which used complicated words and didn't tell them much more than what the buttons were called.  I decided to start out with the book rather than an online class, partly because it’s less than half the price of the classes, and partly because I had limited time before vacation and I needed to get my photography groove on.

Book photo via Nicole's Classes website

I received the book in the mail just before we left for vacation, so I wasn’t able to do any reading and practicing beforehand.  Instead, I read it on the plane and during the car ride from Seattle (where we flew in to from Louisville) to Vancouver on our first day of vacation.  The way you’re initially supposed to use the book is to have your camera in front of you to study and tinker with as you read along, then when you finish a chapter, you practice what you learned.  Since I had read it on a plane and in a car, I didn’t have my camera in front of me, so I was trying to remember everything I had read while we were out taking photos, without the chance to try things out first.  It took me a few days to get it all figured out, after fiddling with the camera and referring back to the book several times.  I can’t say I’m an expert by any means, but I’m certainly on my way to more successful photos and am enjoying the manual settings.

Excerpt from Photo 101 by Nicole Hill Gerulat, via Nicole's Classes website

I give the book a rave review!  If you’re struggling to get good photos out of your DSLR, or are considering purchasing and DSLR and want to know more about what you’d be getting into, I highly recommend Nicole’s book.  She explains all the technical jargon in layman’s terms and provides lots of photo examples.  Before this book, I didn’t know what white balance, ISO or metering were used for, nor how they could improve the quality of my photos dramatically!  And I had forgotten why it’s important to be able to choose your own aperture (also called f-stop) and shutter speed, rather than letting the camera decide what your desired photo outcome should be.

What I took away from the book the most:
  • To change the white balance based on the lighting I’m in (daylight, cloudy, shade, inside tungsten, inside fluorescent, etc.).  Adjusting the white balance helps you get a natural looking photo rather than a photo with too much yellow or blue.

Photo on the left is with daylight white balance (obviously too blue to be natural);
photo on the right is white balanced for tungsten lights.
  • To keep objects both near and far in focus when they’re on different planes, use a narrow aperture (large number).  To keep only objects in the same plane in focus, use a wide aperture (small number)(Thanks Nicole for correcting my terminology.  Luckily I understood what I was doing, but mistakenly thought that narrow = small and wide = large.  This is why manual settings are confusing to most people!)
    Vancouver - Sea to Sky Hwy & Whistler 097
    That blob behind my left shoulder is a black bear.  It would have been nice to actually see it!

    Vancouver - Sea to Sky Hwy & Whistler 099
    The aperture here was a little better.  The bear and Olympic luge track are in focus, but I'm not.
    I wish my husband had read Nicole's book, or that I had time to tell him how to change
    the aperture before we had to move along.

    Seattle - day 1 056
    Taken with an aperture of 5.6.  The statue in the foreground is in focus,
    but the rest of the scene is slightly blurred.

    Seattle - day 1 057
    Taken with an aperture of 10.  The statue is still in focus, but now the background is more in focus as well.
    • If you are tired of having your subject in the dark when you’ve got a light background (this happens a lot when you’re photographing people against a background that includes the sky), change the metering mode so the camera meters the light off the subject only, rather than the subject and background together.
    Vancouver - Sea to Sky Hwy & Whistler 101
    You know you have photos like this!  It happens a lot in beach photos too.
    Unfortunately I don't have a different, better, version to show you, but I'm sure you get the idea.

    Are these terms new to you, or are you a manual settings user yourself?  If you're intrigued but afraid, I highly recommend going for it!  Until I get the hang of all the settings, I've been capturing several shots of the same thing when possible, making minor tweaks each time.  Once I download the photos to my computer where I can see them larger than 1" by 1.5", I decide which version looks best and delete the rest.  Isn't the digital age wonderful?

    If you haven't already seen them, you can check out some of the skyline photos I took in Seattle by checking out yesterday's post.


    Vacationing in Seattle: Views of the Space Needle and city skyline

    Because it’s so hilly, Seattle has lots of great lookout spots, several of them in public parks.  The Space Needle is so iconic to Seattle that I thought it would be fun to shoot it from different perspectives around the city, and at different times of day.

    Kerry Park on a sunny day:

    Seattle - Kery Park 005

    Seattle Center on a cloudy day:

    Seattle - Space Needle 004

     Seattle - Space Needle 006

    Smith Tower on a sunny day:

    Seattle - day 1 090

    Volunteer Park at dusk:

    Seattle - day 1 171

    Seattle - day 1 169 Seattle - day 1 169

    Seattle - day 1 169

    Seattle - day 1 173
    Mount Ranier peeking out over the clouds

    Gas Works Park at night:

     Seattle - Gas Works Park at night 008

    Seattle - Gas Works Park at night 012

    Seattle - Gas Works Park at night 018

    Seattle - Gas Works Park at night 025

    Believe it or not, the night shots were all taken in the pitch black at Gas Works Park, but the different camera settings created different lighting effects, which I think is pretty cool. 

    In case you’re curious, the body of water in the foreground of the night photos is Lake Union.

    I love to see other people’s photos taken from the same locations.  I saw a lot on TripAdvisor before we left for vacation when I was reading reviews about where we should go, but I haven’t looked back at them since we were there and took photos ourselves.  If you shot any yourself, I’d be so interested to see them!

    Which one of our photos do you like best?  My favorite is the first one in the group from Gas Works Park at night.  I love the coloring, and the reflections of the city lights in the lake.


    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Metamorphosis Monday #3

    We’ve been back from our 10-day vacation for a few days and I’m still transitioning back into the real world.  For example, I’m just barely going to get this Monday post in before the clock strikes midnight!  I still have a vacation wrap-up to write and some photos to edit as well, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

    Let’s get down to business.  The first project that caught my eye this week is an ornate, yet simple, framed burlap corkboard.  Room to Inspire transformed a dirty gold frame into a place she can pin her own inspirations.


    This next room didn’t just require a little sprucing up.  Classic Casual Home has been renovating their entire home in a classic, tailored beach cottage aesthetic, and the latest reveal is their 18-year-old son’s room.


    Their entire home is impeccably done.  Hop over to Classic Casual Home to check out their other rooms by clicking the links under the “Popular Posts” header on the right sidebar.

    Next up is some sewing that I think I could even handle as a novice.  How cute are these shark hooded towels created by Jenni at Kissed by a Frog for her kids’ swim meets?


    These towels remind me of my favorite baby shower gift from 15 years ago.  A family member made me two hooded towels from adult size towels, plus wash cloths for the hoods.  They were so much bigger and more plush than the hooded baby towels you find at major retailers, and they lasted forever!  I’ve always wanted to make some as baby gifts but have never taken the time to figure out how to do it.  Maybe next time.  Who wants to get pregnant and invite me to the shower so I can make some towels?

    Here’s another simple sewing project.  Terry at Cherished Treasures stuffed a muslin-covered pillow with the insides of an old pillow, and created a design on the front by upcycling a tattered quilt.


    Natalie at Beach House in the City is is landlocked, but her heart is at the beach, just like mine.  She has created a home with the colors and breeziness of the beach, plus a dash of sparkle and glam.  She’s been working on her master bathroom for a while now and has finally revealed it to the world.


    I’m a sucker for white wood and marble tops, as I shared during my last Metamorphosis Monday post.  What surprised and delighted me in Natalie’s bathroom were the green knobs from Anthropologie and the unique crystal/metal chandelier.

    And now, I had to include a couple furniture transformations, since that’s my thing.  This nightstand got a faux bois update by Jessamie at Bird & Branch Redesign.  This is actually the second “after,” as she was unhappy with the bright blue color of the faux bois treatment the first time and decided to try it again with a gray color that worked better for her room.


    I’m totally coveting this vintage card catalog, which was given a second life by Susan at Maple & Magnolia


    Rather than painting or staining it, she just cleaned it up, sanded it down to the original wood, and then brought out the beauty of the natural grain with Howard’s Restor a Finish.  I made that sound very easy, but it was actually a lot of work. 

    I don’t exactly know where I’d put a card catalog if I found one, but nevertheless I’m always on the lookout.  On a related side note, when we were vacationing in Seattle last week, we stopped by the Microsoft campus and checked out their visitor center.  They had a display showing early technologies and how Microsoft products fulfill those needs now.  Their “before” example for Bing, their search engine, was a card catalog.  The Mr. had to explain to The Teen what it was.  My how times change!

    Thank you for joining me for this week’s (very late) edition of Metamorphosis Monday.  I promise for those that are featured that I will be working on a “featured at” button very soon, and will share it with you when I get it done!

    Coming up:  A vacation wrap-up, the final turquoise furniture reveal for our master bedroom, and then a master bedroom “tour” with all the new pieces together, including new bedding and pillows.


    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Sea kayaking with orcas in the San Juan Islands

    As a child I wanted to be a marine biologist, working with dolphins.  Still as an adult, I'm fascinated by waterways and water creatures.  When we vacationed on Maui a few years ago, I had the opportunity to paddle out on the ocean in a Hawaiian outrigger canoe.  It was humpback whale season, and we were so lucky that a mama humpback and her calf came upon our canoe.  She breached, slapped her tail, and gave us a show.  When she went underwater with her calf, they swam right under our canoe and my friend and I were able to stick our heads in the water to watch them.  It was an unforgettable experience, one that I will have to relive via the pictures in my mind, because unfortunately my waterproof camera was back in the hotel room.  (Yes, I'm still furious at myself for that.)

    Humpback whale image via Wikipedia

    When I had the opportunity to view orca whales up close while vacationing in the Upper Northwest, I jumped on it.  We prefer to avoid guided tours with a lot of other tourists when possible, so instead of booking a whale watching boat excursion, I signed my not-so-active family up for a 6-hour sea kayaking adventure!

    We got up super-early on our last morning in Vancouver and headed south, back across the US border, to Anacortes, Washington.  We hopped on a Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, our meetup point for our kayak group.


    We traveled across the island to our launch cove.  While unloading the kayaks at the beach, someone spotted orcas just outside the cove.  Everyone scrambled up a hill to see them from above, jealous of the other kayakers who had just launched and were able to see them up close and personal.  Since there's no guarantee that you'll get to see orcas at all, we were a bit nervous that would be the end of our sightings for the day.

    By lunch time, we had seen a harbor seal off in the far distance, plus lots of jellyfish in a kelp bed that we paddled through.

    Rather than paddling around it, we went right through this big kelp bed

    Me holding a cross jellyfish in the kelp bed

    The Teen wringing the sea water out of his socks during our lunch stop

    Exhausted from all the paddling, we were all having a restful lunch break when our guide received a call that there were orcas coming our way.  All nine of us packed up our supplies, got our gear back on, and hopped back into our kayaks as quickly as possible.  From that point on, we were in orca bliss for the remainder of the tour.

    We had to stay at least 200 yards away from the orcas, so when we reached that distance, we would "raft up," which means our four kayaks would pull up alongside each other and hold on to one another to create a big "raft."  At one point, there were orcas to our left, our right, and straight in front of us, and it was hard to choose where to look.  Once the orcas passed us, we'd paddle back toward our launch beach until we spotted another pod.  The multiple experiences replenished our energy levels when we were so depleted from hours of paddling.  We also didn't mind too much when it started raining on us with about an hour left to go. After all, when the raindrops are falling as you're watching orcas play all around you, you tend to forget about the annoying rain!

    Not only were we treated with sea animal sightings, but we spotted a couple Columbia Black-Tailed Deer and both a young and a mature bald eagle on the shore.

    Bald eagle perched upon a treetop along the San Juan Island coast

    If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend trying a DIY whale-watching adventure.  Don't just jump on a power boat with a bunch of other tourists and let the motor do the work -- get out there and propel yourself via kayak!  There are tons of companies that specialize in whale-watching tours in the San Juan Islands, whether by plane, boat or sea kayak.  The company we kayaked with is Sea Quest Expeditions, and I was very pleased with the entire experience, including our guide Nigel's knowledge of the animals and his care to be cautious that we not impede upon their natural territory.

    Okay, I'm dying to know if any of you have been sea kayaking, or have gone on some sort of whale-watching or other sea life tour.  Please share!


    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Vacationing in Vancouver: Highlights

    Our vacation itinerary has been so packed and energy-draining that we come home exhausted and I seem to have just enough time to download the daily photos before collapsing.  Today is our seventh day and we decided to come back to the hotel mid-afternoon and take the rest of the day off.  The good news is that I have a little time to share some of our adventures with you.

    Here are some highlights from the two action-packed days we spent in the city of Vancouver last week:

    Listening to the whistle of the historic steam clock in historic Gastown

    Spotting salmon swim up the Capilano River at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery

    Marveling at the gushing water flowing down the Cleveland Dam
    Walking to Granville Island from our condo for shopping and lunch at the public market
    Traversing the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, 160 feet above the canyon

    Hiking the trails at Lynn Canyon Park
    Stalking the studio where "Fringe" had just started filming season 4

    Noshing on some comfort food at the Tomahawk Barbecue

    Believe it or not, those photos are representative of just a portion of our escapades.  Just looking at the photos again makes me tired!  Up next are pics from our sea kayaking trip in the Puget Sound off San Juan Island.  Be ready to see some orca whales!

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