Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Sarah Richardson Disappointment...

If you know me, or have read any previous posts, I'm usually a HUGE fan of Sarah Richardson and have been since high school.  But, her recent farmhouse edition of Sarah's House has failed to impress me.  You've already heard about my love of white kitchens, neutral and jewel tones (hello - royal purple door) and this is usually where Sarah really excels!  Her palette for this show however feels like a complete reversal. 

While I'm trying to accept the burnt red entry room and the blue and brown bedroom, I did not love the yellow bathroom that was revealed last week...

but I get that the yellow/gray combination is hot right now so I tried to move on.

But with this week's kitchen episode I just can't turn a blind eye. 

 Yellow and gray again???  Yes, there are beautiful elements like the light fixtures, the tile and I love the bar stools, but I can't get over the yellow explosion.

Please, please, please try not to go overboard with the farm style Sarah - those of us who grew up in farmland know that the color of buttercups looks much more appealing in a field.  Let's try to branch out shall we?

In like a Lamb... Out like a ... Lamb??

You've all heard the adage - but this year, Mother Nature had other plans.  Can I just say I'm so glad that she didn't choose the alternate option?  And considering my northern geographical location - that was certainly an option :)

With the closing of March, I've gotta say that I'm so excited for the arrival of Spring and the promise of summer - which is going to mean a lot of this...

Lots of meals via this...

Some fun trips on this...

And lots of looking at this...

Mmmmmm... I love Summer!!!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

12 Weeks to Better Photography - Week FIVE

Welcome to Week 5 of the 12 Weeks to Better Photography Challenge hosted by Meredith at La Buena Vida!  


Last week's lesson on Flash was a bit of a bummer, but this week, the lesson was on photo composition.  The peeps at Two Peas in a Bucket gave us a list of 6 Rules of Composition and encouraged us to take or find photos that would solidify those rules.

Rule #1 - Keep it Simple -  Try to be aware of what is in the background of your picture and minimize if possible, either by removing the distraction or by reducing the depth of field with your aperture setting.

 - I find this rule to be the one I struggle with most.  I have a tendency to just whip out the camera and take a picture without really thinking about what all is going on.  While I find that I naturally follow most of the other rules without thinking about it, I'm finding that keeping the background simple requires some thought.

For example, below is a pic where I tried a new perspective (laying on the ground) and positioned Izzy according to the Rule of Thirds, but by not realizing what an eye sore that green knee pad would be, I kinda ruined the picture. 

Rule #2 - Rule of Thirds - Break your photo into 9 sections by visualizing two vertical and two horizontal lines.  Position the focal point of your photograph so that hits in one of the intersecting points of those lines.  Basically, in most situations, avoid placing the subject of your photo smack dab in the middle.

Rule #3 - Keep an Eye on the Horizon - In keeping with the rule of thirds, in landscape photos, align the horizon in the top 1/3 or bottom 1/3 of the photo.

This example picture is from our trip last year to the Grand Canyon.  What I really like about this photo is that by taking is vertically, we get more of a sense of the height of the canyon.  I also think having the tree in focus in the foreground helps give perspective on the size of that section of the canyon.

Rule #4 - Frame Your Subject - Other than keeping the picture simple, this is one that I hope to practice.  Again, it takes some thought, but look in the background, foreground to see if you can use any items to draw the viewers eye directly to your subject.  Maybe you can use linear perspective, like a fence or railway or trail of footsteps in the sand?

Rule #5 - Fill the Frame -When you want to try something other than the Rule of Thirds to draw attention toward your subject, consider filling the frame of your picture with your subject.  I find this gives the picture a sense of importance - but be careful - some people overdo this and it can look like they got crop-happy!

Another version of this picture has the full tree in the frame as well as a road sign etc... By making the snow covered branches the focus I think it makes the photo that much more compelling - plus it also follows the Keep It Simple rule :)

Rule #6 - Try a New Perspective - I love trying out this rule.  Basically, consider taking your photo from somewhere other than a standing position.  I love getting down on the floor, or putting the camera up high on a tripod.  This is especially helpful for your small subjects like pets, children and flowers...

You saw and example above, but check this one out too...

Finally, another highlight of the lesson this week is that rules are made to be broken.  I think the following is a good example of that.  The butterfly's "face" is right in the center of the photo - so it totally violates the rule, but I still think its pretty amazing.

See you next week for Lesson 6!  Woot Woot!  We are almost 1/2 way!

Are you watching Dancing with the Stars??

My last few weeks have been C-R-A-Z-Y!  So crazy in fact that I have never been so grateful for our PVR/DVR... and I've got 4 hours worth of Dancing with the Stars saved.  So today I did some catching up and I've got to tell you, I'm not impressed.  Of course, Kate Gosselin is drawing in so many viewers, but seriously?  Awkward!!  I don't think anyone has ever sucked that bad on the show! 

In fact it feels like there is such a dichotomy this season - if a team is good, they are really good - and if a team is bad, watch out because they are horrible.  I've got to say though, Pamela Anderson has me spellbound :)

 Everyone seems to be expecting Derek Hough and Nicole Scherzinger to win the mirror ball trophy...

 They are very good together, but I'm going to hold off on watching any more "Dancing" for a few more weeks.  Once they've weeded out the bad apples, I'll be back to watching and will make my predictions then :)  I'm thinking that if gold-medalist Evan Lysacek makes it through the first few weeks he may have a chance.

So tell me, are you watching?  If so, what do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Still Alice

I've not posted about this, but even though this is PhD dissertation year for me, I'm again trying to do a bunch of for-fun reading.  In fact, since I'll turn 27 this year, my goal is 27 books... which considering that its already the end of March and I'm only finished 4 books, may not be very practical.

So far this year I've read Julie & Julia, The Lovely Bones, Any Known Blood and Still Alice.  I'm planning to write a post about each of these in the future, but today - I want to chat about "Still Alice" by neuroscientist, Lisa Genova.

If you've ever been to Chapters you probably know about Heather's picks.  Heather is the president or something of Chapters and periodically she picks a book and guarantees that everyone who buys it will love it or they get their money back!  Pretty gutsy eh?  Well a while back, "Still Alice" was introduced as one of her picks and once I read the back flap I knew I wanted to read it.  Now I did cheat a bit by buying the book at Costco for 1/2 the price of it at Chapters but anywhooo, that's not the point :)

"Still Alice" is about a 50 year old Harvard professor of cognitive psychology who has developed early onset Alzheimers disease.  The book isn't written in chapter format per se but instead recounts Alice's disease progression over something like 13 months.  Alice's story is heart-wrenching as she sees the career that she worked so hard for evaporate before her eyes.  While that is happening though she begins to see the value of her marriage and her children take precedence.  This resonated with me particularly as I work toward a lifetime of academia and begin the challenge of negotiating a 24 hour flexible schedule career with a marriage and hopefully family someday.

"Still Alice" is a brief read that has garnered loads of literary praise.  While it certainly does come across as more academic than the average fictional novel - it honestly may have changed my life and definitely gave me a lot to think about!  I would certainly recommend it.

PS - While writing this post I continually mis-typed "Still Alice" as "Still Alive" - strangely, this is exactly the theme of the book - even though Alice's memory neurons were self-destructing she was still alive and still deserved experiences, autonomy, affection and attention.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Etsy: Studio Melas

Just a heads up that Studio Melas on Etsy is having a buy one get one sale in her shop.  I've already placed my order... here's the 8x10 prints that will be making their way to my office in a very short time - and all for only $18 plus shipping!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How do you feel about Purple??

I've been doing a lot of painting around here over the past couple of weeks.  Right now, I've finished the living room, the kitchen/dining room, and the 1st floor hallway.  Since we don't have the trim up yet I'm not ready to share pics of the finished product, but I would like to share with you all my painting plans once its gets a bit warmer.

I've been flirting with the idea of a purple door.  Now perhaps this sounds a little 'Sherri Fitch's Mable Murple' ... you know the poem... Mable Murple's house was purple, so was Mabel's hair... but in my head I've always thought it would look awesome!  Lucas is on board, but only because he thinks it will freak the neighbours - not because he actually thinks it will look good.

Luckily, yesterday when I was blog-surfing I found this amazing picture via Little Green Notebook....

As soon as I saw it, I knew it had to be mine!  What do you think, should I commit??

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

12 Weeks to Better Photography: Week FOUR

This week was all about the flash - but the assignment for the week didn't really work for my schedule as I was supposed to try taking a pic outside - presumably, during the day.  Also, since I'm not a huge fan of the flash - ever, I'm skipping this week but will be back on board next week.  If you want to learn more about using your flash more effectively check out the tutorial at Two Peas in a Bucket here or Meredith's post here.

Since I didn't leave you with a picture for this week, let me show you how I figured out custom white balance this week though!

This is a photo taken in the evening using auto white balance...  a horrible yellow-y mess...

Now using the custom white balance...  all of a sudden our green wall is actually green!!  WootWoot!!

Now just as an illustration - this is one of my camera's settings - the incandescent.  Honestly, for the work of setting a custom white balance (which isn't awful but does require toting around a large white card) I'm pretty happy with the results of the incandescent setting.  But, its awesome that I learned how to properly set a custom WB!!

Next week is more flash stuff - I'll plan to take a look at the tutorial before Tuesday afternoon - just in case it requires time outside like it did this week :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Our house is feeling pretty grumpy this week.  Both Lucas and I have been in a funk lately and since its been incredibly warm and sunny around these parts we certainly can't blame it on the weather.  Isn't vitamin D supposed to improve moods?

I think I'll try to fit in a nice long jog tomorrow to see if I can bust out of this bad mood - any other suggestions?  What do you do when you can get out of a general state of grumpiness?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

12 Weeks to Better Photography - Week THREE


Well, I've made it to Week 3 of the 12 Weeks to Better Photography program that is being hosted by Meredith at La Buena Vida.  This week the lesson was on the color of light and how to adjust the white balance of your camera.  

Like Meredith, and I'm sure many others, I've always been really scared of white balance.  Basically, I've never really understood it and as such I've never been brave enough to play around with it.  The Two Peas in a Bucket lesson really helped me though.  See I've lectured students every year in Psych 101 about light, how light has different wavelengths which we perceive as color and how the eye sees various colors based on what light is reflected off of objects (NOT what color is absorbed).  

What I knew coming into this lesson is that the human eye is really good at adjusting our perception of how light appears based on our expectations of how an object should be colored.  So even though an apple might actually reflect a brownish red light, we perceive a brilliant red apple because that's what we expect to see.  What I learned this week though is that a camera's sensor can't make this perceptual judgement - instead, we need to adjust the white balance of the camera to ensure that the image comes out looking properly.  

In the past I've always played around with white balance in a post-processing program (like Photoshop or Aperture), but today I actually adjusted the WB in my camera.  I use a Nikon D60 so I had several options of presets in my camera.  I started off with the auto WB setting (where the camera adjusted it itself)...

Auto White Balance

You can see that the table looks especially orange-y and the white part of the carnations appears a little pink-ish instead of the brilliant white that it actually is.  

I then tried out the Shade preset on the camera - which was pretty horrible - at least in these lighting conditions...

I thought that the Flash preset might be promising, so I opened my flash and used this option for WB...


Quite obviously the picture got pretty dark, but the color appears more true-to-life... just really dark...
The incandescent setting was one of my favorites - it seemed to get the color well even though the overhead lights weren't incandescent bulbs.


The last preset that I used was fluorescent and when I chose this I had the additional option of choosing what kind of fluorescent bulb was being used.  I chose the warm-white option since this is the type of bulb that we buy when we are at home depot so I figure that was likely what was in this light.  This picture is the truest in color to real-life...but to be fair, its not much different than the incandescent one above.

Fluorescent (warm-white)
Finally, I tried to customly set the white balance for the exact lighting conditions of where I was taking the picture as per the lesson's instructions.  I started by taking a picture of a plain white sheet of paper in the exact location of the picture I would take.  I then used this picture to set the white balance.  But disappointingly, this is the picture that I ended up with - worse than the auto in my opinion...

Custom White Balance

I'm guessing this means that I did something wrong within my camera settings, but I couldn't figure out how I went wrong.  Here is the picture of the white paper I used for setting the white balance.

Card for Customizing
Does anyone have an suggestions for what I might have done to make this custom WB even worse than the auto setting?  All in all, I learned a fair in this week's lesson - if nothing else, I've gained the guts to play around with the menu settings of the camera - what's the worst that can happen right?

NOTE:  All these pictures were taken with f/stop=5, ISO=100 and shutter speed was around 1 second (that's why some are a little blurry). Now that I've had some time to think about it, I should have boosted my ISO to at least 800 since I was inside in dark-ish conditions which would have allowed me to have a faster shutter speed.

Next week we get to tried out the flash - woot woot!! 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

12 Weeks to Better Photography: Week TWO

This week is Week Two of my participation in Twelve Weeks to Better Photography - a blog party that's being hosted by Meredith at La Buena Vida


The lesson this week was on figuring out balancing ISO (film speed) and shutter speed (how long your shutter remains open while taking the picture) depending on the action that is taking place in your photo and the light that is available.  Check out the tutorial here if you want to play along.

Meredith, KristalStephanie and a couple others that posted gave really great explanations of what to consider when deciding on your shutter speed, so I'm going to save myself the typing and just suggest a visit to their posts if you want to know more.

The most helpful part of this week for me though was learning more about ISO.  The pic below came from the Two Peas in a Bucket tutorial and was most helpful for me.


So, here are my pics for the week.  Since none of the sinks in our house have a window near-by I wasn't able to take the pictures that were suggested in the tutorial.  But, what I did find were some pics that I had taken over our holiday in Mexico last month where I had been experimenting with shutter speed.  Check out the Mexican waterfall :)

ISO - 100  ;  f/10  ; SS=1/80

Notice that while the water isn't exactly frozen in time, you can make out the water droplets.  I'd expect that if I'd tried, I could have bumped the shutter speed even higher, like 1/1000 considering it was so bright outside and perhaps frozen the water.

ISO - 100  ;  f/25  ;  SS=1/8

With the shutter speed considerably slower here its obvious that the water looks much more like a stream and in my opinion, very cool!  What's neat is that I've always like this type of picture of a waterfall and now, I know exactly how to reproduce it!!

See you next week when we chat about white balance.  I'm super excited because this has been such an elusive concept for me :)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Menu Plan - March 7 to 13

We've been trying to cut down on some of our spending on food (mostly on eating out) for the last 10 months or so and while we were doing great for quite some time, we've fallen off the wagon recently.  Any success that we did have with cutting down food spending I mostly attribute to the 15 minutes we spent every Sunday night planning out our meals for the week before hitting the grocery store the next evening.  This tactic definitely meant enduring the bummer of grocery shopping on a regular schedule but I am pretty certain the benefit of this weekly trip was an average of at least $40 in weekly savings at the grocery store as well as another $60 per week on eating out!  Which makes it worth it in my books...

Since returning from Mexico almost a month ago though, we've been slackers with the menu and our budget - and waistlines - have suffered.  In fact, last week we didn't even bother with a menu plan before heading to the grocery store and let me tell you, it was madness - complete madness!  We spent well over our usual budget and didn't end up with much food that actually fit together into a coherent meal.

In order to get myself back into the groove of menu planning for the week - I think I'll start posting the menu here.  I'm hoping it will help me track what we eat and maybe keep me from planning the same meals on a regular basis.  Who knows, maybe someone out in BlogLand will even comment with an idea of something we could add to the regular meal rotation??

Here goes:   Lunch   Dinner

Sunday - Roasted Red Pepper Soup & Flaky rolls ; BBQ Chicken Breast, Rice and Corn
Monday - Leftovers ; Clean out the freezer night (chicken fingers, egg rolls, fish, fries)
Tuesday - Mixed greens salad ; Orange-Cashew Chicken with Broccoli and Rice    
Wednesday - Leftovers ; Quesadillas and Caesar Salad
Thursday - Mixed greens salad ; Sweet and Sour Pork-chops, Rice and Carrots
Friday - Leftovers ; BBQ Chicken Pasta
Saturday - Homemade Waffles ; BBQ Ribs, Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli
Sunday - Pasta and cheese ; Lasagna

* You'll notice a lot of BBQ on the menu for this week - that's because the temps here are supposed to be incredibly Spring-like... so we're betting on getting out on the deck to fire up the grill!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mushroom Makeover

A couple weekends ago we were visiting Lucas' parents and noticed that they had gotten a new ottoman in their family room. The new ottoman is basically a cube that looks really great in the room - thing is, I really loved the old ottoman. We affectionately referred to it as the mushroom because it was a little overstuffed and had short stubby legs making it look like a mushroom. So when Lucas' mom said that the mushroom was in the trash I had a conniption fit! I was so relieved to find out though that it had only made it to the trash pile in the garage and not to the curb! So, I brought my little mushroom baby home with me and began its makeover...

Try to forgive the orange-y photo - but here is the mushroom in all its glory!

The latest upholstery job didn't exactly match the colors in our living room and it was pretty bumpy too. So off came the fabric and batting underneath only to get a new layer of batting and more suitable-to-us fabric. I also gave the legs a new coat of dark brown paint to cover all the scratches and scars in the wood. Here's the new mushroom - what do you think?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Get Ready for the Farm!!

Ok, I've held off as long as I could, but I'm now giving in to counting down the hours til Sarah returns!

I've been a huge fan of Sarah Richardson's since her days on Room Service and am so happy for her that she is now the center of the design scene in the US. Lucky for all of us, she and Tommy are set headed back to TV this Tuesday for the first episode of the new Sarah's House where are they renovating a farm house.

Check out this for more details... or here to watch episodes from the previous seasons... Yippee... so excited!! I've missed you Sarah...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

12 Weeks to Better Photography: Week ONE

Hey there! Long time no "see".

As is pretty obvious, I've not been very good at writing on my blog lately... well for that matter, I've not been very good at writing anywhere lately and I can tell you that my dissertation is definitely starting to suffer! But that's a discussion for another day. Today I starting a 12 week photography virtual lesson with Meredith at La Buena Vida and the blog Two Peas in a Bucket.


This week, we've been trying our hand at adjusting the aperture. My husband Lucas (and The Pioneer Woman) has long been trying to explain aperture to me and its only been in the last couple months that I've started being able to grasp it. Here's my take - which I think is slightly less confusing than other explanations on the web.

Basically, aperture is indicated by an f-stop number on a camera. f-stop refers to how much of the lens is closed off, how much light is allowed into the camera and thus, how much of your picture is in focus. My rule of thumb is:

less f-stop = less of the lens closed off = less of the picture in focus
more f-stop = more of the lens closed off = more of the picture in focus

So the Week ONE Lesson from Two Peas in a Bucket got us playing around with f-stops to see what happens to the photo... I took identical photos with a small f-stop (5.3) and medium f-stop (10) and a big f-stop (22). Take a look...

f-stop = 5.3
Since this f-stop is sort of on the small side (less covering the lens, less in focus) you can see that some of the background - like the crack (hehe... crack) in the concrete steps - isn't quite in focus. *Understand though that this f-stop is still not that small. In fact, there are lenses that allow the f-stop to go down to less than 2 which would cause even the evergreens in the photo to be slightly blurry.

f-stop = 10
This f-stop is kind of in the middle so even more of the lens is covered meaning that even more of the photo is in focus - like the more noticeable crack.

f-stop = 22
This f-stop is the biggest I used... So now even more of the lens is covered and even more of the picture is in focus. Look at that gigantic concrete plumber crack!! Oh and that white blob is snow - who would have guessed that in the first photo?

Ok - so there it is - I think I've got aperture under control. Its not as hard as I thought it was, but it does take thought. So before pulling out the camera to take a quite picture, I've got think about what part of the scene I want to see and adjust appropriately.

Next week: ISO and ShutterSpeed :)

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