Sunday, April 29, 2012

There's a Jungle Out There

You've seen quite a few updates of our front yard, but our backyard has kind of been no-man's-land. The neighbor behind us doesn't seem to care much for taking care of his back yard. If not for the fence between our properties, I can't imagine what kind of state our yard would be in. Here are some photos so you can see that I'm not exaggerating.

Admittedly, the day lillies are on our side of the fence, but I've hated them since the day we bought the house and had every intention of removing them.

There is so much shrubbery, vines, and tree limbs that have encroached onto our property that we just had to take matters into our own hands.

This is one of the many reasons why I love my hubby:

And from the other side:

Those day lillies are actually on the neighbor's side of the fence, even though it may look otherwise, but some of the leaves are poking through to our side. It makes me wonder where the flowers actually originated from...

There's still a little more work to be done but wow, what a difference. I don't even want to plant anything else back there. You can see that our yard is rather small and all that foliage made it look even smaller. We do have a smallish swing set off to the side, but the kids still do most of their playing in the front yard. We also did a lot of work on our vegetable garden so stay tuned for another update, as well as some dining room changes in the works.

We spent Sunday afternoon at the baseball game. They had a special parade for the area Little League teams before the game started, the kids got to meet the team mascot and high-five the players. Our seats weren't the greatest, but there were big smiles all around!

What were you busy with over the weekend? Did you have a chance to enjoy the great weather?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blog Maintenance

You may have noticed over the past couple days I have done some blog organizing. I recently read somewhere (I forgot where it was, but please let me know if you saw the same article) that it is super important for readers to have an easy way to navigate your website. You only have a few seconds to interest a reader and potentially gain a new follower so you've got to make your blog easy. If the first post on your page doesn't interest a particular reader, they should still see a simple way to view other things that you've worked on. Hence, my updated button bar.

You can see two new buttons I created on the menu bar - "Projects" and "Recipes." I hope to also add a "Home Tour" button one of these days, but I feel like my house is so far from representing me and my true style that it would be misleading for someone to judge me based on the current state of my house. Regardless, this is what you'll see when you click on the Projects page.

There's a grid of thumbnails of my most popular past projects and I really hope to keep it updated as I complete new ones. My blog is still in its infant stage so there isn't a whole lot, but I welcome you to scroll through, especially if you are a new reader.

The Recipe page is pretty much the same. Yikes, there's only five - better start cooking!!

Do you have any other ideas for making a blog more user-friendly? What are your thoughts on blog navigation?
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Monday, April 23, 2012

Landscaping Continues

When I last spoke about the (sad) state of our front yard, this is what it looked like:
It was a jumble of bushes, weeds, flowers. It was a "hot mess" as Niecy Nash would say! The cold, wet weather really prevented me from doing much about it until now. When I started working on cleaning this up the other day, it looked like this:

An even bigger, hotter mess! The only reason why it looks remotely better is because the azaleas have begun to bloom. The bushes were only planted last year so they are still a little on the skimpy side, but we are patiently waiting for them to fill in. When taking a closer look, you can see how big the weeds have grown. Ugh!

Do you see the size of this thing?? This is just one of them!

Then there were the random daffodils to deal with. The ones that were popping up among the bushes were impossible to pull out by the roots because they are underneath the landscaping fabric and somehow managed to grow sideways and up. But there was a big clump of daffodils to the right of the last hydrangea bush and I was determined to get them all the way out once and for all. Imagine my surprise when I realized there were 12 bulbs down there!! Have no fear, I gave them to my mom for her to replant so they won't go to waste. She was more than happy to take them off my hands.

And here we are, weed free. I still need to add a layer of mulch on top, but it is already looking a million times better.

You may have noticed the stakes and mesh fence on the porch. They are for this spot to the right of the porch. So far I spent over an hour just clearing about 2 square feet for the garden. I don't think I knew what I was getting myself into when I promised the kids a veggie garden this year. This is hard work, man! Not to mention that I don't like bugs. Or worms. Ooops. Those creatures tend to hang out in gardens...  The garden itself is not going to take up this entire space, but it all needs to be cleaned up and the bare patches need to be filled with grass.

I'm going to need some help here. Oh, hubby....

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Calling in Sick

No, I haven't gone and taken another break. That is, not by choice. I mysteriously came down with strep throat and have been in agony the past few days. When I first started not feeling well, I thought it was just a virus or the flu because I felt so sick and achy that I didn't even want to move from the couch; the sore throat was only secondary.

After a couple days, though, I started to feel a little better, but my throat was killing and I knew there was something else going on. I finally dragged myself out to get a throat culture and sure enough it came back positive for strep. I'm on meds now so I can actually swallow without grimacing and cringing, but it still hurts.

Needless to say, everything else has been placed on the back burner until I get better, but I'd love to hear about what you've been working on so please share!

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Break and Some Photography Tips

Hey all! I hope you didn't miss me too much :-) My kids' spring break overlaps with the holiday of Passover so I've been spending most of my time with them and not too much at the computer. We went bike riding at a park, a bounce place and spent a day at the local aquarium. Needless to say, we all had a blast and I got to practice some photography skills. Admittedly, taking pictures of moving fish in a dark space through glass is quite the challenge! This is because in order to take photos of moving things, you need to set a fast shutter speed but also keep the aperture as open as possible to let in more light, which in turn narrows the area of focus. You'd also never want to use a flash when taking photos (especially when taking through glass).

Below are some pictures of tropical fish, cat fish and a school of fish. The tropical ones are a bit out of focus but I think the color came out pretty accurate.

Here is a bunch of turtles. These are a little easier to photograph because they move much more slooowly, but the underwater ones are still a challenge.

My kids (center and right) had a great time learning from the staff about turtle shells, snake skins, and much more.

I hope you don't get too grossed out by the next photo - three bats hanging from the rafters. That middle one kept opening and closing his wing as if he were waving to us. The kids were in stitches!!

The highlight of the day was watching the dolphin show. I know there might be some of you who feel this is animal cruelty, but the animals are well taken care of and they use this show to teach the audience about water on planet earth and how we need to take care of it, not litter, recycle, etc.. It's amazing to see how beautiful and powerful these animals are.

Now for a quick tutorial on photographing water falls/fountains, but these tips can be applied to really any moving thing. For simplicity, I had my camera set to shutter speed priority. This means that the camera automatically sets the aperture and ISO.

I just chose any random speed to start with and moved the dial over a few notches each time. You can see how as the shutter speed slows down, the water looks like it's gushing faster and faster. I think the last photo is so much more dynamic and eye-catching than the others.

Here's another example of that same technique. As the shutter speed slows down, the individual drops of water blend together to show a steady stream of water. Keep in mind, that you'd need a tripod or someplace steady to rest your hands when you keep the shutter open this long.

One caveat that is more obvious in this example is that as you slow the shutter speed down, light is allowed to enter the camera for a longer time and could wash out some of your background. Compare the water in the bottom of the fountain in each photo to see what I mean. To compensate for that, you'd want to close the aperture a bit or lower the ISO.

Just to clarify, I am by no means an expert or professional photographer. These are just some tips that I've learned from practice and yes, reading my camera's manual! If you have any questions or if I said something wrong, please let me know!

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tissue Paper Flowers

The holiday of Passover is in a few days and we are going to be hosting my family for a "seder." There are going to be 18 people and half of those are kids so I wanted to make some table decor that would be beautiful, yet cheap and kid-friendly. By the way, these ideas would work perfectly for Easter or any other occasion.

I started out by going to Dollar Tree to see what I could come up with. As soon as I saw the multi-pack of spring colored tissue paper, I knew that would be my starting point. I found a pack of pipe cleaners in coordinating colors, two narrow vases, and knew that I had the glass beads at home that would work perfectly as vase filler (I ended up only using the blue ones.)

After putting each color paper in its own pile, I started out by cutting them down to size. They started out as 20"x20" and I cut them down to 10"x10" (in half and then in half again). That gave me 20 squares of each color.

Then I took a set of 10 squares and folded them like a accordian (or as my 6 year old said "like a fan.") I rounded the edges on each side to soften them up and then cut two little notches in the center where I would wrap the pipe cleaner around it.

Here's a close-up of the pipe cleaner wrapped around the middle.

Then the fun part begins - carefully pulling up each layer, separating and fluffing it up as you go along.

I did all these steps two more times with yellow and green tissue paper. I then wrapped all the stems around each other to strengthen them and help the flowers stand up better.

Sorry I didn't take a picture of the next part, but I needed two hands! Just hold the flower stems as high up as possible while it's sitting in the vase and add the glass beads all around them to disguise the stem and help them stand up straight. That's it - you're done! I'd show you my second one, but I dropped the second vase and glass shattered every where so I have to go back to the dollar store and get another one :-(

I still had two colors of tissue paper left so I decided to make some napkin rings. I cut all the squares down again into 5"x5" squares since these flowers had to be much smaller.

I followed all the same steps listed above, but this time I cut the tips to a point, instead of rounding them. I also cut the pipe cleaners in half so they wouldn't be so long and curled them into a circle so the napkins could slide right through.

And here they all are. I know these pictures are darker than the rest, but by the time I finished it was dark out.

Here's a picture of one of the napkin rings with a napkin in it. Yes, in a effort to keep it real, I'm showing it with a paper napkin, but you get the idea!

So there you have it  - two centerpieces and 18 napkin rings. Total spent: $4 ($5 if you count the replacement vase). That's what I call a great deal!

Are you doing anything special for the upcoming holiday?

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Baseball Season

Yesterday was the first day of baseball season! This year my son was old enough to join in the Pee Wee division of the neighborhood Little League, and boy was he excited! The first day was just practice and then they will start playing against other teams. I must say, watching these little guys play is so. much. fun. Besides being absolutely adorable, they really get into the game and chase after the balls like it's their business. We are all looking forward to a great season!

What were you busy with over the weekend?

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