Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011 roundup, projects-style

If you’ve been reading this blog at least since October, you know that I’ve had quite a year. I definitely had some wonderful, amazing, joyful moments in my personal life, as well as the tragic and sorrowful. But in taking stock of this year, I’m pretty pleased with the projects I’ve gotten done.

Ten years ago when I got married, I was deep in my Trading Spaces obsession. I could not get enough of the show. I was fascinated, not so much with the idea of letting someone else take control of and decorate a room in my house, but more with the idea of decorating and furnishing a home. When I got married, my husband and I proceeded to move 9 times in 7 years to a succession of impersonal and increasingly plain rentals apartments and homes.

But here, in our first house, I could finally exercise that DIY portion of my brain that I *know* is 100% genetic. And this year, I’ve had a wonderful time documenting my DIY urges–thanks for reading along! I couldn’t resist recapping my projects here at the end of the year.

I started my project-itis of the summer with my Soda Crate Shelves.

I helped throw the ultimate 40th anniversary party

and moved on to my daughters’ rooms with my DIY headboard

and a super girly-girl dresser. (Thanks for all the Pinterest love.)

We had an awesome back-to-school dinner and fashion show to celebrate a new kindergartener and second grader.

I finished off the year with decorating for Christmas my way and refinishing an heirloom desk.

Next week I’ll have two new bedroom reveals–thanks to my parents and sisters, our girls finally have paint on their walls! Thanks for reading and sharing my sorrows and fun in 2011. Here’s to a better 2012.

photographing your Christmas tree two ways, and a little confession

Okay, confession first. I don’t have a single reflective glass ball on my Christmas tree. There is no color scheme to go by, no theme to the Christmas decor. Wait, I take that back, there is a major theme to the way I decorate for Christmas–tradition. Not in the “must-only-use-green-and-red-and-holly-berries” tradition sense, but rather “each-piece-of-Christmas-in-our-home-has-either-a-purpose-or-meaning.” Long-winded enough for you?

Instead of reflective glass balls, sparkly snowflakes, or coordinating ribbon, I have a keepsake from last January’s cruise and a glass duck for our extended family duck race tradition.

And how could I resist putting these lovingly made ornaments up each year in favor of coordinating, perfect decor?

And as a sweet reminder of last year’s trip to see the Nutcracker in Sacramento with cousins, grandma, and GG, Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy are prominently displayed (and almost caused World War III in my home this December).

We’ve got ornaments that my great-grandma made (yes, that’s baby Jani),

one my grandma made,

and each kid has one made by my sister. We also have been blessed to receive an ornament every year of our marriage from my in-laws, and I love pulling those all out and finding a place for them.

Now, do I admit that all the carefully designed and decorated trees around the blogosphere this time of year are beautiful? Of course! But that’s just not what my tree is about. Or my Christmas in general. After all, that cute girl playing with her Little Pony below would much rather participate in the decorating than just look at it from afar. (No, that’s not kid clutter you see in the fireplace reflection. Must be something wrong with your screen.)

On to the tips–I always have to photograph my tree two ways each year. The first way is in glorious natural light–how could I not take advantage of those windows flanking my tree? So, to photograph your tree during daytime, you’re going to need to know a little bit about getting out of auto mode. There is a ton of information I could share, but I’ll keep it simple for now. Take your camera, and set it to Aperture Priority mode (AV on Canon) and select a low aperture number (anywhere between 2-3.5 will work). Make sure your ISO is set high enough that you can hand-hold your camera without getting any shake from a slow shutter speed. A good rule of thumb is to always make sure your shutter speed stays above double your focal length. So if you’re using an 18-55 mm kit lens, you want to make sure your shutter speed is never slower than 125. 200 is even better. Take a few test shots and up your ISO if the shutter speed is too low.

Once you’ve got your camera set, snap away! All the ornament shots were taken using natural light. With the settings like this, you also get lovely Christmas twinkly light bokeh (think blur) in the background if you get far enough away.

(exif info: 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 800, f 1.8, ss 1/160)

Here Bailey is at the coffee table working on a project, about 8 feet from the tree. By focusing on her and using a low aperture number, I get lovely results.

My other favorite way to photograph my tree is at night. I know there are tons of tutorials out there about this, but I’ll show you how I do it.

First, turn off the light in the room your tree is in, but keep the lights in the adjoining rooms on. You need some ambient light bouncing around.

Next, set your camera on aperture priority again and select a high aperture number–at least 8-12. Your ISO will also need to be high, and you’ll want to use a tripod or steady your camera on something since the shutter speed will be low enough to show plenty of shake. The higher aperture number does this:

(exif info: 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 4000, f 13, ss 1/5)

See how the lights all turn into minuature stars? That’s the high aperture. I don’t recommend going “wide open” with your aperture at night–your Christmas lights will just be blobs of light.

(exif info: 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 4000, f 13, ss 1/5)

I did not use a tripod for any of these photos (too lazy to pull it out) but I braced myself on the coffee table, my desk, our pass-through, etc. The shutter speed for each of these images is listed below them–and it’s slllllloooooooow. Could they have been sharper if I’d used a tripod? Absolutely. As Pioneer Woman says, don’t be like me!  Another tip for handholding is to take a quick breath and hold it while you snap. Conversely, if you’re using a tripod, many people swear by using the self timer on it to take slow shutter speed photos, to avoid moving the camera while you press the shutter button, since you’ll do that before the shutter actually opens.

Have you taken any Christmas tree photos this season? How did they turn out? I love to see them–link up in the comments so I can take a look!

Linking up with Not Just a Housewife, Home Stories AtoZ, and Tip Me Tuesday!

so this is Christmas

Confession: I did not do a Christmas card this year.

I love getting my Christmas cards out each year. I love planning the family (or kid) photo shoot, creating beautiful images of my children and sweetie. I love selecting a killer design or creating one of my own. I even love tracking down all the addresses I’ve collected (in about five different MS Word databases) and printing off my envelopes. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas.

I couldn’t this year.

My big girls were SO excited that a baby brother was on the way. But now that baby brother is in heaven I just can’t pose my family all happy and carefree and smiley and send out an upbeat, braggy Christmas letter.

Reality: We ARE happy. We have been so blessed, supported, and taken care of through our grief that our children have truly bounced back amazingly well. But yes, we still have bad days and I don’t want to gloss them over in a Christmas card. Plus, after writing all about Patrick here and here, I don’t know that I can muster the words to write about him again in a Christmas card. He is ours, I love him and am so grateful for those eight months I carried him. It is enough for now.

I did, however, make myself sit down and create a family photo calendar for next year. In doing so, I got to relive the fun, joyful times we had in 2011 and discover some gems that I’d not seen since I snapped the shots.

Definitely my new favorite portrait of these two. My big girls, the two that people always mistake for twins. Love them to bits.

And this one, the fiery personality in the family. Very opinionated and independent, this girl is going to do what she wants to do in life. I always joke that she thinks she is five–it’s very true. Anything Bailey and Natalie are doing, she will do.


*insert Christmas cliche here*

Sorry, but it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. I’m smelling my glorious fresh tree, simmering cinnamon sticks and cloves on the stove (a cheap and oh-so-easy way to get instant Christmas smell), and taking on, as is usual for me at Christmas time, waaay too many projects. And I’m loving every second.


Project run down:

  • desk–almost finished! I just need to find knobs for that center drawer (I cleaned Hobby Lobby out of the knobs I used on the other 6 drawers and they haven’t restocked them yet). I wasn’t going to let that deter me from enjoying my new/old piece, though, so I am loving it in our entry. I have my eyes on one of these chairs for the desk, but it will have to wait. I did try placing my ceramic garden stool (seen below) there, but Ryan nixed that idea. Sometimes I let the crazy flow a little too much.

Aren’t these knobs dreamy? I love that the mercury glass-look gives a little vintage twist to the cut-glass knobs that are so popular these days. I’m just praying they come back in stock at the local HL.

And yes, I really distressed the heck out of this piece (inspiration here). The top turned out to be oak veneer that is loooooovely with its new coat (or three) of dark walnut stain.

Love all the pretty curves, too. Don’t ask me what the paint is called–I mixed it up using white, navy, and some weird green I picked up randomly from the local Habitat for Humanity restore. Once it was painted on the desk, it was just a little bright, so after my sanding/distressing step, I simply rubbed the same walnut stain I used for the top over the entire piece.

Yup, I still love it.

Next up,

  • nativity out–check! We work every day in December to teach our daughters why we celebrate Christmas, and I know of no better way to reinforce those teachings than to prominently display our beautiful Willow Tree nativity. The first few Christmases and birthdays after we got married, I requested and received a new set from this series. I love the simplicity and beauty of these pieces and will cherish them for many years.
  • wreaths that smell divine–mmmmm. We’ve been blessed with not one but two gifts of beautiful fresh pine wreaths this Christmas, both given to us by dear friends. I’ve always wanted to have fresh wreaths in our home but could never justify the cost for a disposable decoration when I still need items to add to my yearly collection. So having one on our front door and one just inside is heavenly!

  • mistletoe hung–yay! Just a fair warning to anyone who visits. You can see where this is in the very first images at the top of this blog post–a kissing cone! Made by my grandma, it’s one of my favorite decorations. Now I’ve just got to lure the hubster to the archway . . .

I’ve got two more big projects I want to complete this week–a Pottery Barn knock-off and a tree skirt to hide that ugly stand. Once I have those done, I’ll share my living room.

What does your house look like this Christmas? Leave me a link in the comments so I can check it out!

Linking up with Miss Mustard Seed because she is the inspiration for this type of treatment!

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