Inconsistency. And Goal setting.

I have to be one of the most inconsistent bloggers ever. I disappear for months, then I post almost daily, then just randomly… I don’t know how regular posters keep up that kind of schedule! Anyways, I am alive, and I’m not disappearing again for months. Cross my heart.

I’ve just been busy.

But not with fun home stuff, really. Well, I did buy some cute curtains for the office but I haven’t gotten around to hanging the curtain rod yet. It’s on my list for this week, I hope!

Otherwise though, life has just kept me hopping! My (real) job has been pretty busy and I’ve been uncharacteristically busy on weekends. Two weekends ago B and I declared a moratorium on lazy (because it was our last free weekend for a while) and did putt-putting, batting cages, badmitten, and a bonfire with some friends.

This past weekend I second-shot a wedding in Cincinnati which meant a 14 hour day (and a subsequent and thoroughly needed “day of rest” yesterday!). Next weekend I’m flying to St. Louis to second-shoot a wedding for a different photographer. The weekend after we are headed to Florida for a week of fun in the sun at Disney!

Whew.

Luckily though, it is all good things. And maybe best among them? All of the photography I’ve gotten to do this year! So far I’ve done three weddings and five portrait sessions, with one more wedding and two more portrait sessions planned for the next few months. This is leaps and bounds better than last year when I did three weddings (one of which I was not paid for and just tagged along at) and two portrait sessions.

I’ve also invested in my growing business by buying myself a much-needed camera upgrade, and starting to update my business facebook page and blog much more regularly (lack of anonymity alert: http://www.rachellyndseyphotography.com)(please don’t stalk me)(unless it is to tell me that my pictures are pretty. then stalk away). This feels like a huge step for me, and is helping me to see clearly what my next goals are.

The biggest one: Book my first solo wedding.

It’s funny because when I first started dipping a toe into the water of a photography business, I was quite unsure I even wanted to do wedding photography. It seemed too hard, like way too much pressure, and I was just overwhelmed by the idea of it. But second shooting has given me so much great experience and confidence, I totally feel now like… Hey. I got this.

The tricky part is convincing someone else to trust you with their wedding when you’ve never shot solo before! I put the word out there that I’m going to be doing free engagement sessions for local couples in the hopes that someone will fall in love with their photos and book me for their wedding. Plus, I’m offering 50% off to the first bride that books me, so honestly I’m a steal haha. Let’s just hope someone else thinks so!

Regardless though, it just feels good to be… moving. Setting goals. Keeping busy. Unfortunately that means less time for home improvement and probably less updates around these parts, but I’ll do my level best to still post at least once per week and not just disappear for six months like I’ve done in the past.

Anyone else embarking on new and scary adventures?

p.s. I am looking for a web designer to give my photography page a make-over. My budget is low, so someone just starting out would be ideal. If anyone has any contacts or friends who free-lance, please pass along the info!

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Part 1

I’ve been aware of people making their own vanilla extract since I saw a post somewhere about doing it for a wedding favor several years ago. But at the time it just seemed like way more work than I wanted to put into favors.

Then randomly last week for some reason so fleeting that I can’t recall what it was a week later… I decided I wanted to make my own. Benefits of making your own vanilla extract, so I’m told, are:

1) It tastes better. I usually buy decent vanilla (read: Not imitation, and madagascar if they have it at the grocery store which is only sometimes). So I’ll be interested to see if this is much better than that.

2) It is cheaper. A good bottle of vanilla is about $10 for 4oz at the grocery store. Assuming they have good vanilla. This cost me under $20 for 25 oz.

Plus, it just kind of seemed like fun. I love the idea of making my own vanilla extract from scratch! And since one batch makes more than I could reasonably use in a year or two, I decided to give some away as gifts too. I plan to make 4 bottles. One for myself, one for my mom, one for my grandma, and one for B’s mom.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. (side note: I have no idea what that phrase means).

First I ordered vanilla beans. I bought these:

(from amazon)

Then I thought maybe I ought to figure out wtf I was doing. So I googled for recipes and found that every one is different. They all had various suggestions for how many beans to how much vodka, what types of beans and vodka, and whether you should just split the bean open or split it, scoop it out, and chop it up. What I took from this was that there probably isn’t a wrong way to go. So on my lunch run today I headed to the liquor store and picked this up:

I figured since I had a 750ml bottle of vodka and 7 vanilla beans maybe that would be just the perfect quantities to get the job done. As for how to prepare the extract, take out a pen and paper because this is VERY complicated…..

just kidding.

It was super super easy.

I had 7 beans and I plan to make four bottles of vanilla extract. Because I think it is pretty when there is a full bean floating in a bottle, I decided to leave 4 of the beans in tact. I just used a sharp knife to split them from top to bottom, then scraped out the “caviar” (i.e. vanilla awesomeness) and plopped both into the bottle of vodka.

The other three I decided to chop up. A few of the different recipes I’ve read (I’m not linking to them because there is a seriously a ton of recipes that all say different things) said chopping the beans is best because it gives the vodka more surface area to soak up the vanilla goodness. Okay… makes sense to me. Three beans split, scooped, and chopped.

Then put those in the bottle. See? Very high tech stuff.

Pretty as this was, based on all of the recipes I read I knew that I’d need to shake the bottle with some frequency to keep things marinating. So I gave it its’ first good shake, which left it looking… a bit gross actually.

Ah well. If this blog was powered by the magic of tv (or um, better planning and/or patience on behalf of the resident blogger) the next photo would be of a fully marinated and packaged bottle of vanilla extract.

But it’s not.

So that bottle is sitting in a cupboard right now because you’re supposed to keep it in a dark place. I plan to shake it every day for a week or two, then basically just whenever I remember. Depending on which recipe I looked at the recommendations are to leave it to steep for somewhere between 1-6 months before using it. I plan to give mine as part of Christmas gifts, which is four months away… so let’s hope 4 months is about the right length of time!

Once we hit four months I plan to strain it, portion it into smaller bottles, and bask in the awesomeness of homemade vanilla extract!

To recap:
Vanilla beans – I used 7
Vodka – I used 750ml of Smirnoff (Original)

1) Cut beans. Either slice them open; slice them open and scoop out the caviar; or slice them open, scoop out the caviar, and chop them up. The world is your oyster.
2) Put beans and all bean bits in vodka (tip: pour out a tiny amount of vodka before you start or your bottle will overflow)
3) Replace lid and shake
4) Store in dark place and shake when you remember for the next couple of months
5) Strain and enjoy!

Total cost? $19.81 for 25 ounces of vanilla extract (which will make four 6-ounce bottles).

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Pet Silhouettes!

AKA: My favorite project I’ve ever done ever.

Reasons this project was my favorite:
1) I am fall-down-dead-in-love with the outcome. I would pay money for these. Probably an embarrassing amount of money, to be honest. Because they are adorable, super personal, feeding into my obsession with my pets, and look amazing in my office (I’m nothing if not modest, hah).

2) The cost was incredibly low. I paid a total of $12.36 for THREE 12×12 hand painted canvases. That’s my kind of cheap. (And I have a paintbrush I can re-use and one extra canvas included in this cost)

3) It was one of those rare projects that went exactly as planned. No big surprises or issues, it didn’t take very long at all (we’re talking 3 episodes of Breaking Bad, that’s it!), and I could do it while watching TV.

So, enough patting myself on the back… here’s how it went down. As with all awesome things in the year 2012, this begin with pinterest. I saw this photo, which I liked well enough to pin but didn’t excite me enough to take any real action.

(Source)

But then a blog I read regularly posted these silhouettes, and while I didn’t dig the subject matter, the bright colors caught my eye and got the wheels in my brain turning. Especially because I knew I was going to want to find a way to bring some bright colors around other parts of my now-grey office.

(Source)

Thus, the idea was born for super bright silhouettes of the animals and I got moving on making it happen! I already had the paint I planned to use, because I still had plenty of teal paint left over from my desk project , and I decided to use the leftover green from our kitchen for contrast.

So, yes– I did this with normal eggshell wall paint and enamel furniture paint. Worked fine! You definitely do not need to spend money on much more expensive oil paints to do this project— pretty much any paint you have laying around will probably work.

Next I needed something to paint on. I considered buying some wood at Lowes and just cutting it to size (mostly because I’m cheap), but I thought before I went to the trouble of doing that I’d just see how much canvases at Michael’s cost. Well— super shock because they were CHEAP. I bought these.

They were $7.99 for a pack of two, but they were on sale buy-one-get-one-free so I ended up with FOUR canvases for $8. At $2 a pop, they were definitely worth buying (maybe even cheaper than wood, and I wouldn’t have to prime them first!). I also bought a small paint brush because I knew my 2″ edging brush wasn’t exactly going to get the job done.

Total cost for 4 canvases and a paint brush?

$12.36!! Things were getting off to a great start.

When I got home, I set three of the canvases out on brown paper bags and got to painting. Edges first, so that I could hold them down from the top while painting the edges.

Then just paint the whole thing with a normal paint brush. I just did one coat. There were a few tiny streaks which could’ve been solved with a second coat, but I actually kind of liked the slightly streaky look so I left it.

While those were drying, I got to silhouette-making. I found photos of each of the pets that had a good profile. Then I used photo editing software to convert them to black and white, decrease the quality, increase the contrast, and sloppily erase most of the background. I did this primarily because I’m cheap and I didn’t want to waste a ton of ink on our home printer making three big photos when I only cared about the shape. If you don’t have the software to do this, just print a normal photo out with a good profile and it will be fine! Here is the photo of Milo, so you can see how it looked when I printed it.

Then I held each photo up against the window and traced the outline of the pet with a pen. When I was done, it looked like this.

I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to make sure that the silhouettes looked right. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether or not a photo will work for a silhouette just by looking at it, and I wanted to find out at this stage rather than when my painting was half done. Second, this would make it easier to do the next step, which is taking a pencil (PENCIL, not pen) and scribbling all over the the outline. (you could just scribble all over the back of the photo, but that’d take a lot longer).

By this point, the three canvases were dry and ready to go! I simply took them one at a time, laid the photo face-up on the canvas in the position I wanted the silhouette to be in, and traced the outline right on top of the photo so that the lead on the back of the page would transfer to the canvas. Note: I stuck 2 DVDs under the canvas before I started tracing because it gave me a more solid surface to trace on. When I was done, it looked like this.

From there, it was just a matter of verrrry carefully painting inside the lines. I just went very very slow, because this part was slightly harder than I thought. Or rather, not HARD so much as a little tedious. After one coat, it looked like this.

I did one coat on each, then went back and did a second coat. In total it took me about 5 minutes to paint the canvases the solid colors, 1 episode of Breaking Bad to find/edit/print the photos I wanted to use, and 2 episodes of Breaking Bad to prepare the silhouettes and paint two coats of each image. So, just over 2 hours start to finish for THREE canvases!

And how did they turn out? Wonderfully!

Love!!!!! Can’t even express how much I love these. Here is a view from the corner of the room.

And as you walk into the room…

They turned out just as I had hoped. The perfect bright pop of color to contrast against the new grey walls. Now I almost can’t wait to figure out something to paint on the fourth canvas!

Maybe I just need to convince B that we need a second dog!

17 shades of grey…

Don’t worry, this won’t be about the book. It sucked.

This is about something much more fun— office painting! Okay, so the actual painting of the office wasn’t super fun, but having it painted is awesome and totally worth the work.

Remember what I was working with before? Plain builder-standard cream. Boring boring boring.

So I decided to paint the room grey to give it that soft/neutral/but-not-too-boring look. Seemed easy enough. Grey is grey, right?

Apparently not.

My first trip through the Lowes’ paint section left me feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Starting in the top left and moving clockwise, these are from Valspar, Allen + Roth, Eddie Bauer, and Ralph Lauren. I had no idea there were so many various shades of “kinda medium light-ish grey.”

The one that first caught my eye was the Vintage Gray, and I was quick to get a test pot from Lowes to try it out.

I waffled a bit, but ultimately decided this was too dark. I was starting to get nervous about picking the right color, and I remembered that Young House Love just painted their bedroom grey and it looked fabulous. So I checked out their paint color listings and found they used Rockport Gray by Benjamin Moore.

(Source)

So, off I went to a local paint shop that carries Benjamin Moore, and I was a bit shocked to find that the Rockport Gray sample card looked NOTHING like I expected. It is actually closer to taupe than grey, in my humble opinion. This is it, on the bottom left. I didn’t love it in person so I picked up a few other cards, also pictured below.

Then I sat in my car for a while staring at all the sample cards I’d collected and finally made a decision. Granite Dust by Valspar. Not too brown. Not too blue. Not too dark. Not too light. It was the goldilocks of grey, Just right. (I hoped).

I was already at the local store, and I do like to support local when I can so I had them color match the color to two gallons of Benjamin Moore paint (the cheapest one they had, by the way!).

This shows my first instinct (Vintage Gray), YHL’s bedroom color (Rockport Gray), and my ultimate choice (Granite Dust) for comparison.

And thus, my shade of grey was chosen! Then came the work. Painting a room is never exactly fun, but luckily it goes pretty fast. In total (from beginning to move the furniture to completing clean-up) it took 4.5 hours. And three hours of this was edging, which I did alone because I don’t like to tape anything but the ceiling before edging and I have a bit of a more experienced/steady hand than B. If I’d let him help we probably could’ve cut the total time down by at least an hour.

Anyways, enough about progress, how about some show and tell?! Here is the before again, for maximum dramatic effect.

And drumroll please… AFTER!

This one shows the actual color the best, I think.

Love it!! So does Stew.

The only question left is whether to stripe the back wall. I saw this photo on pinterest the other day, and of course I loved it.

But I wonder if it might be too bold for the space, and I should just leave well enough alone and put some artwork up? I might try to get some art on the walls and get the other furniture moved in/painted first and see how I feel about the stripes after everything else is done.

Anyone else painting recently? Don’t you love what a quick and cheap room make-over it is?!

Photo book round up

I read a blog post yesterday that reviewed blurb.com’s photo books, and it got me thinking about all the photo books I have ordered.

First– I love making photos into printed books. It is way easier and (I think) more modern than actual scrapbooking, and I don’t know about you, but I will never sit and look at just a plain stack of photos. I made my first photo book back in 2008 after a trip to Vegas to celebrate my finishing law school/the bar, but somehow I’ve lost that book (super sad). In all, I think I’ve made nine books in the last 4 years, and ordered one more from a photographer.

So, ten books. They were ordered from snapfish.com,shutterfly.com, blurb.com, adoramapix.com, and kissweddingbooks.com. Which doesn’t really make me an expert, but does give me some experience with a variety of companies that might be helpful to others deciding on their first (or tenth!) photo book.

Let’s start with snapfish and shutterfly. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of my snapfish book, as that was my Vegas one which I lost. But I can tell you that snapfish and shutterfly were basically the same in my opinion.

These are available in both hard and soft cover in a variety of sizes. They each only offer standard paper. Shutterfly doesn’t say what weight they use, but it feels like Snapfish which uses 100lb weight. It feels like a page from a nice magazine. You can customize the covers, as you can with most photo books. I made this book for our engagement photos, and used it as our guest book at the wedding. Mostly I chose shutterfly because I had a groupon and I wanted something cheap.

The cover is pretty, but you can see the pages are pretty thin/unimpressive. This has 20 pages and it takes up well under half an inch. Probably closer to 1/4-1/3 inch.

But the quality of the photos themselves is pretty good.

In the future I’ll use either of these companies for books I don’t want to invest much money in. The cost for a 20 page hardcover 8×8 book from Snapfish is $28.99, and from Shutterfly is $29.99. Although there are groupons for these OFTEN, and the companies run great sales as well.

Next up, blurb! Blurb is not much more expensive than snapfish/shutterfly at $31.95 for a 20 page hardcover standard landscape (8×10) book with standard paper. The downside is I’ve never seen a group on for them, so you’ll probably end up paying that price.

I made blurb books for my honeymoon album, and for a wedding album (combining both mine and my brother’s weddings) for my grandma. I ordered soft cover just to try something different, and I actually really liked it!

One huge benefit of blurb is that you can choose to upgrade your paper. The standard paper is 80 lb weight, which again will feel about like a nice magazine page. You can also upgrade to 100 lb premium paper (which I have not tried) or 140 lb ProLine paper, which I what I ordered for our honeymoon album. The album ended up being about 30 pages, and check out how much thicker it is than the shutterfly book above.

The quality of the photos is pretty good. About the same as snapfish/shutterfly.

The downside of a softcover book is that the book won’t really stay open on its own, but I still think it is a cute/different type of album and I liked it. I think it would be especially cute to do a very thick small-sized book, like a 200 page 7×7. Maybe I’ll have to think of an excuse to make one of those in the future!

Overall thought: I like blurb when I want a bit more professional feeling paper. I will probably use it for most of my future vacation albums, as long as I’m not feeling too cheap.

Last of the consumer-level albums is Adoramapix. I love adoramapix! It is what I used to make our wedding album and albums for our moms. The covers are very nice, thicker cardboard, and have a nice sheen to them.

The real awesomeness of Adoramapix, though, is the paper. Rather than using printer paper, they use real photo paper. Each page is actually two pieces of photo paper glued back-to-back. This makes for very nice super-thick paper. This album is 36 pages long, and over an inch thick!

Because they use real photo paper, the photos are every bit as nice as ones you would print for your wall, and best of all: lay flat pages!! One photo can span two pages, which gives you some amazing options for layouts.

Love love love. These are definitely my favorite photo books, but you pay the quality. For a hard cover 8×8 book with 26 pages (there is no option for 20 pages), you’ll pay $42. The prices go up pretty steeply as you increase pages, but for important events (like a wedding!) I always think it is worth it to err on the side of too many pages. I did the full 76 pages (front and back, so 37 double-sided) for my wedding album. It is worth mentioning that Adorama runs a lot of sales, so I would recommend following them on Facebook or twitter to keep an eye out for discounts. Adorama is also the only company that has leather covers as an option (newly– I wish they had had this when I ordered my book!). I think leather covers are awesome and super professional looking, so I would definitely have gone with that had I had the chance.

Last but not least, KISS books. These are not available to your average consumer, but if you hire a professional there is a good chance this is what they use. I ordered one from my photographer when I did my boudoir shoot (wedding gift for the dear husband!). They also use real photo paper, and it is even thicker than that used by adorama.

That is only 14 double-sided pages! Although I think the photo quality is about the same as adorama. I think this photo is pretty safe to share, as it doesn’t show any more than my (strapless) wedding dress did.

Nice, but not really better than adorama. The price on these is going to vary based on whatever mark up your photographer has, but in my personal opinion it is not worth much more than the adorama books.

So– that is it! Five photo book companies in review. I hope it helps to explain some of the options out there and helps someone to make the right choice for their specific needs.

Which is your favorite photo book company, and why?

Quick Tip: Love Google

Super quick tip here that I assume everyone already knows… but just in case not I wanted to share.

I LOVE shopping online. No crowds, no parking, better deals usually, AND I get packages sent to my door. Which I love. (Best part of being engaged was all the mail… RSVPs and wedding gifts? Seriously awesome). Anyways.

The only thing I hate about shopping online is paying for shipping. It is usually way overpriced and offends my sense of frugality. Which is why I generally love amazon.com and will often buy one extra item just to get free shipping if necessary (yea I know… that’s how they get ya).

But one thing I always ALWAYS do before I check out is google for a coupon code. It doesn’t always work, but I’d say at least 1/3 of the time it does. Sometimes it is a really awesome coupon like 30% off. Sometimes it is just free shipping (but hey– that is like $7 saved right there!).

Example. I just bought these.

Please don’t judge me too harshly for buying crocs. I swore I never would, but I’ve heard they are SUPER comfortable, and they don’t look like crocs really, and I am on the hunt for comfy flats for Disney next month, AND they were on sale. (Yes, I need that many justifications to buy crocs).

I put them in my cart and when I got to the check-out page I just googled “crocs coupon code.” The first link was to a page on retailmenot.com, and what do you know…

Score. So I got my crocs (cringe) on sale for $10 cheaper than the same pair on zappos.com (I always comparison shop), AND free shipping. Happy!

So there is my tip. Don’t forget to google before clicking purchase!

It’s not Right and Left. It’s Right and Wrong.

I try mostly to keep my politics off the blog. Mostly because I spend enough time talking about it in real life that I don’t really need to write about it here too.

But I don’t hide from it either because it is who I am. I’m not one of those “I don’t want to offend anyone so I’ll keep my mouth shut” people… because well… if you’re going to be offended by my believing in women’s rights and equality for all then you can just be offended.

A big reason I enjoy writing here is for myself, to look back later and see what was going on in my life at a given time, some things are important enough to mention. So what’s that thing today? Sorry folks… I’m weighing in on the Chick-fil-A drama.

What frustrates me most are the people who call those of us who are outraged intolerant. Hm.

In my opinion, this should not even be a political issue. It shouldn’t be republicans vs. democrats or Christians v. atheists. It’s a civil rights issue. It is on par with women being able to vote and interracial marriage. The fact that there is even a question on this issue offends me. If your religion requires you to be bigoted, fine. But don’t try to impose your skewed “morals” on the rest of us via secular law. (And for the record, I am a Christian and I don’t believe our religion requires that at all).

But this guy says it a lot better than me. I’ve read countless articles in the last week about this, but his was by far my favorite because it cuts through a lot of the bullshit arguments right up front (such as freedom of speech, which is a complete non-issue). My favorite quote:

All your life, you’re told to stand up to bullies, but when WE do it, we’re told WE are the ones being intolerant? Well, okay. Yes. I refuse to tolerate getting my ass kicked. “Guilty as charged.”

The only issue it does not address is the current debate in my house (and really, the most valid argument I’ve heard for not boycotting). My husband, along with many others, say that while they disagree with their money being funneled through CFA to anti-gay groups, there are so MANY companies that donate to similar groups it is just impossible to avoid them all. So, why bother.

Well.. they’re right. Unfortunately a ton of big businesses do donate to similar groups. It would be impossible (or at least very very challenging) to avoid them ALL. But, I’m in favor of doing what we can. It’s just not that hard to avoid Chick-fil-A. Particularly because it has become a symbol of this polarizing argument. I stand with those who demand equality, and I do it publicly and proudly.