A Book of Love // Valentine's Day Inspiration

Here's a fun little gift idea for someone special on Valentine's Day! This is actually something that I do for Taylor each year on our anniversary, but it also works for Valentine's Day (or any other special day for that matter). This project is pretty cheesy but, hey, you knew what you were getting into when you clicked on a post about Valentine's Day ;)
Each year I put together a little book that tells the story of that year...I write about any special things (or mundane things that were still meaningful) that happened and create pictures to go with each page. Then, each page has a song that goes with it - either a song that goes with whatever I wrote, or a song that was meaningful to us during that time. Taylor and I are the kind of people who remember exactly what we were listening to during certain events, so it's fun to have little mixes that remind us of each year of our relationship. I usually burn the mix for him and create a little pocket for it in the back of each book. If music isn't so much your thing, think of something that is meaningful to you and your special someone and see if there is a way to incorporate that into your book...maybe you're long distance and write a lot of letters - create little pockets for copies of special letters...maybe you bond over books - include your favorite passages...get creative!
Thoughtful and homemade is always better than store bought, right? What do you like to do for your Valentine?

Hope your week has been wonderful! xx

Photo Friday//Shooting in Low Light

Well, I completely spaced on posting this Friday night!...I was so excited it was Friday that I got home and immediately plopped down on the couch with nail polish and Netflix and intentions of doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the night. Better late than never though, right? ;)
Today's post is about taking photos in low light...good lighting is pretty scarce this time of year, with the sun going down so early. Of course, there are some photos that just need to be taken during the day (for example, product photos), but I've found lots of tips about situations where you can make low light work. So I think it would help me feel more motivated to get my camera out in the evening if I learned a little about how to shoot in not-so-great lighting conditions (and how to embrace the lack of lighting)...Sometimes it is so frustrating!

First Step, Master Manual Mode...I'm still learning about how to get the right settings, but learning how to use manual mode has been so helpful. In low light you generally want to open your aperture wide, and increase your ISO. If you haven't already read my post on the basics of manual mode, you can find it right here. If you want to take the next step, getting a lens that can achieve a wider aperture (so a lower number -- remember that confusing lesson we learned a few weeks ago?) can be a huge help.  I got this one for christmas and love it.

Steady Hands...Since low light photography usually requires a slower shutter speed, you need to stay pretty still while getting your photo. If you have shaky hands (like me) one option is a tripod...I don't have one so I use books or a chair or a bed...whatever is available. It also helps to steady your elbows on something and hold your breath. Take a deep breath and hold it in as you take the photo. It really helps.

Get Creative About Finding Light...I've read a lot of different photography tutorials that talk about getting as much as you can out of the light you have available. One thing to do is to find ways to reflect light. You can use a real reflector, or something like a white poster board. Sometimes I find that the light I have available creates weird shadows, so I think this technique might be useful. (This is something that is also used in situations where light is really harsh...put your subject in a shadier spot, right across from a white wall that will cast more diffused light on your subject).

Take Continuous Shots...This site suggests setting your camera to take continuous shots, this makes it more likely that you will get a sharp photo. I'm not sure how I feel about ending up with a million useless photos on my camera...but it's worth a try!

In Low Light Situations Where You Want to Keep the "Low Light Feel"...I really like this post on shooting in low light. She talks about overexposing your image a little, and then editing it later. That way you have all the info you need in your raw file and can mess around with the lighting later. She says to "expose the the right" which means "overexposing, and checking your histogram and blinkies until important areas in your image begin to blow. Next, take the exposure down by 1/3 stops until those areas are protected (or not blown but on the verge of blowing). For example, if exposing for skin, overexpose until the brightest area of the skin has blinkies. Then bring exposure down by 1/3 of a stop at a time until the skin is not overexposed. The image on your LCD will likely look brighter than the image you are envisioning as an end product..." Using this technique also minimizes grain...which can be a problem with low light photography (though sometimes I love photos where the photographer has embraced the graininess, so it depends on what you're going for).

If You Absolutely Must Use A Flash...I really hate using a flash, but there are some times when you can't for the life of you figure out how to get a good picture without that extra little bit of light. In those cases, I've found tutorials that suggest that you put a tissue or a little piece of white paper in front of your built in flash to diffuse the light...I've tried it a couple of times and it actually works pretty well. (Also, check out these DIY Lighting Hacks).

A Few More Helpful Links...
This post has a great overview of how to address a variety of bad lighting problems, including low light.
If your photo still ends up underexposed, here is a bit about how to fix it using editing software, such as Photoshop. 

I think in the future I'll do another post about finding the right light, and getting the most out of different types of lighting...I came across some pretty interesting information about how lighting can effect your photography. How do you find the right light for your photos? Are there any techniques that you find particularly helpful low light situations? I would love to hear from you!

A Sunny Day On Mississippi Ave // What I Wore

This weekend was perfect in every way...all my friends were finally home from Winter vacation, the sun came out (a rare thing for us Portlanders), and it was a long weekend! Taylor and I tried to spend as much time as possible outside soaking in the Vitamin D. On Sunday we went to Mississippi Ave in Northeast Portland to walk around, eat some food, and find a new place to do a little work. On the way, we decided to take advantage of this pretty blue wall and snap a few outfit photos. This is my go-to outfit lately...comfy, but still cute! I was so excited when it was nice out so I could wear the hat Taylor got me for Christmas. He's a keeper, huh?
[Mississippi pizza pub]
[Beers at a German Pub full of football fans]
[Mississippi Ave]
[Checking out some new food carts]
[Outfit details] Shirt & Necklace: J. Crew Factory // Pants: Urban Outfitters // Belt: Target // Hat: Brixton // Lip Color: Smashbox Electric Pink

Lovely Links + A Feature

Just wanted to pop in and let you all know that I am being featured as a "Crafty Superstar" on Cut Out + Keep this week! They will be posting tutorials for some of my favorite projects each day this week. You can see my projects and interview right here. Have you checked out their site before? It's a really great collection of a huge array of projects...I've already bookmarked a few projects that I'm excited to try out. Now, here are a few links I'm feeling inspired by lately.
+ I made this No Knead Bread from Bleubird and it was amazing and so simple to make. Before I baked it I brushed on some rosemary oil and course sea salt...mmm.
+ I just rediscovered Kelly Ann's gorgeous blog, and have been listening to this mix she made ever since.
+ Going to add a few of these reading recommendations from Judy Blume and Lena Dunham (of the show Girls) to my list.
+ Feeling inspired by these beautiful, moody photos Emorie posted recently.
+ This awesome Life Planner from Whimsy Darling got the obsessive list maker in me a little too excited.
+ You all know I have a soft spot for indoor plants. Especially when they look like this.
+ This calendar is perfectly simple.
+ Some thought provoking reflections on love here and here.
+ Have you heard this RadioLab podcast on "Blame?" Super interesting.

What has been inspiring you lately? Please do share!


PS - check back tomorrow for an outfit post and few photos from this weekend!

Snail Mail, Pt. 2

Happyhappy Friday, friends! Boy, am I glad the weekend is here. Today seemed to drag on forever...half the kiddos at work are sick and crabby so things in the classroom were a bit crazy. Crossing my fingers the constant hand washing and sanitizing paid off! I am so ready for a night out with friends, followed by a couple days of nothing but rest and relaxation :)

Today I thought I'd share a couple quick and easy cards I made. If you're not at all punctual like me, I figured you might still be putting together thank you cards from the holidays, and could probably use a little inspiration! Or maybe you made a New Years Resolution to write more letters (hey, remember when I said I would do that?...Hah!). Either way, here ya go! You can see my last Snail Mail post right here.
Card making is one of my favorite crafts...I used to make these crazy elaborate cards for birthdays/valentines day/christmas/etc, but in recent years I haven't really had time. I'd love to start doing it again, but for now I'll stick with these simple (but sweet) card ideas.
This one is probably my favorite (mostly because I'm a little obsessed with gold glitter these days) and it took me about a minute to make last night. To make the glitter part look sort of like imperfect brush strokes, I used the corner of a new-ish glue stick to make the lines, and then poured the glitter over. I had to fix up a couple spots with a little more glue. Then I used my favorite letter stamps to write a little French thank you.
 I made this one a while ago to send to a friend who moved away, but you could also make a thank you card this way. Put some sticker letters on your card, dip a dry brush in paint, test it out a couple of times until you get a stroke you like, and then paint lightly over the letters. Let the paint try and then peel the letters off!

This one is super simple. It's just a piece of cardboard with tissue paper triangles glued on.
This is another card that could be made into a thank you card. I used sticker letters to write hello in a bunch of different ways, and then put neon washi tape around the edges of the card.
Have a great weekend :)

Small Movings

I have something exciting to share with you all today! Taylor just released a song he wrote and recorded called "Small Movings," which you can listen to and download right here. Also, if you listen, you will get to hear me play violin and sing! Taylor finally convinced me to be on one of his songs, and it was actually really fun doing something we both love so much together (though listening to my voice playing over and over again while he mixed it was very painful). I also helped Taylor design the page/cover, so that was fun as well! I've heard the song go from a single line Taylor played over and over again for months, to a short song played with an acoustic guitar, to this final product...It's a really beautiful song, so I hope you'll give it a listen :) Also, if you download the song, it comes with a copy of a novella Taylor wrote, which kind of goes along with the song. It's a quirky story about a guy who works at a food cart selling grilled peaches. Pretty proud of all this guy's creative work. He's pretty cool I guess ;) Anyway, enjoy! I will be back soon with something crafty!

Bits + Pieces

Today was a good day. I woke up to a house full of my most favorite people - who all promptly piled into my bed for a cuddle puddle...It felt like we were back in the dorms freshman year of college, squeezed into the bed-fort my roommate and I made. These crazy kids were my first real friends in college, when I was completely freaked out about the fact that I actually had to talk to strangers. Last night we pretended we were back in college, and it was great...and what made it even better was that we didn't have use a sink our dorm-mates puked in or get to breakfast before the cafeteria closed. Because now we are adults and have our own bathrooms and cars to drive to brunch. Best of both worlds, friends :) Anyway, here is a post with some photos I took over the last couple weeks.
1. A corny family portrait.
2. Christmas ornaments and magical bokeh.
3. Snow out the window. I was so excited for it to snow while I was visiting home.
4. I guess he's ok ;)
5. Christmas nuts before I massacred them for this post.
6. My favorite furry baby. My christmas wish was for him to come home with me. Santa did not deliver. Rude.
7. Christmas dinner.
8. Gosh he's ca-yoot.
9. So is he!
10. Playing in the snow! Photo credit goes to Taylor.
11. The only good photo I got in New York on my DSLR due to a malfunctioning battery.
12. Snowy day walks are magical.

Photo Friday//Composition

Hello hello! You may have noticed that I missed last Photo Friday. Sorry I suck! Except not really because I was in NYC and it was pretty awesome. Anyway, I’m back with a new lesson today…and this should be useful to anyone, not just those of you with SLR cameras. Yay! Hope that makes up for the missed post. Also, I’ve decided to separate my lesson posts and photo posts…it just makes the posts too long to put them together. So, from now on I will share the photos I take using these lessons in “Bits + Pieces” posts with lots of photos and maybe some personal ramblings about them for your viewing/reading pleasure.
Today we are talking about composition. Composing a great photo is something you can learn about and improve on constantly…lots and lots of trial and error. I did a bunch of reading and decided to throw together a short list of a few points about composition that seem useful, and that I’d like to keep in mind as take photos this week. I’ve also included a couple links to the sites I read with each point so you can read more, should you feel so inclined.

Avoid the Middle: The middle is boring. You’ve probably heard of the “Rule of Thirds.” This was one of the first things that came up when I began my research. Basically, divide your image into thirds, and position the subject in the left or right third of the composition. Most of the things I read said to avoid the middle, but also not to be a slave to the rule of thirds. It seems like it is a good thing to learn about and understand – once you understand it you can break it in a way that still works.

Creating a Single Point of Interest: Here are some ways to bring the focus to your main point of interest – eliminate distracting elements from the frame, use a wide aperture to blur out other details (learn how to do that here), make use of color, use leading lines or negative space to direct attention to it, break the pattern, create contrast, make the point brighter…there are lots of ways to do it! But it is important to know what your point of interest is and really think about how you can make the viewer see the image the way you want them to.
More Here:

Use White/”Free” Space: This one is also one of the tips for drawing attention to your point of interest, but I thought it was a good one to talk about specifically. They describe it well on “Here Comes the Sun” Blog: “If you have a subject who is pointing to the right, then give the composition a lot of free space on the right side. If your subject is looking up, then allow the free space to happen above them. Think of it as leading your viewers eyes and emotions where you want them to go."
More Here:

Leading Lines: This is also helpful in defining your point of interest. Use lines (such as roads, telephone lines, etc) to draw the eye towards your subject.
More Here:

Make Use of Framing: This is exactly what you think it is! Find a natural frame to make your photo more interesting and draw attention where you want it.
More Here:

Think About Which Way You Want to Shoot: Shoot vertically to emphasize height. Shoot horizontally to emphasize width.

Add Depth: Think about how to include a foreground and a background.
More Here:

Happy photographing! I would love to hear any tips you find useful for composing photos in the comments! I will be back tomorrow with some of the photos I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks.

The clanking of crystal, explosions off in the distance.

Well, I'm a week late, but I'm finally here with a proper new years post! I'm home in Portland, settled back into work, and ready to really begin 2014. I love the new year - January 1st feels like I just pressed a big "reset" button. I like to sit down, think everything through, make lots of lists and goals, and reorganize my life. The calm doesn't last long, but it feels nice. This year, on new years day, Taylor and I went to a cafe in town to work on grad school apps and other work, so I used this as a chance to decide on my resolutions for 2014.

Last year was the first year I actually wrote down resolutions. I found that one thing that really helped was coming up with "catch phrases" for each goal. That way, it's easy to remind myself. This year I came up with four general resolutions for how I want to live this year. Each one has a small, specific goal attached to it to help me achieve the most important parts of each resolution. I thought I would share a little bit since I know it helps me to hear how others go about setting and achieving their goals and resolutions...

Just Do It: This was one of my resolutions last year as well...I did great at the beginning, but as my life/schedule went through a few big changes and transitions I kind of fell off the band wagon. I made this a resolution because I am a terrible procrastinator. My goal isn't to stop procrastinating altogether, but just to get little things that can be done easily out of the way. Take five minutes to respond emails when you get home, rather than thinking about how you don't want to do it and surfing the internet for an hour to avoid it...stuff like that. This one was inspired by the book The Happiness Project (if you want to read more about it).

Be Present: This goal is about limiting screen time. I spend way too much time on my computer and phone. Admittedly, a lot of the time I spend in front of a screen is necessary...Blogging can't be done offline, and neither can many of my other responsibilities. But it's easy to get sucked in. The (teeny tiny) specific goal I made to start working on this one is to not check my phone first thing in the morning.

Be Passionate: I want to be proactive about pursuing opportunities to do what I love, I want to make more time to work on developing my skills to do what I am passionate about. Sometimes I procrastinate so much, I find myself even procrastinating doing the things I am really passionate about. How silly is that?

Be Kind: To myself and others. Don't worry, I didn't make this a resolution because I realized I'm a mean person :) It's nice to remind yourself to be extra kind every once in a while, even if it already seems like a given. We can all get sucked up in complaining about what some one did or how someone acted...any negativity, even if it's not about yourself, is negativity that you're bringing into your life. Anyway, this one is mostly about being kind to myself (gosh, selfish much???). And by this I mean exercising, eating well, and sleeping more. First step is going to yoga this weekend. Maybe now that I wrote that on the internets for all to see I will actually follow through...!

Ok, well, those are my resolutions! Do you make new years resolutions? Or do you think they are stupid? I would love to hear from you!

(PS The title of this post comes from the song "The New Year" by Death Cab For Cutie)

Floating Walnut Candles

Happy New Year, friends! Sorry about the unplanned blogging hiatus...I'm back on the East Coast for the holidays and have been busy with family time and a fun weekend trip to NYC (more on that later!). I had all sorts of holiday projects and recipes planned for you and started to get stressed about getting them done and then quickly realized that getting stressed isn't the point of blogging! So, I just let it go, let my computer die and hardly opened it over the holidays. It was nice to unplug. Anyway, now I am back! This is one of those DIYs I planned on sharing before the holidays, but I figured I could share now anyway since these sweet little candles are fun for any time of year.

My mom's side of the family has a tradition of lighting these candles together during the holidays...I was talking to my parents and we actually couldn't remember which day we typically do it on (oops!). I think the tradition was originally to do it on the Winter Solstice, but last year we did it on New Years Eve since that was when we were all together. Everyone takes a turn lighting a candle and putting it in a bowl of water as they say their wish/dream for the New Year or something they are thankful for. Of course, if you aren't into such sappy traditions, these are also nice to just have as decorations :) They make a beautiful center piece.

To make these you will need:
Walnuts (or other nuts with large enough shells)
Wax (you can just melt down old candles)
Wick (make sure the ones you get are compatible with your wax!)
A bobby pin
A can
A saucepan
First, you will need to crack your nuts and clean out the halves. This proved to be quite difficult for me as the nuts we had were pretty hard to crack without turning the whole thing into crumbs. We used a variety of nutcrackers, knives, files and pliers to get it done. After we got the hang of it, it didn't take too long. I've also heard roasting them for a little while can help.
Next, cut your wick to the appropriate size. Use the bobby pin to set the wick up in the middle of the nut shell. Now, you're going to create a makeshift double boiler. Fill a saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Cut up the wax into little pieces and put it in the can. Now, put the can in the hot water so the wax melts. Once the wax has melted, pour a tiny dot of wax onto your working surface and set your shell on it, so the wax holds it upright. Once the shell is secured in place, carefully fill the shell with wax, making sure not to let it overflow. Let the wax harden, and you're done! If you don't want to make candles you can also make cute little boats by sticking a toothpick with a colorful paper sail into the wax!