Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Just Bee


On the day we had really weird-looking sunlight because of the Canadian forest fires, I took a picture of this fine fat fuzzy fellow.

But that's all I have for readers now. This bee. Hope you're all enjoying the fleeting small moments of summer too. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

June


This year I was just as eager to be done with the school year as the kids were, and ready to take a break from the home improvement grind. So our family has spent most of the month re-setting our gears for summer and getting a little vacation time in.

We hit the long road almost immediately after the last class bell rang to go to my sister Dyan's house in Georgia. Getting there from Iowa is a two-day drive and somewhat of an endurance test, but it was worth it for the week we had the sisters and cousins together. It included a great moment at Indian Seats, a lookout point on Sawnee Mountain, pictured above. We were eye level with turkey vultures wheeling in the sky on a clear and gorgeous day. 

A memorial to Chief Sawnee, a Cherokee for whom the mountain was named.
Dyan lives north of Atlanta, and it had been awhile since my kids and I have been able to avail ourselves of big city culture. So we hit Zoo Atlanta, a small but extremely well-cared-for institution. 


I have mixed feelings about zoos, but realize that they in many cases are the last thread holding together a fragile existence for some animals, including these rhinos, and the pandas that are also a big draw for Zoo Atlanta. 

I loved that they were hosting artists all over the zoo that day. I was struck by how this woman's painting matched her clothing. I wonder if it was intentional? 


My sister and I took a day to have lady lunch and visit the High Museum of Art in downtown Atlanta: 


It's green, it's a chicken. It's absurd. There is so much to love here. 


I love how this icon of a little house is situated in a backdrop of ultra-modern lines. 

But as is usual with me, the stuff I cherish most about these kinds of vacations is often about the moments that don't make for very good bragging or photo album fodder. I'm glad my sister and I cooked together in her warm red kitchen. I'm glad my brother-in-law made me try frozen cinnamon moonshine. I'm glad I had a few hours' reunion with a dear friend I knew in Michigan who now lives in South Carolina. I'm glad I got to sit in a lawn chair by the pool and read while the cousins swam and shouted. I'm glad I was there for my nephew's birthday party for a change, and could marvel in person the fact that at age 12 he's taller than his Auntie Laura. 

Now that we're back, I'm ready to move into "lazy and long" mode. My kids have reading lists and and pool passes and bare feet. I'm working in the garden, and hope to make a few passes at outdoor painting in the weeks to come. 

What's your summer been like? 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Five Home Decor Trends That Have Overstayed Their Welcome

This blog post could have a lot of alternative titles. Ones like "Unrealistic Things I'm Tired of Seeing in Magazines" or "What Laura Writes When Low Blood Sugar Crabby," for instance. Or for that matter, "No One Told Me Listicles are Overdone." No, not really that last one. I know they are overdone. And I hate the word "listicles" with a special passion. 

I'm not really talking about those fads that rapidly reach peak everyone-everywhere-yawn within months (like chevron pillows in 2013, for instance). I'm talking about those trends that keep hanging on and hanging on and hanging on, until people take it for granted that they are a good idea. And yet aren't. 

A couple of disclaimers before I start this list (hold the "-icle").  Though I could find better visual examples from elsewhere and still be under fair use rules, I'm not going to use photos from commercial sites and especially not other blogs for this post, because it seems rather shitty to me to call out specific individual people for their choices. We should all do ourselves and our style, regardless of other people's opinions. Including mine, which leads me to the second disclaimer. It's my opinion, for my own house, and the way I live. But I'd love to hear other people's nominations for and disagreements with this list. Here we go!

1. White slip-covered sofas. 

This one is the worst offender, and it dates back to the beginning of the whole shabby chic trend from the 1980s. You can love or hate shabby chic itself, and I have no strong feelings either way until you get to the anchor element of that style, which is the plumply upholstered sofa slipcovered in something like canvas dropcloths (utilitarian version) or vintage French linen bedsheets (people-with-more-money-than-I-will-ever-have version). Every magazine spread that has ever featured one of these sofas in the history of ever always has a giant (black) dog, or a couple of slightly sticky-looking (diapered) toddlers, or a glass of the noir-est pinot noir within what should be this thing's de-militarized zone. The photo is always paired with a blithe quote from the homeowner saying "White slip-covers are the easiest-care furniture. Spills don't matter, because you can just pop the covers in the wash, and put them back on. What a breeze." 

Besides the fact that these sofas already look like unmade beds (and should you want to look at an unmade bed, sheesh, go look in my bedroom, where one normally finds such things), if you want these slipcovers to look clean on a DAILY basis, one would be washing them daily. Because white+dog+young children+wine+overdyed jeans+illegal popsicles in the living room= never looks clean. And if the slipcovers are always in the wash, that means they're never on the sofa. Which means that you're constantly putting them back ON the sofa. Which is sort of like wresting an elephant into giant elephant-sized pillow case. Every. Day. 

I'm still trying to decide how in the world the white sofa trend caught on at all, and yet it will not go away. You know what color my sofa is? Brown. Because that's the color of coffee, chocolate, and dirt. It'd probably hide a good pinot noir indiscretion too, though so far I've been lucky. And while my sofa is a second-hand one and probably not what I'd have chosen new, it certainly hasn't thrown me into any illogical "white is the easiest color to clean" neuroses. Which is just as well. My washer and dryer time can therefore stay reserved for bigger priorities. Like socks and towels. 


2. Chalk Paint

I've said before that I'm not the biggest fan of painting wood furniture as an entire recent trend. (That's another opinion post I've long wanted to write). Not that it doesn't have its place, and I certainly have painted furniture pieces in my own house. 

But even more specifically, I don't understand the vast enthusiasm on DIY blogs for chalk paint. It's flat paint. My cynical gut reaction to that is "big whoop." We've had flat latex paint for a long time, and even more importantly, we've had flat latex paint for a long time and it didn't cost an arm and a leg and a first-born child, like chalk paint seems to. 

Even more puzzling to me is painting a piece of furniture with chalk paint and then waxing or poly-coating it. Um. Hmm. If you don't like the flat surface, either for ease of maintenance or aesthetics, then why in the world would you start with a product that doesn't give you the finish you want in the first place? Paints come in a range of gloss options. It seems like people are opting to go the costly and time-intensive route for no other reason than that it's trendy.

Chalk paint is another thing that traces it's origins back the shabby chic style, which favors chippy, distressed surface pieces of furniture. I'll admit I'm very much on a case-by-case basis with this style. One piece I will like. The next will seem fake and I don't like the pretense. A whole house of this stuff seems twee and not very visually grounded.

I just don't get it.



3. Pallet wood anything

I'm all for a little upcycling. I'm all for finding building materials on the cheap. But here's the thing about shipping pallets. They're used for shipping all sorts of things. Which means they are exposed to all sorts of things. Rodent droppings and bird feces. Pesticides. Herbicides. Fertilizers. Petroleum by-products. Mold and Mildew. Spoiled food. Blood. Chemical toxins. Heavy metals. Wood is a porous material that can absorb a lot of not-so-nice things. You can't sand or wash it off. 

So when I see them paneling a baby's bedroom, or made into a coffee table, or anything remotely to do with humans sleeping, eating, or placing objects on them, or growing food in them, I don't find it "rustic" or "clever" or "thrifty." I want to quite literally gag. 

It's my mother all over when I was a  little kid and put some random something in my mouth: "you don't have any idea where that nasty thing has been." Same thing with pallets. I've been aghast about the building-everything-with-pallet wood trend since the beginning, and I can't quite understand why no one has considered the possible health risks. Because that's all I can think about. 

I'll be passing on the pallet wood projects, all of them, everywhere, ever, and can only hope everyone else will too, though I'm not holding my breath. I don't think it's worth the risk. And really? Yuck. Just yuck. 

4. Open Shelving in Kitchens. 

Open shelving in kitchens is the evil twin sister to white slipcovered couches, I'm sure. If white couches are the ultimate in impracticality in the living room, open shelving is that same ultimate, the kitchen version. 

In magazines, it appears that people who have open shelving in their kitchen bought their entire tableware ensemble from this spring's Crate and Barrel catalog plus a few pieces of tasteful art pottery they picked up in Tuscany that last time they vacationed. There's a single fresh poppy in a slender vase posed just so next to the salad plates. And if we've admitted to actually eating in this open-shelf kitchen, there's a bowl of artfully stacked clementines and three boxes of organic whole-grain quinoa hipster crackers. You know those hipsters. With their artisanal hipster crackers. Pfft. 

I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that most households have plenty in their kitchen cabinets that are not view-worthy. I am not going to style my mismatched dinner plates, or the plastic Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh cereal bowls my teenage boys still eat their Cheerios from. I don't want to look at them, and neither does anyone else. Even the items I do use in my kitchen that are beautiful, I don't want the added work of keeping them attractively arranged, dust and grease free, and color-coordinated with the decor of the room. For a woman who often barely manages the time to flip grilled cheese sandwiches in this space, I'm sure as hell not going to sacrifice ease of maintenance and practicality to stage my kitchen as some sort of glorified still life. That's what fireplace mantels are for. 

Here below are my refinished 1960s era kitchen cabinets. With all their glorious doors of glorious hidden storageness. Just like nature intended. 


What my kitchen might look like if it was open-shelf concept: 


Yup. Economy-size boxes of Cheez-its and bulk warehouse oatmeal. No bud vases or polished clementines anywhere. I rest my case. 

5. The entire concept of decorating for resale value


The idea of making all of your design choices in a house for the benefit of the next people to own the house drives me straight bonkers. Have you met them? Do you know anything about their tastes? Are you willing to bet the farm and $10,000 on granite counters that you do? The answer should be no, no, and hell no. 

This is less a decor trend than it is an ongoing and tiresome philosophy, but it needs to stop. I think the constant grating on the topic of resale value in home improvement shows is merely to sell you things your home may or may not need. Is resale value important? Absolutely. But what they don't tell you on these shows is that for the majority of homeowners over the long term and in stable markets, real estate value is only going to increase, regardless of what you do to your home short of outright neglect and abuse. So if that's the case, why in the world would you subject yourself living in a sea of beige carpet and white walls? Why would you invest in granite counterops if you don't even like them? 

Go ahead. Paint your front door orange. Keep that knotty pine paneling in the den. Paint your bedroom wall royal purple. Put that gorgeously-patterned mexican tile on the floor in the bathroom. Bring home those vintage pieces and weird quirky things that make your heart sing, and stop consulting the opinions of people who don't even live there. The next owners of this house can worry about it when they own it. Right now, they don't get a vote.  

What are the decor trends that really toss your sofa cushions? What would you add to this list? Which one of them would you defend, and why? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Photography Class: Getting to the Basics


I've had a good beginner's DSLR for awhile, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an 18-55 mm lens. It's got good reviews as hobbyist camera, and even without any real knowledge of photography, I've managed to get some pretty good shots out of it, like here:


And here: 


But I had a lot of mess-ups and a lot of "meh" shots (if we were still shooting film it would have been a lot of expensive "meh"), and I knew for certain I wasn't using nearly all the features that the camera was capable of. I wanted better pictures at personal events. I wanted better pictures for the blog. Also, I work in public relations. It's fairly typical for an organization to have outrageously expensive photography equipment around with no one who can use it, and to refuse to hire a photographer. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been at an event as a writer, had someone shove an $8,000 camera in my hand, and say, "here, you can take the pictures." As if they assume an expensive camera operated by an idiot will still guarantee fabulous photos. Um. Sure. 

It took a while to find a photography class I could handle. By that I mean the time commitment and cost. There were several expensive, semester long, three times a week, graded classes around at our local university and community college, but I didn't want to dive in quite that deep at first. Finally I located a 4-week, one night a week class hosted at our local botanical center. It was taught by a freelance professional, and was limited to 12 people per class. I was sold. 


The instructor was excellent, and he had such a great way of breaking down all the individual technical components of a good photo, that suddenly, all the dials and buttons on my camera started to make sense to me. That's a lot of progress in my book. 


He spent a lot of time explaining to us the function of f-stops, or aperture, and it's effect on depth of field. In our homework assignment above you can see how, with increasing f-stops, the background comes more and more into focus. For some reason, just learning this one function was the great "A-ha" moment for me with the rest of the camera. I'm still a beginner, definitely, with lots left to learn, but this one piece of information has me off and running, and I feel as though my photos got a lot better. 


The photos in this post are not post-processed or cropped. While I realize they are far from technically perfect, they're better, and I know what to do to improve them. That's a good thing to learn from any class like this. 


And since we were taking our class at a botanical center, of course the photos assignments were all nature shots. Not a bad thing, though I'd like to learn better indoor photography for the blog too. I realize that's a different animal entirely. 


The only negative thing I learned through taking the class is that my ability to commit to this sort of thing outside work and family responsibilities is minimal. It took a lot of juggling elsewhere to get to a 2 1/2 hour class every week. And do the homework. That part was disappointing, since I've been considering some bigger commitments, like graduate school. Clearly I'm not cut out for being spread thin. Maybe it's my current stage in life, but the thought of taking on anything bigger than this is overwhelming. 


That said, I'm still looking to sign up for the intermediate version of this class, which starts in August. I'm so glad I took the chance on learning something new.