Five Tips For Taking Fantastic Fall Photos

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Autumn really tends to steal the show in terms of natural beauty, dontcha think?  This year I took a trip to Asheville, NC and after cruising up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway I don’t think I’ll ever take fall for granted again.  I spent three days hiking, driving and simply sitting and looking at leaves.  After the trip I mentally cataloged what went well and what went wrong in terms of the photos I took.  I thought it might be helpful to share a couple fall photography tips here in case you want to capture the season.

  • Zone in.  Don’t be afraid to focus in on one tree, one branch, even one leaf!  Get close, choose your angle and go for it.  While the whole forest is beautiful sometimes when we constantly shoot at a wide angle, the viewer’s eye doesn’t really know where to focus when looking at the picture.  We kind of just see a mess of pretty hues instead of that amazing sugar maple with fiery red leaves. While you’re busy looking up, don’t forget to look down and around too.  There are multitudes of berries, fungus and seed pods waiting to be photographed too.

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  • Photograph your subjects in open shade or on cloudy days.  Cloudy days are great for photographing people; the clouds act as a huge soft box eliminating all shadows.  Obviously you have no control over the weather, but avoid midday sun and its harsh shadows, instead find a big wide open area of shade (near a building, under tree cover, etc) and take portraits there. You should find that the light is even and diffused because of the shade, but still bright enough because you’re in a wide open area.  If the sun is peaking through and creating hot spots (over exposed areas) in your photo, it will be pretty distracting so look around and try to avoid that as best you can.  Shooting in open shade is more comfortable for you (not so hot!) and your subject (no squinting) and the balance of light between your subject and background won’t be as drastic and therefore much less confusing for your camera in turn creating a better image.

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  • Shoot when there’s weather. Shooting during a sunny day with blue skies is nice, but shooting when it’s stormy, foggy or rainy is more dramatic and interesting. Weather easily adds mood to a photograph without a subject present.  I especially like shooting dark blue stormy skies during the fall because the contrasting colors of the deep blue sky makes the orange leaves pop even more. Shooting in the rain (or right after if you want to stay dry) looks fantastic during fall.  The colorful leaves that normally look dry (well, cause they are) glisten and shine, which really brings out their color.  Think about how nice a car looks when it’s freshly washed and still has drips of water on it or how shiny your nails look when you put a clear coat on.. it’s all about the glisten ;)

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  • Try setting your white balance to Shade.  (Its symbol is usually a house with three diagonal lines next to it)  Shade basically warms up your photograph, which in turn will result in leaf hues closer to what you are seeing with your eyes.  Sometimes photography can be frustrating and disappointing because what we see isn’t what our camera sees.  It’s ok to use the camera as a tool to better create the scene in front of you.  Using Shade white balance is one way I’ve found to help the camera represent changing leaf colors more accurately. Try it and see if it works for you.

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  • Coordinate with the fall foliage.  We think about color whenever we’re trying to create something visually pleasing (interior design, picking out an outfit, choosing a palette for an art project) so it only makes sense to do the same when we’re creating photos.  If you know you’ll be the subject or the shooter, dress to compliment your scene!  This is especially easy in the fall because you generally know what colors to expect. Next time you are the subject of the photo, you’ll compliment the scenery and visa-versa.

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I planned on only dishing up five tips, but here’s a bonus that works for shooting in any season and setting: Shoot during the golden hour.  This rule basically runs every photographers life.  The light is warm and shadows are long, which creates for interesting and beautiful photographs.  If you want to shoot the changing leaves and natural scenery, shooting during the first hour and last hour of light is highly advantageous.  The colors of the yellow, orange and red leaves will look even more brilliant during the golden hour so plan your walks just before sunset!

Have fun and happy shooting! Oh and if you snap a shot using one of these tips, tag us on IG @liveseasoned because we would love to check it out :)

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Simple Twig Wreath

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Happy Fall! This foraged twig wreath screams autumn and the best part about it is it encourages you to go outside and prance around in the woods.  You’ll need to gather a bunch of twigs and sticks, which is really easy at this time of year.  The forest should be full of dry kindling waiting to be collected.  I wanted to create a natural looking decoration that was quick and easy, but also cheap.  This wreath ended up costing me nothing but time (most of which I spent looking for my glue gun) since I already owned the other materials.  I made a pretty big wreath because I wanted it to be the center of attention on my tiny shed wall.  First things first, think about where you’d like to hang your wreath and measure or eye it up so that you have a general idea of how big you’d like your finished product to be.

Supplies:

  • thick cardboard
  • pen
  • scissors
  • tape
  • twine
  • glue gun
  • big ol’ pile of twigs

Steps:

  • Step 1: Draw a donut onto some scrap cardboard (I traced a random jar, but it doesn’t have to be perfect) and cut it out.  My cardboard seemed flimsy so I cut two identical donuts and taped them together with masking tape.
  • Step 2: Dispense a line of glue on one side of your donut. Press the twine into it and wrap it neatly around the donut.  Continue dispensing glue (on what will be the back side of your donut) and wrapping twine until you cover the entire donut.  Cut a length of twine (mine was about 4 inches) and tie it in a loop around your donut so you can hang it up later.
  • Step 3: Now it’s time to place the twigs.  This is where you can let your creativity come through.  Do you want a wreath of all tiny twigs? Bigger sticks? Bark or no bark? That’s all up to you.  I wanted something that looked really rustic so I strived for lots of variation in both size and color.  Start by placing the 12 o’clock and three o’clock sticks, but don’t glue them down yet.  Choose sticks to fill in the space between 12 and 3.  Once you have a quarter of your wreath laid out, you can begin hot gluing the sticks to the donut.  Don’t rush this process, glue each stick individually and pay attention to how they are arranged in the center of the donut. You will want the center to resemble a star when you’re finished.
  • Step 4: After you have filled in 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock section, place the 6 o’clock stick on the donut and repeat the process.  Continue until your entire donut is covered and your wreath is complete.
  • Because my wreath is so large, I wanted to create an additional layer of smaller twigs to add some depth.  I did this by repeating steps 1-3 and simple gluing my smaller wreath onto the larger one.

I had  a great time creating this project because there really is no way you can screw it up. It was a stress free craft project, which kind of equates to meditation for me.  I hate sitting idle, but sometimes I don’t feel like concentrating too hard on a project.  It’s also perfect for kiddos.  They can search for twigs and lay them out to their liking while a parent glues them to the donut.  Another reason I’m keen on this twig wreath, it gives me something to photograph in all seasons.  Have you ever taken the same photo over and over during each season?  It’s nice to have a single object that remains unchanged yet altered by whatever is going on in the shot (rain, sleet, snow).  I’m excited to see how this simple craft holds up this year and how pretty it will look with a dusting of snow :)

 

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Travel Bug: Bangkok, Thailand

From time to time, Katie and I will indulge our inner travel bug and share past, present and upcoming adventures with you. Today is our first of the feature, pack your bags, you’re headed to Thailand!

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If you have never ventured to Bangkok, you probably have a few ideas of what it is like from movies like The Hangover Part II, Dangerous Bangkok, and Into The Sun (plus a trillion other action movies); if you have been fortunate enough to miss those thrillers, picture bright lights, speedy taxis, street food and lots and lots of people.  Bangkok is one of those cities that takes you in, spins you around and spits you out.  Thankfully there are lovely Thai beaches just a bus ride away and after a week in BKK one needs a nap, a really long nap.

As a traveler, cities aren’t high on my list.  I try to stick to small towns and natural attractions; I tend to search for those hidden gems and slices of everyday living, but because I spent the better part of a year in Thailand, I learned to love and embrace Bangkok, a city with more than 7 million inhabitants.  I had the opportunity to explore Bangkok multiple times for various reasons like typical tourism, friend’s birthdays, English teaching orientation, family visits and weekend-long shopping sprees.  Each time I ventured into the city, I felt more and more comfortable and willing to explore new places and enjoy old hangouts.  Bangkok was no longer an enormous scary city (ok, it’s still pretty huge), but rather a transit hub and pit stop that I visited every month while living in Thailand.  I began to recognize neighborhoods, streets, parks, particular statues, elevated walkways, and even specific vendors and food carts, it became a city of smaller neighborhoods and much more manageable to wrap my head around.

If you are planning a trip to Thailand and you want to experience the whirlwind that is Bangkok, I present you with the Bangkok City Guide! Do some research before you go (what/where do you want to experience, eat, and sleep?), but for the most part let the city guide you, you’ll probably get lost a couple times, but you’ll also find something mystical that no city guide or website could have warned you about.

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Getting around:

  • Tuk Tuk – My favorite type of transit for short trips. Tiny, a little bit scary and definitely not safe, tuk tuks are always an adventure.  Tuk tuks will get you where you need to go quicker than a taxi, but don’t take them during rush hour.  Sitting at exhaust level in standstill traffic will certainly take years off your life (I have no scientific evidence, only experience).  Tuk tuk rides are cheap (usually $1-$3) and the fare should be negotiated before you agree to go anywhere.  Haggle in increments of 5-10 baht and make sure you and the driver are happy with the agreed upon fare before take off.
  • Taxi – I have mixed feelings about taxis in BKK. On one hand, you don’t have to negotiate a fare, on the other hand, half of the drivers have no idea where you’re trying to go.  The fare is metered, so you are guaranteed a fair fare, har har. (If a driver doesn’t turn on his meter, ask him to do so, if he refuses, do not get into the cab.)  Drivers in BKK don’t have to pass a qualification exam so many of them know some parts of the city, but not all and especially not specific stores, restaurants and hotels.  I got into the habit of carrying a city map with me and always (ALWAYS!!) having a card in my wallet with the hotel name and address written in Thai. Half of the time I felt like my driver toured the entire city before taking me to my destination.  They are either too shy, greedy or embarrassed to ask for directions or kick you out of the cab.  I’ve found tuk tuk drivers simply shout out their questions and directional issues to other drivers en route and resolve any issues rather quickly.
  • Bus – I rarely took the bus to get around BKK, but then again, I rarely take the bus in any city.  I find buses to be slow, cumbersome and unpredictable.  If I’m going to navigate traffic, I want something small like a tuk tuk or taxi and if I want to skip out on rush hour, I’ll squeeze into the skytrain.  Bus travel is cheap, usually ranging from 50 cents to a dollar. There are also a number of buses that run 24/7. I shy away from buses because roads could be closed, buses could be out of service, etc. I think the possibility of getting completely lost and turned around and not having anyone to help me through the confusion scares me a little bit (flashback to getting lost in north Philadelphia as an 18-year-old…).
  • BTS Skytrain – Is the cleanest, most reliable and also most expensive option.  Personally, I loved the skytrain.  If you like to eliminate risk in your life, this option is for you.  Simply look at the transit map and signage (it’s all in English) and you’ll have no troubles. Just make sure you walk the right direction once you’re off the skytrain (says the gal who walked approximately 1.5 miles in the wrong direction…) A single ride costs anywhere from 50 cents to $1.50 and a day pass is $4. The skytrain is squeaky clean (polar opposite of subways) and air conditioned.  During rush hour it is crazy crowded, but fortunately having body odor is considered offensive in Thai culture so getting a stinky pit in your face is far from average.
  • MRT Subway – The MRT is similar to the skytrain, quick, clean and reliable.  It is also similarly priced and can get really crowded during morning and evening rush hour. There was severe flooding in Thailand during 2011 and the MRT was under construction (because of flooding repairs and also because it is a relatively new transit system).    I didn’t take the MRT a lot, but mostly because it was always an afterthought.

Sleeping Around:

  • Lub d Bangkok Silom –  only the best hostel ever. Seriously.  Lub d (meaning ‘sleep well’) is clean, safe and really cool.  It’s only two blocks from the skytrain (Chong Nonsi station) and it’s located in Chinatown, which has a lot of great street food and markets and it’s close to the cooking class.  Lub d has a variety of rooms so if you’re not comfortable sharing, it’s all good, they have you covered.  If you are interested in a common room, each bed has it’s own locker so your stuff is super secure.  I love Lub d because they have a 24 hr reception staff (super handy if you’re headed to the airport really early or if your taxi picks you up two hours late and you arrive in Bangkok at 1 a.m.), storage room for your luggage (in case you check out, but want to explore without toting everything around), free wifi and lots of common space (bar, cinema and stellar library).  I cannot say enough great things about Lub d. Lub d is pricy as far as Thai hotels go (ranging from $15 for a dorm style room –  $28 for a private double), but it is worth every penny.
  • U-Baan Guesthouse – quaint and convenient. I liked U-Baan (meaning stay home) for it’s size and location.  It’s located close to the skytrain (Wong Wain Yai station) yet it’s out of the hustle and bustle of BKK. There is street food nearby and tons of taxis waiting to take you out on the town.  In extremely crowded areas finding a taxi at night can be tough. Prices ranged from $10-$15 per bed.
  • Most hotels that I stayed at in Bangkok were great, the two above just stood out to me.  Hotels in BKK will cost anywhere from $15-$$$.

Eating Out:

There really is no way to go wrong in terms of chow in Thailand.  Instead of telling you specific restaurants or carts, I’ll give you a rundown of my favorite dishes while I was abroad.  Each of these dishes should cost about $1 on the street.

I was mainly a vegetarian in Thailand so a lot of these dishes are veggie heavy unless you specify.  To alter the dish you add the adjective to the end of the name of the dish.  To add chicken say ‘Guy’ for instance: ‘Pad Thai Guy,’ with pork say, ‘Moo,’ with only vegetables say, ‘Mang Sow E Rat’ and to make it vegan say, ‘Jeh’  I have spelled the names of each dish the way they’re pronounced, good luck ordering!

  • Pad Thai – You’ve all had it (hopefully) it is much different and way better when it’s made on the street in BKK. Squeeze a lime over your dish and enjoy!
  • Pad See Uw – Is basically veggie stir fry with a broad noodle tossed with garlic soy sauce. It is delicious and filling.
  • Khoa Pad Pak – Is your basic stir fried white rice made with veggies and soy sauce. To add an egg (my favorite way to eat it) say, ‘Khoa Pad Pak Khi Dow.’
  • Som Tum – Green papaya salad and a must eat!  It’s a spicy salad made with crunchy papaya and peanuts with a sauce made of fish sauce (but it doesn’t taste fishy at all), sour lime, sugar and hot peppers.  Say, ‘My Phet’ if you want it less spicy, which I highly recommend (don’t worry you’ll still be sweating).
  • Khao Niaow Ma Muang – Mango sticky rice a.k.a the best dessert ever.  This dessert is delicious heaven, but it is sweet and heavy so make sure you find someone to share it with.

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A couple tips:

  • Order your drinks without ice.  The ice is often made with dirty water and/or is transported in unsanitary ways (read: block of ice carried on a shirtless man’s back)  By ordering your drink without ice you have a better chance of staying healthy in Thailand.
  • Visit places that you think you know, like 7/11. You’ll be surprised and delighted by all the differences.
  • Try crazy looking fruits, I assure you that they are all delicious even if you have no idea what you just ate.
  • Point, smile, laugh and pay. You may order your new favorite dish or you might accidentally get a sad looking omelet on top of white rice.
  • Eat the bugs!! I did and I lived. You only live once and who knows, in ten years we might all be eating bugs.

Acting Out:

  • Silom Thai Cooking School – The experience I had at Silom is so near and dear to me.  Katie (shout out to the other half of live seasoned!) came to visit me in Thailand and this was one of our favorite activities. Spending a few hours learning a new skill with her was a lot of fun and something I will never forget.  That single experience has tempted me to take a cooking class whenever I travel, but I can never seem to find one so reasonably priced and educational.  The class ($30 per person) included a market tour (of a nearby veggie market) and an explanation of essential to Thai cooking ingredients.  After the market tour, you spend four hours creating six different Thai dishes and they send you home with a cookbook! Each student sits on the floor with their own cutting board and ingredient basket and prepares the meal while the chef explains the how and the what of it all. Then you take your ingredients to your individual wok and burner to prepare the dish!  The class was run smoothly with lots of instruction, explanation and true to Thai culture lots of jokes and smiles. Culture and cuisine are my two favorite aspects of travel and this cooking class combines both. Double score!
  • Pak Khlong Talat (flower market) – Take a quick trip here in the early morning.  It’s more of a wholesaler experience so I didn’t buy anything, but the sheer number of flowers and vendors is truly amazing and beautiful.  This market won’t take up a bunch of your time so it is definitely worth seeing. Don’t bother visiting after 10 a.m. though, it quiets down a lot and you won’t think it’s that impressive.
  • Chatuchak (weekend market) – If you like shopping, even a little bit, you must take a trip to the weekend market.  The market is 27 acres of stalls (over 15,000!) so you can really find a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. Lots of folks are overwhelmed by the market because of the tight spaces, large crowds, and strange smells, but that was all part of the charm for me.  My advice? Keep your wallet close, haggle a lot, and venture deep into the center of the market.  You’ll find that there are lots of different sections in the market, anything from spice collections, home goods, handmade designer clothes, pets (cue strange smells), books and souvenirs.  There is so much to take in (and buy!), which is why I went to the market five times while I lived in Thailand! I still regret not buying the big ziplock baggie of saffron for $5. I would mention stalls and food stands to check out, but really that is part of the adventure of it all and who knows, maybe you’ll find something even tastier than I did!
  • Soi Cowboy – If you want to drink and dance, go to Soi Cowboy.  It is definitely pricier than most clubs and bars in Bangkok, but it is also more upstanding.  You probably won’t get hit on by prostitutes here (unfortunately that is the reality of many nightclubs in Bangkok) and you’ll go home with your wallet.  That comes with a price though, these clubs charge entrance fees and they are packed to the gills. The music is usually electronic or a live DJ and you might find that you (and your American friends) are one of the few who are dancing!  No lie, we had to encourage beg and plead with the club goers squeezed in beside us to dance so that we had room to move around!
  • Grand Palace –  If you’re the type to check out amazing architecture than head over to the Grand Palace! It was particularly hot and very VERY crowded when we went so I can’t say I had the best time.  It’s worth visiting if you like that type of thing though!
  • People watching – Everywhere and anywhere. The city is the best place to pick a seat and take it all in.  I love people watching and BKK provides some interesting sights.
  • Khaosan Road – You’ll probably hear about Khaosan. My advice is to stay far away.  In my opinion, it’s a pretty trashy touristy street, not much culture or authenticity to be found. That being said, since lots of tourists frequent Khaosan there are a plethora of delicious restaurants in the area, especially Ethos Vegetarian Restaurant.  Ethos has a variety of  healthy vegetarian options, which can sometimes be hard to find on street carts.

Man this post made me really miss Thailand and that sweet penguin watch that I found at Chatuchak. I hope you enjoyed hearing a big about Bangkok and its endless possibilities.  Have you been? Have anything specific you’d like to share? Let us know!

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Halloween Costumes…

First a disclaimer – this is a work-in-progress post. We don’t have any fantastic costume photo shoots yet, as we’re still finishing up our costumes, but I wanted give you a little update.

I feel like it’s been so long since I really dressed up for Halloween. For the past few years we’ve sat around the house (waiting for those dozen or so trick-or-treaters to show) and would throw on something from my bag of old Halloween costume parts from years past. Witch’s hat, Eskimo, and giant pumpkin for the win! This year Calder said we had to get serious – “don’t get out your witch’s hat” may have been a direct order. Luckily, some serendipitous inspiration struck not once, but twice, last weekend.

Moment 1: It began with me ordering this baby jailbird costume out of desperation. Did you see those tattooed arms?! A few hours after placing the order, I remembered Oh Happy Day’s strongman costume from last year – so awesome, right? And perfect for Little A. If he’s a strongman, then I’m happy to partner up as the bearded lady. And now we have a pair of costumes for our town’s Halloween parade.

Moment 2: Calder was randomly telling me that he wanted to bring 70′s fashion back (no joke). Minutes later we wandered into vintage store and found the most amazing 70′s clothes! Calder walked out with a pair of plaid pants and three rayon shirts with extra large lapels. Me? I’m the proud new owner of a psychedelic jumpsuit. All we needed was a disco ball. Enter Alex. And now we have the family costume theme that we needed for a friend’s party next weekend!

Making the Disco Ball

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Little A is a mover, and we have a strong feeling that he’s not going to put up with having a costume with a lot of frills, bulk, or even a hat. So we have to keep everything simple and make sure that it’s still easy for him to move. What we wanted to do here was to make him a sequined shirt that he could still easily move in. We thought about stuffing it to give him more of a ball shape, but his big belly is round enough.

I’ve been holding on to a sequined dress since high school (thank you Christmas band concert), knowing that it would come in handy eventually. Our plan was to make a simple sequined shirt/vest for Alex to wear over a black shirt and pants. Originally I thought I would use black felt to make the shoulder straps and snaps for closures (shown in the materials photo above), but as it turns out, I didn’t need either!

The straps on the top of the dress, are almost perfectly spaced for little A’s shoulders. So, all I had to do was take in the sides slightly, and shorten the dress to the length we wanted. The one challenge to shortening it was that the long zipper. In the photo above on the right I’m showing you where the zipper ends with my thumb and how short I want it with my finger.

The dress’ sides had been brought in once before (red thread above). I wanted to bring in the seams by another inch or so, and I was going to cut off the excess fabric so that it didn’t add bulk. The one challenge I faced was that the sequins seamed to eat up the thread, and I would end up with gaps without stitching. I was using a cotton thread, maybe there’s a better choice? I handled it by just sewing the same line a few times, and it worked well enough.

The next challenge was the zipper. I’m not a zipper expert, but I do know that these zippers with small-ish plastic teeth are easy to shorten. You begin by marking the point that you want to be the new bottom of the zipper. At that point you’ll sew a bar tack over the zipper’s teeth. To do this, set your machine on a zig-zag stitch that is just wider than the zipper’s teeth with the stitch length as short as it can go (so you’re sewing back and forth over the zipper at the same point). I began by testing the stitch without thread in the needle, manually moving the needle to test stitch widths and making sure that the zipper was perfectly centered so that I wouldn’t hit its teeth with the needle.

After the bar tack is sewn, I cut out the zipper’s extra teeth, keeping my scissors as close to the teeth as possible and leaving the zipper tape intact. To close the hole that was made by the missing zipper, I sewed the excess dress hem (that would have covered the zipper) to the zipper tape on the opposite side, closing that hole. You can see this line of stitching in the photo above on the right. At this point I had a segment of the dress that was the correct width and could be  cut to the right length for the little guy. So, it was time to try it on and get that final length measurement!

He was a willing model first thing in the morning – as long as I didn’t mind him running around with his dog named Cat. He was super excited when he figured out that Cat could ride the bike by sitting in the water bottle holder. With the fitting done, I cut the dress to the length we wanted and our disco ball costume was complete!

Making the Strongman

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If you do a search for strongman costumes, you’ll find that there are plenty of ideas out there, so we’re just re-inventing the wheel here. Right now my big decisions are which outfit he should wear. I bought the red and navy blue leggings from Old Navy. Note that you have to look in the girls’ section of their site and store for leggings. The tank top onesies are from American Apparel. I used the sharpies to draw tattoos on the women’s stockings. As yet to be completed - his barbell is going to be made from the two styrofoam balls and a shortened segment of the dowel.

I ended up with the two outfits, because I wasn’t sure what I would find at each store, so I thought it was better to have options and I’ll return whatever doesn’t make the cut. I think we’re leaning towards the black stripes and red pants, what do you think? The next choice is whether we cut the pants or not – I think it’ll look good either way. We’ve had some unseasonably warm 70+ degree days here, so I may wait and see what kind of weather we’re dealing with the day of the parade.

As you can see, Alex wasn’t really up for a fashion shoot when we had him try this on. But it was definitely helpful – the stockings are too wide for his arms. On the one hand, this makes it reasonable to have him wear a shirt under the stockings if it’s cold and/or I could stuff them to give him some muscles. Although, I’m also thinking that it could be worth it to buy a pair of small stockings sized for little girls or babies…

We’ll be sure to share the final costumes at the end of the week!

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Until then, how about a few more disco shots, crazy eyes and all!

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Two Bits

Each Friday we share some tidbits from our week.  We want to break down these internet barriers and invite you into our lives and we’re hoping you’ll do the same.  You are welcome to share a bit of your week or day in the comments, or if they’re better represented by a photo, tag us on instagram @liveseasoned

Sarah Here:

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I had a fantastic fall week!  I took a road trip to Asheville, NC and I camped creekside for a couple days.  The weather was actually a bit cooler than I anticipated, but it was nice warming up near the campfire each night.  Kevin, Cash the dog, and I spent our days winding along the Blue Ridge Parkway and visiting tiny towns and hiking trails in the Blue Mountains.  We spent our evenings eating out in Asheville, which was a welcome treat for the both of us.  If you’re headed to Asheville anytime soon, head to Over Easy Cafe for breakfast and Farm Burger for lunch or dinner.  Also, hit up Wicked Weed or one of the other dozen breweries for a buzz.  We wished we had more time to explore, but the little bit that we saw we enjoyed so much.  I had about a dozen more shops and restaurants on my to-visit list so I know I’ll be back.  I’m actually thinking that Asheville is the next stop on my home tour and Farm Burger is definitely helping the case as far as Kevin is concerned!

My other bit is the satisfaction of packing up a whole lotta bits.. I’m packed up and ready to move out! At noon today I’m going to pick up at 16 foot box truck, just imagine that while you’re on your lunch break ;) I’m moving into an apartment with high ceilings and a big backyard. It’s actually smaller than the place I’m renting now, but the outdoor space makes up for it. I can’t wait to film my inaugural house tour! Hope your Friday is a bit more relaxing than mine, but just as exciting :)

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Fall Cheese Trifecta

While apples may be our ingredient of the season, cheese is definitely our snack of the season. So far we’ve spent more time exploring condiments to pair with our favorite cheese rather than the vast world of cheese varieties, but we’re ok with that, because these combinations are top notch!

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With today’s combination, I’m not sure who’s the star. Our delicious homemade apple butter? Carr’s hearty whole wheat crackers biscuits? Or the ever reliable bite of Cabot’s Extra Sharp cheddar? I do know that when you put the combination together you create a hearty snack that evokes the flavors of season and will satisfy the hunger you build up while outside on these crisp fall days.

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If you haven’t had a Carr’s whole wheat cracker yet, add them to your next grocery list. You’ll find them to be much more substantial than a typical cracker. The whole wheat really fills you up, but they also have a touch of sweetness that makes it seem like you’re eating more of a cookie than a cracker. It’s hard to explain, but I know that I can eat two or three with a cup of tea and consider it the perfect mid-morning snack. 

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We’ve already raved about our love of apple butter in this post, so there’s not much more to say there. Other than to remind you to pick up a sack of apples and get yourself a jar.

Then there’s the cheese. Do you have a favorite cheddar? Whenever I want a basic, not too expensive cheddar that has that perfectly sharp bite, I look for Cabot’s Extra Sharp. The description on their site says it best, the cheese is “creamy white in color with an almost crumbly texture and has a sophisticated, citrusy tang”.

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Cheddar gets its name from an extra step in the cheese-making process called cheddaring where loaves of curds are allowed to set until they reach a certain acidity, they are then cut into loaves, stacked, and turned every 10 minutes until further acidity points are reached. While changing the acidity, this process adds flavor and creates the crumbly texture that cheddars are known for. After the batch has been cheddared and salted, the curds are placed into cheese molds and aged for anywhere from 1 month to over 10 years, depending upon the type of cheddar being made. The Cabot Extra Sharp is aged for anywhere from 9 to 14 months (whereas their mild cheddar is aged for just 2 to 3 months).

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Want a few more fun cheddar facts?

  • It’s the second most popular cheese in the US behind mozzarella
  • Our average annual consumption is 10 lbs per person!… my personal consumption is more like 20 lbs (minimum)
  • The cheese originated in the English village of Cheddar in the 12th century
  • Easy Cheese is not cheddar
  • A single 1 oz serving gives you 20% of your daily calcium requirements
  • And what do you call the hunk of cheddar sitting in my fridge? Nacho cheese! ha!
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A Bewitching Window!

Other than decorating our mantel, my Halloween preparations have been totally stalled, but with Halloween so close I really wanted to do something at the front of our house. We have a small porch area and a single window that faces the sidewalk. I was extra motivated to make this happen because we’re also close to the mailbox cluster, so a lot of neighbors pass by, and I wanted them to see something fun. I haven’t made any progress on the ghosts I mentioned, but while walking the Halloween isles I came up with an idea for the window : create a fabric panel with a witch silhouette! 

 

I know that they sell window silhouettes, and some look like they’re great (a full-window design with a translucent background), but others are just the silhouette, so if you don’t have translucent shades or a curtain, the silhouette won’t have as much of an impact because peepers will be distracted by everything else in your window (know what I mean?). Plus, I thought it would be a creative challenge, and if it worked I would be able to re-use it for years!

I’m going to share my general how-to and materials, but not a specific pattern. This is such a simple project that you should be able to easily tailor it to your window and decoration theme (bats! ghosts! ghouls!).

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Materials & Tools

  • thin white or creme colored fabric measured an inch wider and at least two to three inches longer than your window. It will be enough to cover your window with a half inch seam along the two sides and bottom and a to sew a wider “hem” in the top for a tension rod.
  • black fabric large enough for your design
  • Heat’n'Bond large enough for your design. I accidentally bought the thin version that you can sew through, but you should buy the thicker stuff that doesn’t require sewing (note, I still didn’t sew mine, but I’m worried that it might not bond as well over the long run).
  • pencil
  • ruler (optional)
  • scissors
  • sewing machine and thread

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How-to

  • pre-wash and iron all fabrics
  • Sew the seams around your white panel.
  • Iron the Heat’n'Bond to one side of your black fabric (it comes with instructions for iron temp and timing).
  • Draw your design on the paper of the Heat’n'Bond (This panel works when turned either way, so you don’t have to worry about your design coming out backwards – you just flip the curtain, but if you include words, then one side of your window will always read them backwards).
  • Cut out your design – cutting through the Heat’n'Bond paper and your black fabric.
  • Remove the paper backing from the Heat’n'Bond, place your silhouettes on your white panel. Iron the silhouettes following the Heat’n'Bond instructions.
  • Hang your curtain and settle in for a spooky night!

Tips & Tricks

  • I Googled “witch silhouette” and found the image that I very closely followed for this project. If you’re looking for ideas just search for “halloween silhouette” and you’re sure to find something perfect.
  • Once I had my image, I free-handed the drawing. To help with this process, I began by putting references points on the paper (for example, points where I wanted the top and brim of the hat to be, others for the hands and face, etc.). You can see them in the image above to the left. I then stood back and looked at those points to make sure that I liked the proportion and placement of my witch.
  • With those points in place I sketched a witch. I did this relatively quickly (5-10 minutes max), I didn’t go back and erase lines, and I didn’t aim for perfection. I always believe that if you give people the impression of an image they can fill in the details and overlook slight imperfections (our brother will whole-heartedly disagree with me). For example, is the bump at the back of her head a bun (my intention) or a wonky ear? You decide, but either way, you may not have focused on it until I brought it to your attention.
  • Finally, as well as giving you a paper to draw on, having the Heat’n'Bond stiffens your fabric so it also makes cutting and placing your silhouette so easy!

For being a random idea, I really love how this project turned out! It looks great in our window during both day and night. We hung the side with the silhouette facing out. So during the day, we get to see a shadowy silhouette image inside the house as the sunlight shines through, while everyone outside still sees the witch (I don’t think their view would be as good during the day if we hung it the other way around). You’ll get the same shadowy effect at night if there’s a street or porch light outside of your window. And one last hanging tip – Alex loves looking out of this window during the day, so I just use a couple of binder clips to secure the bottom of the panel to the top; it’s folded in half and we can see out of the bottom half of the window.

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**Costume update: C and I felt the costume pressure when we realized that the little guy has no less than 3 costume parties to attend! So we had a brainstorming session tonight and came up with some fun ideas!

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Easiest Caramel Dip

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As you know, apples are our ingredient of the season and with that in mind, I decided to make a childhood favorite of mine, caramel dip.  Over the years, my tastes for sweets has drastically decreased.  I’m now a dark chocolate lover and I tend to gravitate towards salty snacks, but when October rolls around I always think of my mom’s caramel dip.  She used to whip up a batch for friendly gatherings, holiday dessert tables and if my memory serves me correctly, the soccer concession stand.

This recipe is dubbed ‘the easiest caramel dip’ because you’re not actually making the caramels, you’re simply melting them and adding a couple other ingredients to achieve the right taste and consistency.  Its simple preparation (no knives involved!) makes it a great recipe for the kiddos to help with.  It can also be made a day or two ahead if you have a big party approaching and in my opinion, those are the best types of party foods.

The original recipe, which was dictated to me by my mom earlier this afternoon calls for Cool Whip.  My mom mentioned that she didn’t really know why the Cool Whip was added (since it’s mainly just oil) and that I could probably find a substitution for it, but that she never bothered.  Raising four kids, working full time, and constantly cooking for us, I can understand why she didn’t want to mess with a hit like her simple caramel dip.  Can you imagine the moans and groans we would have attacked her with if the dip didn’t taste right?  Anyway, after I went grocery shopping and snapped the first shot of the ingredients I realized I don’t have four kids and thus I could manage to experiment without any repercussions and such, this recipe contains Cool Whip no more! I opted to use a couple spoonfuls of coconut oil instead and to my delight, it turned out perfectly and you can’t taste the coconut one single bit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of Kraft caramel
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 2 TBSP coconut oil (or more to achieve desired consistency)

Easiest Instructions:

  • Unwrap all the caramels and put them in a small sauce pot along with the cream cheese.
  • Stir continuously on medium low heat until the caramels and cream cheese are completely melted and combined.
  • Stir in two tablespoons of coconut oil.  If you like a thinner dip, add a bit more coconut oil until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Remove from heat. Transfer to a small bowl and serve with sliced apples.

Along with sliced apples, I also dripped some of the caramel dip onto plain, unsalted popcorn and roasted, unsalted peanuts. It made for a sweet and crunchy treat.

Just so you know…

  • I’m moving in a few days and I had already packed up my kitchen so finding utensils, bowls and serving pieces for this post was the most challenging part!
  • The handle of my pot broke off (the screw came loose and slipped out) when I picked up the pot to transfer the caramel to a bowl. It slammed down on the stove and hot caramel splattered everywhere..
  • I almost spelled caramel, carmel for the entire post because I grew up next to Mount Carmel so naturally that’s how I’ve been spelling the sweet treat my entire life.  I never understood why some people pronounced caramel with three syllables, but now I get it.
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Colorado Hike: Flatirons 1 & 2

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About a month ago, Katie, Jeff (our brother) and I hiked the Flatirons 1 & 2 trail.  I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time since it was one of the most scenic hikes in Boulder, Co, so here goes!

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The hike starts at the Chautauqua Park trailhead.  Parking in the lot can be pretty tricky, especially on the weekends, but you can find additional parking on Baseline Road.  That being said, the trail is extremely crowded.  You won’t have the views to yourself, but hey, at least there is no chance of getting lost! After you find a parking spot, continue to the Chautauqua Park trailhead where the trail takes you through a lovely green meadow.  (Note that if you’re hiking right after a rainstorm, it will be pretty muddy since the trail is basically a path for runoff water. ) The Chautauqua trail connects with the Flatirons 1&2 trail and the signage is very clear as is the flow of people flocking to the Flatirons ;)

Over the course of this relatively short hike (about 2.5 miles) you will climb 1,400 feet in elevation.  Flatiron 1 is approximately 7,100 ft high, which makes for stunning views.  As you hike up the trail, there are plenty of outcroppings that are perfect for taking a break and enjoying the vistas.  The Flatiron trail is mainly switchbacks through thick forests of ponderosa pine that cut around enormous boulders.  Along the way, there are also several rock climbing access points.  Speaking of climbing, there is a very short section of the trail (about 15 feet) where you have to climb up a boulder.  There are footholds and handholds worn into the rock making it easy for adults, but I wouldn’t recommend taking children on this hike.  I would also turn back immediately if it starts to rain because the rocks will become slippery making a large portion of this trail fairly dangerous.

Once you finally wind up, up and up, the views are spectacular.  There are clear views of Boulder as well as amazing views of Flatiron 3, which is sure to have rock climbers scrambling up it.  The top of the trail is a perfect spot to stop and have a snack or a picnic, but remember to hike all your waste out with you, even banana peels!  The top if the trail is like an adult jungle gym.  You’ll see folks in all different nooks and crannies.  It goes without saying that you should be careful when you’re climbing from boulder to boulder, don’t knock into any rocks that may fall and injure someone at a lower elevation.  After you’ve climbed your heart out and took a bajillion pictures, it’s time to make your way down the ridge.  Be mindful of other hikers who are still making their way up and if they look like they need encouraging remind them that they’re almost there!

Geology Rocks! I say that far too often, but I just can’t resist.  Here’s a quick rundown of some geological properties of the flatirons.  I’m going to give some definitions in case you slept through your geology lab class.

  • A flatiron is a steeply sloping triangular landform created by the differential erosion of a steeply dipping, erosion resistant layer of rock overlying softer strata. Differential erosion is erosion that occurs at varying rates, caused by the differences in the hardness and resistance of surface materials so softer and weaker rocks erode rapidly, while harder rocks remain to form ridges, mountains, or ding, ding, ding, flatirons!  Strata is simply sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rocks are those formed by the deposition of material either on the earth’s surface or in water.   And wouldn’t you know it, the flatirons of Boulder coined this term, flatiron, in general geology.
  • Now you may be wondering how the flatirons first got their name, which then coined the geography term. Well, there are two theories: the rock faces close resemblance to old fashioned clothing irons or their resemblance to the Flatiron building in NYC, which was completed in 1902. (It’s a pretty sweet building, but personally I think it’s more likely they were named after the clothes iron, an object which many more folks were familiar with during the early 1900s)
  • The flatirons are made up of conglomerate sandstone of the Fountain Formation. Conglomerate sandstone basically means there are little clasts (bits of rock particles) mixed into the sandstone (rock comprised mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains). I don’t want to wind way down into a geological rabbit hole (for your benefit), but the Fountain Formation is a Pennsylvanian (the subsystem, not the state) bedrock unit found in Colorado and Utah that consists mostly of conglomerate sandstone or arkose.
  • The flatirons are estimated to be 290-296 million years old and they were tilted to their current orientation (the steep dip I referenced earlier) about 35-80 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny. The Laramide orogeny was a period of mountain building in western North America, which created the Rocky Mountains along with many other formations. I won’t go into right now, but it’s definitely interesting; if you like geology and want to learn more, read this.

What to expect:

  • Lots of hikers on the weekend.
  • Dogs both on and off leash.
  • Plenty of wildflowers, various vegetation and trees and beautiful views.
  • Two hours (or more) of hiking.
  • A couple tough climbs over boulders, but mainly a moderately steep and well maintained trail.

 

Before of after your hike, be sure to stop by the historic ranger cottage near the parking lot – you can’t miss it.  It has a wealth of information, free maps and dozens of stuffed birds and mammals.  I really enjoyed the station because I gained a better sense of what animals were sharing the forest with me.  It’s especially cool to see the animals you have very little chance of seeing in the wild like mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats.  If you want a little snack, continue past the ranger station for about a block and you’ll see a little refreshment cottage with homemade hard ice cream and just about everything else.

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After the hike and the ice cream you should probably treat yourself to an afternoon snooze! Happy hiking!

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Two Bits

Instead of the usual links posts, each Friday we’re going to start sharing some tidbits from our week.  We want to break down these internet barriers and invite you into our lives and we’re hoping you’ll do the same.  You are welcome to share your a bit of your week or day in the comments, or if they’re better represented by a photo, tag us on instagram @liveseasoned

Sarah here:

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This week I had two firsts!  Last night I went to the North Carolina State Fair and the night before I successfully canned a batch of caramelized onions. Simple pleasures, right?  The canning was actually easier than I expected.  I helped with a few canning projects in the past, but this was the first time doing it all by myself, with no instruction and in my own ill-prepared kitchen.  Cutting nine pounds of yellow onions by hand was a bit of a challenge tear fest.  Besides a food processor, my kitchen is also lacking large pots.  This made the whole process a little more time consuming, but nonetheless I ended up with ten half pints of delicious caramelized onions!  If you have a seasonal recipe I should try, please let me know :)

The NC State Fair was an equally awesome first.  I’m a big fan of fairs and festivals and this one didn’t disappoint.  It was much bigger than past fairs I’ve frequented, which meant more livestock, crafts, food and games.  I love winding my way through the exhibit halls and seeing the largest pumpkin or most prettiest cross-stitch.  I was a little disappointed in my appetite though.  I only had room for one order of mozzarella sticks! I replaced my time allotted for eating towards playing games.  I couldn’t find the bingo tent (it wasn’t listed on the map-can you believe that?!), but I did throw a few darts and toss a couple ping pong balls.  K even won three gold fish!  We named them Peppy, Grumpy & Stooge.

Katie here:

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Late for the second week in a row, I know! For me this week seems to have been all about food and moments of startitis.

On the food front, I can’t help but talk about our CSA yet again, because it’s so amazing how getting a box of vegetables delivered to you each week influences your eating, cooking, and recipe searches (and I know we’ve had a CSA before, but when you take a break and then start again, it’s BAM! vegetables in your face, fridge, and dreams). I could spend my whole day looking up new recipes and experimenting, but I don’t have that time at the moment, so I squeeze it in between moments of work and trips to the playground. This weekend I have plans to make a salsa verde with tomatillos that arrived last night and a cabbage-filled savory hand pie with a recipe from the original Moosewood Cookbook. The photo above is from my night of experimenting with new toppings for my favorite roasted veggie soup – more on that soon!

On my terrible case of startitis, this week has been a particularly slow work week, which is fantastic, but I realized that I should be taking advantage of the lull and working on every idea I’ve ever had. Which leads to finishing almost nothing! I started a new sweater for Alex, picked out a pattern for a sweater for me, dug into my fabric stash for a new halloween decoration idea (will share the details next week if it works), cheesecloth is sitting in the middle of the floor because I wanted to make ghosts for the front porch, and that’s next to a pile of yarn tagged for new winter hats for Calder and me. Let’s hope I accomplish one or two of those projects before my motivation wanes!

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