Andrea's blog


Hanging Around: ENO DoubleNest & 9ft Atlas Straps

Look what showed up this weekend!

Ayla used some birthday money that has been burning a hole in her money envelope for months and Ben and I bought a "family" ENO hammock so we could ALL enjoy hanging around...

The straps and included carabiners make them really easy to put them up, and thankfully, we have three trees in our yard that work perfectly to hang the two hammocks next to each other.  The set of 9ft straps also allow us to *just* reach across the diagonal of those trees too for better "adult" hammock-ing. 

Unfortunately, Ayla and Paxton didn't stay this peaceful for long.  When I went out to check on them, I found that Ayla had thrown berries in the air to make it "rain", which landed in Paxton's hammock, where he promptly--though inadvertently--stomped them and squished them all over the orange fabric as he wiggled around. 

Stained.  Instantly.  We should've bought black...

After a couple of washes (super-gentle hand-wash cold cycle!), the stains have faded, but they're still there.  They'll serve as a reminder that kids can't always handle "nice" things -- and "Nothing gold can stay."  

Thankfully, it wasn't torn--which really WOULD have been tragic.

And Ayla does LOVE her hammock.  She said she could "swing and rest and read and look at the trees ALL day long!"  With the gorgeous fall weather we've been getting, she just might.


Girl Scouts Badge Work: Digital Photography

Each of the moms in Ayla's girl scout troop take turns heading up a badge and running a meeting during the year.  Monday night was my night! We tackled the Digital Photography Badge.  

First we talked about the different kind of cameras: Point & Shoot, SLR & Mobile Devices

We talked about the diffferent settings: Automatic, Portrait, Sport, Landscape, Macro, Night, & Video

We discussed what makes a good photo and I gave them my 10 Tips for Taking Better Photos:

  1. Take LOTS of photos
  2. Change your perspective.
  3. Zoom In AND Out
  4. Turn off your flash.
  5. Check your background.
  6. Use the Rule of Thirds.
  7. Position your subjects.
  8. Read your camera's manual.
  9. Tell the story.

Then they headed out on assignment.  Each group was supposed to take 5 photos:

  • Portrait
  • Group of People
  • Detail
  • Landscape
  • Action

They seemed to have a lot of fun and we managed to cram a lot into one short meeting.  If we'd had more time, we would have spent some time editing and creating a project with our pictures, but we DID talk about all the cool things you can do with digital photography.



Our neighborhood is starting to get their Halloween decorations out, so Ayla and Paxton have been asking again and again if we could decorate too. Last night, we made it happen.  We limit our Halloween decorating to the playroom and the front porch, though I'm sure they wish we had a huge and elaborate yard setup like many of our neighbors do.  I don't have quite that kind of commitment when we only get about 5 trick-or-treaters at our house. :)

So, for a few weeks, we have a pumpkin mantle...

And happy kids...(this accidental photo turned out to be nice and spooky!)

We've had a couple of crisp fall-like days this year...but today we're back up in the 80's and wearing shorts with the air conditioning on. :(  We'll just be thankful the air conditioning is working though!  The motor died out a couple of weeks ago, and Ben was able to replace a couple of parts and get it working again.  He's awfully handy...


Super Blood Moon

I didn't realize what a phenomenon it was, but when Ben told the kids about the Super Blood Moon lunar eclipse that was going to happen last night, I picked up my camera and went outside with them to check it out. 

It was a fairly cloudy night here in Hoover, Alabama, so unfortunately, a good portion of the time, the eclipse was covered by clouds, but the clouds parted just long enough for us to get a peek of the process and the red hue.

It was a pretty cool thing to see--and I was impressed with how well my camera worked -- I can't take much credit for the photos other than pressing the shutter button.  My equipment did all the work.  My new Canon T6s camera and Sigma 18-250mm lens did all this in automatic settings with the flash turned off.  I did take out my tripod  after I got such a great shot without one (the top photo in this post), to get the photo above when the clouds parted again a little later in the evening.

And though it's grainy, I was even able to take a photo of Ayla and Ben watching the eclipse without having to use a flash.  Yay for a high ISO! :) Now I'm looking forward to taking some fun campfire pictures in a couple of weeks!


So Long Big Tree...

Isn't it funny how something you rarely think about can actually hold so many memories?  This big tree next to our driveway has been a part of our daily life for over 8 years.

We trimmed it back the first day we arrived so that our moving truck would fit in the driveway. 

I took the kids' photos against the trunk of the tree more times than I can count.

We used it as a guide for where to back out of the driveway every single day that we've lived in this house. 

And Janel accidentally backed into it once--since then, I've called it Janel's tree. :)

How is it that a tree that was such a big part of our daily life rarely showed up in my photos?  I went digging and was finally able to find these photos (above) from the day we looked at this house when we were thinking about buying it, back in 2007.  And Google Maps street view can show us what it looked like this past winter:

Unfortunately though, something must have happened to this big old tree this year, because the leaves never grew back this spring and it was totally dead. :(

We are in the middle of having a whole bunch of landscaping work done in our backyard (more on that soon!), so last Friday when the tree-guys that work with our landscaper offered to chop it down for us for a good price, we jumped at the chance--and it came down within hours!

And by another great stroke of luck, the limb truck that we've all been waiting on for WEEKS to pick up piles of sticks and tree limbs all over the neighborhood showed up just an hour after the tree was down and all the workers had disappeared.  Paxton was entertained as he watched the man work on grabbing all those sticks and dropping them into his truck.

It was actually kind of sad to say goodbye to this tree, and we really hope whatever happened to it doesn't happen to the other great big tree in our front yard.

For now, it's a whole lot sunnier in the front yard, and I've got to find a new way to know where the driveway ends and grass begins when I back the car out of the driveway!

So long big tree!  We will miss you...


Living Room Updates

Two years.  That's how long I've been searching for a TV stand for the living room.  It took up entirely too much of my brain-power and it's been a thorn in my side.

It's official. I like "decorated".  I do not like "decorating."

But, today, I'm happy to cross it off my list (along with several other new additions to the living room over the past several months) - new end table, new lamps, and new coffee table. 

Can I call this room finished yet?


Six Inches = Worlds of Difference

Ever since we moved into this house 8 years ago, the microwave and oven situation has annoyed us.  The microwave was mounted WAY too low, and we couldn't get to the knobs for the stove and oven without bending over and reaching past the pots to access them.  Not to mention the fact that the oven was a hideous black with white trim (that we painted black a couple of times over the years, but the paint kept chipping).  Plus, the microwave door has broken and been patched together a couple of times on our watch.  It was a pretty sub-par situation for an otherwise, pretty-nice kitchen.

*photo taken during home inspection before we purchased the house

Earlier this summer, we decided we were ready to replace both the microwave and oven and finally address the height issue for the microwave.  But...that meant we had to lose a cabinet that was way too long for that spot, and since the cabinets were installed about 15 years ago, we were unlikely to find a new shorter 24" cabinet to match.  So we had to improvise. 

Here's a little better photo of how it looked a few years ago before we painted the kitchen:

One Saturday in June, we removed the cabinet and took down the microwave to see what we had to work with.  All summer, we've been cooking with the microwave on a 4ft table in the dining room, while we ordered new appliances and brainstormed ways to hang the new microwave higher.  It seems like it would be a simple project, but there are *always* challenges to work around. When we removed the cabinet, we had to finish off the ceiling, build a shelf, notch around the wood in order to use the outlet that was exactly behind where the top of the microwave needed to hang, deal with a pocket door behind the wall (which makes anchoring a shelf & microwave tricky), and try to find trim that matched our cabinets to keep it all looking "on-purpose".  Renovators deserve big bucks.  This stuff is not easy.

It took us all day, and LOTS of tools, but Ben built  a new shelf (that we now need to find something cool to put up there), mounted the microwave at an appropriate height (though Paxton disagrees), and we can now enjoy our new appliances.  Thankfully, we found a few strips of matching trim in the garage, an almost-same-color wood board to create a drop-ceiling, and we didn't kill each other or break anything else in the process! 

It may not look exciting to you, but this is an 8-year-old annoyance solved for us!

UPDATE:  We filled the gap. :)

It's nothing special, and might get replaced one day if we find something with a little more meaning or sentiment, but for now, these three items from At Home will certainly do...


Summer Hair

I was looking to look a little different, and am not *quite* ready to chop all my hair off yet.  (I'm tempted...but it sure takes a long time to grow out.)  So instead, I added a little more sunshine to my dark hair:

Bayalage Long Brown Hair

I had my hair stylist add more balayage highlights and some more layers.  Looks pretty bright!

Long Hair Balayage

Long Hair Balayage Technique

My hair has never been so light.  But hey, why not?  Summer is just around the corner...

Long Curly Hair Balayage Color


Las Vegas Photo Scavenger Hunt

Last October, when my brother and I met my mom out in Las Vegas for a weekend visit, I told her she should make us a scavenger hunt like she used to do for our birthday parties when we were kids.  She took me seriously! 

She compiled a list of 100 things for us to find (and photograph) while we were there -- most were general "Las Vegas" things, and some are specific to her world in Las Vegas.  While we visited and took in some Las Vegas sights, the hunt made for a really fun theme throughout our weeked of silly things to look for.

Since we had such a good time doing it, we wanted to share the list, a few of the photos we collected during our scavenger hunt, and offer a challenge for anyone else making a Las Vegas trip!

Try the Fabulous Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt - 100 Items to Find!

Download Printable PDF:
Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt List

Download Printable Word Document:
Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt List

This would be so much fun to do with a big group of people--or two groups, who could compete for the most points!

How many can YOU find in a weekend in Las Vegas?

  1. Photo of everyone in your party doing a shot

  2. Brochure from any wedding chapel in Las Vegas

  3. A photo of you with a man or woman who has a Mullet

  4. Take a picture with an impersonator

    Las Vegas Photo Scavenger Hunt

  5. Sneak into a random strangers group photo

  6. Photo of you with a guy named Steve (ID required)

  7. Get a piggyback ride from a stranger

  8. Take a picture in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign past Mandalay Bay

    Las Vegas Scavavenger Hunt - Bachelorette Party

  9. Take a photo with a Roman guard (they're only out at certain times) at Caesar's

  10. Some moving sidewalk stunt

  11. Teeny flash mob. Must draft four strangers into your crazy dance

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  12. Poker chips from 3 different casinos ($)

  13. Menu from a fast food chain

  14. Ticket from Venetian Gondola ride ($)

  15. Coin bucket from a casino

  16. Glow in the dark necklace ($)

  17. Elvis related souvenir ($)

  18. Green craps dice ($)

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  19. Porn slapper cards of brunette, blonde and red head

  20. Cork from wine bottle

  21. Post card with Eiffel Tower on it ($)

  22. Timeshare promotional flyer

  23. UNLV sweatshirt ($)

  24. Beverage napkins from a casino

  25. Team pic with Flamingo Sign

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  26. A musician playing

  27. Team pic with Elvis

    Team Picture with Elvis - Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  28. Necklace beverage container ($)

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  29. Deck of cards

  30. Harley Davidson logo

  31. Matchbook from casino

  32. Mini salt & pepper from room service

  33. Do not disturb sign from hotel room

  34. Baggage check ticket

  35. Coca cola souvenir ($)

  36. Tacky Las Vegas souvenir ($)

  37. Pic of a bachelor/bachelorette party

  38. Paper place mat from Denny’s

  39. Pic with one of the M & M's

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  40. Business card from a pit boss

  41. Brochure from Madame Tousaurd's Wax Museum or the Titanic Exhibit

  42. A coupon book from one of the malls

  43. Beads from Freemont Street

    Beads on Fremont Street - Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  44. Monorail ticket ($)

  45. Picture with a Disney character

  46. Picture with water beverage seller or of guy on bridges asking for beer

  47. Picking an off strip casino/non Fremont Street casino and something from it

  48. Picture with the butts of women on Riviera doors

  49. Someone using a pay phone

  50. A tiger

  51. A shark

  52. A bike "cop"

    Las Vegas Photo Scavenger Hunt

  53. A crystal chandelier

  54. A juggling bartender

  55. Picture of a person wearing socks with sandals

    Las Vegas Photo Scavenger Hunt

  56. Picture of an armored truck

  57. Picture of anything that displays the time in a casino

  58. Roulette wheel displaying the number 00 was hit

  59. Someone with a piece of clothing with Elvis on it

  60. Sign with a "Z" in it.

  61. Photo of a man with a handlebar mustache

  62. Picture of a girl in a short, tight dress and high heels

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  63. Photo of a bride

  64. Photo of a divorcee (proof?)

  65. Hotel water bottles

  66. M&M's world bag

  67. A team picture with the million dollars at Binion’s

  68. Picture of a biker at Hogs n Heifers

  69. A team picture with some of the pit dancers at any of the casinos.

  70. Souvenir flat penny from a casino

  71. Picture in front of a fountain somewhere

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  72. A line of at least 10 taxis

  73. A body of water

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  74. An intricate, inlaid tile design in a floor

  75. An unusual handle on a door

  76. A Chicago t-shirt

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  77. Bellagio fountain

  78. Replica Arc de Triumph at Paris

  79. Pink flamingo's

  80. Ceiling in Bellagio

  81. Square tiny tiles on horse

  82. Picture of one of the team giving a bride a kiss on the cheek

  83. Bling

  84. Picture of your twin

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  85. A beautiful arrangement of flowers

  86. Someone teaching you a foreign song or dance and you guys singing/dancing it -bonus the farthest away foreigner

  87. Picture with a naked person

  88. Limo driver’s card

  89. Picture with a wine barrel

  90. Picture of you on TV

  91. 12 packets of salt - any fast food place

  92. A losing ticket from a sportsbook

  93. A pair of chopsticks

  94. A photo of any celeb

  95. A ticket stub to a movie ($)

  96. A pen from a casino hotel - must be "borrowed" from reception

  97. A picture of the inside of a toilet stall

  98. A Wirtz Distribution truck

  99. My license plate NOT in or on Audrey's Spyder, truck, or 5th Wheel

    Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

  100. Something unique, NOT on this list

Have fun & good luck!



Paxton's Fire Department Bedroom

A couple of weeks ago, we scored a great deal on a set of used bedroom furniture for Paxton's room.  His room had been a hodge podge of hand-me-down and Craigslist furniture, so this set was a very nice upgrade. 

I finally got around to hanging all his fire department-themed artwork last week and thought I'd share the "finished" photos.

Fire Department Themed Boys Bedroom

I've loved his bedding set that we bought at Target years ago.  Unfortunately, it's no longer available (though this one is similar) but we saw the same comforter on a bed in an episode of Good Luck Charlie this week!  Paxton thought that was pretty cool. :)

Paxton Fire Department Framed Canvas Print

About the artwork:

PAXTON Fire Truck Canvas Print

Last summer we stopped in Paxton, IL to see the fire station with Paxton's name all over it on our way home from Chicago.  While we were there, I took that photo hanging over his bed.  Believe it or not, the photo was taken through the glass of the fire station garage with my phone's camera! 

I had it printed at Zazzle as a 36" x 24" premium gloss canvas poster print, spray-mounted it to a cardboard backing and framed it in an open-backed barnwood frame that I bought on Etsy. 

It's like having his very own fire truck! :)

Wood "P"

Both of my kids have one of my wood signs in their room.  Paxton's is my basic brown Monogram Sign, though I've considered making him a "Paxton Fire Department" custom sign with hooks below it to hang costumes.  Maybe one of these days...

Framed T-Shirts

Framed T-Shirts

My dad (a retired Chief from the Chicago Fire Department) has provided us with TONS of CFD t-shirts over the years, so I used several of them in the artwork for Paxton's room.  Instructions for how I framed them are provided here in my Framed T-Shirt Art Tutorial.  The frames are all spraypainted red.

Framed Fire Department T-Shirt Art

Vintage Water Valve Handles as Drawer Pulls

Red Vintage Water Valve Drawer Pulls

Red Vintage Water Valve Drawer Pulls

Several of the drawer pulls on his large dresser were not staying on very well, and the baseball & football pulls that the seller had used in her son's room didn't really go well with Paxton's room. 

I've been eyeing some vintage water valve handles for years as an accent in his Fire Department bedroom, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to buy them! I found two sets of 4 red handles on Etsy from a store called palacecastaway

Boys Bedroom

Brick Wall!?

I'll probably never ACTUALLY do this, but if I was a regular home-decor DIY project blogger, I'd totally get some faux brick wallpaper and turn that back wall into a brick wall -- just like at the firehouses I grew up seeing in Chicago. :)

Boys Fire Station Themed Bedroom

So that's it, Paxton's new room. 

His reaction?  He gave me an appreciative nod and a "This is pretty impressive!" comment. 

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