Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love

Let's face it: the appliances in our kitchen were outdated. I'm willing to bet they came with the house, which would make them more than 10 years old. Which really isn't too bad compared to some of the other homes we've seen, but still.

We've learned to live with them, mainly because we've been saving pennies to put toward a new house and because they technically still worked. I mean, it would have been nice to be able to simmer something on the stove instead of only having two choices: boil or lukewarm. It also would have been nice to have a dishwasher that wasn't crazy loud (seriously, when that thing is on, I'm surprised the neighbors don't stop by and ask what all the racket is about).

So when our landlords (aka my parents) asked if they could take our old stove to use in another one of their properties and give us $400 toward a new one, we had a hard time saying no. Brian actually did a lot of the back-end research because I'm lazy I've been busy with other things and he ended up choosing a Kenmore stainless steel beauty. With my stamp of approval, of course.

Here's a before shot of our old stove. Nothing to really write home about.

And here's the new stove. Shiiiinnnnny. Five burners of awesome. (Just ignore that plastic wrap along the bottom handle). ;)

We debated whether or not to get an electric flattop instead, but since both Brian and I are such foodies we ultimately agreed that with gas you have a lot more control over the heat and intensity of flame than with electric. Yes, the handles are in front, which aren't terribly child-friendly, but they do come off with some coaxing (and every time Owen goes near the stove, I shout "DON'T TOUCH!!" and he usually gets the hint). However, the oven does have a locking mechanism that you don't need to activate the oven cleaning feature for, which is reassuring.

Anyone else get a shiny new appliance lately? Any tips on what to use the center burner for (apparently it's for casserole dishes, but any other uses for it?).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Camera Gear for Bloggers on a Budget

Are you a blogger who has been posting for less than a year and are wondering how in the heck to create high-quality photos on a limited budget?

Well then, come on in, my friend. Grab some coffee and a scone. Stay awhile.

I am a freelance photographer (currently on hiatus) and with a husband in grad school for the past few years and trying to survive on a meager PR income, I know a thing or two about getting high-quality photos on a budget. Now more than ever, having high-quality, original, and easily shareable photos on a blog is so important to increasing traffic and keeping readers engaged, especially ensuring they're good enough to grace other sites with higher standards and large followings like DwellingGawker and Tastespotting.

What a lot of newer bloggers don't know is that you don't have to purchase a ton of brand spankin' new/ expensive equipment right off the bat and sink yourself into a hole of debt. Because anyone who knows anything about photography knows that it's a hobby/profession that can get expensive quite quickly.

**Please note this post is strictly about photo equipment only - in future posts I'll cover tips and tricks when it comes to actually using your camera. Just want to get that out of the way so we're clear. :)**

From someone who has certainly been there, here's what I'd suggest:
  • Purchase or rent a middle-of-the-line DSLR camera body. Ones I'd recommend for beginners are the Nikon D5100, Nikon D90, Canon EOS 60D and Canon EOS Rebel T5. I know others who have had luck with Sony and Pentax, but since I don't personally have any experience with them I would read reviews carefully before choosing one from those brands. For reference, I have a Nikon D5000 that I bought gently used several years ago, and it's been serving me well ever since. I have had the best luck finding a camera body online as opposed to brick-and-mortar stores, but I would recommend going to a local camera store and trying the bodies out in-person before purchasing to determine which one would work best for you.
  • Purchase an inexpensive tripod. Many newer bloggers haven't (yet) trained themselves to hold the camera to allow for maximum stillness and focus - that's where a tripod comes in. Most blog images center around something that's stationary anyway (like food, fabric, furniture, etc.) so having a tripod will ensure your photos come out crisp every time. Look for one on Amazon  and find one that's middle-of-the-line (like this one) that can work for the time being (typically between $20-$60). Craigslist is also a good source for inexpensive tripods.
  • Purchase at least one prime lens that doesn't break the bank. Sure, the camera will likely come with a zoom kit lens, which you can conceivably use right away, but to be honest it's frustrating to get the caliber of photos you want with them. Having one nice and reasonably-priced prime lens available at your disposal helps a lot. I'd recommend the 50mm f/1.4 for larger spaces and detail shots (runs about $400), and the 35mm f/1.8 (cheaper - around $150) or 24 mm 1.4/f (much more expensive - trust me, you don't want to know or you'll cry) for smaller spaces. 
  • When special needs come up that require a different focal length or a flash, rent it. Folks, this is a HUGE money-saver right here. I can't even begin to tell you how much I've saved by renting lenses and/or lighting equipment that normally would cost thousands of dollars. Granted, as with anything you rent you have to be very careful with them to ensure you don't have to pay a penalty - some would suggest getting insurance to protect yourself, but I wouldn't go that far if you're just starting out and not using the equipment heavily. This is also a great way to try out different lenses, flashes and even camera bodies that you may be thinking about investing in down the road.

There are quite a few places you can purchase or rent photo equipment, and here are a few I recommend:
  • Amazon.com - This is the place to go for used or new and reasonably-priced equipment. I have bought my camera, one of my lenses and some lighting equipment off of Amazon and had a good experience with both purchases - plus, I saved a boatload of $$$!
  • BorrowLenses.com - I've rented from them in the past and it's worked out rather well. Their prices are reasonable and you can set exactly how many days you need to rent it for, which is really nice. The only downside is that you have to pay for shipping, which can get a little pricey, but if you live in an area they have a location you can also arrange for pick-up to avoid that extra cost.
  • Dodd Camera (for those in the Chicago/Cincinnati areas) - I've also rented from them in the past and had good experiences with them. Downside is that you must pick-up equipment from the location that's closest to you - there is no shipping option. Upside is that their prices are quite reasonable, plus they have a deal where you can pay a one-day rental fee if you need a piece of equipment for the weekend. That's definitely come in handy on more than one occasion!
  • Adorama - I haven't purchased anything from this site (yet), but a lot of other pro photographers rave about it so I figure I'd include it. They have good sales from time to time, and they have a rather large inventory and great reviews from pros who work with them, so it might be worth checking out.

Okay, I'm going to stop now, otherwise this post will be a mile long. Hopefully this is helpful to some of you! If any of you have any suggestions/tips on photo equipment, please share!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another Day, Another Tchotchke for the Console Table

As I've told you before, I've been on the hunt for reasonably-priced, child-friendly decor for the console table I got for a steal from Pottery Barn a few months back. It's not like I go out of my way to find these kinds of things, since that strategy rarely works for me. To those that it does work for, I am immensely jealous and demand to know your secrets.

One day not so long ago, I decided to take a whirl around the clearance rack at Target (aka "Tarjay" for us fancy folks) for kicks and grins. I was pleasantly surprised to see this cute little number sitting there looking pretty. Checked the price tag, and it was originally $20....marked down to $5.

Ohhhhhhhh yeah. Come to mama.

Here's how the entire kit 'n kiboodle looks so far. Not to shabby, eh? I'm thinking one or two more decorative items should do the trick for the time being.

Anyone else find any steals/deals from Tarjay (or anywhere else) lately? Have any strategies on how to actually find what I'm looking for when I want/need it?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Some quotes to live by

I've realized that I have a very good gut intuition that I don't listen to nearly enough. I've decided recently to begin listening to it, and it's had some positive effects on my personal and professional lives.

I guess this is another way to say that I don't have a real update to share since I've been busy with other potential life-altering things going on, so I'll leave you with the following quotes, hoping that at least one of you lovely readers take it to heart.