...because home doesn't happen overnight.
03.10.15 / Life with Cheetah

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If I had to sum up life with Cheetah in one word? Smitten. She’s the fluffy pet we never knew we were missing. As you may remember, we adopted Cheetah at the end of the summer last year. Not knowing a thing about cats and having declared myself not a “cat person,” it was probably the best uninformed decision I’ve ever made. All of the concerns I had about living with a cat have dissolved. She is pretty much the best thing ever.

After the vet declared her perfectly healthy, I had Cheetah spayed. We lived through one of her heats and that was enough for me. Oh, the mooooaning. She had an uneventful recovery and has remained healthy ever since.

Luckily, Cheetah hasn’t given me any reasons to even consider declawing. I clip her nails at home with these every other week. She doesn’t hate it; she doesn’t love it. She isn’t much of a scratcher and when she does scratch she sticks to her post and cardboard lounger. I’m happy to report she hasn’t destroyed anything. (Our tree made it through the holidays unscathed.) She sometimes reaches up and stretches on the gray chair in the living room pulling loose a few threads (I just snip them with scissors), so when we leave the house I throw a blanket or two over the chair to protect it. It works. She likes to bat at and knock off the wood balls on the brass & string art in the entry. Currently, there are no balls on the strings. I just think of it as multipurpose: art + cat toy ;)

As for shedding, I’ve just started noticing a few clumps of hair here and there. I think she’s starting to shed her winter coat. We had a dog several years ago that shed like crazy. Like awful. So a few clumps are nothing. I can live with that. I give her a quick brush every week or so.

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Obviously, the kids adore her. They take turns feeding her. Cheetah meows at the boys’ bedroom door early every morning. (This is the only time she meows…she’s so quiet! Her purr is barely audible.) She has figured out that Layne is usually the first one up and she wants him to come play with her. Everett just loves on her. He holds her like a baby and talks to her and she soaks it up. Mabrey is a little more, um, rough. She carries Cheetah around like a rag doll and there have been a few hits / kicks. Cheetah is a good sport about it though. She hasn’t scratched Mabrey once. (If I were a cat, I think I would have.) I love spying on the two of them together during the day. Mabrey talks to Cheetah like they’re girlfriends. It’s so cute.

Cheetah is kinda a second mother to the kids. When one of them is upset, she sits quietly next to them like she’s concerned. At night, when we put the kids to bed, she always comes into their rooms as if to say goodnight. Then she waits outside the door until Steve and I come out into hallway. After the kids are in bed for the night, Cheetah is the cuddliest lil’ thing. Steve and I have been binge-watching Breaking Bad (yes, I know it’s 2015…we’re a little behind) in the evenings. Cheetah curls up in my lap and it’s the sweetest. I never knew cats could be so snuggly.

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I think it’s weird that she has a different favorite napping spot each day. It’s been the bottom bunk, my desk stool, a shelf in my closet, under a blanket, Mabrey’s bed, Mabrey’s closet, the mantel, the top of the media cabinet, the changing pad in the nursery (that we don’t use anymore but I can’t get rid of because Cheetah likes it…I AM THAT LADY), various baskets, the bench by the front door, the bench in the mudroom, a dining chair, a sheepskin rug, etc. Sometimes I can’t find her in the usual spots and I’m surprised when I find her camped out somewhere new. She finds all the places. She never naps on my and Steve’s bed during the day but she does curl up behind my knees at night. Of course, I contort my body around her so as not to disturb her. I am also that lady.

I think it’s fair to say this kitty has converted us, along with a few extended family members who previously labeled themselves “not cat people.” I’ve even caught myself going out of my way to walk past the kitties up for adoption at the pet store. Insanity.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

03.09.15 / Change is Good

davis-linden warehouse

I’m a creative. I like change. I’m fickle when it comes to small, unimportant things like, say, the pillows on my sofa or the paint color on my bedroom walls. I get restless when there isn’t a project to work on. I’m happiest when I’m planning / doing / reading / making / learning / experiencing something new. I’m unhappiest when things are static.

That’s not to say I’m unappreciative of the things in my life. I am so grateful for all of it. Very much so. But appreciation is not the same as complacency. We can value all the things, people and experiences and still crave change. And that’s where I’ve been for the past few months.

We’ve touched nearly every inch of this house. To the point where it feels like home. We have a few projects left on the to-do list (coming to you later this week) and I will forever tweak little things here and there because it makes me happy. But there’s only so much we can (and want to) do to this house. For the most part, I love it the way it is and I don’t want to change stuff for the sake of change alone. So, I’ve been craving a change of scenery, a blank slate, a space that would give me full creative freedom. Buying a new (old) house is off the table at this point. We don’t want a big scale project consuming our family’s life right now. We’re finally enjoying the fruits of our labor. No more renovation messes! And we’re set to pay off our mortgage at the end of this year which was our goal at the beginning of this downsizing journey.

I don’t even remember how I concocted the idea but a few weeks ago I decided to at least look for a designated workspace outside of the house. It’s never been a dream of mine but it felt like a natural next step. My requirements? Not a ton of space but an open space, good lighting, freedom to change cosmetic finishes at will, kid-friendly and inexpensive.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much. The true office spaces had horrible lighting and lacked the flexibility I craved. Small work-live apartments were too big, too expensive. (I did come across a great contender by way of a lil’ old house with original hardwoods and a fireplace zoned as work-live asking for help with renovations in return for lower rent, but when I went to check it out, it had been demolished! My heart sank.)

I discovered a warehouse downtown that rented space to creatives and small businesses and it sounded so appealing. I set up an appointment to check it out and fell in love with a spot on the second floor. It was the perfect size with big windows, inexpensive rent and the freedom to make it my own. However, as soon as the tenant next door heard someone was interested in the space, he snatched it up. (Current tenants get first dibs.) I was so, so bummed. I was shown another, larger space on the third floor of the same warehouse and it just didn’t feel right. It was dark, the roof leaked, and it had a really awkward layout. I was less than thrilled.

Then, THEN!, the maintenance guy gave me a lead on another warehouse in a nicer part of town that rented out space as well. I immediately called and emailed the owner. She asked what I was looking for and I told her.

me: I don’t need a ton of space but I do need an open space. Good natural lighting for photography.

owner: Hmmm…I think I have just the space. It’s not available until next month but you can come take a look at it if you want.

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All three kids and I drove downtown to check it out and the rest is history. It couldn’t be any more perfect. It’s a corner room with big windows on two exterior brick walls that let in the most amazing light from the north and east. The soaring 12′ ceilings make the ~350 square feet feel bigger. The floors are the original hardwoods albeit painted. It’s inexpensive. There’s no deposit. Rent is on a monthly basis with no long-term contract. I can do whatever I want to the space! The only stipulation is that the overhead sprinklers must remain red due to code which is totally fine with me. I kinda like ‘em. The kids can come hang out with me which is great. They LOVE the warehouse! The working freight elevator is their favorite feature.

The space is rented out through mid-April by a current tenant who rents space elsewhere in the same building. She’s going to be doing some work to her space and will be using the corner room for storage while she fixes up her place. If all goes as planned, I move in sometime next month. IT’S KILLING ME. I wasn’t sure if I should share the news before I actually moved in or not. But, I am so excited I couldn’t wait! I’m a fairly patient person who likes surprises so that should tell you how excited I am. (!!!)

Probably my favorite thing about this entire experience has been discovering the creative / entrepreneurial community right under my nose. How did I not know about it already?! The warehouse is home to a dance studio, photographers, artists, an old barbell gym, small businesses, jewelry makers, interior designers…you name it. I can’t wait to learn more and share with you guys. I’ve never thought of Dayton, Ohio, as a creative hub but maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough.

front street warehouse

What exactly will I be doing in this workspace? Initially, I’m going to put my spin on it. And I’m going to call it my studio because that sounds so uppity and official. STUDIO. Anyway, of course I want to create blog content and flush my brain of all the ideas floating around in there. Ideas that aren’t exactly feasible or practical in my own home. My sewing machine and loom (never used) are coming to the studio with me. I’m going to spread out and make messes and walk away when it’s quitting time. I want the kids to be creative here, too. Mabrey will be with me most days while the boys are at school. I will continue to share home-related DIYs and decorating ideas but I’d like to sprinkle in new things, too.

Eventually, I would love for the studio to become a part of the local community. A place to host craft nights or children’s birthday parties or decorating classes, an artsy field trip destination for kids, a photography studio? Clearly, I don’t have tunnel vision at this point. Maybe the biggest drawback is that it is so flexible. I see it as an ever-changing space and that makes me happy. (Refer back to the first paragraph of this post.)

So that’s what I was up to last week. Soul and studio searching. Change is good.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

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So something funny happened. I used to strongly dislike cooking, but now I don’t. I still wouldn’t call it my passion (there are no plans for Food*Tweaking, ha!) but sometimes I actually find myself enjoying it.

What happened? I’m not exactly sure, but it didn’t happen overnight. I think a few things came in to play. I have more time to cook now that I stay at / work from home. My kids have become little foodies, critiquing my skills and offering to help out with meal prep. When I went dairy free, out of desperation I tried new recipes and ingredients and it exposed me to a whole new world of cooking. FYI – We aren’t completely dairy free anymore, but I haven’t bought cow’s milk in years. Now, Steve eats a mostly paleo diet and I try to accommodate him when I can.

I’ve also been using Blue Apron regularly for almost a year after our friends recommended the service. It’s helped me get out of the dinner rut of spaghetti and tacos – both of which I love but they aren’t very adventurous. I’m giddy every time the refrigerated box of fresh ingredients shows up at my doorstep. Especially when it’s the FIFTH snow day in a row and we’re low on food and I have no desire to brave the cold for groceries. I really like the new family plan which feeds our family of two adults + three children and then some. The new family meals are meant to be served family-style and are more affordable.

I’m so grateful for recipes shared online that I started sprinkling my favorite quick & easy go-tos in with other home-related content on the blog. Obviously, that forced me to take photos of food. All of a sudden cooking became yet another fun, creative outlet when viewed through my camera lens. *BONUS* – I get to eat the subject matter!

I’m definitely not a food styling expert by any means but I thought it might be fun to share a few of my food photography secrets. Kind of a behind-the-scenes look at recipe posts.

*I always photograph food in natural light. (But not always in black socks. No judgments! It was, like, -20°F!!) After some trial and error, I discovered that the best spot to shoot food in my house is on the floor just inside the french doors in our mudroom / dining room. The doors are north-facing and the bright, indirect light is perfect. Placing the food on some sort of backdrop on the floor makes it easy for me to get overhead shots. I’m not naming names because it isn’t my secret to tell but I know one highly regarded food blogger who styles and shoots food in her garage with the door partially raised because that’s where the best light is in her house. Whatever works! I also consider the mood of the dish when contemplating lighting. In general, for brighter, lighter foods I’ll shoot in the late morning on sunny days. For richer, more comforting foods, I’ll shoot on cloudy days or in the early evening.

*I always consider composition. It’s almost like decorating a room but on a much smaller scale. Sorta like creating a mood board but with food. A food board? Instead of lining up all the ingredients, I’ll arrange them organically. I try to balance colors and textures within the frame. My goal is for it to look pretty but imperfect and real. I’ll cut lemon slices, peel garlic, “spill” a little salt or crumble cheese. A little mess is okay! I add practical props. Measuring spoons and small bowls work well. I’m itching to add more props to my bag o’ tricks because my current inventory is lacking.

*I leave out raw meat and raw fish if possible. The same with labels unless they’re particularly helpful. They just don’t look all that appealing to me.

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*I include one or two significant, in-progress shots. Again, I’m no chef and the recipes I share aren’t crazy complex so images of every step usually aren’t necessary. My kids really enjoy prepping so I’ll usually snap a few shots of them. (When we prepare a Blue Apron meal, Everett’s job is to read the instructions to me step-by-step. It knocks out his reading homework for the day. Win-win.) Needless to say, it’s difficult to supervise the kids, photograph and cook at the same time!

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*I shoot several different angles of the finished product. That’s mostly for fun. I never know which angles are going to make the cut until I edit the photos. If the kids are cooperating, I’ll set the table quickly. If not, it might be just a few close-ups. If the dish is especially decadent, I like to include a half-eaten or empty plate, too. It’s a good “the end” image.

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The recipe shown here is one of the new family meals offered by Blue Apron. It’s the chicken scallopini with roasted broccoli & whole wheat farfelle. Paleo Steve ate only the chicken (I left one breast free of flour) and broccoli. The kids and I loved it all! The roasted poblano chilaquiles with sunny side-up eggs and avocado sound pretty amazing, and the filipino-style beef picadillo with chayote squash & jasmine rice is a family favorite that I keep on standby.

If you have been wanting to try Blue Apron, now’s your chance. The first 100 readers will get two meals free-of-charge when they place their first order! Just click here. And, as always, shipping is free.

Do you have any tips for food styling or photography? Any great food stylists I should check out for inspiration? Were you surprised by the food on the floor in the mudroom? My black socks? Ha!

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.

P.S. – The evolution of my photography.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking