...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

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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

02.22.15 / Made Me Smile

snow day

Yesterday it snowed, snowed, snowed. For 12 hours straight! The fridge was full and we had no place to be so it was kinda nice. The boys played outside with the neighbor kids for a while then came inside to thaw by the fire. We read, watched movies, listened to music, worked puzzles and got caught up on laundry. It was a cozy, lazy Saturday but I’m really looking forward to warmer weather.

A few more things to pass the time on these cozy, lazy days…

*Homemade play-doh that makes your house smell like a spa.

*Basement dreams.

*So what if your current home isn’t your dream home?

*A <$300 bathroom refresher.

*Today’s weather.

*For fun, in the dead of winter the kids and I browse realistic real estate finds in an area of New Zealand where Steve sometimes travels for work. The kids’ choice (hello pool). My choice (minus the carpet, plus paint on the brown cabinets and new light fixtures).


*Emily’s instagram feed chock full of old, local houses. Many of them are abandoned. Save all the houses!

*We binge-watched Cosmos and got completely sucked in. The kids loved it. So, so awesome.

I hope you’re having a warm weekend whether it’s spent indoors or out!

images: 1) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking 2) Emily Griswold Whitmore