...because home doesn't happen overnight.
08.18.14 / I Drink Coffee Now


When I was noticeably pregnant with Mabrey, strangers would ask “So how many does this make for you?” When I answered three, I would sometimes get the “oh, I love the dynamic of three!” from all-knowing parents of three. But I was surprised by the reply I most often received…

“Ohhhhhhh, I started drinking coffee after number three.” And then they would nod their head slowly as if remembering something they hadn’t thought of in a long time.

I get it now. I drink coffee now.

I had always enjoyed a cup of coffee here and there. In college, I would occasionally grab a cappuccino for late night study sessions. Before Mabrey, a hot cup of jo was a special after-dinner treat on chilly nights. But I never drank it regularly until Mabrey was about a year old. I started out drinking a cup maybe once or twice a week in the mornings, usually on the weekends. Eventually, I really looked forward to those rare cups. I would purposefully wake up earlier than everyone else on coffee mornings to sip my joe in peace and quiet. It made for some good me time and gave me a chance to mentally prepare for the day ahead.

Fast forward to this summer. It turns out, I need more than one to two mornings of me time per week! I’m drinking coffee almost daily now. Just one 8-ounce mug. For me, it’s more of a mental – rather than physical – ritual. I don’t get headaches or fatigue on the random days I miss my daily cup. But I do cherish those quiet moments. They are little slices of happiness that set the tone for the rest of my day.

I recently read an article in Real Simple magazine that discusses happiness. Here’s what one contributor had to say:

“…I really believe that happiness is a collection of small, pleasurable experiences, like buying flowers or eating a square of chocolate. I try to have a few of these moments every day.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter

I couldn’t agree more. Does coffee itself make me happy? No. But having that pause before the chaos of the day sets in is what really does it for me.

So here’s my question to any coffee drinkers / snobs out there. What coffee do you drink and how do you brew it? Currently, I have a Keurig that my bonus mom gifted me earlier this year. To save money, I have been using a reusable filter cup and inexpensive ground coffee but I’ve been bouncing around from brand to brand and haven’t really fallen in love with a particular brew. Seeing as how this coffee thing is such a big part of my happiness (ha!), I’d really like to make it special. I’m open to other methods of brewing as long as they don’t yield a whole pot of coffee (I’m the only coffee drinker in the house) and aren’t super involved. I’m not opposed to grinding beans – whether at home or in-store. A few years ago while on vacation, I had coffee brewed in a french press and it was AMAZING. I’ve heard wonderful things about Chemex but, I’m not gonna lie, it looks intimidating. So, please, for the sake of Monday, spill the (coffee) beans and let me know what you’re drinking and how you’re brewing it! Thanks!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

06.23.14 / DIY Bullseye Art

Things are moving right along in the boys’ bedroom.

Currently, this lil’ corner of their room is a new family favorite. Layne requested the reading chair. I added a vintage ottoman and dresser (off to the side) for added comfort and storage, respectively. With the major furniture pieces in place, I’ve turned my attention to accessories and art. Ever since Apartment Therapy featured this home tour, I’ve been itching to DIY some bullseye art and this corner seemed like the perfect place for it.

glidden DIY

With the help of Glidden® paint, I was able to pull it off. Here’s what I did:

bullseye DIY

1 – I used a square canvas (found in my attic) and two quarts of Glidden paint in blue-grey and fire engine red. First, I painted the entire canvas a warm white that I already had on had. This step is the secret to achieving nice smooth curves in the final product so don’t skip it! (You can easily touch up stray brushstrokes with the white paint later on.) I let the white paint dry completely.

2 – I found the center of the canvas then used a pencil to trace a large pot lid right in the center. This would later become the inner curve of the outermost bullseye ring. I determined how thick I wanted my outer ring then cut a length of string accordingly and tied one end to my pencil and the other end to the handle of the pot lid. Holding the lid in place, I carefully drew a larger circle around the pot lid. I had my outer bullseye ring.

3 – For the inner bullseye, I traced around a small glass container in the center of the canvas.

4 – My pencil lines were faint which made them easy to edit and also easy to paint over.

5 – Working from the center out, I painted the canvas using foam brushes and a steady hand. I gave the center bullseye and outer ring two coats of paint each. After the paint dried for 30-60 minutes, I went back with the white paint used in step #1 to touch up any brushstrokes that inevitably made their way out of the lines.

DIY bullseye art via House*Tweaking

I decided to frame the canvas with inexpensive wood trim. I left the wood unfinished for a casual look. I think the thin frame is the perfect touch!

DIY bullseye art via House*Tweaking

Glidden paint made it easy to finally turn my inspiration into reality. The boys LOVE the bullseye art! They keep telling me how cool it is. I think the bullseye is a great symbol to use in a boy’s room without feeling too theme-y. What do you think?

FYI – Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Glidden paint through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write about Glidden paint, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

fiddle leaf fig 1

It’s been over two months since Mr. Fig came into my life. From the get-go I made a promise to myself to share whatever became of him – good or bad. I’ve read a bunch of stories of homeowners bringing home fiddle leaf figs but can’t find as much in the way of follow-ups. What’s going well? What went wrong? Rather than reading a list of care tips from a gardening website, I think it’s more helpful to see how real people care (properly or improperly) for their fiddle leaf figs.

fiddle leaf fig 2

So when new growth appeared at the top of my fig several weeks ago, I thought it might help to share how I’ve been caring for it. I am no expert. It used to be that everything green I touched turned brown but lately I’ve been able to keep all of my houseplants alive. What’s going on?! Many of things I’m doing aren’t secrets. In fact, many of the tips I’m utilizing were kindly offered up in the comments section of this post. Thank you!! (Mr. Fig thanks you as well.)

First up is location. Fiddle leaf figs love bright indirect light. My tree sits just inside a set of french doors and below two skylights on the north side of my house. This area is always bright but the sun’s rays never hit the plant directly.

The planter sits on a stand with casters so I can roll it out of the way to open the doors. The doors lead to a grilling patio which has seen absolutely zero action over the last six months. Now that the weather is getting warmer, we’ll probably be scooting the tree out of the way more often. I’ve thought about relocating it to the living room but it seems to really like this spot and I’m nervous about switching things up. More than likely, I’ll roll the tree outside when the weather is nice. While the tree is small, this setup will work but when / if this guy grows much, much larger I may have to rethink the location. I don’t rotate the tree regularly but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.

fiddle leaf fig 3

The other big thing about fiddle leaf figs is watering without over- or under-watering. When I first brought the tree home, I was giving it a splash of water every 3-5 days but then someone mentioned that I should be flooding it then letting it dry out in between waterings. So that’s what I’m doing now. I pay attention to how the leaves are oriented and when things start looking droopy I wait another day or so to water. I also implement the lift test. When the leaves are droopy I lift the plastic planter out of the ceramic one. If the tree feels relatively light, then it’s time to water. That equates to watering every 7-14 days. From what I’ve heard, it’s better to under-water than over-water so when in doubt I err on the side of waiting it out a little longer in between waterings.

fiddle leaf fig 4

To water, I carry the tree over to the kitchen sink and set it inside. (Reason #99 why I love a single basin sink.) If the dirt seems extra dry, hard or compacted, I use a pencil and stab it into the dirt over and over to break things up and allow the water to reach the roots. I use the pull-down faucet to flood the planter with lukewarm water. I add water until I see it running through the bottom of the planter.

fiddle leaf fig 5

Then I let the tree sit in the sink while the water drains until it’s no longer dripping. I think it was a reader who told me not to immediately place the tree back in the ceramic (non-draining) planter. Apparently, letting the tree sit in a pool of water can cause root rot.

I fully realize that if the tree continues to grow (grow, grow little tree!) this method of watering isn’t going to work forever. I guess that’s when I start rolling the tree to the bathroom and giving it a shower? Forget finishing the second bathroom for the kids. It’s going to be the fiddle leaf fig bathroom. Hee-hee.

fiddle leaf fig 6

About once a month I wipe the leaves with a soft, damp cloth to remove dust and images of photosynthesis diagrams flash in my brain. Oh Calvin cycle, how I love thee.

I recently spray painted the rolling stand gold. (Yay for spray painting weather!) Not sure how this impacts the health of the tree but I’ve heard plants like to be courted. Singing to them, talking to them, displaying them on gold thrones…it can’t hurt.

And that’s how I’m not killing my beloved Mr. Fig. He isn’t the lowest maintenance guy but I don’t mind. I’m so happy he seems to like it here! I plan on fertilizing him this summer. And eventually I’m going to have to repot. I’ll keep you posted. Literally.

Do you have a fiddle leaf fig? How’s it going? Do you want a fiddle leaf fig? I would have bet money on the demise of any fig tree in my house knowing my reputation with houseplants. But trying out a small, inexpensive one has been successful! I hope I can keep it up.

I’ll be back later today with a regular Made Me Smile post. TGIF!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

When I started writing House*Tweaking over four years ago, I did it because I have an innate passion for writing and all things home. As a child, I was always writing a book or poem or song – usually in my bedroom which I had just rearranged or redecorated. (Do you remember the wallpaper border trend of the 90’s? I totally put one in my bedroom and DIYed a wall clock to match. Classy.) H*T was a medium for merging those two passions and the minute I hit publish I was hooked.

In the beginning, my least favorite part of blogging was taking pictures, uploading pictures, editing pictures and posting mediocre pictures. I used a Canon point and shoot camera to take pictures of my projects and home. There was no thought or skill behind the photography. It was merely a means to an end.

Somewhere along the way my attitude towards photography changed. I was exposed to such beautiful imagery online and it inspired me to improve my own photography skills. Having reached a plateau with my point and shoot, I started doing research on DSLR’s. I purchased a Canon EOS XSi body along with a 50mm f/1.8 lens for macro shooting and a Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 zoom lens for general shooting and I’ve been using them ever since.

first and last photo

The image on the left is the very first photo I ever posted on H*T. The photo on the right is the most recent photo I posted. Many things have changed from that first photo to the current one: my equipment, my home, my style (that’s a whole other post) and my knowledge of and experience with photography.

When we moved into our current home, I was having a difficult time capturing the interior the way I saw it in real life. The open kitchen-living area receives a ton of natural light but whenever I tried taking a photo of the space it always turned out dark and cloudy. Last year I enrolled in Nicole’s Photo 101 e-course. It was a 4-week course and cost $125. It was the best investment I’ve ever made in my photography. Since then, I shoot in manual mode 95% of the time and I’m completely comfortable doing so. Several readers have asked if I bought a new camera because they noticed a difference in my blog photos. No, I didn’t buy a new camera. I finally know how to use the one I bought years ago.

Processed with VSCOcam

This is my normal setup for shooting in my home. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. I had to shoot this with my phone since my camera is in the picture. How ironic is it to include bad photos in a photography post?) It’s the camera I mentioned already along with a high quality tripod, a gift from Steve. I had a cheaper tripod originally but within a year the panhead cracked and it was incredibly flimsy which pretty much voided any reason to use it.

Setting up the tripod always seems like a huge extra effort but, in reality, it only takes a few minutes and allows me to maximize the quality of my photos.

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 12.23.22 PM

Here’s my dirty little secret…I don’t own or know how to use Photoshop. I know. When I started blogging, I couldn’t justify the expense especially because no amount of editing was going to make my poor photos look great. Over time, I found inexpensive, well, mostly free ways to edit my photos. I used Picnik for a while before it was phased out and then I switched to PicMonkey which is what I use now. I pay a small annual fee for the Royale version. (I use Polyvore to create mood boards and round ups.)

Sometimes I wish I could use Photoshop to mock up DIY / design projects and create better round ups but the cost (of even the most basic version) is still hard for me to swallow. Instead, I focus on taking high quality photos which minimizes the amount of editing I do. Usually, I resize and barely brighten images and that’s it. I crop my photos when I shoot not when I edit. Over-edited photos look so fake to me.

camera bag

When I’m not using my camera, I store it in this camera bag along with my lenses, user manual, memory cards and battery charger. My bag is ~4 years old and looks brand new. It protects my camera and keeps everything in one easy to grab and go place. I went to the Novogratz’s book signing two years ago and Robert complimented me on said bag so, BONUS!, it’s bona fide stylish.

Other than investing in good equipment and an informative e-course, I also regularly take time to study images I’m drawn to online and in print. What is the camera angle? Where is the light coming from? Is it a warm light or a cool light? What is particularly special about the composition? How is the photo styled? Is it a macro or wide angle shot? How is the image naturally cropped? This process might seem like a waste of time but it gives me ideas and leaves me inspired.

To me, photography is a skill that gets better and better with practice. The worst thing I’ve done is sat back and waited for the knowledge to come to me. It didn’t come. I had to go out and find it, learn it then implement it. And keep implementing it. I sometimes study my own images and critique them. What worked? What could I have done better? What can I learn from this and do differently the next time?

My photography has definitely improved since that first photo in 2009 but it isn’t perfect. It’s something I want to be better at. Eventually, I may upgrade my equipment if my skill set ever gets to the place where I think I’ve mastered my current camera. But I’m not there yet. It’s a process! And I haven’t ruled out Photoshop either.

Nowadays when the boys are at school and Mabrey is napping, one of my favorite things to do is bust out my camera and tripod and snap away. Which is strange considering it used to be my least favorite part of blogging.

What about you? Have you ever taken a photography class online or in person? Did you find it helpful?

P.S. – I would highly recommend Nicole’s Photo 101 class to anyone wanting to improve their DSLR photo skills whether they’re a blogger or not. The material mainly uses people and stills as examples but the information is easily applicable to interiors, too. This recommendation is not sponsored. I truly feel this way and am currently looking in to the Photo 102 class.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking