Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photo of the Week: Conquering Exposure Compensation

This month has been all about ah-ha photography moments. When you take a look at your new camera's manual, it's easy to get overwhelmed. After all, it's impossible to absorb all of the ins & outs of your equipment on first glance. Many times I know what needs to happen to get that perfect photo, but I just can't remember how to make my camera do what I want it to! Most of my learning has been trial & error.

I mentioned in my last post that the sunset on Saturday night was breathtaking. Unfortunately, every photo I snapped was washed out & I couldn't manage to capture the gorgeous light! I was infuriated!

After fighting with my camera, I finally had a breakthrough & remembered a handy dandy post on exposure compensation by the Pioneer Woman. I gave it a try & let me tell you... it changed everything.

I am not an expert photographer, but I feel like I'm making baby steps... (last week, I conquered changing the shutter speed to capture some awesome firework photos). Here's my secret to improved photography skills: just have patience, take lots of photos & don't be discouraged! You'll have plenty of ah-ha moments of your own. Promise. (Also, reading photo blogs has helped! PW has a great photography section, I also love Ken Rockwell, Shutter Sisters, Ryan Detzel & Miz Booshay).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Everyone is getting hitched!

This has been the summer of weddings. I think our last count was somewhere around 8 weddings from May to October! While we wished we could celebrate with all of our dear friends, we quickly discovered it was not feasible to hit 'em all.

For one, 4 of the weddings occurred on 2 weekends & weren't geographically close enough to allow us to go to both (Tennessee/Hawaii & Indy/Michigan). Secondly, we just don't have that kind of vacation time or budget to jet set around the country (8 weddings - 6 different states!).

We have been able to make it to several & we were especially excited & honored to get to celebrate with Kevin & Rachel this weekend as they tied the knot in Michigan!

Matt & Kevin have been friends since junior high, & Kevin is one of those guys that Matt has the utmost respect for. Turns out, Kevin also has some awesome college friends, who Matt immediately bonded with (in the most dude-like sense possible) through their groomsmen duties. Needless to say, Matt was pumped to be apart of Kevin's wedding day.

With Matt as a groomsman, I was left to fend for myself! This was the first wedding I've been to where I didn't know anyone but the groom (& Matt, of course), but all of the guests were extremely gracious & friendly!

The weekend was especially rainy, but thankfully the rain held off for the wedding & festivities! We even enjoyed a gorgeous sunset... A few of my favorite shots are included below. Sadly, I didn't manage to get a closeup of the bride & groom, but I did sneak a peak at the photographer's camera after the hill shoot below & all I can say is gorgeous!

(Matt's new friends. Thanks for taking care of him, dudes).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

friends are fun.

We went to Michigan this weekend for a wedding & crashed with my other college roomie / bridesmaid, Courtney (affectionately, Cbiz). (Jenny, who I also lived with, was just visiting us last weekend with her hubs, Mike).

I love Courtney. She knows how to have fun & she makes me giggle... Besides her silly side, she's also extremely sensitive, a great listener & a wonderful / intentional / caring friend. In short, she's a keeper.

Matt was a groomsman in the wedding this weekend, which meant he had lots of places to be & people to see...but I opted  to spend the non-wedding time with Court. We did exciting things like... trekked to Ikea(!), tried fun local beer at a pub in the Detroit 'burbs, went for a walk & just caught up. It was a much needed visit.

After the wedding on Saturday evening, Matt decided to document our shenanigans...We're not classy ladies, but we like to have fun (for some reason, we decided a push-up competition at midnight after a couple pbrs was a good idea. Did I mention Courtney knows how to bring out my silly side? Love her.)
More on our fabulous weekend celebrating the Gillogly nuptials later... After 11 hours in the car today, I need to sleep!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photo of the Week: Eeek!

Remember my blog-series Photo of the Week? No? That's okay -- I decided it would be a fun/simple/weekly post which would challenge me to improve my photography skills, & then I up & forgot all about it. Oopsies.

Well today, I'm resurrecting it. That's right, one photo for you today (instead of my typical 500 - sorry about that, I haven't really internalized 'less is more' when it comes to photos). Best part is -- I didn't even take this one! Our friend Carson snapped it while we were hiking at Pilot Mountain & I just love it.

For the record, Matt was not contemplating pushing me over the edge. He was just thinking ... what in the world has come over my wife? There is no way I'm joining her on the edge!

And because I can't just pick one.... these were the runners up (all snapped by me in the last month! no editing on any of these). Maybe they'll make the cut next week.

Left to right: a 4th of July treat, Liam, Mini-peppers at Reynolda Gardens, & Durham Bulls fireworks.

As always, click to enlarge any of these shots!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Life for Less: Coupon Convert

Months ago, I blogged about how Matt & I save $$$ on our weekly grocery bill. In that post, I mentioned that I'm not much of a coupon-er. I had lots of excuses, but thankfully, my sister's dear friend, Amy, swooped in to set me straight. You see, Amy is extremely coupon-savvy, not to mention super smart (she just submitted her final dissertation for her PhD in chemical engineering! Congrats, Dr. Amy), so y'all should listen up!

Amy not only commented with some helpful tips (you can see her comments at the bottom of this post), she also challenged me to try out couponing to see if it worked for our family. a.k.a. She hooked me up with a ton of coupons (see visual above). Amy asked me to send her a list of 10-20 nonperishable items that we normally buy, & then she sent 100+ (already clipped) coupons so I could try it myself! I heeded her instructions, which she graciously sent via email, & I was ready to go!

The timing couldn't have been better -- the very week she sent me my coupon-care-package, Harris Teeter was having a doubles week. What does that mean? They were doubling any coupon $1.50 or less! Score! On our first trip, Matt & I walked away with a cartful of groceries & savings of nearly $50 ($19 of in store savings & $30 of coupon savings)! We were particularly proud that we brought home at least 4 free Vitamin Waters ($2 Vitamin Waters + $1 doubled coupon = free!) . Incidentally, Harris Teeter doubles any coupon $0.75 or less everyday. Talk about useful knowledge!

I'm still using some of the coupons that Amy sent (2 months later!), and I'm paying more attention & clipping more coupons of my own. It does take some time & a little extra work, but the savings can be substantial. To me, that makes it totally worth it.

How can you get in on this $$ saving action? I don't claim to be an expert just yet ;), but I recently stumbled across an article from Dave Ramsey about couponing & I think he covers the basics pretty well. One of the most valuable tips Amy gave me was to combine coupons with store sales. That means when Kashi is on sale at my grocery store, I should pull out my coupons (I have quite a few, courtesy of Amy) to combine with the in-store specials & stock up. Also, I do most of my shopping at Tar-jay, and Amy enlightened me that Target will allow you to combine manufacturer coupons with their store coupons (which you can print on Target's website). Now that's what I call a sweet deal!

In addition to Dave's article, these sites can be super helpful. Check 'em out:
Thank you, Amy!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


We love old friends.

Our dear friend Jenny, & her awesome hubby, Mike, came to Chapel Hill this weekend on their whirlwind tour of the East Coast. We were psyched to be a stop along the way & to squeeze some much-needed-Slagortime into our summer.

Jenny was a Young Life leader with us during our college days at University of Illinois, my senior year roommate, a bridesmaid in our wedding (I also got to stand with her on her big day) & most importantly, one of my best friends. She couldn't have picked a better guy to marry... Matt & I are crazy about Mike. They are both special ed teachers & truly know how to love well. I think Jenny says it best on her blog:
"I am a special education teacher married to another special education teacher living in central Illinois. We love to cook, eat, relax, and be voices for people who don't have one."
The Slagors are awesome people & wonderful friends so it's entirely understandable that I was stoked to have them under our roof for a couple of days. Here's how we spent our weekend with Jenny & Mike...

On Friday night, we headed down to the American Tobacco District for a Durham Bulls game. Our evening at the ballpark started with a sudden downpour, which thankfully cleared up, but the lightening & oppressive humidity stuck around. The excitement continued with a flying bat right into our section (rain = slippery batter's hands), a foul ball & an unresponsive man leading to an emergency medical situation. Because the rest of the evening wasn't thrilling enough, we squeezed in some pyrotechnics by wrapping up the evening with an impressive fireworks display. Despite all of that, Jenny & Mike were great sports & we had an awesome evening!
On Saturday morning, Matt took us for a walking tour of UNC. (He's done this a few times since we moved here, & he's getting pretty good at it). We hit the campus highlights until we were forced inside due to more rain. We spent the rest of the rainy afternoon/evening inside; we had a yummy lunch at the Carolina Brewery, caught a matinee showing of Date Night at The Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street, went to Sat. PM church at Summit, & then out for an amazing dinner at Acme in Carrboro (my dinner = bbq pulled pork over mac-n-cheese with local tomatoes, a.k.a. heaven on a plate).
This morning ...err... afternoon (we slept in really late!), after a delicious breakfast brunch courtesy of the Slagors, we braved the Carolina heat & headed back to Durham to visit Duke. We walked around campus, stopped by the Duke Chapel (didn't make it inside because there was a service going on), moseyed on over to the Duke Gardens & even managed to sneak into Cameron Indoor Stadium! Matt was particularly proud that we were able to get onto the floor, but it was no incredible feat -- the doors were open! We snapped a few really blurry pictures on the floor of Cameron -- it was pitch black inside! Also, Cameron is a lot smaller than it appears on TV. I felt like I was in my high school gym!
Jenny & Mike hit the road after dinner & let me tell you, we miss these guys already! We were so thankful to have them spend a couple of days with us, especially since I've been feeling a tad bit homesick recently. What a blessing these 2 are!
(In case you're curious about this next photo, Mr. Slagor was demonstrating that "M" is for McAndrew ...err...Mike!)
Safe travels, friends! Can't wait to see you again soon! (...& thank you, Gorillapod, for making this shot possible. Looks like Jenny & I didn't get the plaid shorts memo. We're married to such stylish men ;)).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Finally... the 4th!

It's already the 14th... so I figure I'd better get going on posting some fun photos from our 4th in Winston-Salem.

We had a wonderful weekend with Carson, Nicole, Liam & Wrigley.  We did a lot of hanging out & allowing Liam to entertain us, but we also managed to squeeze in a nice, long run around Salem Lake, a relaxing walk through beautiful Reynolda Gardens, hiking at Pilot Mountain, hot-tubbing with some fun friends of the Felkels & even some fireworks. We had a little hiccup on the way to the fireworks - a car accident in front of us - & Dr. Carson was kind enough to pull over to make sure everyone was okay (what a guy!). Thankfully, no one needed medical attention, but our little pitstop meant we ended up watching the fireworks on the side of the road. They were still fantastic! & Liam loved them!

During our visit, Nicole asked me if I ever felt pressured to post on the blog. I said 'no' - that it was just a fun little hobby, & I post as I feel like it. Nicole, I take that back. For the past week, I've felt extremely pressured to post because some of the photos of your little dude are so darling, I feel like I'm withholding cuteness by not sharing them with you! So without further adieu, here is our Independence Day celebration in photos (be prepared - there are a ton! If you click on the collages, they'll open in a new, bigger window, where you should be able to zoom in)....

Reynolda Gardens
Pilot Mountain
 At Home with Liam

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Remember when I mentioned that I'm a bit anxious about the Alaska weather? I've become obsessed with checking the Denali NPS webcam (I check at least 4x a day) & for the first time in 2 weeks, I saw Mt. McKinley!!! 2 days in a row!!! Isn't she goregous? I'm on my knees praying for clear days like this when we're at Wonder Lake....
P.S. I am planning on sharing some fun photos from our fabulous 4th of July weekend in Winston-Salem, but I've been too busy this week to find the time to get myself organized. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Life for Less: Still Time to Buy!

Saw this in the IRS's news & thought of my house shopping friends out there...

Closing Deadline Extended to September 30th for Eligible Homebuyer Credit Purchases
Eligible taxpayers who contracted to buy a home, qualifying for the first-time homebuyer credit, before the end of April now have until Sept. 30, 2010 to close the deal; the Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday.

I'm planning on covering renting vs. buying in a future post (we're renters for the indefinite future)... but for those that are shopping, this is great news!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

In honor of Matt's favorite day of the year* our country's birthday, I'm taking the weekend off from blogging. In fact, I'm going to try not to look at my computer all weekend! Our plans include hanging with our best buds & their babe, watching fireworks, hiking, running, eating yummy summer treats & enjoying a long, restful weekend. What are you doing for the Fourth?
*In all seriousness, Matt loves the Fourth of July, & considers it sacrilegious to celebrate it anywhere other than Glen Ellyn, Illinois. (I have never been to a town that gets more into this holiday. The day is chocked full of parties, parades & fireworks. It's a blast!). Sadly, we won't be in Chicagoland this weekend, so we're just going to have fun with fireworks down in North Carolina. I assured him he'll survive. He's not convinced....

Book Sale

Remember my obsession with Blurb? Well they're having a 20% OFF SALE on photo books through July 31st. Two words that are music to my ears: Blurb & Sale. I wanted to let y'all in on the fun - so here's the info:
Any plans to make a book this month? I'm going to order a copy of this little guy that I put together for my folks for Mother's / Father's Day this year...
Happy book-making!!!

Tasty Summer Treat: Peach Upside Down Cake

I whipped up one of our favorite summertime desserts tonight & it's such a beauty (not to mention super-tasty), I just had to share! This one is courtesy of Real Simple, my all-time favorite magazine. I took the liberty of switching out the plums in favor of peaches (Matt's not a huge plum fan), & it is the perfect summer cake. Think peach pie topped (or bottomed, actually) with pound cake. Serve it a la mode & enjoy!

Peach Upside Down Cake

Well then let's get cooking baking! Here's what you'll need: 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 T butter, plus extra for the pan, at room temp
  • 4 firm, ripe peaches, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup plus 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 c sour cream
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
Here's how you do it:
  1. Preheat oven to 350degrees. Butter an 8 inch cake pan & line the bottom with parchment paper. Suznote: I don't have an 8" pan, so I use my 9" and it still works out beautifully. The cake's just a little 'thinner.'
  2. Melt 1 T of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peaches and 1/4 cup of the sugar and cook, tossing, until the sugar dissolves and the juices from the peaches become syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes. Arrange the peaches in the cake pan in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting from the outside. Spoon any pan juices over the top.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt.
  4. With an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of butter and 2/3 cup of sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, sour cream & vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter over the peaches & bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes (or 40 minutes in the case of our whack oven). Let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Place a large plate over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Remove the parchment paper. Suznote: I've found that the batter really isn't 'pourable' & I am a perfectionist obsessive & I'm afraid of messing up my perfect concentric circles, so I just blob it on (that's a technical term) & then carefully spread.
  6. Serve a la mode with vanilla ice cream!!!! Yummmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Here's what it looks like as it comes together:
(Can you tell I'm proud of my concentric circles...I took about 100 photos of this stage and neglected pretty much every other step of the process!)

What are your favorite summer desserts?
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