Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Say cheese, Baby!

Obviously if you've been around this blog for a while you have probably noticed that I'm a bit of an amateur photographer - more like a hobbyist. I really love it, but never really dedicate the time to enhancing my abilities. I feel like setting up and framing the photos is natural to me, but my technical shooting and editing skills need some intervention. When you have a really interesting subject (um, hello Guatemala) though, it's pretty hard to take a bad photo.

This past year however, I've found myself less than inspired photographically speaking. Most of our home photos are more for documentation purposes rather than "art" and quite honestly we don't really go anywhere worth toting along the old Nikon.
Recently though, I've found myself newly inspired by some seriously cute baby girls in my life!

Back in August my good friend Julie gave birth to a sweet baby girl Finley Grace. Coincidentally Julie and I share a serious passion for all things creative & decor (especially when it comes to the color gray) so back in October of course we found a way to translate our passions (and
pinnings) into the most adorable Halloween project that could ever exist. This project required 4 easy things.
1.) an adorable baby (that was easy)
2.) a pumpkin
3.) a pretty back drop
4). a camera

Put those 4 ingredients together and this is what you get.

Little Pumpkin Finley.....and her beautiful mama.

Isn't that photo just about the most precious/hilarious/freakin' cute thing you've ever seen?

I seriously don't know if I will ever think of anything that could top a baby in a pumpkin. I won't go into the funny details as to how Little Pumpkin Finley came to be because you can read it on
Julie's blog, but this is the day that resparked my love for photography.

Here's another cute one from that day too.
Can you think of a better job than taking photos of babies? or kids? or families? I don't know if I can. Except for maybe starting up a interior design business with Julie. (PS. Keep me in mind as your personal assistant when you decide to go off on your own, Julie.)

Then again just last week, we joined forces again for Finley Photo Shoot #2. This time the objective was to capture our her baby girl amongst some beautiful Autumn foliage.

Objective Achieved.

My oh my, how Finley has grown! Look at that personality!

That baby girl really loves her mama & so do I!

Hamming it up, Finley G!

There's now where she'd rather be than propped in her Bumbo in a bunch of tall grass.

She was really taken by Mia & smiled really big each time she barked.

Doesn't she look like an opera singer here? So funny!

On a side note, my mom knitted those baby legs for Finny. Aren't they the cutest? Julie should be a stylist. She really knows how to put together a great look!

The day we shot the photos, the weather was perfect. We had lunch, we shopped & then we ended up in Freedom Park, which is pretty much Charlotte's equivalent to Washington Park in Denver. I don't know if I've ever seen the park look so stunning. We joked that I should set up a card table with some signage and cute props in the park and sell inpromptu photo sessions at $25 a pop. It was sort of a joke, but it kind of got me thinking.

It was a day amongst many that I will hold very near and dear since it was one of the last outings that Julie and I had together before she moved back to Texas. Sadly (for me) but happily for her, today Julie and her little family of three will board a plane to Dallas where their families live, and settle into a new life there. I suppose this is what life is all about, meeting amazing people, opening up your life to them and creating wonderful memories together - whether it be over decades or just a couple of months. By this point in my life, I've made many friends and unfortunately also said goodbye to many of them too. I can't say that it ever gets easier, but each time it happens it does remind me that I've been very blessed. Every so often one of those friendships slips itself into a special little place in heart and mind, a place where I know that no matter where life takes us, we'll always share a connection. While they are few and far between I've been fortunate enough to fill my heart with a handful of these special friends and Julie, you are one of them. I wish you much luck in Dallas, but always know how much you & your little Finnikins will be missed here in Charlotte. Safe Travels friend!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


It's gone. We lost it. Not lost as in it can't be found, but rather lost like we know exactly where it is. Our insurance company took it away. We're getting reimbursed, but we'd rather just have it working condition.

Are you confused? Let me explain what I'm talking about. Our Vespa.

This Vespa.

Back in 2007, 3 years after living as a 1 car family we made the decision to purchase a new set of wheels. Since we didn't really have a need for a new car, but we did sometimes need a secondary mode of transportation, a scooter was the logical choice. We shopped around and fell in love with the ever classic Vespa. Sure, it was the most expensive option, but it was also the best investment. Yes, I was scared at first. Scared to be on the road with big scary cars. Scared to ride it by myself, but soon became comfortable with it and was zipping all over town, loving life. Even when we went to live in Guatemala, the scooter still was loved, this time by our friend Brian who took very good care of her (I used to call her Midnight Rider).

Fast forward a couple of years to Charlotte. Like I mentioned a couple of posts ago, this city has race car fever. That in combination with not knowing my way around with my GPS glued to my nose meant that our beloved scooter wasn't getting much use. So last spring, determined to put her to good use, we devised a plan to take at least 1 night a week around the uptown area - exploring the city and spending time together having fun (not working on the house), just like old times. Our first night out we hit the First Friday Art Walk in NoDa. It was know, fun for here. Since our house doesn't have a garage and our outside basement entrance has some seriously steep stairs we agreed to triple lock it to a tree at the end of our driveway.

Exhibit A.

Things were going fine and our little neighbor Layne was loving sitting on it and taking it for a "ride" each afternoon. But then one day I came home from work and found our scooter facing the opposite direction. I just figured that Ben had taken it out for a spin, but that notion turned out to be negative. Scratched up from top to bottom, it was obvious that our poor scooter had been dropped and dragged through the gravel.

Exhibit B

Further inspection proved to us that it has been tampered with, so Ben moved it to the back yard and we took a closer look. It wasn't good. Whoever messed with it damaged it bad enough that it would start.

Exhibit C
(a jacked up ignition)

Some investigation led us to the Charlotte Vespa shop, but after several frustrating phone calls with the morons that work there and we decided that their lax attitude toward helping us proved to us that we didn't really want those kind of people working on our scooter anyway. So we turned to the only other place we knew, The Charlotte Scooter Shop, just up the street from our house. They don't sell Vespas, but they were kind enough to help diagnose our issues over a period of time (like a month). Unfortunately the outcome was grim.

Exhibit D

The frame was multiple places. They told us they would be able to weld it back together but we weren't big fans of that idea. One of the reasons we purchased a Vespa to begin with was as an investment, but if even if we had this cracked frame fixed it's value had already been compromised, no longer making it a good investment. Replacing the frame was our next option, but that turned out to be more costly that purchasing a new scooter. The truth was really sad - it was time to talk to the insurance company about totaling our faithful friend. And now here we sit today, no scooter in our driveway, waiting for our check to arrive.

And now for even sadder news. We will not be replacing Midnight Rider. We really wish the circumstances were different, but the truth is that here in Charlotte we just can't justify spending the money on something that is just going to sit (unsafely) in our driveway. So instead we'll just talk the money and run.....straight to the help pay off some of the debt we've accrued with the renovation of our home. There's nothing fun about that.

And for the record, we parked that Vespa on Colfax Avenue (one of the diciest streets in Denver) for a couple of years and never had one single incident. Reason #6, Charlotte won't be our forever home.

Exhibit E
(happier times)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not quite yet

Last week we finally finished up the big work in the upstairs reno and got our house keys back from the carpenter (who has been letting himself in our home for 8 months now). We thought today would be the big day, as in close out the permit big day. But alas, it looks like this accessory is going to stay put in our window for a just a bit longer.

The inspector came by this morning. He didn't like a couple of things, namely the position of the light in the linen closet, the lack of a carbon monoxide detector (we have one on the 1st level) & the fact that our ugly duct work has not been boxed in. Ben also made a mistake and didn't call in the electrical & plumbing trades for the inspection. To his defense he was only doing what the carpenter/pseudo contractor (Ben is the real contractor) told him to do. So it looks like we've got a bit more work to do before we can get this monkey off our backs.

This is an older photo - now it's at least framed in, but we have to add the drywall. The worst part of it all though is that empty looking space in front of the windows is now chock full of stuff. Looks like we'll be spending our weekend having tons of fun. Sometimes Lots of times renovating your home while living in it really sucks.

A few words

Despite current circumstances, the truth of which will most likely emerge in weeks to come, I am still proud to be a Nittany Lion. While I don't condone the acts of the involved parties or the rioting that has ensued, I feel for JoePa, Graham Spanier, and all the students & alumni as much as I do for the victims of this terrible situation. Maybe you see my side. Maybe you share my Nittany Lion pride, but I'm sure many of you don't understand. Generally, we don't try to explain. Unless you are a Buckeye, Fighting Irish, or Wolverine you probably don't get how an institution embeds itself in a student's life and remains for a lifetime. And that is fine, you don't have to understand, but some of us do. I do.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Here it is.

Things have been falling into place on the house front around here lately. We've been quite busy - working from early morning until the sun goes down all weekend long, so sorry for the lack of recent posts. I'll try to follow up soon with photos of the finished & nearly finished projects. Our upstairs permit reno is finally coming to a close. Hopefully we'll be getting our final inspection this Friday. After that we just need to clean, hang the wallpaper (we'll be hiring out) & mount some shelving in the linen closet and our bathroom will be open for business. YAY!! After that permit is closed out we can officially begin the rest of the work up there. Maybe we'll even be moving in upstairs by late next spring.....maybe!

My real reason for writing this post however is because today is the day I am finally going to say what's been on my mind (& Ben's too - we're in agreement about all of what's to come) for
the past 1 year, 2 months & 6 days. In other words, exactly how long we've been living in Charlotte.

First let me start with a couple of warnings.
What you are about to read (#1) will not contain any photos so if you tune if to look at the pretty pictures you should probably just close out this window and move on to some other blog. (#2) You may be offended by what you are about to read. It's not all bad, but there is quite a bit of negativity about to be written so if you'd rather not be bogged down, Goodbye. I hope you come back for future posts. To my our defense though, this is a written diary of our lives, projects & experiences, not a fairy tale with a happy ending - real life. If you don't like it, go write your own.

This post has not been premeditated, nor has it been carefully written, reread or revised. It does not reflect all aspects of our lives here nor is it final. It's just the way I'm feeling right at this moment. That's my disclaimer. I'm human. Things are always subject to change.

Honestly, it's not that we don't like Charlotte, because we do - or at least we are learning trying to. It's just that the culture here is so different from the laid back, friendly, peaceful ways of Colorado that we are simply noticing, experiencing & reflecting on the differences. There are a lot of great things about North Carolina in general that we've come to love. To prove it, here's a quick list off the top of my head.

What we ♥ about NC: BBQ, trees, the diversity (definitely more than CO has), having mountains, beaches & other cities nearby, the physical beauty of the city of Charlotte, the quaint bungalow homes & many of the people we've met, including various co-workers & neighbors (except for the crazy one in the pink house across the street).

There are a couple of major issues that we however also have with Charlotte. Bear in mind that I am speaking in generalizations.

#1. People are overly focused on money & things
Everybody around here seems to want you to know that they have money. From their shiny, flashy luxury or want-to-be luxury vehicles to their beach or mountain houses, the old money speaks loudly here in Charlotte & the new money is equally as vocal. It is my observation that the longer the drawl the more dough they want you to believe is stored away in their bank account! Seriously though, it seems like every young person here drives some sort of luxury vehicle - almost like a rite of passage. You're nothing unless you've spent a lot of money on your wheels. It just annoying to us because we're used to a sea of Subaru's that haven't been washed in months & after living in Guatemala, who really cares what kind of car you drive? Like Ben often says, a car is the worst kind of investment. The minute you drive it off the lot it loses value! And if it isn't the car, it's the house(s) & stuff for in them. Maybe I have a biased viewpoint on this one since I do work at the "it" mall in the area & interact daily with Charlotte's most elite. Regardless, we understand that money is necessary to live, but money isn't our reason for living.

#2. The gossip mill is fierce down here y'all.
In general this place just feels like it breeds gossip. Whether it be one neighbor talking about another or a co-worker whispering behind your back, the overall atmosphere just feels more gossipy than we are used to. Granted I do think there is something about retail that breeds gossip but Ben has also found himself in all wrapped up in it too. Really, there are times when we both feel like we've been thrown back into Jr. High. We both believe in the philosophy of saying it to your face if/when the situation calls for it, but jumping on board the gossip train seems to be the preferred method here. Maybe what I'm not so eloquently saying is that we miss our non-gossipy friends.
Enough said.

#3. We stand firm in believing that Nascar is not a sport.
Unfortunately our beliefs are the minority and the rest of the greater Charlotte area is the majority. Together we have been nearly run off the road more times in the year that we've lived here than we ever have since being awarded our driver's licenses 15 & 18 years ago. (OMG, I just realized that I have been driving nearly half of my life. Now I really feel old.) Charlotte has race car fever. A simple drive to work often feels like you're taking laps around the track. Forget ever trying to merge lanes or have a friendly driver allow you the right of way. Not going to happen. Additionally, it's like taking your life in your own hands to ride a bicycle (although nothing will ever stop Ben from riding his bike & it makes me sick with worry).

#4. Our mindset doesn't really seem to gel with the majority.
You know how many people ask us about living in Guatemala? Nobody really. We're not looking to gush over how amazing our experience was there, it's just that when you hear something that unique about a person it's a natural thing to talk about. And it was a really huge part of our lives that we now would claim really defines us - a changing point, if you may. Here though, we think it's just so foreign that no one really knows what to think about it. The general population here doesn't seem to be as well traveled as we were used to in Colorado, and especially not to developing countries. Plus the whole renovating the house ourselves thing seems to make us a bit odd too. Literally we have people just stare at us while we work in our yard. And when they do talk it's always about how much work we are doing ourselves - ie. rather than hiring it out. It wouldn't have been weird in Colorado, but I suppose it makes us strange ducks here.

#5. Living in the city gets you nowhere here.
One of the most frustrating things about where we live in Charlotte is how inconvenient it is to do the everyday things that life requires. We love our city neighborhood and if there ever was going to be a place where we felt "at home" here in Charlotte, it's in this neighborhood. Unfortunately the city of Charlotte doesn't put much priority on the up and coming neighborhoods like ours - rather they prioritize the higher end ones. It's sad especially considering how much work we (and many of our neighbors) put into renovating our historic homes. But back to the point at hand. I spend so much time driving across town just to run errands that used to be so quick and easy. Fortunately we live close to a Target & Trader Joes but really that's it. I have to drive literally 15 miles to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond. That's pure crazy. Charlotte is a suburban city & caters to those that live there. We took for granted how many conveniences were located within the city of Denver and since we don't ever think we'll live in the 'burbs (where things would be more convenient) it just doesn't feel like this city will be home forever.

Well, there you have it - a quick stream of consciousness about our lives here. I really hope that you haven't been offended by what you read.
A lot of you have been asking when I would post something on how we are liking things here, and for some reason today just felt right. I didn't mean for it to sound like whining either; rather just a frank conversation about how we see it. While there are some negatives, we are making the best of our situation and don't believe in feeling sorry for ourselves. We try to have a positive outlook and are optimistic that Charlotte will continue to feel more and more like home as time goes on. Of course we'd jump at the chance to be back with our friends, but hopefully that will come in good time!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baby Steps

With the permit phase of the upstairs reno almost coming to an end, there are just a few little projects that need to be finished up. A few of them were checked off the list last week.

Install cedar beam


Mount fixtures and connect electricity


Trim out linen closet & begin priming everything.


Things still left to do:
- install linen closet doors
- install 2nd faucet (when it finally arrives)
- prime walls
- paint all trim
- track down crystal dummy knobs
- connect bathroom fan
- wallpaper
- make & install shelving

Little by little, we'll check off the list. I'm praying my patience holds out.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I go through phases of feeling domestic. This week was one of them. After a visit to our local farmer's market I got an itch to make apple butter. Since Ben was off on a fishing adventure with his dad, I turned our kitchen into my lab.

A couple of years ago while in Guatemala, I developed a serious craving for apple butter. Sadly, it could not be found anywhere. After a bit of research,
I set out to make my own. So this time of course I turned back to Darby's amazingly easy crockpot recipe. Once again, it did the job!

half bushel of mixed apples

add spicy goodness

mix thoroughly

slow cook for 8 hours

And since was feeling especially domestic, I decided to try my hand at canning. After a quick run to Walmart I returned home with this.

I had initially set out to find a larger canning pot & metal rack, but since I don't think I'll be canning all that much, I decided on a less costly option. It actually works great & stores away easily.

The only sad part is that after all that slow cooking, the recipe only yields 4 pints!

So I repeated the whole process again! No big deal.

There was one small catastrophe.

Apparently it's not a good idea to sit your crockpot on top of the seam where your laminate countertops connect. Oops.

And as if 8 pints of apple butter wasn't enough. I also whipped up some pumpkin butter.

Watch out Martha!