Sunday, June 26, 2011

Birthday vacay

Where in the world will I be for my birthday week? One of my friends generously offered me a free plane ticket to the destination below, so I'll be basking in the glow of warm sun on my face and sand between my toes with a couple of friends this week. I will be far away from the computer, so it'll be pretty quiet on here for a little while. Here's a hint of where I'm going...
Need another hint?
 I'll give you the full details after I return from my busy birthday week!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sew excited

From one kind of needle to another, except this one involves thread and bobbins. That's right...I got a sewing machine! My husband recently bought it for me as part of my anniversary gift. Now, I am closer to being equipped to tackle number 28 on my list. Honestly though, I've had it for almost a whole month and have yet to plug it in and take it for a stroll. 

Oh, Brother! Let the sewing begin!
I used to think that sewing was just some activity that old ladies would sit around and do, but in recent years, I've had a growing desire to learn to sew. My mother is a master seamstress, and I've never known her without her trusty old Singer that she still uses to this day. Growing up, I would watch my mom work her magic at her sewing machine - pumping the pedal, turning the wheel, threading the bobbins and turning scraps of fabric into amazing creations. Now that I'm slowly becoming one of those "old ladies" and have my very own sewing machine, I will be taking sewing lessons from my mom and will be attempting a few projects. What projects? I've been trolling "the Internets" for ideas and have come across an overwhelming number of helpful websites and cute and crafty creations.
Threads Magazine offers a beginner "Teach Yourself to Sew" video series on its website.

Sew, Mama, Sew is an adorable site with easy-to-follow, step-by-step sewing tutorials and a fun blog.

Craftig, a site where you can bookmark and find different craft projects, features quite an extensive collection of links to different sewing projects. (They are currently upgrading software, so it might not be as pretty as normal over there)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Give a pint

I finally did it today. I volunteered to have a needle stuck in me and gave up a pint of my precious blood. I haven’t ever really had too strong of a desire to part with my good old red blood cells, but I decided at the beginning of this year that it was something that I could do to help save someone else’s life. So, I mustered up the courage and signed up for my work’s blood drive.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) converted one of our conference rooms into a makeshift blood donation center and set up three tables for donors and another partitioned area for registration and screening. My coworker/friend Ashley had signed up also, so at least I had a buddy to commiserate with me in this somewhat uncomfortable experience.

Once we arrived in the room, we were corralled over to the partitioned areas, seated at separate computer stations and asked to read over three pages of information pertaining to blood donation. Basically, it just listed medications you weren’t supposed to use or countries you shouldn’t have visited. Then, one of the OBI staff came over, asked for my ID and filled out some basic information on the computer and left me to answer an online questionnaire of yes/no questions. These questions started out with how you’re feeling today to recent foreign travel, then on to the fun sexual history questions to make sure you don’t have AIDS. I have actually traveled to several countries in the past three years (with the honeymoon and cruises), so I had to dig into my memory and tried to list every single place I’ve visited. I could sense that the lady was rather annoyed at my extensive travel history after I listed four and still wasn’t done, so I think I might have left off Canada (it’s pretty much like the US, right).

After all that, came a temperature, blood pressure, heart rate reading and then the little uncomfortable prick to the finger, where she squeezed out a drop of blood and inserted it into some machine that screens for several different diseases and makes sure your iron levels are high enough. As expected, no diseases for me…yay. So, I was set up with a packet of tubes, bags and papers and sent over to the waiting area since the donor tables were full. Ashley was already on the table and having her blood drawn, when after a little while voiced that she wasn’t feeling so great, which made me a little unnerved and concerned. The phlebotomist rushed over with ice packs to cool her off, a Gatorade to replenish her fluids and lowered her table so she was flat on her back, which seemed to do the trick. She was back to normal. 

Just as she was finishing up, came my turn. I hopped onto the table, was covered in a paper sheet, and had my arm properly positioned for blood donation. Then came the fun part…finding a vein. I am well aware of my miniscule little, needle-shy blood vessels. Every time that I’ve ever had blood drawn, it becomes some kind of mission, usually requiring reinforcements, to find a vein. This time was no different; two phlebotomists poked and prodded around for at least 10 minutes before finally locating one little vein.

Once the lady finally stuck the needle in, she moved it around every which way up there in my arm to find that little guy, which hurt pretty badly. After that though, it was fairly easy from there. However, it seemed like the blood just trickled out of my arm and took much longer than other people, even with all the rigorous squeezing I was doing to my stress ball thing. 

Overall, I would have to say that the entire experience was mostly painless. Right now, I just have a small bruise on my arm to show for it, and I got some goodies for donating (a t-shirt, two free zoo passes and an iPhone case) and the satisfaction that I will be helping someone in the future. Would I do it again? Most likely. Will it be anytime soon? Probably not. 

If you're looking to donate blood with the Oklahoma Blood Institute, click here to find a blood drive near you. The American Red Cross is also another organization that coordinates blood drives nationwide.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Guest Post | Ely Fair Photography

Let's continue to talk photography, and who better than my dear, sweet friend Elyse Fair of Ely Fair Photography. Our friendship began several years ago when she was hired on as the other graphic designer at my previous job and became my fellow office mate and a fast friend. We had many "over-the-wall" conversations and have continued to remain friends and weekly lunch buddies. She is also a fellow blogger (times 2)...visit her professional blog to get your fill of pretty photos or her personal blog to learn more about the girl behind the big camera. 

Added bonus...Elyse is holding a contest right now on her professional blog! All you have to do is "like" Ely Fair Photography on Facebook and tell her by posting a comment here. For every 50 "likes", she's going to be giving away a free mini-session with a 16x20 canvas (total value of more than $300)! The contest closes on Tuesday, June 14, so be sure to enter before then. 

Now, let's get on to the good stuff. I've asked her do a guest post on here to give us a quick photography lesson. So, without further ado...

Well, lets take a minute for introductions. My name is Elyse Fair, and my husband Ryan and I are Wedding and Portrait Lifestyle photographers based out of Oklahoma City. After a 10-year love affair with photography, Ryan and I started Ely Fair Photography and are loving working together and capturing the joy in people's lives. And Teresa invited me here today to talk a little about photography. So I wanted to share with you something that I was scared of for a while when I got my first camera back in 2000...taking your camera off Automatic.

Get Off Your Automatic 
How many of you have a lovely SLR camera with lots of fancy pants capabilities....but have never taken it off of your automatic setting?? Don't be shy, I know you are out there. I'm here today to challenge you to get out of Auto, and explore a little on your camera!

Here are some basics (thank you wikipedia for the dial image): 
Most of you intuitively know what the little picture icons mean. They are presets that the camera company has put on your camera to help you when taking sports, portraits, etc.

But today I want to talk about the SCARY LETTERS (insert daunting music here). 

Let's do a quick overview, and then I will delve more into a couple of them.

Auto - like it says, Automatic. The camera will choose your aperature and shutter speed settings for you. For the most part does a great job, but basically is a big heavy point and shoot camera if you don't take the camera off this mode.
M - The dreaded Manual. Yes, it can be overwhelming when you first start
Tv or S - Shutter priority. This means that you tell the camera what shutter speed you want it to be and it will choose an aperture for you. 
Av or A Aperture priority. This is where you choose your aperture, and your camera chooses the shutter speed to get a good exposure. 

The mode that I want to go further into today is the latter, Aperture priority. When we shoot, Ryan and I typically shoot in Manual, but when we are in situations that the light is constantly changing and we don't have time to mess with the settings on our cameras, we will move to aperture priority.

But let's back up just a tad and talk about what Aperture is in the first place. Aperture, in my non technical terms, is how much light is being let into the camera. It's a bit counterintuitive because the lower the number, the more light is being let in. So, an aperture of 2.8 lets in a lot more light than an aperture of 16.

This is good to know for two reasons: more light can allow you to take photos in low light situations with out the dreaded flash that makes all of our photos washed out and flat. And a low aperture can also give you the nice blurred, or bokah, effect in the background.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you a little about what I'm gabbing about. I grabbed some things off the shelf and put together a little mini set up. I put the camera on aperture priority and changed only the aperture and let my camera choose the shutter speed.

Here it is with a low aperture of f1.4. See how pretty much just the letters are in focus, and there is a blurred background.
Here it is with a high aperture of f16. Now much more of the picture is in focus. The moss and thread are more sharp, and even the chairs and curtains in the background are more understandable.
So, my challenge to you is to get our of your Auto mode for a month, and try Aperture priority and play!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

After you've snapped

What happens to your photographs after you’ve pushed the button and captured all those images and memories? Do you pull them directly off the camera and slap them into a Facebook album within minutes? What if you learned how to edit photos like a pro and were able to make stunning and creative photography and art?

Ever since my first creativeLIVE photography class last month, I have become a huge fan of everything creativeLIVE. I want to take every class they offer and tell everyone about them. The best part about it is that all the classes are FREE if you watch them live!

This month, creativeLIVE is offering THREE free classes, all centered around the topic of post processing and editing. The “how-to” of using photo editing software and techniques to get professional results. Here is more information about the upcoming classes for June:

Beyond Photography – Artistic Post Production (Doug Landreth)
Friday, June 10 – Saturday, June 11
Noon – 5 p.m. (Pacific Time)

Photoshop Elements 9 for Photographers (Lesa Snider)
Tuesday, June 21 – Wednesday, June 22
Noon  – 5 p.m. (Central Time)
The Power of iPhoto ’11 (Lesa Snider)
Thursday, June 23
Noon  – 5 p.m. (Central Time)

Simply Southwest {Part 2}

This is part number two of the recap of our recent Santa Fe trip. If you didn't catch part one, read all about it here.

After spending hours exposed to the heat and high altitude during our morning hike, we were pretty worn out and weren't so much looking forward to extending our adventurous streak by going on our planned mountain biking excursion. So, we called off the whole biking thing and instead strolled through the main downtown area of Santa Fe. The city is fairly sparse population-wise, with less than 100,000 people calling it home, but during the Memorial Day weekend, a number of tourists, including us, descended upon the town. It wasn't so crowded that it felt unsafe, but there were just enough people to make it feel cozy and quaint. Santa Fe is the place to be if you're looking for art, food, history and adobe buildings (seriously, even the McDonalds was adobe). We took in most of the touristy sites around there, including The Plaza, The Palace of Governors, St. Francis Cathedral, San Miguel Mission, Canyon Road, Loretto Chapel (we didn't get to see the staircase though because there was a wedding that evening) and allegedly the "oldest house." Being a tourist sure does work up an appetite, so we ventured into the Blue Corn
Cafe for dinner, where I appropriately had blue corn tacos and hubby had the largest burrito known to mankind. Both were pretty standard, nothing too special, and they don't offer complimentary chips and salsa. After dinner, we took a final stroll around downtown and then stopped by the local Whole Foods Market to pick up our anniversary cake this year - we have a tradition of getting a cake for our far, the first year's frozen, year-old cake has actually been the best.

{Monday, May 30} Originally, we had booked an all-day whitewater rafting trip called the Taos Box for this day...but I was incredibly bummed when Kokopelli Rafting e-mailed me a few days before we left to say that the water levels on the river were too low to do that particular excursion. They suggested a half-day rafting trip, called the Racecourse, in a different area of the Rio Grande, so we changed our reservation and were set to tackle the rapids that afternoon. Earlier that morning though, we were able to squeeze in a little more siteseeing and explored the Santa Fe Railyard area. There are a number of shops (we only visited the REI), the farmers market (which was closed) and restaurants in the area and an interestingly-designed park with a subtle and clever train theme that incorporated industrial materials; you could tell some artist or architect put some thought into it. We then drove over to the New Mexico State Capitol (Roundhouse) to check out the free art displays throughout the building. Since we were a little pressed for time to get to our rafting excursion, we sort of just strolled through and only stopped for artwork that really caught our attention. No real lunch today, we had to drive about an hour and 15 minutes up north to meet our rafting guide on the river. Once we arrived, we strapped on all the equipment they provided (life vest and helmet), listened to a quick safety briefing, grabbed our paddles, and hopped into our raft with a rather chipper and humorous guide and two other brave souls. Off we go, okay, not so fast...this happened to be one of the windiest days on the river, like 50-60 mph wind gusts blowing in the wrong direction. We got our arm workout for the day paddling against the wind, got splashed a few times from the whitewater, and overall, had a really fun first whitewater rafting experience. Hopefully, we'll be able to go again sometime on a day with calm winds. For our final dinner in Santa Fe, we went to the Rooftop Pizzeria, sat out on the chilly roof, and ordered a pizza with an unusual but flavorful and tasty blend of toppings that included smoked duck, green peppercorns, basil, spinach and a garlic sauce.

{Tuesday, May 31} Good bye, Santa Fe! It's home to Oklahoma City early in the morning! I pretty much slept the entire car ride home; I'm not really sure how I slept so much and was still tired the next day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Simply Southwest {Part 1}

I’m finally getting around to telling you about our Memorial Day/3-Year Anniversary weekend adventure, where hubby and I headed west to Santa Fe, New Mexico! Every time I come home from a vacation, I have a bit of vacation withdrawal and depression (AKA…Post-Travel Depression – PTD for short…seriously, it’s a real condition, look it up). I come home and feel less than enthused about returning back to normal life and readjusting to my regular routine…so, sorry about the delay in posts. But, I have slowly become reacclimated, dug my way out of mountains of laundry over the weekend and want to give you the full overview of the trip and offer up some advice if you ever plan on traveling to this area.

Since my husband and I are by no means independently wealthy, we don’t have a fortune to spend on travel and try to be somewhat budget-conscious when traveling. My theory on vacations is that I would rather take cheaper, more frequent vacations instead of only going on a few extravagantly expensive vacations every few years. We don’t normally fly if it’s within a day’s drive, we don’t normally stay at five-star luxury resorts, and we don’t spend a fortune dining at fancy restaurants. What we do spend money on are unique experiences or excursions. I absolutely love planning trips and finding fun things to do in interesting places. One of my go-to sites for travel reviews is TripAdvisor, and I check Urbanspoon or Yelp for popular restaurants.

Here is a breakdown of what we did on our Santa Fe trip with some reviews and photos interspersed:
{Saturday, May 28} We drove most of the day Saturday (Santa Fe is a nine-hour drive from Oklahoma City), and we stopped in Amarillo (the halfway point) for lunch at Blue Sky, a simple burger joint right along I-40. The line snaked around to the door when we got there and we had to wait about 10 minutes to order, but it was worth the wait. I ordered the regular signature burger with a layering of mustard and mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and pickles and added some fries, and hubs got a bacon cheeseburger with a side of jalapeno rings. My burger was quite tasty but the fries were a bit greasy; the jalapeno rings were much better and not too spicy. We left with full bellies and were on our way to Santa Fe. After a few more hours of driving, we finally made it and checked into our hotel and then headed to the outlet shops…I was mostly just interested in the Coach outlet. An hour or so later, with a new purse and umbrella in tow, we worked up an appetite and headed to our first eatery in Santa Fe…Jambo CafĂ©, an award-winning African restaurant. If you weren’t looking for this place, you would probably miss it. Wedged between a nail salon and a clothing store in a strip mall, it’s not quite what I had in mind when I read about it online. The actual restaurant is tiny, seating maybe only 30-40 people inside, and there were three little patio tables outside. We opted for the immediate seating outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. The atmosphere was a little lacking out there, since we sat about three feet from a parked car on a concrete sidewalk, but the food pretty much made up for all of that and more. I had my eyes stomach set on the jerk chicken with sweet potato fries, but was sadly informed that they were out of the jerk chicken, so I ended up ordering the spice-rubbed salmon salad. My husband ordered a chai latte and the special of the day, crab cake with rice. Once we took a bite, we couldn’t stop eating. Everything was so flavorful, cooked perfectly with just the right amount of spice. It lived up to its hype and deserved all the buzz surrounding it. I was just surprised it wasn’t in the downtown touristy hub of Santa Fe, but I’m sure the prices wouldn’t be as reasonable if it were. After dinner, we drove around town and stopped at the local Sunflower Farmers Market grocery store, which is similar to Whole Foods but cheaper, to replenish our snacks. (I was looking at the web site and found out that one is coming to Oklahoma City this fall at 6410 N. May Ave! Oklahoma City is getting a Sunflower Farmers Market, Whole Foods and Outlet Mall all later this year…what a great year! )
{Sunday, May 29} That morning, we woke up relatively early to get a head start to our day. In the car again for a short drive, we drove about an hour and a half or so to Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos to hike and check out the ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. We climbed on ladders, explored ancient cliff homes (basically holes in the rocks) and hiked until I almost passed out from heat exhaustion. It was a lot warmer than what I had packed and dressed for; you never know what to expect in the desert.
I was covered in dust and drenched in sweat on our way back to Santa Fe, but we had planned to catch a quick bite for lunch and then do some mountain no point in taking a shower. The lunch spot that day was Santacafe. Once we pulled into the parking lot full of high-dollar yuppy vehicles, I wished we would have showered and changed. Oh well, we walked into a crowd of local retirees and yuppies and settled into a table in the peaceful, outdoor patio area. I had forgotten it was Sunday, and they had a special brunch menu instead of the usual lunch menu. I ordered the chicken salad and hubs ordered a fancy hotdog with waffle-cut rosemary chips and a basket of pastries (which, because of the hubs' nut allergy, I had to consume most of). The chicken salad was decent, a little overpriced and nothing to write home about. Hubs said the hotdog and sauerkraut were pretty delicious, the chips were rather tasty and different, and the pastries were fairly good as well. I enjoyed sitting back, watching the birds, taking in the relaxing atmosphere and getting my fill of people-watching. I was convinced that two middle-aged couples a table over belonged on a "Real Housewives" show.
That concludes Part One of our adventure, I'll pick it back up and finish where I left off tomorrow since this is becoming a megapost.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sneak peek

Here's a little sneak peek of what we did this past Memorial Day weekend. I will try to post a full update with details this weekend. 

Also, I wanted to pass along that June 4 is National Learn to Row Day! If you live in the Oklahoma City area, sign up for a free hour-long session to learn how to row this Saturday at the Chesapeake Boathouse. If you are not in the OKC area, don't despair...this is a national event, so you might be able to find a rowing or fitness club offering something similar.