Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My new website is live!

Hi everyone!  I have done a lot of projects on the inside of the house, I'm just trying to get all the details in order before I snap some pics and post it for you.  The living room is like a different place!  But before that, I wanted to let you all know that my new photography business website is up and running.
I am looking for clients, and this weekend is supposed to be if you live in the Twin Cities area and want to do an outdoor session before the leaves are all gone, please let me know at or the 'contact' form on the site. 

And because I love you all, I'm offering a $50 discount on my session fees, which include ALL the high-res digital images  (I usually deliver around 40) and a professional 11x14.  Hope to hear from you!  Thank you all for your comments and support! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recapping the landscaping

Do you ever respond to an email and then realize later that you never sent it?  Or read a text message and mentally respond but never ACTUALLY respond?  I do that all the time.  I did that with this post about our front landscaping.  Half composed, photos all renamed and ready to go, but never posted.  I swear my mind is shot!  Anyway, to commemorate the end of summer, here is the work we did this summer... 
We had a nice big bare spot in the front, where a huge pine tree used to be before it was knocked down in a storm last summer.  Before:
We started by marking the area we wanted to be our planting area with spray paint, then went to the nursery to pick out our plants. 
We knew we wanted some larger foundation plants around the edges and then room in the middle for perennials and smaller shrubs. 
The beauty of our yard is being able to expand this area as the plants grow.  We did NOT do a great job of weeding, removing all the grass, tilling the soil.  We also didn't edge the area with anything, so all summer we were picking weeds and grass out of the bed.  Dumb.   Ashford picked up our slack by pulling rocks out of the planting area. 
We ended up with a dappled willow, two grasses, three weird perennials with little pink ball flowers, a few purple salvia, a dwarf evergreen, two orange rocket barberry, and a bunch of hostas that were elsewhere on the property.  We also planted a tiger eye sumac that my mom gave us, and it looked really sad from the transplant.    
Fast forward to a month later, and the space is just we went and picked up 400 pounds of flagstone to make a nice little feature on the back end of the bed.  The star would be the sweet globe blue spruce on a grafted trunk that I just had to have.  
We cut a 6 foot circle into the ground, and dry fit the stones.  We had just enough to do a two-high circle.
This project was so easy, the low profile means that there was no adhesive necessary and we can always move things around or add on as we like.  We would love to get flagstones all the way around, but I'm not sure we can afford it! 
The day after this pic was taken, we replaced the severely burned dappled willow with the golden falsecypress in the bottom of this photo, and we also planted a smaller 'dark horse' weigela.   Here is the way it was all looking in July.   
And here is the way it looks today.  Wow, those grasses exploded!  I underestimated how large they would get, and while the falsecypress is eventually going to be huge, right now it is dwarfed.  I may be moving those grasses at some point. 
Also, can we just say again how much better the house looks painted?!  So then there was this side area where another tree fell down last year (I saw a picture, it was like the apocalypse) on the other side of the driveway. 
We planted seed in the bald spot to the right, but the bigger dirt pile needed a planting bed.  We also wanted a tree, so we went to pick up a nice 'snowdance' lilac tree.
 It is always a tricky thing to plant a tree.  The depth has to be perfect, and there is a small graft on the bottom of the trunk that needs to be exposed to the sun, it was quite a task.  When it was finally in there, we filled in the rest of the area with additional hostas, some coral bells, lilies and coneflowers. 
I decided to put Glimerace the frog in this area, the neighbors think he's cute and Ashford likes him. 
We had a lot of overgrown stuff on the east side of the house, but I thought I could work with everything but the tall dumb weed on the right side. 
It seemed to be about three different weeds that had grown into tree size. 
It looked a lot better after we cut that one down, of course there is still a stump there.  And we have trimmed all the other stuff, I just don't have a picture.  I've considered cutting it all down, but I sort of like how tall they are - and removing all the stumps would be a pain.     
So, that is the bulk of what we did in the yard this summer. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Orange is the new red

The front door is (mostly) painted with SW Obstinate Orange!  Here is the before:  
Yes, this is a very boring builder special door.  But for now, it has to do.  Unfortunately, I did a very very stupid, very bad thing.  I thought since I bought fancy Sherwin Williams paint - Resilience Exterior Satin - that I could just sand well and paint.  
Yeah, well that was dumb.  The parts that were painted tan still looked....tan.  Oh, and the paint I got is completely underwhelming.  It was runny as hell.  Don't buy Resilience!  This picture show two more coats.  Oh my gosh, this project will never end!!
I even started just putting coats of orange on the insets where the tan paint helped a little, but the whole door still needs another coat.  For awhile we had a lovely orange and green combo. 
We had to replace the green door, the glass insert was ugly with a beveled design around the edges, and we didn't have a screen.  The door itself was a weird brand I've never seen before, so I couldn't easily buy just a screen.  And I didn't want to paint out the green!  I called a contractor that only installs storm doors and he picked up our new doors (one for front and back), installed them, and hauled away the old ones for $125 each.  After we purchased the doors, of course.  I thought that was CASH WELL SPENT since it took the guy almost two hours for each door!!
Of course now, the stupid new storm door looks PINK.  I knew 'sandstone' would be a little more pink, but next to the body color and the trim on the rest of the house, it doesn't please me.  
I carry my color swatches with me everywhere I go these days, and last trip to Home Desperate I happened to find this spray paint that is almost exactly the same color as our Clarksville Gray trim. 
And when I sprayed a piece of paper to see how the color compared to the door, the difference was subtle, but I think it would look a ton better. 
Now I have to decide whether I should waste time spraying my brand new storm doors, or just live with it.
The farther away you are, the harder to see the pinky beige door.  What do you think?  Is our door too loud?  We have had a couple neighbors tell us they like it, but I think most of them are still a little shocked.  I think once we get our lights and house numbers up, it will look more finished. Still do to: a ton of trim paint, garage door paint, and addressing those lower windows.    

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sara B Snappin

Wow, it's been awhile since I've posted.  The reason for that is a three-week visit to my home town where I started a new adventure!  While sleeping in my parent's basement and letting my fabulous mom take care of Ashford, I did photo shoots for 21 friends and their families to build a portfolio for my new photography business.  
I know, I know.  Another 'momtographer' who thinks she can start a business because she has a nice camera.  Trust me, I have done that eyeroll a million times.  However, I am taking this very seriously.  I have dedicated countless hours to learning, practicing, researching techniques....and it just seemed like this was the right time for me to see if I had the talent.  
I had never done formal photo shoots before, so I decided to start with friends, just in case I bombed.  I put together a contract and a plan to make it as professional and legitimate as possible.  I never dreamed I'd get so many interested friends!  I was so busy, doing 4 shoots a day some days and I was always up until 1am editing photos at night, it was crazy!
After my first few sessions, I realized a few things:
I need more practice with posing
I need more tricks up my sleeve to deal with kiddos that aren't into photos
I need to be religious about using a gray card or my Expodisc to avoid all the post-processing white balance fixing!  That takes up SO much time. 
I need to have a checklist of poses/activities that I wanted to capture, a sort of workflow that will help me get everything I want, for me and for the client.  
After all the sessions were over, I assessed my portfolio and was pretty happy with the variety and quality of the images.  I am very critical about certain things:
  • Focus.  All of my images must be SHARP (unless the artistic vision is to be blurry/out of focus)
  • White balance.  Skin tones must look like people sitting in the grass, anyone?
  • Interesting light.  A well-exposed image in flat light can be boring.  I try hard to look for and use shadows and sun to make a more powerful image.
  • Poses, or lack of.  I try to capture moments rather than forced smiles.  Yes, I take a lot of posed smiling shots, but I also take a ton of photos with no eye contact. Sometimes (most of the time?) those are the best ones.  
  • Distractions.  If there is a big blue garbage can behind my subject and I don't realize it until I've taken the shot, you bet I will take the time to clone it out in post.  
  • Editing.  I like a clean edit.  I sometimes use the matte finish that is so popular now, but it's rare.  I always have a light touch with my editing, to remember things as they actually were. 
  • Time of day.  I prefer to shoot at sunset, like every other photographer, but during this visit it just wasn't possible to do that for everyone.  So, I've learned to love full sun in the morning and afternoon!  Here are some of my favorites in full sun:

Next steps for me include registering my business with the state, setting up my tax info, figuring out what platform I want to use for my website and blog, the list goes on and on.  But one thing is certain, I'm going to do it right.  (Shaun wanted me to call my business Sara B Snappin because my middle initial is B, but I just couldn't agree to that!  ha)
If you would like to check out my Facebook page, it is Sara Hilton Photography.  I also have to give a shout out to the forum that has given me the confidence to pursue this, Clickin Moms.  Their tutorials, advice, and wealth of information have been so instrumental to my growth!  
So, that is what is taking up all my time lately.  However, I did get some work done on the house...mainly a new color for the front door.  Here is a teaser of the color painted on some cardboard (SW Obstinate Orange), full post coming when I get the last coat on!  It's awesome!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The painted house

Two Fridays ago our painters started working on the house.  And I was so nervous that I made the wrong choice picking SW Muddled Basil right up until they were putting it on.  
And then I was so happy, because it was exactly what I wanted.  Gray, not too green...and moody, but neutral.  I don't know, I'm just making this crap up.  I just wanted it to look awesome and it does!
Oh, I'm so happy to see the burgundy go.  We still have some trim and windows to paint, but at least it looks pretty finished at this point.  Like our grass, that looks pretty finished, too. 
The chunky trim around the top windows looks so much better painted the body color.  I like a monochromatic look, and huge cream trim and cream boards on all the corners was not working for me.  The lower window trim will look skinnier once I get the screens back on there. 
I spent a lot of time painting the aluminum exterior of this window last week, and even though I was very careful, they still got stuck.  I hate painting windows!  The difference between the old cream and the new Clarksville Gray isn't huge, but it is noticeable. 
I still have to paint the garage door.  You can really see how much darker the new trim color is around the door. 
The back is still a hot mess, but if you notice we got rid of the lava rock!  It was quite a debacle, too.  We still have the little row of river rock, though.  Apparently the previous owners had a fountain there.  More on that another day...for now, let's admire the new paint!  I'm definitely picking a different orange for the doors.  I think I know what it will be, but I'm still hemming and hawing as usual. 
You really sharp people might also notice I only got half the French door painted the new trim color.  I've still got a lot to do.  Here's the list:
Put a second coat on all trim in the front and patio area
Paint kitchen window - two coats
Paint downstairs walkout window - two coats
Paint master bedroom window - 1.5 coats (because one poorly-applied coat was already done by our painter)
Replace or spray paint icky storm door on basement walkout door.  I've never photographed it because it's so damn ugly and rusty.  But, I don't really want to buy a new one since we hardly ever use that door.
Remove this wretched hunter green storm door and buy a normal colored one that actually has a screen, probably 'sandstone' or some other appropriately named tan.  It still blows my mind that the previous owners painted the house red and kept this green door. 
I also have to purchase and install new exterior lights, house numbers, and clean up some old red paint left on our stoop.  So, that might be done before we get snow.  I'm not sure.  What do you think?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Finishing the floors

Before we started the floor project, I had a freak out about the stain color.  I knew we needed something much darker than what we had, due to the dark casing that I was not going to change. 
I love that Varathane has tiny little sample packets at Menards, just 30 cents each...a lot better than buying 5 or 6 small cans.  Especially because I ended up picking a color I didn't think I would want.  Here are my five choices on a brand new oak baseboard. 
At first I thought we liked the third one the best (Early American) but then when I brought the board inside, the second color from the end was clearly the best. 
That color was Dark Walnut, which looked so dark and blah on the baseboard.  But I knew that when the oil poly went on top, it would warm the color up quite a bit.  I also went to a fancy paint place that carries Old Masters stain, I thought the American Walnut I used for our kitchen shelves would be nice, but it turned out super red!  I was pretty pissed I wasted 15 bucks on that.  Here is the Dark Walnut going on. 
I just loved that it was dark enough that only one coat is needed.  You can do multiple coats, but once the first coat is absorbed, the subsequent coats don't sink in as well.  We also wipe the stain off immediately, using a lot of elbow grease, that cuts down on drying time and ensures that you don't have blotches.  When we stain, we use cut up t shirts as rags and we wear pants and socks.  We also avoid putting our hands right on the floor.  The oils from your skin can create marks (and foot prints!) that show in your stain.  This happened to me when we did Ashford's room two years ago, a foot print right in the middle of the doorway! 
It became apparent to us while refinishing these floors that the quality of the oak was pretty low compared to the red oak floors in our previous house.  Since this place was built in 1973, I'm not necessarily surprised the wood is not top quality, but it still sucked.  It didn't sand as well, and didn't accept the stain as well, either.  But it still looked pretty good when I busted out the poly.  We went with Varathane again, because I am familiar with it and it worked out good in our last house.
Ever since our awesome floor guy clued me in to this tip, I've used a regular Shur-Line 9-inch paint pad to put on poly.  I only buy one, then I wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until I'm ready to do the second and third coats. It works really well!  I alternate between using a pole attached to the applicator, and holding it by hand, depending on where I'm at in the room. 
We found just how difficult it is to see where you have already coated in this house.  With a limited amount of windows, there is a very small area of floor with light shining directly on it.  By the FOURTH coat (yep, there is a story behind that) we finally realized we needed some help and Shaun hovered over me with one of my photography studio lights!  It worked very well to prevent more issues like this....
I still can't believe I totally missed those sections, and also...we got a severe wake-up call about how often you have to stir satin poly to maintain the satin finish.  The matte particles will settle at the bottom of the can if you don't stir constantly, and on our third - what we thought was final - coat, most of the upstairs was full gloss!  You can see in the above pic the satin below the gloss.  I was so disgusted.  
In the above photo, the gloss started where the window reflection ends.  What the heck.  Luckily (not luckily, but you know...) I had straight up FALLEN in the third coat of poly in the dining room, so I knew we would have to do a fourth coat, anyway.  It was so embarrassing.  I flailed around like a fish out of water and Shaun just laughed and laughed about it.  Needless to say, we couldn't fix it all the way and had to redo. 
In between each coat, we waited 24 hours then sanded with 220 grit on a pole sander.  It looks scary to scuff it so much, but it's totally necessary for proper adhesion.  We always use a tack cloth on the Swiffer to get up all the dust. After our fourth coat, we saw that we had some issues.  Apparently 24 hours drying time was not enough by the time we got three coats on, because the fourth coat had a lot of what they call 'alligator skin'...caused by the previous coat not being dry enough.  This picture also highlights a nice brush hair, Shaun had brushed on the first coat before we switched to the pad.  Note to self, don't use cheap stain and poly brushes!
 Drips and some dust. 
 Ugh, a really bad drip and some weird skips. 
 Random hair.  Hard to say what part of the body that one came from....
Trapped particles created these little crosses in some areas, I'm assuming the previous coat wasn't dry enough and the new coat couldn't adhere around these little devils. 
Back to my point about the sub-par wood, when we sanded the steps we realized they were just cheap pine treads.  Why they would put oak everywhere and then install pine treads, I have no idea...but we just stained it the same and of course the soft wood came out much darker because I didn't have time to go get (or apply) wood conditioner.  Maybe one day we will put in good treads, but for now this is ok. 
Overall, Ashford's room is the worst with the scaling and I'm just thanking my lucky stars that these floors will mostly be covered by rugs!  I am much happier with the way the house looks, though.  New flooring can make such a huge difference!  I love how the floors totally match the window now, I'm not planning to paint any windows in this house. 
We waited an entire week to replace the furniture, and will wait about four weeks to put down the rugs.  I've learned my lesson with the rugs, in our last house I had a grid pattern from the rug pad all over the upstairs even when I waited 3 weeks to replace them!  Oil just takes so much longer to cure.  
One good thing about waiting so long to put back the furniture is Ashford's antics.  He just loves running around in there! 
All in all, we ended up spending $180 on the sander rental, $10 on the paint pad, $10 on tack cloths, $15 on two quarts of stain, $240 on 6, count 'em, 6 gallons of poly.  After spending $450 on this project and a week of Shaun's vacation, I'm not sure we made the best choice.  I would've rather paid 3k to have someone else do it, frankly.  This go around was super stressful, I think I'm losing my mojo sometimes.  Oh well, it's done and we're moving on!