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Monday, September 22, 2014

{travel} I've Been Keeping a Secret... We've Been on Safari!

I've been keeping a big secret...

While you were seeing my blog posts about fall decor for the last couple of weeks, I was traveling through South Africa!

And now that we are home, I am so excited to finally tell you all about it!

Two weeks ago, Scott and I set off for a week long safari, followed by several days spent exploring beautiful Cape Town!

Since returning home on Saturday afternoon, we have barely scratched the surface of reviewing the thousands {and thousands} of photos that we took while in Africa, so I'll be sharing the details of our travels in a series of blog posts over the next few weeks. There will be much better photos of the animals and landscape to come, but, for today, I wanted to give you just a quick sneak peek at the safari half of our trip.

While on safari, we went on two game drives each day - a three hour early morning drive, and a three hour late afternoon drive. Since these are the coolest times of day, they are when the animals are most active.

We were with the same guide, and the same group of eight other travelers the entire time. We got to know each other quite well and many of us became fast friends! Ironically, four of our eight safari companions were also from Denver {as were quite a few other people we met and befriended at the lodge}. We are already looking forward to a Denver-based safari reunion and photo exchange in the near future.

Our guide, Paul, was so much fun! He had just begun his job as a ranger, and we were his first ever group. But he had just completed a year worth of guide training {in addition to his related education}, so he was amazingly well informed and made it a wonderful experience for all of us.

While we did spend the majority of our time driving around in the safari vehicle, Paul was eager to get us an even closer look at some of the animals, so we did some walking as well!

I have some pretty crazy stories about some of our walking adventures, which I'll share with you soon, but let's just say that we later walked even closer to this cheetah, and under very different circumstances.

After our safari came to an end, we left the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa {along the north east Indian Ocean coast}, and traveled to Cape Town {on the south west Atlantic Ocean coast}. No photo sneak peeks of this part of the trip today, but let me just say that there is now no doubt in my mind why Cape Town was named the top travel destination for 2014 by the New York Times and why it is often regarded as the most beautiful city in the world!

I also thought I would use today's post to answer a few of the questions about our trip that we've been asked most frequently.

How long was the flight? Getting to the safari lodge took two full days. Our flight left Denver on a Saturday at about 10 am, and didn't arrive at the lodge until Monday morning. We flew from Denver to Washington D.C. {3 hours} where we were very rushed to make our connecting flight. We then flew from Washington/Dulles to Johannesburg, South Africa via Dakar, Senegal. It was an 8 hour flight across the Atlantic to Dakar, where the plane landed to refuel and collect a few additional passengers. We were on the ground in Dakar for about 1 hour, but we were not allowed to deplane during that time. It was, however, a good chance to stand up and stretch our legs a bit. The flight then continued on for another 8 hours across the continent of Africa, arriving at the Johannesburg airport a a little after 5 p.m. local time. For those that are counting, that means it was 17 hours on the plane from D.C. to Johannesburg! I was curious how that ranks, and it appears to be in the top 5 longest flight routes in the world {just slightly longer than LA to Sydney, Australia, which I have had the pleasure of flying}.

We spent the night at a hotel attached to the Johannesburg airport. It wasn't much to see, but we were thrilled to be off the plane and sleeping in a real bed that night.

The following morning we boarded a very early flight on a small prop plane which took us from Johannesburg to Richards Bay {the nearest airport to our safari destination}.

When we arrived in Richards Bay {about an hour later}, we were then driven the final hour and half to reach the lodge. All in, we flew just under 10,000 miles from Denver to Richards Bay.

After the week of our safari, we then had a car transfer for the 3 hours drive from the safari lodge to Durban {South Africa's third largest city}, where we boarded a 2.5 hour flight to Cape Town.

On paper, our return to the US took only one full day, instead of two, because we gained back 8 hours rather than losing it, and because we didn't have to overnight at an airport hotel. But in terms of total flying time, the return trip was actually a bit longer. We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg {2 hours}, then had a two hour layover during which we went through customs before boarding our flight from Johannesburg to D.C., again via Dakar, Senegal {17 hours}. We had a another two hour layover in D.C, {again taken up by customs procedures}, and then boarded the final leg of our flight from D.C. to Denver {4 hours}. From door to door, our return trip was 30 hours of non-stop travel. Exhausting, but so worth it!

What made you decide to go to South Africa? Going on safari is something Scott and I have always wanted to do. It was originally a trip that we wanted to take before having kids, and one we had even started to plan about five years ago. But at that time the economy was bad and we both worried about job security, so we decided it would be better to keep most of the money we had saved for the trip safely in the bank, and we instead took a much less expensive, but still amazing, trip to Costa Rica.

After Beckett was born a couple of years later, we assumed that an African safari would be far, far down the road for us. That fall, we attended an annual charity event sponsored by my law firm, where each year they auction off a all-inclusive 6-day safari. Several of my colleagues had purchased the trip at the auction in the past, and had raved it. Scott and I told ourselves each year that someday we would bid on that trip...someday! But that year, the live auction was moving along very slowly. When the safari came up for bid, the room was quiet - no one was bidding. Finally Scott and I exchanged looks and without any real discussion, we impulsively decided to make a low opening bid - certain that someone would end up outbidding us {but ok with it if they didn't}.

For those who know us - we don't really do anything impulsively {I'm sure that won't surprise any of you who have read about the detail to which I plan my decorating and organizing projects}, so spontaneously deciding to bid on this trip was not like us at all. As you probably guessed, no one outbid us. We got an incredible deal and we were so excited! On the way home we decided that we would go on the trip right away, before having a second child {we were already trying for number 2, but expected it would take some time based on our prior experiences}. As it turned out, just a week later we learned that Cooper would be joining our family! That, of course, put our travel plans on hold for about two years. But we managed to make the trip a reality right at the end of the allowed time frame for the safari package.

Where were the kids while you were in Africa? Scott and I are so fortunate to have all of our parents close by, so the grandparents took turns watching our boys while we were on our South African adventure. Beckett and Cooper stayed with my parents most of the time that we were away, but spent one long weekend with Scott's mom and another long weekend with his dad. We couldn't possibly thank them all enough for being willing to watch the boys for such an extended period of time!

Cooper is still too young to really understand that mommy and daddy were going away for two weeks, but we explained it to both boys and told them all about where we were going. Beckett {who is now 2 and a half}, loves animals, and was so excited to hear about everything we would be seeing. He would tell everyone, "Mommy and Daddy going to Africa! They will see zebras, and lions, and giraffes, and rhinos, and cheetahs, and hippos, and sharks, and penguins." He was disappointed to learn that we would not be seeing tigers, but after we showed him, on his globe, where tigers do live, he began telling everyone, "Mommy and Daddy not going to see tigers in Africa. Tigers live in A-gia."

We spent a lot of time preparing the kids for our trip and making them feel a part of it - including making books with them, and putting together special gifts for them to open before we left and while we were away. I'll share more details about all of that in the coming weeks.

We missed the boys terribly while we were away, but they loved every minute of their own vacation with their grandparents, and they even went on their own backyard safari. Thankfully Facetime allowed us to talk to the boys nearly every day. I think it really helped them to be able to see us, and I know it helped us to see their smiling faces! At times, we were even able to turn the iPad around and show them zebras or other animals wandering past the front of our tented safari camp, which they, of course, loved!!

There will be much more South Africa talk to come, but don't worry, there will be regular blog content in between. I have some pretty exciting stuff coming up later in the week, including a fall home tour on Thursday {with links to similar home tours from dozens of other talented bloggers}. And on Friday I am participating in a DIY Halloween Costume Blog Hop with over 100 other bloggers - you won't want to miss it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

{five minute friday} Gilded Knife Block

Hello Blue i Style readers! I hope you're having a happy Friday!
I'm thrilled Angela asked me to be here with you guys today to bring you a easy way to spice up a boring kitchen necessity!

Many of us have these giant knife blocks in our homes, right? They can be a a great tool if you want to keep your sharp knives out of drawers so little fingers don't get hurt when they go digging! But let's be real...they aren't the most attractive item that makes a home on your kitchen counter!
Well, it was one of those kind of days when I was armed with my favorite gold spray paint looking for victims. The knife block was the first thing I laid eyes on and it was no match for my
desire for constant changeimagination.
I slapped some painters tape on this baby in a funky, plaid-like pattern, and got to spraying!

I peeled the tape of before the paint was completely dry so the lines would be crisp and voila! This is definitely a five minute update that you can tackle any day of the week!
There was a logo from our local grocery store on the knife block so I threw a chalkboard label on top of it to cover it up.

What do you guys think? Will you attempt this at home :)
My paper towel holder, wine glasses and glass ornaments may have been victims to the gold as well!

Thanks so much for hanging out with me today and I'd love for you to stop by the blog sometime and check out more of my easy, budget friendly projects like my paint can herb garden, DIY upholstered office chair, and pallet and sawhorse desk!

Thanks for having me Angela and have a great weekend friends!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

{seasonal style} Fall in Love Canvas Art

I am really enjoying working on some DIY projects to bring some touches of fall in to our home, and I'm having fun playing with different color combinations. Today I have a fun art project tutorial for you! I created my art to specifically to tie together the fall color palette that I selected for our kitchen, but it can easily be adapted to fit any color scheme and style.

In the past, I haven't really decorated for fall because the traditional fall colors don't fit my style. But this year I decided to think outside the box, and last week I shared a post with 10 non-traditional color palettes for the fall. The color combo I picked for our kitchen this fall is inspired by peacock feathers.

My kitchen has teal walls and we have a few royal blue accents throughout the room, so the blue and green shades of peacock feathers seemed a natural fit for the space. To tie these colors together with a felling of autumn, I decided to add in some touches of golden yellow.

I decided to create a piece of artwork using all of these colors that could serve as the focal point for my fall kitchen decor.

Before I get to the tutorial, here's the complete supply list for this project:
  • Stretched canvas (I used 16x20)
  • Scrapbook paper in your choice of colors/patterns
  • Paper cutter OR ruler and scissors
  • Mod Podge
  • Small paint brush
  • Adhesive backed vinyl OR letter stickers
  • Cricut or Silhouette cutter (OPTIONAL)
  • Sand paper
  • Spray paint

I started by scouring the scrapbook aisles of my favorite craft stores for papers in papers in shades of teal and gold. I even managed to find some gorgeous peacock feather paper at Michaels.

I used my paper cutter to measure and cut 4 half-inch wide strips from one page of each scrapbook paper pattern. {I sat the uncut portion of each paper aside for use in another project.}

Once all of my strips of paper were cut, I started to lay them out on my canvas. All of my papers were in shades of yellow/gold and teal, so I decided to have the start with the yellow tones on the left side of the canvas, and end with the teal shades on the right side.

Each strip of paper was only 12 inches long {except my peacock paper, which was only 11 inches long}. Since the canvas I purchased was 16 inches tall, I knew I would have to piece multiple strips of paper together to cover the entire canvas. As I laid out the strips across the top portion of the canvas, I made sure to only use 3 of the 4 strips in each pattern, and I sat the fourth strip of each to the side for use in filling in the bottom of the canvas.

Once I had laid out paper strips across the entire top of the canvas, and was happy with the arrangement, I pulled out my Mod Podge and a paint brush.

I used the Mod Podge as glue. Starting on the left side of the canvas, I picked up the strips of paper one by one, brushing the back with Mod Podge, then placing it back on the canvas and smoothing it down. I continued this way until all of the strips of paper were affixed to the canvas.

I then took the extra strips of paper {the ones I had sat aside a couple of steps above} and cut them into four inch pieces {the length needed to cover the bottom portion of the canvas}.

When gluing down these short strips, I matched them up with the strips on the top of the canvas as closely as possible. For the chevron patterned papers, it wasn't always possible to line them up just right, but I got close enough to make it look pretty good.

After all of the strips were glued to the canvas, I proceeded to put a sealer coat of Mod Podge over the entire paper covered canvas. The reason for this is that in the next steps I would be placing vinyl stickers on to the canvas, which I would later need to remove. I was concerned that the stickers might tear the paper when removed, so I used the Mod Podge as a sealer to protect the paper.

While the sealer coat of Mod Podge dried, I got out my Cricut and cut letters to spell out the phrase "Fall in Love" {my attempt at a cutesy play on words for the fall season}. I cut the letters from some white adhesive backed vinyl that I had left over from various past projects.

Next, I used my mom's Sizzix die cutting machine to cut three leaf shapes from the vinyl as well. {I really need to get my own so that I can quit borrowing my mom's!}

Once the Mod Podge sealer coat was dry, I pealed of the backing on my vinyl letter stickers and placed them on my canvas. I selected the placement of my letters to minimize the number of places that they overlapped the "seams" between the top and bottom strips of paper. As you can see in the photo, I ended up with only the "l" in "love" overlapping a seam.

With the stickers in place, I was ready to paint the canvas. I have heard this process referred to as "reverse stickering " The idea is that you paint the entire thing, then remove the stickers revealing the pattern below only in those areas that were covered.

But before I painted the canvas, I started to worry about how well the paint would stick to the somewhat glossy Mod Podge finish. I didn't want to have to use primer, so I instead grabbed a piece of fine grit sandpaper from the workbench, and lightly sanded the entire surface of the canvas. I was carefully not to press hard enough to sand through the sealer and scratch the paper, and I was carefully not to catch and peel up the edges of the stickers. I sanded the surface just enough to rough it up every so slightly, giving the paint a little something to grip.

I then carried the canvas outside and prepared to paint the entire thing in a shade of blue somewhere between royal and navy.

I worked slowly and in light coats until the entire canvas was covered.

As soon as the blue spray paint was dry, I brough my canvas inside and slowly started to peel off the vinyl stickers. I was releaved to see that the stickers had provide a good seal, stopping any paint from bleading under, and that the paint did not peel or tear as I removed the stickers.

As I removed the stickers, I started to get giddy about the awesome result! I just love the look of all those strips of patterned papers spelling out the words on my canvas!

With all of the stickers removed, I stood back to admire my work. My husband acted surprised at how much he liked the finished project {appearantly he was doubting my plan as he watched me work on this art project. But the finished art canvas got his stamp of approval!

I have totally fallen in love with this easy work of art... BaDumChing {sorry... couldn't help it!} I am so excited about the way this work of art ties together my fall color scheme of blue, teal and gold!

Be sure to come back next week when I'll be taking part in a fall home tour with a whole bunch of other, crazy talented bloggers. That's when you'll get to see how this DIY canvas art fits in with all of the other fall decor in our kitchen! You won't want to miss it! {HINT: it also involves those metallic wine bottles vases that I shared last week!}

Monday, September 15, 2014

{seasonal style} Pumpkin Tic Tac Toe

Today I've got a fall project that's fun for the whole family!

A couple of weeks ago, I took you on a tour of our living room and showed you our kid-friendly coffee table styling that includes a tic tac toe game I purchased at Z Gallerie.

As I began making plans to bring some touches of fall to our living room, I originally assumed I would put the tic tac toe board away and replace it with some kind of fall decor. But then, as I was browsing the aisles of Hobby Lobby, I came across these inexpensive pumpkin picks and thought that they might make perfect replacements for the Xs and Os. Best of all, they were half price! So I picked up nine of them and brought them home, crossing my fingers that they weren't too big. 

The size of the pumpkins turned out to be just perfect, so next up I had to decide how to paint them to make them distinguishable. I though about leaving some orange, and painting the remainders white. But since they would be sitting in the black game board, I thought this color scheme would look to Halloween specific. I wanted the pumpkin tic tac toe game to be part of our fall decor from September through Thanksgiving, so I instead decided to paint them in two different metallic tones to make them a bit classier, and less theme-y.

In order to use the pumpkins as tic tac toe pieces, I was going to need to remove the sticks from the bottom, but I knew they would be easier to paint with the sticks in place - so I opted not to remove them just yet.

I only wanted to paint the orange part of the pumpkins, leaving the stems their natural brown color, so I covered the stems in aluminum foil to keep the spray paint off of them.

I set up a spray paint station by turning a cardboard box upside down and pushing the pumpkin sticks through the bottom of the box.

This set up made it easy to spray paint the pumpkins {including the bottoms} without touching them. 

I used two different brands of spray paint because that's what I had on hand, but I was much happier with the metallic finish of the silver paint {Montana Gold Acrylic brand of professional spray paint purchased from a specialty art supply store}.

Once the paint was dry, I removed the aluminum foil from the pumpkin stems, and then set about removing the sticks. 

I though I might have to cut the sticks of with wire cutters, but I was pleasantly surprised that all it took was about 10 twists of the each stick and they pulled cleanly out of the pumpkins.

All that was left was to put the metallic painted pumpkins in to the tic tac toe game board and challenge someone to a game.

My new pumpkin tic tac toe makes a fun and unique addition to my coffee table, and best of all, it's fun for the whole family. Because the pumpkins are made from a light weight material, I don't have to worry about the kids dropping them.

Obviously not everyone has a tic tac toe board around the house, but there are plenty of ways that you can create your own. I think it would look fabulous for fall to simply stain a board and paint on the perpendicular lines in a color that matches your decor.

Of if you are interested in purchasing a tic tac toe game board, Z Gallerie currently sells two versions nearly identical to mine. They are a bit pricey {I bought mine on clearance}, but I can attest to the fact that they are well made and look very nice even in a more formal space. I also found a fantastic rustic modern, wooden tic tac toe board for sale on Etsy for only $10!

We are having so much fun with our pumpkin tic tac toe, and it looks so great on our coffee table, that I am already thinking of swapping the pumpkins out for something else come the Christmas season!

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