Friday, May 30, 2014

insta-faves 02: mandy & such

welcome to the second post in a series featuring talented creatives on instagram. my last article introduced you to laura casey, an urban photographer capturing art in the gritty, overlooked minutia of city life.

my guest today works with subjects that are basically the polar opposite; she takes pictures of very. pretty. things. however the end result is the same: captivating photographs that seek the beauty in little, everyday moments.

mandy mcgregor, photographer and author of the delightful blog mandy & such, is one of the first people i had the priviledge of "meeting" through instagram. her feed (@mandyandsuch) on the social media site is, in a word, lovely. she styles her favorite things and favorite moments in a way that is simple, beautiful, and inspiring.

i asked mandy to choose a few of her favorite photos for me to share with you. normally the control freak in me would have hand-picked them, but i really wanted for you to get to know mandy and for this post to be as reflective as possible of her personality and style.

she has also graciously agreed to share her thoughts with us on photography, instagram, blogging, and life as a mom.

asd: what makes you stop to take a photograph?

MM: The colors or the story behind the photo.  I love when photos tell a story.

asd: why did you start taking pictures?  

MM: I just love beautiful things and images.  It’s what inspires my life, just pretty things and moments.

asd: what is your advice for styling a shot?

MM: I think you have to take a few shots at different angles before getting the “money shot.”

asd: i was so curious to see what photos you would pick as your favorites (and how you would narrow it down when they’re all so beautiful)! i suspect that there is a story behind at least a couple of the pictures you chose. care to tell?  

MM: I think I chose the photos because they represent my current mood these days.  Pretty spring colors and just things that make me smile when I scroll through my feed.  I’m starting to do some more styling before I take a photo and that has been really fun.  It truly is an artform and I know some instagrammers are so unbelievably good at that.

asd: why did you start an instagram feed?  

MM: Originally, I started to take pictures of my kids but it’s evolving into something much more and I like that.  I don’t treat it like a Facebook anymore...

asd: what kind of camera do you use?

MM: Nikon D7100.

asd: what editing app or software do you use?  

MM: I love VSCO for my iPhone editing.

asd: do you use filters?  

MM: I don’t usually use the filters in Instagram, but sometimes I will layer one on top of the VSCO filters.

asd: for those who are brand new to instagram and are looking to build a community there, (e.g., find people to follow and gain followers), what is your advice?  

MM: Be patient, post 1 or 2 times a day and make your photos really good.  Whatever it is you want to post, take a few shots at different angles and post your favorite.  The people will come if you have great content.  

asd: how have the people you’ve “met” through instagram impacted you?

MM: I gather some great inspiration from a lot of the people I follow on instagram - everyone from fashion bloggers to business owners.  Inspiration is everywhere.

asd: who are your favorites to follow?  

asd: do you feel that instagram is an important social media for a blogger or small business owner to be a part of?  

MM: Absolutely.  I think it’s a great reflection of the person or business and what they are trying to market.  

asd: how do you curate your instagram feed? what makes the cut and what doesn’t?  

MM: Honestly,  I just have to like it.  It doesn’t even have to make sense, if it appeals to me and my eye, I post it.  I really don’t post for other people; if nobody follows me or likes a photo but I do, than that is all that matters.

asd: if you zoomed out from any given shot on my IG feed, there would be a pile of toys or dishes next to it. that would never be true in your house, right?  

MM: Ha!  That is what I LOVE about instagram though - you only see a 2” x 2” image and it’s beautiful.  The other stuff is just real life and instagram can sometimes feel like a small escape from the chaos.

asd: what is the best thing about instagram?  

MM: The small glimpses you get into the lives of other people you respect or admire.  

asd: do you feel there is any downside to social media?  

MM: I think there is an ugly side to social media with the negative comments that get posted. I know they will find their way to me from time to time and I just have to stay true to myself and move on.

asd: does the “like” button ever affect your feelings of worth as an artist?  

MM: No not at all, it’s all for fun.

asd: why did you start a blog?  

MM: I’d been sitting on the sidelines for a while, reading blogs and just felt like there was this great community out there and I wanted to be apart of it.

asd: how do you hope the visitors to your blog feel when they leave?  

MM: Just inspired and happy and wanting to see what’s next.

asd: i love the simplicity of ‘mandy and such.’ there aren’t a ton of words, it feels so calm, and everything is easy (like the most delicious scones from a just-add-water-mix). there isn’t really a question there; i just wanted to say that.  

MM: Awww so nice, thank you!

asd: since starting a blog, i’ve learned that i’m braver than i thought. what is one thing you have learned?  

MM: That i’m always changing directions.  It’s great to keep the momentum going and things moving, but it can drive me crazy with how many different directions my mind is going.

asd: how do you balance the time demands of blogging with the full-time job of being a mom?  

MM: I don’t!  Ha!  I don’t know that I will ever find the perfect balance.  I just know that right now, we have good days and some not so good days and I’m ok with that.

asd: who inspires you?  

MM: My family, my friends, instagrammers, bloggers, outside, inside, name it - I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere.

asd: and now for the most important question of all: how do you take your coffee?  

MM: Absolutely the most important question.  A half packet of Truvia and a splash of vanilla creamer.  I go to sleep most nights excited to wake up to my first cup in the early morning.  

// //

i would love for you to find and follow mandy on instagram. if you're anything like me, you'll love the daily dose of eye candy and be inspired to elevate the beauty of the every day in your own life.

thank you and thank you again to my new friend for giving us access to the inner workings of an incredible talent. all the best to you in the adventures ahead!

{all photographs copyright mandy mcgregor via @mandyandsuch on instagram}

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

currently craving

summer is officially here. school is out, the pool is open, and the laziness of the season has definitely begun to take effect at our house. here are a few items on my current wish list that reflect the mood around here: light, bright, relaxed, and ready for summer.

for starters, i'm definitely craving more mornings like this

i keep obsessing over this j.crew dress; what a perfectly easy summer staple. 

i've graduated from the diaper bag (finally!) but it turns out, park trips still require a ton of packing. the madewell transport tote would make carting all that gear look effortless and stylish.

thanks to sarah sherman samuel, i'm really thinking i need a touch of marble in my life. (i first found her amazing insta-feed here; see if you can spot my cameo- such a pinch me moment!) 

a marble pastry board would do the trick. this one is from williams-sonoma, and an equally lovely one (for a much lovelier price) is at sur la table

it seems like everyone uses these candles, from diptyque, to style. once i looked them up and saw the price, i knew why. if i decide to splurge on this candle, it will for sure be making several appearances. luckily, laura at bright and beautiful blog has a way to make them last forever. 

on the subject of french things, i'm really craving a little jaunt to paris, like natalia took. i mean, as long as i'm enjoying relaxing mornings over croissants and coffee, it just seems like i should be doing it there. don't you think?

on the home front, i'm craving white walls. i've mentioned this before, and it's grown from a burgeoning obsession to a full-blown crusade. our painter is coming in (hopefully) three weeks to do the office, and i'm having him do the family room at the same time. i can't wait! 

i've recently realized that said office probably needs a rug, so this one rounds out my wish list. i can just picture myself sitting at my desk with this squishy softness under my toes!

sadly, now that mother's day is over and my anniversary isn't for several months, i don't have much chance of most of this wishlist being fulfilled anytime soon. but that's actually ok. putting them on the blog is cathartic. it makes me feel like i have them. ha, well, sort of. i still for sure need the paint. and the candle. and the rug... :)

what's on your list of summer must-haves?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

anatomy of a pin


ah, pinterest, you addictive little darling. i started years ago, gathering wish lists, to-do's, tips and all the what-have-you's i came across online in one place. it was all innocent enough. but in the same way cheetos trick your brain into thinking you're not eating, pinterest makes you ravenous for more. i mean really, the people who started it are evil geniuses.

{photo credit Caroline Alexandra}

there are a lot of different pinterest philosophies. some friends i have will only pin things they actually have done, or intend to do. others, like me, pin things that i want to show my fantasy architect when i build my fantasy dream house. still others pin things that fall into the black abyss of never-to-be-seen-again-good-intentions.


truth be told, serial pinning was what led me to start this blog. pinterest morphed for me from just a place to store my favorites, into a micro-blog of its own. as i look back through my boards, i can see my style evolve and be refined. i began to want to explore and catalog that in macro form.


regardless of my personal style era, one thing has always held true of my pins; it has to be a space where i actually want to be. when a room catches my eye (hard to do in the >1 second it has to do it), i will pause and look at the picture closely and ask myself the question, "would i want to be in this room?" if the answer is yes, only then will i pin it.


incidentally, speaking of "i will pin it," that is almost always true of the following: white kitchens, peonies, plank walls, anything black & white, and skinny ripped boyfriend jeans.



oh, and if it has the words "chocolate," "salted" or "caramel" in any order, i will pin it.


sorry, i got sidetracked. where was i? oh yes, why i pin a space. some spaces are ancient and breathtaking with crumbling patina that is truly marvelous. but can i imagine myself really cooking in a kitchen filled with peeling paint and 1-inch gaps between wood planks? no.

other spaces are ultra-light, bright, modern and sooo appealing visually. but upon closer inspection the sofa looks about as comfortable as a log and the glaring light fixtures feel like giant scary spaceships.

so it has to be liveable. and comfy. with great light.


nowadays, i basically think of laura irion on pinterest as my alter-ego. or my super rich, skinny, stylish, jet-setting twin sister. on this blog i am who i really am. on instagram, there is for sure no hiding; what's there is all i got (though i do hope to get better)! but on pinterest i get to be someone who has an unlimited budget, and for that reason alone it's the best reflection of my uninhibited style and taste. if that makes sense.



the things i'm currently pinning are all inspiring and beautiful, and though they might be out of reach for the "real" laura, they're a wonderfully addicting escape. join me there, won't you?

Friday, May 23, 2014

recipe: almond berry scones

you guys, i am so excited right now. allow me to introduce my first regular guest contributor to avery street design blog (drum roll please): pastry chef bethany moser!

since beginning this blog two things have become obvious to me: 1) desserts may be my love language, and 2) i need someone to teach me how to make more of them.

it just so happens that bethany, who is my darling cousin, is also a professional pastry chef for maggianos (drool). and after seeing time and again the incredible baked goods she posts to facebook, i knew she needed to write for me.

i was thrilled when she agreed to come on board and share her recipes, tips and expertise with us, and her first post looks so delectable, i am headed out to buy the ingredients NOW. these almond berry scones will be the perfect lazy saturday morning treat this weekend. enjoy!

// //


My name is Bethany and I am a foodie! So here I am to share - with YOU - one of my favorite scone recipes that I've created!


^ Before anything, collect the following pieces of equipment (the mise en place bowls are optional):

^ Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees


- 1 cup all-purpose flour + more for dusting
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces

^ Combine in your medium bowl the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar - mix together these dry ingredients.
^ Next add the cold butter pieces and using a pastry cutter blend the butter into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are the size of large peas.

- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup cold heavy cream
- 1/4 cup cold whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (Nielsen Massey Pure Almond is the best)
^ Mix together the egg, heavy cream, whole milk, and pure almond extract - till the egg is blended well.
^ Add the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix with a spoon until just barely blended.

- 1 cup toasted sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen)
- 1/2 cup black berries (or frozen)

^ Toss together the toasted sliced almonds, blueberries, and blackberries into the dough.

^ (This next part is very important - it is a 6-step process that layers the cold butter so that the scones will puff up beautifully!) *

1) pour the dough onto a lightly flour dusted surface & pat out the dough
2) gently fold the dough over half
3) fold the dough over half once more
4) pat out the dough into an 8” circle (about 1” thick)
5) take your sharp bench scrapper and cut the dough into 8 pieces
6) 8 even pieces!

^ Spread the scones out on a wax paper lined cookie tray.

^ Bake the scones for 15-20 minutes, till the scones begin to slightly turn brown.

^ ENJOY the scones warm with your favorite hot beverage!

- OPTIONAL: Amaretto Glaze -

- 1/2 cup amaretto
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
^ Whisk together these two ingredients and drizzle over the cooled scones

^ Top with toasted sliced almonds.

* Hot Point:
It is important to keep the butter cold from cutting into the flour to putting the scones into the oven. The picture below shows the difference of two scones - one baked with cold butter (on the left) and the other scone baked with warm butter (on the right).

I hope you enjoy!



// //

well, if you aren't hungry now, there is something very, very wrong with you. (or you just ate a mcdonald's value meal). either way, i hope you'll join me in whipping these up this weekend. bethany and i would love to hear how they turn out for you!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

insta-faves 01: luminarja

for some of you, the title of this post is in a foreign language. let me explain.

there is a little social media site we call instagram, and if you appreciate art, photography, and beauty, it is the place to find it.

i am new to instagram, but upon joining i was immediately taken with the talent that abounds, some of it yet undiscovered by the larger world. such is the case with laura casey, or as she's known there, @luminarja.

(the "01" denotes that this is the beginning of a series, featuring my favorites to follow. i don't know how long it will be, but judging by the incredible work i keep finding, it could go on indefinitely).

laura is officially a reporter-researcher and unofficially an urban photographer living in brooklyn, new york. though i've actually known her since high school (as 17-year-olds we used to espouse about running a magazine together), i've only recently discovered that she has a secret instagram cult following and is posting some of the most beautiful art i've ever seen there.

it is so very good, i want everyone to know about it.

laura has graciously granted my request for an interview about her life on instagram, and to showcase some of her photographs here at avery street design. i'm honored and quite frankly a little giddy to be able to feature such lovely work on my little website.

asd: what compelled you to start taking photographs?

LC: Boredom and loneliness, to be honest. I went through a really rough time in 2013, including a breakup that left me reeling, and taking photos was something to fill my time, a way to see things more positively, and a way to connect with people.

asd: why did you start an instagram feed for them?

LC: I actually signed up for instagram in 2011 and barely remembered it existed until late 2012. I didn’t REALLY start using it (obsessively) until the fall of 2013.

asd: how did you gain a following there?

LC: I comment a lot. I try to tell people how much their work affects me, in the most genuine way I can (and yeah, that involves lots of emojis). But I didn’t start gaining a lot of followers, at least not so quickly, until I really developed some sort of style. This sounds cliché, but when things started feeling like “me,” people responded to that. I was more confident while being more consistent, in addition to having better photos. It feels like it’s really only been a couple of months since that’s happened. Or maybe yesterday. I just know I feel more “me” every day, which is awesome.

asd: what kind of a community have you found on instagram?

LC: It’s mostly people who share my aesthetic (fairly minimal, focused on pattern and color), and who are (hopefully) also funny and warm. Like attracts like, obviously. It’s also people whose personalities I enjoy. I will immediately unfollow someone I find cruel or insensitive, even if I like their photos in theory. The photos become unattractive to me. I try to interact only with those people, though I do thank just about everyone who comments positively on my photos.

asd: what are you looking for in a photograph?

LC: Beauty. Always beauty, even if there is humor, or even sadness. Elegance, happiness.

I try to take a lot of photos of bright things when it’s cold and grey (though I look for color all the time; never warm colors, though. I have some sort of internal aversion to them).

I like repetition a lot. I constantly think of one of the first lessons Mrs. Palmer, the art teacher I had in high school, gave us, in which she talked about how repetition in art solidifies a point and is some sort of universally appreciated thing. I can’t remember, actually, but I think a lot about repetition because of it!

asd: do you put much thought into what you are photographing?

LC: Not too much! I feel like the best photos are the ones where I just intuitively snap. Those are the ones where I (or more often, someone else) notices something I didn’t see at first. I’m really proud of those.

Like last night; the photo I took of the beautiful teenage boy on the insanely crowded shuttle bus: I got this serendipitous perfect framing of him in a designer shirt (Commes des Garçons Play) that had a Matt Groening [the guy who does The Simpsons] drawing on it of an intense crowd of people that says, “If we lived in a small town, we wouldn’t have cultural opportunities like this.” It was too perfect. I was on the bus, getting crushed and cursing humanity, and there was this kid wearing this shirt while we were all of five minutes away from an amazing museum I hadn’t been to since 2006 and a yoga studio I keep finding reasons not to go to. He moved out of the frame right after I took that.

asd: do you feel that the “like” button ever affects your sense of worth as an artist?

LC: I hate to say this, but yeah. I notice who likes things. It matters a lot to me when it’s someone whose photos I really admire, and/or who is a person I really like.  

Comments matter a LOT more, though, because someone has taken the time to articulate what they like, which means so so much. Occasionally, someone who doesn’t really comment or who doesn’t post a lot of photos will say something really super-nice about my photos being good or me being funny or nice and it’s so so wonderful! In general, people don’t just bust out with that kind of positivity in everyday life, which is really unfortunate.

LC: Also, I was so isolated for so long when I was sick (like 2007 until now!). I feel like it’s only the past few months in which I have reentered society on some level that could be perceived as normal. So I rely on this a LOT as both a creative outlet and a way to make connections that make me hopeful and happy about life. It truly amazes me and thrills me.

LC: Several people have told me (either in public comments or private text conversations) that they appreciate or are inspired by how I see things, my curiosity, my attention to detail, and that they like how positive I am. That’s HUGE to me. I haven’t ever thought of myself as a positive person, or that the details I notice would be interesting to anyone else in the world.

LC: Also, and this is the other huge thing for me besides realizing that everyone else doesn’t think I’m a failure: I’ve never ever before stuck with something until I got good(-ish) at it. Instagram and Pilates (!) are truly the only things that I’ve ever done long enough to see real improvement in and feel a real sense of accomplishment about. This has been truly life-changing for me. I’ve always been the kind of person who gives stuff up if I’m not perfect at it immediately (which means I quit everything, because who is great at anything when they first try it!?).

LC: I’ve never before felt like I had friends who have understood how much visual stuff means to me, except you (truly). Everyone else has always just seemed to think it was “cute” that I’m so picky about clothes and furniture and colors, etc. I am genuinely affected by those things; they make me happy and sad and comfortable and uncomfortable. The sense of feeling understood and like I’ve found kindred spirits is truly overwhelming. I am beyond grateful.

asd: what kind of camera do you use?

LC: Just an iPhone 5S as of 2014, and older iPhones before that, save for a few photos I uploaded from my computer from crappy old point-and-shoot digital cameras.

asd: is there an editing app that you use?

LC: Afterlight.

asd: do you use filters?

LC: I used to use them a lot, but now I pretty much just screw with the colors/contrast/brightness in Afterlight.

asd: are you trying to tell a story? if so, what is it?

LC: My original aim was just to create a visual journal of my everyday life, which was mostly stuff I found funny or odd, but it’s evolved to become a project where I actively seek out beauty and things that make me appreciate life.

asd: what have you learned about the world around you through photography?

LC: I think it’s mostly what I’ve learned about myself and other people: how it feels to accomplish something! How it feels to do something I truly love! How it feels to see things through the eyes of other people! How it feels to make connections with people who understand things that are important to you!

asd: when & where will your prints be available for purchase?

LC: HAHA. Um. When someone asks me? I don’t know.

asd: the city where you live, and some of the subjects of your photos, can be gritty. yet, your photos never feel dark and gloomy. they always feel joyful and hopeful, and often quite funny. is this intentional?

LC: Thank you! I’m so glad they come off that way. It’s definitely my intention. I try not to post photos when I’m sad unless they make me feel better and more hopeful.

asd: when i first started posting to instagram, i would stress over it for at least 15 minutes before hitting “share.” but when you and i were together, you just snapped something and posted it. it didn’t even look like you edited first. so, are you really confident, do you simply not care, or are you just really brave? :)

LC: You saw me posting a photo of people I love, and in that case, I almost never edit things (except maybe to crop it better). It doesn’t seem necessary! Also, the colors in your house are amazing and the light was really good. PURE LOVE. 

I find that the only things I deliberate about are the ones I like the least, which are often the ones people end up liking the most, which makes me wonder about my eye a little…?

I’m getting more confident, which is an awesome feeling! I do take things down right away sometimes, though (which is something I never did until people actually started seeing my photos).

asd: what is your advice to someone for improving their photography skills?

LC: Take as many photos as possible! Become obsessive. You eventually (hopefully?) develop an eye, a style. You begin to edit yourself. Maybe not in terms of how many photos you take, but in the sense that you see things in a more refined way. You look for things you never saw before you started seeing the world through a camera and inside a little square.

asd: do you find there is a pattern in the way you compose your shots?

LC: Generally off-center (literally and figuratively, ha). 

asd: what is your advice to someone new to instagram?

LC: Let strangers influence you and inspire you. 

// //

on a recent visit she made to chicago (read: deep in the 'burbs), laura and i drove past a farm stand with a mural of vegetables on the side of the barn. i've seen it hundreds of times on my daily commute and never thought twice. she said, "oh i totally need a picture of that." we had completely missed the opportunity but after she was back in nyc, i snapped a few and texted them to her. she posted one, and she was right. that farm stand was beautiful, decayed, vibrant (and accidentally hilarious) all at once. i am amazed at how keenly artists like laura see the world.

i'd love for you to find and follow laura on instagram. since the vegetable farm stand i've been looking at the things around me with new eyes. i see beauty in the pattern of old mini blinds or good design in a truck bumper. i know it's because of her. so thank you again, dear friend, for these photos, for this interview, for sharing a piece of yourself with others, and for letting me be a part of it.

{all photos copyright laura casey via @luminarja on instagram}

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