Sunday, June 30, 2013

The unbeatable Minnesotan summer weekend.

You guys. 
This weekend.
There are just no words that will do it justice. It was a quintessential summer weekend, especially Sunday, and I firmly intend on riding this high straight through to the 4th of July (HOLLA for a short week!) 
Lets back up to Thursday. 
Thursday I got off work a bit early and headed over to the Federal Courthouse here in Minneapolis to celebrate M's mom's retirement from the U.S. Attorney's Office. She's been a gov't employee for something like 35 years. No college education, but worked her way up from entry level to the administrative officer for the USAO. Pretty impressive!  I, for one, am jealous as hell that she gets to retire. Alas.

Thursday night we had happy hour with some of M's NSAC friends at their mentor/faculty advisor's house. That's code for the National Student Advertising Competition that M did in undergrad. It's big in the advertising/marketing areas. When M participated, the campaign they mocked up was for Coca Cola.. and they ended up winning nationals. Needless to say, all of them have pretty sweet jobs right now and I enjoy listening to them talk about agency politics. M's mentor is the biggest sweetheart ever, too... is SO generous.

Friday I met up with Jess and Lo for lunch downtown. 
I ate myself stupid and wanted to nap my way to 4:00. 
That night, I was offered Twins tickets 9 rows up from behind home plate (HOLLA, firm's seats. :P), so M and I headed downtown to split an appetizer before the game. As we were sitting in the restaurant it started to POUR. Which led to M checking the radar and seeing two huge cells over the metro. We walked to the game during a break in the rain but before the first pitch, wound up seeking refuge up in the concourse. There was a 30 minute rain delay and it rained off and on through the 5th inning, so we never even got to go down and enjoy those sweet seats. M asked if I'd be okay if we left in the 5th... since we'd been standing the whole time, so we headed home to cocktail on the couch. It was perfect.

Saturday M went to kayak and I did some laundry and hung out with TJ.

My handsome bitty. 
He was perched on top of a bookshelf upstairs staring out the window.
The day ended up being beautiful so I headed out back to paint my nails on the deck.
Some of you may have seen this on IG (kellybea14), but I finished ALL my nails and noticed a huge bug on my leg. I spasmed, smacked it, and in turn- smacked my hand on the patio chair.... which resulted in this:

Saturday night we had tried to get a big group of M's friends together for a going away party for a few of his friends who are moving to North Carolina for grad school for 2 years. It ended up not working out so a smaller group of us got together and went to our friends' parents place on the lake out in Excelsior, MN. They have an awesome setup by the water, that includes an electronic gondola that you have to take down to the deck/lakefront area. We had appetizers and went on a boat cruise for an hour before the car picked us up. 

Before I continue- let me tell you: If you live within 30 minutes of Spasso restaurant in Excelsior, MN, you HAVE to try this place. They have a car they'll send to pick you up for your dinner reservation (you just have to tip). And by car, I mean dude in a suit picks you up in an Escalade. I was geeking out the entire drive. Then, they have a liquor store next door to the restaurant, and they let you go over and buy bottles of beer and wine at cost, bring it back to the restaurant, and cork it there (NO FEE), and then let you take it home. It's frickin' fabulous. The driver then brings you home at the end of the night. Talk about the classiest sober cab ever. Oh and the food is ridiculously good and not too expensive. I was having so much fun I took no photos. Woops.

Sunday morning we had our cake tasting in Minnetonka and what turned out to be the best day I've had in a long, long time.
First of all, how is cake for breakfast not the beginning of the best day ever?
We're using Buttercream Cakes (who I swear have a Godfather-like monopoly on the metro wedding scene). The guy who ran our tasting, who I think owns the company, was HYSTERICAL. He was telling us all sorts of great stories of the people who live in the area and who come to the shop. (the guy who invented breathe right nose strips, the Mann Theater heiress, Denny Hecker...-- some of these may not mean anything to you non Minnesotans. Also, this area of Minnetonka, surrounding Lake Minnetonka, is arguably the most affluent area in Minnesota. It's home to all the rich and famous (i.e. athletes, CEO's, etc.).


I'll be honest about the dessert: I'd rather skip it and pocket the $900 that it would cost us to have a sheet cake. (Our venue charges for any other dessert people besides Buttercream, and it was $4something per slice of cake. Heck no). BUT I realize it's faux pas to not have any kind of dessert at a wedding. So, I was thrilled when we settled on a compromise- we are doing half "normal" sized cupcakes, and half "mini" cupcakes. M and I aren't doing a cake cutting (or a garter toss, bouquet toss, dollar dance.. none of that. Most of it makes me wildly uncomfortable..and M couldn't care less)... so we'll just maybe take a photo of us with a cupcake, and split one. :)

After the tasting, we decided to drive by my uncle's new lake place. 
They live 15 minutes from said lake place already, but, wanted a little cottage closer to Lake Minnetonka... and after seeing the place and the community- I understand why. It is an UNREAL investment  (..more on that below).

He wasn't home but the place looked like someone had been there recently. 
It looked super cute from the outside but since he wasn't home apparently, we kept going.
From there we took a short drive over to downtown Wayzata. 

Guys, another unreal little gem in Minnesota: Wayzata Bay in Wayzata is SO freaking cute. M and I have had brunch, ice cream, and done boat cruises out of this bay. It's one of my absolute favorite places in the twin cities. We actually really want to live out there someday, and this weekend further confirmed that. 

We were sitting on the park bench when I told M I was going to text my uncle to tell him we'd driven by the new place and that it looked super cute. I told M, if he got it he'd call immediately to ask us where we were. Sure enough, 3 minutes later, my phone rang. My uncle was actually just at the hardware store, but otherwise was at the cabin working... so we decided to head back over and check it out more. We ended up having such a blast talking with him for over an hour.

It's tucked into this small community that used to be a Methodist church camp in the 1800s. Most of the homes are 100 years old, and the same families, and their kids and grandkids, have lived there the entire time. There's a church on the property, which means that the 500 feet of pristine, finely groomed shoreline on the lake (absolutely unheard of anywhere else on the lake) is tax free. They pay dues to use the common area, and have a set of slips that the homeowners can buy, and everybody tools around in golf carts. The houses are SO adorable and brightly colored, you honestly feel like you're in an east coast beach community. M and I were so blown away that we drove home and googled homes for sale in the area. Needless to say they were a bit out of our price range still (some of them not by much though- my uncle said it's this strange time warp effect where nobody in the community seems to comprehend their home values... so they're wildly underpried), but... OMG. Definitely something we'll be keeping an eye on.

From there, we drove out to Lake Independence.
It's a really beautiful lake about 30 minutes west of where we live with pavilions, boat launches, and canoe rentals. I mentioned before M  got a kayak he's been fishing out of, so I downloaded a book on his gidget and hung out by the lake while he fished. It was so perfect out, weather wise. We've either been super busy on the weekends or the weather has sucked on the weekends, so I haven't enjoyed one of these true "Minnesota summer" days yet. It was perfect. (Have I said that a few times?)

M outfitted this plain small kayak for fishing- he put in the pole and paddle holders himself! 


It was the absolute perfect combination of fun events, spontaneous get togethers, and relaxation.
I haven't felt this at peace with an impending Monday in a long time.
It also doesn't hurt that we only have a 3 day week, followed by a 5 day weekend 4th of July celebration. Woop woop!

Hope you all had a great weekend, too!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My weekend as a vagabond.

I had such grand plans for this weekend.
I was going to relax, get a bunch of wedding things accomplished, and overall just enjoy a whole weekend of nothingness. 
I was doing just that Friday night. 
Watching some I Found the Gown and designing our invitations, enjoying a Strawberita, the usual. 
We were told there were going to be "severe storms" passing through the area on Friday. Either I wasn't paying attention, or they weren't being emphatic enough, but I had no idea just how severe they meant. 

Around 8:00 it started to rain.  Typical rain. It started to come down a little harder, and our satellite was cutting out- nothing new, stupid Dish does that all the time in rain. Then it really started coming down. SO hard, in such heavy sheets that I couldn't see the cars or trees on the street. I remember putting the computer on the coffee table and saying to M, "holy crap it's coming down." 
The trees were whipping around pretty severely.

Then we heard it. 
The unmistakeable creak of a tree bending to its breaking point, and suddenly a CRACK followed by a loud heavy BANG on our roof. I was 100% convinced in that moment that the huge tree in our backyard had just fallen on the house and our roof was partially gone. TJ BOLTS from the living room, which of course sends me into a panic- I'm honestly more scared in a disaster (fire, tornado, whatever) that TJ would run away and I'd have to leave him and get out of the house. I start getting hysterical to get downstairs, thinking the windows were about to get blown out (this is how hard it's raining and how intense the wind is), when we hear more creaking/snapping and the power goes out. I peek out the side window between our house and our neighbor's and see foliage..where there is not supposed to be any, and start to lose it.

We wrangle the cat into the basement, grab a lighter, and start lighting some candles. M is checking the utility room to see if we're getting water in, and there was a bit in the corners but nothing too bad at this point. Within 30-40 minutes, it was over. Rain and all, done. Super eerie, super fast, and knowing how quick it was makes it that much more incredible when you see the damage that was done in such a short amount of time.

I swear I'm not trying to hype this up more than it was, I just want to relay what it was like in the moment. I can't fathom people who experience a tornado.. my heart goes out to them that much more, because what we experienced pales in comparison. We don't have power (still, as I type this on Sunday, and they're saying it could be THURSDAY now. ugh), but our home is still standing. That doesn't mean this wasn't the most terrifying weather-related experience I've ever had.

So us, along with our entire neighborhood, went outside to survey the damage...and this is what we found...

out the front door:

Between our houses.. you can sort of see it- at the very top center of the photo, is where this 40-50 foot limb came from. It's positioned perfectly between our houses. Any more in either direction and it very well could've put a hole in our roofs. It was embedded about 6-7 inches into the ground, that's how big it was and how hard it hit: 

Tree snapped off at the base across the street: 


Another, this is about 7 houses down on our side of the street still: 


Across the street, on the corner of our block: 


This pine tree was behind the tree in the above 2 photos, they fell parallel to one another:


And the main culprit, and the reason we're not expected to get power back until Wednesday or Thursday now: 

 That's our alley, looking down towards our house (our house is on the other side of the tree, farther down). When M and I left to come to my parents tonight for dinner, it still looked the exact same. Nobody has even started to cut the dang thing down yet. Blah.

Including this, we had 5 trees down on our block alone. It's estimated that there were 100 down in our city. 

More from our deck, looking at the neighbor's house:

(you can see the neighbor's slate tile patio table table got destroyed) 


M and I stayed at his best friend's place near downtown Minneapolis Friday night to charge our devices and plan for the weekend, since we were initially told it could be Monday at noon until power was restored. More rain came through after midnight, but thankfully it wasn't much.

Bitty checks out our new tree..

I had promised Leah earlier in the week that I'd come help her set up for a bridal shower/bachelorette party she was throwing for a friend of hers. I LOVE decorating, so when she said "crafting" I was all over it. I checked to make sure she still had power, and headed out early in the morning.

Her kitty, Jack the cat model: 

I monkeyed myself up on the buffet and hung these, and made the tissue poms you see: 

Hung these photos of the couple on twine with clothespins: 

and I made the pearl belt for this cupcake-cake that Leah made herself and totally dominated: 


Jack rested up before the ladies arrived


Since I was in St. Paul, and near my parents, I decided to swing over there and chat with my dad. We had severe weather Thursday night- early Friday morning, too (although it wasn't bad where we live). St. Paul got hit harder Thursday because when I pulled up I saw the tree that crushed a car on my dad's street.

Visited with my 2nd favorite kitty, squish. 

Headed home and helped finish cleaning up.
I will say, a storm like this is an amazing opportunity to meet your neighbors. We met more people Friday night and Saturday than we had the first 2 years living there. The lady across the street even bought coffee for a bunch of the guys cleaning up our house and our neighbors, since she didn't get any trees down.

TJ braced himself for more purported weather, too. 


Saturday night M and I used a gift card we got in the mail to check out Rojo's new location in Edina at the mall. My friend Molly and her boyfriend Andrew met up with us for a drink. We then headed to M's dad's place to spend the night, and once again charge our devices. 

Headed home Sunday morning to check on the house, and kitty. We got some more rain (notice a pattern?) but again, nothing like Friday. Then we headed to Brueggers to charge our things, again, and have some breakfast. 

Yay for AC and electricity! 

One bonus of having a bare fridge, usually? (since we buy a LOT of fresh veggies for just the week, our fridge is usually pretty bare).. we had minimal stuff to salvage from our freezer/fridge. It's currently on ice in the garage and holding up pretty well, actually. We went back this morning and still actually had whole ice cubes!

We came over to my dad's tonight for dinner. I'm staying here (since unfortunately my hair is not kind to me when it air dries, and we have clients in the office for depo prep this week) so I can blow dry and get ready in the morning. M went to check on his mom's house and stay at our place. That office redo from a few weeks ago is coming even more in handy now..since I have a nice clean room to stay in!

As for tomorrow... who knows. M's mom said if they're not back on they'd be getting a hotel in downtown (which would be an AWESOME commute for us! haha). I have a bag packed with a few work outfits/casual outfits... so I'm prepared to go wherever if we need to. This will be my 3rd night of sleeping in random beds. Nothing disorients you like waking up and taking a few minutes to remember where you are.

Anyway, hope your weekends were less eventful than ours! :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A short story about a buzzed blogger and a salvaged rehearsal dinner

Lazy busy summer weeks mean minimal posting, woops, but this story is too good not to share quick.

Well, you all remember my minor tirade about the rehearsal dinner saga of 2013, right? Basically we had emailed this place for information, got a quick response, and then once we decided we wanted to book? Crickets. We emailed multiple times, called, and every time we were met with crickets. We'd slowly started to research other options, and still weren't really liking a lot of what we were coming up with.

One day, our favorite blogger buddy Lauren (most of you know her I think, and if not, you're missing out) was getting buzzed on some early-afternoon beverages at the very same establishment. She mentioned it, and I may have responded with something along the lines to "fiery death to them."

No less than an hour later I'm getting a text from Lauren that went something like this, "don't be mad at me, buuuuttt I may have stopped a manager here and told her what happened with you guys and she said she'd be calling within the hour." Bam, getting shit done.

Sure enough, 30 minutes later, I was on the phone with the new events manager. Some of you may be wondering why I so badly still wanted to go with a venue that didn't get back to me for so long. Well, a) they're affordable but still higher-end, b) knowing that the woman who contacted me is now exclusively in charge of events and things of that nature, made me feel better. The previous contact was the owner, who was ridiculously busy and got hundreds of emails a day.

SO, we went and peeked at the space Tuesday, and loved it. Booked it yesterday via email and are mailing the deposit check today. WOOT!

It's in Uptown, and although it has a parking lot... parking is still a slight concern. We'll just encourage carpooling.

That's a short story of how Lauren saved the rehearsal dinner.

The end.

Monday, June 17, 2013

When the cat's away..

The mouse will do sake bombs for the first time. 
Yeah, that happened. Let's back up though. 
This past weekend was M's bachelor party weekend up in Duluth, MN. The guys rented out a ginormous cabin, drank, played yard games, golfed and fished. AKA M's version of heaven. 

Some of the girls decided to seize on this opportunity and do something that the guys don't particularly enjoy anymore- go out in Uptown.

We started at Stella's where we had dinner. 
Because I'm super classy, I was the girl who ordered chicken wings at the seafood place. Woops. 
We decided after to relive our younger years and head over to William's Peanut Bar. It's exactly what it sounds like: a cesspool of college kids packed into a dingy basement eating peanuts and discarding the shells on the floor. On our walk, we were going to pass by Chino Latino- which is the exact opposite of William's. A super classy, modern, asian/latino fusion restaurant. We got on the subject of sake bombs and when Holly and I mentioned we'd never done one before, Brooke decided it was imperative we do one. So we marched in, plopped down, and bombed. 

I will say, I'm not a fan of vodka, OR beer, which is apparently what comprises a sake bomb.. but together they were remotely tolerable. I was still the last to finish mine since chugging isn't my forte. 
Holly then bought everyone a round of mojitos, which were on special and also delicious. 

The girls with our sake apparel:
We then continued on to our original destination and wound up at William's. 
We were easily the oldest people there, but still had a good time. 

Holly decided before we left that she wasn't done with her peanuts so she dumped the basket in her purse. I recall telling her she's going to regret that decision in the morning, what with all the peanut dust. 

I will say, I did thoroughly enjoy them at the next bar... which was Bar Louie. Uptown is hipster central and apparently Bar Louis is where all the fratsters hang out. We were standing in line when Katie told the bouncer she taught the owners' daughter in dance. After some light quizzing, we ended up getting to skip the line and go right in. #bonus! It was here that someone actually tried to use f.e.m.a.l.e. m@$terb@tion (I don't need that as a search term for the blog) as a pick up line on me. I promptly told him I was married (close enough) and he's effing disgusting. I will say, I enjoyed our ridiculous night out, and getting a little wild, but I'm so glad I don't need to use it as a means to meet a dude anymore. oofta. 

I spent the night at Brooke's, who lives by me, so she could give me a ride to the car in the morning. Woke up ridiculously early given the fact that I went to bed at 3:30 (after a pizza, of course) and went downstairs to chug water for an hour. Definitely was the turning point between debilitating hangover, and not. Snuggled with this guy:

I came home and watched a movie, and then after the immense guilt of watching my neighbor weed, seed, and water his lawn, I hauled my ass to Home Depot to finally get flowers to plant in our window boxes (as well as some herbs, a hanging basket, and potted plant). I figured it was now or never.

I then posted this photo which apparently repulsed some of you ;-). I only had one glove so I pretty much said "F it." and went for it.


Spent the rest of the day Saturday hanging out with this guy..

and finishing (almost, just a small handful more!) addressing wedding invitations. Now I just need to finish designing them and print them!

Sunday I met Jess, Lauren and Syndal for coffee and had some lovely conversation, per usual. Stopped at Rainbow on the way home to pick up some last minute provisions before hosting my family and M's dad for father's day. It wound up being a beautiful morning and afternoon, which we enjoyed out on the deck.

How was your weekend? I'm off to crawl into our cool basement and snuggle with the bachelor-boy. He's going to be crashing early tonight. ;-)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wedding hodge podge.

Well, wedding posts have been sparse around here.
Not too much exciting going on.
Although, other people post lots of details about non DIY things, so, I suppose I could do that. I just love posting the crafting stuff so much, everything else seems boring in comparison. Coming from me, that is.

Well, Here are a few DIY's I've done lately. They don't really require a detailed tutorial. They're a combination of some previous tutorials, anyway. I actually jacked the card box idea from Syndal. :)

I knew I wanted to do something lace, cream, burlap (ya know, sort of our "theme", if you will) for my garter. I also knew I didn't want to drop large sums of money on a mostly superfluous accessory.. so I hit etsy for inspiration, and wound up with this:  


The center rosette is burlap, the other 2 are the same cream ribbon that I lined the table runners with. 
As for the center pearl/blingy thing... I actually found it on the ground. O_O. no joke. During our engagement retreat when we headed over to the chapel for confession/mass, there was a wedding just ending. As I was walking up the steps I noticed it on the ground. I'm guessing it fell off something.. maybe her bouquet or shoes? I'm sure it was just something bought at Michael's, but still. I saved it figuring I could work it into something, and ta-da! I was right. 

 I just bought this return-address stamp, too:

Ours won't have a last name on it, though. I wanted something we could use for wedding things, before and after, and thought it'd be too weird to have our new combined last name on there before the wedding. It was $21 plus shipping. 

Hmm, what else. OH, I want to freak out on the place we're trying to have our rehearsal dinner.
I thought we had FINALLY found somewhere that worked: reasonably priced, good food, somewhat close to the church.... and it's all gone to hell. She was SUPER responsive when we were asking for information, and since we've emailed to book it? Crickets. M's emailed, twice. Called, twice. I called once and got a rude bartender on the phone, "um, I don't even know what you're talking about. I'm just the bartender. You need to email Jxxxx" ...mkay, well, then maybe don't answer the phone as a company representative if you're going to be a douche. So I email the other contact person yesterday, still nothing. I'll give them a week and then I'm over it. I'm just frustrated because I finally thought we could stop looking. Dumb.

We found a mother of the groom dress for M's mom.
(myself, M's sister, his mom, and his other sister, at the dress shop): 

and us at dinner afterwards: 

This was the "surprise shopping trip" I had mentioned before.. and she was very surprised! I think initially the idea of springing a shopping trip on a woman who wasn't prepared to try on clothes (you know how that goes, ladies) scared her, BUT we ended up finding a beautiful dress. Excited to see her in it at the wedding!

We have our tasting TOMORROW, which I'm super jazzed about. (feels super official, then!) Aaaannnddd then I'm hoping to mock up our invites/RSVP cards and print them this weekend since it's M's bachelor party. Printing them makes me nervous though, because... if I F it up, I can't take it back. haha. I've been addressing our envelopes though recently, since I'm doing the calligraphy myself. I saw this on Pinterest:

I bought a calligraphy pen at Michael's for a few bucks, and since this style doesn't require anything too fancy in the way of wrist technique, I've been pretty pleased with the outcome, so far! 40 down, about 80 to go.

I need to schedule a dress fitting...although I really only think I need one. It fits me pretty perfectly in the mid-section, it's just really long.

That's about it, that I can think of at the moment.
Trucking right along! 4 months both seems like a really long time, and like no time at all. Invites are due to go out in 2 months or so.

MEEP! It's happening!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Office Update

Thank you all for the sweet words on the office!
I know how hard my dad works, and that it's hard for him sometimes with my mom, so I love doing things like this.

The boys got back from Canada last night around 5:30. Stephen and I tag teamed the effort to keep my dad out of the garage (so he wouldn't see all the old furniture sitting there and go, "whaa?").

Finally, things settled down, their other friend Clyde left, and my dad was going to show us some photos. I told him, "Before you do that, I have something I want to show you. Come this way."

We walked down the hallway, and I said, "Consider this an early father's day present of sorts."

and as I was opening the door, he says, "oh my god, you did it again, didn't you?!" (referring to the last time he was out of town in FL, when I redid the kitchen).. and then he saw it. He followed up with a chorus of, "oh my god. wow. this looks so nice! holy cow!" and then, because it's my dad (you know you're supposed to paint the vents to match the walls? do you still have the paint? I can do that later."-- hahah...okay, dad.) Then he says, "Man, I was just thinking I needed to buy paint for this room."

So, needless to say, it went over well! I had plans to hang more artwork, but they got back sooner than I expected, so I ran out of time. Although, my dad has always been a HUGE baseball fan, so when my brother and I were poking around the basement looking for things we could add to the room, we found my dad has the newspapers, Sports Illustrated, Wheaties boxes, etc., from when the Minnesota Twins won the world series in 1987 and 1991. So, I have plans to buy some frames for those to add to his office!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Photography Class

Remember that one time I casually mentioned I was taking a photography class and then never talked about it again?
Well, I finally uploaded some "project" pictures and figured it'd be a good time to talk about it.

I have to say, if you ever have a chance to take a Community Education class in an area you're interested in, do it. Not that I am, by any means, an expert in photography, but I can't tell you how nice it is to have at least a loose concept of how to "fix" my photos, now. Low light, but don't want to use your flash? Raise the ISO! Your photos have a golden, yellowy hue to them? Because you haven't changed your white balance! I'll show you some of the difference in the photos I took.

NONE of these have been touched with an editing program. This just goes to show you how much you can effect your photos just using your camera!

Before I show you some photos, here are some basic settings.

1. Spot Metering

When you turn your camera on, and all the settings appear on the back, you should see an icon that resembles the one above. You want your camera on Spot, ideally, and if not possible- Partial.

My camera (since it's only a Rebel T3) doesn't have "spot" metering, the best I could do was Partial.

Why is this important: This function is how you choose which part of the photo the camera focuses on. In evaluative, the camera decides which is most important, and focuses on that. Ever try to take a photo in front of a window, only to have the entire thing look white, and the subject dark? That's because your camera evaluates all of it equally, and it washes out the photo. '

Once you set this? leave it. 

2. Picture Style
See the above photo? See the bottom setting, "Picture Style"? Unless you're shooting landscapes, I was told this should remain in the "Neutral" setting. 

Why is this important: This effects color temperature. It'll soften wrinkles if on portrait, or make blues and greens brighter if on landscape. BUT, since you can do most of that in photoshop on the back end, it's best to leave this setting the same. 

3. ISO
ISO measures the camera's sensitivity to light. It determines how much "noise" there is in the photo. The higher the ISO, the grainer the photo. The higher the ISO, the faster the shutter speed, also. 

Why is this important: In low light situations, raising the ISO will brighten a photo, allowing you to shoot without a flash. (another way you can improve photos/low-light shooting is investing in a f.18, 50 mm lens. Most cameras come with a "kit" lens that shoots f 4.5 17-55 mm)
4. AWB
In the above photo of the back of a camera, do you see the little "WB" below the \/ button?
I had no idea, but changing this can radically change the outcome of your photos. If you want your whites to appear white, and not "golden", it's especially important to change this. So if you click on WB, this pops up:

 From L-R, that's auto (AWB), sun, shade, clouds, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, and custom.

Why is this important: If you want your whites, white, it's important to adjust this off auto and to what the actual settings you're shooting in. To see what I mean, just play around with it. Take the same photo in every setting and watch the colors change. (You'll see some of what I mean below)

5. Exposure compensation 
This effects the overall exposure of the photos. Another way to make a photo appear lighter/darker.  The exposure compensation is that little bar you see below that says -3..2..1..0..1..2..+3. The "-" side will darken a photo, while the "+" side will brighten it.(Ignore the ISO was the best photo I could find of exposure)

 In practice, here's how it looks.
Our field trip last week took us to the relatively famous Minneapolis landmark, the stone arch bridge. 
(ALL these photos were taken in Aperature Priority mode.)

This photo was taken by changing the "picture style" to "black and white." (I was just experimenting)
 The above photo was taken with the white balance set to "cloudy" since it was, in fact, a cloudy day

Here's what the exact same photo taken using the tungsten mode:

Neat, huh?

Here's another slight difference using just one function on the camera.

 Do you see how the bottom photo is slightly lighter? We were shooting the bridge on a cloudy night, which actually made it bright outside (all the lights on the buildings reflecting off the haze)...but we wanted to get those fabulous pitch black photos of the stone arch, illuminated, that you often see.

SO, to make it appear darker than it really is, we dropped our exposure down like I discussed above.

All these photos were taken on a tripod. You can see the 2nd photo above, the water looks really smooth and "fuzzy" almost.. whereas the first few photos, you can see the ripples. The difference there is the shutter speed. The slower shutter speed is also what gives the lights on the bridge that awesome "starry" effect.

This is my favorite pic from the night:

Squeee! (Fun fact, you can actually see the window to my office in this photo. No, I'm not telling which one. :P)

I think I'm going to frame a few of the shots to go next to this guy, that I painted at the MN Bloggers Painting Class:

I'm still thinking of doing a more detailed series on what some of these functions do, and why you want to do them. But, this is it for now. :)

So, that's a very broad overview of a few functions that can make a huge difference on your pictures!

You guys have any questions? I can try to answer them. haha. OH, and head over to Jess's blog, she was going to post some more tips and tricks today, too!