Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to the New Year...

In a few minutes I'll be heading to bed to watch the New York New Years celebration only to nod off an hour or so before the main event.  Today was like any other day, except we didn't have work.  We slept in. Well until 8. I guess in terms of infants that is sleeping in.  We ran errands. Played with Evelyn. Cleaned up a bit. Threw in a few loads of laundry. And if it wasn't for my husband bringing home a bottle of Champagne, I would have probably forgot it was New Years Eve.

And as Evie slept, and we we watched a movie while eating Chinese takeout and sipping Champagne in the middle of our living room floor surrounded by our daughters toys I realized that we were so truly blessed by 2010.

In fact, it's been my favorite year thus far.

And while I kept none of my resolutions, and it was by far one of the hardest emotionally, financially, and physically, it brought about the most wonderful event that I have ever experienced. The birth of our daughter. Going from two to three.

It gave us Evelyn.

And that made this year and all of it's ups and downs... Amazing.


Thank you 2010.  I'll miss you. 

And welcome 2011... you have some huge shoes to fill.

Happy New Years everyone.  Party hard. Be Safe. We'll see you next year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh Holy Mess

Two trash bags of crumpled wrapping paper and cardboard toy boxes sit busting at the seams by the front door. New clothes, blocks, balls, dolls, and gadgets scattered among the living room. Pine needles… everywhere.

Candy wrappers and instruction booklets lay strewn about. Tickle Me Elmo peeks out from under a mound of toys. It's chaos in the form of clutter. It's the aftermath of an extravagant and most wonderful first Christmas.
1st Christmas ornament from my mom.

But lets start from the beginning.

Thursday began our Christmas 'vacation.' Evelyn and I spent the majority of the day with my mom. Running errands, holiday events, and stopping in for some hot cocoa.

The local history museum has a Christmas presentation each year which includes having Santa come to read and sing to the kids. Before nodding off in my moms arms, Evelyn was very much into the singing, the story telling, and the kids bouncing from wall to wall on their candy-cane sugar high.

The museum becomes home for retired Christmas decorations donated by local stores and businesses.

Our favorite was this fairly creepy Santa.

Check out who was on his list...

 On Christmas Eve we hustled to finish up our Christmas shopping. It's a terrible idea to wait until the last minute for Christmas gifts. I don't know what we were thinking. I would say that next year I'll be on top of my Christmas shopping and it'll never happen again, but that would be lieing.

We spent the rest of the night with my family, riding out to see the Elks home Christmas lights, windows rolled down listening to the holiday music coming out from the ground speakers, mocking the Marilyn Monroe cut out that has been repainted to look like an ice skater, and commenting on the decorations we remember and love the most.

The night was topped off by lounging around watching movies in our brand new Christmas PJ's.

Some things never change.

For the first time in a long time we woke up to a white Christmas. I remember the last time I saw it snow on Christmas. I was a teenager. We were opening presents around our tree and my dad happened to notice some snow flurries. He opened the front door and we watched the sky spit out a few flakes for several minutes. Then it was over. Kind of a let down if you happened to get a sled that Christmas… but none the less, still felt a bit magical. But this snow had blanketed the ground and was still coming.

We spent about two hours opening presents with our jammied up bed headed baby. Santa completely overdid it this year. Completely. But so worth it.

My mom was totally right about Christmas morning with your children.

It so totally rocks.

It's creating a wonderful experience for them, a day of imagination and fantasy, and then sitting back and watching them get caught up in it.

And you know all the secrets.

We did something new this year. Something I've never done on Christmas and something I actually thought I'd never do. We went out for breakfast.

It was 9 at night on Christmas Eve before we realized we had nothing to fix for breakfast and of course, every thing was closed. So we headed over to Denny's. I'm actually amazed at how many family's eat out on Christmas morning or maybe amazed at how many people like us, forgot the eggs and bacon at the grocery store.

The rest of the day entailed the usual, making the family rounds. Christmas at my parents has remained unchanged. My mom is the only one I know who can make getting a bottle of shampoo exciting. Just add wrapping paper. But my parents have always known how to do Christmas. They are good at it. 

And they lovingly added to our current out of control toy situation.

This Christmas has taken it's rightful place at the top of my all-time-favorite-Christmases list. For the first time, I got everything I wanted. It has nothing to do with the gifts I received in the literal sense. It has everything to do with having my own family to form traditions with.

It's being able to give the Christmas I loved so much as a child to my own daughter. It was being with my family for Christmas dinner and Evie passing out at the table from utter exhaustion.

It was my dad making salt fish at the last minute because he knows I look forward to it. It was taking Evelyn to visit my grandfather who had to spend Christmas in the hospital, to cheer him up, and being grateful that I had another Christmas with him. It's having my grandparents on both sides eating dinner and celebrating together as one whole family.

It's a stocking with my little ones name sewn on it in red yarn.

It's opening that last gift of socks. It's tears before bedtime. It's continuing the most loved and cherished traditions.

And it's over. We are now left with the remains of a day well spent. And an enormous mess that will over the next week be picked up. And by New Years all the reminders of the Christmas season will be packed away until next year.

And so life goes on.  I'm ready for the normal-nothing-going-on days. Bring on the drab winter and cabin fever. Bring on the mittens on stocking caps, fleece PJ's, and staying in on the weekends to avoid the cold. Bring on being lazy.

And speaking of warm winter hats. I absolutely love Evie's new Cuddly Bear Beanie!  This hat is from fellow mommy and friend Courtney McCoy who run Daddy Mack Hats on Etsy. She makes beautiful well made hats and best of all, they are super affordable.

It's so chunky, warm, and incredibly adorable. Check out her store and all of her other items which include hats, booties, and diaper covers by click here: Daddy Mack Hats on Etsy

And in other news... The photo blog has begun.  You can find the list of lessons under the Photography tab at the top of the page.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and is recovering nicely.  Well, me and my little cuddle bear need to get this hazard also known as the living room picked up before someone sprains and ankle or breaks a neck.

Post-Christmas warm and fuzzy family feelings to you all!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Photo Lesson #1: Choosing a Camera

I really can’t justify boring you to death with my history as a photographer… if you are reading this it is because you want to learn how to take better photographs and not have to rely on overpriced uncreative portrait studios… however… if you happen to be interested in my background you can click HERE and read about me as a photographer as well as my FAQ. Otherwise, read on for what you came here for…

"So is it you or is it the camera?"
That is probably the most common question that I’m asked when it comes to my photography and not to throw random maybe-true-maybe-not statistics out there, but I would say 90% of the time that I’m ask this, I have my camera slung over my shoulder. I have a fairly large DSLR camera, my favorite lens and the one I use most often is fairly long, and I keep my flash attached at all times which make it look even bigger and fancier. If not into photography, I can see how one would think that a large expensive camera has some sort of magical power to take incredible photographs effortlessly, but, unfortunately, it’s not true.
So when people ask me if it’s me or the camera I tell them this…
A camera is a tool. It is an eye that saves the image you see… it does not point itself, it does not find its subject, it does not bring out a subjects personality… it has no creative ability on its own.
That is the photographer’s job.
So while I wouldn’t be much of a photographer without a camera, it is me who is responsible for the images I produce.
This answer is usually followed up by this question…

"So do I need a big expensive camera to take nice photos??"
Based on my answer for the first question, no, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't benefit from a DSLR camera.
All cameras have their gimmicks… some make sense… some, however, do not. While I chose to buy a camera with lots of knobs, button, and dials which do a variety of things, I do not use all of them. I don’t believe in spending a bunch of money for something you won’t use. I’ve taken plenty of nice photographs with my Sony Point and Shoot.
When my daughter was born, my Canon was in the shop being cleaned, so all I had was my little Sony and those photos came out just fine. Now if you have the money to buy a nice DSLR camera then by all means, do it! They feel great in your hand!
But if you are like me, you don't have a grand or more laying around begging to be spent. So...
Use the one you have for now - make it work. Look for a used DSLR Camera. Save your money up. Ask your family for one for your birthday.
Most camera companies put out a new version of their popular DSLR camera every year or two. I can’t even tell you how ridiculous that is. I shoot with a Canon 30D that I bought about 4 years ago. I’ve not upgraded because there really is no need. It still serves its purpose. So when you find a camera you like, look for the model they made 2-3 years ago and get that one. Look online…You’d be amazed at how much the cost of a camera goes down once the "new version" comes out.
Some features I find to be important…
*Auto focus lens… because when you are chasing a toddler around with a camera the last thing you want to worry about is focusing yourself!
*Auto everything else… don’t make it hard on yourself… make that camera earn its keep! Most cameras have a dial with options to take portraits, landscapes, night shots, movies, and auto in general. If you are interested in learning how to work a manual camera then get one with the option of switching from manual or automatic. (DSLR cameras all have this option) I personally flip flop between manual and automatic depending on what I'm shooting.
*Stabilizer… the mega pixels of cameras are so high now a days that most cameras are coming standard with a stabilizer, even the point and shoot cameras. This option keeps your photos from becoming blurry with normal involuntary movement of the hands while taking photos.
*8-12 mega pixels for the best looking photos. My camera is 12 and that is PLENTY big enough.
*Rechargeable battery… unless of course, you like spending tons of money batteries. Cameras are battery murderers, so you are better off getting one with a battery pack.
*As far as additional lenses and flashes.. Don't worry about those quite yet. You need to learn to work what you have before adding additional worry and weight.

So, finally, what camera do I recommend?
Well I’m a Canon user. It’s what I shoot with now.
My very first camera was a 35mm film camera made by Minolta from the early 1980’s that my dad gave me. I loved that camera. It finally broke and those old cameras are more expensive to fix than to just buy a new one.
So I then used a 35mm Canon Rebel. Loved it!
When going digital, I tried out a lot of different cameras and researched for weeks. Because I was familiar with Canon, I bought another. I highly recommend Canons. Other than needing a good cleaning once in awhile, I’ve never had any problems with it and they are easy to use.
I actually would recommend the Canon Rebel DSLR for those starting out. It’s a decent price and just a good overall piece of equipment. I’ve never owned a Digital Canon Rebel, but have used one, and the picture quality is great.
But I can’t tell you what camera to go buy, I can only give you what I recommend and some advice when looking for a camera. Go out to your local electronics store and try some out. Whether it is Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, Pentax... whatever you choose to shoot with, it’s ultimately the way you use it. That it why I am here… I’ll do my best to help you learn how to use that camera and take pictures that you might have normally spent a few hundred dollars to have.
If you already have your camera, great! Otherwise, go out and find one! (See my suggestions at the bottom of the page)
What I would like to do along with my tips and tricks is to provide "photo assignments." I’ll show you how I achieved a certain look in one of my own photos and get you guys to go out and "reproduce" the photo or give you guys a theme to stick to for a photo shoot. Once you get a few images, email them to me and I’ll post a few as examples! I want you to be involved as much as possible.
Any other suggestions or things you would like to see/learn, email me and let me know! This is for your benefit and I want you to get the most out of it that you can! I’m not going to pack you full of photo lingo or technical aspects of photography… I’m going to keep it simple. I’m also not going to teach you how to be a professional photographer either. It takes years to develop the skills to make a living.  This is for fun, and to help you and your family, or to develop a hobby.

So here we go.

PHOTO ASSIGNMENT: New Years Resolution
With the New Year right around the corner - you are bound to have some resolutions bouncing around in your head. Submit a photograph that best represents your New Years Resolution along with a short description! Submit your photos and description to to have them featured on the blog. If you don't know how to watermark, let me know and I'll watermark your photo for you with your name or initials. All images must be in by January 3, 2011 at noon if you'd like them to be considered for the blog.

Next time: Photo lesson #2 - Photo Editing Programs

My camera recommendations:

Nikon D3000 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens

Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (Black)

Olympus Evolt E620 12.3MP Live MOS Digital SLR Camera with Image Stabilization and 2.7 inch Swivel LCD w/ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 ED Zuiko Lenses

Sony Alpha A330L 10.2 MP Digital SLR Camera with Super SteadyShot INSIDE Image Stabilization and 18-55mm Lens

And this Olympus is incredible!  A little old school mixed with new.  If I had that extra money laying around - I'd totally buy it!
Olympus PEN E-PL1 12.3MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens (Black)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New family... new traditions.

I'm a creature of habit. I like my traditions and the thought of altering those  rituals sends chills down my body. For 23 years I had spent Christmas the same exact way, in the same exact house, with the same exact people.

Twenty-three years of going to the Holy Land reenactment and driving through the Elks Home to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. Watching the sky on the way home to see if we could catch a glimpse of Santa's sleigh. Trying very hard to go to sleep but instead staring for hours at my popcorn textured ceiling in new pajamas that momma would buy for me each year. Waking up at 5 am. Running into my parents room and piling on their bed only to have them tell me to get out and not to wake them up for another two hours.

Waking my brother up to open our door stockings and play video games while we wait.  Again waking my parents up, only an hour later, and having them agree to get up if I would just get off of them.  Dad makes coffee. Mom washes her face and takes forever to make her bed. My brother and I stand at the end of the hall with great anticipation, craning our necks to see around the wall, and fidgeting our hands and feet because we are just so excited.

Dad comes back down the hall and tells us that Santa did not come so we should just go back to bed. Brother and I both yell Yes he did! Yes he did! Then Dad says Alright c'mon then while videotaping us running down the hall. Lots of ooo's and ahhhh's. Christmas music plays. It's still dark out and the tree looks more beautiful than the days before.  Paper flys. Mom walks around us in her bathrobe with a trash bag collecting wads of paper, many times before they even have a chance to hit the floor. Dad's yells at us to read the labels so we aren't opening gifts that aren't ours. Gifts to our parents. Stockings are last.

Dad telling us to hurry up and get ready so we can eat breakfast up at Paw Paw and Granny's house. We are late, ALWAYS. My all time favorite Christmas food - Saltfish. More gift exchanging. Next onto Grandma and Granddaddy's house for lunch and more gift exchanging. Back to Paw Paw and Granny's for dinner. Watching A Christmas Story over and over and over on TNT. Back home where I would cry (more like sob) because Christmas was officially over. Mom would bring out one last gift for me to open. 

It's usually a pair of socks. 

And yes, for 23 years this would happen - every single bit of it.

So fast forward to this time last year and imagine how I felt when I was not sending my now husband off on a plane to spend Christmas elsewhere and I was not packing an overnight bag so that I could sleep in my childhood bedroom in order to wake up to the same routine we had practiced every year since I was 6 months old. I remember calling my mom begging her to let Matt and I sleep over so that Christmas wouldn't have to change.

But she firmly told me no... that I had my own family now, and being that I was pregnant, I would have my own child to start Christmas traditions with the next year. So reluctantly, on Christmas morning I woke up bright and early and piled on top of Matt trying to get him to wake up.  We had our own Christmas, just us.  It was quiet. We did go to my parents to open presents.  We still went to Paw Paws for lunch and to Grandma and Granddaddy's for dinner. And I survived. It wasn't that bad.

And it's now "next year" and it's Evelyn's first Christmas and that means round two of tradition making.

We took her to see Santa at a local mall.  My original plan was to find a realistic looking Santa with a real beard and a cheery disposition.  But the line for that Santa was waaaay too long for a child who was exhausted and unimpressed with the current event.  So we settled for the crabby Santa with a fake beard...  And a shorter line.

Momma stood in line with us while dad waited near Santa with the video camera. Dad said while the kids screaming for fear of their lives with this bearded stranger was pretty entertaining - he said the parents were even more of a show.  Jumping up and down, ringing bells, dashing back and forth with pacifiers and teddy bears.  All for a smile.  For one little crack that would make it appear, at least in the photo, that they were happy to be there.

And what do you think Matt and I did as Evelyn lay in Mr. Kringle's arms?  We jumped up and down, sang songs from the Wiggles, baby talked, and rang bells.  Maybe a little smile?

Nope, not-a-one.  As I said, unimpressed.

Or maybe it was that she was under the impression he was some sort of impostor. She tried to out him...

Don't worry.  He was faster.

And I'm so excited that it will be just Matt, Evelyn, and I on Christmas morning. I want her to have some real solid traditions. Something she can rely on every year.  Opening presents and stockings.  Eating breakfast together. Making all kinds of warm and fuzzy Christmas memories.  Watching her play with new toys and slobber over a candy cane in new pajamas. Then it's off to mom and dads and then the grandparents.  Lucky me, it just adds one more stop to my Christmas train. Choooo chooooo!!!

I'm pretty sure, someones still gonna cry.  It just may not be me.

Here's to me... passing the torch.
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