Stuff We’ve Been Doing

Blatant catch-up post and semi-photo-dump, aka Picturesque Activities with the Kiddos Where I Can Show Off My Photography Skillz.

Cherry Tomato Picking! Because my kids already have an unhealthy addiction to blueberries and it was way less crowded. Also there was a playground older than me with a slide that had to be six stories tall. If you’re curious, it was at Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, not too far from us at all. 

Cherry Tomatoes

Tomato Picking 2

Tomato Picking 3

Tomato Picking 3

Why yes, Tessa is wearing pajama bottoms under her skirt and has marker all over her legs. She is SO two years old right now.

 Riding bikes is a regular activity, especially since August has been so stinking mild

Riding Bikes 1

Action shot! Can you tell this was pretty soon after I got tips on Exposure from Amy? I was all about making that green grass pop.

Riding Bikes 2

Riding Bikes 3

And last, but not least, our weekend excursion to ride Thomas the Tank Engine courtesy of you wonderful people of the internet.

Edaville 1

Edaville 2

Of course all of these outings and activities come with their fair share of bargaining, meltdowns, overtired whining, and such. But at least when I bring my camera I have this to look at when all that fades. 

You, Too, Can Have This Lovely Fake Kitchen

Kitchen 1

See that? That picture was taken in my own house.

Technically it was taken on the floor of my living room.

But it sure looks like a kitchen, doesn’t it? A kitchen much nicer than mine, one with a granite countertop and a tile backsplash. It’s not perfect, I wouldn’t stare at it too closely, but if you’re going to take pictures of bell peppers, it’s a lot nicer than my real countertop.

kitchen 3

See? That would be my fake kitchen on my living room floor.

So how did I get this fake kitchen? Well, I used another blogger’s notes but my trip to pick up all the supplies went badly. I ended up checking 2 Home Depot’s, a Lowe’s, a Bed Bath & Beyond, a Target, an A.C. Moore, and even a Family Dollar to finally source it. (Can you tell I didn’t have the kids this weekend?)

My recommendations? BUY ONLINE. The selection is much better and the quality’s just the same. Plus you won’t have to ask people to keep helping you find this random stuff. And I’m recommending the same brands I used so you know what you get will be similar quality to what you see here.

1: Foam Core

I am not a crafter. And if there are better crafters out there with better sources, I’d love to hear you chime in in the comments. But my search for the elusive $1 foam core at the dollar store was fruitless. Instead I paid $3 each for two foam core boards at the craft store. 

2: Peel and Stick Tile

So for us cheapies out there who don’t have the time, expertise, or cash to install a tile backsplash, they make fake tiles that you can just stick on the wall. Sounds like my kind of stuff. This was not the easiest to find. And when I did, the selection was slim. Lowe’s had about 4 varieties, but Home Depot was pretty disappointing. The other issue I ran into is that these are often sold in packs of 6. While technically you could cover about 90% of your foam board with 6, I only used 3 and just covered the bottom half of it. And saved about $20. So you’re best off trying to find single tile sets.

While I highly recommend shopping online as stated above, you do have to be careful. Because there’s plenty of “stick on” tile that is actually TILE and not just pretend tile. So do read carefully if you go outside my recommendations.

This is not the easiest thing to find, but I looked around and found you a few options. My set is Smart Tile Mosaik in Bellagio Marmo. Had I taken a little time and patience I would’ve probably been smarter to buy it from THE SAME PLACE WHERE I FREAKING WORK. Yes, there’s a whole bunch at Wayfair. The all-white subway tile and the hexagon tile are two that I’m kind of swooning over. (If you hover over those two links you can take a peek.)  It was super easy to get this on the foam core. The tiles are less than a square foot so it’s easy to get them in place and line them up one by one. Depending on what you choose it’ll run you $5 to $8 per square and you can use between 3-6 squares.

3: Faux Granite or Marble Contact Paper

Another one that was tough for me to find. I can’t guarantee you’ll find it anywhere because the selection was always spotty. Most contact paper is a little grippy but you want the Con-Tact “Creative Covering” which has materials that look more like a countertop. I got the black and white granite, but I would’ve preferred the white marble, which I couldn’t find in any store. I could only find the Beige Marble which looked kind of dingy. Plus this one is a much shorter roll, which will save you the cash from buying the larger roll they tend to carry in stores. Honestly, the granite isn’t as real-looking as I’d like, but hey, next time I put in an Amazon order, I’ll throw this in my cart and put it on the other side of the foam core. It’ll run you about $6 if you use the Amazon roll.

The contact paper is DEFINITELY harder to put on. You want one long piece that covers a good way across and, well, it is very sticky and ungainly. Hold it so it hangs with the sticky part away from you, get the bottom edge close to the edge of the foam core, and then use a ruler or something similar (I used an Ikea frame) to slowly push it bit by bit and make sure you don’t get any wrinkles or bubbles.  

Oh, and if you’re local, I had to buy a surprisingly large roll so I have PLENTY should you want to use some. Seriously, don’t hesitate.

kitchen 2

Voila! All done. For about $25 you’ve got a fake kitchen of your very own.

Now you have a portable fake kitchen you can move to anywhere in your house (or hey, outside if you want to) to take advantage of the best light you can find. I do recommend sticking with whites and greys, my house doesn’t have great light but all the whites in my fake kitchen make it tons easier to get a bright shot. With a good camera, you can focus on whatever you’re photographing and your background will be just that: a background. Albeit one that makes it look like you have a lovely, bright kitchen. 

Christmas Photo Dump Time!

I’ve spent the last week in my apartment, not going many places due to the weather, not having much to do by way of work, but didn’t quite feel ready to go through my many pictures of vacation. But hey, it’s Monday, the world is turning again, the roads are plowed, temperatures are up and it’s time to get back in the swing of things.

My Christmas evening pictures aren’t exactly the cream of the crop, but I kind of like the yellow-y tinge, makes it feel like the kinds of pictures of me when I was little that are laying around. (And yeah, I don’t edit my photos. That is a time-suck I’m not interested in.)

We spent Christmas with my parents along with all my siblings and my niece and nephew. The kids had a grand old time together.




Tessa does not like wrapping paper.

Christmas Eve PJ’s were a big hit with the crew.  


This is how you wear a tutu, right?




Christmas day involved presents, playtime, and yet another trip to see Frozen. Graham was the happy recipient of his much-coveted “Double-A Battery Percy” and we spent a good amount of the day playing with train tracks.




Even after Christmas we kept up the holiday spirit when Gingerbread houses got marked down at Target. (Note to all of you for next year! It’s not like kids are ready to be done with Christmas on December 26th.) Big big thanks to Confessions from Household 6 for Graham’s super adorbs and festive cooking garb.







Yeah, it’s not homemade gingerbread, but I don’t think he cared much. He was really proud of his creation.

And a last shout-out to a lovely group of bloggers who let me crash their Christmas Eve brunch. The Listen To Your Mother crowd is a good crowd of good people and lots of goodness. Wishing lots of love to the Austin and Southeast Texas show runners! Speaking of LTYM, we’ll be putting out info on auditions soon. If you’re thinking of writing a piece, here’s what we’re looking for.

Austin Blogger Brunch

Coming up tomorrow is a recap and review of our many outings in central Texas with significantly better pictures. 

Get Away From It All, Oh Wait It’s All Still Here

Oh hi, haven’t seen all of you for a while as I’ve been all absent and such.

First it was doing all the things in that rush that tends to happen at the beginning of December, which was at an even higher fever pitch knowing that we’d be leaving town in a rush. Then on the 14th we headed out for Texas to spend some quality time with Grammy and Grumpy and aunts and uncles and cousins.

Those things always sound so festive and fun. And then you arrive and it’s wonderful and you see your family and enjoy each other’s company while your children lose their ever-loving minds as they are completely void of structure. The aforementioned children will also wake up often and at least one of them will be in your bed at all times, usually with an array of rolls and kicks. There will be constant requests for snacks because Grammy has food and when there’s food around we must constantly ask for snacks because this is the way it always has been and always will be. 

So yeah, I haven’t blogged much this past week because the children are all over me in fits of rage or neediness, depending on their mood of the moment. 

In between those times they are also being really stinking adorable.

Tess has been blowing me away. She is talking. TALKING. Not a lot of words, but still talking.

What would be even better is if her talking was rational. Now it goes like this:

[Scene: Grammy’s dining room]

Tessa: (points at box of graham crackers) Ga Ka-kuh.

Mama: You want a graham cracker? (Mama opens the box and gives one to Tessa.)

Tessa: (frantic, annoyed) No, no, no.

Mama: Okay. (Puts graham cracker away.)

Tessa: (points to box of graham crackers) Ga Ka-kuh.

Mama: I just gave you a graham cracker and you didn’t want it. (Opens box again and gives Tessa a cracker.)

Tessa: (more frantic, more annoyed) No, no, no.

Mama: GAH!

Tessa: Ga Ka-kuh.

Mama: (practically hurling cracker at the child) HERE IS YOUR GRAHAM CRACKER.

Tessa: (smiles, eats graham cracker, signs “more”) Mo. 

[Start scene again from the beginning.]

This happens with every meal, every snack, every drink. And it doesn’t usually end with her actually accepting the item she claims to want so much. My sanity will not be around much longer.

She is also prone to long fits of shrieking and sobbing because she wants the orange but she doesn’t want to eat it in the dining room and WHY DOESN’T ANYONE UNDERSTAAAAAAAND?

I’m looking forward to Christmas actually getting here because I am running out of ways to amuse them. And despite the lovely weather, I’ve only managed one outing with the camera where most shots were pouty. I went on anyway, you get some great ones in between the pouting.




I call this next series “Boy With Apple Juice.” It’s weird how much better kids are in pictures when they have something to hold.





Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. A certain baby is requesting food that I’m sure she will immediately refuse.

The Evolution of the Photographing Parent

sponsored post imageI’m guessing it’s pretty normal for new or expecting parents to go out and get a camera. If there’s any time in your life when you want a lot of pictures, it’s when your first baby arrives.

affiliate links picIn that respect, we were typical. A new point-and-shoot for baby pictures. And we gave it no additional thought. So we got pretty typical, run-of-the-mill photos.

Graham at 2 months, September 2009

 There’s our baby. No real thought to it, just get the baby, get the smile, get the face, get the little fingers. 

Graham at 4 months, November 2009

But eventually you have so many pictures of those little fingers and toes, that smile, that face that you want to start showing your child’s personality in your pictures. You want to have something to help remember just how it felt to be with them.

Graham at 1 year, July 2010

Things like lighting start to matter. You want a picture to capture magic. It’s more than just getting their face and their smile. It’s about capturing the light in their eyes.

Then you have a second child and you realize you’re taking less pictures and you’re kind of overwhelmed but you don’t want to lose all that ambition you had to take those perfect pictures. You find yourself taking pictures on your phone and you start to get the parent guilt that your second child will feel inferior.

Tessa at 1 month, March 2012
Tessa at 1 month, March 2012

You want to put pictures of your kids on the wall, but you’re just not getting frame-worthy images. Once that looked great on your phone screen or on the camera viewer aren’t so terrific when you get them printed. Something must be done.

Then maybe you find yourself buying a fancy camera and expecting it to work miracles on your pictures. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Tess at Brunch
Tessa at 11 months, January 2013

Eventually, like me, you may just throw your hands up and wonder why you bother.

But it’s okay. You can still get amazing pictures of your kids. You just have to put in some time, learn a few things, and practice.

And then, almost all of a sudden, you’ll find yourself with frame-worthy pictures of your kids.

Tessa at 13 months, March 2013
Tessa at 13 months, March 2013


Graham at 3, March 2013
Graham at 3, March 2013
Tessa at 20 months, October 2013
Graham at 4, September 2013

It can happen. I’m living proof.

My secret is I learned about my camera. I got help to learn how to use it. And I continue to try and learn more when I want to get better.

One of my tools along the way has been the Mom and Pop Photo School. My one-day photography class was great, but I continue to need references for advice and tools. The Mom and Pop Photo School has an excellent manual with sections on the technical stuff and settings (Cameras 101), as well as examples on how to use the light around you to get better portraits (Portraits 101). The 101 set gives you both parts or you can get one or the other. Plus it has an online community where people can upload images and share tips so you can have a place to ask all your questions. 

I’ve been in Manual mode for 9 months, challenging myself to learn my way around the camera. I pull it out when the kids are playing, I take it to camera-worthy locations and I get all the big milestones in there, too. (That last picture is from Graham’s first day of school this year. Such a keeper.)

But I’m still learning. Like how I finally decided to learn about focus and white balance, things that weren’t covered too much in my class but had sections in the Mom and Pop manual. Turns out, white balance is a lot simpler than I thought. Oh, and focus… well, I need to get a new lens since my favorite one is manual focus instead of auto and with my not-perfect vision it often gives me blurry images. See! Learning!

If you’re finding yourself ready to throw in the towel on getting great pictures, think again. And now you can enter to win your own 101 Set, with both the Cameras 101 and Portraits 101 courses plus a year of online support, a $99 value.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received the 101 Set to review from Mom and Pop Photo as one of their affiliates.