Lens Learning

Have you ever fallen down an Instagram rabbit hole? You know: you click on a photo that someone you know liked, then you click on someone who liked that photo, then you find a photo of theirs that you like, click on another liker, etc. And all along you are scrolling through random, endless feeds. It happens to me all too often and is usually just a big waste of time. But, a couple days ago I ended up on a blog somewhere that said all you need to do in order to take better photos was to master the manual mode on your DSLR. I can’t remember where that was on the inter-webs now, but it also gave links to resources to help you learn. I just turned to my husband.

We’ve spent the last week playing with the camera and going over the basics. What seems like a lifetime ago, we did the same thing to pass the hours during our honeymoon stop in Egypt, while sailing up The Nile River on a felluca. (Um, yes. That totally happened in my life). We were traveling with our advanced point and shoot camera and his old 35mm. Egypt was our last stop in an 8-week trip and up until that point, I had only used our digital camera. Now, with nothing to do but relax and take in the view, I decided I would figure out how to use our little dinosaur. I really had to pay attention- I was shooting with real film. Considering there was no option to press delete immediately after seeing your failed attempt, a recent review of my work had me feeling quite good. There were some decent photos on that roll!

So, I am filing “learning how to use manual mode on my DSLR” in the “things I’d like to relearn this year.” A chance to exercise my mind, express my creativity, and hopefully end up a few great photographs of this amazing time in our lives. At the very least, we’ll end up with better photos of our kids. They are not the easiest subjects to practice on, but they do provide a lot of photo-worthy moments! While I am not taking photos of them, I’ll probably focus on some random flower, toy, food, or other silly object while adjusting my f-stop and ISO. Even the silliest compositions, if you can get the light just right, can produce a picture to be proud of, and one to make you smile. That one little moment is so fun and makes photography a very rewarding hobby!

Here’s a sampling from my first “roll of film” using the manual mode this last week. And the last one is from way back when we were on The Nile. Looking forward to sharing more as I get more practice!


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A stranger’s smile

Have you ever climbed into the backseat of your minivan to buckle your kids into their car seat? Since you can’t stand, you end up bent 90 degrees at the waist with your rear end highly visible to anyone who happens by the giant hole left by the open side door. This is the exact position I was in when I met a lovely gentleman in a parking lot the other day.

I heard his car door open behind me. And maybe he said hi first, but I was too busy spinning around to put my butt down on the seat that I am not exactly sure how the exchange started. Then he looked in at us with a big smile. He was a bit older than me, had a nice suit, a nice car, and nice hair. I have a 10 year old van, had not showered that day, and surely must have looked a bit disheveled.

The nice man: you have three? (Doubting himself having realized there were only two little guys with me)

Me: yes, but one is at preschool.

The nice man: Ours are all 41 months apart.

Me: my first two are 31, and then these two (gesturing to my cute little guys buckled in and looking sweet) are 20. Makes for pretty interesting times!

The nice man (with afore mentioned nice smile): yes, but so fun! You just have to remember: it’s fun!!

I chuckle, agree, smile and the moment is done.

It was sweet. And unusual. So many women stop to say things like that (and even more to commiserate), but rarely men. He’s probably at least a decade ahead of me in the kid game, and his perspective was one full of good memories. It’s nice to know I will soon forget (or at least look fondly back at) all the challenges and more easily remember the good stuff. Considering I probably had to make some sort of threat to get my toddler in his seat right before the nice man noticed us, I am hopeful to know those memories will fade.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fun. But it’s fun and then instantly exasperating and then back to fun again–all day long. Right? I think my husband used to think I was a fun kind of crazy. It’s possible that now he is actually worried about my sanity. But, not the day a stranger smiled a very genuine smile at the smallest peek into my world. That day I felt light, I treated my kids with a little more patience, and saw our life through a much more forgiving lens. So, when you see a mom, or any other human being, that you think may need a little encouragement- or a smile. Just go ahead and give it. It may mean so much more to them than you know!

When the universe told me I needed a new rug

We used to have a rug in the dining room.  It was a lovely jute rug with a geometric pattern. I found it on clearance from West Elm for $150 and free shipping when we were getting ready to move into our house. Any decent 8×10 rug for that price is an amazing deal.

After the birth of my second and third children, my mom gifted me with the services of a cleaning lady. For a few glorious weeks I did not have to bend over the bathtub, clean behind the toilet, or scrub our porcelain kitchen sink clean. She was an angel and always did one extra little thing that made such a big difference. Vacumming out the windowsills, cleaning the tea kettle so that it looked new again, removing all the wax from our menorah and mantle. Awesome.  I would have her back again in a heartbeat.

On her last visit, I think her vacuum must have snagged one tiny little fiber on my dining room rug.  No big deal compared to all the good that came from her visits! I cut the thread so it wouldn’t happen again with my vacuum.  But, just like a sweater would unravel, the rug slowly started to come undone. You see, the snag was on the high-traffic side of the dining room.  The chase-me-until-I-can’t breathe side of the dining room. Figures. So, I mentioned to my husband that I would be commencing the hunt for a new rug.  I was going to be patient. We had time before the rug would actually bear a hole. And I had the challenge of matching the rare deal I got the first time around.

Sometimes, though, the universe has other plans. On Saturday, we ordered take-out. And, for some reason, when I returned home with the food I decided it would be nice to eat the dining room that night.  You know, to class-up our tacos and burritos. We only eat in there when it’s more than just us, because we have a kitchen table that suites our everyday needs just fine. And, for some reason, I decided my two-year-old would have a regular cup, sans sippy top that night. You know, cause he’s getting to be such a big boy.

A few bites of cheese quesadilla followed by one giant gulp of water from the topless cup had our toddler sending the contents of his stomach onto the floor with a giant splash. My husband collected all the necessary accoutrements to clean up the smelly mess. But, that’s when I called it. I told him we should just haul it outside. The whole rug? He asked, surprised. Yup. It’s done. A few snags plus what would be the lingering aroma of vomit equals done.

Sometimes the universe, a higher power, has plans for you. I realize that throwing out my dining room rug is a superficial example of that. But, mission #3 in my year of renewal is to open my eyes, mind, and heart. To realize that all is not in my control. Not everyone cares about everything, and I don’t need to either. If I can’t find a time for a birthday party that pleases everyone-that’s ok. If someone needs something from me that’s causing trouble for my life, I can tell them that. What I know is right for my family is what I should pay attention to. And, if the world conspires to rid me of more “stuff”, I would be happy about that, too.

I mentioned in my “don’t worry, be happy” post that I aiming to look past the mess my boys make and enjoy the chaos. I am generally succeeding in that quest. But, there is so much other stuff in my house, on my mind, and in the future that clouds my vision. I hope tossing the dining room onto the driveway is the beginning of a trend around here. A purging of unnecessary stuff to make room to be happy about all the necessary stuff. You see, now that the rug is gone I don’t walk over its unraveling edge everyday, wondering and worrying about how and when we will be able to replace it. Material item purged, mind cleared. Done.

DIY Easter Basket: There is still time!

I thought I’d share a super easy (and cheap) way to make a personalized Easter basket for your kiddos.  I have made one for each of my little guy’s first Easter and today I made my last one! If I remember correctly, there must have been something similar in Martha Stewart Magazine for April of 2011 that served as my inspiration. It’s a little unconventional and a bit more modern than a traditional basket, but they are so cute.  See:

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1. You’ll need a clear container, with or without a top.  I found this paint-can style container at JoAnn’s ($5.99- or less with coupons)

2. You’ll also need ribbon, a glue gun or craft glue, and fabric puff paints. Even a part-time crafter most likely has this stuff at home already!

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3. Measure a piece of ribbon long enough to circle the container with a little overlap. Glue one end, wrap the other end around and glue again. If you line the overlap up carefully, you will barely notice a seam. Do this on both the bottom and top of your container.

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4.  Use your puff paints to write your child’s name on their basket. I chose to write my kid’s names on the bottom right of the “front” of my can, but you can put it anywhere.  I also made bunny ears, but that’s optional!

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5. Let dry.  Stuff with grass and your kid’s favorite treats and toys (or if you are like me, with your favorites since they don’t need to/won’t eat everything anyway). IMG_2294

Voila! That’s it! Enjoy!

ps: An added bonus of these containers: They require a small round disc to be opened (or a coin if your lose the disc that it comes with). The top is just like an actual paint can – you have to pop it open by placing the disc in that little ridge under the top and then push down. If you have mischievous, sticky little hands in your home this means that they can’t get into their candy without your help and say so!

No time for nostalgia

So, my third little guy will be my last little guy. Don’t worry, I am okay with that! You would be too if you knew how much noise three little boys can make, even when they are trying to be quiet! My babies have all been huge. Not at birth (around 8lbs each), but they grow (mostly in girth) very fast. Reuben turns 8 months tomorrow and he weighs 22lbs. For those not in the baby game, on average babies double their birthweight by 6 months. He is close to triple just two months later.

Having a giant baby means you blow through baby clothes faster than you can say “doesn’t he look cute?” (You also have a sore back all the time, but the upside is killer triceps!) I think most moms can relate to the melancholy feeling you get when you put away your favorite pajamas/onesies/shoes for the last time. Today I figured out how to totally avoid that.

Step one: as your baby outgrows his clothes, just toss them into a pile on the floor in the corner of the room.

Step two: when looking for the clothes that you’ve stored away from your older kids, randomly pull a few pieces here and there out of the bins in the closet. Throw them into a different pile on the floor since there is never time to sort them into the drawer.

Step three: each night when you are rocking/nursing/singing your baby to sleep make sure both piles are in full view.

Step four: wait to do anything about it until you are so annoyed by the mess that you don’t care what goes on in the give-away pile as long as it leaves the nursery, your house, and your mind!

This is what happened to me today. My two big boys went out with their grandparents and when faced with the question: what do I do now that I am home with only one child? I knew the answer right away: I had to clean up his room and fill his drawers with clothes that actually fit him and his chubby thighs. I was so happy to be tackling this project that I barely looked at anything beyond the number on the tag. (Plus, there was
that ticking time bomb I laid on the floor. Happily chewing on his wooden rattle one minute, screaming to be picked up the next). No time for nostalgia. Will it fit? No. Good, gone! I skipped right past sentimental and went straight to satisfied. Now I have a clean room and a plastic tub plus a diaper box full of stuff to give away. And it feels so good!

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Potato Chips & Pinwheels

I think all young families, whether consciously or not, spend a lot of time figuring out what their traditions will look like. Will they look the same as when they were growing up or will they be the exact opposite of when they were growing up? Is there something your spouse’s family loves that you don’t? Is there a tradition you always wished you had and now you feel like you can finally implement it?

Traditions don’t have to be grand or involved. I strive to make sure our traditions do nothing but bring joy- not stress, lots of forethought, cost lots of money, or require a ton of time. This is easier said than done when it’s Thanksgiving morning and you are trying to make sure everyone has their favorite dish, prepared their favorite way, to preserve the pleasure of their favorite bite. That is why the traditions I love most are the small, seeming inconsequential, silly ones. The things my parents didn’t even know made an impression on me. Maybe they do now that I am an adult and appreciate them (both the traditions and my parents) much more than I did when I was young. Like how every time we pulled into the driveway after a long day away from home or a weekend road trip my mother would say “home again, home again, jiggity jog” without fail. Now, when I say it (or better yet, when one of my boys remembers to say it) I am transported right into the back seat while flashes of my childhood adventures, family gatherings, and sporting events we would be returning from run through my memory.

I often wonder what my kids will think of me, the mom of their childhood, when they are older. If I had to take a guess today, I think they’d say I was an impatient, all-to-loud dictator! Lack-of-sleep, winter temperatures sticking around well past their welcome, and a carousel of germs have finally got the better of me. I have been beaten. I know the last week was not the best of my young mothering career.  But, then I remembered two bright spots.  Teeny weeny, but bright, and I am choosing to concentrate on those instead of the 17 times I lost my temper (perhaps a little bit justified, but probably never really necessary)! If you are one of the handful of people that follow me on Instagram, this will be old news!

Bright Spot #1: Saint Patrick’s Day. I am 50% Irish.  My first name is Erin and I have red hair and freckles, but growing up we never did anything for Saint Patrick’s Day except wear the obligatory green shirt. Somehow, I have not had a green shirt for at least the last 5 years- and each year on March 17 that is a surprise to me!  So, last Monday night, I had to run to the grocery store for bread. While I was there, I picked up 4 store-made cupcakes with shamrock charms on top thinking that at least we would mention the day and have a treat. For whatever reason, the next day when I woke up and it was Saint Patrick’s Day, I felt bad that I was letting it go by without putting in any effort.  And without using the day to do something fun with or for my kids. I tried to think of what I had on-hand that could turn into something we’d all enjoy.  Then it came to me- I had a bag of potatoes in the pantry.  And I had green food coloring.  We could have green potato chips with dinner! Hooray! (note: this also falls into my mission to try new things this year. I have never made homemade potato chips! I highly recommend them. I turned to Martha Stewart for the best way to make them, and ours were baked.) My toddler joined me at the counter to watch me slice the potatoes and together we mixed up the olive oil, seasonings, and food coloring. He was pretty excited to see everything turn green. Into the oven they went. Out out of oven they came. Green, crispy, and delicious! There we have it.  A new, simple, fun tradition that everyone enjoys and I think they will remember. Green potato chips on Saint Patrick’s Day.

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Bright Spot #2: On that same trip to the grocery store, when I realized I was actually alone, I stopped to pick up 3 pinwheels at the craft store. Each day at lunch, we eat in front of patio doors that look out onto our backyard. Last year I had the idea to surprise my boys by adding pinwheels to the garden on the first day of spring. They loved it and we watched those pinwheels spin every day after that. It never got old. I even know a little pinwheel ditty: “Pinwheel, pinwheel, where have you been. Hello, how are you and won’t you come in?” (I think it’s from a show I used to watch on Nickelodeon?) This year it is not-so-spring-like. I had to stake the pinwheels into the snow, because the ground is still frozen. But, the kids didn’t care. They were so excited! The idea that the “spring fairy” brought them only lasted a second- my oldest immediately exclaimed that I must be the fairy. It didn’t matter though. They were surprised, happy to see some color in the backyard, and I was feeling great that I actually I remembered this year. Another little tradition that is simple and fun. In a few years, our garden will be full of pinwheels and our view will be brilliantly colored, no matter how long winter decides to stay each year.

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If I can accumulate more moments like these two, my kids may be able to add silly and fun to their description of me as a young mom! With a house full of 3 boys less than five years apart, I will certainly need to be tough, strict, and clearly in-charge a lot of the time.  But, let’s hope those times only serve to help us get through the day and that the moments of whimsy are what make a lasting impression.