Motorcycle Racing Painting

posted in: Fine Art | 0

It’s interesting to see how motion is captured — whether in a photograph, or through other media.  I had fun creating this painting of a racing motorcycle (based on a photograph by Steve Sewell).  Brush strokes, whether “in real life” or digital, convey motion, impart a sense of speed.  This “quick draw” painting was completed in about an hour, give or take.  I had fun playing around with different brush strokes, but really wanted an abstract feel for the background on this one.  The brush strokes lend a sense of motion, though they are a bit rough.

motorcycle racing painting, based on a photograph by Steve Sewell
Motorcycle racing painting, based on a photograph by Steve Sewell

The thing about art is — you can spend hours on it.  Tweaking brush strokes, overworking details, deciding you both love and hate the painting at the same time.  Art is personal, involved. It’s not just an image, it’s about the emotion.

I could come back to this same motorcycle photograph tomorrow and end up with a completely different painting.  It’s all about the feel you’re going for in an image, how rough you want it to be, how refined.

Art is fluid, everchanging.

Art is personal.

As an aside, if you want to commission a painting from one of your own snapshots, please contact me.  I’d love to find out what styles of art interest you, the look you’re going for, and what excites you about your image.

What Kind of Camera Should You Get?

posted in: Parenting | 0

What Kind of Camera Should You Get? Moms weigh in on their go-to favorite camerasThe inevitable question that is asked of me, as a photographer, is this:

“I’m looking at getting a new camera, what kind should I get?”

I have to break it to you.

There is no simple answer.

Sure, I could tell you to go for the biggest and the best.  Or the most expensive.  But what good will that really do you?

Instead, my usual reply is this:

What do you want to use it for?

Then, depending on how the conversation goes, I might ask what type of bag you want to carry around if you plan to have your camera on hand always.  Do you have a purse that can fit the kitchen sink?  Yes? Well, then that entry-level DSLR might not be a bad idea.

But, on the other hand, if you’re like me, and have a small purse, or sometimes no purse at all, then you might want to think in terms of compact cameras.  The quality on today’s cameras is really phenomenal, so it depends, again, on what you’re going to use it for.

What I like about my “everyday camera” is that I can fit it in my pocket.  And I can use it with one hand.  Bonus points because it takes videos.

Actually, the HD video feature was a selling point for me.  For my personal use, I wanted a camera that could document our everyday moments. One that could record my boys as they took their first steps. A camera that would be on hand and easy to operate while I maneuvered around small children.

I didn’t want something I needed to think about. Or a camera with a lot of parts.

Changing lenses?  Not something I wanted to deal with.

But then again, I’m a professional photographer. I do this day in and day out.  I need to draw the line, find a way to experience my life rather than concentrate all my energy on documenting it.  So the compact camera was my choice.  I am still happy with my five year old Canon G12 (#afflink – I’m using Amazon affiliate links in this entire post, thanks for your support!).

When you buy a camera, make sure you’re confident in the brand.  In the five years since I purchased my G12, I’ve had to send it in for repairs twice… due to inadvertent camera drops.  Fortunately, I know Canon stands behind their product, and that the repairs they do are top notch.  Just something to consider if you look into any off brand cameras.

So, what should you do if your 10 year old camera is dying?  Have you been told it’s better to buy a new one than to repair?  Are you hoping to find recommendations for a good replacement?  What to do…

Think about what you want.

Do you want small size, portability? Do you want easy to use, easy to download, etc?  It all comes down to personal preference.

Now, let’s hear from some other people about their favorite camera.  These all happen to be moms who use their cameras on a regular basis.  Their opinions vary as much as their cameras do, but each has figured out what works best for them.

Now, as you read through these thoughts below, consider which opinions echo your own sentiments.  It may just help you get a better idea of what camera you should get.

 


Canon DSLR Bundle – Canon EOS Rebel T5 with 2 lenses #afflink
It’s easy to use, takes great pics and came with 2 lenses. It can be cumbersome to take to school events where there’s not much room in the seating area but I love it.

Peta Groth, www.greatgoogamoogas.com


iPhone + DSLR – iPhone or Nikon D3200 with 2 lenses

IPhone (does that count?) I have a lovely Nikon DSLR that takes great pictures, but my phone fits in my pocket and is always on hand. I make a point to pull out the Nikon for fun sometimes and for special trips and events, but when capturing our everyday moments I almost always use the IPhone.

Erin Buhr, www.bambinitravel.com


Canon DSLR – Canon EOS 70D kit

Canon 70D – being able to shoot in manual mode to get quality pictures is invaluable to me. I would rather carry around a nice camera bag that looks like a purse with my DSLR in it than have mediocre photos of the memories I care about. Getting used to carrying a bigger camera was pretty easy too and I am much happier with the results even though I have an awesome camera on my phone.

Kara Carrero ALLterNATIVElearning.com


 

Olympus Tough Waterproof Camera

These days my go to camera is an Olympus Tough point and shoot. Since I’m in my 40s, I cut my teeth on heavy SLR film cameras–I didn’t go digital until my first kid was 4, and I’ve had enough of carrying a giant bag for camera and baby gear. The Tough is water proof, dirt proof, drop proof and fits in my jean’s pocket. I have boys, I need to be able to keep up with them! Plus it takes blog worthy photos. (I have a Sony a100 DSLR if I feel like dragging it around.)

Denise Bertacchi, stlMotherhood.com


 

Nikon DSLR

I am always carrying around my Nikon DSLR. I hate it when I am stuck using my camera phone to capture a really great moment of my kids because the quality is not up to par. I purchased a new larger purse so my camera fits in it so I will always be prepared to snap away!

Katie Pinch www.alittlepinchofperfect.com


 

Canon Elf – Canon Powershot Elf 350

I have a simple canon elf that tucks into my purse that seems to have 9 lives. (it has been dropped, stepped on, splashed, and still works 7 years and 3 kids later!) It takes good photos and videos for it’s size and price. My kids use it often too! I also have a Canon Rebel EOS that has a much clearer image, but is bulkier, so I use a camera case when bringing it out and about. I love the clarity of the picture and couldn’t image life without it! The image is clear and I can change lenses but it doesn’t have video.

Amanda Boyarshinov www.theeducatorsspinonit.com


I hope you found this post helpful!  It’s always tough to decide on something like what camera you should get, so if this post has helped you at all, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Professional Portrait – Woman

posted in: Notes | 0

When it comes to convincing you of the value of what we do, there’s no better way than to simply pair an image with words.  Words, that is, from the client.  Because their testimonials cut to the heart of it all, and mean more than any words we could assemble.

I so appreciate what you have done.  You did a great job with taking the photo; you were professional and quick! My time is precious with a busy schedule but you got me in and out with a great outcome. The retouching you did was fabulous. Thank you so much.

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Yes, a picture says a thousand words.  But sometimes you need just a few more.  If you want to read more testimonials from other clients, please do so!  Rest assured that we can quickly and easily create a business headshot for you within a half hour at the studio.  You’ll be pleased with the results, and when you use your updated professional portrait you will be making the right first impression!

 

Horse + Rider Painting (from Photograph)

posted in: Fine Art | 1

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Finding Time For Yourself), this year I’ve been trying to incorporate art into my daily routine.  For the most part, this has been in my sketchbook, with pen and paper.  But today, I took some time to experiment with digital painting.  This painting is based on a photograph taken by Bhakti Iyata (source: Pixabay.com).  I had a lot of fun painting digitally.  It always takes time to find a groove when working with new media, and digital is no exception.  But my goal was to capture the essence of the image, the feeling, and keep things kind of spontaneous.  Oh, and experiment with the painting process and “media” available digitally (i.e. all the fancy schmancy brushes).

digital painting of a woman riding her horse, cowgirl at a rodeo.
Painting of a woman riding her horse, based on a photograph by Bhakti Iyata (Source: Pixabay.com)

I’m liking the results, especially considering the amount of time I spent on it (maybe an hour or so of experimentation).  I’m not completely in love with the airbrush streaks on the woman’s hair and the horse’s mane, but that’s okay.  Art is a process.  The more time you spend practicing, the more you can refine your skills.

As an aside, if you have a photograph that you’d like turned into a painted art piece, please get in touch (contact Betsy).  I’d love to help talk with you about how I could create a custom art piece from one of your treasured snapshots.

Now, back to the daily art thing.  I have been pretty consistent!  Yes, I’ve taken a few days off, but other days I’ve had time to finish more than one sketch.  It’s interesting how creative inspiration strikes.

My takeaway so far from this endeavor?

  • it’s good to let your goals have fluidity.  I don’t want to be stuck doing something daily “just because” or out of obligation.  The whole purpose of this was to spend some time every day doing something for myself.
  • Don’t feel pressured.  Yes, I wanted to say “I’ve completed a drawing every day” — but realistically, I know this isn’t feasible.  Some days I’ve just done quick sketches.  Other days I’ve had time to spend an hour or two drawing.  Just do what you can, when you can.
  • It’s good to take a break.  Time off gives balance, refreshes, energizes you.  Our work week has a weekend (even though many of us don’t stop working), the creation story has a day of rest, exercise schedules incorporate “off days.”  It’s no good to be in a state of constant activity.  Rest, reflection… they’re good for the soul.
  • Include others.  Some of the days I’ve had most fun drawing were when I did collaborative sketches with my son, Toby.  It was fun to work on something together, to chat as we drew, and to have more than one creative opinion expressed in the final piece.  A note to Type A individuals — if you let a child collaboratively draw with you, set aside any expectations or need for things to go a certain way. It just won’t happen.

Am I going to continue?

Yes, probably.  Though I am not officially committing to a drawing (or painting) every day, I’d like to continue engaging the creative portion of my brain daily.  It’s really interesting how much that overflows to the rest of my daily routine.

In a nutshell… find time to do what you love on a regular basis, even if you have to make major changes to your definition of that activity.  Five minutes drawing.  Reading one chapter of a book.  Taking a five minute walk.  Playing games as a family once a month.

Whatever it is that energizes and inspires you, make it something you can realistically do.

Family Photo at Barton Hills Country Club

posted in: Notes | 0

We photographed this family a while back, during the summer months. It’s always nice to be able to plan a family photo session for someplace outdoors.  And if you can choose a location that is meaningful for your family, so much the better!  For a golfing family, there is no place better for family pictures than at the golf course.  So we did their family picture at Barton Hills Country Club, their favorite golf course.

Family photos don’t have to be formal, they don’t have to be held in the studio.  It’s just as easy to go on location and find someplace that really reminds you of what’s important to your family.

Ann Arbor Graffiti Alley Senior Photos

posted in: Notes | 0

It can be tough to find a spot for senior photos that hasn’t been overused.  But even with a place as popular as Ann Arbor’s graffiti alley, it’s all about your vision.  Betsy uses her photographic talent to bring dramatic lighting and different camera angles together so that your senior photos will look unique — even if they are taken in a popular place for senior pictures.

Don’t worry so much about whether a particular spot is “overused” — make sure you trust your senior photos to the right photographer, so that you can get creative and unique results — no matter where your senior photos are taken.

For this high school senior’s portraits, we went on location for the bulk of her session.  We also did some traditional senior portraits back at the studio, though by traditional we really mean studio setting, with studio lights.  With the right clothing, even something simple can still be personalized and unique.  With senior portraits, if you’re going to do a two part session, we recommend starting at the studio — that way you have time to get used to being in front of the camera (Betsy will do her best to help you relax and start having fun ASAP).  These studio photos are often used for high school yearbook submissions, as they usually have backdrop requirements and such.  Once we have that out of the way, it’s off to the location of your choice for a fun and creative photography experience!

Newborn Baby Photos in Studio

posted in: Notes | 0

Sometimes with a new baby in the family it can be tough to get out of the house.  But one of the first excursions, in our biased opinion, should be for newborn pictures! If you are looking for those adorable sleeping baby photos, it is best to plan this session for the first week or two of baby’s life.  Because as we all know, babies sleep a lot to begin with, and then become more alert more often as they get older.  That’s why we have so much interest in our Baby’s First Year plan — it includes multiple sessions so you can have us photograph each adorable stage.

Siblings and family members are always welcome in newborn baby photos!  If you’re worried your kids won’t sit still for the camera — just relax and let us do our thing.  Betsy has many tricks to get willful little ones looking their best for the camera.

Extended Generations Family Photo

posted in: Notes | 0

There’s something unique and special about extended family portraits.  Yes, it can seem tough to get the whole family together.  But it is worth it. Because you’re bringing the whole family together.  So plan your session, have Betsy create your portraits, and then take the rest of the evening to be together as a family.  Life is too short, we all are too busy.  You have to make family a priority.  You deserve to have portraits not just of your kids, but of your entire family, on your wall.

A secondary challenge?  Location.  Sometimes people want to have their family photo taken, but aren’t sure where to do it.  Well, the studio is always an option.  But Betsy likes to recommend you consider having your family photo taken somewhere more unique to your family.  Your parents’ home.  The old farm house that’s been in the family for generations.  The park where your grandfather proposed to your grandmother.  Family photos are a special occasion — and it’s ok to put some thought into planning where you want yours done!

The Easy Way to Draw a Heart + A Photo Valentine Craft

posted in: Parenting | 0

Last year in preschool, Toby’s teacher taught him (and me) a neat way to draw a heart.  It’s so ingenius that I had to share.  And since this trick about how to make a hear is so short and sweet, I thought I would also share an idea for making a photo Valentine’s Day card too.

But first, this trick for drawing a heart.

If your child is learning their letters, this method will be something they can do — Toby learned how to draw hearts this way at the age of three.

You need two letters to make the heart.  First you draw a big “V” — and then you put a little “m” on top of it. I’ve included a diagram below, that shows the heart with the “V” and the “m” not-quite-put-together, as well as the final heart.

bphotoart-photo-valentine-craft

Pretty simple, huh?

It’s amazing what kids gravitate towards.

So, now onto part two of this post.  The photo Valentine craft.

We usually have some holiday cards left over every year, so I let the kids turn them into photo crafts until we run out.  Last year we made photo valentines with pictures, and my toddler had fun, so I decided to make a photo Valentine’s Day card a little early so I could share the idea with you!

Toby was taking a rare nap when we created this card, so I had an 18 month old’s help putting on glue and decorating.  But hopefully this rendition will inspire you, in the very least!

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As you can see, I cut out some heart shapes, and cut out the photo of our family in a heart shape as well.  With an older child, I would have drawn the heart outlines and handed over a pair of scissors.  Toby would’ve loved that.  But, Zack just enjoyed helping my hands open and close the scissors as I cut.  And he wanted to use the marker too, so I let him have free reign of the inside of the Valentine’s card.  We kept it pretty simple. “Happy Valentine’s Day” on the front of the card, with “love Zack” on the inside.

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Then we digressed to other activities.  Zack found the paper I had gotten out, and a pen.  He had fun drawing on the paper, and wanted more hearts. So I drew him a few.

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After tearing up some paper, grabbing the scissors, and exhausting his young attention span, we were done with our photo Valentine craft activity.  Zack is a little young to do more than help push the cut out objects onto the card, but he did really enjoy the portions of this activity where I let him help.

Do you make homemade Valentine’s Day cards?  Have you ever included photos in your Valentines?  What do you think about the “trick” for drawing a heart? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thankfulness + Gratitude Journal

posted in: Parenting | 0

bphotoart-gratitude-thankfulness-journalSometimes it’s hard to stay positive. This life is full of heartbreak and troubles.  Something that has helped our family lately?  A gratitude journal.  Also known as a thankfulness journal.  I got the idea from a good friend who has gone through a lot.  She mentioned that this simple act of writing down five things a day that she is thankful for has helped her realize how much good there is in her life.

Starting a thankfulness journal is a step towards a change in perspective.  It helps you focus on the good.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit

Being thankful, being grateful, about the things in your life …these small things can help cultivate a happy heart. Happiness is a choice, and the more you work on cultivating it, the more it permeates your life.

When I started my gratitude and thankfulness journal, my son, Toby, was really interested — and wanted his own thankfulness journal too.  So I found another notebook lying around the house and gave it to him.  He was thrilled.

Since Toby is just learning to read and write, his thankfulness journal looks a little different than mine.  I usually write the date for him (he’s started tracing it after I write it), and then he draws a picture on that page.  After that, we talk about his drawing, and depending on the complexity of the subject, I’ll write some notes about (porcupine and and obstacle course) it or have Toby write the words (i.e. race car, or airplane).  For him, it’s more of a focusing tool, a way to spend time drawing each day and thinking about what he is doing rather than just scribbling out a tornado (like he does sometimes with his school journal).

Some of Toby's drawings, including a bird on the left page and race car on the right page.
Some of Toby’s drawings, including a bird on the left page and race car on the right page.
Toby showing his drawing of a fishing boat on the left, and a playground in the rain on the right.
Toby showing his drawing of a fishing boat on the left, and a playground in the rain on the right.

My thankfulness journal is just words.  I end up using about a third of one page daily, by the time I write all five things I’m grateful and thankful for.  every item on my list is numbered, one through five, each day.  And I always start with “I am thankful” or “I am grateful” …just the simple act of writing those words hammers home what I am deciding to be happy about.

 

Some days, it's tough to find five "worthwhile" things to be thankful for. Other days, it is tough to stop at just five.
Some days, it’s tough to find five “worthwhile” things to be thankful for. Other days, it is tough to stop at just five.

The most consistent time for me to do my journal is right before bed, when the house is quiet and I have time to reflect on the day.  It helps me to find good, to see how I am blessed — even when I have a rough day.  Even if I can’t come up with something entirely original, I’ve never skimped on my daily list.

What have I listed?

It varies depending on the day.

Some days I’ve been thankful for the fact both boys took a nap, or that I got to take a nap myself.  Other days I’ve been grateful for miracles, both big and small.  Like a relative’s recovery from surgery complications, or that my son inexplicably found a precious earring that I had lost half a year earlier. I’ve focused on finding reasons to be thankful about my life — my husband, my boys, my pets, my home.

Toby with his thankfulness journal -- showing his drawing of a toy
Toby with his thankfulness journal — showing his drawing of a toy

There is so much in my life that I have — and all too often, I take it for granted.

This thankfulness and gratitude journal has been a way for me to change that. The best part of this method of journaling? It’s brief, succinct.  Anyone can find five minutes a day to write down five quick items.  Because in all honesty, it doesn’t take much longer than that.

Toby writing in his thankfulness journal.
Toby writing in his thankfulness journal.

And one thing I like about this journaling concept?  It focuses on the positive.  The only journals I previously knew about were ones where you chronicled daily life.  And what tends to come to the forefront?  The negative.  I don’t want to focus my life on the negative.  I don’t want to leave a written legacy that focuses on things in life that drag me down.  I want to focus on the positive. I want my written legacy to be inspiring and motivating.

And that’s why I keep this journal.  Because my days seem to go better when I make time for it.

Do you journal?  What do you write about?  Would you consider starting a thankfulness journal?  Would your kids do this with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Finding Time For Yourself

posted in: Fine Art | 1

With all the directions we’re being pulled in, it can be tough to carve out time for yourself!  Like me, I’m sure you wear many hats — perhaps including things like business owner, household manager, kid wrangler, laundry sergeant, extracurricular activity planner, ….the list goes on.

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Drawings and sketches in 2016, created by Betsy Finn. (Disclaimer: These are photographed with my phone… so I can share them daily!!!)

Posted by Betsy Finn on Sunday, January 3, 2016

Let’s face it. Our schedules are busy.  Life is busy.  And nothing we can do will make it seem any less busy.

Well, that’s not quite true.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve done one thing daily that has helped me feel like I’m treating myself.  I’ve opened my sketchbook and spent time drawing.  

For me, there is nothing more relaxing than the act of creating something.  

Whether it is a photograph, a drawing, a sculpture, …heck, even artisan bread… the process of creation is what leaves me feeling inspired, relaxed, and joyful.

Some days I haven’t been inspired, but once I forced myself to get started, that feeling was replaced by contentment.  It’s fun for me.

I have to admit I have a few ulterior motives behind the lofty goal I have unofficially set for myself. 

My not-official-goal?   Drawing every day — ideally finishing a new drawing each day.  

You see, I am a perfectionist by nature, and there’s a tipping point for me when I’m creating.  At some point, I usually reach a spot where I’m “afraid” to go on — a gnawing concern that if I do any more, I might “wreck” it.  Of course I know better than that little voice inside my head, but still, it is tempting to just stop and call it quits.  

And that’s the point where I have been forcing myself to continue on.  For better or worse, I’ve been forging ahead and finishing drawings that, several years ago, I would have left in sketch form.  

I have to say, it’s really exciting. Liberating. Not perfect, but hey, life isn’t perfect.  I don’t need my drawings to be either.

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By drawing daily, I’m doing something for myself — I’m helping myself to get past that mental roadblock.

And it’s amazing how once one roadblock comes down, others start to fall too.

You see, that whole thing about not having enough time for yourself?

It’s a myth.

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You can have time — you just have to make time.

Whether it’s an hour or five minutes, you owe it to yourself to do something for yourself regularly. Do you love to read?  Try to read a chapter every day — or even just a paragraph!  Or maybe you like to do something that can’t realistically be done on a daily basis.  Make time weekly.  By taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to take better care of others, to better fulfill your obligations.

Maybe you owe it to yourself to set a consistent bedtime, or to go for a walk every morning.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or anything creative.  But find something you can do consistently and regularly.  Something that you enjoy.

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Here are some ideas to get you brainstorming ways you can take care of yourself:

  1. Start a thankfulness journal and write 5 things you are thankful
  2. Draw in a sketchbook
  3. Work your way through a book by reading a paragraph or chapter
  4. Go for a walk every morning, or after dinner
  5. Spend 10 minutes playing wholeheartedly with your kids
  6. Turn off your phone and just relax/meditate/think for five minutes
  7. Listen to your favorite music for 10 minutes
  8. Take a break from sitting at your desk — stand up and stretch!
  9. Subscribe to a daily podcast and listen to it
  10. Complete a scrapbook page
  11. Do a daily crossword puzzle
  12. Try to finish a brainteaser or sudoku puzzle
  13. Play cards (solitaire, etc) by yourself
  14. Take a shower or bubble bath
  15. Take a break after putting the kids to bed — the dishes can wait a few minutes
  16. Work on a jigsaw puzzle
  17. Take a power nap
  18. Just take a breather… a single deep breath in, followed by a deep exhalation
  19. Make a cup of coffee or tea for yourself (and sit while you enjoy it)
  20. Think about all the things in your life you appreciate

See, the things you can do to take care of yourself are so variable.  It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day, either.

Just make time for yourself.

Seriously.

You deserve it.

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If you have any tips about making time for yourself, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!  What are some ways you make sure to take care of yourself emotionally, mentally, physically, or otherwise?  What helps you keep a positive outlook on life?

 

Family Photos with Horses

posted in: Notes | 0

I recently did a family photography session that included the family’s horse.  We met at the barn where their horse was, and after doing a series of family portraits on location (without the horse), it was time to bring her in from the pasture.

Well, needless to say, since it was December, and on the warmer side, it was a little muddy.  My client took some time to brush off the dried mud, and then I had her walk up and down this stretch of ground between two of the barns.  I love capturing moments between animals and their people.  And this one is one of my favorites.  The fog lends an ethereal quality to the scene too.

Of course, with horses, one of the challenges is that most startle at a camera’s flash.  The same was true of this beauty.  So, we concluded the session with another series that included the whole family.

 

Managing Toy Clutter in the Family Room

posted in: Parenting | 0

bphotoart-managing-toy-clutter-family-roomDespite the fact that we have an entire playroom on the main floor of our home, there is inevitably an exodus of toys from the playroom to the other areas of our house.  Most frequently, these toys congregate in the family room.

And while I love seeing the boys play with their toys and read books, it’s not so fun to navigate a toy minefield when making my way through the family room.

Before my most recent find, a combination bookshelf and toy bin, we’d been through several variations of toy organization for the family room.

We tried — and gave up — on insisting that all toys and books be put away in the play room.  It just wasn’t realistic.

We used two bins to hold a selection of toys, and another for books.  This worked for a little while, but the organization was lacking and Zack, being a baby, enjoyed dumping the bins.

We gave up for a while and piled toys into any mobile cart/basket toys that the boys could push around.  This was more of a “throwing in the towel” approach… it only got the clutter off the floor and didn’t make life easier for anyone.

What I like about our current solution?  It’s practical. It has multiple levels, and there is a top shelf that Zack (the baby) can’t reach, so Toby can have a little safe haven in the family room for his lego creations or other things that might get damaged by little fingers.  Plus, since there’s an enticing bin of toys within easy reach, Zack doesn’t tend to try for the other (previously enticing) items.

Refinishing this toy unit didn’t take long — I sanded and painted the entire thing while Toby was at preschool one day.  In fact, I had it in the house and the boys were putting toys away in it before my husband even realized I had refinished it!

Going forward, here are my rules for managing toy clutter in the family room:

  1. This bin is not a catch-all for toys that have been played with — we’ll still be putting dress up clothes in their bin, magnatiles in their container, etc.  But it’s nice to have a spot to store things that don’t have a set home.
  2. Books need to be put away when not being read.  Either on this bookshelf, or the playroom bookshelf. My one exception is library books.  Those live in our library book bag (which you see in the bottom left corner — it’s white canvas with red straps).
  3. When you’re done playing with something, put it away. Enough said.
  4. After dinner every night, it is time to clean up any toys that are still out. In the playroom, in the family room.  While I expect the kids to participate, I intend to help with this because sometimes it’s a big job!
  5. No toys on the couch.  Yes, this is a rule — because my boys decided it was fun to clean up the floor by piling all the toys on the couch on more than one occasion.
  6. Keep the toys on the rug.  Even if toys are being played with, we still need to have a way to get from one part of the house to another — there has to be a pathway.  This is important because we walk through our family room to get from the garage and kitchen to the bedrooms.
  7. No books on the floor.  This one is hard to follow for the boys, but I stick to it because I want to avoid any more ER visits.  (Toby got a hairline fracture in his leg by slipping on a book on our family room when he was three

Here are a few photos of the before, during, and after.

This brightly colored kids' toy unit was a great find, but I wasn't thrilled about the colors...
This brightly colored kids’ toy unit was a great find, but I wasn’t thrilled about the colors…
I had some cans of brown spray paint left over from another furniture makeover, so I lightly sanded the surface and gave it a single coating.
I had some cans of brown spray paint left over from another furniture makeover, so I lightly sanded the surface and gave it a single coating.
The finished product, at home in our family room. It blends in MUCH better and the kids have enjoyed using it.
The finished product, at home in our family room. It blends in MUCH better and the kids have enjoyed using it.

Winter Storm

posted in: Photo Essay | 0

I love winter.  …the cold, crisp, air… the snow… the whole thing.  And so I was just about as exited as our boys were to get our first big storm of the season.  We got a lot of snow. The boys begged to go out and build a snowman, and so we bundled up and went out — but the snow was a little too crumbly.  We made a baby snowman, and then moved onto bigger and better things — a snow fort!  Steven shoveled some snow from the yard into piles during a driveway-shoveling-break, and then Toby and I built a knee-high (or waist-high, depending on who you ask) horseshoe fort.  Toby kept kicking holes in it to make space for a refrigerator.  Then, after a brief snowball fight, it was time to go inside — frostbite prevention!

We didn’t get back out in the snow that day, to play, that is.  We did take a drive that evening (as an aside, I’m really thankful we now have a truck).  The next morning, we awoke to a winter wonderland (okay, it was there the night before too, but give me a break here).  The boys were super excited when they woke up.  But, before they did, I was able to sneak out for a brief walk through our woods on my own (Steven was great, he saw the eager look in my eyes and said “go.”).

So, here are some photographs of my morning excursion.  I love the predawn quiet and stillness.  I got to see a deer, and tracks from several animals who’ve been using the path I made in our woods this summer.

But best of all, I got to see the sun rise and kiss the treetops with warmth and light.

snow on our bradford pear tree -- still with leaves
snow on our bradford pear tree — still with leaves
our house in the moments before the sun rose
our house in the moments before the sun rose
a quiet entrance into our woods
a quiet entrance into our woods
I wasn't the first one to use the path through our woods...
I wasn’t the first one to use the path through our woods…
waiting for the sun to rise over the horizon, I looked back at the way I had come through the woods.
waiting for the sun to rise over the horizon, I looked back at the way I had come through the woods.
Our playground collected a "modest" amount of snow...
Our playground collected a “modest” amount of snow…
I love how the monkey bars held onto snow!
I love how the monkey bars held onto snow!
My recently-hung windchime collected some snow too.
My recently-hung windchime collected some snow too.
The sun starting to rise and cast light on the trees in our woods.
The sun starting to rise and cast light on the trees in our woods.
As the sun rose higher the woods became awash with warmth
As the sun rose higher the woods became awash with warmth
I always love to look at how the snow coats one side of a tree during winter storms
I always love to look at how the snow coats one side of a tree during winter storms
Loving the warm rays on our snow-laden trees.
Loving the warm rays on our snow-laden trees.
A juxtaposition of near and far, shadow and sun.
A juxtaposition of near and far, shadow and sun.
I can't get enough of this tree. Loved looking up it!
I can’t get enough of this tree. Loved looking up it!
As the sun finished rising over the horizon, I enjoyed watching the steam rise across the lake (barely visible in this shot)
As the sun finished rising over the horizon, I enjoyed watching the steam rise across the lake (barely visible in this shot)
Another crooked tree that piqued my interest.
Another crooked tree that piqued my interest.
Another one of the path through the woods, now that the sun had risen.
Another one of the path through the woods, now that the sun had risen.
I love trekking through snow. This snowfall wasn't quite deep enough for me to pull out snowshoes.
I love trekking through snow. This snowfall wasn’t quite deep enough for me to pull out snowshoes.
An abstract shot of the sunrise through my tracks in the snow.
An abstract shot of the sunrise through my tracks in the snow.
As I headed back to the garage to go inside, I enjoyed one last peek at the sunrise, our woods, our house, and the horseshoe fort we'd made the day before. I love winter.
As I headed back to the garage to go inside, I enjoyed one last peek at the sunrise, our woods, our house, and the horseshoe fort we’d made the day before. I love winter.

Thanks for indulging me.  I know some of you aren’t fond of winter (*gasp!*).  But I really love all four seasons — except that constant state of flux where it freezes then thaws, freezes then thaws, etc.   Snow is gorgeous.  As Toby observed, it is “all sparkly.”  The snow shimmers, reflects light, casts a whole new wonder about the world. It makes the ordinary and the mundane seem surreal and magical.  It makes us take a pause from our daily routine to admire the wonders of creation around us.

At least at the start of winter, right? 🙂

Engineering Fun!

posted in: Learning | 0

Engineering Fun!We somehow ended up with a few extra PVC frame laundry hampers in our home.  So, as is usually the case, my creative toddler discovered a way to repurpose it.  Toby asked me about taking it apart.  I thought, “sure, why not?”

So, for the next hour, our kitchen became an engineering construction site.  Toby gleefully pulled apart the PVC pipes and connector pieces, reconfigured them in various arrangements.

The hamper became a car, a boat, among other things.  We rebuilt it into its original form, and then draped our play fort fabrics over it (see how we made our own fabric play fort kit from old sheets).

I ended up keeping the hamper, as it inspired so much creative play.

A few days later, I noticed Toby’s little brother using the hamper for a different purpose — Zack was pushing it around the floor happily.  The hamper was also a DIY baby walker!  It definitely came in handy during those few transition weeks as my not-quite-a-baby-anymore learned to walk on his own.

Take a peek at some of the pictures below…

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Toby disassembling and reassembling the PVC parts.
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Some of the parts were trickier than others to connect and pull apart.
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Toby would have taken the whole assembly apart multiple times if there had been time before bed.
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And then it was time to put things back together…
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Toby was able to manage most of the connections himself.

So, overall, I’d say this activity was a success.  Toby got to use some problem-solving skills and have fun constructing.  We didn’t spend a time, and in the end I still had my PVC hamper available for use (although I have to say, it’s been officially repurposed as a kid toy by now).

Cultivating Water Kefir

posted in: Learning | 0

bphotoart-water-kefir-experiment-Over the past few years, I’ve learned how to cultivate different fermented foods — sauerkraut, sourdough starter (for bread), kombucha, milk kefir, and now water kefir.  My toddler, Toby, has enjoyed helping with these processes.

I’ve found milk kefir to be the easiest of the fermented beverages to maintain, followed by kombucha.  Water kefir, thought, I found more tricky.  I think the original water kefir grains (not really grains, but that’s what the lumpy starter is called) weren’t hardy enough — but as is usually the case, the third time proved to be the charm.

After “killing” two sets of water kefir grains, I gave my water kefir making attempts a break.  Then my mom went off dairy and mentioned to me she would miss having milk kefir every morning.  So, for Christmas last year, I acquired a third set of water kefir grains.  Since they came a bit early, I ended up cultivating them myself, and giving her a whole starter of her own (plus some water kefir ready to drink!).

And that’s where this activity comes into play.

I had a learning curve with water kefir, because it was different than milk kefir.  With milk kefir grains, you just dump them in fresh milk, let the concoction sit for about 24 hours, and then strain out the grains from the milk-turned-kefir, and start again.

But with water kefir, you need to use sugar water.  The water kefir grains digest the sugar and turn it into probiotic goodness (similar to what the milk kefir grains do with the lactose in milk).  But the trick is this.  Water kefir grains like minerals too (which is the opposite of my kombucha starter — it dislikes minerals).  So, through trial and error, I discovered that my water kefir grains thrived in brown sugar water more than in white sugar water.

And I was curious how much of a difference it made.

So Toby and I performed an experiment.

Over the course of a week or two, we fed several different types of sugars to water kefir grains, and observed how quickly the water kefir grains multiplied (that’s one of the benefits of this, once you have your own starter, you’ll have plenty of new to share with your friends and family!).

We weighed out equal amounts of water kefir grains, and put them into four different mason jars (pint size).

Our control group was given nothing but plain filtered water from our fridge.  The remaining three groups each got white sugar, brown sugar, or unrefined turbinado sugar — dissolved in the same amount of filtered water as our control received.

After four days, we checked on the water kefir grains.

We did taste test the different water kefirs (though not the control group).  The molasses flavor was most pronounced in the turbinado, followed by the brown sugar.  We also strained out and weighed the water kefir grains from each of our mason jars.  It was interesting to see which had grown the most.  Those that we fed turbinado sugar grew the most, followed by brown sugar, then white sugar.  And our control group in water?  Those grains actually withered and shrunk (aka “died”).

We repeated the process for another four days, but unfortunately my kitchen elf must have run off with the sticky note containing the final weights of each set of kefir grains.  So I can’t share the number with you — but I can tell you that the trend continued.

So, based on our experiment, I can tell you that our water kefir grains were happiest with the most unrefined sugar.  Water killed them.  They survived with white sugar, and even multiplied, but to really boost their numbers I’d definitely use brown sugar or unrefined sugar.

Here are some pictures from our experiment…

Here's what water kefir grains look like.  Kind of like cottage cheese clumps...
Here’s what water kefir grains look like. Kind of like cottage cheese clumps…
Toby scooping sugar.
Toby scooping sugar.
Toby was excited to do this experiment!
Toby was excited to do this experiment!
We labelled each of the mason jars with the type of sugar the water kefir grains would get.
We labelled each of the mason jars with the type of sugar the water kefir grains would get.
Toby thought about which one would grow best.
Toby thought about which one would grow best.
I let Toby do the measuring and dumping...
I let Toby do the measuring and dumping…
We used different spoons to dissolve the sugars into their respective waters.
We used different spoons to dissolve the sugars into their respective waters.
Toby added water and stirred everything equally.
Toby added water and stirred everything equally.
The water kefir was put into mason jars and labeled for our experiment..
The water kefir was put into mason jars and labeled for our experiment..
bphotoart-water-kefir-experiment-2125
Finished water kefir, ready to drink!
Here are the visual results of the first four days' fermentation.
Here are the visual results of the first four days’ fermentation.
We weighed the water kefir grains...
We weighed the water kefir grains…
Like good scientists, we recorded our findings...
Like good scientists, we recorded our findings…

I’m sure we could have been a little more efficient in our experiment, but the whole point of this was to get my toddler thinking about what might happen.  He enjoyed checking on our experiment, and was excited to help weigh the water kefir grains.

Rooting + Dividing African Violets

posted in: Learning | 0

Rooting + Dividing African VioletsAround here, we love finding ways to bring nature indoors.  And one of those ways is to have houseplants.  For the longest time, my mother has had African Violets basking in the Northern windows of her home.

So, several years back I mentioned to her that I wanted to have some African Violets of my own for our house.  My mom made me a generous offer…

Her African Violets were ready to divide, so if I was willing to split them I could have some African Violets of my own to take home within the week!

I did a little research online about how to best divide African Violets, because all I’d ever done up to that point was root African Violet leaves.

It turns out either method is pretty simple.

Well, rooting the leaves is simplest. So let’s start with that.

Rooting African Violets

You get a few African Violet clippings from a friend with a healthy African Violet plant.

Take those clippings, and stick them in fresh water.

Leave them on your windowsill until the clippings start to grow roots.

I found it best to change the water out every couple days, so that things didn’t get slimy or gross.

Once you have roots, simply put into dirt and enjoy! I have always used “African Violet Potting Mix” — because that’s what my mom uses, but if you want to try general potting soil, that’s your prerogative!

Okay, now onto the trickier project… dividing African Violets.

Dividing African Violets

There are a lot of detailed tutorials, and even YouTube videos, about dividing African Violets.  So I’ll spare you that.  Take a quick search and you’ll find something that explains it in minute detail.

The basic premise of dividing African Violets?

The plant’s leaves usually all originate from one central location. So, when you see a plant that has two central points where leaves are stemming from, that means you can split the plant into two.

To do this, I gently eased the African Violet (and dirt) from the pot.  Then, I loosened the dirt from the roots so I could see the structure.  After trying to find which roots go with which portion of the plant, I used a sharp knife to gently slice through those intertwined roots.

We then put the plants into fresh soil, in new pots.   Well, actually, the plants soaked in water jars for a few days while I got around to locating my stash of ceramic self-watering African Violet pots.

But that’s it!  One key thing to remember?  As my mother told me — don’t get water on top of the leaves.  It’s not good for the plants.

bphotoart-african-violets-2269
Two African Violets, ready to be potted, and three African Violet leaves, ready to root!
bphotoart-african-violets-2262
Toby had fun digging in the potting soil to get the plants’ new homes ready.
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We filled the pots carefully with new potting soil for the African Violets (before Mommy put in the plants).

Practicing Scissor Skills with Family Photos

posted in: Parenting | 0

Practicing Scissor Skills with Family PhotosaThis is a fun little activity that I created on the fly for my four year old.  He wanted to cut things with his scissors… And I just happened to have some photos on hand.

Now, I’m not advocating you hand photographic prints to your child to have them practice their cutting skills, because we all know where that could lead.

(Yikes! It could be worse than “mom, I cut my bangs!!”)

But most printers can print out average quality photos, even on normal printer paper.  I used my color laserjet printer to print out some photos on standard printer paper — 9 images to a sheet.  This created some nice straight lines between the images, which I hoped Toby would try to follow when cutting.

It seems like I didn’t explain my idea quite well enough (or Toby had his own activity in mind) — the activity became a series of snips and cuts in seemingly random array.

Oh well.

In the very least, I provided my child with something of interest to cut.

The simple actions of cutting — scissor skills — were still being practiced:

  • holding the paper with your helping hand
  • proper scissors grip (thumb in the hole on top, fingers in the hole on bottom)
  • safety skills for using and carrying scissors

So, even though our activity didn’t turn out exactly as intended, I’m still calling it a win.

Toby got to practice his scissor skills using printouts of family pictures.

And, the icing on the cake?

My toddler got out the hand broom and dustpan, and swept up all the paper scraps …on his own accord.

Hooray for self-sufficiency!

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