10 posts categorized "Recommendations"

June 21, 2010

Flying with kids...

Over the next three weeks, we'll spend more than 28 hours on an airplane with two squirmy five year old girls.  We've done long flights like this several times before and survived pretty well but it's never something we look forward to.  It's stressful and uncomfortable and exhausting (I never sleep on planes).  Sometimes the only thing that knocks the sharp edges off of my misery is 2 or 3 plastic cups of delightful airline brand Chardonnay.

The girls are veteran air travelers but a lot of thought goes into keeping them happy during a flight this long.  I always make sure they have plenty of snacks and art supplies or games to get them through the flight but it seems like I'm constantly called on to retrieve dropped or stowed items.  Just when I get comfortable, someone's iPod falls off the tray table or someone wants some Cheetos... or their 'lovey' or their purple crayon or some gum or a tissue.  Or I need my computer or my reading glasses or something that is always more than an arms length away from me.  And these search-and-find missions are made more frustrating by the extra challenge of reaching around and under kids legs and dealing with tray tables and the reclined seats of the people in the row in front of us. 

By the end of the flight, I feel like I've flapped my arms all the way across the Atlantic.

I can't tell you how many times I wished there was something I could attach to the upright tray table.  Something that would organize all of our stuff and keep everything at our fingertips.  I really needed to solve this problem - even if I had to invent something myself - so I was thrilled when I found this:


It's the Nirvana Travel Organizer by Zen Class. It's designed to fit over the upright tray table on the airplane.  You just slip it on and lock the table in place.  I couldn't wait to test drive it so I hung it over the back of my kitchen chair and started filling it up.  Man, it holds a TON of stuff!  Including a bunch of things you can't see in the photo.  It even holds a large laptop computer! 

When the flight is over, the whole thing folds in half (minus the laptop, of course) and zips closed to make it easy to tote.


There are so many extras on this that I'm sure we'll use it for every flight.  Even (gasp!) when we travel without kids.   So far, the only downside I can see is that you can't really use it when the tray table is in use (down) but we plan to figure out a work-around to solve that.

I bought two.  One in black and one in brown.

Continue reading "Flying with kids..." »

July 21, 2008

Blog to Book?

I've been asked about this twice this week so I thought I'd dig up this old blog post and feature at the top of the blog for a while. :)


For the last several years, my blog has been my sanity saving hobby but that changed last summer when I discovered www.blurb.com.    I still love my blog but now I can also preserve these special memories for our family in book form. 

It's not effortless to convert your blog into a beautiful high quality book but it IS totally possible.  Blurb provides the quality and you provide the content.  And I think it's incredibly rewarding and even...  fun!   

I've completed four years of blog-inspired books and I'm incredibly proud of the results.    These are books my family will enjoy for a lifetime (plus the lifetimes of generations to come).  With the possible exception of my overcooked Pot Roast, I can't give my family a gift likely to last as long.


Blurb lets you "slurp" your blog right into their software.  It grabs everything with your dates and headings and text in the right order.  It also imports your blog photos but I've replaced the photos it imports with original, higher resolution, photos from my computer. 

Why do this?  Most of the photos on our blog are usually resized so they'll load quicker for viewers.  Even though they look good on the computer, they're reduced in size and will print very small.  Small photos are less satisfying to look at in a book and not really worth to $$ to print them.  So I replaced all the photos.  It was a pretty big task but here's how I did it:

I uploaded my entire blog into one book (all four years!).  I picked size 11 by 13 and did a little bit of clean up.  Then I immediately made four copies of this draft and re-named each to correspond with only one year.  For example

"T_ _ _ _ Family Album (2004)" 
"T_ _ _ _ Family Album (2005)"
"T_ _ _ _ Family Album (2006)"
"T_ _ _ _ Family Album (2007)"

Then I went back into the 2004 draft and deleted everything that wasn't a blog entry from 2004.  I did the same with all of the other books/years too.  That gave me four smaller projects to work on at my leisure.  The task was much less overwhelming when it was broken down this way.

To replace the photos (and add others I had but didn't put on the blog), I took all the photos on my computer, copied them then put them in one folder and sorted them by date taken.  Then I divided them into folders according to date.  This made it easy to find and replace (or add) a photo just by dragging and dropping it into the free Blurb software.

You'll have to clean up the formatting of your book before it's totally ready to send to print.  They have dozens of different ways to combine photos and text and you'll be able to mix and match your pages to make the most of each page.    It's not hard and I found that it was really fun and very personally rewarding since I was making a record of something that would be special to my whole family for all the years to come.
I was also preserving our priceless photos so they wouldn't be totally gone if something should happen to our computers or if our house burned down.  I can't tell you how much I worried about losing our irreplaceable photos.  Once you print your Blurb book, they store the digital copy forever and you can always go back and print another copy if you need to. 

The 11 x 13 size worked best for me because most of our photos are large enough to print beautifully as an 8 x 10 (or larger).  This gave me plenty of room to have my blog text and still have a big gorgeous photo on the same page.    But other size books are available and they're also very nice (I've created Lifebooks for both girls in size 8 by 10).    Before you do anything,  I recommend that you first look at the public Blurb books that others have made just to get some ideas about what layouts, size and formats are available.  Once you pick a book size, you can't change it without starting over from scratch -- so pick carefully!  Also remember that larger books are more expensive.    We didn't plan to print more than one copy of our yearly albums so it was okay that they were big and more expensive.  But they still averaged out to less than .50 cents per page!  That's an 11x13 full color page for less than .50 cents!

Sorry this got so long but I'm pretty excited about our yearly album.  Our 2008 book is already in progress and now all I do I simply add to it as I go along.  When I post something to the blog, I copy and paste it to the book too (and add all the extra pics I want).  Then, when the year ends, I'll be able to add the last few pictures then upload it and it'll arrive a couple of weeks later!
The initial (huge) time investment is over and now it's just a little bit of maintenance to keep the current book updated.  I've also been able to include text and photos that I'd never put in our public blog (personal emails about the birth of our niece, etc) but it's wonderful to have a permanent record of events that are significant to our family.  Even if they're not part of our blog.

Before I started printing our blog this way, NONE of our digital photos were in physical printed form in any album in our home.  Seriously, we had no album since our wedding album in 2001!

May 30, 2008

Actual unretouched photos

I'm still trying to figure out our new camera and I promised myself that I'd actually learn a thing or two about shutter speed, ISO, etc and not fall into the old habit of using the auto mode.  Well, I broke that promise much sooner than I'm comfortable admitting.

Apparently, our new camera is much smarter than I am.    After yesterdays underexposed photos and this morning's experimental photo shoot with the exposure set differently (but still a total failure), I'm abandoning all hope of understanding ISO and shutter speed, admitting defeat, and flipping the little dial on top of the camera to the little green rectangle.  And the little green rectangle will be my best friend from now on.

Here are some pictures taken in the auto mode (the heavenly little green rectangle).  This is Gwen on the swing in the backyard.  I love the way the sunlight shows off her gorgeous hair.  If you think her hair is pretty, you should smell it!  I'll do my best to describe:  If you took a beam of pure sunshine, spritzed it with vanilla and wrapped it in alternating layers of lavender and honeysuckle, you'd come close to experiencing the treat my nose gets each morning when I lift her from her bed and bury my face in her hair. 


I was worried that I wouldn't be able to take closeups of small things with this new camera but this photo shows that I had nothing to worry about.


Maddy is pouting because Gwen took her plastic golf club.  She loves to pose for the camera and was happy to model her most emotionally abused look for us. 

I just noticed that she's wearing the apple sandals we bought for her two summers ago at the Majestic Hotel in Nanning.  I'm not sure where the heck she found them but I'm most surprised that they actually still fit her!


Here's Gwen with her lovey.  She prefers the corner with the tag and she'll almost put herself into a trance when that corner touches her lip.  I've never seen anything like it!  Sometimes, that one corner gets so nasty looking that I can't even get it clean in the washing machine and I'll have to take a pair of scissors and cut it off!  You can imagine how well THAT is recieved!

There's a small artifact on this photo but I love it because it's so honest.  I also love that you can see the detail in the texture of the pink washcloth.


May 29, 2008

Daddy's new camera: Canon EOS 5D

Daddy's Father's Day present arrived in the mail yesterday so I packed a picnic lunch, grabbed the girls and the new toy and headed to a local park to play!    Here's a sample of one of our first pictures:


Yes, it's a gorgeous photo but it didn't look this way straight out of the camera.  Here's what it looked like:


The image was dark and full of shadows.  It was a clear sunny day so I set the ISO at 100 to take these pictures and really had my hopes up that all of them would look as spectacular back home on the computer as they looked right there in the glorious sun shine in the park.  I love the vibrant colors of the hill and sky but you can't see the faces of my lovely little girls so all of the pictures would be destined for the recycle bin if not for some photo editing magic from Paint Shop Pro (my trusty photo editing program). 

Here are some other altered photos from our first photo shoot (shown with the original photo on the right).  The camera has no built in flash but I didn't think one was necessary outdoors in such lovely daylight. 


I really hoped that our new camera would help me take pictures that I don't need to correct.  Considering the cost of the new camera, you'd certainly think such an expectation isn't unreasonable.  So far, I'm spending just as much time fixing my photos as before but I'm sure it has to be operator error.  This camera really does seem to be an incredible piece of machinery!

We took flash-less photos in the house last night and they came out surprisingly good (considering there wasn't a flash).  The sensor in this camera is amazing and it seems to want to do a good job for me but I'm holding it back.  Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

January 30, 2008

(tickle tickle) "Professional" photos -- at home?

Chance_sisters_hearts_friends_blog_ Lately, I've been thinking about children's photography. Specifically, what helps a professional photographer take consistently good photos of kids.

I recently had a chance to see how the pros do it when our pre-school had "Picture Day." Their system was really brilliant and I took lots of mental notes!

First of all, they had an area set up in advance for the photo shoot. There was a tall bench for the kids to sit on and a tall table in front of the bench for the kids to rest their elbows on.   The height of bench and table wasn't insignificant as it seemed to serve two important purposes:  First, it kept the little subjects from easily squirming out of the chair and running for the hills.  It also kept the adult picture-takers from having to constantly lean over to look through the view-finder.  As someone who's chased my children around on my hands and knees while my heavy Canon Rebel XT was hanging off my right eye, I'm not sure why I didn't think of this already!

The camera and special lights were set up on tripods. They had several different props: hats, scarves, coats, etc to quickly create various types of scenes with the kids.

I watched as several 4 year olds had their photo taken and they all seemed to enjoy the quick-change, fast paced, dress-up aspect of it.  Their smiles came naturally and I could almost hear the "woosh" of their parents checkbooks flipping open as I thought about how irresistible the photos were going to be.  I kissed Gwen and Maddy goodbye and silently hoped they'd have just as much enthusiasm for the photo shoot when their turn came. I got half of my wish.

Maddy liked dressing up and having her picture taken.  She can be stubborn but she loves to dress up and be a "girly-girl".  But we were surprised to learn that Gwen cried when it was her turn! She's usually a good sport (not to mention - a ham) about these things but we have noticed lately that she's been a bit shy and her responses to various things have been less predictable. 

Well, she might be shy about strangers taking her pic but she's certainly not shy about me doing it!  So I thought hard about what made that photo shoot work and decided it might be fun to try to recreate it here at home.   

I already knew that lighting was really important.  We've ruined so many photos because of exposure problems so, for Christmas, I got Andrew some inexpensive photography lights (the type that are on tripods with umbrellas attached).  Even though we understood their value, they weren't very easy to incorporate into all of our impromptu photo sessions.  On Christmas day, they were extracted from their box, momentarily admired, and immediately sent to the hall closet (the Siberia of our home) where they were almost certainly destined to live out the remainder of their days. 

I dragged the lights out of the closet and set them up in the guest room.  I picked the guest room for two great reasons.  First, it's the only room in our house with white walls.  That's important because all these luscious warm wall colors we have elsewhere in the house makes all of our pictures look like they were taken in the Bat Cave!  Secondly, it's also the only room I can lock the kids out of!   

I put our camera on a tripod and adjusted the height so I could sit comfortably and spend more time engaging my kids and less time engaging the viewfinder.  Then I worked on making a comfy place for the girls to sit.

I found a bench (okay, it's actually a cat-scratcher post) and I put a booster seat on top of it to make it taller.  In front of that, I placed an ironing board as a "table" for them to lean on. I liked the idea of using the ironing board because it was easy to adjust the height and I could quickly change the appearance just by throwing a blanket, sheet or tablecloth over it. 

For this particular photo shoot (with Valentine's Day in mind), I picked a soft pink baby blanket to drape over the ironing board.  Then I changed the girls into clean pink shirts and grabbed a couple of toys to use as props. 

When everything was set up and all ready to go, I brought one child in and sat her on the bench in front of the camera. I raised the ironing board (with the pink blanket on top) to a height just under her elbows and she seemed really comfortable and able to focus on our silly conversation.  I snapped dozens of photos while we chatted and I tried hard to keep eye contact and not to look through the viewfinder.  Every now and then, I'd glance at it just to make sure she was centered.  Oh my gosh, she was CUTE! 

When we were finished, I brought her sister in and repeated the whole fun process with her!  When we were all done, we celebrated with lollipops!

The whole thing turned out better than I could have ever dreamed! We took about 300 photos and more than half were wonderful! Overall, 20% to 30% were really spectacular! This is SO much better than our usual ratio of about 1% being a "keeper!"

More (including unblurry pics) on the private blog. <here>

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