10 posts categorized "Recommendations"

October 10, 2007

Pretty view through the lens of a brand new camera!


Camera_soup_sm We have a Canon Rebel XT that takes amazing pictures but it's large and clunky so we don't use it as often as we should.  Then there's our Canon Powershot S80 that also takes good pictures and is tiny and portable -- but the shutter is SOOOO SLOOOOOW.  Most of the time, we just end up with pictures of the back of our kids head as they turn and run the other direction!

So we got a nice little "in between" camera:  A Canon Powershot G9.  It's 12 mega pixel and much faster than the S80 but it's about the size and weight of a can of soup.

We had a pretty sky today so I loaded the kids into the van and we headed out to take some pictures The girls have a toy camera (or "Cam-ee", as Gwen says) and they love to look out the window and snap pictures as we drive along.  One of our first stops was a local Lake where we got this amazing pic (top photo).  There were several more that were equally beautiful so it was hard to pick just one for the collage for the blog. 

The camera is really easy to use!  It's small and comfortable to carry and it uses the same battery our other Canon camera uses -- same flash too! 

I think we'll use this little gem a lot!  It won't take the place of our Rebel XT but it'll fill the gap that existed with our other camera quite nicely.   

June 08, 2007

Tom Tom

Tom_tom_cropI'll admit it, I'm really REALLY geographically challenged.  I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know.  Even Maddy knows her way around San Jose better than I do.  So well, in fact, that she'll start screaming "No go home!" from the back seat any time the van is headed in the general direction of our house.  That child must have a compass in her head. 

I don't have a compass in my head.  When I come to a fork in the road, I should have a 50/50 chance of picking the correct route but I seem to get it wrong about 90% of the time.  This problem was made worse when I became a pilot because I was able to rely totally upon my navigation equipment.  On the ground, my navigation skills are completely non existent.  My instincts always serve me wrong.  Even tricks like picking the opposite direction from what I'd usually pick don't work.

The weekend that Andrew and I were married in 2001, I drove to the San Jose airport to pick up my Dad.  It's a journey I'd made (with Andrew) at least a half dozen times and it should have only taken 15 minutes but it took over an hour because I was hopelessly, helplessly, hysterically lost in San Jose for what seemed like an eternity.  Fortunately, my Maid of Honor was in the car with me or I would have have been a sobbing, inconsolable, mess.  To make matters worse, it was dark and the interior light in my car wasn't working so we had no way to read a map except under the sporadic glow of an amber street lamp as we sped past.  It was maddening since we could SEE the airport but couldn't find a road that took us there.  It was such a horrible experience that it stripped what was left of my self confidence about being able to drive anywhere in San Jose on my own.    Now, how's this for irony:  Before I moved to San Jose, I lived and worked in a small town in Southern California for 13 years and one of my jobs was a Deputy Sheriff!  And I never got lost!

So, for Andrew's birthday this year, I got him a Tom Tom.  Yeah, I know it's something I'll use more than he will but he does most of the driving when we go anywhere so this was a good excuse to cough up the money and get this little goodie.  And it's a REAL GOOD goodie too!  You can even program it to talk to you in a sexy James Bond voice (but I picked a business sounding female voice because I didn't need more distractions while I was driving).

Our other recent purchase was two Pea-pod Plus travel beds.  They were on backorder for months but finally arrived just in time for our summer vacation!  Since the girls sleep in their crib, in crib tents, we needed something to travel with when we vacation.  We're going to try them out tomorrow at a local hotel (with a pool!).  The girls are really excited about their pink "Bye Bye Beds".  I'll post the results, and photos, of this experiment later!

May 23, 2007

"Life books"

Lifebooks I've gotten lots of emails over the last few weeks asking if everything was okay since my presence, on line, has been really sparse.  I appreciate all of the love and concern and I *am* sorry to have been so absent!  I've just been really absorbed in some BIG PROJECTS. 

Pictured here are two of the projects: 
Madeline's Life Book & Gwendolyn's Life Book.

I finished Maddy's last week and I'm really proud of the result.  It took hundreds of hours to do this but it was fun to work on it in all of my spare moments.  Naturally, my spare moments are few and far between so it meant that something else had to be sacrificed and (unfortunately) that meant my on line friendships, reading and commenting on blogs and participation in adoption forums -- including my own forum (which I horribly neglected during that time).


Here are all 130 pages of Maddy's finished book! (click on the image to see a larger view of the thumbnails).

I was so excited about Maddy's book.  I even started it first so hers would be "best".  From experience, I know that the 2nd child always gets the hand-me-downs and the 2nd rate baby book (if any book at all).  I wanted her to have the best life book so I did hers first.

I started by asking her Yahoo SWI group to email me any high resolution photos they had of her orphanage and her city of birth (Qinzhou).  The photos in the albums on the Yahoo Groups are very low quality and won't print nicely in a book.  You can use them but they'll only be about 2 inches wide, at most.  Lots of people were happy to help me out and sent me some good photos.  One family, traveling to Qinzhou on vacation, offered to stop at her finding location and take pictures for me!   I can't tell you how grateful I am for that since we weren't able to visit Maddy's city when we adopted her last summer.

Then I sent off for her finding ad from Brian Stuy. Then I contacted Asia Threads to get a CD of photos from her city. 

The finding ad cost around $35 and the CD of city photos was about $45.  The finding ad photo was very good quality but the CD of photos from the cities (I also got a CD of Gwen's city) were pretty horrible.  Still, they were MUCH better than nothing at all!  The resolution wasn't bad but the images were faded and almost always crooked.  Also, each photo has their site name (which is acceptable) but also an imprint of the name of the photo.  I didn't need that since I planned to add captions to the photos in the book.  So those imprints had to be removed.

I do recommend that you scour Google Images for as many photos are you can so you can supplement what you get from Asia Threads.   I was able to use their photos in the lifebooks because I have good photo editing software and I was able to enhance, straighten, fix perspective, and remove the photo name from every single image before uploading it to the book publishing software.

Then I combed through every single picture I had of Maddy and put everything in chronological order. I used an online book publishing company to make the book.  They don't think my blog's 500 hits per day is worth their time so they won't make me an affiliate (so I won't link to them).  Their software is free and very easy to use and you can research "online publishing" and probably find them.

Okay, so what's in her life book?

There are lots of resources to help you make a good Life Book for your adopted child and I don't think anyone can do the wrong thing when it comes to this particular project.   As usual, I didn't consult any of the experts.  I just plowed straight ahead into the project without fogging my mind with advice from anyone!

Here's Maddy's Table of Contents:

Page   4:  Earliest photos of Maddy
Page   9:  Finding location
Page  11:  Birth note
Page  12:  Finding ad
Page  14:  The Orphanage
Page  21:  What does Maddy's name mean
Page  22:  The City of Qinzhou
Page  39:  Referral pictures
Page  42:  Our Paperchase
Page  43:  Our Timeline
Page  45:  Quarterly reports from GHC
Page  52:  "Gotcha" day
Page  66:  Adoption day
Page  69:  More Nanning pics
Page  73:  Guangzhou:  Six Banyon Tree Temple
Page  74:  Guangzhou:  Red Couch Photo
Page  75:  Guangzhou:  Shamian Island
Page  77:  Guangzhou:  Pearl River Cruise
Page  79:  Guangzhou:  Maddy eats an apple
Page  81:  Guangzhou:  Tomb of Nanyue King
Page  82:  Guangzhou Zoo
Page  83:  Home
Page  85:  September photos
Page  91:  October photos
Page  96:  November photos
Page 100:  December photos
Page 106:  January photos
Page 107:  February photos
Page 112:  Maddy (and Gwen's) room
Page 114:  March photos
Page 122:  April photos
Page 129:  May photos

I didn't add any bunny rabbits or baby graphics or soft pastel colors or try to sugar-coat anything.  I *did* enhance the photos to make them more clear and colorful and less dull.  I want her to have good feelings about the place she came from and not assume that the horrible photography represents the "true colors" of her birth city.  Yes, there is horrible poverty in Qinzhou but there are also lovely flowers and smiling children there too!  The book was written directly to Maddy and we purchased an extra copy for her keepsake box since one of the copies is likely to get lots of use over the years.  We even purchased one soft-cover copy for her foster parents in China and we plan to have a Chinese friend transcribe, in Chinese characters, some of the pertinent text of the book so her foster family in China can understand it.

Maddy's books should arrive in the mail any day now.  Gwen's book is still a work in progress.  Her situation was quite different than Maddy's since she was never in foster care and we have no photos (other than referral photos) from before Gotcha Day.  But we adopted her at 14 months (instead of 25 months, as was the case with Maddy) so we have plenty of photos from that day forward. 

I'm so proud of these books!  I hope other families will consider doing this.  It's not only good for your kids but it's incredibly satisfying to your own soul too!

March 21, 2007

Sharing good pictures

I'm not a professional photographer and probably will never be one because I don't have the patience to learn about all the technical stuff that goes along with that job.  But I love taking good pictures and I've had moderate success doing it.  People always ask what camera we use, what software, etc.  So here I am -- sharing all of our secrets.  Enjoy!

Our Stuff:

  • CameraCanon Rebel XT 8MP  (update:  We now have the Canon 5D)
    This camera is big.  Much bigger than its little 8 MP counterpart (which we also own but never use) but totally worth every extra ounce and inch.  When you think about how much extra stuff you get to haul around with a new baby, this camera is nuthin'.  Besides, there's almost always a stroller nearby if you get tired of carrying it.  Best yet, it takes GREAT pictures!  When you have kids, you figure out pretty quickly that their perfect smile won't wait for a slow camera shutter.  You need the speed otherwise you'll just end up with pictures of the back their precious little heads as they turn and run away from you! 

    A few more things about this camera:  It's fully automatic so you just point and shoot.  If you enjoy challenges, there are other settings that allow you to have more say in what the camera does.    I always use the Automatic mode but sometimes use the closeup mode (like I did for this picture of the tulip).  Someday, I might learn what the other modes do!

    Why do you need 8 (or more) megapixels?  You need this for printing photos.  Even if you don't print 8x10's, you probably need to crop images and print them as 4x6's.    You don't get a really crisp result if you don't have the image resolution to print whatever size you're printing.   

    When we got our first digital camera, I routinely reduced the image size so they wouldn't take up as much space on my hard drive.  WHAT A MISTAKE THAT WAS!  Yes, the photos look good on my computer but I can't print any of them (all our wedding and honeymoon photos).  I learned from that mistake and , now, I NEVER mess with the original of any of my photos.  I always make a copy before making permanent changes.
  • LensCanon EF-S 17-85mm (our new lens for the 5D is this one)
    The camera came with a lens but I don't remember ever using it.  We always use this one.  It's got great zoomability and it's not too big and clumsey. 
  • FlashCanon speedlite 430EX
    The flash that is built into the camera is usually sufficient but we have this one too.  It makes a big difference indoors!
  • Camera BagDomke F-5XB
    We searched high and low for the perfect bag -- and found it.  It's been with us to China twice.  It holds all our gear (and even our passports) but it's about half the size and weight of our diaper bag.  Best of all, Daddy will happily carry it! 
  • Collage softwareFotoFusion by LumaPix
    I love this program! It makes it so easy to work with large numbers of high resolution images and backgrounds, etc.   You can even drag and drop images onto the canvas.  One of my favorite tricks is to use a background that is the same color as the background on my blog and have the text or other graphics "flow over" onto it.  It's a really cool effect.  Check out this picture to see what I mean.   I use this for almost all of my collages -- even if I'm only adding a drop-shadow.
  • Photo editingPaintshop Pro Photo X2
    I paid $100 for this program several years ago and consider it some of the best money I've ever spent. Some of the great things I can do with PSP is straighten images, fix perspective, fix color and light problems, remove unwanted objects (and people!), crop, and reduce image size.  There are 500 other things too.  This is probably the most important piece of software on my computer!

Some photo taking tips:

  1. Have good light in front of your subject (avoid intense backlighting).  Outside photos are almost always twice as good as inside photos.
  2. Take 200+ picutures and hope that 5% turn out "okay".  1% might be "awesome"!
  3. Encourage kids to smile by engaging them in play.  Be goofy.  Have one parent engage the kids while the other takes lots of pictures.  One of my favorite pictures of Andrew and the girls is this one.  We did it by having Andrew spin while holding them and stop in front of the camera just long enough for me to take the picture.  They LOVED this game and I got one of the best pictures ever!
  4. If you're taking pictures alone, experiment with taking pictures while NOT looking through the view-finder.  Just play peekaboo with your child and pretend to ignore the camera (while pointing and snapping away!)  Hope that something ends up in the picture!  After time, you'll get better at taking pictures "in the blind".  The pictures for the Elmo FFFF Challenge were taken this way.
  5. If you have a very young child, try using some earthquake putty to adhere a tiny toy to the top of the camera.  They'll smile ear to ear when they see it!  (at least for the first 20 seconds)
  6. When all else fails. Just ask your child to smile.  You might be surprised that they can do this (fairly well) on command!

October 03, 2006

How do I create the collages on this blog?

Many people have emailed me to ask about the program I use to create the collages on this blog.  I'm using the standard version (downloadable for a very reasonable price) of Fotofusion Version 4.

The most interesting digital scrapbook pages have many layers of backgrounds, images, frames and elements and Fotofusion is an excellent tool for working with those layers.  I've never found anything better!   Keep in mind that it doesn't really do anything other than work with layers though.  If you want to alter your photos (fix flaws, etc), you'll need a good photo editing program.  My favorite is PaintShop Pro.  I use this every single day and couldn't live without it!  I like it because it's much cheaper than Photoshop but seems to do everything I want it to do and it's much more user friendly.   

I get my digital scrapbooking backgrounds and elements from many places.  Sometimes I even make them myself but usually I find them for free by subscribing to blogs that advertise "freebies".    Here are my favorite freebie blogs:

  • Ikea Goddess (daily links to the best freebies)
  • DigiFree (daily links to ALL the freebies)
  • Kubivet (she creates wonderful things and gives them away!)
  • Artistic Musings (freebies on fridays only)
  • Shabby Princess (everything at this link is FREE.  It's the perfect place to start your collection!

Every now and then, I splurge and actually pay for something.   I love frames and my favorite frame designer is Katie Pertiet.  Here's a link to a little set of frames that I use all the time.  This set was under $4 and I use it constantly: http://www.designerdigitals.com/ecom/product_info.php/products_id/3006.  Be sure to look at all the other stuff she offers.  It's awesome!

Finally, here are some inspiration pages to get your creative juices flowing.  Sometimes, I need to see what someone else has done before I can start to see a fun possibility with some of my own photos.  I hope these inspire you as much as they do me!

Here are some of my favorite collages that I created over the last year or two:

You'll probably notice that I don't scrap in traditional 12x12 sizes.  I picked a rectangular size because I thought I might want to print the pages on my home printer.  Then I found www.blurb.com and started creating yearly family albums in their 13 x 11 size.  I love the results and I'm so happy that our family photos and the text from this blog is preserved in printed form each year.  If you're not doing this, I strongly recommend it!  It's one of the best investments of time and money that we've ever spent (other than our adotions, of course!).

Let me know if you have problems or questions.  I'm very happy to help if I can

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