Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goings On

- So, I was at the dollar store the other day and I saw that they had wreath forms. I've been wanting to try out several of the different spring wreaths that I've seen around blog-land recently, so I got one. I decided to try the coffee-filter wreath, and I will say that it's not bad for $1 (I had a pack of wrong-size-for-our-coffee-pot filters already). I'd like bigger ribbon, but I'll make do with what we've already got laying around the house instead of buying something new.

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- I am itching to make some decor changes. I want to make things more light and spring-y. I have a gallery wall, repainting our table, and no-sew cloth-napkin slipcovers in mind. However, none of these things are in our budget just yet. They may be soon, but of course, I want do do it NOW. Still, this is a great reminder of the whole wants vs needs thing and self-control (i.e. putting non-essential decor items on my credit card is not a good idea). I'm proud of myself for holding out until we actually have some discretionary funds before I actually buy discretionary stuff.

- I also made this Creamy Taco Mac from Delish yesterday. It was total comfort food, but with using wheat pasta, Neufatchel cream cheese, and light sour cream, it didn't feel too heavy or too terrible for us.

-We started month 2 of Insanity on Monday. HOLY COW. It is ridiculous, and I feel totally uncoordinated just like when we first started. I am not looking forward to today's workout--I have intake for an allergy trial later today, so I can't take my inhaler...which should be interesting.

-I thought I had something else, but my brain is mush, so apparently not! Have a fantastic day!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Easy Dinner: Pesto Chicken Roll-Ups

What You Need:
- Caroline's Pizza Dough recipe from imperfect. 
(*Note--I often use half whole wheat flour and half white flour in the above recipe)
- Cooked Chicken, shredded
-Your favorite pesto
- Parmesan Cheese

First, pre-heat your oven to 425*. Then, prepare a cookie sheet by spraying with cooking spray. Next, divide the pizza dough recipe in half. With floured hands, place one half of the pizza dough on the cookie sheet and shape into a large rectangle. Then, spread a thin layer of pesto on the dough.

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Next, spread your (already cooked) chicken on top of the pesto and then top with Parmesan cheese.

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Once you've got all your ingredients on the dough, take the long side of the rectangle of dough and begin to roll it up. Try to patch any holes that may appear in the dough. Pinch the ends, and fold under.

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Next, bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is starting to brown. Then, slice with a serrated knife, and serve with extra pesto for dipping.

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As I mentioned earlier, the pizza dough actually makes enough for two roll-ups. I usually cook them separately, but you could probably bake them both at once on the same cookie sheet if you wanted. When I made these last week, I made one of the pesto roll-ups, and then a second roll up with BBQ sauce, chicken, and cheddar cheese for Justin (much to his dismay, we were out of Ranch, or I would have added that as well). Really, the possibilities are endless!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Photography Friday--Choosing A Photographer for Your Family

This is kind of a difficult post to write. I feel like I'm totally toeing the line between what I actually believe and what I'm supposed to say here about choosing a photographer for your family. Because I'm supposed to tell you to hire a licensed, insured professional photographer. I'm supposed to tell you that even though they're more expensive, that it's an investment, and that you get what you pay for when it comes to custom photography.

I understand why professional photographers get upset about people choosing non-pros to do their family photos. I understand why professional photographers are priced the way that they are, and I totally think it's fair. However, if I'm being honest, if I could choose anyone across the US to take my family's portraits, I'm pretty doggone sure that the top two people that I would choose aren't licensed or insured. So, I simply can't make that recommendation to you guys if it's not something I'd honestly do.

All that said, here's a few points that I think are worth considering when looking for a photographer to do your family portraits:

1. Use Who You Know/ Use Who Your Friends Recommend
Did you have a photographer that you LOVED for your wedding? Hire them again for your family portraits. You already have a relationship with them, know what to expect, and you will probably be more comfortable around them than a stranger, which will also make your kids more comfortable.

If hiring a photographer that you already know isn't an option for you, then start paying attention to your friends. Have you seen family photos that you love hanging on a friend's wall? Have you seen them posted on Facebook? If so, ask your friends for the name of their photographer, and whether or not they'd recommend them.

2. Do Your Research
Now that you have someone in mind, do some research. Check out their blog. Check out their website. Check out their Facebook page. You will probably see a particular style develop--vintage washes, desaturation, bright pops of color--nearly every photographer has a style. And your family portraits will be reflected in that style. Don't call someone whose blog is filled with black and white portraits and ask them if they can do portraits with vibrant pops of color--they probably can, but you'll probably get better results if you hire someone who does that naturally.

In the same vein, some photographers do more posing, while some shoot in a more photojournalistic smile. Think realistically about what you want for your family. Is the most important thing to you a photo where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling? Then look for that as you're looking through their website/Facebook/blog. If the most important thing to you is capturing the "real" moments, even if no one is looking at the camera, then look for THAT as you're looking through their website/blog/Facebook.

After looking through their blog/Facebook/website, if you would be happy to receive any of the sets that they've posted for other families, you're off to a great start in finding a match.

3. All Photographers Are Not the Same
 Now that you've vetted a potential photographer a bit, keep in mind that there are a VERY wide range of people who call themselves "photographers." Some are full-time professionals. Some are part-time or semi-pro photographers who may work a day job and then do photography on the side. Some are hobbyists, who enjoy photography, but really have no desire to make a living at it.

Different groups of people will tell you that you should NEVER hire anyone who doesn't have a business license and  full liability insurance. Conversely, some will tell you that hobbyists are better than pros because they're more flexible and less set in their ways. Everyone has an opinion. My personal opinion is simply that you need to realize that there are strengths and weaknesses to nearly every type of photographer out there, and decide which type of photographer YOU are comfortable with. For example, a hobbyist may be significantly less expensive than a pro (+), but they are probably also less experienced, and thus may not be as consistent with their end product (-).


4. Cost / Investment
You'll notice that in the last paragraph, I did NOT say that you need to decide which type of photographer you can afford. Still, I know that hiring a photographer comes down to money for a lot of people. As someone who lives on a shoestring budget, I really do get that. However, I also want to make a few things very clear.

1- You should never, never, NEVER choose someone whose style you don't care for just because they're the least expensive option. 
2- You also should not ask the least expensive person if they can give you a shoot that looks like another more expensive photographer.
3- If you hire a pro-photographer and don't care for their work, you will likely have some sort of recourse (even if they are not willing to work with you) because they're an official business. If you hire a hobbyist and don't like then end product, you may not have that same recourse.

Also, it's important to understand what exactly the cost entails--does it include prints? Does it include a DVD of images where you'll make your own prints? How many photos can you expect? Do they charge for re-touching (especially in senior portraits, I've seen some photographers charge upwards of $50 to photoshop out a pimple)? Sometimes, you may find that a photographer who seems inexpensive, may not be once you include other factors.

5. It's All About Relationship
I mentioned earlier that it's a great idea to hire someone you already know because you already have a relationship with them. However, by this time in the process, you should have some sort of familiarity and/or relationship with your new potential photographer, and you should be comfortable with them.

If you really love a photographer's work, but are uncomfortable with the fact that they drop the f-bomb all over their blog and Facebook page, don't hire them. If you're an Atheist and it makes you uncomfortable that the photographer has Bible scripture all over their website, then don't hire them. Basically, if ANYTHING about the photographer makes you uncomfortable, don't hire them. If you're uncomfortable just in these non-personal situations, you'll likely be uncomfortable when you're face-to-face, which will show up in the photos...and that's something that NO amount of retouching can fix.

What about you guys? Any tips you'd like to share for hiring a photographer?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BQOTD: What Do You Watch?

Do you guys have any can't-miss TV shows? What are they?

Justin and I have two shows that we REALLY enjoy watching together--Bones, and The Closer. Seriously, I think we've watched every episode ever made of both shows. And our cat is even named Bones...after the show. I love hanging out on the couch watching these together and laughing. I'm really sad that the next season of The Closer will be the last. Boo!

I used to be equally obsessed with Top Chef, but we cut down our cable package and no-longer get Bravo. Between Hulu and my parent's house, I'm usually able to catch up on Top Chef, albeit a little late.

Those are the faves--we usually also DVR Fringe, Glee, The Daily Show, and Phineas & Ferb (for Justin) and watch during lazy mornings or evenings at home.

What about you guys? Are you reality junkies? Soap opera lovers? Grey's Anatomy fans?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Before I Chicken Out....

I've had quite a few people ask me about Insanity--we're now in the 5th week, which is technically "Recovery" week, although I'll admit that it's not much of a recovery! I can talk about how much I like it, but I know that when I was looking into Insanity, all I really wanted to see were the before and after pictures...which kind of sucks because I really have no desire to share my before pictures with y'all, LOL!

I know I've shared before how difficult it was for me to lose weight postpartum. Despite breastfeeding. Despite eating pretty darn well most of the time. Despite RUNNING three days a week. To be honest, I was kind of angry about it. Don't misunderstand--I love Lizzy with every fiber of my being, and having her was worth any sacrifice of my body. But, it was still frustrating for me to feel like I was putting in a great effort and getting no results. To feel like the body that I was living in wasn't mine. If anybody else out there is feeling the same way, this post is for you. Because there is hope.

Anyway, we had the opportunity to borrow the Insanity dvd set from a friend. Justin and I have really done well with doing it every day (I think we've only missed one or two days so far). And I'm actually starting to see some progress.

{Deep Breath} Whew. Okay. I don't really want to do this, but I'm going to. Stretch marks and all. {Deep Breath}

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So there you have it...THAT'S how Insanity is working for me. And I'm kind of excited (and terrified) about the next month!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Letter to Lizzy- Fourteen Months

Dear Lizzy-

Right now, you are standing next to me "reading" The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which is something that you do frequently. You have absolutely no interest in me reading it to you, but you like to babble about the pages for several minutes at a time, and occasionally point to different items saying, "Dis?"

You also have started trying to say bird, and LOVE the bird artwork in your nursery. Some other new things you're saying this month are "cup", "out", you also try to say "spider" when we're singing (which comes out "eye-dah") and surprisingly, "I waked up!" The last one totally threw me for awhile, but you say it every single morning when I go to get you out of your crib.

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Another one of your favorite activities is to sing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", and you're getting really good at the hand motions. You love singing in general, and love it when I let you watch a DVD we have of kids singing songs and doing the motions. The DVD has both Spanish and English, so we try to alternate between the two, but you don't seem to understand that the songs are the same. For example, you don't do the hand motions on the Spanish version of Itsy Bitsy Spider.

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In the last few days, you've also reached another milestone in terms of blocks--you're now interested in stacking them instead of just banging them together. It's still a work in progress, but you're getting better at stacking them every day.

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You also LOVE it when your auntie Kait posts videos of your future-husband-to-be, Jaxon. Any time we sit down to the computer, you come peek around the screen to see if we're looking at your buddy. I am so excited for them to come visit in May--I think it will be a hoot to watch you and Jaxon play together!

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One thing that's been hard this month is sleep. I'm not sure if you have more teeth coming in or what, but we've gone from being able to lay you down when you're tired and you being able to put yourself to sleep, to giant screaming battles at every nap and bedtime. More than once, I've just ended up rocking you to sleep. I have mixed feelings about this, but sometimes it sure is nice to snuggle with you sweet girl! 

I've also noticed that you're really starting to understand most everything that we say, and that I'm starting to be able to reason with you. There have been a couple of times where we've been at church and you're throwing a temper tantrum because you can't run around wherever you want. I've told you that you can either calm down and snuggle with me, or we can go home and take a nap. Both times, you calmed down almost immediately. You also often bring a book over to read when asked, and are starting to help put your toys away when asked. 

I've also noticed that you're starting to find ways to get around the "rules"--for example, we've started doing "quiet time", where I lay a blanket on the floor with some books, and you practice sitting quietly until the timer goes off. I always tell you that your bottom needs to stay on the blanket until the timer goes off. Well, the last time we practiced quiet time, I noticed that you were scooting the blanket all around the room with your bottom. You looked at me like, "WHAT?! My bottom is on the blanket!" Ha! 

I love you sweet girl! 
-Mom

Monday, March 21, 2011

Battle of the Bands

Justin's band participated in a local Battle of the Bands for Christian bands over this past weekend {Technically, I'm a member of the band too, but I'm part of the business side of things, not the music side of things}.

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When we arrived, everyone was really nervous, because it became apparent pretty quickly that most of the other bands that had entered were of the "screamer" variety. It's just a totally different genre than Justin's band--especially since the band was missing one of their drummers that day. Usually, the band has someone that plays the drum set, AND my sister who plays the djembe, which is an African drum--Court does an awesome job on the djembe, but the overall sound is much more acoustic/folkish than when they also have someone on the set. So, when compared to the other bands, everyone was nervous that the band's sound just wasn't exactly what the judges were looking for.


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Still, they got up there and rocked out three original songs.

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People seemed to really enjoy it, and I heard quite a few people around me comment, "Wow! You can actually understand what they're saying!" And then, when they finished their third song, one of the judges said, "Hey, would you guys mind playing another song?"

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So, the band had a quick conference and picked a third song to play. My sister told me later that she realized once they started playing that she had never played that song with the band before, lol! Overall, the judges gave some good feedback, but also some suggestions for things the band could work on. We stuck around to watch the band that played after us, and then the judges deliberated. There were 7 or 8 bands total, and I think everyone in our group was hoping for second or third place--and after those places were announced and we weren't in them, I think everyone had resounded themselves to the idea that our music style just wasn't what the judges were looking for, which was fine...I think we all collectively felt that although it would have been fun to have won, the point of the day was really just about getting together with other bands to worship God.

And then they announced that we won. Um, WE WON. We were so surprised. So honored. It was so neat to watch them get up there, praise God, and hear such positive feedback about how the music touched the judges and the audience. It was especially cool, because most of the gigs the band has played historically have been people or churches that the band already knew. This was one of the first times that they've played at a venue that they've had no affiliation with, and to receive such awesome feedback was just really affirming. I think we've all had periods of time where we wonder whether or not to give up this pipe dream of being able to make a living ministring through music. I can't speak for everyone else, but hearing the feedback from the judges about how they think that this is exactly what we're supposed to be doing was pretty amazing. I can't wait to see what God has planned for our little band. 

Here's a video from the battle ( we're called Second Best, which we get lots of interesting comments about, but for us, it's meant to be an intentional reminder that God is always first in our lives). They're performing one of the songs written by my sister-in-law Renee called Busy People. Like I said, they're missing their drummer, and for some reason, you can't hear Justin on the bass at all, but I think it still sounds pretty awesome. 



Friday, March 18, 2011

Photography Friday-- The 50mm Lens & Portraits

So, last week we talked about my recommendations for a starter dslr camera bag. This week, I want to talk a little bit more about both portraits and the 50mm lens. As I mentioned in last week's post, the 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens--which I shall call the "Nifty Fifty" from here on--is a great add-on to the starter dslr camera bag. It's a great portrait lens with a low f/stop (which allows for great bokeh!), and it's inexpensive--my f/1.8 was around $80! That said, the 50mm lens can also be really frustrating, and we'll talk about why later on in the post. First of all, I want to talk about some portrait basics.

Waaaaaaaaaayyyyyy back in high school photography with a 35mm camera, we learned to always take portraits with a lens somewhere between 75mm to 135mm. If you went much closer than 75 mm, it tended to flatten out the subject's nose (making it appear wider than it really was), and if you went much further than 135mm, the contours of a face tended to flatten. So, you may be wondering why I'm recommending a 50mm lens for portraits, and that is an excellent question.

Most of us who are just purchasing a dslr for the first time will not purchase a full frame camera because they are significantly more expensive than entry-level dslr cameras (some examples of full-frame cameras are the Canon 1Ds, 1Ds Mark II, 1Ds Mark III,  5D, and 5D Mark II or Nikon D3, D3x, D3s, and D700). Now, if you have an entry-level dslr camera like I do, you need to know that our cameras have a crop factor of 1.6. I don't want to go super in depth about the implications of a crop-factor, but you also need to know that when you're looking to buy a lens, the focal length is being described as it functions on a full-frame camera, NOT on a cropped frame camera. In order to find out how the focal length of any lens is going to function on a cropped-frame camera, you need to take that focal length and multiply it by 1.6. In other words, when I put a 50mm camera on my Canon Rebel XS, it is actually functioning as a 75-80mm lens (50mm x 1.6 = 80). This is why even though you may hear pros blog about how great their 75mm portrait lens is, it may not be the best portrait lens for your camera, and if you don't have a full-frame camera, you may already have something similar in your camera bag!

Whew. Was that about as clear as mud? I promise that this next part is a lot more simple. FOCUS. In terms of portraits, focusing on the eyes is so, so, so important. Nailing that eye focus is really what makes the difference between a ho-hum portrait and an amazing portrait.


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Do you see the photo on the left compared to the photo on the right? All of my settings were exactly the same--the only difference is that in the photo on the right, I actually nailed the focus on her eyes. The photo on the left is still mostly in focus and it isn't an awful photo persay, but it isn't as good as the photo on the right, where the focus is sharp in her eyes. Let's talk some more about that.

When I first started shooting with the Nifty Fifty lens, I'll admit that a lot of my portraits looked more like the ones on the left. And I was frustrated. 'My kit lens wasn't nearly this finicky about focus,' I thought. But in retrospect, I suspect it might have had more to do with the lower f/stop of the Nifty Fifty.

Take another look at the photos above. Notice how there's some nice blur going on in the background? Okay. That nice blur was a result of shooting with an f/stop of 1.8 and is helping to put the emphasis on Lizzy, rather than on the couch or pack and play in the background, due to the small depth of field (the amount of the photo that's capable of being in focus). On the other hand, if I had taken the same shots but with an f/stop of 22, EVERYTHING in the background also would have been in focus due to a larger depth of field.

Note: A number of factors, including the distance of the camera to the subject, have an influence on depth of field. However, to keep things simple, I'm only going to be talking about it in terms of f/stop & aperture today. 

I like to think of my focal point as something that fades out. The rate at which it fades out is totally dependent on the depth of field. This next image was pretty quickly whipped up in Photoshop and is probably WAY oversimplified (and kind of reminds me of those kids portraits that were popular in the early 90's but make me cringe now), but it helps me visualize the concept:


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In the picture on the left, the gray area is sort of what I like to think of as a focal buffer zone. The focus hasn't faded out of the focal point area quite so quickly, so anything in that area would still be pretty close to being perfectly in focus. If I had shot the picture with a higher f/stop, it wouldn't have been quite so crucial to nail the focus EXACTLY on Lizzy's eye. Even if I focused on her ear, her eye would also still be pretty close to being in-focus. If I zoomed in super close, I would have been able to see that the focus was on her ear rather than her eye, but at normal printing sizes, it wouldn't have been THAT noticeable. However, when shot at a lower f/stop, the depth of field is much smaller, so the focal point fades out much more quickly.

This concept is important to understand with the Nifty Fifty lens because you have the capability to shoot at a much lower f/stop, which means a much lower depth of field. I've found that if I'm shooting in auto or even p mode, my camera usually defaults to the lowest available aperture, so when I was shooting portraits in P mode (as I was when I started out, even though P mode doesn't stand for "Portrait") with the Nifty Fifty lens it was MUCH more important to nail my focus on the eyes than it was when I was using my kit lens with a much higher f/stop.

Bottom Line?
-It's important to understand the appropriate distance the camera should be from the subject--with a 50mm lens, you are not going to be able to shoot 6 inches from your subject.
-The Nifty Fifty may not be the best portrait lens for you if you own a full-frame dslr.
-Learning how to nail focus on the eyes is SUPER important when it comes to portraits.
-Aperture can be intimidating, but having a good understanding of it is SO worth it when you have a good understanding. If you have ANY questions about either of those topics, please go check out Pioneer Woman's Post {What the Heck is an Aperture?}.
-If your portraits are still looking funny, you may be experiencing perspective distortion. Shooting from a distance too close or too far can cause the subject's features to look off. Take a look at {this page} that shows the same model from different focal lengths. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Control.



One of the songs on JJ Heller's new CD "What Love Really Means" is called Control. I recently read an article about her inspiration for that song, which she credits to a friend who battled with cutting. And it stopped me in my tracks.

I have only talked about this maybe three or four times in my life, but I battled briefly with cutting in high school. High school was hard for me--in addition to the normal questions of "Who am I? What do I believe? What do I want to do with my life?", there was a season in which I had lost a couple of friends. It was very hard. Plenty of adults reached out to me, and I can't tell you how many times I was invited to a grief support group, but I didn't ever go.

Instead, I kept my grades up. I played sports. I participated in extracurricular activities. I was an over-achiever. I hung out with friends. I went to church. I was fine. Except for sometimes, late at night, when I wasn't.

I was kind of lonely. And sad. And I hated most things about how I looked physically. And I was mad at myself for getting a B- in Physics, or missing the time goal that I set for myself in Crew. Or for not being picked for first place at a photography show. Let me be clear here and say that the expectation for perfection did NOT come from my parents. Not at all. They were kind, loving, supportive, and encouraging. They were not overbearing, nor did they put pressure on me to be the best. From the time I was little, I remember my parents saying that it was okay for us not to get A's, so long as we were doing our best. But somewhere along the line, I decided all by myself that giving my best wasn't enough. I wanted to be the best. At everything. To be in complete control. But, of course, I wasn't.

One day when I was feeling particularly down on myself, I remember overhearing a teacher pulling aside a student who had visible cut marks on her arms. I don't remember exactly what the teacher said, but it was something to the effect of asking the student why she was doing that to herself. I remember exactly what the student said. She said, "It's the only time I'm totally in control." And I remember thinking, 'Control? I want THAT.' And so later that night, I grabbed a pair of cuticle scissors and scraped and scratched at my arm until it bled. And I remember liking how it felt, so I continued to do it for several more months.

Then, by happenstance, I rented the movie Secretary, in which the main character is a cutter. It scared me. At that point, I was still scraping and scratching, but I knew how easily it could escalate to more, and so I decided that I was done. Thank goodness, I was.

Because my cutting only lasted several months and it wasn't very severe, I didn't really think that I was a real cutter. For a long time, I didn't tell even my closest friends about it...I felt like it would be begging for attention for something that wasn't really that big of a deal. But you know what? I still have a scar from it. I still don't keep cuticle scissors in my house because I'm worried that I might fall back into it again. No, it wasn't as severe as some of the other girls I knew who did it. But it wasn't nothing either. So, I'm talking about it. Even though it's really uncomfortable for me {people I know in real life read this blog--will they think differently of me?!}...but it's part of a larger issue that I think many women struggle with, which I think can manifest in a variety of different ways from eating disorders, to cutting, to promiscuity, to obsessive exercise, to obsessive cleaning.

Oh, control. It's time, time to let you go
-JJ Heller, Control

Ultimately, JJ Heller's song and my experience with cutting come down to a desire for control and perfection. Wanting to have control and be in control is something that I battle with along with plenty of other women--that battle didn't stop when I stopped cutting. This past year has been an incredible learning experience for me in terms of not always being in control. It's been an incredible learning experience for me in terms of my faith--my faith calls me to LET GO of my desire to control and to simply trust in God. But that wasn't something that I was doing with any regularity. If I couldn't handle it on my own, then maybe I'd go to God about it. When really, if I'm adhering to the tenants of my faith, I'm called to give it to God first. To let Him be the one in control, not me.

It's still a battle for me to relinquish control and to feel like it's okay to admit that I'm not perfect. But I'm starting to learn that when I can do it, it's such a blessing.

PS- If you think someone in your life is a cutter, please check out this website:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

BQOTD- Tax Time

It's nearing tax-time people! So, I'm curious--do you get a tax refund, or set it up so you keep most of your money throughout the year and break even (or have to pay) when tax time comes? 


If you are getting a refund, what are you doing with it?

This year, we are getting a refund, though it is smaller than it would have been since we're having to pay back the 1st Time Homebuyer Program for the first time this year. We took a gamble with it knowing that we'd likely have to pay it back, and I'm so thankful we did, because replacing the nasty carpet with hardwood has done *wonders* for my allergies.

So. We'll be getting just over $2000 back. Of that, $1400 will be going to pay off Justin's truck. After that, we've allocated portions of the remaining amount to be spent on garden supplies, my new laptop screen, grass seed to hopefully have a grassy backyard this year, our summer softball team, savings (which is no longer with Chase--YAHOO!), and offering. Nothing too exciting, but man is it ever a blessing.

The only bummer is that our refund keeps getting pushed back--first it was scheduled for March 11th, then March 18th, and now March 22nd!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Snippets

-On Sunday, we headed to Justin's parents' house after church. There was a HUGE wind-storm that apparently downed several big trees on power lines. The power went out at about 2pm-ish, and was still out when we left about 6:30pm. While it would undoubtedly be irritating not to have running water overnight, it was actually kind of nice to spend a quiet, candle-filled afternoon with the family. It reminded me just how little we actually NEED power during the day!

-A lady at church kind of freaked me out yesterday. She expressed concern to me that Lizzy walks slightly pigeon-toed, and sometimes drags one of her toes. I had noticed that she sometimes drags her toe, but have noticed that it's usually only when we've just sized up in her shoes, or when she trips because she's trying to run faster than her little legs can carry her. Other than that, I hadn't noticed that she was particularly pigeon toed, but I've heard that it's common for kids to walk slightly pigeon-toed at Lizzy's age, and that even if she WAS walking pigeon-toed, now the standard treatment is often to do nothing unless it's seriously impeding the child's ability to walk. I asked Justin's mom about it after church, and she told me that Justin's sister was pretty pigeon toed, but that she definitely wouldn't worry about Lizzy at this point. I know the lady was just trying to help,  but it's kind of awkward and weird feeling as a mom when someone expresses concern to you about your kid--like you're not taking care of them. I felt pretty defensive about it, actually.

-I finished the book Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, and really, really liked it. It's kind of funny because I remember starting that book five or six times when it first came out, and I just COULD NOT get into it. This time? I loved it. Even though I'm not someone who feels passionate about home births, it was a truly interesting piece of fiction, and I really enjoyed it.

- I am LOVING Beth Moore's study of David that we're doing. I know she's a controversial person, and this is the only study of hers that I've participated in, so I really can't attest to anything else, but I am so enjoying this one. The videos are great, but more than anything, I'm enjoying the "homework" in between sessions. It's nice for me to have some quiet time really reading and delving into the Bible on a daily basis. I'm not sure I've ever had that in my life before.

-Justin and I are registered for a 5k that's happening in less than a month! I'm kind of nervous because we've been doing Insanity recently so I haven't been running, and haven't actually run 3.1 miles, even when I got to the 30 plus minute runs of C25K. Still, I'm pretty confident that Insanity is helping us build up the cardio endurance that we need to run. I'm trying to decide whether we should start substituting our Saturday Insanity workout for a run? I really WANT to do every day of Insanity though, and I don't think we could realistically do both. Our other option would be just to keep doing Insanity, and show up for the 5k without really training for it--maybe it doesn't really matter whether we actually run the whole thing or what our time is, but just that we do it and finish. Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised after all this Insanity insanity.

-I suckered two friends into letting me do newborn sessions with them this spring, and I am so excited about it. I have some fun ideas, I just need to finish knitting another cocoon or two and find (or make) a beanbag. I need to be careful though, because I could easily spend hundreds of dollars buying props!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Praying for Japan


If you haven't heard already, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan triggering some pretty heavy-duty tsunamis. The tsunami hit Hawaii and is now headed for the Oregon, Washington, and California coasts--my understanding is that no major damage was done in Hawaii and that most of the cities in the danger zones along the west coast have already been evacuated {we live hours in-land from the Oregon coast for anyone curious}. Anyway, the damage done appears to be devastating.

This is particularly close to our hearts because Justin's uncle, aunt, and cousins live in Kobe, Japan. I haven't heard anything about Kobe in the news, so I'm hoping they're all okay. I know my brother is also thinking of his host families in Japan.

I really have no words...but my heart is heavy for everyone affected.

Photography Friday--The Starter Camera Bag

Several weeks ago, my Mom's Group asked me to give a talk about photography, and I think we covered a lot of great info. I often receive emails asking similar questions, and so I thought I'd go ahead and write a series on the blog {plus, I've been slacking in the taking-pictures department recently, and perhaps this will help move me along!}.I haven't totally nailed down all the different topics that I'd like to cover, so if you have any suggestions or things that you'd like me to talk about, I'd love to hear from you!
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With tax time upon us, I've noticed an influx of posts asking about what I like to call the "starter camera bag"--basically, someone who has a relatively new interest in photography and/or is considering buying a dslr camera for the first time. Today, I'd like to cover my opinions about the starter dslr camera bag--and please keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and some of them are quite unpopular!

1. The first thing you should ask yourself is whether you really need/want a dslr camera.
Dslr cameras are not for everyone, and there's no shame in that. It is possible to take some really amazing photos with a standard point and shoot camera. In fact, some of today's point and shoot cameras offer many of the features of a dslr camera (such as control over aperture), save for the ability to swap out lenses. My sister has a camera similar to the Nikon Coolpix P100 and really likes that it's like a point-and-shoot/dslr hybrid.

It's my personal opinion that if you think you'll mostly shoot in full auto, your money is better spent on a point-and-shoot camera than a dslr. There's often a mentality that the better camera you have, the better pictures you'll get...and as a general rule, that's just not the case. Ansel Adams once said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it," and I'm a firm believer in this statement. While better quality cameras have the capability to take better pictures, their ability to do so is often hugely dependent on the knowledge of the person behind the camera. If you're interested in learning to control your ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focus on your own, a dslr camera might be a better fit for you.

2. Should I pick Canon, Nikon, or some other brand?
In my opinion, this is totally personal preference. I picked a Canon dslr because I used a Canon slr for my photography courses, and felt most comfortable with the setup and layout of the camera. Additionally, most of my slr lenses could be used with the dslr camera (though, the focal length is multiplied by 1.5--my 50mm slr lens functions like a 75mm lens on my dslr)  My best advice is to go to a store where you can actually hold the camera that you're considering in your hands. Make sure that the locations of buttons, menus, and toggles makes sense to you, and try out another brand or two to see if their setup makes more sense or less sense to you.


3. I've heard the kit lenses are garbage, so what should I buy instead?
Right off the bat, I need to tell you that my opinion goes against the grain in this area. It is not the popular opinion. AT ALL. See, I firmly believe that the kit lenses that come with 98% of dslr cameras are *not* garbage. In fact, people referring to them as being garbage really irks me. It almost seems like it's become a popular thing to do to bash kit lenses and imply that they have no use and just simply can't take good photos.  And it drives me crazy, because you absolutely CAN take beautiful photos with a kit lens. They are GREAT lenses for the price point. Check out this Flickr Group, cheekily titled Kit Lens Losers. You cannot tell me that there are not some absolutely beautiful photos in that group.

In addition, here's a few of my more recent photos taken with my kit (18-55mm) lens:

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I promise...you can take high-quality pictures with the kit lens. So why all the hate? It seems to me that this kit lens hate often comes from two distinct types of people (a) professional/ more advanced photographers whose needs have surpassed that of a kit lens (more on this in a second) and (b) people who have little understanding of photography basics, but have picked up a dslr camera, are shooting in full auto, and are now wondering why they aren't getting the beautiful pictures they see on blogs.

For someone who is just starting out with their first dslr camera, the kit lens is a great versatile lens to learn on. It's my (unpopular) belief, that it's actually a good idea to start out with the kit lens, and really learn your camera. Get really familiar with the basics of exposure, depth of field, light, composition, etc. Find out which types of photography you enjoy and want to continue pursuing (i.e. portraiture, macros, landscapes, sports). If you begin to find yourself with a limitation that you can't work around, THEN consider purchasing a lens that would allow you to overcome that specific limitation--because there are definitely limitations when it comes to the kit 18-55mm lenses that explain why the serious pros don't use the kit lens on a day to day basis. The three that I hear most often are that it's slow to auto-focus (which can be worked around if you learn how to focus manually), that it isn't as sharp/contrasty as some of the pro quality lenses (which I will happily work around in Photoshop since I don't have the budget to spend $1500 on an equivalent pro-quality lens), and that it's higher f/stop doesn't allow you to easily shoot in the dark or achieve bokeh (blurry background) as easily.

While it's worth mentioning that there are plenty of times when you simply wouldn't want an f/stop lower than 3.5 because it creates a very narrow depth of field with a smaller portion of the photo in focus, that last limitation quickly became something that I couldn't consistently work around because I did want to shoot portraits with a narrow depth or field so that I could create that blurry bokeh in the background. So, I purchased my nifty fifty lens, the Canon 50mm f/1.8. And along with a 75-300mm f/5.6 lens (which was part of the package when I purchased my Canon Rebel XS) and my 18-55mm kit lens....that's what's in my camera bag. Yes, that's it.

Would I love to have the Tamron 28-75mm f/ 2.8 as a run-around lens with more aperture capability or the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 as a macro lens? Yes! And while I think I'm at a point in my photography skills that I could put them to good use, I also haven't reached the point where they are truly NEEDS opposed to WANTS {nor are they within the budget at this time}.

4. What about an external flash?
I'm really not a good person to give advice about a flash, because I don't own one. I prefer natural light photography, and tend to avoid a flash whenever possible. I've gone back and forth about purchasing a basic speedlite, but I'm not sure that I tend to do enough weddings or studio shoots to make it a worthwhile investment. I do have a Lightscoop, which I use with some frequency when taking pictures of Lizzy inside our house to bridge the gap between natural light and an external flash and would definitely recommend it!

5. I don't have time to read all your babbling. Sum up the Starter DSLR Bag for me?
Look for a basic camera body of about 10-14 megapixels--any brand will do. I highly recommend the kit lens in your starter bag, possibly along with a 50mm f/1.4 or 1.8 if you'd like to do portraits or have bokeh. I recommend the Lightscoop as a starting point while you decide whether or not you need a speedlite. I also highly recommend some sort of post-processing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom (Personally, I have Photoshop, but have only heard good things about Lightroom) to help you enhance the photos that you do take.

So, that's it! Please note that none of the products mentioned were paid endorsements...they're simply products I own and love or items that I have a lot of familiarity with and wish that I owned! As I said up top, if you have anything that you'd like me to cover as a photography topic, please leave a comment--two things that I definitely plan to touch on in the coming weeks are using the 50mm lens and how to pick a photographer for family portraits :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dear JP Morgan Chase,

Despite having an extremely bad experience during the transition from WAMU to Chase, we stuck with you. We gave you a chance. Mostly because all of our bills were set up as direct deposit and it was just a huge pain in the butt to switch everything over.But now? We're done. Justin and I plan to go open an account at a local credit union as soon as possible.

See, several months ago, you announced that checking accounts would no longer be free. A monthly service fee of $10 would be added to the account unless (a) a deposit of more than $500 was made each month (b) the checking account maintains a minimum daily balance of $1500, or (c) you have a daily balance of $5000 in linked deposits/investments.

Justin and I both dislike these plans immensely--it drives me crazy that those who are struggling to make ends meet and don't have a minimum balance of $1500 are penalized by a monthly fee while those who are rich pay nothing. However, we were told by two different employees at two different Chase branches in two different cities that since Justin is paid once a month and his paycheck is equivalent to more than $500, that we would not be subject to the monthly fee.

Except, as I've just discovered after noticing that we WERE charged a monthly fee last month, it must be a direct deposit of $500 or more.

The small business that Justin works for doesn't offer direct deposit. So, we will be changing banks. We're going to a local credit union. Where...*gasp* when you deposit a check,  our funds are available that same day. Where there is no monthly service charge for being an average joe/jane. I am so irritated with you, JP Morgan Chase, because my experience with you has shown that unless a customer is rolling in the big bucks, you (as a whole) don't care about us at all. Do you realize that even your own employees are often seen grimacing and saying, "I'm so sorry...I don't agree with these new policies at all, but there's nothing I can do,"?

I know that you people up in the Upper Management at JP Morgan Chase, the ones who are making all the decisions, probably won't ever read this. I'm barely a blip on your radar screen. But someday? Someone might Google JP Morgan Chase and find their way to this blog post. I hope they do. I hope they're spared the hassle that banking with you has caused us.

We're moving on. It's you, not us.

Photo Snippets

I've been feeling a little stir crazy lately--spring has most definitely not sprung yet for us. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if it snows once more this year for us. In the meantime, there's been lots and lots of rain, which also turns our house into a bit of a dark and dreary dungeon. Kind of depressing. In fact, the other day I decided that I *needed* to take some photographs of something, and tried my hand at water-drop photography. It didn't go as well as I was hoping (I wanted the drop but not the faucet). As Tyra Banks would say, here's my best shot:

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If you hate photos of messy-faced kids, get ready to scroll really fast. Lizzy is really starting to get the spoon to her mouth with much more consistency. Still, half of whatever she's eating winds up on her face/head/chair/the floor. But that's probably to be expected, no?

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Justin and I have been keeping up with Insanity! We did our fit test on Monday, and we both improved our score on every exercise. It is still as hard of a workout as ever, and I'm convinced that since you're always doing as many as YOU can, it will always be challenging. And incredibly sweaty. Here we are last night after Pure Cardio & Cardio Abs (excuse the bathroom shot, eh?):

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Yesterday, there was a brief respite from the rain, so Lizzy and I went on a walk with Payton and Logan. It's pretty funny to watch Lizzy outside now--grass didn't used to bother her, but now she *hates* the feel of it on her hands. She also LOVES to walk on it. But what I REALLY want to know is why our grass looks this gross and brown even after all the stinking rain we've been having?!

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And last but not least, my favorite recent picture of the Lizard, crazy bed-head and all:

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Read This Now.

You may have heard about a high school basketball player from Fennville, Michigan named Wes Leonard, who died of a heart attack last week just minutes after scoring the winning basket that qualified his team for the playoffs.

In high school, one of my basketball teammates and good friends died. Though under different circumstances, this situation hit home with me, and I've kind of been following it. I came across an article this morning about Fennville's first playoff game since Wes Leonard died, and it was one of the most heart-warming things I've read in a long time. I'm so thankful for the ways in which the community surrounded the team. I'm so thankful for the ways that the opposing team showed respect and solidarity. Sometimes, it's nice to read a news article like this.

Go read the article...but grab a box of Kleenex before you do.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Snippets

I am in a remarkably good mood for a Monday when I ran out of coffee creamer! On the upside, I have a coupon for a free drink of any size from our local coffee place courtesy of the dinner/auction from this weekend.

-Speaking of the dinner/auction, it was awesome. And I am happy to report that there were no assigned seats...yay! In other news, I'm especially curious about who from the church/school was the anonymous commenter on Friday's blog post!

-I don't know if any other almost-14 month olds do this, but while Lizzy mostly speaks in gibberish with a few words in there, occasionally she'll come up with this entire sentence that is crystal clear and in context. Yesterday, she told Justin, "I can do it" when he was trying to hold her hand to walk her somewhere she didn't want to go. Last week, she said, "I can see better up here" to Justin's mom when she picked Lizzy up. A few weeks ago when she was getting frustrated with a toy, she said "Piece of shit!" (I guess it's time to watch the swearing, eh?). Several times when I've asked her what she wants to eat, she's replied, "More cake!". I'm not sure whether or not she's actually trying to say these things, but it's pretty hilarious.

- Speaking of Lizzy, last night we got home from my parent's house at about 9pm. She would NOT go down for bed. So I bucked all the rules when it comes to our normal method of sleep training and rocked her to sleep. And it was so nice to have that snuggling moment. I am so glad that I did it.

- From my mountain of library books, I've finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and Under the Dome by Stephen King. Both were very good. Ethan, you especially should read Under the Dome the next time you can just pick up a 1000 page book for fun! Now, I'm reading Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, and it is fascinating.

-While visiting my parents yesterday, we went to the Blockbuster that's going out of business and picked up seven movies for $18--Rendition, Deception, GI Joe, Fast Food Nation, The Soloist, Veggietales Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, and Stop-Loss. Not too shabby!

-Tonight, J and I start our 3rd week of Insanity! We'll be rocking the Fit Test once he gets home from work...we were actually supposed to do it this morning, but both needed/wanted just a little bit more sleep when 5:30am rolled around. I'm also excited to take some measurements, because I think I'm starting to see/feel some difference!

-And a BIG, BIG, BIG thanks to my dad who installed my new laptop screen while watching the kiddos during the dinner on Saturday! It is SO nice to have a fully functional screen!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

BQOTD: Assigned Seats

This Saturday is the annual fund-raising dinner for the school that's affiliated with our church. It's a pretty nice dinner with both silent auctions and live auctions, and it's held at a hotel with a buffet-style meal. Justin's band plays music throughout the event. My parents are watching Lizzy, so it's also like a "date night" for us.

For the first time this year, a few people decided that there would be assigned seats for the dinner portion. They are operating under the idea that it would be good for people to sit with people they wouldn't normally sit with and socialize.

In this circumstance, I'll be sitting at the "band table", and thank the Lord for that, because if I weren't, I would seriously have considered not attending. See, I LOATHE assigned seats at dinners/weddings/functions. Hate them. HATE THEM. I really can't think of any social situation that I dislike more. While I understand the hope behind them (that I'll make new friends and bond with people over the experience), for me, the only thing that happens is that I am painfully uncomfortable.

I don't have an easy time making friends or meeting new people. It's something that I have to seriously work at. And I've been trying to work on it this past year at Mom's Group, and by trying to attend activities that I'm invited to from those moms even though I always fear I'll end up sitting by myself with no one to talk to. It's something that I genuinely have to gear myself up to do. And it was only by chance that I found out about the assigned seating from my sister-in-law. Had I just been a general patron of the dinner, I wouldn't have known about the assigned seating until I arrived, and I probably would have had a panic attack in the bathroom. And cried.

I don't mean to sound snooty. But for me, it is totally uncomfortable to be thrown into a situation like that with people that I hardly know. For me, the evening would have gone to a relaxing enjoyable evening, to one that was super stressful...and who wants to waste one of their few precious date nights on a night where you're stressed out and freaking out the whole time? On the other hand, Justin would have LOVED it. He's a super social person and can talk to absolutely anyone.

Also, everyone is PAYING to attend this event. I loathe assigned seats no matter what the circumstance, but for some reason, I hate them even more when it happens at an event that I've paid for.

What about you guys? What do you think of assigned seating at dinners? Do you hate it? Love it?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

3 inches

Remember my broken laptop screen? Yes, well yesterday I was sitting on the floor paying bills and balancing our checkbook, while also talking to Lizzy. She was playing with her Little People Noah's Ark, which I've been trying to teacher her NOT to throw. Because seriously? The thing hurts to be hit with. but of course, she rolled back to throw it, and my cries of "Lizzy! NO! DO NOT THROW THAT!" went ignored. I tried to catch the flying ark, but instead it bounced off my fingertips and directly into my laptop screen. The screen promptly went white with neon colored stripes. I have about a 3 inch window that iss still usable.

So, I had to scour eBay for a new screen, which my dad or I should be able to install. This was mostly irritating because we literally had planned to replace the screen next week when our tax return will come. Seriously?

Then, to top out the day, Justin and I had a huuuuuggggeee argument about future placement of the laptop. Right now, it sits on a side table next to our couch, which is admittedly not a great solution because Lizzy is always playing with the cords and it's just in the way. Justin wants me to use a desk. Hey, I'd like a desk too, and I've racked my brain about how I could fit a desk into the living room with everything else, and I just can't figure out a logical way. First, we made the mistake of using Clearwire as our internet service provider, which, contrary to their slogan is NOT wireless internet, at least not in the way most consumers probably thing. I basically thought that it created a wireless hotspot in the house, but no. The computer has to remain wired to their little internet thingie to have access, which gets best service (which is still bad) in the window of the living room.. Justin brought a spare desk from college days into the living room and wedged it next to the couch, where the computer would still reach the Clearwire  thingie, but we just don't have room for it if we're going to keep the other things that we need in the living room, such as the Pack N Play (which is absolutely necessary for me since our laundry is outside and our house is not babyproofed to the point where I can leave Lizzy alone while I'm outside) and toy box.

Justin's solution was just to leave the Pack N Play and toy box in the middle of the room.

Are there any other moms (or non-moms) out there who can sympathize with my freak out at this point? Our house is already too cluttered. And it drives me crazy. I can't relax with crap everywhere. I need everything to have a place that it can be put away, and floating things in the middle of the room does NOT count as being put away. And hello, I spend 90% of my time at home in the living room--a room that causes me to cry every time I walk into it is just not feasible. Eventually, I think Justin got the picture that while things not having a home clearly doesn't bother him, it would drive me BANANAS.

We still don't have a good solution for where the laptop can land. I really do want the computer to remain in the living room, and I really would like a desk, but I just can't figure out a good place for it with our layout. Boo.

So, anyway, my computer sucks right now. Please be patient with my posting/commenting the rest of the week!
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