January 23, 2015 : a rocket, an eyeball, and a brain.

Late last night we had a pretty squirmy visitor crawl into bed with us.

Um…yuck. That sounds like an icky bug. Let me start over.

There was a pretty hot body in our bed last night.


Our 5yo has a FEVER.

I am a little tired. Ewan came in and snuggled up with us in the middle of the night, and around 5 am I realized how fever-hot his little hands and cheeks felt. Since he was an infant, he’s been able to cuddle closer than anyone I’ve ever known. He can find every nook and crooked cranny on you and settle in there, just right, and for such a little fireball of a personality, he sure does have a sweet side.

After his medicine kicked in, I found him on the floor rummaging through the snack basket – always a good sign.

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After two snacks and a sandwich, he decided that we needed to do something together (you know, because I hadn’t been busy cutting up strawberries and finding fruit snacks and making sandwiches and pouring juice and making hot tea), so he fished out a new rocket that required a chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar in order to launch.

I was in.

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You guys. We tried five times.


(Also, cat butt photobomb.)


The rocket was supposed to soar up to 50′. I think we got about three.

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It called for vinegar, but all I had was apple cider vinegar. Could this be why?

I asked Todd Helton and he just looked at me like I was dumb and then refused to look at me forever.

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So I took a picture of the pretty ice crystals encasing our hen and chicks.

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Lemonade out of lemons.

We came inside and watched YouTube videos, Ewan’s choice, on how to dissect cow eyeballs and human brains.



January 21, 2015 : tip: iphone-ography.

There are tons of tips and tutorials on the web regarding taking better pictures with your phone. In fact, I know of one photographer who offers an online workshops to help; you can find more info about Ashley Campbell’s SnapShops here.

For today’s tip, I’ll take you through the editing process that I go through for the majority of my iPhone photos.

First, find your subject, and a properly exposed photo will make ALL of the difference here. I love this board painted with an American flag that hangs in our dining room. There’s a ponytail palm that lives on a bar right under it, and this particular area of our home receives spectacular light most mornings and afternoons.

I opened the camera app on my iPhone and selected “square,” so I wouldn’t have to worry about cropping for Instagram, and I snapped the shot.

From there, I opened up my favorite iPhone editing app, PicTapGo, by Totally Rad! and pulled in my flag picture.

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The sun coming in from the left made a really cool light leak effect, but it also janked the color a little. This is where editing gets fun.

PicTapGo has tons of filters from which to choose. The company also has a Photoshop filter that I use sometimes with professional shoots while editing, so I’m pretty familiar with different looks that I can achieve. My favorites are the film filters (an additional purchase) and a filter called “High Fives”.  Each filter’s strength can be adjusted (and I highly recommend adjusting them. Very rarely should you ever use any filter at full strength…), and they can be layered as well.

The navigator will give you a sneak peek of what your photo will look like with each filter applied.

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My steps are these:

  1. Adjust exposure
  2. Adjust color and/or contrast
  3. Apply creative filter
  4. Adjust warmth
  5. Adjust haze (if I’m feeling crazy…)

First, I applied Auto Color and adjusted the strength (I didn’t need to adjust my exposure for this one, but I found it too blah orange, which means wonky white balance).

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Next, contrast.

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Then I applied High Fives (the creative filter).

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Next, a haze called “Fade to Grey”.

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Then, a little tweak on warmth.

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That’s it. A quick send to Instagram, which also posts to Facebook and Twitter for me, and I think that most of my social media bases are covered.

And as a bonus, I’ll throw in my other favorite editing apps (not all available on droids; check your stores).


Have fun with your photos!

January 15, 2015 : rip.

Let me introduce you to my very favorite jeans.

They’re quite horrible.

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They are incredibly thread bare. In fact, every time I wear them, I feel the creases that have been so worn in tear a little more. I’m afraid to move too quickly in them, squat, or bend over, because I’m quite sure they’ll just fall right apart.

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I’ve never had to unbutton or unzip them to take them off because they’re nine sizes too big, and I always have to wear a belt to keep them on.

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And I love them.

So very much do I love them.

They’re like pajama pants. When I want a comfy day, they’re my go-to pair. They’re not for cold weather for all the holes and thinness, but they’ve been like a best friend for years. It’s funny to me how attached I get to the smallest seeming things, but we seem to live in such a throw-away world that I can’t help it. It’s my only little bit of history, like a really good book with yellowed and frayed pages – one you can’t handle very much anymore because it’s held together by wishes and memories.

It’s time to let these go.

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Hank has hated them, because they’ve never fit. But he’s suffered in sorta-silence for long enough. They really are ugly, but I swear to you, I’ll never have another pair that have been this comfy.

I bit the bullet and ordered a pair of raw denim jeans (how Portlandia of me…) yesterday. They’re from a crazy little shop in Tennessee and made completely in America, and there’s a promise with raw denim that the jeans made from it will be yours and yours alone, molded to your movements, your particular ways of sitting, your life; kind of like a years-long art project that just keeps getting better and better.

I’m in.

And these wonderful jeans are, sadly, out.

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January 13, 2015 : the milestone.


They’re always the biggies.

First word. First steps. First day of school.

First loose tooth.

I remember this one like it was yesterday.

And there’s another one coming. Our 5yo all of sudden starting quietly crying (at first ‘quietly,’ then ever so loudly) at the dinner table tonight, because he bit down on his very soft pasta to find that his first snaggletooth had pushed upward and was in the way and he didn’t realize that and he bit down … hard.

Blood. Pain. Darn tooth still intact.

It’s not quite ready, but our prediction is by Thursday? Sayonara baby tooth, helloooooo tooth fairy money.

After he realized what had happened, he had to inspect things.

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We lose him at least once during every mealtime to the bathroom. He’s going through “a stage.” Yay, picky-eaters-who-frequently-escape-to-the-bathroom-in-hopes-that-we-don’t-notice-they’re-not-eating.

Lots of tears, from the anticipation and not being quite ready.

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Oh, those sweet little wet eyelashes and solo tear left on his cheek. It’s stressful being five. You’re basically falling apart.

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The 9yo ran after him, yelling, “You’re almost there, bro!”

When did “bro” happen in his vocabulary? And “boobs?” That’s worked into some kind of conversation every day, now. Dying.




(Never say that, btw – irregardless. Makes no sense. How is it different from “regardless?”)

After a pep talk about being a bro and something about boobs or some weirdness, he was less stressed and more curious.

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And I think that Thursday will be a very big milestone day, here.

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January 7, 2015 : tip: shooting in the snow.

I scour the Internet as least once a week, looking for freebie tips on shooting and editing, as well as affordable online workshops with photographers whose work I admire. Today, I thought that I would pay that forward, and am even thinking about doing this weekly. What do you think? Wednesdays are good for me; thoughts?

Today’s topic: SNOW. It’s one of my absolute favorites, because honestly, who can resist snow? Playing in it, eating it, making snow cream, throwing it, etc. But there are some challenges with taking pictures with or in it; namely:

  • your photo will look blue or gray
  • squinty eyes, if the sun is shining
  • red noses and cheek and ears
  • snot
  • the white of the snow loses all definition in your photo, aka blowing your whites (no peanut gallery comments…) (ok maybe some, but not too awful, please. that was low-hanging fruit)

There will be other things that come up when you shoot, and my biggest advice is this…


I am terribly inept at speaking/explaining things in technical terms when it comes to photography and my camera. It’s embarrassing, really, and if you’re a geek-speaker, you’ll be quite disappointed if you try to engage me in that type of conversation. Thankfully, by the grace of the camera gods, I’ve figured a lot out just by practicing and soaking up everything in my path so far. Try it.

So let’s discuss those challenges.

First, my equipment. These photos were both taken with a Canon 5d Mark III, using a 24-70L lens. I have a love/hate relationship with that lens. I swear that I hate it, but I find it on my camera body the most when we’re traveling or outside a lot in an unknown-to-me area. It’s one of two zoom lenses that I own, and to be honest, it’s a great “walk-around” lens to keep on my camera when I know that a) I’ll be closer to my subjects, or b) I’ll want those beautiful wide shots outside. I think that the reason I don’t think that I like it is that it’s aperture only opens to 2.8 (this is what creates the blur, or “bokeh”, in the background), and I have other lenses that will open to 1.2. That’s a huge difference.

Second, shooting conditions: these are shot in natural light and I only shoot in manual. (I won’t go into that here, but if you’re interested in learning about shooting in manual, please send me an email and I’ll put you on the list for my workshop later this year.) I also shoot in RAW and use AWB (auto white balance). I shoot AWB because I shoot in RAW. If you shoot in JPG, you will most likely have to adjust your white balance IN YOUR CAMERA in order to get better warmth in your photos. I prefer to do those adjustments in my computer v. my camera, and RAW gives me that leeway.


Here are two shots that I took of my 9yo, straight out of camera (I’m just going to use the term “SOOC” from here forward – it’s one techie term that I love to throw around to confuse people into believing that I know much more than I do).

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The three things that I knew about these shots even before I took them were these: 1) because I know this lens, I knew that there will be lens vignetting around the edges of the photos, which would make the edges seem even more gray, 2) because of the lens distortion (being a wider-angle lens), I knew that I would fix that distortion in Lightroom, and 3) because I was shooting in the snow on a snowy and overcast day, I knew that I would add warmth to these in Lightroom.

THE FIX: In Lightroom, I chose Lens Correction>Profile>Enable Profile Corrections to get rid of the lens vignette & lens distortion. Yes, it’s just that easy. I also chose to use a Lightroom Preset that emulates film. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which one exactly (I can’t find it easily in my gallery history, since I make so many adjustments to the presets themselves), but I’m pretty sure that it was from the VSCO Film 05 for Canon set. From there, I adjusted some of the color (ie, I desaturated the red of his jacket a little).

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This is just a simple composition issue. I didn’t have this issue on this day, but if you do, remember that snow is an INCREDIBLE reflector. You might not be able to get a good portrait of someone in bright snow, simply because they can’t open their eyes. If this happens, just have them be silly…


or you can wait until their eyes are watering so badly that they might be crying. I’m a really crap mom sometimes. (I fixed it with warm chocolate chip cookies on that day…)

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You can also try to either put them with their back to the sun and meter your camera on their skin (auto metering will not work since your camera will read all of the bright white snow and make your subject too dark), put them in open shade (in the shade but facing a brighter area or snow bank), or wait for the time of day to shift or some cloud cover. It just takes a little patience. :) Here’s a little open shade.

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You’re going to have them. Sometimes, you can desaturate your reds a little in Lightroom or change the color of red more toward orange, but you’ll have to play around with that. (If you’re a post-production wizard and can pull that puppy right into Photoshop, then do it. But then again, if you’re a post-production wizard, you probably won’t be reading this.) Personally, I feel that those color variations are part of the story. You’re supposed to be red-cheeked when your face is cold.

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Do something that I like to call the “original Photoshopping.” Wipe noses before you take pictures.


Tricky. Because I meter for skin specifically in the snow, I find that I lose a lot of definition in the snow. Some thoughts:

Flat light: this is your overcast sky. Shadows aren’t going to be very clear, which means you might lose definition in the snow and your subject could seem to “float” as in these pictures. Try to shoot in front of something with contrast, like trees or a house or landscapey things. In Lightroom, I pulled the highlights down and pulled shadows up to try to balance a little definition without messing up the exposure on his skin. I did pull up the clarity in my photos, but be careful as this will desaturate your colors. I also bump up contrast & add sharpening.

Bright light: wait. Let a cloud pass and give you shadows, or wait until a little later in the day (or shoot earlier in the day). In editing, I adjusted the same things as for flat light – you’re just going to have to eyeball it on your computer to your liking.

Here are before and after examples of the first photos.

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My very most favorite thing about shooting in the snow is that it’s a fantastic natural reflector. You’ll get freckles that pop, great catchlights in eyes, and just look at all of those little snowflakes dancing around in the air in front of the trees. Pay attention to what your kids or family or friends are wearing, too. Brighter colors v. pastel colors will make a big difference.

Let me know if this helped you, and if you’d like to see more posts like this. It really is just taking a deep breath and being patient, waiting for a great shot. You’ll know it when you see it. Have fun!

January 6, 2015 : i think i’ll take that back, please.

Sunday, that is.

It’s been on my mind a lot, actually, thanks to many things culminating in my life lately. Talking about Taking Back Sunday pretty much freaks people out. There are so many excuses, and I’m no different. You’ll know your excuse when it’s preceded by a “but” or a “well” or a “just this one thing…”

But well enough.

Your Taking-Back-Sunday day doesn’t have to be Sunday. It can be any day, maybe even a different day each week. Maybe yours happens to be just an afternoon, or every morning from five to seven (if that’s the case, good on you but you’re a freak for getting up that early).

Last week, our Taking Back Sunday actually happened to be on Sunday, which I think is a super bonus. It was time together as a family. Some of the time was quiet, some of it silly. But there was plenty of space in that time for listening: to the snow, to the wind, to my heart. For the boys, it also included a nose assault from horse poop, but that brought weird joy to them and a lot of belly laughs. There was a new space in which I could simply watch them without refereeing, and that is a kind of awesome not experienced very frequently. There was also one of those incredible moments of all-of-a-sudden-hand-holding between Hank and me, which just kind of happens like two long-lost magnets connecting softly and before you realize it.

A long time ago, there was a God commandment to protect your Sabbath, so that you could do this kind of thing every week and have that long-lost-magnet-connection with Him, too. I like that. The God commandment included that time for your whole house and all of your animals, and then every seven years He commanded a Sabbath for your crops that lasted a whole year so that the ground could rest, too. Talk about a sabbatical. Refreshocity.

So, while our Taking Back Sunday looks a little active here, I think that looks can be deceiving. We haven’t felt this connected as a family in a while.

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A pause here, just for a moment, for two important things:

1) Our family pictures are blurry, and that’s a-ok by me. The man at the stables was so thoughtful and excited to take our photos for us, and while I set some things up for him and tried to give him a quick rundown on where buttons were and how to use the camera, it’s admittedly confusing. I will always cherish these, because I rarely have the opp to be in a photo with everyone, and I just simply adore these. They make me giggle.

2) To honor all my photog colleagues AND myself, please stop saying things like, “Wow. Your camera takes great pictures!” when you see a great photo. That’s like saying to a student, “Wow. Your pencil writes amazing essays.” Don’t be a dumbass. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy, either.

Now. Time for blurry pics. :)

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So. Much. Love.

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We stopped about halfway through our ride at a little camp hosted by a woman who summers in Florida and winters in Colorado. I thought she had that backwards, but I suppose if you love the true essence of a spot, you’d want to live there during its glory time. That’s intensity at it’s best.


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Did you know that just one of these horses could pull a sleigh just fine with a load of about 8-10 people? And their coats protect them from the cold down to about -30F? 

Please don’t let the God-talk up there make you mad or freak you out; lots of folks throughout the ages have discovered how very valuable Taking Back Sunday is.

Like Albert Schweitzer:

Do not let Sunday be taken from you. If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.

Yikes. I want my momma.

And like the inventors of computers, who built in that whole defragmenting thing. Yogis with their meditation and praying people with their, well, prayers. Take some time to get your stuff back in order so that you can work properly throughout the week.

Now go out there (or stay at home) and get you some of that Sunday. Rest it up. And remember, there is an art to doing nothing.

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January 5, 2015 : the opposite of “i’m bored.”

Funny…this time last week we were in the mountains without agenda, with seemingly nothing to do, and do you know what?

We forgot there was TV.

We also forgot there were screens of any kind, and we forgot the phrase, “I’m bored.”

We are now, as a family, smartly searching for our own, personal oasis in a little place called Away-From-It-All. Because you know why? Maybe we need a place where we can listen to awful-and-not-very-funny jokes that make young boys snort with laughter on a plaid couch in a warm spot with lamps made out of antlers and such.

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We definitely could use a spot to make delicious pancakes and where we perhaps burn the bacon and need to leave the fan in the window for about 15 minutes or so.

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A spot to continue playing chess, which I think we’ve finally figured out how to play, thanks to a great version called No Stress Chess.

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And maybe they need to go outside to play in the snow and jump off of buildings.

Like superheroes.

And because we weren’t THAT far away from the nearest medical facilities. I think.

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How about a spot where you can just bust out your sled or bury yourself in the snow at an any given moment?

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Sounds good to me, too.

Next post, I’ll show you how to ride through the forest in a two-horse open sleigh.

Yeehaw people.

January 3, 2015 : take 1, take 2, take 3.

so there i was, planning my next big move in checkers, and then this popped up across the table.

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funky face, take 1, total fail.

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i tried to shoo him away.

funky face, take 2, failed again.

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i think he has too much faith in that hat giving him funky face power or something.

because take 3, epic fail.

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