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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What camera should I buy?

I recently noticed that a lot of my free photography tutorials are getting dated. I'll be going through them and updating them over the next several months. At this point I've had over 1,000 students from all over the world, and if you have been in one of my classes you know how much I love passing on what I know and guiding photographers to take the photos they've always wanted. So stay tuned for some great photography advice!

That being said, Christmas is right around the corner. If you're anything like me, you've long ago given up trying to get your well-intentioned husband to read your gift-giving ESP. No longer do I drop hints or leave clues laying around about what I'd like to get for Christmas, my birthday, Mother's Day... (insert any gift-giving occasion of your choice here.) After over 25 years of marriage, I've learned to just tell him what I want. Better yet, I include specifics about size, color and style, and write it down. And even better yet, I send him an email or a text with a link to the order form page already filled out. Not romantic, I know, but so what works for us! And honestly, ladies, we are both much happier with it this way. In his busy days of providing for us, he is quite happy to know what gift he can get me that I really want, and get it done efficiently. It's a win win for us!

A little self promotion if I may - If you're interested in purchasing a gift certificate for either the upcoming Composition 101 class that starts in 1/8/2018 or the class that starts the journey, Manual 'n More starting 4/9/2018, as a Christmas gift for someone, or maybe your sweetie wants to get you a gift certificate using the above technique, just drop me an email at or comment AND LEAVE YOUR EMAIL address so I can contact you. Neither class has any prerequisites. Click HERE for more details of these classes.

First, there are some things you need to think about before you ask for a DSLR from Santa. Or perhaps you're thinking about just going out and buying one for yourself. It's a lot of money either way and something you should carefully consider either way. I don't necessarily recommend a DSLR for everyone, and the first thing I'm going to try and do is talk you out of it soyou don't waste your money! In order for a DSLR to function better than a good point-n-shoot, there definitely is a learning curve, and you'll need to invest your time learning how to use it. (I recommend the above mentioned Manual 'n More class for just this reason!) Many folks get a fancy new DSLT camera only to pull it out of the box, see all the buttons and numbers and quickly discover that learning how to use it beyond its auto mode is not as easy as they thought is would be. DSLRs are heavy and might not fit in your purse. And even worse they're kinda fragile and not something you want to let little Bobby play with. Not to mention that cell phones photos are getting better all the time. So it's worth figuring out for sure if a DSLR is going to do what you want it to do. I also recommend purchasing at least 1 lens, (a 35mm or 50mm) some editing software (I recommend Adobe's Lighroom) and expenses can keep going up from there. Photography can become an expensive hobby. And without this extra stuff, you might be limited with what types of photos you can create. But if you're willing to invest a little more money and time, then you will likely find it a rewarding investment that preserves your family's memories!

So did I talk you out of a DSLR? No? I hope not, 'cause really with a this camera you capture those amazing pictures of your children and family that you've been dreaming of! So let's get down to brass tacks and give you some specifics, complete with links 'cause I know how busy you are. By the way, this is not a professional review of any product. It's just my personal preferences based on my experiences. If you were my girlfriend and we were sitting here having coffee together, first we'd talk about our kids and cry a little. Then I'd tell you why I died my hair pink and how I'm considering botox. You'd tell me why ketogenic diets don't work for you 'cause you like carbs too much, and then you'd say Hey, sister girlfriend, what kind of camera should I get? And this is just what I'd tell you. So take it for what it's worth. And by the way, I'll take a grande, skinny. vanilla, iced latte made with unsweetened almond milk and a splash of heavy cream, please. I'll buy next week.

For first-time DSLR users, I'd recommend the Canon Rebel T7i like this one HERE or HERE. The T7i has 24.2mp and 45 cross-type focal points and starts at $749. (Don't give up on me yet. I'm going to show you how to save some money below, so keep reading.) My fist DSLR was an older model of this Rebel and opened up the world of digital photography for me! Canon's Rebel line is their entry-level DSLR. DSLRs usually come with a lens, but you'll notice that the models I linked didn't come with a lens. It may surprise you to hear that despite what that cute young guy at Best Buy is telling you, the kit lens that usually comes with this camera is not one that you're likely to continue to use if you continue your journey with photography. It's one that you're probably going to outgrow quickly if you're committed to developing your photography skills. And to me that's wasted money so I can't recommend it to my friend. If I could do it again, I'd buy a camera body and a separate lens that would grow with me, like this one and if I had a little extra money to spend this one. (More coming on lenses soon.)
But I want you to have options, and I know that the price of this hobby is adding up. If the price point of the T7i is too much, and you're willing to sacrifice a few improvements, I think it's okay to go back a model or 2 to save some money. The T6i starts at $504 also have 24.2 mp but only 19 cross-type focal points. Go back one more model to the T5i, which starts at $464, and you'll sacrifice resolution down to 18mp and only 9 cross-type focal points. And that's as far back as I recommend going. (And really I'm not done yet. There a way to save even more money below.) On the other end of the spectrum, if you're pretty sure that photography is going to be your thing and you can spend a little more, I'd recommend considering the Canon 6D Mark II which starts at $1,999 and is a

And PS - Click HERE to be taken to a great web site where you can plug in 2 camera models and compare their features side by side.
One of the very first photos I took with my Rebel of sweet Tess, 21 months old.
I was so excited to use it that I was still in bed and taking photos even before I got up1
And here's some really good news 'cause it get it. That's still expensive! You can usually find everything I mentioned above as a warranted refurbished item directly through Canon. If you're okay investing in refurbished equipment I definitely recommend looking into purchasing it directly from Canon HERE. For example that t7i I mentioned above is $150 less as a refurb, and the 2 lenses I linked are 25-30% less as refurbs. Canon's refurbished equipment comes with a 1-year limited warranty, and with the money you save you can save for another lens. Or invest in a photography class. Or a nifty strap... Almost every single item of photography equipment that I've bought, I've purchased refurbished, and I've never ever had an issue with even one single thing I've bought from Canon.

So there you have it. My very personal take on what camera you should buy just in case you're looking. And just so you know, I have nothing against Nikon. I'm a Canon gal only because the first big-girl SLR camera I bought in 1989, circa the stone age, was a Canon because the store was having a sale on Canons. Nikon is also a wonderful brand, but because I'm a Canon gal, I don't know nothin' bout birthin' no Nikon babies. Except that Canon and Nikon are are both worthy of your investment. In that light I also recommend that you look into Nikon's line of photography equipment.

PS - I have no affiliation with Canon. Canon has no idea who I am. Canon has never even sent me a birthday card or baked my family a casserole when I was sick. Nor does Amazon.
But I wish they did!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Progress Report: Ru 6 months home

Ru has been home for 6+ months now. 
***Prepare for cliche.***

In some ways it feels like he's always been here. And in other it feels like he just got here yesterday.
He fits in our family like a glove. Yet there are some he just can't seem to get along with.

But really, it's true. 
On growing... 
Ru has gained 2 lbs since coming home, bringing this gorgeous boy up to a whopping 44 pounds. Although he's probably going to be petite by American standards, it looks like eventually he's going to be the tallest of our Asian sweeties. (Sorry, Jude.) Kinda odd but not really he's also lost a couple pounds in the first few months after he joined our family. We think this is because he's likely moving his body and doing a lot more than he did in the orphanage, like learning to ride a bike, playing some-soccer-type-game with his brother and sisters, swimming, playing in the woods at the cabin... So after we thought about it a bit, maybe it's no so surprising that he's lost weight since he's been here. I think his body will figure out how much he needs to eat to accommodate this more active lifestyle with a bit more time. And yes, his physique is pretty beanpole-esque at the moment. He's currently taller than his not-twin, Mimi, but not quite up to Tess and Jude, which Jude is very relieved about. 

On being in a family...
Most time we think he gets it, the part where he knows he's staying forever, the part where your mama and papa are here to stay and never leaving you. That family sticks together and help each other out. That competition is okay but doesn't need to need to define who we are within the family. But sometimes little things don't click. Like yesterday when I found a backpack of things he had gathering to bring back for his Chinese friends when he returns. We're still learning more and more about him, like that he did have a foster family in China for about a year or so when he was around 4 years old. He was very happy there and I believe he was well cared for there. Ru beams when he seems the few pictures we have of his foster family. He doesn't understand why he couldn't stay with them, why he had to leave them. He asked me why. Those are hard questions to navigate, and I know it's things like this, that he's probably unknowingly wrestling with when it comes to staying here forever. His brothers and sisters are learning how to have a new brother too. Despite all we tried to prepare them for, it's not like they thought it would be, all fun and games. It's hard for them all. But with time and lots of work, we're seeing more play time between them with less misunderstandings and disagreements. Ru is definitely attached to Papa and me, along with Livy and Mimi. Strangely, after all the issues we had between Mimi and Ru in China, they seem to be the best sibling friends between the 4 younger kiddos. 

On China... 
Ru misses China. I know he loves his new life here, but he grew up in China for the first 7 years of his life so of course he misses it. It might be more accurate to say he misses Chinese food and the predictability of his life there, but the way things were going for him in China... well I don't think that's not something he necessarily misses. When Ru first came home Papa and I made a very purposeful effort to expose Ru to Chinese people and thusly native Cantonese (and Mandarin since he was bilingual) speakers. Ru made it very clear by either burying his face in my side or looking elsewhere, silently, like a deer in the headlights till the person would give up trying to talk to him, that he wanted nothing to do with interacting with the Chinese language. And as sad as that is, it's okay too. So Papa and I stopped trying to get him to speak or interact in Chinese. We've since learned about some really tough stuff that sweet Ru was going through in China. Some of these hard things are because China is China and it's far different than our American culture. And some of the hard stuff is due to the fact that an orphanage is really not a great place to grow up in. Now don't get me wrong, despite the tough stuff he wants to return to China soon, like tomorrow or next month at a minimum, (and we absolutely will take him there although not on his timeline) but he knows it's only for a visit to see his home and friends again. And that is a very good sign that we are on our way to a being a firmly attached as a family. 

On school...
Our decision to bump Ru down a grade, essentially repeating 1st grade, looks like it was the right one for him. His current first grade teacher, Mrs. M, who was also Mimi's teacher, is amazing, so good to Ru and really loves him. Sometimes God puts just the right people in the right place at the right time, and I think this is the case with Mrs. M! Ru is doing pretty well in all subjects. He can get a little down when it comes to reading and English. It's tough when the other kids know stuff he just hasn't figured out yet, especially seeing as how he had never been introduced to the whole concept of phonetics until this August. And when it comes to numbers this kid is a whiz! It's where he shines! We were coincidentally lucky that there are 6 brand new English speakers in Ru's grade level alone, and the school district hired a teacher just for them. So Ru goes to "English class" with these children for 1 hour, 4 days a week, and he's rockin' the English class too! One more thing, Ru is a ridiculously amazing at memorizing, which if I think about it, isn't hard to believe since he was knee-deep into learning to read and write in Chinese when we got him, which is essentially all memorization. Sometimes this even hinders his progress, but most of the time it's a wonderful skill! At this point, 6 months in, we're pretty sure he's forgotten most of his Chinese language which is how it works for kiddos that are immersed entirely into a new language. That breaks my heart, but it is what it is. 
On his special needs... 
If you've been around here a while you may have noticed the scaring on Ru's arm, (and abdomen) the results of 6 surgeries he had in China, and don't get me started on my son having 6 surgeries without a mama sitting by his side 'cause I just don't have enough tissues to get through it right now. As suspected, the appointments confirmed that Ru has a life-long vascular disorder. The disorder is something that currently is not "active" and not presenting any problems. It has been like that for the last 2 1/2 years. But eventually, it will become "active" and need attention, and that's what we want to be ready for. Since coming home, Ru has had an MRI in August, and we have visited with a couple specialists. The disorder that Ru has is rare and complex enough that we get to have a whole team of doctors that we will meet with in December to get a more. After taking with the specialists we think the team will come up with a wait-and-see approach, continuing to monitor him until something flares up, and with his disorder we are told to expect something to come up even couple of years-ish for the rest of his life. Until that time, with the exception of curious children who notice his scars, Ru is just like every other little boy and takes no medications and has no limitations, which is exactly what we were hoping and praying for.  

On the hard stuff... 
Yeah there's hard stuff too. The awful temper tantrums that started in China, the ones that were like screaming and rolling around in public parking lot at the doctor's office causing folks to call the police to make sure we weren't torturing the poor child... and yeah that happened...  are pretty non existent now. Thank you, Lord! And in it's place Ru has found other ways to persuade others to give him his way. Like yelling. Or bursting into tears. Or ignoring you altogether. Or threatening other people with frying pans. And of course those things need to be dealt with too. The biggest challenge we face right now is Tess, Jude and Ru learning how to balance all this new-ness of each other and still come together as a family. Despite all we taught them ahead of time, it's not nearly as easy as Tess and Jude thought it would be. Yes they argue and squabble like sibling do, and that type of stuff is okay and very much a part of family. But above and beyond that there are some very real power struggles going on here, unfair fighting, (thankfully nothing too physical) and that's the type of stuff we work a lot on these days so that nobody comes out on the bottom. The good news is that good golly do they all want to be friends so badly and they are persistent at trying despite the challenges. Re this, I'm getting better. I'm not there yet, but that's still okay and . This plopping a 7 year old into a family is a big deal and takes time at the least. 

Would I change any of it? No. Not even 1 tiny little bit. Ru is an amazing! He's a brave and tough little boy. He has been blessed with a wonderful glass-half-full personality, and I think that's part of why he is so happy despite the tough stuff he's gone through in his short life. He hugs and kisses and takes on his new life with gusto. Ru has made our family fuller, brighter and better. He makes me reaccess what's really important in my privileged life. He makes me slow down and be more intentional and try to be the best mom I know how. 

And I pray every day, that at least for Ru's sake, I can.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

For the love of all things holy please don't say he's lucky

I'm not into being PR with adoption lingo. Really I'm not. We've gotten a lot of insensitive questions from folks who in the end aren't trying to hurt anyone's feelings or step on toes. They're just curious. And I get being curious, especially if it's someone who is considering adoption and wants a personal take on the matter. But my kids are old enough now that I don't feel the need to share their story with strangers in the check-out line of Target. Or Walgreen's. Or the doctor's office. Or at the baseball field. Or grocery store. Or church. Or at the park... because sometimes curious people ask insensitive questions everywhere. After all, it's my children's story to share, not mine. And truth be told they probably don't want to share it with random strangers either. So it happens, and I have my ways of saying nicely, Ya, we don't really want to talk about that. It doesn't really bother me. It comes with the territory of having a family that looks different.

But there's this one statement that makes me cringe.
He's so lucky to have you!
Please, for the love of all adopted children and their families everywhere, please do not say how lucky our son is. Or our daughter. Please do not say how lucky any adopted child is.
Because, putting it simply, they aren't. They aren't lucky at all. Adoption is born out of pain and loss, and because of this they are very unlucky to say the least. And at least once, and maybe more than once, they've lost everything they hold dear. Their mom and dad. Their culture. Their care givers. Their home. Their language and food and heritage. The only family they've ever known. They've been torn (usually) in an instant from everything familiar with NO say in the matter, and put under the care of strangers... forever. Sometimes they were left in boxes, all alone, sometimes in the cold, for someone to (hopefully) find them. Sometimes the only person they counted on walked away. Sometimes they were in pain or hungry... more than any child should be. Sometimes they had medical needs that didn't get addressed. Sometimes they needed someone and nobody was there. It's very possible that they were taken away on trains, buses, vans or on foot from everything they ever knew with nothing more than their DNA, name, ethnicity and the clothing on their backs. And sadly it's very likely that all this happened to them more than once.
And all of that is far from lucky.

Now if you did say it, I know you probably didn't mean it that way. I know you likely meant the way things turned out in the end after all that loss and trauma happened was lucky. But my son probably didn't hear it that way and to be frank neither did I. He heard you say (rightly or wrongly) that he's lucky to have gone through all that. And for the record it's not lucky. The end result was the result of a lot of hard and intentional work.

I love my son something fierce, and I wish more than anything that he didn't have to endure this history of trauma and loss. I wish he could have been loved on by his first mama forever and been raised in his homeland full of people that look just like him. You know, "his people." But for unknown circumstances, that didn't happen, and he wasn't. And no amount of praying or counseling can take that away. And still none of this is lucky.

So again, please don't say our son is lucky, because even though he can't articulate this, it's kinda like asking him to ignore the magnitude of what he has lost, like it just didn't matter. It's like the end justifies the means, but of course it doesn't. His losses are gigantic and do matter in the short term and the long. They affect who he is and who he is going to become. They affect the type of friend he is and the type of husband and father he is going to be. The losses affect how he sees the world and who he is within it. And I think we'd both agree that negating the past doesn't erase its consequences. That's just not helpful or fair to him.

In the end, just the opposite is so true.
We are the lucky one's that have been entrusted to raise this amazing boy, including every part of the past that has molded him into who he is, as our son. We are lucky and blessed to see him grow up into a teenager and eventually a man of his own. We are the lucky ones that get to teach him how to ride a bike and teach him how to treat a girl and drive a car. We are blessed to feel his hand in ours and take a walk by his side. We're lucky to receive a stick-figure drawing and feel the weight of his body as he falls asleep next to mine. We are so ridiculously lucky to be the ones to hug him when he scrapes a knee and be his safety net when he falls.
And we are the lucky ones that get to wipe his tears when he feels the reality of his past.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Holiday Gift Lists (Please help!)

I have purely egocentric motives.
It's a poorly kept secret that Christmas is not my favorite holiday. It's so much hype and expectations for a mom, and I always feel like I'm cramming in so much in with little intention behind it at best, and failing their expectations at worst. So here it is, only the beginning of November, and I'm already getting stressed out about the Christmas. So in the midst of the anxiety I was building up about it, I had this idea that maybe part of my problems is that I put things off until I can't any more, and then of course I'm about ready to rip out the eyeballs of anyone who stands in my way to get it done. And getting all that done last minute is ridiculous. Ya, that's the spirit... eyeball ripping. #MomFail moments in the making for sure.

So this year I'm trying very hard to get the gift giving portion of the holidays done by Thanksgiving, leaving me time to really be attentive and give my full attention to my family during the season. So far I'm off to a fabulous start, like I haven't purchased a single thing yet! Likely 'cause I don't have a clue what to get anyone and when I think about it stress comes on. So that's where I'm asking for your help, and in turn I'm hoping that we can all help each other out! And that's where YOU can PRETTY PLEASE head on over and get some gift-giving ideas for yourself too! It's a win win, right?

On my Facebook page I've posted 4 holiday gift suggestion lists:
TOYS-ages 4-10

Would you PLEASE head over there and add to these lists of suggestions in these categories? (We desperately need more for teens/tweens. Those kiddos are hard to shop for!) There are some wonderful suggestions already! Some I've heard about and forgotten. Some I've never heard of. Several I'm going to purchase to ease my stress level! But let me tell you that already there are so many fabulous tried and true ideas from moms themselves! And the bonus is that there's link with most all of them, so all you have to do it click! (and no, I don't get anything from this. I just want to help a fellow mama out!) And while you're there you can get some great ideas for your own holiday shopping too!

I'm planning on adding a MEN/DUDE list soon. So stay tuned for more ideas as the lists grow and please contribute so we can help each other out! If you have an idea for another list you'd like to see I'm all ears!

Thank you in advance for helping me out. For helping us all out!

Friday, November 3, 2017

$20 well spent

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have (or maybe not due to Facebook's pesky algorithm) read my following post in early October...
I may have had a stroke of genius! I offered to to all our younger kiddos, that if any one would choose to dig through the closet and wear a costume from a previous year, I'd give them $5 to spend anyway they chose! Some jumped at the chance and others pondered it carefully. In the end I am out $20 and the stress of costume shopping! And the kids couldn't be happier! I'm feeling a bit guilty... but not that much. #momfail?
I posted this right after right I was starting to fully appreciate that I hadn't even started thinking about Halloween costumes for the kiddos.

Well, here they are! 
Ru's costume was Tess's last year. Tess's was Boo's many many years ago. Jude opted for his regular ol' baseball uniform. And Mimi put together some ensemble that that revolved around her beloved cat ears that she already wears every day. We needed to purchase Tess a hat for her firefighter. And Mimi really wanted a tail to go with her cat ears. And that's all we spent... well that and the $20 bribery.
The trick-o-treating was a huge success. Halloween rule #1 is that as soon as the candy bag is too heavy for the kiddos to carry, we head home. And at about 90 minutes later the kids kinda came to a joint consensus that they wanted to go home and start consuming their booty. 

Rule #2 at our house is that kids can consume as much candy as they want the night of Halloween, but after October 31st, all candy goes in a communal bowl that is shared with the family. The kiddos are then limited to 1 piece per day, (which they pack in their school lunch) and in about 1-2 weeks somehow all that candy disappears somewhere to never be found again. Sometimes we blame the dog. The dog doesn't seem to mind. 
There were no regrets from the kids at all in the recycling of the costumes. Most of them spent their $5 on a special souvenir when we were on our recent family road trip. In the end I think it worked out for everyone. I feel so so good about the funds that weren't spent and the kids really enjoyed the holiday. I'm not sure  that this negotiation is something we could do every year, but honestly with 20 years of Halloweens under our belt and a mama that's really bad of getting rid of stuff, we still have a lot of choices available for next year. So who knows!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wordless Pumpkin Carving

Monday, October 30, 2017

Zombie fun is support of a great cause!

For the last few years our family has participated is a "zombie walk" in support of hemophilia research and the Arizona Hemophilia Association. 
It takes place at night, because, duh... zombies are a night thing. So it's hard for me to bring my camera, 'cause 1-zombies hardly ever carry their big-girl camera around with them. And 2-it's dark, and pics are hard to take in the dark. That whole photos-need-light-to-happen thing is really hindering. 
But I did take my camera and there were a LOT of miserable fails. But I am so glad I did take it because it was a fun event for us and we had some wonderful family fun that I was able to capture!
Livy was in charge of... well all of it. Because frankly I'm busy shuttling small people to and from activities and making food and such. Really, you all need a Livy in your family! For the last couple weeks she's been getting flannels from Goodwill and deconstructing them. Cause I've been told zombies like flannel. Then she also did all our hair and make up too. Really, we are the luckiest ever to have her do this for
And at one point I was even able to hand off the camera to Tess *gulp* and she was able to take some pics with me in them! Which is a point scored for Operation get in front of the lens more often!
So maybe you're scratching your head about taking Ru to this event. We really considered it, and we decided to talk with him about it and why we do it. And really, this may be hard to believe but this event really is a family event. There's a band and dancing and hot dogs and games for the kids with lots of families there. It's a fund/awareness raiser after all for special needs, and special needs is something we really get around here. Ru seemed to really get all that and still wanted to go. The whole Halloween is part scary, is a talk we'd already had with him (all of them really) since there's no getting around it in our culture. But in the end he wanted to go and we decided that if he wanted to leave at any time we would, but he didn't and we all had a great time pretending.
Happy Halloween, all!

I hope you're little princesses, superheroes and even a zombie or 2 get lots of candy! To which I let them eat as much as they want on that first night! After 10/31 the candy is limited to 1 piece a day (usually packed in their school lunch) until sometime in week 2 when it strangely disappears... and we'll blame the dog for that one.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Let the journey be the destination

Forgive the late pics of the recent roadtrip, but I gotta get our time documented.

You know one thing that really made the whole road trip with kids thing work? LOTS of breaks from riding in the car. Some of the breaks were planned and other weren't. Some, like this one, we were doing 60 down the road and saw a sign and decided to stretch our legs a little.

This is La Ventana Natural Arch: El Malpais National Monument, really how crazy awesome is it that we didn't just go flying by at 60mph! 
The kids see mama snapping pics and of course our little budding photographers need to snap some of their own with their tablets! 
And one of us may have been a little bit grumpy with all that driving and all.
And this last pic is another one for the I shot this from out the car window doing 60mph series. 
I will say, along with a lot of other stuff, New Mexico does have the most amazing skies! 

Notes to self... 
Stop more often during road trips. 
Don't be in such a hurry to get there. 
Let the journey be the destination. 

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