slide show

Sunday, September 30, 2012

In the blink of an eye

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm
ISO 500, f/3.2, 1/500 sec
post processed in Lightroom 4, One Willow presets
Livy had her girlfriends over to get ready for their homecoming dance.  
Watching them get ready simultaneously took me back to being 16 years old (circa the stone age) and reminds me how time decades fly by in the blink of an eye. 
Unlike my days of getting ready for the homecoming dance, there were no hoop skirts or wrist corsages. 
But there is still the constant chatter between the girls of makeup and hair and shoes. . .  
. . .  and boys of course.

And before I judged those boys too harshly, Papa reminded me that he was the one of those boys that I chattered about before the homecoming dance all those years ago.
28 years ago to be specific.

Ni Hao Yall

Friday, September 28, 2012

Photography 101 {setting your white balance}

White balance is the process of correcting or removing color casts in a photo so that colors appear true-to-life and accurate.  The human eye is very good at doing this naturally, so you may not even notice the colors that come off different light sources.  But digital cameras aren't as good at it.  If you don't correct for white balance, or if you have your camera's white balance incorrectly set, you may find your photos tinted yellow, blue, green, or orange. Not a good thing.

Keeping it simple, and in my opinion, I only change my camera's white balance if it's an obvious situation that has a strong color cast.
This photo is from a student I mentored.  The photo was taken indoors, under artificial light, and ended up tinted yellow-ish before correction.  After correction, the food is a much more accurate and realistic color.
For most situations, my camera's AWB (Auto-White-Balance) mode is good enough, and correcting during post-processing is usually pretty fast and easy. So I only change my white balance setting in my camera when it's a obvious issue. But occasionally I will find myself in a situation that has a strong color cast that will tint my photos an unnatural color. Keep in mind, sometimes this strong color cast is NOT visible with the human eye.

Examples of situations that I would change my color balance in camera before I took any photos are
---in a restaurant or office building
---in a school gymnasium
---in a classroom or cafeteria  
---a little league baseball or soccer game at night under those bright powerful lights  
---in our own home in the evening (no natural light coming in windows) but lamp and overhead lights 
---any indoor lighting that is either all incandescent (regular ol' light bulbs) or fluorescent light

Setting your color balance in camera is pretty quick and easy. So if you find yourself in a situation that you know has a strong color cast, here are the steps to setting the white balance in your camera before you take photos. (These steps are for a Canon camera. Depending on your model you might have to tweak these directions a bit. If you own a Nikon, it's a similar process, but you might want to get your manual out if you can't figure it out.) 

You can adjust your camera's white balance in manual or any of the semi-manual modes, (P, Tv, Av, M, or A-DEP modes)

First, press the "quick control" button on the back of your camera that displays and allows you to change your settings.  

Then select the "White Balance Icon."  This button will be showing whatever setting your white balance is currently on, so it may look different, but will be in the same place each time you look for it.  If your camera is set on auto white balance, it will read "AWB" on the LCD screen.
After you press the "quick control" button of the back of your camera, this is the screen that will appear.  Look for the place to select your white balance.  In this camera, a Canon Rebel T3i, it is almost in the middle of the screen.  
Several white balance options will pop up represented by little pictures, including sunshine, shade, cloudy, and florescent light.  Toggle through the options and select the one that matches your surroundings.
Your camera may have more or less choices for color balance. Personally, I use the AWB all most all the time.
If I change it, it is almost always only changed to  incandescent, (the light bulb) or florescent (the rectangular light thingy) settings.
Lastly, press "set." And that's it! After you get used to where everything is, it'll take you about about 5 seconds to set.  

Some Canons have a dedicated white balance button on the back that allow you to go directly to step #3.  

This is a Canon Rebel T3i.  If you have a dedicated white balance button, it may be in a different place. Look for a button that says "WB," or look through your camera's manual to find out if your camera has one.  
And just a little warning . . .  if you change the white balance in your camera be sure to change it back to AWB (Auto-White-Balance) mode when you are done! Or you will get some awfully tinted photos (and not in a good way) the next time you take photos.  
Been there, done that.

A short recap for easy-peasy setting the white balance in your camera-
1--press the "quick control" button 
2--select the "White Balance Icon"
3--select the proper white balance setting, and push "set"

Holler if you have any quesitons.  I'm glad to help you.  
The new poll is over there on the right.  Vote for the next topic.  You can even vote once per day if you really have something you want to see.  

Tune in Monday! A super-duper big announcement on October 1st! I'm gonna give 'er a go and never regret not trying.
(I can't believe I actually put that in print!  I'm committed now!)
I'm so amazingly excited!

Photography 101

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tips-n-Tricks {cold and lazy Susan}

If I lived alone, I'd likely be the anal retentive type with all the hangers color-coded and evenly spaced in my closet.  Y'all would likely have to have an intervention, and I may or may not have cats.  
But I live with an army of little people who have a mission to make us all live in noise, chaos and crayon artwork . . .  and unevenly spaced hangers. It's really a good thing.   
But I still embrace my organized self when ever I can!

Here is a little tip that someone told me about years ago that changed my LIFE! Ok, maybe it didn't change my life, but it sure did change my refrigerator.  And that makes m├╝ber happy!

It's simple really. No drum roll needed. 
I put a lazy Susan in our fridge.   
Keepin' it real, this pic was taken just after we returned home from a trip.  I got to the store and bought some eggs and fruit. It usually isn't this clean. and yes, that is 3 dozen eggs in there. We plow through eggs regularly.  I'm also embarrassed to say I count at least 3 mustards that we do not plow through. 
You know all those little jars and bottles in the back corners of your fridge? The ones hiding in the dark corners that you're likely to forget about for say a year or a decade? The capers, the martini olives, the jar of hot sauce Uncle Weldon gave you last 4th of July?  Worcestershire sauce?  Chutney?  Rough deli mustard?  Chili sauce and frosting? A second bottle of ketchup your not sure why someone opened up where there's a perfectly good one already in use?  

I could go on and on because all we all have an over-abundance of stuff in our refrigerator that we don't use all that often and take up valuable space. Admit it. You don't have a clue what's back there, right? There are lots of little (and not so little) bottles of stuff in the back of the fridge, and there's never enough room in the shelves on the doors. 
Frosting, cottage cheese, peanut butter, more frosting . . . 
Hello Hershey's chocolate syrup hiding in the back!  I see you, my love! 
So I measured the depth of my refrigerator shelf and went to one of those fancy schmancy "organizing" stores where they had a larger selection of lazy Susans. I bought the biggest one that would fit in my fridge.
And let me tell you, a lazy Susan in your fridge is divine! Now I can see everything with a turn, and I know nothing is hiding or lost in the back corner of our refrigerator!
. . .  a flick of the wrist reveals a half-eaten jar of olives, chili sauce, yogurt, and the remains of homemade dill pickles!
At first I thought a lazy Susan would take up too much room, and I'd have less space than before.  But no, not true! Nothing gets lost in the corners of my fridge, and I either use stuff, toss it out, or know what is available for future use. Hubby fought me when I first mentioned it, thinking it was silly and overkill. But now we both love it. It's nothing major. But the cold and lazy Susan makes things run a bit more smoothly, and with an army of little people running around, that's a good thing indeed!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption,

I see you.
And my children see you watching them.

I totally get it. You see, I used to be just like you! I'd see a family that looked a bit... hmmmmm... what's the right way to put this... mixed.  Not all the colors match up. The body shapes, skin tones, and/or hair and eye colors didn't all go together, and it was obvious that there was more than one baby mama going on.  And like you, I wanted to know more about adoption! I wanted to know the story, the how comes and the whys, the little and big details because I was considering taking this big leap of faith called adoption. I was thinking I wanted to adopt a child, and add a child to our family in this unconventional way. I wanted to get more information and a first-hand account of what it's like! And like you, I may have not known a good way to approach a total stranger in the check out line of Target. So I often just stared, and smiled, and thought about the right way to say something.  Sound familiar?

So before I tell you the way I'd like to be approached, here are some tidbits of information to please consider before you say anything.

This may not be a good time for me to talk. We are in Target after all. I just wrangled 3 young kiddos through shopping, each of whom did their best to persuade me that they must have Every. Single. Thing. that we passed. I am now simultaneously juggling my car keys, my debit card, several bags, my purse, a sippy cup, a baggie of goldfish crumbs, and a two-year-old who wants no part of sitting down in the cart. I'm also trying hard to distract a 5 year old from having a temper tantrum over gum that I will not buy, and redirect another child who is trying to engage a total stranger to push her "Fire Dog button." I can't seem to remember the code for my new debit card.  And I might be 30 minutes late to my next appointment that I haven't remembered I even have yet.  
So now might not be a good time for me to talk.  
And that's ok.  

If it is a good time for me to talk, and even if I really want to share adoption information with you, my children may not want me to talk to you, especially if they are old enough to understand what we are talking about. I'm sure you'll understand that what is best for my children trumps absolutely every single good thing that we could talk about or any information that you may take away from our conversation. Anything I'd like to say or anything that you'd like to know pales in comparison to what is best for my child! You see, my kiddos, especially as they've gotten older, don't want to stick out in a crowd. They want to blend in. And as you've already noticed, they don't come by that "blending in" thing easily. As they get older, they probably don't want to be talked about especially in reference to how they are different. They already look different from their parents and community, and often all they want to do is to look the same when they obviously can't. They don't want to be anyone's child that was adopted or a topic of conversation. They just want to be plain ol' children in the checkout line of Target. So I may not talk to you because my child is in earshot and/or has no desire to be the poster child for any cause. Albeit a truly wonderful cause.  

I am not a saint. I have not "saved" anyone. I am not in the saving business as that is only for God. I simply wanted a child to call my own and to be his mama. I am not a better woman than any other mother that wanted a child. I have awful moments. I yell. I lose my patience. I do things I regret. I don't actually know what I'm doing most of the time and have become a master at "winging it."  I'm just doing the best I can.  

My children are not lucky for being adopted, so please don't say they are.  They are not lucky to have been adopted, to be adopted by us and in our family, or to be United State's citizens.  Children from adoption have already endured heart-breaking loss, including the loss of their first families, and often the additional loss of the their language, culture, and their heritage. And they have often lost the ability to blend in with their family when they are in at the the checkout line of Target. These are facts that make them far from lucky.

If you want information on the specifics of how to adopt a child, I am not a good source of information. The process of adoption continually changes, as do different types of adoption, and the specific processes from various countries. If you want hard facts, you would do much better to do research online and call an adoption agency (or two or three or more of them) and get information from them.  
If however you are looking for a first-hand account of what it's like from a mother's perspective to adopt a child, (or a child with a special need, or a child of a different race) then I would be able to tell you about this.  But you may be surprised at the answer . . .  because it's really short.  
It's not really any different that than being a mama to any child.  

Do not ask for the details of my child's past. Do not educate us on the horrific effects of China's one-child policy. . .  even if you whisper. Do not ask how much our child costs. Do not ask about his orphanage or his first mom. Do not ask about her "real" family, if we know them, and why they did not "keep" her. Do not ask if she knew her mom or how she came to be adopted. These details, if known, are precious to my child and are her information to keep a secret especially from strangers if she desires. Also know that this information is incredibly sensitive to her. Just as you don't want to share the intimate details of your life or marriage or the most difficult gut-wrenching times in your past with strangers, my child does not want you to ask him questions about it or want me discuss it with you either, especially in the checkout line of Target.

Please understand if I correct some of the terms and/or phrases you use. I am not trying to hurt your feelings, and I really do know that your questions are well meaning.  But even so, words can be offensive and hurtful, and this is a wonderful opportunity to help us all use better terms and phrases that help children grow in a healthier and more considerate community.
I am their real mom.
They really are brother and sister. 
All my children, regardless of how they came to our family, are our own. 
Please refer to them simply as children, not adopted children or children that have been adopted.    
My children are from Scottsdale, Arizona.  Yes, I know that's not what you meant, but that is where they are from.

Now, like I said before, I used to be you, and I too really wanted a first-hand account of what it's like to adopt and raise a child that didn't grow within my womb. But I was often at a loss for the best words on how to start the conversation and certainly didn't want to say the wrong thing or at the wrong time. I totally understand your thirst for information. I think most (but certainly not all, and that's ok too) parents who have adopted, given the right setting, are willing to share their first-hand experiences if you have good intentions.

So in hind sight, I recommend saying something like this.  
1--State your intent.  "I'm in the process of adopting a child..." or "I've always wanted to adopt."
2--Then follow it up in the same breath by opening the door of conversation a tiny bit with something like, "I've always wanted to know more about the process.  Could you tell me where I could get more information?" or "Is your daughter Chinese?" or "You have a beautiful family!"

Then see what type of response you get back. Like I said, I saw you looking at us, and I already know what you're digging for even before you said anything. So after you state your intent and open the door a bit, you'll get the idea pretty quickly if now is a good time or not for me to engage in adoption conversation.  
And if it's not a good time, perhaps I avoid eye contact, or my answer is short or curt, please don't be offended. It just may not be the right time and/or place for such a discussion.
Please understand that first and foremost I always have the very best the interest of my children at heart.  

So thank you, random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption.  Thank you for listening.  
I knew you'd understand.


***please feel free to insert any of the following
random stranger at Walmart
random stranger at the produce section of the grocery store
random stranger as we order our sandwiches at Subway
random stranger in the pew behind us at church
random stranger sitting next to me in the waiting room of the pediatrician's office
the mom of the my son's new friend at preschool
our neighbor that we only see at Halloween and when she's walking her dog
the teller that I see every single time I go to the bank who has friend from high school who just adopted a little girl from China too
the entire extended family that was leaving The Olive Garden as we were being seated
the receptionist at the orthodontist that thinks she knows our family so well, but really do you?
my sister-in-law's colleague that is currently having infertility issues that I just met at a baby shower
Uncle Weldon's new "lady friend" that I was recently introduced to who did a mission trip to the Philippians in the 1980's and is joining us for Thanksgiving dinner 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

To Catch a Thief

Canon 5D Mark II, 85mm prime, clean edit with Lightroom 4
PSE10 and a few layers of texture from Kim Klassen and Florabella
ISO 500, 85mm, f/3.2, 1/320 sec

I've said many times that I am far from creative.  I am however a thief and love love love to look for inspiration anywhere I can steal find it.  I was thinking about that famous National Geographic image of the young Afganistan woman and decided to try my hand at replicating it.  

Tess has an amazing ability to morph in to almost any ethnicity depending on her surroundings. Often we find ourselves shopping in Mexican grocery stores, and she blends right in to the little brown children running around . . .  so much so that a few times someone has spoken Spanish to her only to be met with either a blank stare or a growl from Fire Dog.  

I wanted to see if I could replicate this photo somewhat, or at least consider it for inspiration.  Livy has this great blue scarf that we used.  And there always has been something about Tess's eyes that have a way of burrowing in my soul . . .  like she's trying to convey the most important things about life to me through her gaze. These are the images we came up with. I'm far from picking a favorite. You'll have to let me know which ones you like.  
And just a tidbit
After school she was standing on an ottoman jumping up and down. I told her to get down so she wouldn't get hurt.  {Don't miss in this little anecdote that one of the most important things that happened is that Tess did get down without a scene.  No screaming, or saying she wanted a new mama, or curing up into a ball somewhere, or breaking something.} She got down and she still had that infectious smile on her face.  I asked her to come see me. She bounded over and got about 6 inches from my face.

Tess, when I told you to get down and you did it without crying or getting angry, that was very good. Thank you so much!
    ---I love you mama!
I love you too, Tess!
    ---I'm so happy!
Yes, I can see that.  And when you're happy, it makes me happy too.  
    ---Because we're family and that means we will always be together.  We will never leave.  
Yes, Tess, I'm not going anywhere . . .  ever.  

Oh if I could just read the rest of what is behind those eyes.  There are volumes behind them, and she is processing so much these days.
Ni Hao Yall

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In attempt to capture the plain-ol'-ness that we are

{please ignore the fact that the pics on the wall are crooked}
{please ignore that we do not have enough chairs around our table anymore and have to ad-lib}
{please sweet Liv, you sat next to me this morn, and I missed you.  Forgive me}

this is breakfast.
Monday through Friday
come rain or shine...
...we have breakfast together around the table.

We strongly believe in the importance of family gathering around the table each evening for dinner. We know how important it is and what it does for us as a family. We believe in it so much that we start off our day the same way too.  

Even if you're a college student and don't have a class till noon, we still highly suggest that you be there.  
Today was plumbs, scrambled eggs, and milk.  
A couple kiddos also added cereal and toast.
Care for a little Fire Dog at 6:35 am?
Gotta love toddler morning hair!
Duck face!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The empty chair

Anyone remember the empty chair from our Christmas picture last year?
It's full now!
Same location and same chair.  I found this chair in my great grandmother's home a several decades after she had passed away.  Our sweet girl was not going to smile on this day!
6 months ago, our plane landed, and we finally united our family with our sweet, amazingly wonderful, new daughter!
We became a family of 9, March 17, 2012. 
(I still have a hard time believing that I have 7 sweeties! It makes me feel so amazingly blessed . . .  and a little tired.)
On that day, all the children were so excited to shower Mimi with kisses and hugs and toys and attention . . .  and that hasn't really changed one bit! She's quite doted upon and adored!
Happy 6 months with us sweet Mimi Jade!
It's so much better than I could have ever imagined!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Family Faves {easy-peasy, super fast and yummy cupcakes in 5 minutes}

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm, post processed in Lightroom 4
ISO 1000, 45mm, f/3.2, 1/200 sec
A depart from my normal kid pics, I've been really drawn to food photography these days.  We've had a slew of birthdays in our family, each with their own requested flavor cupcakes.  And the best part is that cupcakes rarely run off when you ask to take photos of them, and they always smile too.  I do love the way there is a bit of bokeh in the background and the chocolate look so yummy!

These are s'more cupcakes from Boo's birthday. For weeks he had been reminding me that he wanted s'more cupcakes. Again, I wasn't sure what that really was, but I like the making him happy on his special day, so I hopped on Pinterest for some idea. I topped yellow cake cupcakes with chocolate frosting, mashmallow topping, a few marshmallows, and one chunk each of chocolate and graham cracker.    Later Boo said to me, "When I think of you mom, I think of someone who can make normal cupcakes in to amazing superpendous birthday cupcakes!"  Sigh!  I love my boy!  He makes being mama so  superpendous!

We're not really a birthday cake kind of family.  In our home, cakes tend to get stale before they get eaten, so I have little enthusiasm to make them.  Birthdays usually find us eating cupcakes. And I've discovered a trick to making cupcakes totally do-able for my busy schedule.  This is a fast and easy cupcake recipe that makes moist yummy cupcakes.  And to be frank, there's nothing special about it, except that it gives me the time to have fun decorating the cupcakes on the kiddo's birthdays and that is the part that I like to do most and the part that makes each child feel a little more special on his/her birthday!  

I make the cupcakes 1-3 days ahead of time and store them in an air-tight container.  Then I decorate them on the day of their birthday.  
So this is the base recipe. From here, depending on the "flavor" the birthday sweetie asks for, I might add something else in the batter.  Then I have fun with frosting and/or decorating them on their actual birthday.  But the main thing here is that this recipe is super fast and easy and makes good cupcakes!
Ignore the sprinkles and pudding mix.  This was actually for Tess's cupcakes the week prior.
But it gives you the idea of how few ingredients there are.
Easy-Peasy, Super Fast and Yummy Cupcakes in 5 minutes

1 box of cake mix any flavor (but I really only use yellow or chocolate)
1 stick of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 c water

Mix in a mixing bowl. 
Fill muffin pan, lined with cupcake paper, 2/3 of the way up.
Bake 350 degrees for 20 min.  (convection 17 minutes)

Some tips to make them even easier and yummier---
I usually use cupcake papers, but if I'm out, which happens frequently, I just spray the muffin pan with oil.
Use an ice cream scoop to fill each muffin hole. One scoop is just the right amount for a cupcake and let's the kids help out more easily. 
Don't over cook cupcakes to keep them moist. Pull them out of the oven as soon as the knife comes out clean to avoid them being dry.

Linking up today with Sunday Snapshot, The Simple Things, Sunday Slice, Sunday Roundup, Heavenly Treats Sunday,

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