20
Aug

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos of Children

by Tiffany in Children

I am not a professional photographer but I do love to take photos. I especially love taking pictures of my kids. In fact they were what motivated me to buy a DSLR camera. I wanted more professional looking photos (as opposed to candids) but I didn’t have the money to be hiring a photographer several times a year for important events and portraits. It seemed a no brainer to buy a decent but low end digital camera, purchase a few lenses (off-brand), and then learn a trick or two until I could take photos I would proudly hang on my walls. And I do hang canvas photos of my kids throughout our home. When we have guests I often get comments about the gorgeous “professional” photos.

The best photos tell a story and they give the viewer a glimpse of the child’s unique personality. By getting creative with poses, settings, lighting, and background you give your boring photos some pizazz and create something worthy of being framed or set on canvas and then proudly displayed. You are also helping to document a child’s life. Years from now they can look back at the photos you have taken and see a visual storybook that shares the very essence of the little people they were and the unique person they grew up to be. Photos tell stories… they tell the story of the first day of school, the story of their one and only fifth birthday, and the story of their first school dance. More than just capturing the moment, your photos should give insight into the actual person being photographed and what was being felt at the moment you clicked your camera. What stories do your photos tell? I hope they tell great ones! This post has lots of tips for helping the amateur or hobbyist photographer take better photos of children.

1. Crop Your Photos

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos of Children

Many pictures we take of our kids end up being less than stellar because of the background. Perhaps you have a messy room, a cluttered kitchen, or a big tree overpowering your photo. One way to avoid this is to frame the picture in such a way that the area behind your child is free of clutter and then crop the photo to hone in on the subject alone. Or perhaps you want the subject of the photo to be an amazing smile or some other feature of your child and you want to isolate that in the photo. Simply crop the photo to show only what you want to show. Easy!

This particular photo was taken in my backyard. I wanted to frame my daughter’s angelic face and clutched hands and make them the focus of the shot so I cropped out the rest of the photo.

#2 The Rule of Thirds

Adorable young boy

Most newbie photographers like to center their subject but one of the most important rules for better photographs is to use the rule of thirds. It just provides more visually interesting pictures. Divide your imaginary image into thirds vertically and horizontally and place your subject along the intersecting lines. Although not a text book example the photo above shows how you can off center the subject or place them along the imaginary lines that would divide the photo into thirds. I like how you get some of the creamy brown background (which was the dirt from a baseball diamond) in the photo and I find the picture looks better visually instead of a centered image.


#3 Capture Emotion

jumping on bed

Since you are trying to tell a story with your photos it is always a pleasure to capture moments of emotion. Certainly your child goes through life with moments of pure happiness, sadness, bliss, tantrums, fear, etc. Those moments are what make us human. Does your photo convey what they were feeling when you took the shot? Does it tell a story on its own?

In the photo above my two boys were “caught” jumping on the bed during the holidays.

#4 Location is Everything

Young boy walking through grasslands meadow

One of the best ways to take better photos is to get in your car and drive someplace visually interesting and shoot there. Your community likely has many places that are great for photos so there is no reason you need to stay at home and shoot there. Take your mini photo shoot on location!

The photo above was taken at a state park in the tall grass near the entrance. We took many photos that day but this one was of the first and captured beautifully the area we were visiting and enjoying that day and how my little guy felt to be out in the great outdoors.

#5 Don’t Say Cheese – Capture Natural Smiles

Young girl smiling

Some of the best shots are taken when your kids are not posing or even aware that the camera is there. When we ask our children to stop, stand still, and say cheese, we often get awkward faces and smiles. I prefer getting shots of their natural smiles that light up their faces and give me a glimpse into their unique personality. MUCH better than cheese faces!

#6 Capture Their Personality

parker boa

Can you sum up the major aspects of a child’s personality with one photo? It may be a tall order but it is certainly possible. The trick is to catch them doing what they love to do and all those things that make them uniquely them will shine through. I love this photo of my youngest son because it is so HIM!

#7 Take Interesting Photos

paige dolls

When choosing a setting, background, or pose try to think about what will make that shot visually interesting. Instead of taking a photo next to a blank wall can the child lean on it or sit beside it instead? Instead of a boring white wall can you go outside and take a photo next to an old gate or the brick wall of your garage? Get creative and take visually interesting photos. Once you have some practice you will start to develop and eye for this. I love this photo of my daughter because it is unusual and shows some of her favorite toys.

Bonus Tip: Follow photographers on Pinterest and save your fave photos to a photo inspiration board!

#8 Capture Their Favorite Place and Things

payton zoo

One goal of photography is to capture the essence of childhood and a great way to do this to take pictures of the things and places they love. Do you have a photo of your child with their favorite stuffed animal? Do you have a photo of your child at their favorite park? You will always want to remember those things by capturing them. The picture above was taken at one my kid’s favorite places. The zoo!

#9 Use Simple Backgrounds

climbing tree

You probably don’t have professional backdrops but you can still choose a simple background that will add visual appeal while not overpowering the subject.

I like to take photos against painted walls and then blur the background so you can’t tell its a wall. I also like taking pictures with brick walls in the background. I have also been known to drape a sheet on an existing wall to make my own backdrop. I also LOVE making nature my backdrop.

#10 Always Be Prepared to Shoot!

Having fun in the garden

Some of the most interesting photos will be ones you hadn’t planned on taking. Perhaps you see your kids blowing bubbles outside and you have to run and grab your camera or perhaps they run outside to run around in an unexpected rain shower. Always be prepared to take great shots by having your camera nearby. I rarely go anywhere without mine these days.

The other BIG tip I have is to get a good photo editing program and buy some “actions”. These are often sold by professional photographers and they replicate the steps that professionals use to edit their images with the click of a button. I have Photoshop CS5 and the cheaper Photoshop Elements. There are actions available for both.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

5 Comments

19
Aug

Easy Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

by Tiffany in Recipes

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I love tacos. In fact I love all Mexican food. I also love the crockpot. I use it all year long but it is especially helpful in the summer when I don’t want to heat the house. These days though I need recipes that only require 4 hours, instead of 6-8 as typical. I just don’t have the time for that. Making chicken or beef for tacos is perfect. I just cook on high for 3-4 hours and voila…a  delicious home cooked meal that took 10 minutes (or less) to prepare. Quick and easy. This recipe can be used for chicken breasts or beef and it tastes delicious either way, lots of flavor. Most times we just use Bibb lettuce instead of taco shells but every now and then we will use organic corn tortillas.

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

2 pounds boneless chuck roast (or 3-4 large skinless chicken breasts)
1 packet taco seasoning or 3-4 Tablespoons DIY blend
1 jar salsa (we use mild for the kiddos)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I like Amy’s Organic)
Fresh tomatoes (chopped)
Sour cream
Lettuce (shredded)
Avocado (chopped)
Cheese (shredded)

Put your meat in the crockpot and cover with the taco seasoning, salsa, and mushroom soup. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, until it can be easily shredded. Spoon the taco meat onto lettuce or taco shells and top with sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado. Yum!

Leftovers can used for taco salad the next day!

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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15
Aug

Back to School Shopping for all Seasons

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

Back to School Shopping for all Seasons

It’s that time.  Time to go back to school and get all of the supplies you will need for the coming school year. It might be tempting to buy clothes for all weather scenarios that might arise during the school year. If you did that, though, it would probably be a mistake. You’ll just end up spending more money than you need to. In fact if you wait until the back to school season to do most or all of your school related shopping then you ARE spending too much money. I know, I know everyone is having back-to-school sales right? This is the best time for shopping according to store adverts and media but is it really?

If you have already finished your school shopping no worries, you can pick up a tip or two for next year. Try these tips to effectively buy back to school clothing.

How to Shop for Back to School Clothes

1. Think about what you NEED. Take an inventory of what still fits, what is stained/distressed, and what you actually need for each child. Then once you have that base information you can fill in gaps. Also only get one or two special outfits for the first day/week of school. Kids just don’t need a new outfit for each day of school.

2. Make a clothing buying calendar. Use the aforementioned inventory to figure out what is absolutely necessary for clothing and figure out the best times to buy. Sweaters and coats are best purchased after the season because they’ll be cheaper that way. You can split up your purchases to use them as gifts for birthdays and holidays. This way it will help fill out your gift giving and you’ll also save money by not buying everything all at once.

3. Utilize consignment shops for buying and even selling clothing that your children have outgrown. Consignment credits can go a long way towards buying newer clothing for your kids.

4. Remember, the kids are going to keep growing. Buying for the whole year could leave you with clothes never worn because your child had a growth spurt you were not anticipating.

5. Swap clothes. If you have friends with kids a little older and a little younger than your own, then work out a clothing swap with them. You can do this at the change of each season even, to keep rotating the clothes out of the house. The more families that participate the more choices you have. Have a clothing swap party.

6. Wait until after Labor Day to shop. Those back to school sales aren’t as great as they might seem. It’s great for school supplies, if you need to stock up on glue and crayons, but clothing, not so much. So wait until after Labor Day to get the savings.

7. Buy clothes that can be worn during many seasons…think layers. A nice polo shirt can be worn over a long sleeve shirt in the colder months. A summer dress or jean skirt paired with some leggings will get extra wears.

8. Check into online deals with places like Zulily. They have great gear at low prices, the catch is that you have to follow what they have available because it changes weekly. Not only can you get clothing for great prices you can even get them free if you refer others. Share deals via email or social media (like Facebook and Pinterest) and when other click through and purchase you get $15 in credit. I personally have found that it is actually pretty easy to rack up lots of money in credit and thus get lots of free clothing, shoes, sporting goods, kitchen items etc for the whole family.

9. Shop those clearance racks. Snatch up that out-of-season sweater in a size up from what your child is currently wearing to make sure you get extra wears out of it.

10. Don’t forget about the thrift shops. You can get some nice high end items very cheaply, to help fill in any wardrobe to make it through the entire year in style. If your kids wear uniforms or have a dress code such as polos and khakis then thrift stores can be a real jackpot for you. If the schools in your areas have strict dress codes then the donations at area thrift stores will be rich in this type of clothing all year long. Make sure to check them out frequently in December when families are donating more often to get last minute tax write-offs. Also make sure to shop half price days!

Back to school shopping is often a cause for anxiety. I recently heard that the average family spends $700 per child per year for back to school stuff. Yikes! That can really break the bank so a little planning can go a long way. If you plan things out and shop sales and shop the seasons instead of buying all at once, then you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money.

Below is a picture of two of my cuties on their first day. I only spent $130 for the year on back to school stuff and most of that was supplies, for three kids. They are set for the entire school year but I will have an eye on the next school year very soon…

How do you save money on back to school purchases?

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Friday, August 15th, 2014

5 Comments

6
Aug

6 Natural, Ancestral Ways To Increase Your Child’s Social Success

by Guest in Children

6 Natural, Ancestral Ways To Increase Your Child’s Social Success

I was a pretty shy kid.

Until I was 13 years old, my parents literally had to coax me out of my bedroom (where I was typically buried in a medieval fantasy novel) to get me to simply shake the hands of our visitors and look them in the eye.

Then I’d quickly duck back into my room.

But somehow I survived college and a modern working environment (barely!) and I’m now raising my twin boys to give them as much social success and social confidence as possible, and today’s article will delve into six natural and ancestrally-based ways that you can do the same.

The Importance of Tribes

Many of our animal relatives spend a great deal of their time wandering or living in tribes, groups, flocks, herds and schools – even going so far as to eat bugs off the body of their friends and families. Although I’m a fan of the burgeoning cricket protein food movement, I’ll admit I am somewhat glad we humans aren’t necessarily social to the extent of grooming via bug-picking. But unfortunately, nowadays we don’t even come close to the tribal attachments displayed in nature or in our ancestry.

But consider this: in multiple studies, relationships and spending time with family and close friends is consistently correlated with amazingly higher levels of happiness and well-being. Despite this fact, the last several decades have seen a significant decline in many aspects associated with tight-knit social circles – including qualities like family and household size, club and social participation, and number of close friends.

Sadly, we’ve instead witnessed an increase in solo or isolated activities such as television, long commutes, the internet, and digital relationships.

In other words, we seem to be making a stark transition from tribe to individual. However, we humans are biologically hard-wired to be social animals. As a matter of fact, we’re such social animals that the mere act of joining a club (e.g. dance club, chess club, bridge club, tennis club, golf club, etc.) halves your chance of death in the next year. Or consider the fact that – as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers – living in a close-knit town of three-generation households can singlehandedly lower your risk of heart disease.

So how can you get a jump-start on making your kid ready for tribal interaction that makes them live longer and be happier?

During early childhood development, from birth to 3 years old, much of our neurobiology and core personalities are formed. To increase propensity for social and tribal engagement, increase empathy and decrease risk of anxiety and depression in children, it is during this time that it becomes highly important to simulate the close-knit parent-child bonds displayed both in nature and in the practices of our hunter gatherer ancestors. I realize that was a mouthful, but in a nutshell, we can begin by increasing attachment at an earlier age.

For example, in a recent national symposium, University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez highlighted six key practices consistent with the concept of attachment parenting (a philosophy originally championed by well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears). The six practices for increasing attachment are detailed below.

Six Ways To Increase Attachment in Kids

1) Natural birth: Research shows that medical interventions such as C-sections, whisking a baby away from a mother and off into a separate ward for post-birth testing or treatment, and baby formula feedings can inhibit important hormones like oxytocin from being released, which interferes with the natural mother-baby bonding process that jumpstarts the tribal feeling.

2) Breastfeeding: Many of our previous ancestral cultures breastfed their infants for two to five years. This not only helps to form a properly functioning gut-based immune system, but also decreases anxiety and forms important social bonds between a child and mother. Obviously, if you have a high schooler you can’t do much about this, but if you are currently expecting or currently breastfeeding, I recommend you take breastfeeding to at least the two years old level.

3) Cuddling: Along with the nutritional value of breast milk, kids develop a sense of wellbeing from the positive touch that breastfeeding involves. Positive touch has benefits to brain development, hormone-functioning, and appropriate social interactions. For this reason, breastfeeding into later ages is important, as is co-sleeping, and plenty of cuddling. My wife Jessa, me and our six year old twin boys River and Terran often simply lay on the living room couch in a big pile of family togetherness for 20 minutes after they get out of bed – and I can feel that oxytocin surging through my veins.

4) Responsiveness: In most ancient cultures, there was not much value placed in letting a baby fuss or cry. Don’t worry – comforting your child when distressed is not going to ruin their chances of becoming a tough, Spartanesque, future Cross-fit games champion or some other kind of professional athlete (if that’s what you desire in a kid). In contrast, children who have responsive parents tend to develop greater empathy, they tend to develop a conscience earlier, and they will be set to interact more cooperatively with a tribe.

5) Multiple Adult Caregivers: Our early infant ancestors benefited from being cared for not just by mom and dad, but by other adults and tribe members who loved them. Surrogate parents also help to share some of the burden of parenting, helping to prevent parental exhaustion. For this reason, raising up children in some sort of a tribe setting can bestow an incredible advantage to your kids and to you too. This approach can save you work, since with other trusted caregivers around, you have more time flexibility. In many cultures, kids run around everywhere with their parents nowhere in sight. But all the neighbors know each other. There are aunts, uncles and other family members and friends who are keeping their eyes on the kids. As Eric D. Kennedy describes it in his excellent online essay “On the Social Lives of Cavemen”, there is a healthy middle ground between not being allowed to cross the street and a high school house party. As children are allowed to become independent of parents, they are able to do it, but within a trusted support network of family and friends.

6) Free Play (With Kids Of Varying Ages). This concept actually builds on the concept of having multiple adult caregivers. Our ancestors’ children weren’t separated into age-specific play circles, but were instead exposed to kids at different stages of development – thus enhancing the child’s physical and mental growth. I’d highly recommend you read a recent article in The Atlantic (available for free online) entitled “The Overprotected Kid”. The article describes how preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, without making it safer. It goes on to describe new kind of free-play, junk-yard type playground. This miniature outdoor city is full of fire, fences, mud, wood scraps, tires, and other random materials where children of all ages spend the entire day exploring, forming tribes and generally being left to “fend for themselves” – but under the watchful eye of older tribe members such as friends, family members and parents who are within close proximity – distant but present.

Contrast these reasonable risks with casual tribal supervision with our modern practice of extreme supervision by parents only, antibacterial hand sprays, plush bumper-guarded playground equipment, shouting at kids not to “run with sticks” and other ridiculous coddling, and it’s understandable why children are not only growing weak and fragile, but more socially anxious, less cooperative, and more picky and judgmental about spending time with anyone outside their peer group.

Practical Steps You Can Take

So from a practical standpoint, what can you do to implement some of the tips you’ve just learned? Try these quick tips:

-Breastfeed to a later age and don’t be embarrassed about it. Cuddle. Be responsive if your child cries or gets hurt.

-Make friends with your neighbors, try to live close to family if possible, kick your children outside to play for long hours, make sure they know it’s OK to play with a mix of older and younger kids, and then quit worrying. They’ll survive.

-Have family dinners. Have dinner parties. Read the good book “Never Eat Alone” and incorporate the same concepts into your childrens’ lives.

-Have your kids spend more time with trusted adults who aren’t their parents. Then do the same for yourself, spending time with the kids of adults who trust you. Hang out with mixed age groups and make sure your kids do too. Have your kids spend more time at older people’s homes or with grandma and grandpa.

-Become familiar with the concept of unschooling (visit Unschoolery.com). Unschooling is simply a rough version of learning that prepares a child for life, for being an entrepreneur, for learning anything, and for being autonomous. Whether your child is homeschooled, in private school, or public school, you can use unschooling concepts to generate important lifelong skills. Pay very close attention to what your children develop a natural interest in, and then teach them to learn about the world through activities, trips, and adventures. For example, our kids have recently become interested in singing. But rather than going out and purchasing formal music curriculum, we started playing a home version of the singing competition “The Voice”, we record songs on the computer with a microphone, we bought an electronic keyboard, and we brought them to a musical.

Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, professional Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life” (http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com). In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben blogs and podcasts at http://www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

5 Comments

24
Jul

The Great Cloth Diaper Debate

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby

The Great Cloth Diaper Debate

Which is better…disposable or cloth? The diaper wars have begun and you must choose sides….muhawww.

New parents are faced with many decisions, one of them choosing whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. There are advantages and disadvantages for each diaper type. This issue can be a hot one among parents, a part of parenting politics so to speak, and it seems that you must choose sides. What side of the fence will you choose to be on? Either you’re gonna be a tree hugging, diaper-washing hippie or a landfill-filling, Pamper camper. You’re a pawn in the diaper war…it’s your move.

But perhaps you have decided to compromise and use a combination of both and maybe even throw in a third diaper type for kicks…the more environmentally friendly disposable diaper or the flushable diaper.

Cloth diapers are better for the environment as they don’t end up choking landfills. Deposits can be shaken out into the toilet and processed properly instead of leaking into the ground. There are styles with Velcro fastening diaper covers or snaps meaning more comfort and fewer leaks. Some are “all in one” and resemble a disposable in ease of getting on and off baby.

But, you’ve got to wash them. When you’re out and about, you’ll have to carry the soiled diaper with you instead of pitching them in the closest trash can. The initial cost can be expensive, though you’ll save money in the long run. If you elect to use a diaper service, that will cost you  money but there’s an environmental cost to consider as well with the use of bleach and detergents on such a grand scale.

In addition to being used as burp cloths and washcloths, prefold cloth diapers can be used for other things such as dust cloths, hand & kitchen towels, to wash windows and cars, and to polish silver when your baby is done using them for diapers. Obviously, get rid of the worst looking ones. Considering dyeing some of the others for variety or to match your décor.

You can’t beat disposable diapers for convenience. Use it. Toss it. If you’re visiting a new location and run out of diapers at midnight, most corner stores and gas stations will have them for sale. Though there are more and more options for local cloth diapers too. I heard that infamous big box store has them.

Disposable diapers use up space in landfills adding plastic, chemicals, and sewage often wrapped in another plastic bag. They are also expensive and since they are often purchased at grocery stores, the cost is hidden in the grocery bill. Children wearing disposable diapers often potty train later, which increases the amount of diapers the child will wear through infancy.

There are pros and cons for both but in the long run cloth comes out ahead if you care about saving money, living with simplicity, and protecting resources and planet. If you don’t care about any of those things you may be reading the wrong blog. Just sayin. ;)

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

14 Comments