Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't you cry | Giveaway Winner

Today is chopping day in my preparation for the big feast here on Thursday. The onions had me watering at first slice. I was standing over the sink to remedy the situation when I realized I have a secret to share with you!
Onions got your eyes stinging & watering? 
Run your hands under water, 
work a squirt of soap into a lather between your palms 
and wave them closely, in front of your eyes for a few seconds. 
Bam! It's gone! No more stinging. No more watering. Works every time.
Speaking of teary eyes, my oldest daughter got her daddy's permission to get her ears pierced today. We made a mommy-daughter date of it this afternoon. And I made a rookie mistake.
The manager met us at the door and when I announced why we were there she asked, "Do you mind doing her ears one at a time because the other girl working isn't trained?"
If anyone can do it, this girl can. She's garnered shock & awe from nurses for years with her taking immunization shots & blood draws without so much as a flinch. She's brave. We're in.
Um, not so. Serious underestimation on my part. That striped lady's patience should earn her far much more than her hourly wage! She was wonderful with my girl. It was a very long time after her first ear was pierced before I finally got her in some version of the choker hold with her eyes blocked to get the second one done. She hopped up seconds later without a tear & totally over it. For the rest of the date, she was floating by my side. Individual attention and big girl treatment are her love languages.

The winner of the Tiny Prints Giveaway is #38. 
She has been notified and will receive a $50 & Free Shipping code to get her Christmas Card shopping on this year! 
In case you're planning to get a snapshot of your crew over this holiday,
Tiny Prints has 100 inspiring Christmas Card ideas here.
A Cup of Jo posted a simple one today that I just love here

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Prepping your Place for Company | 1 Week timeline for hosts

Hosting is my favorite! I love using every dish & spoon & towel & the need for pot after pot of coffee brewing.  I love every seat filled & more being pulled from around the house, mattresses scattered & every blanket needed.
The truth is, I relish the prep as much as the time spent.
One thing I learned years ago from reading Ina Garten's book, if you are relaxed and comfortable, your guests will be too. Make every effort to make your guests feel that you've been to no trouble for them.
If you are anxious & afraid your real life will show through & blow your online persona, your guests will feel guilty & less likely to put their feet up & linger.
Can't relax if everything's not clean & needs aren't met? Prepare.
As a rule, I make EVERY effort not to HAVE to do anything more than the unavoidable on the day of arrival. I clean, wipe, chop, slice, cook, shred, stock everything days before so that I can enjoy our guests.
Here's a bit of a breakdown starting with 1 week before.

10 days to 1 Week before: 
Inventory Day
*As you go through today's task, make a list of all needed items
Take stock of house essentials: toilet paper, paper towels, tissue, garbage bags, dish soap, storage wrap/bags
Take stock of toiletries: hand soap, body soap, shampoo, toothpaste, extra (new) toothbrush

Allocate & Clean towels for guest bath
Designate & Clean linens,
Allocate pillows & blankets

Prepare Guest Rooms:
Check air mattresses, if necessary.
Check lamp, add nightlight (to room, hallway, or bathroom, as needed-$1 store has these)

Make a meal plan & grocery list. Choose wisely, considering what can be made-ahead.

Day 6:
Cleaning Day
Dust, vacuum, & wipe all surfaces & wash windows & floors
Check lights at night outdoors, add bulbs to shopping list, if needed
pretty products with seasonal smells help!

Day 5: 
Shopping Day
Shop for needed household items.
Grocery shop. 

Day 4: 
Tidy front walkway & stoop
Finish any other cleaning that wasn't done on Day 6
Prepare Guest Room:
Clear space on dresser & night stand
Add hangers to closet & clear space
Make the bed if it is unused-if not, set aside cleaned linens & make day before/of arrival
Day 3: 
Food Prep Day
Chop, slice, cook anything that can be done ahead & store

Day 2: 
Sweep & vacuum again, if needed
Make Beds in guest room
Prep Guest Bath: 
Wipe sink & toilet
Empty all bath trash cans
Set out clean towels & wash cloths
Clear hooks & make space for their bag in a drawer or counter

Day of Arrival: 
Go for a morning jog, get a manicure, take a hot shower & blowout your hair

Make beds, if not already done.

Hours before arrival: 
wipe kitchen counters & sink
straighten a bit. just a bit.  
you live there, they know it. 
repeat after me: a pretentious host isn't a warm host.

Turn on outdoor lights if it's dark (4pm around here),
light a candle (I'm loving this one), smoosh your faces on the windows waiting for their arrival!
You're ready!!
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

5 Tips for Natural, Glowing Family photos | S.J.Bridgeman Photography

I've got Christmas cards on my brain (have you entered the $50 giveaway?) and family photos are likely to be on yours this time of year. 
Recently, I caught up with Sarah, of sjbridgemanphotography, and today, I'm sharing her secrets to capturing natural expressions and un-posed images of families, that make her a favorite WNY photographer.

1. Getting dressed:
It’s more about what NOT to wear when it comes to getting natural, lifestyle photos. Steer clear of anything you’re unwilling to get dirty or you don’t feel comfortable wearing. I like clients to dress to represent their family-if that means wearing a costume, great!
Don’t be afraid to get dirty and the result will be worth the mess.
If you’re pulling & tugging, it can come through in the photos so be comfortable.
Because I like a more natural look, I love a mix of colors and patterns. Generally, sticking with a tone-cool or warm-is a good idea. Wearing neutrals with a few pops of color works too.

2. Getting natural expressions:
Instead of “smile”, get them talking. I like to ask a few typical questions & throw a goofy question in the mix. For example: What’s your favorite color? Favorite Halloween candy? Do you eat bugs?
Be ready to snap at the end of their answer-on the last word. Snapping their reaction to the question & while they’re thinking of the answer captures great expressions too.

With couples, I will ask the man to whisper something inappropriate in the lady’s ear. I can’t hear what he says, but I’m ready to capture the exchange and her reaction. The same idea would work for kids too: have mom whisper something silly in kids’ ear.
3. Getting un-posed positions:
Give them a task to do & shoot.
Tell the kids to run & jump on their dad’s back. Ask a girl to twirl in her dress. Tell them to go pick flowers & give them to their mom.
With a toddler, you can hold out M&Ms and ask them to run toward you to get them. And tickling, there's always tickling at my shoots.

As the photographer: you've got to move! move down to their level, keep up with their movements, move around to get unexpected angles. And don't be afraid to get dirty or get yourself in a precarious position for the shot.

4. What to bring: 
A blanket is all I ever bring to a shoot anymore. We make tents & parachutes, play peek-a-boo, and lay on the blanket. If your kid has a favorite toy that will bring more playfulness to the shoot, bring it along.

*Mom tip: Try keeping the day leading up to photos light & stress-free as can be. Make sure your kids are well-fed beforehand. Resist putting pressure on your kids about the shoot; you’re more likely to get natural, playful kids if they aren’t afraid they won’t meet your expectations. I like to suggest “let’s go play with my friend, Sarah” over “you better smile and behave or else…”

5. Getting the glow:
For outdoor shoots, the best lighting is 1 hour before sunset (2, if it’s cloudy). Too many moms want to schedule around when their children are happiest, but the glow of this “magic hour” reflected on skin tones and the whole scene is worth any extra effort to cheer your child.
If it has to be mid-day, I head right for the shade.

If you have to shoot indoors:
Open all the windows for maximum natural light. Turn off artificial light sources.
Put your subject near a window.
If you want the whole body/group to be well-lit, place them facing straight-on toward the window light and shoot with your back to the light.
To get that “eyes-sparkling, rest of them faded darker” look, place them angled adjacent to the window, looking out and put yourself close to the window, shooting toward them-your back to the light.
I shoot with my camera wide-open (F/1.4-2.0) for portraits. (Keep your hand steady because there’s more risk of out-of-focus photos when your lens is wide-open)

And finally, for Christmas tree photos: shoot in daylight, tree lights on & turn off all other artificial lights (open the windows for the most natural light). Put your subject a couple feet in front of the tree, not right next to it for the best look.

Thank you, Sarah! 
For booking & inquiries visit: sjbridgeman.com
*Sarah is heading to Sierra Leone with the Let them Laugh Out Loud organization whose primary focus is bringing clean water to the people and empowering them through community efforts. You can help send Sarah to Africa by making a tax deductible contribution to her fundraising here.
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thankful when it's tough

What the first week lacked in opportunity to practice being thankful when it's tough, last week made up for in spades.
First, my husband's grandmother passed away.
Thankfully, her 90 years were full and she died pretty painlessly, with her loving children nearby.

Unfortunately, she died States away from most of her family, who couldn't make it to her funeral.
Thankfully, we had the flexibility and the finances for my husband to join his mom, to honor his grandmother.

With daddy out of town and school breaks, the kids & I headed a couple hours away to visit my mom. When we left, I was nursing one child with a cough and runny nose. 24hours later, the baby's ear drum had ruptured very painfully, we'd been to urgent care twice, where all 3 kids were prescribed antibiotics.
Thankfully, the waiting room was stocked with coloring supplies for the kids and a Keurig for me. We hardly waited and at $20/each per visit and $5/each Rx, it cost less than $100 (better than the ER).

So much for visiting the science museum and hitting up their uncle for a movie & theater snacks. Everyone was stuck in the house, which gets old very quickly. My drippy-faced, infected kids can still bounce off walls and each other, I don't know about yours.
Thankfully, Grammie took time off work and I had the pleasure of running errands alone, crossing quite a bit off of my list.

The worst of all blows came one night while I was out running an errand. When I got home, my son told me that Grammie's dog had bitten his little sister and she'd screamed. Sure enough, he had broken the skin on her chubby little hand and it was red & swollen. I felt terrible for not being there.
I felt terrible that she was already in pain from such a bad ear infection and fever and now this. I felt terrible for so many reasons.
Thankfully, by morning the swelling and redness was gone & just the bite marks remained. She didn't complain about it.

We cut our trip short and drove home in the dark. While the kids slept, I listened to a Tim Keller podcast titled 'Peace' that was like balm to my soul, in desperate need. If you're interested in learning how to remain thankful & content long after the Facebook posts stop Nov 30th, give it a listen. Wow!

He reminded me of the inspiring story behind Horatio Spafford's hymn, It Is Well With My Soul (read it here.)

How about you? How are you doing with being thankful when it's tough?

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Holiday Card Display

One of my friends is on top of Christmas cards each year. Do you have one of those too?
Anytime after Thanksgiving, her card in my mailbox signifies the start of actually going to my mailbox daily and anticipating which friend's handwriting will be on the envelopes inside. Our chalkboard wall, visible from the front door, at the center of our home is the perfect place to display their smiling faces.
These wires & clips from IKEA are installed, and kids' school work is displayed through the year (seen here). For the Holidays, I wrap them in fresh pine garland (secured with the red twist ties that it came wrapped in) and clip the cards to display. Easy peasy.
To create the chalk art above, I chose a fitting phrase from one of the greatest Christmas tunes and played around until it looked right. Nothing is permanent with chalk, so have fun with it.

In the past, I've used the same IKEA wire, wrapped in garland from Hobby Lobby.
For a nostalgic touch, I framed our family's previous Christmas cards on a brown paper bag background & hung them above the display.
For more details on re-creating this display, click here.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Day 1: Thankfulness | CountUp to Thanksgiving thankfulness garland

Welcome, November!
In the past, I've featured something I'm thankful for each day until Thanksgiving here on the blog (2010 starts here. 2011 starts here. 2012 starts here.)
With 2 of our kids well-able to understand what gratefulness sounds like, looks like, etc. we're making an extra effort at our house to focus on that with the kids this year. Typically, we go around the table over turkey dinner and share something we're thankful for each Thanksgiving. It's actually the way we shared that I was pregnant with our extended family a couple of times.

At home, during our nightly dinner routine, we each share a high & a low from the day. We'll add something we're grateful for to the list this month. We'll talk about miracles, answers to prayer, & the things that we easily take for granted more intentionally this month. Maybe throw in some Thanksgiving trivia too to keep it light!

I've cut out 27 leaf-shapes (loosely based on the 1,000s in my yard) from brown paper bags. Each night a different family member will write something they're grateful for on a leaf & we'll string them along some twine & burlap to create a count up garland. I'll share pictures as it comes along and can give you more of a visual.

The first thing that comes to mind for me this year is: my girlfriends!
A couple of weeks ago I was able to get away with just these girls that are more like sisters to me than friends. We're only together once a year-ish, and it's every bit as familiar and familial feeling as it was 13 years ago.  
For them, and for the girlfriends that, in spite of the changes in our seasons of life and the miles that separate us, remain a wellspring of support, prayer, and joy for me, I am grateful. 
For sisters, that share my love for Jesus and for a Poulsen man, I'm thankful.
This year has been pretty heavy for me and having faith-filled, supportive friends just a text or call away was a lifeline.
Thank you, bless you, girls!

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