Busy busy busy

April 27th, 2007

This has been an incredibly busy week for me, though looking back I can not think of any single big thing that has taken my time. Just lots of small commitments adding up. Things like getting the emission testing done for our car, taking my son to the doctor, killing time at the pharmacy, and blowing my nose. Yes, I have been blowing my nose that much this past week.

Sort of like when Rob came home from the grocery store and told me he spent $350. And I asked what he bought. The first thing he said was, “Oranges! Have you see how expensive those are?” Because surely the new bat, bat bag, batting tee, and baseballs did not add up to that unusually high dollar amount to grocery bag ratio.

Doing the raffle has taken a bulk of my online time, which is probably a much better use of my time than putzing around reading blogs. Not your blog of course. Yours is worth it!

I haven’t been able to finish the next installment in the taking good photographs series, but I am working on it.

So many of you have emailed me that you took the “get in closer” advice and are happy with the results. So I figured why not give another small tip that you can practice this weekend. Because taking good photographs requires practice.

So this weekend try to take some photographs without focusing on your child’s face. Focus on a different part of their body, or an unusual angle, or take some photos of them from behind. Play around with your camera. Have some fun. You might be very happily surprised when you upload them to your computer.

I’ve done a couple today to get you started:

Jumping in puddles

Jumping in puddles.

tulle is appropriate for ALL occasions

It is always an ocassion to wear tulle

considering the puddles

Considering the puddles

in the rain

Stepping Out

Give it a try! Can’t wait to see what interesting photos you come up with.

A cool project for kids of all ages

April 26th, 2007

If your kids are like mine, and I suspect that they are, they love anything that has to do with being a spy. Secret codes, special listening devices, spy goggles.

What about invisible ink?

This is a really simple one.

Squeeze some lemons or limes into a glass. This juice will be the ink.

Give them a small paintbrush or a Q-tip to use as writing implement.

Have them write the message on a sheet of white paper. When the “ink” dries it will be invisible.

To make the message reappear, hold the sheet of paper over a heat source. A hot water bottle, heating pad, in front of your wood burning stove, a heat register are some ideas.

When I originally read about this disappearing invisible ink several years ago, it suggested holding the paper over a candle. That just requires a level of supervision that I am not sure young spies will appreciate. And frankly frightens me that one of my spies might try and do it on their own in a corner or closet somewhere.

It might be fun to write secret messages to the children and then have them figure out how to make the message appear.

And for the science behind this:

Lemon juice and lime juice contain carbon. The carbon darkens when put neat a heat source, allowing you to read the message.

Planet Earth, again

April 19th, 2007

I was looking with my children at the episode guide for Planet Earth on the discovery channel when I noticed a link to see all the upcoming episodes.

Next Sunday, April 22, there is a Planet Earth marathon beginning at 9:00 am. So set you dvr, or vcr, or have a family member or friend record it for you.

Do you know what April is?

April 17th, 2007

Aside from being the pointless month that you wish would just end so that May can be here and snow will be gone for good.

Books

April is National Poetry Month. Who knew? Certainly not me.

And here the month is already more than half over.

National Poetry Month

Why April? Turns out it wasn’t chosen because it is a depressing month and therefore perfect for reading Sylvia Plath and contemplating your own demise. According to their website:

February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month, so April seemed a logical choice. Also, there are many wonderful poetic references to April:

T. S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” It is our hope that National Poetry Month lessens that effect

.

Those poets have a sense of humor.

I also love under their FAQ’s where they answer the question, Does it cost anything to participate in National Poetry Month? Do people really ask that question?

For those of you reading here who are wondering the very same thing, it costs $100 if you want to read any poetry this month. Please send your checks to me. Or paypal me. Either one would be fine.

They also have a feature at their website where you can sign up to have a different poem emailed to you every day for the month. Or you can browse through the previous two and half weeks of daily poems at their site.

So while I already missed out on half the month, yesterday I pulled out some of the poetry anthologies we own and set them up for the children to look at. You know how when you go to the library the librarian has helpfully pulled interesting books out of the shelves and set them standing up on top of the bookcases? Well, I do that too.

Poetry Books

And you know what? The children really do gravitate toward those books. Because apparently looking through the bookshelves is very difficult.

She thinks she can read

And Miles thinks it is great to walk over and sweep them all off onto the floor. And then when I ask, “Who did this?” he will look up with his big brown eyes and answer, “Baby Me. Sah-wee mommy.”

And if you think that is cute, I am willing to lend him out.

Taking good photographs: framing your subject

April 16th, 2007

(First in a series of posts on this topic)

One of the things I am asked advice on all the time is how to take good photographs of children. And while I appreciate the compliments, I am not an expert. I feel sort of weird giving advice. There are plenty of people who take far better photographs than I do. I feel like people are going to rise up and say, “You stink! Who do you think you are handing out any sort of advice.”

I do know that you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment to take good photographs. I have seen people with expensive cameras take awful photos and people with lower end point and shoot cameras take beautifully composed photos.

So I’ll share a few practical tips this week to help you take better photographs and let you know some of my own personal pet peeves ::cough:: dirty children ::cough::

First I need to make a distinction between photographs that capture the moment, capture a memory for you, and make you feel good when you look at them because of your memories. These are the kind of photographs like the Christmas morning present-a-thon, or school plays where your child is a tiny dot in a vast landscape. These are the type of photos you put in a photo album, snapshots. Not the kind that are worthy of hanging on your wall.

Photos like this one, which puts a smile on face remembering Christmas morning, but does nothing for anyone else:
A small forest died for this paper

Please continue to take those sort of photographs. Not every photo you take has to be great. The more photos you take the more likely you are to have a handful of good ones. I can easily take upwards of 100 photos, delete half on my camera before downloading them onto my computer, and end up with 10 or so that I am really happy with.

The number one distinguishing feature between good photographs and bad photographs is composition, or the way the subject(s) is arranged in the photo. This post is going to focus on framing.

even big kids look cute in hats

What does framing mean? It means that you should take your photo in such a way that that the subject of the photo stands out from the surroundings.

looking out the window

When I was an art major in college one of my professors in my freshman year drawing class had us hold up cardboard frames and view the still life set up in front of us through this frame. The point of the exercise was to determine what the most important and interesting part of the still life was before we began drawing.

The Five Year Old

Your viewfinder is this frame. Look in all the corners… what is there? Empty space? Do the things in the background distract from your subject, or enhance it? Does it look like things are growing out of their head?

Wearing A Hat

Get in closer…. closer. Rarely do you see photographs where people are too close to the subject.

Look at what is in the background. Is your adorable and cute child standing in front of a pile of clutter?

I often see photos like these.* What is wrong with this photo?

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When you look at it, what is your eye drawn to? It isn’t the adorable children with the orange peel smiles. It is all the clutter in the background. Nobody wants to look at your crap. Seriously, if people are commenting to you that Hey, they use Scott toilet paper too! Well, you might have a background clutter problem.

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And in this photo, not only is the subject of the photo occupying a very small portion of the frame, the clutter in the background is overwhelming, AND it looks as if she has two water bottles growing out of her head.

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Basically the same framing, but this time with the flash turned on. You can see how the flash completely washes out the subject. Unless you have a higher end camera with a detachable flash that you can angle away from the subject, try to avoid using the flash and position your subject near a source of natural light.

Now you are saying to yourself, “Okay so now I know what is wrong with all of my photos, but that doesn’t help me. What should I do to make them better?”

First of all… get closer. Nope, even closer. Closer still. Okay.

When you are looking through your view finder of the camera your eye tends to make whatever you are photographing the most important part . Your eye ignores all the extraneous things within the frame.

Really look at your children with a critical eye. Stains on clothing will show up more prominently in photos than they do in real life.

If you are tying to take nice pictures of them, remember that no one likes to look at dirty kids. You might be able to see your child’s cuteness behind the dirt, but the rest of us see dirt first and foremost. The exception to this, of course, is when you are taking a photograph of your child eating something like ice cream and part of the cute factor is their messy face. But if there is no food in sight and eating something is not featured prominently in the photo, well then just wash them off before taking their picture. Please? Do it for me.

These pictures are taken in the same room. Instead I sat my kids on the table to take advantage of the natural light coming in from the large window.

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Fill the frame with your subject.

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Get even closer.

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Now you are really able to see the children eating their oranges. There is nothing else in the frame competing for your attention.

Next up in the series, I am going to write about the “rules” in composing your photos. And give tips for making your photographs more interesting.

(* I piled all this stuff up on my table from around my house, to try and replicate clutter. It was painful ;-))

Another product recall that might affect your children

April 15th, 2007

Listerine has issued a recall for all bottles of it’s Agent Cool Blue plaque rinse. It has been determined that the preservatives in this alcohol free product are not adequate enough to prevent the growth of certain microrganisms.

I bought this product last year on the recommendation of our dentist. If your children are not brushing properly, it is supposed to turn the plaque that is left behind on their teeth blue.

To be completely honest, I haven’t been all that impressed with this product and it’s blue turning abilities. I kinda wished it was more like those red tablets we got in grade school that would turn your teeth all scary red no matter how well you thought you brushed. And then dye your tooth brush bristles red for awhile afterward. Do you remember those?

Anyway, ALL LOTS of this product are being recalled. Go here to their website to print out a form to mail away for your refund. No one has gotten sick from using this product, so you don’t need to worry about any past use by your children.

A simple project for Spring Break

April 10th, 2007

Clay beads that you can use to make necklaces or even a ring.

My almost 4 yr old daughter (gulp, where has the time gone?) loves doing projects like this one. And I love them because it will keep her occupied for a long time.

First you need to make up a batch, or two or three depending on how many children you have doing this project.


Self Hardening Clay Recipe
:

1 1/2 cups salt
4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp alum (this can be omitted if you will bake the clay to harden it rather than let it air dry)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl first. Add water gradually.

When the dough forms a ball, knead the dough well.

Add water if it is too crumbly. It should have the consistency of dough (really? how surprising!)

If you wish to bake this clay you can put it into an oven set at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until they get hard.

Making the beads

Form the dough into small ball shapes whatever size you desire for your necklaces. Bearing in ming that if they are too small you will have trouble poking a hole through them without breaking the dough or causing it to become misshapen. And too large and you necklace will be very heavy. Though considering my daughter routinely makes and wears neckalaces made out of large wooden beads, this might not be an issue for the younger set.

Using a nail, make a hole through the center of the bead. Wiggle it around to make the hole roomy enough for whatever sort of yarn or string you will be using to string the beads. For younger children I prefer to use pipe cleaners in lieu of string.

At this point you will either want to put them in the oven to harden or let them sit out on a tray for awhile.

Other tips

You can paint the beads after they harden, but I prefer to separate the dough when I make it and use different colors of food coloring for each batch.

If you are going to use the dough for other things that aren’t going to be handled as much as beads, say little sculptures, then I would paint them after they are hardened.

Edu-tainment

April 4th, 2007

Are you watching this series on television, Planet Earth?

It is absolutely incredible and has held the interest of all my children and myself. I have seen so many animal, earth, universe documentaries that they really don’t thrill me much any longer. You know, you’ve seen one wild animal you have seen them all.

But this series is in a different league entirely. The 11 part mini-series took over 5 years to make. It is breathtaking. One of those shows that makes you realize how small and insignificant you really are in the scheme of the entire planet.

Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

The things people say

April 3rd, 2007

Alternate Title:

Top Ten Fourteen Rudest and/or Strangest Questions/Comments That I Am Routinely Subjected To In Front Of My Children By Complete Strangers:

14) You couldn’t possibly give your children enough time/ attention/ stuff. We’re only having (insert small number, like one) because we want to give our child(ren) everything.

13) Do you want this big bag of hand-me-downs? I was going to throw it all away because the clothing is worn, stained, torn and otherwise not fit for my children to wear any longer, but I thought you might be able to use it.

12) You must have to shop at consignment stores, buy generic food, beg for hand me downs, grow and can all your own food, sew all your own clothing, live on a farm.

11) Do they all have the same father?

10) You’re not going to have any more kids, are you?

9) How can you afford all those kids? ( or the variations :Do you get public assistance?, How big is your house?, What does your husband do? usually while they try to discreetly check out my wedding rings)

8) Do you work? What do you do? (asked with the implication that I am on welfare)

7) You must be crazy. (or a saint, or Catholic, or Mormon)

6) Better you than me.

5) Don’t you know what causes that? They have things to prevent that, you know. Ever hear of birth control?

4) How do you feed all those kids? How much do you spend on groceries every month? How many gallons of milk do you go through a week?

3) Do you drive a bus? Does it beep when you back up?

2) Don’t you have a television?

1) I feel sorry for your kids.

As much as I would like to say I use rude and snarky comebacks, I don’t. I usually nod and smile. If someone is being particularly rude I’ll ask, “Why? Why are you asking me this?” Most often I will walk away and verbally fillet the person inside my head.

Then there are the people, usually cashiers that I can not get away from, who, after asking if they are all mine, proceed to tell me a story about their friend’s neighbor’s second cousin twice removed who had lots of kids and went crazy. And one day they found her completely naked, except for her shoes and socks with little balls on the back of the ankles, tap dancing on her roof.

I’m left standing there with my mouth hanging open, having no idea how to respond, except to say, “I don’t have tap shoes.”


(This post was originally published on my other blog a couple years ago. And not surprisingly, nothing has changed, except that now I do have tap shoes because Carmen gave me pair.)