Trick or Treat!

10.31.2014

Trick or Treat!
This year we have a fire breathing dragon hungry for candy!  
Luckily, I have a brave knight to help keep him in check.
We hope you have a fun and safe night filled with ghosts and jack-o-lanterns and some chocolate too.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 ^^Jed protected himself from Levi's hot fiery breath!^^
^^With his shield and sword, this valiant knight can take on anything^^
^^Stomp!  Stomp!  Growl!^^
 ^^Taking a break.^^
 ^^"Hey, can I check out that breast plate, Dude?^^
^^Brothers.  Always and forever.^^

Maple Walnut Cookies

10.29.2014

Every October as the air begins to turn cool and crisp, I get this sudden desire to bake--to warm up my kitchen and fill the house with the aroma of sweet goodness.  So one afternoon last week I did just that; the boys and I mixed up a batch of cookies.  Now this isn't a cooking blog, I'm just not a natural in the kitchen.  But this is our family's journal, so I will share recipes that I reach for often.  And one of them is this recipe for Maple Walnut Cookies.  I find myself whipping up a batch of these every Fall... and feeling just a tad bit nostalgic for those New England autumn colors.  (Though it might be more appropriate to make these in March when the folks back east tap the maple trees to boil the sap down into syrup?  Eh, whatever.)  These cookies are delicious, freeze well, and my little boys are big fans.  Enjoy!

Maple Walnut Cookies:
2 C sugar
1 C butter
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
Dash of salt
1 tsp maple extract
3 1/2 C flour
1 C walnuts chopped

Mix in order.  Form balls and place on a greased cookie sheet.  (Slightly smash with the palm of your hand for a flatter cookie.)  Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes until edges are firm and bottoms golden.  Let cool.  Top with frosting.  Scarf!  Eat!

Maple Frosting:
2T butter softened
3 C powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp maple flavoring
Milk

Mix together with small amounts of milk until frosting reaches desired consistency.  Lick the spoon! 

^^Counting the cookies up^^
 ^^The cutest little cookie dough beater eater around!^^

Taking on the Corn Maze With Five Children

10.27.2014
^^Little friends ready to get lost in the spoooky corn maze together!^^

The weather this month has been absolutely spectacular.  With sunny skies and temperatures nearing 80 degrees, we've been enjoying the great outdoors as much as possible--taking in all the glowing yellows and oranges on mountain bike rides, at the pumpkin patch, hiking in the hills, and playing in the yard.  These last few weeks have been pretty dreamy.  So of course we had to add the corn maze on to our list of Fall adventures too!  I absolutely love this time of year.  If only October could last twice as long.

Also of note is that Bron and I acted as temporary parents for three extra children for several days this past week while their mom and dad went on vacation, thus the reason I mentioned five children.  I had FIVE children under my roof!  It was in one word: exhausting.  I definitely learned a few things from the experience, like how to braid little girl hair and how much harder it is to have patience with children that are not my own.  Feeding a small army four times a day is no easy task either.  I felt like I was always in the kitchen prepping food and loading and unloading the dish washer.  Whew!  But we all survived--with full tummies and mostly happy faces--and I am here to tell the tale.  I suppose we did as good as could be expected.

Anyway, on Friday evening our small army met up with another small army (our awesome friends and neighbors, the Young family) to conquer the corn maze!  The kids were sooo excited!  We let them lead the way.  We did wander around in circles, but with just a tad bit of guidance from us grown-ups we found our way through the "woods", past a hanging skeleton (touch his feet, kids!), and eventually out the exit before dark.  It was a fun night out!            

^^Smart thinking!  We put the littlest child in the backpack.  Bron's a really good looking mule, don't you think?^^
 ^^Someone's short legs got tired and needed a piggy back ride.^^
 ^^Greg jumped out from behind the bushes and scared the kids!  Muahaha!^^
 ^^And then Jed's legs got tired too...^^

Thanks October for another grand seasonal adventure!

How to Simplify and Speed Up Your Photo Editing for Bloggers

10.23.2014
...and a new blog design!  Hooray!!!  What do you think, eh?  I'm loving the pops of yellow!

I love picking other photographers' brains to gain new tricks and knowledge!  So today I want share a few tips and tricks of my own with you about speeding up your post-processing workflow so you, my fellow blogging friends, can get those pictures up on the web quickly and leave more time for living.

I use Lightroom 5 for 90% of my photo editing.  It's an incredible computer program that has sped up my workflow and I think has improved my finished photo product.  Unless you're a professional photographer or need to do some heavy and intricate editing (that's what Photoshop is for), Lightroom is the perfect work horse for bloggers .  Plus, it's relatively cheap!

That said,  I think many of these tips will apply to other photo editing programs as well.  Let's get started!

1.  Cull, cull, cull.  Cull means to choose your best pictures and get rid of the rest.  Think of it as a 'yes' or 'no' deal: keep or don't keep.  In this age of digital photography, we often take many more pictures than is necessary to tell our story.  I always have a hard time choosing which photos to keep (they're all so cute!) and usually do two or three rounds of culling before I start editing.  Yes, this ultimately SAVES TIME! 

Lightroom has this wonderful little button that allows me to compare multiple pictures side by side.  I begin by rating my favorites with one star.  Then I compare all of my one star photos and rate the best of those with two stars.  Simple!  And if you want more pictures culled, just ask my husband to do it.  Haha.

 ^^The 'compare' button and my stars are circled in red.  Notice I am in Library mode.^^

2.  Presets are your friend.  There are certain things I do to every single photograph: increase contrast and vibrance, use a little noise reduction, add a slight vignette, and more.  Because I do these things to every photograph, I made myself a preset, or set of actions.  I push one button and all these things are applied to my photo.  I can then tweak the exposure and temperature in just a few seconds before applying any 'heavy' editing, such as using a brush tool or changing it to black and white.  Easy!  Each photo on my blog usually takes me just a minute to edit.  Luckily, there are also thousands of presets/actions/filters available on the inter-webs to utilize if you don't want to take the time to learn all the editing ins and outs.  (How to edit photos is worthy of its own post...or three or five!)

Also, this next part is exciting!  When I have the edited look I want on one photo but also have two or three others taken in similar light (because I just couldn't bring myself to cull them), Lightroom allows me to apply all of that work to those other photos by clicking the 'sync' button.  Amazing!  One button.  Boom.  Everything done.

 ^^The arrow points to one of my favorite presets I made for myself.  I use that in conjunction with the tabs on the right side to get the look I want in each photo.^^

3.  Save and sharpen for the web.  I've found this is a photo editing 'secret' that not many folks are aware of.  Not only does this step make your photos appear sharper on the screen, but it saves you a lot of time uploading to the web and a ton of memory space!

When exporting your photos from Lightroom (or saving in Photoshop, etc.), resize your pictures anywhere from 600 pixels to 1000 pixels on the long side, depending on how wide your blog is.  Choose sRGB color mode and sharpen for screen.  Easy!  Note: Be sure to save full size copies to your computer too because pictures that are made especially for the web are often too small for printing well. 

I hope this information is helpful to someone out there!  Are there any other photo questions you'd like to ask me and think I can answer?

My Heart Overflows... For Two Little Boys

10.20.2014
Tonight my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.  It feels a bit odd to be feeling this way after such a looong weekend babysitting my neighbor's three children.  But maybe the tough just makes these precious moments all the sweeter.


Tonight...

::  I am grateful for this brief season in life when Jed and Levi are still so young and innocent.  My boys don't care about the latest trends or politics in the news.  They don't worry about mean kids at school because young kids are typically very accepting.  Instead, all they care about is feeling love from their dad and me.  It's so simple!

And in case you didn't know, the cool thing to do is to quote nursery rhymes.  Last night Levi ran squealing around the house, "You can't catch me!  I'm the gingerbread man."

::  I am grateful for two healthy and handsome little boys who wear mischievous smiles all day long.  They like to chase and be chased around the couch in the living room and their laughter fills this home with happiness.

::  I am grateful for words mispronounced.  "I want to ride my bike around the cocoa-sac," Levi declared.  (He meant the cul-de-sac.  I sure wish there was chocolate!) 

::  I'm grateful for those excited waves good-bye just before Jed climbs onto the bus.  And when he comes flying eagerly into my arms after school with news about his day, well, I think my heart just might explode with joy.

::  I'm grateful for wet smacks from tiny lips on my cheek.  "I need to give you a kiss, Mom!"  They both say that.

::  I'm grateful Jed and Levi fit under each arm as we read a bedtime story.

::  I'm grateful for Jed's silly sense of humor.  "You a dinosaur!  ...  You toothpaste!"  And then he giggles and giggles as if he's the most clever comedian that ever lived.  (I responded that he's the toothbrush to my toothpaste.  Hardy-har-har!)

::  I'm grateful for the blonde curls I get to run my fingers through as I sing Levi a lullaby each night.  He's getting too big for my lap, but I'm not ready to stop snuggling him. 

::  Finally, I am grateful to hear these words echoed back at me each night before I close their doors, "Good night!  Merry Christmas!  Sweet dreams, Mom!  Mmmuah!"   

Yes, it's been nearly a year. Every night Jed still wishes me a "Merry Christmas!" It won't last forever, so I stopped trying to correct him.

*******


I am so incredibly blessed to be Jed and Levi's mother.  My heart and soul never knew such happiness until they came into my life.  And to think, they are mine forever!  Life is good.        

Hello!

10.16.2014

Remember when I talked about how wonderful our slow mornings have been?  Ha!  Well, life has suddenly decided to jump into warp speed.  It's been busy, but busy in the best ways.  Let me fill you in:

Past:

::  Last week Bron went on one of his monthly trips to Montana.  He was gone a full three days and arrived back home at 1:30AM Thursday morning.  I have a love/hate thing for those trips.  I love that I get to have so much time to myself in the evenings after the boys go to bed to paint my nails, edit pictures, and essentially do whatever else I want completely guilt-free because I have no husband present.  But those three days can get very loooong.  And I also have a terrible time getting myself into bed.  Sleep?  Who needs that?  Exhausting week for the both of us!

::  My mom stopped by on her way back through from Rexburg on Thursday evening.  She stayed for dinner and helped Jed build a boat with his Legos.  Jed was in heaven!  It's always so good to have my mom around, even for just a couple of hours.

::  My cousin, Necia, also stopped in that night.  She and her family spent the night and on Friday we got to squeeze in some rare cousin time together over breakfast and a quick touristy trip to Shoshone Falls.  By the way Necia, I'm still smiling over Alana's fat squishy cheeks and thighs.  Thanks for visiting!

::  Friday night was girls' night out!  This particular girls' night was a big deal.  It was twelve weeks in the making.  My neighbor, Dani, and I started a weight loss competition way back in July: first one to their goal was the winner and loser had to pay for our date.  Well, I won!  But barely.  I think the whole competition was skewed in my favor, to tell you the truth.  It took me twelve weeks to lose six pounds, but I am proud of those six pounds lost!  I carry most of my extra weight in my stomach and arms, so six pounds equals an entire dress size for me.  I am so grateful to have a friend like Dani who kept me accountable while simultaneously cheering me on.  She is an amazing woman in so many ways and I admire her grit for being consistent, especially when it comes to weight loss.  Go us!

::  Over the weekend we took the boys up to the South Hills to enjoy the colorful leaves and some time together as a family.  We let the little boys lead the way on our hike.  They loved being in charge and stopping to pick up every stick or rock that interested them.  It felt wonderful just to be up there in the crisp fresh air!


Present:

::  I'm teaching four students violin lessons every Wednesday and my photography business seems to have taken flight.  Fall is known as a photographer's "busy season".  Between all my sessions and editing, I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water.  I'm thankful for a supportive husband whom is actually quite business savvy and helps push me along because I am head-over-heels in love with photography right now.  Okay, I'm borderline obsessed.  (I even dream about it.)  Photography has become a part time job this season and I can say I truly enjoy what I'm doing.  I just wish I had more time to dedicate to it!  But my family will always come first.

::  Bron bought me a full suspension bike!  We bought it used, of course.  It has niiice components, is just a couple of years old, and has been ridden lightly.  Plus, it's a pretty shade of red.  I'm in love.  The little boys and I have been spending our evenings riding up and down the cul-de-sac on our bikes.  I can't wait to take her out for a real ride!

::  Do you know what makes me more upset than the fact that same sex marriage was made legal in Idaho yesterday? The fact that the federal government thinks that it's okay to overturn a law that the majority of our state's citizens agreed with. The federal government is essentially taking away the voice of the people.

::  Excuse me while I brag on my main man for a minute.  Big changes at work mean more responsibility and a pay raise for Bron.  I am so proud of him!  Bron has always exhibited an excellent work ethic; it is something I've loved about him since we first started dating.  Who knew we'd be in this situation just three short years after graduation?  We are definitely blessed.


Future:

::  I'm a little nervous.  Our friends are going on a cruise vacation and Bron volunteered us to watch their children for seven of the eleven days they will be gone.  In other words, I will become a temporary mom of five.  I'm not expecting to get anything done.  (I'm keeping my expectations low.)  Hopefully we will actually leave the house to do something fun.

::  I'm excited about going to the pumpkin patch with Jed's preschool class this afternoon!  I have a babysitter lined up for Levi, so it will just be me and my little man.  I'm looking forward to spending some one-on-one time with Jed.  Maybe we'll pick up another pumpkin.

Over and out!

Monthly Photography Challenge: Silhouettes

10.15.2014
I'm teaming up with my friend from high school/college at Lauren Jensen Photography to bring you today's post.  I don't think either of us had any idea just how much photography would one day capture our adult hearts, minds, and souls, but it has!  So in an effort to continue to stretch and grow as photographers, we decided to set up a monthly challenge to shoot something different, something outside of portraiture.  A challenge, per say.

This month's challenge: Silhouettes.

^^The old dead tree in our neighbor's yard.  I sure wish the sky had some clouds in it that night, but ya can't win them all, right?  I think the tree looks lonely here.^^
^^A whopping thanks to my cute neighbor girls for humoring me!^^
^^Note to self: next time you set up a tripod, make sure it is square with the window.  Haha!^^

I actually had no idea how difficult it would be to purposely shoot for a silhouette!  I'm so used to exposing for the subject that it was weird to dial down my exposure.  But the hardest part was finding the right light... and then placing my subject in front of it.  If you know my two little boys, you know that they don't stop moving long enough for me to set up the perfect shot.  I just have to run with it them!  But I do like the few images I was able to capture this month.  That'll do! 

The Fire Station

10.10.2014
^^This picture reminds me just how little my boy still is, though one day he may just come "tooo the rescue!" as a real fireman.  Who knows?^^

"Eee-o!  Eee-o!  Tooo the rescue!"  These are common words heard around our home--from both my little boys--followed by the puttering of a truck or airplane.  It really is cute.  That's why when Jed got word that his preschool class was going to be taking a field trip to the local fire station, he was ecstatic with excitement.  

Yesterday, we spent a typical hour and a half touring our local fire house.  Two firemen drilled the preschool kids on fire safety and then showed them all their gear: from the heavy coats and helmets to the hoses, axes, and even the "jaws of life" (they're heavy!) tucked away on the fire engine.  Then the kids actually got to hop inside the truck.  The only thing that would have made their day even better would've been a speedy ride with the lights flashing!  Jed and Levi loved every minute of our visit.  

And though I enjoyed our trip too, I actually liked watching Jed interact in his preschool class even better.  It's no surprise to me that he's outgoing and enthusiastic, up front and center!  I have a feeling I'm going to turn into one of those over-involved classroom moms just because I want to know what's going on with my sons.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing, right?

So without further ado, pictures from the fire station!  

^^A real fireman showing the kids his cool smoke mask.  When he put it on, it actually scared one little girl to tears!^^
^^Levi's awestruck face when the firemen turned on the flashing red engine lights.^^
^^Wearing their souvenir fire hats!^^