Meet the Sullivans: August 2014

August 29, 2014

Our Very Own #SheetHappensVideo!

This post is sponsored by Angel Soft®.

I have had a great time partnering with Angel Soft® for their #sheetoutofluck campaign! I've loved the opportunity to see their booth at BlogHer '14, be interviewed in a make-shift bathroom, giveaway a year's supply of toilet paper (Christina of This Woman Cooks was the lucky winner!) and now to make a little video ourselves similar to their awesome #SheetHappens videos!

When the people at Angel Soft® asked us to make our own version of a #SheetOutOfLuck video I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to take it creatively. I've never made a video like this before, so I had no clue where to start! I knew I wanted to include O, but that I wanted to respect his privacy, so there would be no "toddler on the potty" shots involved. I just used my iPhone and iMovie to add a little flare.

I thought this scenario was a great choice, since so many of us moms have been there. You finally get to sneak away to use the bathroom, alone, and find there is no toilet paper -- and of course while you were gone someone has gotten into something and made a big mess. Always happens!

I just love what O says at the end. His response was completely unrehearsed! I'm happy that the video was quick and simple. I hope you think it's kind of funny or cute. What toddler doesn't love to make a mess play with a roll of toilet paper? 

Oh, and please excuse the mess in the living room. New floors were just installed in the entryway and bathroom, so things were still all over the place from the construction.

And don't forget, you can snag some great coupons on the Angel Soft page right here!

Friday, Friday, Friday!

1. Thank you! First off thanks SO much to all the people who completed the survey this week! So many of you have really kind and insightful things to say about this space, and lots great ideas for where you'd like to see it go. You have been such a HUGE help to me!

If you haven't shared your answers with me yet, you still have time to share. Just click this link to be taken to the post with the survey, and don't forget to include your email address at the end so I can include you in the giveaway for a $15 Amazon card. I will be announcing the winner next week!

2. See's Candy Store Opening I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of See's Candies newest, and largest at 1900 square feet, San Francisco location this week! My mom and I had a lovely time sampling chocolate and wine pairings, mingling with the other guests. The store has two chocolate counters to make the shopping experience go more quickly and to accommodate those busy holiday shoppers around Christmas, Mother's Day and Valentine's day, which are their busiest times of the year.

You'll be surprised to hear I limited myself to only 3 chocolate samples + wine pairings. I tried my VERY favorite piece of See's, Scotch Mallow, with a glass of champagne (naturally!). Next up was the Pecan Buds cluster paired with a Merlot, which was fantastic! My favorite pairing was probably the final one I tried, Guinness with a peanut brittle.

We had such a fun time and the swag wasn't so bad either!

3. Back to School, Moms Go Wild Have you see this video? If you haven't take a sec to check it out. I don't really watch any vlogs regularly, but these ladies are really entertaining! Do you have any favorite vlogs?

4. Green Thumb, maybe? Every Summer I try my hand at growing herbs and vegetables. While I usually manage to get at least one tiny baby veggie, I never see them make it too full fledged edible vegetable. This year has been much more successful, I'm happy to say! I think that's all because I decided to just stick with three plants this time: basil, mint and tomatoes from seed. All are doing well and I can't wait to see the tomatoes turn red -- that is, if O doesn't pull them off the vine before they're ready!

5. We have a fun weekend ahead with family visiting, a Giants game and a party with friends. The weekend awaits!

I'm linking this post up with a gaggle of wonderful people, so go check them and all the other linkersup!

August 28, 2014

One Year & Beyond - Feeling Confident in Motherhood

Hey! This is the final week of our One Year & Beyond series. It has been a great experience getting to share some of my experiences, feelings and lessons learned. We hope to be back in October with another series, so please stay tuned.

This week's topic is about feeling confident in motherhood. The biggest challenge, in my opinion is the "mother's guilt" so many of us feel. It comes as naturally to a mother as the instinct to care for their little one.

When I was a new mom (O is on his way to three, so I don't consider myself a "new mom" anymore) I doubted everything I did. Things are much different these days -- I feel confident in my ability to parent, but with a newborn I worried about things like "Am I feeding him often enough?",  "Is my child thriving enough?", "Am I doing enough to enrich my 2 month-old's life?" and "Why is he crying? I must be doing something wrong." And then there was always the worry about going out in public and thinking someone else is going to think you're doing it wrong.

The best advice I ever heard was a woman in the Nordstrom bathroom who told me "You're doing a great job!" That was the greatest thing a new mom could hear. She saw me struggle with soothing Owen after nursing him, and probably saw the worry and anxiety on my face. Her words were what I truly needed to hear that day, not the usual "Why do you think he's crying? Is he hungry? Time for a nap! You shouldn't be out with him in this rainy weather!!! etc., etc., etc.

In truth, those are all ways of questioning a mother's ability disguised as concern. Ways of saying, "You're obviously DOING it WRONG, let me tell you the way IT SHOULD BE." To be good moms we all need a little encouragement every once in a while. A few kind words can go a long way in improving someone's day.

There is no should be, all moms and all children are different. You don't know what the morning has been like, or what the hours and minutes before have held for them. Trust that she is doing her best and loves her baby. Give all mother's a little bit of trust. And trust yourself. YOU"RE DOING IT RIGHT!

So now it's your turn to share! How do you feel confident as a mom? Check out the other mama's blogs for even more on this! And be sure to link up with us below if you also have a post on this.

August 26, 2014

Getting to Know You! & Giveaway!

One of my favorite things about blogging is the community I've been able to find through connecting with readers and other bloggers! I get great ideas, support and encouragement from all of you, and I value everything you share with me whether it's through emails or comments.

I share a lot about myself, and my family here, but today I'd like to get to know a little bit more about you and find out what you want! I've created a quick survey to learn a little more about you and to find out what keeps you coming back here -- and there's a little incentive too! In return for taking the survey I'm giving away a $15 Amazon gift card, all you have to do is answer the questions in the survey! Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to making some improvements here!

August 25, 2014

Motivation & Menu Monday

I've seen a few bloggers start the week out with some motivation for the week (like Two by Two Mom) and I thought it would be a great way for me to hold myself accountable and it might even be interesting to some of you.

Goal: Make healthy choices for me and my family, including making conscious (healthy) food choices and staying active. My problem isn't usually what I cook for breakfast, lunch or dinner at home, but the choices I make when snacking or eating out. 

Progress to date: Just beginning to track my weight, so I'll get back to you next week, and hopefully I'll have lost at least half a pound or something. 

Highlight of last week: Running on Sunday for the third week in a row, and finally shaving some time off my mile time. This week I ran my first mile in 10:50 (I used to run a 8 min/mile) and shaved 30 seconds off my average mile overall. My knees are sore, but hopefully that will fade by next week.

Challenge of last week: Getting back on track, after Keith made a huge batch his chocolate chip cookies and not giving into cravings for dessert at night while we watch The Americans.

Workouts: Only three times this week. One run outside, two days of weight training and cardio in the gym. I traded my Friday workout for errands that needed to be done, which then left me too rushed and tired to make good choices -- we had In n Out for lunch.

arms now v. arms in 2007

This week I'm increasing the weight I'm lifting and lowering the reps a bit. I'm hoping to get a little more definition in my arms, abs and legs. Ideally I'd love my arms from 2007 back!!

Lessons I learned this week: Bad choices (indulgences) can be made in a split second. I have to train myself to not indulge. Making good choices is much easier when we're home and I can create my own options.

Dinner Menu for the week:

Monday: Taco Salad

Tuesday: Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Wednesday: Cobb Salad

Thursday: Teriyaki Chicken Bowls

Friday: Zucchini Boats

And on that note, we're off to dance class. Hoping to get a few more moments like this tonight. He seriously makes my day with his sweet dance moves!

August 22, 2014

Hello There, Friday!

I'm not in the mood to waste any time, so let's get right to it -- the weekend awaits!

I can't believe O starts preschool school in a little over two weeks! He'll be going two days a week and I will be working in his classroom on one of those days. I cannot wait to see what he is like as a student. I think the consistent structure and socialization with other children his age will be great for him.We've been practicing some letters and working on following mommy's directions in preparation.

 back-to-school shopping
It may only be August, but with back-to-school in full swing I can't help but want to do a little Fall shopping for O... and myself! LOFT is running a sale right now for $20 off all jeans, which means now is a great time to stock-up on denim. I may have put a few other cute things in my cart as well!

hair help? please!
I have a hair appointment in about a week and I am in the mood to try something a little different. I'm thinking of having some side swept bangs cut, similar to what Taylor Swift has in her Shake It Off video -- what do you think?

from babies to big kids
We went with a few of our playgroup friends to Happy Hollow Park & Zoo yesterday and it was so much fun! I can't believe we've been getting together with these adorable, sweet little kiddos since they were just tiny babies. I can't believe how grown up they all are, and that they are all starting school in a few weeks. 

That's all for today, friends! We've got an exciting day ahead that includes an oil change and a haircut. Have a lovely weekend! I'm linking this post up with a gaggle of wonderful people, so go check them and all the other linkersup!

August 21, 2014

One Year & Beyond - Dining Out with a Toddler

Wow, I can't believe this is the second-to-last topic in our One Year & Beyond series! Today we're sharing our secrets for dining out with our toddlers.

Taking O out to eat used to be the biggest anxiety inducing outing for me. I would worry about what we would do if he had a meltdown in the middle of the restaurant? Or if he threw something across the room? Or what if we couldn't keep him contained to our table? I don't worry too much about all of those things anymore, we can handle whatever happens these days. Although, every once in a while we need a little extra help, so I try to make sure we're prepared with a few things that might help us make it through the meal.

No Expectations.
Keith and I have a rule for parenting, no expectations. I'm not saying we don't hold O to a certain standard of behavior, or that we don't expect a lot from him in terms of achievement, but when we're out and about we try to not have any expectations for how things will play out. Even with all of the preparation in the world and all of the fun entertainment you can provide you might still have a completely disastrous experience. No expectations, and no one leaves feeling too disappointed or jyped. Having said that, I think it is still very important that you set yourself up for success!

Be Fair to Your Child.
We don't expect O to sit in his car seat for a long drive up to San Francisco, go straight into a restaurant and sit nicely through an entire meal, only to get right back in the car and head home. That would not equal a happy experience for any of us. We try to work in some kind of play time before expecting him to sit still for any amount of time, so the restaurants we choose are usually near a park, toy store or shopping center we can roam for a bit.

The Right Location.
There are a handful of restaurants we like to bring O to. Here are the requirements:
  • noisy - to drown out the noise we will definitely be bringing to the table, literally. 
  • has a changing table - duh, but some places that you'd think would obviously have one do not. it's disappointing and really inconvenient.
  • is generally child friendly - will the other patrons give us the side-eye for bringing our kid in?
  • is there an escape route? - benihanna would be a huge NO, we need a place where we can take our meal to go at the drop of a hat.
  • entertainment - something for O to look at (a nice view of cars / the ocean / a tv) while we sit there. 
  • coloring place mat -did you know The Cheesecake Factory does not provide them? Shocked.
The Right Time.
Cranky pants and restaurants don't mix. Even if we plan on going out somewhere we'll usually nix those plans if O is exceptionally cranky or defiant that day. Like I said, set yourself up for success. BUT there are times, like when you're on vacation that you just have to eat out. When this happens we try to pick the best option, and maybe that's ordering takeout and eating somewhere O can play.

Bring Entertainment.
Crayons, coloring place mat, cars. busy bag, action figures. Anything to keep them busy and happy while you wait for your food. I don't pack all of the items pictured, but I usually make sure to throw one of them in my bag before heading out. Playdough, Melissa & Doug Crayons + paper, Water Wow by Melissa & Doug let's your child "paint" with a water pen, dinos + cars, or a Play Pack.

Bring Snacks.
I don't pack all of this food with us each time we go -- that would be INSANE, because the whole point of dining out is to not have to prep food yourself, right? This is just a look at some of the faves. We love our Zoli Snack Stacker, because the cups are interchangeable and you decide how many to bring. I always have O's Camelbak with us, but at a restaurant I usually order him a sparkling water, because it's his favorite and it will encourage him to stick around -- and it makes him feel like a big boy to have his own beverage from the restaurant.

Bring a Bribe.
Lollipops, a Hershey's Kiss, the promise of dessert at the end, etc. can all save you a few moments of peace before things get crazy.

When All Else Fails Pull Out the iPhone.
We both have Netflix and Amazon Instant Watch apps on our phones so we can turn on a quick show in a pinch. We also really love the Sago apps for Owen to play: Sago Mini Music Box · Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer · Sago Mini Forest Flyer.

Keep in Clean!
Restaurants aren't always the cleanest place, and if there aren't children's place mats given out I pull out my own for O to use. And of course, no mom leaves the house without some Wet Ones! I keep a large container in the back seat cup holders and a travel pack in the diaper bag / my purse.

Thank so much for stopping by and hearing what I have to share! Check out the other mama's blogs for even more tips! And be sure to link up with us below if you also have a post on this.

July 10: Keeping your marriage alive with a toddler
July 17: Favorite summer toddler activities
July 24: Helping Your Toddler to Communicate (Words, emotions, etc.)
July 31: Dealing with Separation Anxiety
Aug 7: Car Trip Necessities
Aug 14: Deciding when the time is right for baby #2 (and/or how to handle these questions)
Aug 21: Tricks for eating out with your toddler

Aug 28: Feeling confident as a mom (How to feel this way, Your struggle with, etc.)

August 19, 2014

Never Miss a Beat, I'm Lightning on My Feet

Okay, you know you've got that song stuck in your head too. Don't know what I'm talking about? Check it out here. Thank me later, friends!

O had his first dance class at Small Fry Dance Club and it was a total WIN!! Let me take you through how it all went down with a picture overload.

I know what you're thinking, "dance is for girls", and while I disagree, I may have doubted my decision to sign O up for the first 5 minutes of his class. O is naturally an outgoing boy, and has no trouble making friends with boys or girls, but he definitely feels more comfortable around other new children when some of them are boys.

He hung back for a little bit and sat in my lap while the rest of the kids sat in a semi-circle with the teacher. He still participated from my lap, but was reluctant to join the group for a bit.

And then things took a turn for the better! Look at that smile :) Maybe the circle was a little intimidating at first?

It didn't take long for our little star to get up and show off his rhythm. I'm pretty sure he gets it from me ;) Hashtag: can't stop, won't stop grooving

Look at that boy! This is when I realized I should never doubt my mommy instincts, because this was a fantastic idea. He was having a blast just shaking, wiggling and grooving all his energy out. 

He also proved himself to be a great listener and direction follower. You may remember our experience with gymnastics in the winter and the struggle we had with following directions. It's a relief to think this might go more smoothly.

O is not all too familiar with group style directions, so when the teacher asked everyone to find a yellow strip of tape to sit on, we were surprised he found one and sat right down -- again, I'm impressed. I had no idea he'd learned to follow directions, which is likely because I don't see him following he directions I give at home a lot. 

And then he reminded me that he's only 2 1/2 and has his own plans, and became the leader of the pack. The teacher did not ask them to all lay on their tummies -- Owen took it upon himself to switch positions and all the girls followed suit.

And then they had a little Meditation Time, which is code word for "let the poor instructor have a break, because that woman is working hard for the money, has all the patience in the world and has already earned her way into Heaven".

After Meditation Time the teacher set up a little obstacle course for each child to go through one at a time. All the kids that were not doing the obstacle course were asked to sit along the mirror while they waited their turn. I'm sure you can just imagine how that went. Poor lady, it was like herding a gang of feral kittens. But everyone had fun!

Before we knew it, class was over. Stamps were distributed, and good-byes were said. Keith and I spent the entire class smiling from ear to ear while watching O have a blast, so I'd say it was a GREAT idea to sign this boy up for dance class!! We're already looking forward to next week's class.

Small Fry Dance Club is one of our sponsors this month, but this post was not sponsored. All opinions expressed here about the class are my own. We purchased the voucher I told you about last week from Plum District for the class.

August 18, 2014

Blog Business Cards

Way back in the Spring when I purchased my tickets for BlogHer I knew that there were a few things I wanted to do to prepare myself for the conference. I had to make sure I had some comfortable/cute shoes and outfits, an idea of what I wanted to gain from going, and some cute business cards.

Besides having a mobile device of some sort (smartphone and/or tablet), business cards are the second most important thing to bring with you to an event like this. At a conference like BlogHer you meet so many new people and spend a ton of time chatting, that you would never be able to keep them all straight and remember their blogs without exchanging business cards. And it's really nice to have a system for keeping them all organized in your bag. I went the super fancy route and use a ziplock baggie to hold all of the tons of business cards I was accumulating. 

It took me forever to decide if I felt like my cards should match my blog design, or if I could get away with having something that just coordinated with the colors I have here. My little internal debate about the design helped me to continue procrastinating on having them made, and left me to design my own cards less than a week before the conference. I'm also really lucky to have a professional printer as a friend, so I was able to send my files to Jen and she printed and cut them for me. Thanks, Jen!

I used the Acorn program on my Mac (it's the same program I use to make all of my graphics) to create the layout. First I created a standard rectangular shape as my base. Then I pulled images from my site into a file on my desktop and made sure to save them as a PNG file. Then I just played around with what kind of design I wanted.

I really wanted a double sided card too, because why would anyone interested in marketing their site NOT want to take advantage of that space? I also wanted to keep things simple and clear so that my information can be easily read.

Next time I have cards made I think I will deifintely make the font a little larger and I'll include a few photos of some of my favorite projects to give an even better idea and feel for what my blog is about.

In the end I am so happy I created them myself and that they match my blog design!

August 15, 2014

Hello, Friday!

Goodness the week went by quickly! We've been around home a lot lately because there has been some work being done on the house (dry rot in the downstairs bathroom), so I am really exited when the weekend comes because it means we get to get out and see people and do fun things!

Playing Dress Up!
I've been looking forward to when O would want to play dress up since last year. When we bought his Halloween costume last year he wasn't really into it, and really fought me when I wanted to put it on him, but now he's totally into pretend! We bought this pirate costume yesterday at Costco (best $20 I've spent this month!) and the only time he's taken it off was last night for bath and bedtime. He promptly asked to wear it this morning upon waking up and I'm pretty sure he will be wearing it to the gym this morning!

New Subscription Box - Kiwi Crate 
I decided this week to cancel our subscription to Citrus Lane. We have loved all of the items we've received in our shipments, but I started to feel like O would benefit more from a subscription box that gave us an activity to do together rather than adding to our already overflowing amount of "stuff" in our home. Have you tried Kiwi Crate? I can't wait for our first box to be delivered, and I will share all the results.

Whole Foods Bag of Goodies 
Did you see the Blue Bottle Iced Coffee I posted on Instagram last week? It was amazing! While we were in there we also picked up a bag of goodies c/o Whole Foods San Mateo that was full of all sorts of fun new things to try! My favorite so far have been the Elderberry Balsamic, it's perfect for summer strawberries, and the water bottle for O, because we can always use more handy ways to stay hydrated! What are your favorite items to pick up at Whole Foods?

Organizing Our Life
I have been meaning to organize our personal files for as long as we've been married -- that's 4 years! I hate feeling panicked when I need to find some important paperwork and have to sort through a haphazardly organized box, so this weekend I am making a trip to Staples to buy all of the necessities to get us really organized. My biggest inspirations for this project: Simplified Personal Files and the Project Paper Series. I'm also hoping to get started on some kind of system to keep this blog organized, as my current system goes no further than my brain (not always dependable!) and my Life Planner.

Angel Soft Winner!
I drew the winner for the years supply of Angel Soft® facial and bath tissue giveaway, and the WINNER is Christina of This Woman Cooks! Congratulations Christina! I will send your information to my friends at Angel Soft and they will send you your products!

And on that note, we're off to workout and swim! Have a fantastic weekend! I'm linking this post up with a gaggle of wonderful people, so go check them and all the other linkersup!

August 14, 2014

One Year & Beyond - Another Baby?

Today is the sixth week of our One Year & Beyond series. This week we are discussing how we all figure out when it's time to have a second child and how we answer the most awkward question you can ask parents...
The question hanging there is absolutely the most awkward question I get asked these days. O is 2 1/2, and people have been asking us when we'll have another baby for quite some time now. You'd think that after being asked it a handful of times I'd know how what to say, but I still struggle with exactly how I want to answer it. Should I be honest, and dramatic, and drop the bomb on the question asker and give them all the details of exactly where we're at with baby #2? Should I smile and tell them we're not ready yet (which would be a total lie)? Or just play it cool, go the vague route and just say "We hope so!" and leave it at that? I usually go the vague route. It's safe. No one will leave the conversation feeling like they got more than they asked for, or feeling bad for probing, and I get to keep my privacy.

I know I'm guilty of asking the question myself. I've asked people I know and love the very question that breaks my heart each time it's asked. Even though I know some of them probably didn't mind, and my question didn't bother them. I want to apologize to the people who were hurt by it. It was none of my business to ask. Really, you never know what's going on in someone's home, their marriage, their heart, their body, their private life. There is so much more to having children than just wanting them.

So where are we at exactly? Where waiting, and hoping, and I hope that in a few months I'll have some happy news to share. We've had what's probably way more than our fair share of losses in the last 18 months, and right now I'm just trying to soak up my time with O and hope that someday soon he'll get to be a big brother. That's what I worry about the most, him growing up without a little comrade.

Now to answer the question of how you know when it's time to start thinking about having another child. It's really different for everyone, but we knew it was time to start trying to have another baby when things with O became less stressful and he became more easy going. We can take him almost anywhere, he's become a great little helper, so I can see that he will be ready to be a (really fantastic) big brother!

Hopefully you can relate to all of these Baby #2 talks this week! Check out the other mama's blogs for even more! And be sure to link up with us below if you also have a post on this.

July 10: Keeping your marriage alive with a toddler
July 17: Favorite summer toddler activities
July 24: Helping Your Toddler to Communicate (Words, emotions, etc.)
July 31: Dealing with Separation Anxiety
Aug 7: Car Trip Necessities
Aug 14: Deciding when the time is right for baby #2 (and/or how to handle these questions)
Aug 21: Tricks for eating out with your toddler
Aug 28: Feeling confident as a mom (How to feel this way, Your struggle with, etc.)

August 13, 2014

Toddler Snack Idea: Fruit Trains

The afternoons can be very long. We try to get out of the house for some fun or errands in the morning, but there is a large chunk of time for us to fill between nap and dinner time. So, in an effort to mix things up a bit I have been trying to find fun activities, crafts and snacks for O to enjoy at home to help us pass the time and make it a FUN time!

I don't think I know a single child that isn't a huge fan of trains! They're hard not to love, with their classic appeal, loud noises and fast movement. O is a big fan of anything that moves, and trains are high up on his list, so I knew this snack would be the perfect way to get him interested in some fruit for his afternoon snack!

You can obviously see the kinds of fruits I used to construct the train, so I won't bore you with all of ingredients. I will tell you though that I had to get creative with the what I had on hand, that melon makes the best non-slippery base for your train and that the cylindrical shape of the banana is hard to substitute for that front part (hashtag "boy mom fail" -- have no clue what that part of the train is called). I secured all of the parts together with toothpicks and watched O closely as he played with and snacked on the train.

Obviously he was pretty amazed when he saw what I'd put together for him! 

Upon first seeing the creation he exclaimed "WOW, mommy! Look at dat train! I wanna play with it?". I sat him on the counter and he spent a few minutes pushing it back and forth (with a huge smile on his face) before deciding to eat it!

What kind of afternoon snacks do your children enjoy? Share them with us in the comments below!

August 12, 2014

Photography for Moms - My Tips

A little while back I shared some of my novice tips for getting great photos of your children over on Sara's blog, Running From the Law, and I loved participating in the series and writing about how I get some of my favorite photos of O. I don't know a lot, but what I do know is the result of basically teaching myself, and today I want to share with you how I did that and some of the tools I use to make my pictures special.
I really had no idea how to use my dSLR when I first bought it way back in 2008. I had taken a photography class in college, but we spent most of our time learning how to develop film, rather than take pictures. I'm not a professional, I only know what little I do know from reading tutorials I've found on Pinterest (you can see my photography board on Pinterest to see some of my favorites) or from tips from other mommy bloggers (like Erin, Sara and Jenny).

In the beginning I mainly used the auto setting on my camera, which I was pretty happy with... until I started seeing other people's more "professional" looking shots. I knew I was wasting the great camera I had by not learning to use it properly. I would use the auto setting outside or in a low light situation, but depended on the "No Flash" setting as often as I could since I knew flash is a no no and I have never liked the look of pictures I've taken with a flash.

For the first year after buying it I brought my camera out whenever I could to play with. I played with style, the rule of thirds, getting different angles, etc. I didn't know how to mess with Manual settings, so I just left them alone. I was worried I would just have blurry messed up pictures if I tried shooting in Manual and that I would lose the moment I was trying to preserve.

I really began to pick my camera up more once we had Owen, which makes complete sense since that's when I started staying home, so I had more opportunities during the day to break out my camera and mess around. That's an important term here: mess around. That's basically how I learned to use my camera. I just played with it. In different lights, inside or outside, with a mostly stationary object (infant) and an active one (toddler).

When I bought my camera I went home with two lenses a 58mm 75-300 zoom lens and the kit lens I used exclusively until January of this year.

And then this Christmas Keith gave me a 50mm lens f1.8, which is mainly what I use now for about 95% of the pictures I take. It took me a while to get used to not being able to zoom in or out, but the quality of the photos is worth not being able to do that.

While I am not even close to being a professional at this photography thing I do have a few tips I've learned along the way to make my pictures just a little bit better!

Play with your camera as much as possible. Keep it out where you know you'll see it and be drawn to pick it up. I might take 40 photos of O doing one thing and only end up using 2-3 on my blog. Most people have to take a lot of pictures before they end up with a great one.

Manual is best, if you know how to use it, so LEARN it. You're not going to learn it in a week. It's a process, and I'm still trying to figure it out. Sometimes I just want to get a few good shots and don't want to bother with my camera too much, so I just switch to one of the preset auto settings like "Sports" or " Av".

18-55mm ISO 400 f/4 1/500
Get on their level. When O is playing on the floor, inside or outside, I like to get down on the floor with him and take pictures from his level. It gives the photo a neat perspective and it really captures the moment and expression on their face as they play.
Take lot so of pictures from all different perspectives. I like to get on the floor with O and take a few shots on his level, take a few from above and maybe one from far away. Sometimes I focus on his hands as he plays with a toy or just on his face. Each on gives a different feeling. 

 18-55mm ISO 400 f/3.5 1/160

The best light is outside, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, right before the sun goes down. You do not want to shoot in direct sunlight. Shade is best. Shoot in the shade with the sun to your back OR with the light behind you for a cool back lit photo (like the one above). Lighting is king -- there is no coming back from a poorly lit picture. The most you might be able to do is turn it black and white, so know your settings and good light when you see it. I like to take pictures of him outside late in the evening, when the sun is going down, there is more shade and the sun is lower. But if that's not possible I just stick to the shady spots in our front yard, and let the light be behind him as a backdrop.

50mm ISO 100 f/2.5 1/3,200    |    50mm ISO 400 f/3.5 1/500

Get Them Moving! The best pictures I've taken of O are always when he's busy doing something he really loves, like playing with his daddy at the beach or rolling around on the floor with his cars. It's fun to see him frozen in motion and with such a genuinely happy smile. The picture on the left was taken in the automatic "sports" setting on my Canon.

50mm ISO 100 f/2.2 1/160

Use the rule of thirds to make a simple picture more interesting to look at. This picture was taken on Mother's Day this year up in San Francisco. The picture is off center with O and I in the right third of the photo, which makes it a bit more interesting. I also really like the bright and blurriness of the plants behind us. We were sitting in the shade, Keith (the photographer here) was in the shade too and our background was mostly sunny, which is what gives it that cool bright appearance.

50mm ISO 400 f/2 1/40 

Play with props. You've probably noticed that O is almost always holding something in his hands in our pictures. He is just such a busy boy and needs to be doing something fun, otherwise he wants grab the camera from me. This was taken inside in the early afternoon near our very large and long kitchen windows with O sitting on the kitchen counter playing with an old camera of mine. He was busy having fun with my old point and shoot camera, and was stuck in one place, since I had him sitting on the counter. For this picture I had to turn the aperture and shutter speed down low to get O to be light enough, but he was happy to sit and play with my camera while I figured it all out.

50mm ISO 400 f3.2 1/200

Let it happen naturally. I've thought of some great places for taking pictures of O and when we finally get there it doesn't work the way I wanted it to. There is no fun in forcing your child to smile or sit for a photo just to get the perfect shot. I've found it's best to just have my camera with me as much as I can and to let the pictures I take be authentic and not staged (too much!)! His smile is the best and he's most happy when he's playing and having fun doing something HE wants to do, and not what I make him do. For this picture we were playing in the backyard and I was filling his pool up. He wanted to give it a try and I knew this would be a cute picture, so I ran in and grabbed my camera from the kitchen. I told him to try spraying me with the hose (luckily it was on pretty low) and that's how I captured his big smile.

Editing. For my big camera I like to use iPhoto to store my pictures and edit them. I might lighten them up a notch or two, change them to black & white or retouch something small like a blemish or wrinkle (mainly on me!), but I prefer to use them as is. If the picture  needs more work than that and I still don't like it, I just don't use it. To add graphics and letters to my pictures I use the Acorn on my Macbook Pro. It was $50 and it is great for adding extras to my pictures (mainly for blogging). It was pretty easy to learn how to use too. If I'm taking pictures on my iPhone I like using PicTapGo to add light.

BACK THEM UP. This is a lesson I learned a few weeks ago. Back up your photos, because this dummy neglected to do that and lost all of her pictures. My hard drive crashed, which resulted in me losing everything on my computer. It will be a very expensive investment to even try to get them back, so heed my advice and go back up your precious pictures!

I hope some of these little tips that have worked to make my pictures better will help some of you too!