Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Family Travel: Exploring Columbus, Ohio

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

 

Exploring Columbus, Ohio

Our family just returned from a trip to Columbus, Ohio and we are so excited to share about our family trip with you. We were hosted by TourismOhio to learn more about the fun options for things to do, see, and eat in Columbus, Ohio. They then acted as our own personal concierge and created an amazing itinerary based upon our family’s interests and tastes. We were so thankful for this opportunity to explore Ohio in a really unique way that made us truly feel like locals.

Since they so graciously created an itinerary for us, we want to share with you what we did each day while we were there and what our family thought about it. Thanks to this thoughtful itinerary, we were able to pack a lot into our days and everything was within minutes of each other, making it easy to go from one attraction to another.  Today’s post will be our honest impressions of the experience with two kids who are 8 and (almost!) 12 years-old.

Franklin Park Conservatory
Franklin Park Conservatory
Franklin Park Conservatory

Franklin Park Conservatory
Franklin Park Conservatory

Our first stop on our trip was to visit the Franklin Park Conservatory to check out the butterfly garden. We loved being able to see the display of the butterflies as they grow in the windows in front of the butterfly garden. Once you step inside it is impossible not to be in awe of the hundreds of butterflies that flit and flutter around the gardens. There were so many different varieties of butterflies that we could have stayed there all day just looking at the butterflies. Our goal was to hold still enough that a butterfly might land on us. Hitchhiking is discouraged so they have a mirror where you can check to make sure you haven’t picked up a butterfly hitchhiker on your way out.

We spent so long gazing at the butterflies that we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to walk through the gardens, but there is just so much to do there that I would definitely give yourself at least two hours to really enjoy the magic of the butterflies and the gardens. The gardens are breathtaking and there is plenty to look at both indoors and outdoors.

One of our favorite things at the Franklin Park Conservatory though was the Blue Butterflies: Migration Across America exhibit that is being displayed on May 17–September 21. The Indiana-based artist Tasha Lewis transformed the Cardinal Health Gallery with 4,000 cyanotype butterflies printed on cotton fabric. These butterflies have been installed in public spaces across the country and you can view the photography of where these butterflies have been captured on photos all over the world.

The Topiary Park
The Topiary Park
The Topiary Park

After that, we hopped into the car to head over to The Topiary Park to become a part of a topiary painting. The Topiary Park is a seven-acre park in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It’s big claim to fame is  its topiary interpretation of Georges Seurat’s famous Post-Impressionist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte. Visitors come from around the world to enjoy the unique experience of walking into and through a work of art. The admission on this is free and is a fun place to walk around, take a few pictures, or lounge on the lush grass. You can grab a handout in front of the painting and gaze at it from a park bench. There are lots of hills to roll down, as my kids discovered, and you can sit by the pond and watch the ducks swim by. It’s quite peaceful and a sweet escape from the hustle & bustle of the city.

Milestone 229

Our final stop of the day was dinner at Milestone 229 with the family. This was our most expensive dinner out, but I would say the most delicious and offered a beautiful view of the city that was worth the extra expense. Reservations are strongly encouraged and, due to restaurant size, you definitely want to get right in a seat and enjoy the view.  I would also recommend the $6 valet parking that they offer so that you do not need to worry about finding a spot to park on the busy streets. It was worth the $6 especially since we didn’t know our way around.

The menu was unique, the service was excellent, and the kid’s portions on the food were generous. I ate gluten-free for the entire vacation, which was difficult at times, but the one thing that I did indulge in a bit of was the Pig-Nic appetizer that we all agreed was the best thing we had ever eaten. It was a crispy pork belly served with pickled peaches, house made hot sauce and savory honey appetizer that blew me away with the depth of flavor.  Tweason’ale  was the gluten-free beer on tap and they even had an extensive gluten-free menu.  Our waiter was knowledgeable and offered loads of advice on things not to miss around the city.

We left clutching stuffed bellies and headed out back for what my children deemed, “the world’s best water park ever.” Smarter travelers would have brought the kids in their swimsuits and towels for this, but the kids really thought this was a blast because we told them that they could get soaking wet in their clothes and we would dry off when we got back to the hotel.

The Scioto Mile
The Scioto Mile
The Scioto Mile
The Scioto Mile
The Scioto Mile

Located in the heart of downtown Columbus, the Scioto Mile is an urban oasis comprised of more than 145 acres of lush parkland. Stretching along the riverfront from the vibrant Arena District to the natural beauty of the Whittier Peninsula, the Scioto Mile reconnects downtown to the Scioto River through an integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths.

It offered a stunning 15,000 square-foot interactive fountain that my kids played in until well past bedtime. Sadly, we did not get a chance to check out the country’s largest free outdoor climbing wall and the world’s most authentic replica of the Santa Maria because I could not persuade my children from this fountain.

My husband and I loved watching the kids run through the fountain and I loved that this was a free way to spend our evening. I would recommend dressing your children brightly though because it is very easy to lose sight of them since it is so large.

Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

The next day we spent the entire day exploring the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Be sure to pack your walking shoes because this zoo is BIG. We had tickets to also head to the Zoombezi Bay, but we did not get through all that we wanted to see at the zoo, even though we were there for seven hours!  There are so many animals to see that it was a treat for my two animal-lovers. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is home to more than 10,000 animals representing over 575 species from around the globe!  As if that wasn’t enough, they also have a new Heart of Africa exhibit that spans over 43-acres with 150 animals!  In this new exhibit you can come face-to-face with giraffes and feed them a snack, get up-close with lions as you board a grounded airplane, take a camel ride, watch the fastest land animal reach top speeds at the cheetah run, and take in the views of the savanna while the animals gather around the watering hole.

We were in animal-heaven and loved getting a chance to see all of these beautiful animals while we there. To cut down on expenses, we brought in our own snacks and drinks (no straws please!) which helped us keep moving through the different exhibits more quickly. The day we went was humid and hot at almost ninety degrees. Despite the heat, we found spots to take shelter from the sun and had a great visit while we were there. We highly recommend making the zoo & aquarium top on your Columbus priority list. We can see why it is one of the best in the US.

Ray Ray's Hog Pit
Ray Ray's Hog Pit

After such a full day at the zoo, we were feeling unmotivated to head back out for dinner. In lieu of the formalities, we decided to seek out a food truck treasure in Columbus and grab some barbecue for dinner. Have you heard of Ray Ray’s Hog Pit? Well, if you don’t know, now you know. Seriously, the world’s best barbecue and tucked away behind Ace of Cups off of High St. We felt like we were truly locals when we found this truck for our dinner. It’s one of the highest rated barbecue joints in Columbus and offered just the right amount of sweetness, smokiness, and spice. The brisket was killer as was the pulled pork (minus my bun). The sides though almost rivaled the meat with a spicy collard green and some of the best baked beans I have ever eaten.

We recommend picking it up and taking it to go to enjoy at a fun park or at your hotel to get in a swim if you are bringing the kids. If you are going for a date, you can enjoy a drink or two on the adjacent patio with an interesting crowd and, I have no doubt, you would have a few stories to share.

Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art

Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
The next day was one of my favorite days of our trip because we got to explore the Columbus Museum of Art. In many art museums we have visited, the museum is not geared towards children or making a visit a family experience. This was, by far, one of the most amazing art museums that you could enjoy with your entire family. Each room had some type of interactive section for kids to jot down what they thought about an exhibit, materials for them to create with, or puzzles of the art itself.  In addition to that, they had a Wonder Room where kids could create and play interactively with art. Whether it was creating their own shadow box display, gathering and creating a nest from various textiles and ribbons, or playing dress up, this area geared towards children could have kept my children busy and happy for hours.

I loved that bags were provided to encourage you to create and take your projects home with you.

For us, the art was a little slice of heaven. Although they offered beautiful pieces from famous artists like Monet, I fell in love with many of the more eclectic and unknown-to-me artists that represent such diversity and technique. My husband and I both agreed that this was one of our favorite things that we did and the kids had just as much fun as us.  I would add this to your travel agenda if you are exploring Columbus.

The Book Loft of German Village

The Book Loft of German Village

The Book Loft of German Village

Our next stop quickly become another family favorite situated in German Village. The Book Loft of German Village is one of the nation’s largest independent book stores and is located at 631 South Third Street in Columbus, Ohio, just a few blocks South of the state capitol building. The pre-Civil War era buildings that once were general stores, a saloon and a nickelodeon cinema, now are home to 32 rooms of Bargain Books.

The books are offered a discounted rate, while the truly discounted reside just outside of the book loft.  Be sure to have a way to get in touch with one another and divide and conquer this maze of a bookstore. Narrow hallways wind into different genres of books, making it easy to fall in love and get lost in this winding 32-room bookstore.

We left the store with big stacks of books that made our bookworm hearts very happy. Once we were done browsing the bookstore, we made our way over to the North Market which was just a short drive away to experience another Columbus treasure.

North Market of Columbus, Ohio

North Market of Columbus, Ohio

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

No less than a million locals encouraged us to make sure that we find a way to make Jeni’s Ice Cream a visit priority. We decided to head to the North Market so each of us could indulge in whatever types of foods we were in the mood for and we could finish our visit with a scoop of ice cream.

Established in 1876, the North Market is Columbus’ only remaining true public market. More than 30 merchants vend a wide variety of fresh, local, authentic food. Offerings include organic produce, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and goat, pastured poultry, sustainably raised seafood, locally roasted coffee, baked goods, cheeses, flowers and other artisan food items. The Market also provides an international selection of freshly prepared foods, authentic ethnic specialties, distinctive gifts and personable service from its merchant owner operators.

The market was very busy and the crowds were bustling, but we managed to find a table upstairs to enjoy our food. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, as suggested, was a Columbus highlight for us. We sampled the Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Savannah Buttermint, the Buckeye State, Salty Caramel, the Milkiest Chocolate in the World, and Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate…just to name a few.

You know, to tell you all about it. For work. Hard day. Etc.

Every flavor was divine and we all thought we picked the best one. Basically, you can’t go wrong.

COSI

COSI

COSI

COSI

Our next stop was to the COSI , Columbus, Ohio’s dynamic Center of Science and Industry. The COSI was opened in 1964 at Memorial Hall in downtown Columbus, COSI moved in 1999 to a new 320,000-square-foot home designed by internationally-renowned architect Arata Isozaki, creating one of the largest modern-built science centers in the United States.

As a “center of science,” rather than a standalone science center, COSI has established embedded partnerships that enrich the guests’ experiences, including WOSU@COSI, the only working television station in a science center; the Ohio State University (OSU) Labs in Life, working research laboratories created through a partnership with The Ohio State University and staffed by OSU researchers; Battelle’s STEM Innovation Network, in partnership with one of the world’s leading research institutions; the Columbus Historical Society; and the STEM-based Metro High School, among others.

The kids had a blast exploring the COSI and getting to experience lifting a Honda (and they do say HONDA not car- well played, Honda!) visiting the ocean wing with all of the fun waterworks, as well as touring  around the Progress wing, and watching people ride on the high wire unicycle.

There was lots to see and do here, but you should note that we found that with some of the more exciting things on the floors, like the wind tunnel, actually were coin-operated and were additional charges. The movies and other exhibits also were extra on top of the general admission.

If your kids do want to ride the unicycle, note that they cannot be in sandals, which meant that we couldn’t partake that day.  To ride the high wire unicycle, you need closed-toe shoes (sorry, no sandals, high heels, or Crocs), weigh under 250 pounds, and have at least a 25-inch inseam. To avoid disappointment, remember the High Wire Unicycle closes a half-hour before COSI does, and to accommodate guests fairly, the line may close earlier.

All important things that we did not know before we headed over.

The Columbus Crew

Our final evening we had tickets to watch the Columbus Crew play. So…I have never been to a soccer game with more enthusiastic fans than Columbus. You guys take it to another level! Unfortunately, due to weather and circumstances beyond their control, the game was canceled the night we attended. We were so bummed, but had quite the stories to tell about the visit, the fans, and the monsoon that we drove into and out of to attend.

The next day we had hoped to make it over to the Easton Town Center, but since it did not open until noon, we decided to head on back to good ol’ Indiana and make plans to shop another day…perhaps, without the kids.

Hilton Garden Inn

I would also like to say that our accommodations were perfection at the Hilton Garden Inn. Sleep number adjustable beds, a Keurig for coffee, a fridge for drinks and snacks, a fantastic made-to-order breakfast available, and huge coffee carafes and fruit-infused water by the entrance so we always had a drink. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable offering suggestions for a gluten-free pizza joint we could order from and making sure we were comfortable and cared for at all times. The pool was just the right size and a hot tub was just what I wanted to sink into at the end of the day.

The best memories though are the ones that I can’t always capture- curling up with the family watching Food Network together in the evenings and belly-laughing, the pure unadulterated joy of wonder as my kids discovered new things, my husband’s face and jaw-dropping when he saw the art at the museum, the sunset we caught while the kids splashed in the water park, and the squeals of delight over who had the best ice cream (in case you were wondering, it was mine!).

We left with full hearts, bellies, and a whole lot of beautiful memories.

Thank you, Columbus, for your hospitality!

Love this travel piece? Be sure to check out our Family Travel section for more ideas for places to visit! So, Columbus, what did we miss? Feel free to share your favorite Columbus, Ohio travel suggestions here!

Our family received lodging, food, and event tickets in exchange for our honest thoughts and opinions on Columbus sponsored by TourismOhio.  All opinions expressed are our own and we received no additional compensation.

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The New Flourish Boutique

Friday, April 4th, 2014

The New Flourish Boutique

We are so excited to share that our amazing site sponsor, Flourish Boutique, has relocated into a beautiful and more spacious home. Emily & I were invited to the Grand Opening event this Thursday evening and had the best time browsing all of the beautiful items that they have in their new place.

If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, you will be in for a treat.  Not only does the store carry an expanded line of clothing and jewelry, they have now added shoes, beautiful handbags, bath/beauty products, and fun gifts for everyone in your life (babies, kids, furry friends, and even bridal fun!)

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

As you can see, they rolled out the red carpet for us to show you around. The new location is right next to the new Gigi’s Cupcakes on 310 West Cleveland Road in Granger.

I don’t know what you are waiting for… let’s head on in!

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

It was hard to take very many pictures to really show you everything because there were so many Flourish friends shopping that night. We had the best time browsing all of the items in the store. Of course, our eyes always go to the jewels whenever we are out and about.  Pictured here is just half of the store, if you can believe it, and an amazing little Clearance section is tucked in the back of the store.

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The New Flourish Boutique

The evening included a fashion show. If you know us, you know we love fashion. Everywhere we turned, we saw something we loved.  Flourish Boutique has a ton of new merchandise that you can order or find in their store. MomAdvice readers can get 25% off any of their regular priced merchandise using the code WEB25!

Pretty in Pleats Maxi (Flourish Boutique)

Pretty in Pleats Maxi (Flourish Boutique)

Pretty in Pleats Maxi (Flourish Boutique)

Pretty in Pleats Maxi (Flourish Boutique)

Mystree Jacket (Flourish Boutique)

Mystree Jacket (Flourish Boutique)

Scarf (Flourish Boutique)

Here are some of my FAVORITE finds that I scored last night. This Pretty In Pleats skirt in white & black are my new favorite summer item! I am barely over five feet, and a maxi like this is a DREAM COME TRUE for me. I love that the lining is also an appropriate length and adds to the breeziness of this skirt. Did I mention the belt is included? Swoon! Be sure to check out the What’s New link to see all the updates (as I am sure some of these I have pictured haven’t made it on the site yet!) You can always cash in on our coupon code- woohoo!

We feel so blessed to have this partnership with Flourish Boutique and are so thankful for their continued support and sponsorship over the years! It has been a dream come true that they sponsor and support my little business- thank you, Flourish!

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It’s The 3 Little Things

Friday, March 14th, 2014

3_little_things

I thought I would start a new feature here called, “It’s The Three Little Things,” that I could share (or you could share!) three things that you are loving this week. Not everything seems to fit in a category anymore so I thought it would be fun a few highlights of things that are making me happy here.

BB Creme Garnier BB Cream

 

I had never heard of BB Creme before, but the last conference I went to CVS Minute Clinic (another thing I absolutely love) had a booth set up and offered to mail me a package of their favorite drugstore items to try. In the bag were two BB Cremes, an invention that I had never heard of. And the rest, as they say, is history. I will never go back to foundation again.

Not to sound too informercially, but this creme has transformed my skin and complexion. It contains a moisturizer, a light sunblock, a foundation, and has brightening agents in it. It’s almost like an airbrush tool for your face.

If your hairdresser messages you AFTER you get home from getting your hair done to ask what you are using on your skin, you know it’s good. It also helps that this saves me a few steps in my morning routine. The best part is, it only costs around $12!

Seamless Perfection Top

Seamless Perfection Top

 

It’s still cold in Indiana, but I am dying to wear some of my Spring clothes (see my tank top post I created in our current Indiana blizzard). I picked up one of these seamless tops and I honestly wear it almost every single day. It’s not bulky under my Spring pieces and it feels like I am wearing a pajama shirt, but looks great with everything. Since I wear it almost daily, it is washed frequently and it looks just like the day I bought it.

I am planning to wear this one a lot with my maxi skirts and under my sleeveless spring dresses until the weather finally warms up around here! ($37.50, but you can use code WEB25 for 25% off your order to make it $30!)

 UGG Boots

UGG Inserts

UGG Boot Inserts

 

I have never owned a pair of UGG boots, but when I found a pair at Goodwill for a mere $4.50, I couldn’t resist bringing them home with me. They had seen better days though and I thought I would look up how to clean them and make them look fresh again. Not only do they sell great cleaning kits (which I used to clean all my boots this Winter), but they have plushy new inserts that you can slip inside your boots and make them feel like brand new again for only $15.

With that little investment, I feel like I got a new pair of fancy boots and I still only paid $20 for them! Such a happy steal this winter. And after getting these, I see what the fuss is all about. My feet are so warm now!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

What’s making you happy this week?

 

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

Although the snow continues to fall here, I am starting to get the urge to spruce up my wardrobe for Spring. Today I wanted to showcase 5 fun ways to wear a $3.94 tank top with items you probably already have in your closet.

I am partnering with Walmart on today’s project to help spread the word about their $3.94 Faded Glory Ribbed Cotton Tanks that you can find in a variety of colors and prints at their store. Truth be told, I buy a huge stack of these every single year and each year, I think they improve a little bit more!

The one thing that I love about this year’s tank is that it actually covers your bra straps so you don’t have to wear a strapless bra with this one or have to layer anything underneath. It’s an improvement from year’s past where two tanks were necessary for coverage. I think you will be pleased with the cut, length, and fabric weight on these too.

Here are 5 fun ways to wear this year’s tanks!

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

Novelty prints are still really hot this year so I wanted to pick up a couple of printed tanks to wear with my wardrobe basics. This heart print looks so cute with a boyfriend blazer, jeans, ballet flats, and a pretty necklace.

This would also be cute with a blazer, chambray shirt, or a favorite cardigan for layering until those warmer temperatures come along.

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

Here is an example of that same novelty print, but dressed up! I grabbed my skinny red patent belt to cinch the waist and then paired it with a cotton skirt and my favorite red wedges. I love looks like this because you look very polished, but it is essentially as comfortable as wearing your pajamas!

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

In the summer month’s I LIVE in maxi skirts and tank tops.There really is nothing more comfortable.

Here is another $3.94 tank top in a sunshine yellow that I have paired with my favorite maxi skirt and bubble necklace from our awesome site sponsor. When I have a shirt that doesn’t have any pattern to it, I really rely on fun accessories to add details to my neckline. One necklace can change the entire look of a basic tank.

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

Truth be told, most of my tank tops get devoted towards my workouts at the gym! This tank can be paired with your favorite yoga pants and layered or worn alone with a sports bra for your workouts. Workout gear can be really expensive so I rely on this budget-friendly wardrobe staple for my yoga classes. Sweating ain’t no thang when you only pay $3.94 for a top!

5 Ways to Wear a $3.94 Tank Top

In the summer months, I am usually in my favorite capris and tanks while running around after my kids at the local park. Even this look paired with a chunky necklace, a contrasting patterned bangle, and a pair of wedges can look pulled together for a day running around with the kids.

I hope these ideas inspire you to make these tanks a summer staple in your wardrobe too!

walmart_mom_disclaimer

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Our Best Disney Tips

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Disney Tips

Our family is currently having the time of our lives at Disney World for the Social Media Moms Conference and I was reminded of our family’s first experience visiting the Magic Kingdom and what we learned during that trip.

Are the tips I shared then still helpful? You bet! In fact, coming into this trip armed with the “insider” tips we learned during our first visit has made this one a lot smoother, even though it’s a bit different because I’m also attending a conference.

MA_Disney_collage

So I thought I’d take a moment to share again how we planned for Disney and what we learned (for further information on each tip, be sure to read the original post), and give you the opportunity to add any of your tips or tricks you’ve learned in visiting Disney World in the comments!

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

Now it’s your turn – what can you share with us about the best way to experience Disney?

 

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What Do You Do All Day? The Real Story Behind My Niche Blog!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

One of the biggest questions that I get asked is, “What exactly is your job?” It is one of those things that people are often curious about, and admittedly are confused about,  since my job is so difficult to explain. Today I wanted to offer a behind-the-scenes look at what it is like to run a niche blog.

I have been blogging for 9 1/2 years now which makes me a dinosaur in this business! The blog that you see today is very different than the blog I started out with. The site has grown a lot over the years and many  of you have been through all of its growing pains. For those of you that have been following our journey, I wanted to share with you what my business has evolved into.

What is a Typical Day Like For You?

I am a busy mom of two kiddos so my day-to-life is probably a lot like yours. I handle the day-to-day routines and schedules of my kids. I take my kids to their extra curricular activities, I volunteer weekly at my kid’s school helping with kids that are struggling with reading, we go to worship once a week, and I do my best to workout at the gym three days a week.

Every pocket of time that I have beyond that though is spent working on projects for one of the many freelance clients I write for. I am either shopping for my clients, creating tutorials for craft/diy/food, photographing projects, or writing for them. Since many of my clients are running on magazine calendar deadlines, you will often find me shopping for Easter supplies in the dead of winter or working on Christmas crafts in the Fall.

Even my free time is often accounted for because I share it with you. I try to read four books a month for our reviews and you will rarely find me sitting still when I am watching television because I am usually working on a craft project at the same time for the blog.

Much like you, I am sure, I am pretty beat at the end of the day! By the time the kids go to bed, I am ready for bed myself. I usually head to bed pretty early so I can start the whole routine again!

Who Works With You?

I think one of the things that people have found most surprising about our site is that I was the only writer & contributor on my site for over nine years alone. My husband did all of the coding and design of our site and I managed all the content.

When our site experienced a lot of growth from Pinterest, I realized that there was no way that I could manage all of this on my own. My email inbox had over 50,000 unopened emails, my taxes and paperwork for my business were a mess, and I had been treating my work like a hobby rather than a business.

This last month I hired a virtual assistant to help  me with some of the things my readers had come to expect here, but didn’t really showcase my personality- the weekly freebie list, our weekly notebook, and our giveaway link list. She got my inbox down to zero within two months and I finally felt like I could breathe a little bit. She is, in one word, amazing, and has brought back a quality of life that I felt like I had been lacking.

We also hired an accountant to handle our taxes this year, something that had burdened us greatly over the years, and I also started using FreshBooks (affiliate) to help me keep track of my accounting better (a recommendation made by my amazing friend over at Dine & Dish). Invoicing, following up on payments with clients, and paperwork for them takes up a good portion of my day so any people/products I can use to make my day go smoother really helps me.

embroidery thread egg for Kenmore

 

Why Do You Work For So Many Brands?

I write a lot of content for brands because, frankly, it helps pay the bills. I write professionally for five to six clients monthly and those projects help our family financially, but much of the earnings go towards keeping my site up and running.

When our site was smaller, we had an inexpensive web host and I was able to do everything on my own. Our site grew by 100,000 users this year alone, which is incredible and awesome, but our web host couldn’t handle the traffic! It was time to invest in the business and move to Liquid Web (affiliate), who can handle anything we throw at them. We currently spend about a thousand dollars a month to pay for web hosting, photography props/equipment, our accountant, and my assistant. Many of my projects that I write for just go towards keeping the business afloat and paying my self-employment taxes.

No, I Was Asking How Much You Make?

Yup, I get asked that all the time although I have NEVER asked anyone what their salary is. It is such a weird job that people are always dying to know how much you make. I make a full-time income thanks to the companies I work for as a content writer/creator, ambassador, and spokesperson for. If I was living on our ad revenue alone, we could pay for our web host and maybe a bill or two. In all honesty though,  my income fluctuates a lot because it depends on what jobs come through for me for the year. This past year all my time was devoted towards my book which was a rewarding experience, but also prevented me from taking on a lot of paying jobs.

How Do You Do It All?

I don’t think I do more than many of the other working parents that I know, but people constantly ask me this. I think the main reason is because when people do these types of projects around their house they aren’t pointing a bunch of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram traffic over to it like,

“LOOK AT ME! I MAKE THINGS! LOOK HOW AWESOME I AM!”

Here is an example of a typical month of projects  for my clients.

I knitted a scarf for a new yarn line that Walmart was carrying.

I painted vases with my kids for Kenmore.

I took my kids over to the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit at Brookfield Zoo to write a review for a local magazine I write for.

I gathered up ideas for things to do with old books for Goodwill.

I made homemade laundry detergent for Walmart.

I made a cookbook with my kids for Kenmore (post coming soon!)

I made whole wheat toasted tarts with Walmart.

There are several other projects, but this gives you an idea of what I am up to. If I look at it as a whole, I am completely overwhelmed. On any given week I could have anywhere between two to four projects for clients. Since I do all of  the shopping, crafting/cooking and then my own writing & photography for these projects, each project is very time-consuming.

I also am maintaining the writing that I do here on  my blog like sharing yummy recipes for pecan-crusted chicken fingers, whipping up Peep-tinis, & sharing all those fun book reviews and making sure we have plenty of content for the rest of the week. All of that, and I haven’t even touched on the social media side of things which is just as consuming now that my readers can connect with me through every available social media channel!

Usually the most surprising amount of time I spend is on the shopping and the staging for photos. I will get a brilliant idea for a client and then get to the store and find out that the items I need aren’t sold there or that I have to completely rethink a project. What’s worse is if I spend a whole day on a recipe and it flops.

Although it appears I take every opportunity given to me, I take about half or less of the projects offered. If you look at the projects above, you might be surprised they were even for companies because they are just the types of projects I would want to share with you anyway. Since the companies supply a budget for supplies, it helps to offset some of the costs to crank out this many projects monthly.

Time management is a tricky terrain with a juggle like this. I have learned that is better to tackle a few recipes in one day and then edit & write the content the other days. Many days it looks like a bomb exploded in my house because I am in some stage of creation for someone. It doesn’t make my Type-A heart very happy, but it is one of those things that comes with the job. I try to look at it the way I see my kids LEGO’s all over the floor or all their art supplies out, I am just proud they are creative and they are making something. I want to always be surrounded by creativity.

Basically, I take it all day by day.

How Does Your Job Impact Your Family Life?

I am so thankful for my job because it usually has a positive impact on our family life. My kids and I see these projects as opportunities to spend time together and the recipes that I create in our kitchen are enjoyed by all at our family dinners. How many people get to craft all day long and call it work? Not many! It almost sounds too good to be true sometimes.

I have gotten to travel to places that I thought I would only read about in books, I got to fulfill a life goal to write a book, my kids have gotten to go to places we couldn’t have afforded, and I’ve met a lot of truly amazing men & women who blog that my life would have never crossed paths with.

rainbow_cake_in_a_jar

Let me be honest though, there are positive and negative aspects about my work. For example, since our holiday content is written months in advance, I am usually not sitting around making rainbow cakes with my kids on St. Patrick’s Day or being a super creative parent like I want to be. By the time the holidays roll around, they are usually lucky if I dye their milk green because we have already done those projects together ages ago and I am on to the next holiday.

Traveling can be hard especially when my jobs end up interfering with family events. One year I had to travel on my daughter’s birthday and I cried a lot over that. It didn’t matter that I had thrown three parties for her, I was not there on the actual day. Inevitably, some kid gets sick or they have a fancy holiday show and I am off promoting the latest product for a company or have a speaking engagement for my work that has been planned months in advance. I am thankful for Skype on days like those so that I can see their faces and feel like I am there. I am sure every working parent feels that way sometimes.

Operating at a frantic pace each week can also have negative impacts on me and my health. I was two years overdue for a lot of routine check-ups for myself this year, my stomach issues have increased, and there are times where I feel completely overwhelmed or just don’t want to do all of this. It is hard to escape your work when it is always there!

We are not celebrities by any stretch of the imagination, but our family does not have an anonymous life. Some of us thrive better than others with this and there are days where we miss that.

There are times where I want to be political or snarky, but I worry how that might reflect to my readers so it definitely censors me in my social media life.I am sure this is a good thing in the long run.

All in all, the positives have outweighed the negatives though. If it starts to turn the other direction, we will have to make a decision to continue or not as a family. We operate under the, “All for one, one for all,” family motto. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a question for me? Feel free to ask it!

 

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Dinosaurs Alive! Exhibit at Brookfield Zoo

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Ever since my son was small he has been obsessed with dinosaurs. He did not speak for the first two years of his life and when he did decide to talk, his first words were about two of his favorite dinosaurs-  pachycephalosaurus and coelophysis. I had thought he would outgrow dinosaurs, but last summer his love for them was sparked again and I found him pouring over his encyclopedias and watching documentaries about them.

That is why we were so excited when Brookfield Zoo contacted us about a sneak peek media day to explore the Dinosaurs Alive!  exhibit that opened on April 6th.

What is Dinosaurs Alive!?

Dinosaurs Alive! will run through October 27th and takes zoogoers down a winding trail of animatronic dinosaurs that make a variety of sounds and movements. There are 24 dinosaurs in all and each offer interactive displays that give you the chance to move them by pressing buttons and well-thought information. Our kids got a kick out of the fun facts in creative tabloid-magazine displays with shocking facts like, “I didn’t even know I was laying eggs,” that parents will truly get a chuckle out of while enjoying the exhibit with their children.

The new indoor display of Feathers and Fossils highlights the most recent findings that include scientific discoveries demonstrating how birds evolved from dinosaurs. The room literally roars as you walk in, and hear all of the dinosaurs chiming in together as they move around in this display.

Kids can be like real paleontologists and dig in a Dino Dig area where they can brush off  fossil displays in the back of the Feathers and Fossils exhibit. Our kids absolutely loved this hands-on element of the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit.

Is This Just for Boys? Heck no!

If you think this exhibit was just for the boys, you would be wrong. My daughter loved this one just as much as her brother and we had a hard time pulling them out of this exhibit to explore other areas of the zoo. She loved the Dino Dig area, making the dinosaurs move, and the interactive displays and information that made this exhibit so charming.

Since he is such a big dinosaur lover, Ethan is going to share with you about the new Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. He truly enjoyed talking to the knowledgeable employees and many offered him a job at the zoo to volunteer at the exhibit as he spouted off his facts. Sadly, the zoo is a 2 1/2 hour drive for us or I think he would have began working there that day.

Dinosaurs Alive! at Broofield Zoo Review by Ethan (Age 10)

Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit was a place that was a fantastic dinosaur-filled adventure that seemed like it was already done, but it was actually still in the making. I’ll give it 4 stars. only a few mistakes, but I could hardly see most of them. It still was astonishing, though!

Pricing

Dinosaurs Alive! is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors over 65 in addition to regular zoo general admission of $15 for adults and $10.50 for children and seniors over 65. Children 2 and under are free. Beginning in April, discounted-combo general zoo admission and Dinosaurs Alive! tickets will be available for purchase at participating Dominick’s stores. Zoo members can take advantage of half-price admission to Dinosaurs Alive! Or guests can now pay for a day and come back for the year with the Zooper Fun Pass. For the same price as a one-day all-inclusive ticket, the Zooper Fun Pass offers admission to Dinosaurs Alive! and to each of Brookfield Zoo’s six other special attractions. And with the Zooper Fun Pass, guests can also come back to visit again and again throughout 2013. For more information, visit this page.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Brookfield Zoo for such a fun excursion over our Spring Break. We brought our best friends and they represent three different age groups and they all equally loved this interactive display. We spent almost two hours in this area alone, making it truly worth the price of admittance, especially with the fun new dino facts they each came away with. When asked what their favorite part of the day was at the zoo, they all said the Dino Alive! exhibit!
We can’t wait to come back and see it all again!

Our family received free admittance in exchange for our thoughts and opinions on the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. All opinions expressed are our own and we received no additional compensation.

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Family Travel: Exploring Saugatuck, Michigan

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Our family spent the most glorious week in Saugatuck, Michigan last week and we wanted to share with you our experience traveling to this fun little Midwest destination for your family travel. Words like epic, most relaxing vacation ever, and best vacation of our life may have flown out of our mouths. Sometimes the sweetest destinations are the simplest and lurking practically in your own backyard.

Saugatuck is a little harbor village that celebrates diversity and offers a fun artsy community for visitors to explore. Recently The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Saugatuck/Douglas as one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in the U.S. and the writers and editors of Midwest Living Magazine ranked Saugatuck/Douglas fifth among the top 100 vacation destinations in the Midwest. Saugatuck happens to be just an hour and a half from our home, yet it seemed a world away and happened to be our first visit to the town.

Rental properties abound in this town and it is just a matter of selecting your house early enough and finding one in your price point. We searched on HomeAway to find our own dream property. I took on a freelance job and squirreled the money away for our vacation and when we saw this rental in Kingfishers Cove, we knew it would be perfect for us. A gorgeous little log cabin with modern amenities was our heart’s desire and we made it happen.

To save on this expense, you could definitely split the property with another family, book during the week instead of paying for weekend rates, or cut expenses by selecting a smaller size property. Remember that the properties book quickly and you need to plan a couple of months in advance to grab the premium spots in town.

When I asked around on Facebook about the best things to do and see while we were in the area, everyone had their own favorite spots in the town and a bucket list of fun activities to do there. We made a list of everything we wanted to do from the responses (this one from Travelmomiac was among my favorites) and we did everything on our list.  After our week of exploration, here are our family’s top recommendations for fun in the Saugatuck area.

Swoon Over Retro

The antique stores in Saugatuck are phenomenal and full of thoughtfully curated antique items that will have you wishing that you brought a moving truck to take it all home with you. We stopped at so many fun little shops along the main drag, but our favorite was the Blue Star Antique Pavilion. You could literally walk the store for miles and miles and never see the same thing twice. The store is over 50,000 square feet and it was named the best of the best in  Antique Mall in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin by Lake Magazine (July 2005).

You can end your visit with a delicious lunch next door to their building at the Saugatuck Brewing Company.  This award winning micro-brewery has 2 chefs delivering fresh and innovative food that is the perfect way to end a day of antiquing. There are always 12 different beers on tap, and a Hard Cider, that tastes like champagne, and loads of other fun drinks. Emily highly recommends their root beer. She said it was the most amazing thing about the brewery.

Head Downtown

Downtown Saugatuck is full of cute little shops to visit and spend an afternoon browsing in. Many of the shops seemed very tourist geared, but there were some hidden gems along with lots of shops offering wine tastings and food samples to try.

We visited the Saugatuck Drugstore and grabbed ice cream at the soda fountain counter for a midday pick-me-up. The cone pictured above is a SMALL so we recommend ordering a kid size cone so you don’t end up with a belly ache from all the ice cream. There is nothing like sitting at an old-fashioned ice cream counter and the kids loved their delicious treats.

Marro’s Restaurant was on our family’s agenda for our last night of vacation celebration feasting and it did not disappoint. You can order small/lighter portions to save a little money or order the regular size portion (seen in my picture above) and split it between two people. We ordered the Linguine Ala Pescatore and it was a generous portion of mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops tossed in a spicy red sauce that was absolutely divine.

My daughter ordered the mac and cheese which came out on a platter and looked like chicken nuggets. Deep fried macaroni? Perhaps the world’s most delicious kid food ever.

We ended our downtown visit with a stop at Tuck’s Treats and grabbed a cupcake ($3.99 each) to split for our dessert that evening. It was rich, moist, and decadent. It is a cupcake that you can share among two or three people due to its richness and size.

Catch a Sunset

The sunset was absolutely breathtaking and worth catching in the evening after a great meal together. We caught a sunset over at Pier Cove and it was worth every moment of effort. My daughter actually said this was her favorite part of our trip and, as you can see from the photos, the view was absolutely stunning.

We are adding more sunsets to our family’s travel agendas since this is such a fun and free activity to partake of. The sunset in Saugatuck did not disappoint and the kids loved dipping their toes in the water.

Head to Holland

Holland, Michigan is just thirteen short minutes away from Saugatuck and happened to be one of the highlights of our trip. The shopping in Holland offered fabulous unique and boutique options that could have you window shopping for days. I actually enjoyed the shopping in Holland more than Saugatuck because of the variety of shops they offered and how cute the town was itself.

They offer an amazing Famer’s Market (Open Wednesdays & Saturdays 8am – 4pm May 16 – Nov 24 and Saturdays only thru Dec 15) that had just about everything your heart could desire.

New Holland Brewing Company is a fantastic spot to visit for a great sandwich and pint of their Mad Hatter Beer. The sandwich options were so delicious that my husband and I ordered the two we liked best and split them. The kid’s menu offered generous portions for big appetites.

We ended our feasting and took back slices of Crane’s Pie (located in downtown Holland) for dessert and did a pie taste test. I loved the cherry while my daughter was in love with the red raspberry. It was the perfect way to end a day of fun shopping and eating.

Go On a Dune Buggy Ride

We ended our travels with a Dune Ride together and I have to say that the Saugatuck Dune Ride was one of the highlights of our entire trip. The driver shares the history of the dunes along with a fun comedy routine that keeps families engaged with the historical information. The buggy ride is like a fun roller coaster and you can ride up to 60-65 miles through the hilly dunes.

The ride takes you to the highest dune where you have ten minutes to let your kids run around like crazy down the dunes, where you are able to take pictures of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen in my life, and where the driver will even happily take your family portrait for you.

We ended our trips with sand in our mouth and aching faces from smiling so hard which is the way all vacations should, perhaps, end.

We hope you enjoyed the review of our family’s experience in Saugatuck. Be sure to visit our Travel section for more ideas on great family travel!

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Food Photography 101

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Food Photography 101

I have been getting a lot of emails and comments lately requesting that I share a little bit about my experience with food photography. In full discretion, I am not a food stylist or food photographer at all. In fact, I know nothing about photography except what I have learned through my own trial and error and the tips from friends and books that I have read.

Let’s start with what my food photography looked like when I started blogging.

First, I started my blog with no photography.

Or paragraphs.

Or spacing between sentences.

Basically, it was one giant wall of text about food that we ate.

Then I decided to venture into taking photos of the food we ate. Let me tell you, if you made my recipes when my food looked like this, then you must have had a lot of faith in what that recipe would actually yield.

Food Photography 101

These examples really showcase where my first pictures of food started from. I had no clue about how to set the white balance on my camera, I thought all photos should be staged on top of my oven, and there was little thought to plating or creating a mood with my photography. Unless that mood was orange. Which, mind you, I fully succeeded at.

At the same time, I also know I am a very busy mom with very hungry children to feed. I spend my days running errands, activities, and volunteering. The idea of staging an entire photo session in my kitchen in the middle of the day still seems pretty impossible to me at this stage in our lives. My approach towards food photography is that it has to fit with my lifestyle and our family.  The tips I am offering are hopefully approachable and can help you in whatever stage of photography you are in.

 

Set Your White Balance

 

No matter what type of camera that you own, setting your white balance is something that can help you achieve better pictures from the start. You can set your white balance with the preset balance options in your Camera Menu or you can customize the white balance on your camera by simply taking a picture of a white sheet of paper.

The Auto White Balance (AWB) option isn’t always the best option for your food photography. If the day is cloudy or if you have lights on where you taking your photography, you will need to take in account what types of bulbs or lighting situations you are dealing with. For a more in-depth look at setting the White Balance, be sure to read this post on Figuring Out Your White Balance.

Use Natural Light When Possible

 

Food Photography 101

Natural light is always the best option for beautiful food photography. Turn off all of the lights in your house and take pictures in a well-lit room for the best naturally lit photos.

I noticed a huge difference when I simply turned off the lights in my kitchen since the light bulbs really added a lot of orange and yellow hues into my photography, making my food less appetizing.

If you find that there are shadows in your pictures, it can help to use a foam board to bounce the light from your kitchen windows to create even natural lighting.

Whatever you do, keep the flash off on your camera. This may require a bit of reading in your camera manual, but your pictures will be a thousand times better if you can turn the flash on your camera off.  Flash photography in food photos will, guaranteed, not create the beauty and the look that you are going for with your photography.

Practice taking pictures in different areas of your home to find the one spot in your house where the lighting is the best. I have found that I have great lighting in my kitchen during the daytime, but my front room also provides beautiful lighting when I move my console table out of the direct sunlight.

Stock Up on Thrifty Props

 

Food Photography 101

Creating beautiful scenes with food does not have to be an expensive endeavor at all. I love to visit thrift stores for unique tableware, glassware, and for fabric to use for my food photos. The best part about food props is that you can often take advantage of clearance items or patterns you might not use in your everyday life.

When I first started out I just used white plates for my food photos. These are simple, classic, and truly let the food take center stage. They also show every little spill and splatter so messier food can be trickier to photograph on them.

I started visiting the clearance section of the housewares and realized that I could inexpensively create unique displays for my food without a huge expense. My favorite plates so far are inexpensive salad and appetizer plates that look like real plates,but are just plastic tableware. My trick is always to look for small plates and bowls for my food photos. Using these smaller plates helps the plates look fuller than what they are.

 

Food Photography 101This bowl of Roasted Brussels Sprouts, for example,  looks like a normal size bowl of Brussels Sprouts. This is actually one of our little applesauce bowls set on top of a plastic appetizer plate I found on clearance at Target.

The big joke around our house is that these tiny plates are how I stay so thin. These pretty plates are usually how I eat my dinner after I photograph them while the rest of my family eats on regular plates. My daughter is always irritated that my food is prettier than her food. I am sure this will lead to weird sessions in a counselor’s office one day.

Get a Weathered Table…Or Not.

Food Photography 101

The other question I always had when I looked at other people’s photos is where they got all these beautiful ancient weathered tables?  Most bloggers actually don’t have a bunch of varieties of weathered tables in their home. I know…that kind of shocked me too.

I discovered you could buy weathered wood wallpaper fairly inexpensively on eBay. I also found this weathered wood paper, pictured above, that is just paper from a teacher’s supplies store that has worked really well for creating the wood look.

Food Photography 101

Don’t think of your faux wooden backdrops as being only used in one way, like a tabletop.  Here is an example of how if you have a large enough backdrop, you can actually use it to cover both the back of the photo as well as covering the tabletop. I found some wipeable  backdrops that were for sale on a deal-for-a-day site and bought several different varieties. Just to prove that you don’t have to have a fancy set-up, this is actually taped with electrical tape to my kitchen pantry door and is actually on the floor in the corner of my kitchen, right next to the window.

Rethink Your Backgrounds

Wooden cutting boards provide richness to food photos, place mats and fabric napkins can add more color and dimension to your food photography, and even the rusty bottoms of cookie sheets, inverted,  can create uniqueness to your food photos (as learned through a fabulous BlogHer Food session).

Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

I have found tile can be an inexpensive purchase at our local Habitat for Humanity, at just fifty cents per tile at our store. This is four pieces of tile (two upright and two flat) to create this surface for my Quinoa Berry Bowls.  Did I mention I also found swoon-worthy antique spoons at that store? I love when I happen upon a place like that for the unexpected prop!

Food Photography 101

An inexpensive way to shoot a photo and still capture the beauty of your dishes is simply using foam board from your local hardware store. In this shot of my Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, the background and the base of this shot are two pieces of foam board. You can’t get any more inexpensive than that and this simple background lends itself well to creating a pretty title to your photos.

Create Your Own Mini Photo Studio

 

Indiana winters are a struggle for me because I have a limited window of truly great natural light in my kitchen. After battling with bad lighting for many years, I finally decided to create my own mini photo studio to help. While this lighting isn’t as lovely as the natural lighting in the morning in my home, it has provided consistent results for creating the types of pictures that I want when I am dealing with low-light situations.

I purchased this Lowell EGO Light set with backdrops and bounce board (currently priced at $214.99 total) for my food photography. These lights are set up on a small cabinet in my office in our sub-basement. There are no other lights on when I take my food photos and these two lights provide optimal light for my food photography.

The lights come with Daylight bulbs in them. I simply switch my White Balance to shoot in the Daylight setting (the setting with the Sun icon) to begin shooting.

Here is the shot that I took in my basement with all of the lights off and using my two Lowell EGO lights. It still shocks me that this was taken at 8PM, in the dead of winter, and in my sub-basement of my home. I do think that the lighting is a little flatter than the natural light, but it is so much better than I could achieve with those scenarios going on any other time. (Picture of my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Orzo Pasta)

homemade_tomato_soup Here is the very first shot that I took with my Lowell EGO lights. I angled one of those lights so it appeared that this Homemade Tomato Soup was being shined upon by sunlight. Little does anyone know that this was all after we ate our dinner and shot in the dark depths of my basement. Since this is the first shot I took, you can see that even though I had no real clue what I was doing that I was able to achieve wonderful results with very little effort.

food_photography_101_7 Here is another shot of my set-up. I have my tripod in front of my little mini-studio. Below the lights are my plates, back drops, cups, fabric, napkins, etc.. in the two lower shelves so I can grab what I need and switch out colors and accessories as I need to.

Were the lights a big expense? Yes! Have they been worth it? Worth absolutely every penny for this busy mom and novice food photographer.


Get Familiar With Your Camera

 

I am definitely no expert when it comes to shooting in Manual mode, although I do shoot in this mode sometimes, but I love shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) for most of my food photography. Aperture Priority means that you set the camera’s Aperture and then the camera automatically figures out the shutter speed that you need to achieve the best photos. You can consult your camera manual to find out how to switch your own camera to Aperture Priority.

I had my lens cap on when I took this photo (thus the ISO displayed), but I wanted to show you that even while shooting in Aperture Priority, you can still adjust the settings for your situation.

Food Photography 101

Exposure and Aperture are usually the two settings that I play with most on my camera for my food photography. I really like light-filled photos and tend to go for a brighter photo than what it automatically chooses for me. The box that is highlighted above determines your Exposure of your photos. Basically, the exposure simply determines if the picture is too bright or too dark. Usually when it’s set to 0, or right in the middle of that green box shown above, it is just the right setting for exposure. In Aperture Priority mode, it will always stay at 0 unless you specifically tell it to move. If you decide that you want more light in your photos, like me, you can bump this to the right. If you want your photos to be darker, you can bump your Exposure composition the left, to create a food with less light. Sometimes I will bump it lower especially when I am dealing with dark plates (like red, black, or blue)  since it tends to overexpose the rest of the shot.

(Pictured Above: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad)

Food Photography 101

Getting that blurred background is probably the coolest thing about getting your first DSLR. Of course, you want to be sure that you are telling the whole story about your food photos and aren’t always shooting with this large of an Aperture. I usually like my Aperture around F5.6 unless I am really trying to blur something out behind the food, like the spoon in the picture above.

If you are looking for more information on understanding Exposure and Aperture, I really love this down-to-basics guide to understanding Aperture on i heart nap time.  For understanding Exposure and Exposure Compensation, I really, really loved this series, “31 Days to a Better Photo,” on my 3 boybarians. You can also visit my Pinterest Photography Fun Board for lots of other links to great tutorials on the blogs.

Edit, But Edit Wisely

 

Food Photography 101

If you take really great food photos, you will not need to make a lot of edits to them. My editing is usually just saturating my color (just a touch), sometimes adjusting the exposure, and cropping my photos.

I had been using PicMonkey to edit my food photos although my goal this year is to switch my editing process over to LightRoom. I just recommend concentrating your efforts on taking a great photo and use a program to help add a little saturation or adjust your exposure. Just remember that sometimes one can get carried away with the editing and you have pictures with all sorts of crazy fluorescent food. It is disappointing for your readers when they are unable to achieve what you have photographed at home. I always try to keep things as natural as possible so my readers know that the dishes can be created just as they have seen on the blog.

(Pictured Above: Homemade Whole Wheat Toasted Tarts)

Sometimes It Just Ain’t Pretty

 

Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

No matter how you look at it, sometimes it can be impossible getting a pretty picture of food. Chicken and Dumplings are absolutely delicious, but they don’t yield gorgeous and rich food photos without a lot of work. A green smoothie might be a great energy-booster, but the pictures of it weren’t among my favorites.

I find that in situations like this that I try to rely on richer content in these cases and hope that the readers will look past the unappetizing photos and read about how delicious the food is.

Here are the most FAQ questions that people have asked me about taking food photography…

Food Photography 101

What equipment do you recommend and what do you have?

A:  I am not an expert on buying camera equipment, but I can tell you what I do know about it. I have always heard that it is much wiser to spend your money on your lens than the body of your camera. That is not to say to totally skimp on the body, but the body of cameras is constantly changing and being improved upon. I started out with the Canon Rebel T1i and, if you can believe it,  they already have many more versions of my camera since I got this and they cost quite a bit more than my already antique and outdated camera! The truth is, I will never stay current with the body of my camera because within a few months, a new one will already be replacing my ancient equipment.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a great point-and-shoot camera that has the same functionality as the DSLR, but you don’t have to buy lenses and make a huge investment, I loved my Canon PowerShot (the link takes you to the current model). I am a Canon girl and was really happy with this point-and-shoot camera. It is the camera that I recommend to my friends and I have always heard how happy my girlfriends are with their Canon PowerShots. Agonizing amounts of research were done before I selected that camera and I was very happy with it!

If you are still on a budget, but want to make a long-term investment in your food photography, I can share with you the lens and camera that I have. As an aside, we found our lens on eBay from a photographer who was upgrading his equipment, but I am linking through Amazon for convenience sake. I now own the Canon 7D and we bought the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm lens.  They have kit lenses that are around $100 or more each and I have seen people take great pictures with these, but we made the investment in one really good lens that would do just about everything for me for the rest of my life and until I die amen. This lens is all I really need in most situations.

Food Photography 101

What Other Photography Equipment Is Useful For Food Photography?

Other very useful tools for food photography include a good beginner tripod, a tabletop tripod,  and a remote for your camera so you don’t have to lug around your camera while taking shots while in food preparation mode. A reflector can also be a smart inexpensive investment to help bring more even lighting into your photos or create moodiness in your pictures.

If you are low on funds, I recommend asking for these great gadgets and more food props for holiday & birthday gifts. I have been accumulating my collection over the last three years since I really started getting excited about food photography.

The most important thing to buy though is a lens filter to protect your lens. If for some reason you scratch your lens or something happens to the outside of it, this $10-$20 filter will protect the lens and be what breaks instead of your $100-$1,000 investment. Trust me, you will thank me later if you have this!

Food Photography 101

Do you have any good books or websites to visit that can help me learn more about photography?

My absolute favorite book on food photography is, “From Plate to Pixel.” It is the one resource I would really recommend investing in to help with your food photos.

I am also a HUGE fan of Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Books 1, 2, & 3. See if your library has these and check them out for smartly written, witty, and down-to-earth tutorials on how to use your camera. I love that he says, “If you want a good portrait, turn you dial to this,” instead of high-brow photography terms that, as a mom,  I just don’t understand.  I just want someone to tell me what to do, not make me feel stupid!

For websites, every single day I am inspired by food bloggers and their photography. Some of my favorite sites to visit for inspiration are GoodLife Eats, Picky Palate, Two Peas & Their Pod, Steamy Kitchen, Dine & Dish,  and Food Gawker.

(Pictured Above: Baked Strawberry Doughnuts)

Food Photography 101
I hope that these tips will help inspire you and your own food photography. I am really proud of the progress I have made over the last few years to achieve food photos that I hope inspire you to create new dishes in your kitchen.

If I could have given myself advice when I first started out, I would have told myself all these tips that I have shared with you. I also would have told you that adding more color into your food photos is always a great idea, to strive to incorporate bits of the preparation into your food photos,  to use natural ingredients for props, and to not be afraid to experiment with my camera more. We all have to start somewhere and I hope this encourages you, from one novice to another! (Pictured above: Red, White, & Blueberry Trifle)

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Do you have any tips that have helped you with your food photography? If you take food photos what is the one tip you wish someone told you when you first started out? Let’s chat it up!!

 

 

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate your camera equipment and tools easily. Feel free to order through our site, but we always encourage shopping around for the best bang for your buck! Happy picture-taking!

 

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Tips for Your Next Disney Magic Kingdom Trip & Ideas for Capturing the Magic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Our family spent our Thanksgiving holiday in Florida this year.  It was our first real family trip and our first time heading to the Magic Kingdom. I am a Disney newbie although I had the incredible opportunity to see many Florida sites with the Orlando Visitor’s Bureau with my son last year as a trip for just the two of us.

I will admit it, I was nervous about it all. I wanted to surprise them, I wanted the day to be magical, I wanted the weather to cooperate, I wanted the crowds to be minimal, I wanted us all to have the best time of our life.

Is that too much to ask?

Lucky for us, all of these things really did happen and we had a magical day at the Magic Kingdom.

Accommodations were provided by the grandparents as well as a cooler filled with drinks and snacks for us to take on the road and a few to nestle in a bag that I carried with me.  The truth is, we went into it knowing it was going to be an expensive day. We also went into it prepared financially for this day and I worked some extra freelance jobs to cover the expense.

Here is what we learned from our experience at Disney:


Preparation is Key

Financial Preparation- Whenever our family is tackling a big financial project, we set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for whatever that financial goal might be. Consider talking with your bank about opening accounts for your Disney trip. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) and helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gave you a plan for your day based upon your age group. They have tour plans for adults & teens, parents of preschool children, parents with children ages 4-8, and senior Disney lovers.  It gave us a great starting point for deciding how to make the most of our day.

Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. In the Magic Kingdom, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Jungle Cruise, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, & Peter Pan’s Flight are the rides you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Capturing the Magic

It is the most magical day of our kid’s lives and the last thing I wanted was terrible pictures that didn’t showcase just how amazing our day was.  My parents have this great picture of me when I was a little girl wearing my mouse ears, posing with the characters, sunburned and freckled cheeks, grinning with the biggest toothless grin at five that is still one of my favorite pictures from my childhood.

Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures both of them seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are captures that your family will never forget.

Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on the teacups. I focused on the bag in this picture as we spun around and and around.  I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Get a Family Photo- I will admit that I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy.

When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I was really worried we would be out of focus and Disney is a very busy place. I then used Picnik to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney.

What are your best tips for doing Disney on a budget? Do you have any tips for making the most of your time at the parks? Please share!

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Below is our big reveal to our children when we told them they were heading to Disney. It was the thrill of a lifetime to get to surprise them with the news that they would be seeing the Magic Kingdom for the very first time. It still brings tears to my eyes that we got to have such an incredibly magical day with them!

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