Wednesday, November 26, 2008

5 Tips for Great Photography Straight From A Pro

I was excited to have found an old friend of mine from high school through Facebook. As I paged through my friend Daniel's info and pictures, I couldn't believe how incredible his photography was and had to find out what he was up to. It was no surprise, after seeing his amazing photography, that he was running his own business and doing quite well with it.

I asked if I could interview him for our website so I could share tips for great photography with our moms and was so thrilled when he accepted. He was happy to share with our readers just a little glimpse into the world of great photography and I hope that this information will help you as you venture into taking pictures of your children.

Best of all, he shares his secrets for getting that perfect family photo and just in time for those fun holiday pictures for those photo cards!

Can you offer some insight on choosing the best photography equipment for a young family? What is one good investment that is totally worth the splurge?

Sure! I can talk cameras and gear all day and night, but I'll try to keep it brief. The main thing to keep in mind is that expensive gear doesn't make great photographs. Expensive tools are nice, but more important is the knowledge of how and when to use the tools you've got. With that in mind, remember that digital photography equipment is very rapidly evolving. For example, the big camera manufacturers have a history of announcing new SLR camera bodies every 18 months or less! So the one solid investment to make in digital photography is in glass (lenses). Spend your money on the best glass you can afford, keep it forever, and then look for a camera body within your remaining budget.

If the SLR world of bodies and interchangable lenses is entirely out of your budget from the start, then don't forget that truly great photographs are made every single day with cameras in the Point & Shoot (P&S) category. In general, P&S cameras will range from being completely automatic to having the ability to shoot fully manual. An automatic camera can be convenient and may serve your purposes well. However, in my experience, most people taking photographs of their kids will eventually want at least some amount of manual control over their camera's settings. The danger in letting an auto-camera do all the thinking for you is that there will be situations involving lighting, motion, white balance and selective focus that will require at least some amount of manual control to capture. I don't want to get too much into recommending specific brands or models, but the P&S camera I take with me when I scuba dive is a Canon G9, which can be as "auto" or as "manual" as I need it to be. I use 2 SLR bodies and a variety of lenses when shooting above the water!

If readers would like more specific recommendations with regard to brand/model, they are more than welcome to contact me directly. I'm happy to help! So, quick re-cap: spend your money on good lenses first if going the SLR route or spend your money on getting some manual control if going with a P&S camera.

When trying to capture pictures of children, what are a few quick tips for good photography?

First, remember that photography is about light and without good light on your children, their smiles, laughs and actions will likely go uncaptured! So, position yourself in relation to your children so that their faces are well lit and worry about lighting in other areas of the frame as secondary importance. With that in mind, harsh sunlight isn't very flattering in most situations and finding some shade under an overhang or next to a building will generally improve the quality of your light. Think about light in at least two different ways; there is a quantity of light and also a quality of light, which are very different from one another. Try to avoid shooting under tree leaves as you'll end up with "broken light" on your children from the sun shooting between the leaves of the tree. You'll end up with bright spots and shadow areas right next to one another on their faces, creating a "giraffe skin effect" on your kiddos!

Of course, with kids, the harder you try to pose them, the worse the situation becomes, and very quickly! Most parents with younger children would have no trouble agreeing with that! So, let children be children. Don't impose too much, hang around close enough to capture your photographs, gently inserting mild directives when possible, but try not to intrude. If you do need to pose children in a more formal manner, do it quickly, with lots of praise and by showing them examples of what you want, etc. Get the shot immediately and then set them free to go play! In general, I try not to keep the little ones 'posing' for me any longer than 30 seconds to a minute before giving them a play break. Of course, during their play break, I'm still shooting from a distance!

Young children are constantly in motion, what settings work best for energetic toddlers?

Great question! I tend to think of child photography as being similar to sports photography in many ways. Two things have to happen; 1. your shutter speed has to be fast enough to 'freeze' the child's motion and 2. your focus must be constantly adjusting as the child moves and the distance changes between the child and your camera. A slower shutter speed will let in more light of course, but motion will also be blurred (which can be a cool effect). However, I find that a sharp, crisp, and in-focus photo of a moving toddler will typically require a shutter speed of 1/80s or faster depending on how fast they are moving and depending on the lens you are using. A longer (telephoto) lens requires faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Many cameras have several focusing modes. If your camera has a mode that allows you to track movement, sometimes called AI Servo or AI Focus among other names, this usually works better than pre-focusing and trying to anticipate a child's movement. So, quick shutter and tracking focus for kids on the go!

What editing software would you recommend for a mom who is just starting out with photo editing?

Well, there are just so many good options for editing photos anymore, many of them free and I'd be happy to recommend a few of my favorites. However, I want to emphasize how important it is that good photographs be made in-camera, not 'fixed' in post processing. With tools like Photoshop we can do some really amazing things to a digital image, but it's always obvious when a photograph has been 'saved' in photoshop. There's a saying to this effect amongst many photographers, "garbage in, garbage out." My point being that you should spend more of your time working on getting great photos with your camera than working on trying to edit them into great photos .

However, in my opinion all digital photos do require at least a little post-processing in the way of white balance, saturation, curves and sharpness and one of my favorite tools for, say a mom just starting out, is Google's Picasa. It's free, has a very easy interface, offers many web and sharing options and likely isn't going away any time soon! Honestly, my 6 year old uses Picasa with her digital photos. It's very user-friendly. For those who may be ready to get into a little more serious editing, but want to maintain the 'free' aspect, I'd recommend the application, Gimp.

There are also many free web-based applications for those times when you might not be at your own computer, but need to quickly upload and edit a handful of images: Picnik, Pixenate, Fotoflexer, LunaPic, flauntr, picture2life, phixr, and easyphotoresize. Personally, I do the majority of my editing for the weddings and portraits I that I shoot in Adobe Lightroom and a little bit still in Photoshop.

When getting family portraits done, I am always stumped how to dress the family. Do you have any suggestions for getting that perfect family picture?

Sure! In general, I like families to feel comfortable above all else. Good photographs are about capturing a family's personality and it's always very obvious when subjects are uncomfortable in their own clothing. Additionally, I tend to like solid colors on top and either jeans or khaki pants. In the Fall, I prefer solid black or white tops. In the Spring and Summer, I really like bright bold solid colors on top. Bright, bold colors in the snow for winter portraits can really be fun too! It's usually best to avoid busy patterns, horizontal stripes, and clothes that have never been worn before. So, be comfy, be yourselves and do your best to NOT stress out about getting your family portraits done. One thing I can say for sure, is that stress always shows in photographs and stiff, posed portraits are just not my style at all. So, when considering getting your own family portraits done keep comfort and personality in mind. In general, you want your family to look like your family in your portraits, not a stiff, posed and stressed version of your family!

I have to ask, what is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken and why is it special to you?

Definitely the hardest question to answer, Amy! It's so tough to say. On one hand, there are so many photographs that I am really pleased with and on the other hand, one is always very critical of his own work.

One thing I do every year in December is put together a collection of what I feel are some of my best photographs for that calendar year and publish them as a free video podcast, which can be found in iTunes by doing a search for "dgmphotography" or "Daniel G. McNulty" in the iTunes store. Subscribing to this video podcast portfolio is free of course. I also regularly put many of my personal favorites on my blog in more of an informal format. That said, I think I'd have to choose a favorite in multiple categories (weddings, children, families, landscape, etc), but if I were forced to choose one photograph to keep for the rest of my life and never look at another, it would probably be this one, mostly because they are my daughters and loving the beach and loving each other as I do!

General Info
About Daniel G. McNulty Photography:
email: [email protected]
iTunes Link

A big round of applause to Daniel for helping us with this piece. What is your biggest dilemma with capturing pictures and what would you like us to feature more of in this category?

Please be sure to leave a comment and thank Daniel for his time in helping us supply these amazing tips!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Rare Interview With Debbie Phelps

Johnson's contacted me to let me know that they had chosen a handful of bloggers to chat with Debbie Phelps and asked if I would like to be included. After I got over my initial squealing and jumping up and down, I calmly replied that I could definitely make myself available for the engagement. After all, who could pass up such an amazing opportunity to speak to the mother of Michael Phelps?

Myself, BooMama, MamaPop, MomLogic, & Better Than a Playdate were chosen to talk to Johnson's official Mom of the Olympic Games. To see her video tribute to Michael, please head over here.

During our interview, Mrs. Phelps openly discussed everything from her difficulties juggling everything as a single mom, her pride over Michael's accomplishments, the bullying that Michael endured growing up, and the world's fascination with her son. In the entire interview, one message rang throughout... her deep pride and love for her family.

Being a single mom was difficult for Debbie, but she attributes her strong support network as the reason she was able to juggle it all. Debbie said, "When all of the three kids were home, they were all swimmers. I couldn’t have done everything without the support of other moms and their children being in the same sport. I relied on my friends. My mother gave me a lot of willpower and determination to believe in myself and I had a strong support system that helped make sure that everything was going well."

My question for Debbie was how she avoided falling into the stage mom trap and how she would advise other parents to do the same? Debbie said, “I wasn’t a pusher. I just always let the coaches do their jobs. My job was to be Michael’s mom.” She also discussed how she encouraged Michael without pushing him in her own direction, "I couldn't get caught up in the stage mom junk. I took on the logic of Michael's coaches- it’s here and then gone tomorrow. ''

As a personal finance blogger, my other questions were on money management and how she has been encouraging her son to manage his money. I asked how she would help Michael stay grounded and manage his new-found wealth and fame? Debbie said, "I watched Michael gain four years of maturity over this Olympics. I am hoping the values that I taught him at home are going to stay with him as he goes on this journey. I feel that Michael will be reaching out to those who supported him as he goes out onto this endeavor."

When asked if she would like to share a favorite family dish, Debbie let out a chuckle. "I hate to cook. Cooking is not my forte. With the kids growing up, it was easy to just put a pasta dish together. We were carb loading all the time. I had to be economical as a single mom – a lot of cereal and a lot of carbs." As a budget-minded mommy, I think I would be right at home at Debbie's table.

A big thank you to Johnson's for giving us this opportunity and a huge congratulations to the entire Phelps family on all that they have accomplished!



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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interview At Blog Coach

Angie, the brilliant inventor of Baby Cheapskate and Freepeats, is now venturing into another blog territory... helping bloggers blog just a little bit better! Blog Coach shares tips for blogging and is featuring some interviews with some really great bloggers.

I am so honored because Angie interviewed me for her site! My interview can be found here and I share some ideas and tips that I learned while working on our blogs. You know, the stuff that I wished someone would have explained to me when I ventured out into the blog trenches. I hope that it will be beneficial to someone out there.

Here are a few other entries that might be helpful to beginning bloggers:

Five Commandments for Blogging

The Player Scores... And Silence

How Do I Track My Traffic?

Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)

How Do I Work From Home?

Thanks you to Angie for featuring me and I look forward to learning more on blogging through her new site!

In the beginning, my biggest blogging challenge was what to even write about. What has been your biggest blogging hurdle?

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mommy Interview: Kathy Kaehler

The Hanes team contacted us to see if we would be interested in interviewing some of their moms from their spokesperson team. They have created a fun resource for parents and picked some amazing parents to represent their brand.

Kathy Kaehler, mom, celebrity trainer, author and spokesperson has devoted her life to helping people live happy, productive and healthy lives. Beyond imparting the latest in fitness workouts, this lifestyle expert has tackled such subjects as multi-tasking, stress management, nutrition, how to get a good night’s sleep and how to get kids of the couch and onto their feet.

As a mother of eleven year old twins and a seven year old (all boys!), Kaehler is committed to keeping her kids and all children fit. Kathy shares a few tips for how to get our kids off of the couch... and ourselves!

We are all trying to raise healthy children, but it is evident that we are falling short when it comes to exercise. How much physical activity should our children be getting each day?

I think our kids need to be doing something physical everyday for 30-60 minutes a day. It does not have to be all at once but if you break up that time into ten minute romps it really adds up. Kids don’t mind exercise as long as it’s fun! Don’t just sign your kid up for a class or a sport – find out what they really enjoy. It’s important to keep in mind that fitness isn’t always what we think of in the traditional sense – Frisbee, mini golf, bowling – these are all ways to get different parts of your kids’ bodies moving! You can find some of my ideas on of fun activities you can do with your kids, such as going for an adventure hike in the backyard or at the local park (don’t forget to pack healthy snacks and water); throwing a ball or water balloons at a target; creating a music mix for a dance party. Play with your kids and show them how fun it is to be active!

For families that suffer through long winters or are not able to get outside as often, what are some fun indoor activities that you can do with your children?

There are many things that you can do inside while the weather is cold, but don't forget kids love to get out and play in snow and rain. Just make sure they are bundled up. For indoor fun try family challenges like one minute of jumping jacks, walking up and down the stairs, try to see many rooms can you walk in and out of in one minute, etc. “Balloon Flight” is a great game that I get my kids to play. Blow up a med size balloon and the object is to not let the balloon touch the ground and you can't touch the balloon twice in a row. Lots of laughter and action with this one! Create a whole schedule of activities around the house and you and the kids will be surprised how fast time will fly by.

At what age should you begin exercising with your child?

The most important thing to remember is that we parents are the best role models at creating an active environment for our kids and this can never start too early. I showed my kids how to start using their muscles as soon as they started to walk. Even in the stroller you can begin to tell them that you are exercising and that they are helping you. I also began asking my boys at an early age what they did that day that helped their bodies – whether it was eating their vegetables, walking the dog, etc. The kids would think about it all day and couldn’t wait to tell me (and show up their brothers) later that night. I found that this type of thinking helped create a foundation for an active lifestyle that will hopefully stay with them for years to come.

With video games and television taking our children away from healthy activity, what are some ways that parents can make exercise as appealing to them as these things seem to be?

First off, make sure your kids are comfortable when they’re out and about! My guys will only wear tagless tees from Hanes – they can’t stand the itching and chafing from tags when they’re running around – and they practically live in Hanes’ super soft hoodies. If your kids are in comfortable gear, they'll play longer. If they’re not, they’ll just come right back and plop on the comfy couch.

Encourage your kids to be happy and have fun. As I mentioned before, kids don’t mind exercise as long as they’re having a good time. Instead of forcing a sport or activity on your child, take the time to figure out what he or she enjoys doing. This can be bowling, ultimate Frisbee, jazz class or in the more traditional sense, soccer, tennis, lacrosse. If kids start off with a positive attitude towards their chosen form of exercise, there is a better chance they’ll stick with it.

If you can't win over the video games, and chances are you will lose this battle at some point, at least make them play active ones. They really can be a workout!

Last resort: you can also bribe. I know how that sounds, but in my house, and probably in most houses, we have to compromise and some things are trade offs. It’s reality that kids want to play video games and watch TV. If the kids say they have to play a game or have to watch this show, then they have to go out on the trampoline and jump so many times beforehand.

As busy moms, how can we make exercise a priority in our schedule? How often should we be exercising?

We need to be exercising most days of the week. In order to be on top of everything going on in the house, you have to feel good about yourself and the best way to do that is to get in a workout. You will be a happier mom, more organized and have the energy to do it all. This doesn’t mean you need to be at the gym every day of the week. You can take a class, and you can also take dog to the park or go on a walk with your girlfriends. I also suggest my “Take Five” workout. Every morning and every night take just five minutes to do some jumping jacks, squats and/or side-to-side hops. These five minute blasts will get your heart rate and energy level up and it’s only ten minutes a day!

What can moms do when they get stuck in an exercising rut?

My advice is to sit down to think about new goals and map out your plan of attack. Remember to be realistic in what your schedule and body can take when creating these new goals. I also suggest getting your mom, or friends or co-worker on board to help you stay motivated and explore different ways to stay in shape – whether it’s a walk for a charity one weekend, training for a mini marathon, going on a bike ride or taking some tennis lessons. Mixing it up and changing your surroundings when working out will keep you from getting bored or stuck.

Sound Off: Do you engage in exercise regularly? How do you make this a priority for your children?



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Monday, March 24, 2008

Mommy Interview: Holly Robinson Peete

The Hanes team contacted us to see if we would be interested in interviewing some of their moms from their spokesperson team. They have created a fun resource for parents and picked some amazing parents to represent their brand.

We look forward to sharing some really great mommy interviews with you and to inspire you to try new things with your children... like volunteering!

We got the opportunity to interview Holly Robinson Peete and chat with her about volunteering. Holly is an actress, author, mother, and runs a nonprofit organization, HollyRod, with a mission to help improve the quality of life of people plagued with devastating life circumstances inspired by her father's sad yet inspiring battle with Parkinson's Disease which ultimately took his life in 2002. HollyRod has expanded it's mission recently to include many children's causes focusing more pointedly on improving the quality of life of the children in the Gulf Coast post-Katrina and those who live in several townships of the surrounding areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.

As a working mother, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to balancing work and motherhood?

Carving out time for myself…If I'm stressed, EVERYONE is stressed! My kids and family are my number one priority, but sometimes I just need to focus on me! When I take time for myself, whether it’s going to a yoga class (it’s amazing what breathing can do!), going to a spa or just walking our dog, I feel recharged, re-balanced and ready to take on anything!

You are a very active volunteer and have made great strides in building and creating your own nonprofit organization. What are some ways that moms can begin adding volunteer work and community outreach to their mommy resumes?

Figure out what issue speaks most loudly to you and focus on that cause. While I encourage any volunteer service, I also think it’s important to take the time to seek out a program you’ll stick with. Ask your place of worship if they have any affiliate activities, search online for local community outreach, or ask friends and family. If you educate yourself before making a decision, you’ll find a cause that feels right and one that you’re more likely to stay committed to.

Also, be realistic about how your volunteer service will fit into your life and don’t offer more than you can give. I strongly believe we all have a responsibility to give back in some shape or form, but as women and mothers, we do have additional time challenges.

Do your children volunteer? How have you been able to show them the importance of making an effort in other people’s lives?

Our children understand how noble philanthropy is and that it is mandatory if you are a 'Peete!' As parents, my husband and I are really trying to live up to the adage that actions speak louder than words. We try to show the kids a world that’s beyond their own lives and most recently took them to the shanty towns of South Africa. We also make sure to volunteer with them and we regularly sponsor Christmas for several families by dressing up like Santa and delivering gifts. I’ve found that volunteering makes our children more aware of the world around them and of themselves.

Can you share with us your favorite family traditions?

Kwanzaa is a beautiful holiday that we love to celebrate. The kids learn more about their culture during those 7 days than they do all year at school.

I also just love my kids’ birthdays. Each year I try and carve out some time for just me and the birthday boy or girl (or twins!) to celebrate and this time is usually spent making something together. We’ve made chocolate chip pancakes, photo collages, string bracelets and special birthday tees. Hanes has the best tees to do this – not only are they super-soft and comfy (not to mention tagless), but they’re the perfect “canvas” to work with. We’ve tie-dyed, puffy painted, used our hands and feet dipped in paint – you name it, we’ve done it! The kids then wear their birthday tees all day and sometimes even to bed (an attempt to prevent another birthday from ending). The one thing I can look forward to when my kids get older is looking back on all their birthday tees!

You and your husband have been together for a long time (especially in Hollywood years)! Do you have any marriage tips for busy and tired moms?

Sexy, spontaneous hotel runs do the trick for us...well... maybe not spontaneous!!!

Sound Off: Do you volunteer with your children? What are their ages and how have you incorporated this into your family?



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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travel Tips from Tracy Gallagher

Travel Channel expert Tracy Gallagher offers a wealth of insider information for every aspect of leisure travel, from family vacations in the United States to exotic trips around the world. She is best known as the host of the upbeat interstitials that have aired for years on the Travel Channel to promote various aspects of the network’s programming.

Tracy also happens to be working with Hanes and is helping to provide parenting tips for their website.

We got the chance to interview Tracy on traveling with children and asked her how to make those family trips a tad more bearable... and even really fun!

Many parents find traveling with children very challenging, what are some easy ways that parents can make travels less stressful?

It’s all in the mindset. If you start off worrying how hard it is going to be instead of focusing on the adventure, it will be more trouble. Stay calm – if you get stressed, your kids will get stressed. Get your kids involved from the beginning: ask them to help plan and depending on how old they are, carefully explain that traveling can be tiring and hard and that you as parents need their cooperation. There will be times when everyone is tired, possibly can’t understand the language, and when the kids get a bit bored, but they really need to do their best to not get grumpy.

First thing’s first – make sure the kids are comfortable! Long gone are the days when moms dressed their kids in dressy clothes just for a plane ride. Get your kids in comfy clothes – I always make sure mine are wearing Hanes underwear; they love the super-soft waistband and the tagless design to eliminate in-seat squirming, especially on long trips. I also encourage them to wear layers; from airports to rental cars to trains, everywhere has a different temperature. A Hanes hoodie lets them put on or shed a layer whenever they want. Finally, I always pack an extra t-shirt or pants depending on how much room I have. That way, if your kids spill (and chances are they will!) you’re prepared and won’t have to face any future complaining.
Get the kids in on the action by having them carry something, especially if you’re traveling by train or plane. It makes them happy and involved and it can also help spread the burden around, especially if they are bit older. Even younger children can carry their own kid-sized backpacks with all their stuff. Kids love to emulate their parents and having their own suitcase or backpack actually makes them feel empowered and like a big kid!

If you have more than one child, be strategic with how you sit on the plane or train. If your son loves to poke your daughter on a regular basis, it might make sense to separate them into two rows (if you can) to cut down on time spent both refereeing and apologizing to nearby passengers. A car poses closer quarters so try to keep your kids entertained with fun games and toys – code words for distractions.

Once you’ve arrived, give your kids choices of things they'd like to do on the trip- they are less likely to complain about something they choose. I also encourage my kids to start a scrapbook, so while we’re visiting different places, they can also keep busy looking for things to fill their scrapbooks. Last resort - it is always good to have a portable DVD…or now you can even play movies on a computer or iPhone! Kids are kids and can only take so much moving around. Some downtime in front of a movie to unwind isn't a bad thing, and if you are in a hotel it gives you a chance to plan the next day of your trip…or just relax yourself!

One of my biggest concerns with traveling is the amount of money we are spending on our travels. Do you have any money-saving tips that you could offer to parents?

Spend some quality time preparing for your trip by looking for things that are free to do in each destination. Look for locations that might be hosting free concerts, carnivals or festivals during your stay; research local trails to hike or free beaches to explore; determine which zoos or museums have free admission and when. Use your hotel concierge - ask when the best and least expensive time is to visit local tourist hot sports. Or, inquire about those hot spots off the beaten path – maybe there is a local bookstore that hosts a reading for children or an arts & crafts store that holds a free class each week – you never know!

Try a home exchange - that gives you free lodging, plus a house with a kitchen so you don't have to eat every meal out. Travel off-season by going when the crowds are thin, especially if you can take your kids out of school a few days. Get a hotel room with a sofa bed for the kids so you don't have to get an extra room.

What are some fun ways to keep children entertained when going on long trips?

In our car, we pack all kinds of music so the kids can sing, which helps keep them engaged and happy. We also do brain teasers. We talk about our destination and what each member of the family is excited to do once we get there. At the top of each hour, we break out special present or snack (but, no chocolate! If it melts, it gets everywhere!).

On planes, word searches, magna doodles, a deck of cards, are all invaluable. I also like books that allow kids to change the endings allowing for multiple reads. And once again, a movie is not a cop out.

One of my favorite ideas, no matter how we’re traveling, is putting together customized travel kits for each of my kids themed according to our destination. Just grab a brown paper bag, put their name on the front and fill them with all sorts of goodies. From healthy snacks to stickers to comic strips, their travel kits don’t have to cost much and are like spontaneous presents.

Finally, no matter how we’re traveling I like to encourage my kids to take something from home with them. Kids love the routine of home and so a favorite doll, pillow or blanket will put them at ease while on the road.

How can parents save money when it comes to dining on their travels?

Again, do your research. Look for hotels where kids eat for free or offer kids menus. A lot of places also offer free breakfasts. Stay in a home or hotel room with a small kitchenette so you can cook some meals yourself. That is a big money saver - even if you just eat one meal here.

Try not to order room service - that translates to higher prices and service fees...instead, pack your own snacks and put them in the hotel fridge. Explain to your kids (and husband) that the mini bar is off limits!!!

What are some fun and family friendly destinations that families should definitely visit?

Alaska - for the great outdoors...kayaking next to otters and bald eagles is amazing.

Washington DC - so many things are free like the National Mall and all its beautiful monuments.
The U.S. Mint is so cool to see money being made and the Smithsonian museums are top notch.

Hawaii - on Maui, we went zip lining, hiking,'s not just about sitting on a beach, but you can do that too! Lots of hotels also offer morning or all-day camps for the kids.

Galapagos Islands: for older kids.

And of course - Orlando and San Diego! C'mon! It may not be that original an idea, but they are only kids once :)

Do you have any tips for keeping your children safe when embarking on trips?

I make copies of their passports and keep an extra copy at home and another copy in my suitcase. I try and dress each child in the same color each day, so if in case anything did happen to one of them, I could tell the authorities what color they are wearing by looking at my other children.

Always talk to your children about the dangers associated with being in a new place...unfamiliar surroundings, new way around, etc. Make sure to come up with a plan if someone gets lost, and also give your child the name of where you are staying and a phone number on a piece of paper for his or her pocket.

Sound Off:
Is your family embarking on a trip for spring break? What is your best travel tip?

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Check It Out: The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

It was an honor and a privilege to have received a copy of, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," by Felicia Sullivan. I emailed Felicia and thanked her for two sleepless nights where I could not sleep because I was thinking about her book too much. I also, very boldly, asked if she would let me do an interview with her after I finished the book. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she would welcome the opportunity to share with our readers, and I am so happy to share it with you.

"The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," is Felicia's memoir of her childhood. It is the story of the neglect and abuse that is inflicted upon her by a mother who is heavily addicted to cocaine, and then a journey through her own addiction and recovery.

Felicia lived through experiences that no child should ever have to go through and then later battled her own demons with drug abuse later in her life. Now in recovery, she shares her personal story of overcoming abuse and, in the end, she shows you the strong and resilient woman she truly has become because of her difficult past.

Your memoir shared a shocking story of abuse and neglect that was inflicted upon you by your mother. How difficult was it to write about such a personal experience and how were you able to cope with reliving it through your writing?

When I embarked on this journey, I thought it would be an impossible one. For years the concept of people knowing about my past terrified me. I thought I would be judged because of my humble background, the fact that my mother was a drug addict. I felt as if I would be judged not for the person I was, but for the environment from which I came.

However, over the past few years, the most amazing thing has happened. Once I let go of the burden of shame and finally mourned losing my mother, it became easier for me to tell people the truth. My mother always told me that vulnerability is a weakness, a disease, and for the great portion of my life I wasn’t actually able to cry (unless I was drunk), and when I finally let my guard down, when I was finally honest with myself and with my friends, something entirely magical happened. All of these incredibly supportive friends emerged, and they listened and supported me without judgment. And this made crafting this book easier because I knew I had a supportive family behind me, even when I’m reliving horrific events or hearing my mother’s voice in my hair. The love and support of my father and friends made this journey easier.

In one scene in the book, you share that your mother rips up some of your stories in a rage and it seems that you are always writing or talking about being a writer. Was this your ultimate goal? Did you see this as a way to get out of the poverty you were living in?

That’s a wonderful question, although I can assure you that a career in writing alone doesn’t afford you a fabulous lifestyle! As a child books were my escape. I would sit on my fire escape after finishing one of the many books I devoured, and dream of cities, countries, characters– places and people markedly different from the ones who inhabited my Brooklyn neighborhood.

My mother’s voice was always the loudest sound and I often felt silenced growing up in her wake. Writing gave me a means of communication when there was none. I could shout! I could cry! I could be angry at the world and everyone in it. And committing these events, my life lived to paper, made inconceivable events that much more vivid and real.

Someone asked me if I didn’t have the upbringing that I did, would I still write books? I thought about that for a while and responded that I would indeed be a writer although perhaps my work wouldn’t be so dark.

Your mother never calls you by your real name in the book and only calls you “Lisa.” In some ways did it feel like you were telling Lisa’s story? Do you feel like Lisa no longer exists now that you have detached yourself from your mother?

Oddly enough, you are one of the very few to ask me about this, and it’s such an integral part of the book!!! How does one find their identity when one has no family history? When a parent routinely gives you different answers for all the same questions? When the person you are is different than the person you want to be? For me, my memoir isn’t about embracing one identity over another, rather I see this story as my journey in realizing that the woman I am today is due, in part, to the life I lived with my mother and her distorted half-truths, but that’s merely a fraction of who I am. My book celebrates the fact that my mother is no longer my “author” (as she so often claimed), while I sit silent taking dictation.

The most painful stories to read were times where your mother was using you to get what she wanted, and it is often repeated over and over again. Would you say that this is one of the worst things that your mother did to you?

One of the cruelest things a parent can do is deprive their child of that small span of time when the world is simple, beautiful and utterly innocent – before time passes and the child grows into a teenager and begins to question this terrific fiction. I never knew this time, and the worst thing I can think of my mother having done to me is this: she stole my childhood from me.

Was writing the story of your life therapeutic for you in any way? Are you now able to close a chapter on your relationship with your mother?

Absolutely! Although, I’m afraid that writing this book has made my view of her and my upbringing more complex. When I started Sky I viewed my relationship with my mother in definitive black and white terms – I didn’t love her and I was never going to forgive her for stealing my childhood from me, for always putting herself before me, for choosing men over me. Meanwhile I had also been drinking heavily, continuing my decade-long affair with alcohol. However, over the past year, I got sober and have had the advantage of clarity that sobriety can bring, to wholly understand our relationship in a way that I couldn’t have before. It was as if I had been sleeping for a long time and I suddenly woke up.

I don’t forgive my mother for the choices she made but I now understand why she made them. As an addict your choice will always be the drug. And part of me feels an unbelievable amount of sorrow for her – a single parent who never had it easy, a woman who lacked role models and support. It was us against the world, and it was a war she always had to win, but soon grew tired of fighting. Drugs made the land mines, and their inevitable explosions, easier to bear. However, my refrain is this: before the drugs she had a choice and she always chose her over me.

And as I grow older, I get a twinge of sadness when I hear friends talk about their meddling, overprotective mothers – stalwart, lovable women who are their very best friends. I ache for that maternal figure and guide, and although professional mentors, a terrific father, and friends who have served as my surrogate family, comfort me, there is nothing like that intimate mother-daughter relationship. So while I don’t miss my mother, I long for the idea of one.

I understand that memoirs are often very difficult to get published. Did you have any difficulties getting your story published or heard by others?

Not really. I’m privileged to say that my path to publication hasn’t been a difficult one. What’s proved more taxing is publication itself – more difficult than I had anticipated.

What has been the most surprising thing to you about writing this book?

I could actually write Sky and not fall to pieces.

Do you wonder if your mother has read the story?

I do wonder if she’s alive, if she’s living in New York, has read my book. But I’m more focused on the here and the now: my well-being and sobriety. I’m focused on cultivating healthy relationships and strengthening existing ones. I’m focused on being a present and loving friend, daughter, significant other.

What would you hope others to gain by reading your life story?

I wrote this book as a testament to my strength, as a celebration of my survival and recovery, to demonstrate that alternative families are possible, and that love – the most sacred of emotions – is not unconditional. I hope, really hope, that people take comfort in shared experience, and be inspired to live their best life. I also hope that it makes wonderful parents hug their children a little tighter, and, for children who have tenuous, dysfunctional relationships with their parents: you don’t have to carry their shame for it’s possible to create a new family if your current incarnation is an altogether too painful one.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m very excited about returning to fiction!!! Ideas are brewing for a novel tentatively titled Women and Children First. It’s a satire of our technologically evolved, access-hungry society. I tell people it’s White Noise meets American Psycho without all the gore.

For more information about Felicia Sullivan and her book tour, please visit her amazing blog!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Interview with THE Jessica Seinfeld

I shared in an entry last week, my true love for the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld. You may have doubted my opinion on how awesome it really is, but now Oprah has given her golden seal of approval and this little seal gives Mrs. Seinfeld an instant hit on the bestseller list. Jessica appeared yesterday on Oprah's show and discussed her recipes and ideas for getting her children to eat healthy.

Last week, I had discussed interviewing Jessica with her publisher, Harper Collins. When I saw she was on the show yesterday, I was really worried that she might become too busy to share with me her experience with writing the book. Who can compete with a successful interview on Oprah?

Lucky for me, Jessica is truly a class act and had emailed me the answers to all my questions this morning. I was so incredibly excited and I hope that you will enjoy this interview with her as much as I enjoyed asking all of my questions.

Question & Answers with Jessica Seinfeld

Pardon if I gush a bit, but I adore your new book! Is this something that you have wanted to do for a long time? What/who inspired you to create this book?

I wish I could say there was a thoughtful and grand plan behind this book! The truth is that it came from desperation. Hiding vegetables in my children’s food was the only way I could get through mealtimes without arguments and stress. My children were certainly the motivation – their refusal to eat vegetables was the problem that had to be solved - but my inspiration was my own mother and grandmother. They were both working mothers who managed to put home cooked meals on the table every night. They taught me how to cut corners, prepare efficient and healthy meals in under 20 minutes, which is now the model I replicate in my own home. Now it’s a way of life.

Has healthy eating always been important to you or was this a new lifestyle change since children?

I grew up with a very health conscious mother, who has shopped at farm stands and food co-ops since I can remember. Eating healthy foods has always been second nature to me - it’s how I was raised. But I’m also desperately concerned about what I read about child obesity and related diseases and illnesses in this country. I became determined not only to not take care of my own kids, but to try to be part of a broader solution to a growing problem.

What is your biggest challenge with getting your children to eat healthy? How did you overcome this challenge?

The biggest problem I face daily is the prevalence of junk food that seems to follow all kids everywhere they go. I have to be vigilant and firm, but it’s hard to compete sometimes. Even if you can manage to avoid fast food and get to the grocery store, many supermarkets try to rope you into buying foods that have no nutritional value.

There’s a few things I do to try to cope.

- I won’t bring home food I don’t want my children to eat - chips, candy, sugared drinks. It sounds obvious, but the habits I set at home tend to get followed by my kids when they’re at school or playing with friends.

- I bake healthy treats. I’m not anti-treats – in fact, I have a sweet-tooth. But there’s no reason why great tasting cookies and brownies can’t be laden with things that are good for kids.

- I try to be smarter than the supermarket marketing executives. I shop carefully, read labels, and look for whole grains and non-processed food.

- Puree, puree, puree.

As a mom who is on the go a lot, what are some of your suggestions for getting your kids to eat healthy when you are running from activity to activity?

I try to always keep my purse stocked with food that’s healthy and balanced and never get stuck with hungry kids and limited options. That’s when bad food decisions get made. Being a mobile health-food store has it’s down side, of course - the crushed-up oat bran pretzels and string cheese wrappers at the bottom of my purse don’t exactly make me so fabulous - but at least I know my kids are getting a good snack.

If you could pick one thing that you want moms to walk away with, from reading your book, what would it be?

What you feed your kids matters. Don’t give up on yourself or them. You can have peaceful, healthy and delicious meals, and you can also never say, “eat your vegetables” again. With an ounce of preparation and the will to change, anyone can do it.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Article: Online Safety Chat

I got the opportunity to interview Brandon Watson, CEO of IMSafer and board member of the Family Online Safety Institute on online safety for children. He was kind enough to answer all of my questions from when is it appropriate to have a computer in your child's room, how to respect your child's privacy but keep them safe, & basic things that we should teach our children about being safe online. Don't miss this article!

For parents of older children, I am curious if you have had this talk yet with your child? What did you teach them? Do you have parental blockers on your computer? Do you monitor their chatting or just trust that they are doing the right thing?

For those of us who love a freebie, IMSafer offers a free membership or you can take advantage of a premium membership for only $30 a year.

Many thanks to Brandon for giving us the opportunity to get answers to these important questions!

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