05 December 2013

365: November Favorites

To be honest, I don't remember much about November. We all took turns being sick, visiting the doctor, staying in bed, losing sleep, and feeling miserable.  Besides that...I think I vaguely remember a turkey somewhere in there?

Thankfully we have all fully recovered and J is back to his bubbly happy self. Now I look at him and suddenly he is a month older and full of new tricks!

He is all about adjectives lately. His favorites are "nice" "soft" "pretty" and "crazy". (Lucky me, I get to be crazy mommy while the horse is pretty.) He also loves to use colors to describe everything. Yesterday we had a little disagreement over the color of the orange... he insisted it was yellow.

J has also become my little helper in the kitchen. He stands up on the kitchen chair while I place our ingredients on the table. He gets overzealous when scooping the flour, sugar, or cinnamon and will use any measuring spoon or cup he can find to dig in. I've learned to make recipes without eggs in the dough, like our favorite Slice of Pumpkin Spice Cookies, because he has no self-control and HAS TO taste the cookie dough. 

Last week J found a his pair of sandals and learned to put them on all by himself. Now whenever we ask him to get his shoes he grabs his sandals and insists on wearing them over his socks. Styling I know! Thankfully December in Las Vegas won't be too chilly.

16 November 2013

TogetherBox Bug Activities

Two weeks ago our Bug TogetherBox came in the mail and J was overjoyed and couldn't rip into it fast enough. (Probably because he thought it was another package from Grandma filled with trucks. I was equally excited because it was my first time winning a blog giveaway!)

 Inside, we found our TogetherBox stuffed with all sorts of bug catching equipment (bug mansion, butterfly net, and a bug scoop) in addition to supplies for making our own sticky spider web and our own butterfly cocoon. Although the recommended age range for the box is 3-10 years old, we were able to adapt the activities for a younger audience.

Activities for Younger Children

BUG CATCHING: J needed help knowing where to look for bugs (and reminders not to squish the bugs), but once he got the hang of it he loved going outside and catching bugs and looking at them through the magnifying glass.

 (On an unrelated note, does anyone know what roly-poly bugs eat?)

BUTTERFLY CATCHING: Also included in the box is a butterfly net which would be a lot of fun for an older child, but I couldn't imagine my 21 month old having the coordination to chase down and catch a butterfly. He tried and it was adorable but still, not really possible. 

I noticed the cute packing materials (tissue paper) and feeling creative (resourceful?), I used it to make butterflies for J to catch with his net.

1. Cut the tissue paper in half.           
2. Fold the two long edges to meet in the center.
3. Draw butterfly halves along the folded edge.
4. Keeping the tissue paper folded over, cut out the butterflies.

Although some of my butterflies were more convincing than others (don't judge), J loved chasing the butterflies around as I dropped them and they floated down to the ground and hopefully his net.

HIDE-A-BUG: This cute little bug was also included in the box and labeled as the "love bug". The idea is that you do something nice for someone in the family and then leave the bug behind so they know they have been shown some love.

J can't quite grasp this concept yet and so instead I hide the bug during nap time and J looks for it when he wakes up. The hiding places are always quite obvious, but it is a fun little game for us to play together. Eventually I will have J take a turn hiding the bug. (That should be entertaining!)

BOOKS: Next, we headed to the library with a list of excellent bug books. J loves books and I've found that it is the best way for him to learn about his favorite subjects.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is by far the favorite. Every time I turn to the strawberry page, J licks his lips and says, "Mmm, strawies!"

I would also add to the above list Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose and Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert. 

I'm now happy to say that after receiving our bug box and doing the activities, J is no longer squishing every bug that he comes across on the sidewalk! I'm excited to continue his love of bugs as he grows older.

Thanks Pinterest!
Theme Week: BUGS
Bug Week with Virtual Book Club
Bug Craft Round Up

13 November 2013

365: Florida Escape

So I don't know if anyone caught my post last week, but Joseph and I spent two days in Florida while J stayed home and played with Grandparents.

This year for Christmas we decided we wanted to do something together instead of buying each other things. (But for the record, I would be okay with both.) So when Joseph found flights to Florida for $14 we hopped on a late night flight to wake up to a beautiful sunrise in Ft. Lauderdale.

After a nap and a long drive down to the Keys, we headed to the beach for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and exploring.

Although we had a lot of fun, we were always thinking about our little guy left at home. Sure it was nice to not worry about nap times, diapers, and snacks but we couldn't help but think that we might have had a bit more fun if he had been there.

Finishing the day with a slice of Mrs. Mac's Kitchen key lime pie was the perfect way to end our first day in paradise. We both quickly decided (as we were fighting over the last few bites) that a whole pie is really the only way to go. 

12 November 2013

Pot Pie Dough

I love taking shortcuts in the kitchen. If it can be prepared with fewer than five dishes, be ready in 20 minutes, or just thrown in the slow cooker, then I am a happy gal.

But I also have dearly loved recipes where I refuse to compromise.Would Grandma's Chicken Pot Pie work with store bought refrigerated dough? Why certainly! But if you are spending the time to make a pot pie, you might as well make an easy dough that will bake into the golden, flaky crust of your dreams.

This recipe might look intimidating, but I promise that making the dough is easy! Rolling out the dough and making it into a pot pie can be the tricky part. (Steps 1-5 cover the making of the dough, steps 6-12 cover the process of making the dough into a pot pie.)

Chicken Pot Pie Dough
Yield: Crust for 2 quart pot pie 
Nutritional Information

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup hot (almost boiling) water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg yolk, not beaten

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Pour 1/2 cup water into a small microwave-safe bowl, and heat in the microwave until almost boiling. Slowly stir shortening into hot water until melted and smooth.

3. Stir shortening into flour mixture in large bowl. Mix until evenly moistened. (PS: I'm sorry if you are one of those people who hates the word "mo*st", I just couldn't describe it in any other way!)

4. Add lemon juice and egg yolk. Stir until well combined.

5. Cover dough and chill for at least 30 minutes. The longer it chills the less sticky and less frustrating the dough will be.

6. Divide dough equally into fourths. On floured wax paper, roll out three parts for the bottom of a 2-quart dish, reserving one part for the top. Have your baking dish on hand to measure your dough. You will need between 2-3 inches extra on all sides, depending on your dish.

7. When you are done rolling out the bottom, slide your hand under the wax paper and gently flip the dough into the baking dish. Make sure the dough reaches all sides and gently peel off the wax paper. With a knife, trim off any dough that hangs over more than 1-inch.

8. Fill with your desired pot pie recipe. I recommend my Grandma's recipe (of course!) that will come later next week.

9. On floured wax paper, roll out remaining dough for the top of the pot pie. As before, flip and place gently over the filled pie, making sure the dough reaches all four sides.

10. Dip your first two fingers in a cup of warm water and slide between the two pieces of dough along the edge. Press the dough gently along the edge to seal it. Carefully work your way around the whole pie.

11. Using a knife, cut off the extra dough hanging over the baking dish, leaving no more than an inch. Roll the sealed dough towards the pot pie and tuck under, forming the crust.

12. Cut four vents in the top. Bake at 425°F for 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and the gravy bubbles up through the vents.

 I love love this recipe and it is always my go to when taking a meal to a new mom or someone else in need. Although I love taking shortcuts in the kitchen, this is one recipe that makes me proud to say, "I make my own chicken pot pie with homemade crust and I promise it is better than Miss Calendar's!" 

08 November 2013

5 Steps to Setting up a Stand-in Photographer for Success

This week I have been busy editing all my photographs from our (very early) Christmas trip to Florida. I have plenty of photographs of beautiful sunsets and the island flora, but hardly any of us on our getaway! I wish I felt more comfortable handing my DSLR camera off to a stranger to ask them to take a picture of us... but the results of past experiences discourage me.

Even when I have offered direction and tips, the friendly stand-in photographers insist that THEY know how to take a picture. Looking at the pictures later I see that we are blurry and out of focus. Sigh.

This got me thinking, there has to be a way to set these stand-in photographers up for success. From friendly stranger tourist to the willing father-in-law, we can give simple directions and if we can predict what may go wrong, we can compensate accordingly.
5 Steps to Setting up a Stand-In Photographer for Success
(Or how to direct someone else to use your DSLR 
to get a great picture of you and your family)

Step One: Thank the stand-in photographer and make sure they know how much you appreciate their kindness. Next, look them up and down and decide how likely they are to run off with your camera. Can you catch them? (This is a joke.)

Step Two: Ask for a quick minute to set everything up. Quickly pose your family (making sure to leave an open spot for yourself), and adjust your manual settings to achieve correct exposure. 

If possible I would give your stand-in photographer a little wiggle room by increasing your shutter speed and aperture higher than you normally would if you were taking the picture. If you would set the aperture to f/3.5, bump it up to f/4 or f/5.6 to compensate for imperfect focus. Also, make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/250 seconds. Let your ISO take the hit but make sure the picture will have everyone in focus and won't be blurry.

Step Three: Take a practice shot. Take note of where the camera will focus. Make adjustments as necessary. Be sure that have set your focus point to the center of the frame. If you have been back button focusing, switch it back to the shutter. We want everything to be as easy as possible for our stand-in.

Step Four: Now it is time to hand over the camera. Ask them to stand where you were standing and ask them if they can see everyone's faces. You may need to remind them to look through the viewfinder. Tell them to point the center square/dot where it should line up, (aka on the face of someone toward the front) and press down to take the picture. Ask them to please take a few.
Step Five: Express your sincere gratitude. (Thank you thank you thank you!) Offer to take a picture of their family or group. 
What if you aren't the photographer who shoots in Manual with a DSLR? What if you offered to take a picture of a family and they hand you this heavy black thing with oodles of buttons and twisty things? 

If you aren't sure how it works, then ask! If someone owns a DSLR then they should know how it works and be able to help you to know where to look and where to find the shutter. 

I promise that the photographer would rather you ask questions (however silly) and take a few minutes to figure it out, than have a blurry dark picture of half of their family. 

Promise promise promise!

06 November 2013

365: October Favorites

Fall is surely here and we are finding many ways to celebrate. From a visit to an apple orchard, to cooking up warm pumpkin spiced goodness, we are truly loving this cool weather. (And by cool I mean high in the 60s, sorry friends up North!).

Little J was in heaven this month when we flew on a plane to visit both sets of his grandparents in Idaho. Heaven because of the airplanes and also the doting grandparents! He was happy to point out the different parts of the plane, wave to the pilots, and have an excuse to watch Cars uninterrupted. 

J also learned about the magic of trick-or-treating when after visiting one house dressed as a cowboy, he left smiling with a candy clutched in each hand. The best part? He was completely content with trick-or-treating one house and we went home and enjoyed the rest of the night with a big bowl of candy (meant for the trick-or-treaters that never came).

01 November 2013

Intro to Food Photography

In case you hadn't noticed, I have been photographing a lot of food lately. One of my favorite things I have learned in the past month is how to make a mini studio with a seamless background in my kitchen with things I have on hand.

One of my new favorite places for food photography inspiration and tutorials is the food section of fstoppers.com. In this tutorial for a seamless background system, Taylor made it so easy and accessible even for growing food photographers like myself. He uses white foam board, clamps, white poster board and tape. I simplified it even more by using a sturdy cardboard box (diapers!) to tape my white poster board.

Here is my set up: 

I have my mini studio set up at about a 45 degree angle from the natural light streaming in through the window. My tripod is set up also at 45 degrees from the light, this shows where my camera will be for the shot.

Opposite angle of the same set up, still at 45 degrees from the light. You can see at the top of the box where I have duct taped my white poster board to hold it in place. You will adjust the height of the poster board depending on the height of your subject. It just takes experimentation.

Wide angle view of where my camera is set up. You will notice that instead of one sheet of poster board I have two. (Meaning the seamless background really isn't seamless! Shhh!)

This is my resulting photograph. If you look closely you can see the where one poster ends and another begins. This could be easily remedied by taping the first poster board to a lower position on the box (making it longer and removing the need for a second sheet), fixing it in Photoshop, or simply buying a larger piece of poster board.

Next I wanted to fill in the shadows of the strawberries by bouncing white light from the opposite side of the window. I used a large piece of white cardboard just out of the view of the photograph.

Interested in learning more about food photography? 

It's the beginning of another month and the perfect time to start 30 Days to Better Food Photography, Day 1. (I won't admit what day I'm on and how long it took me to get there...)

One of my favorite food photographers is Helen Dujardin. I love looking at her fresh and clean work. She truly makes food look like art! While you are waiting for her book, Plate to Pixel, from the library or Amazon check out this tip-filled interview.

30 October 2013

365: Halloween

Remember when my baby J was a puppy for Halloween last year? Okay now you do. 

Well this year I thought it would be fun if he was a puppy again this year. (Read: the costume still fit and I thought it would be cute and easy on my part.) 

False. The puppy costume would not be worn no matter what I tried. Instead the puppy costume was carried around, kissed, and pushed in the stroller. Second option, a dog walker who pushes dogs in a stroller. Original I know!

This week when I was folding laundry I came across a pair of Wrangler jeans and the cutest plaid cowboy shirt. Add a stick pony and we have ourselves a cowboy! 

The pony was also carried around, kissed, and tucked into bed. This cowboy sure knows how to take care of his animals.
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