Monday, April 28, 2014

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
- Ansel Adams

I've learned lately that there is definitely a difference between "taking" a photograph and "making" one.  The latter requires a lot more work than I ever dreamed.  I've never been a great photographer.  Oh, I've read books like Digital Photograph for Dummies, and even took a half-day hands-on course.  It all went right over my head...terms like depth of focus and white balance and shutter speed went in one ear and out the other.  Things got much better once I embraced my camera-illiteracy.  Compensation comes in the form of a fancy-shmancy DSLR that is decidedly smarter than I am, and on which I rely to make up for my many shortcomings.  For a long time, things were good in picture-land.

That's because with kids, the combo of ignorance and good equipment works pretty well for me.  Big and Little never stand still for pictures anyway.  So the fact that I didn't know an f-stop from a truck stop was never a big problem until I realized that a jewelry business wasn't going to work out too well if I couldn't show my pieces to potential customers.

This was one of my original attempts.  I was all about the backgrounds, and props.  Notice the pinkish white blob in the upper right hand corner - that's the petal of a fairly ugly silk rose.  And the lovely, crinkly purple paper I let Big and Little talk me into (in their defense, it didn't take much convincing...I was thinking my business color scheme, sparkly like fairies, all that jazz).  Would you buy this piece?  I wouldn't, and I 1) made it, and 2) consider it one of my favorites!  But this was the look of my entire Etsy shop when I opened it and I thought I'd done this amazing thing, finally getting everything photographed and cohesive.

After a couple of weeks, during which time I actually managed to sell a couple of items in spite of the photographs, I realized I needed to step up my game.  A lot of Googling tips and tricks helped me decide to simplify things.

Round two turned my dining room table into a photography studio. Immediately I noticed one thing...the background made a difference. Without the deep purple and the sparkly glare, my pieces stood out more.  I still couldn't let go of my prop obsession, which had me painting twigs I scavenged in the yard and using them.   You know, because of that princess in the woods thing (I mean, the company is called Fairietale Designs, after all).  Sleeping Beauty lived in a cottage in the woods, Snow White escaped to them, Merida followed the will o' the wisps through woods, Rapunzel's tower was hidden in the forest.

Well, it sort of made sense and seemed appropriate at the time.  The shop still didn't have that clean, as-close-to-professional as I was going to get look that I wanted, that I saw in so many other shops.  I decided to try again.  This time I used a new approach...clean, simple, outdoors in natural light.  Nothing fancy, just me, my camera, and the jewelry.  What I didn't realize was just how much went into this "simple looking" way of making a picture...the right time of day, knowing where the light was coming from, the dreaded "white balance" (which I'm honestly still faking any true knowledge of!).

This is where I am now.  Perfect? Far from it.  But light years from those original photos!  When I look at my shop, I'm happy with what I see.  It's cohesive.  It's clean.  What jumps out at you is the jewelry, not the colors or the staging or the props.

I'll still never be a pro.  I trash far more pictures then I keep, and I'm grateful if an hour's work yields one or two decent pictures.  But I'm learning.  And as I try to teach my girls, that's what life is all about.  You can teach an old dog new tricks (or, more accurately, the new dog can teach herself as long as she wants to learn).  I hope that Big and Little eventually understand and embrace that idea for themselves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

There's no place like home!

Home is where the heart is.

As well as my very own bed, and the washer and dryer, and an empty refrigerator that left me grateful my mother-in-law sent us home with lots of delicious leftovers to get us through until I could hit the grocery store this morning.  Now I'm into load #2 of laundry and have a fully restocked fridge, so I can start to relax a bit.

I need to...that this morning was a rough one!  First day in a while we were on the clock.  With Spring Break last week, including the long, fun, tiring weekend traveling to visit all of the grandparents, we'd been pretty low key in the AM.  Having to get up by a certain time, eat and dress pretty much right away, and be out the door on schedule did not make for happy campers.  I did attempt to ease the transition out of their holiday-induced sugar coma by whipping up a batch of chocolate babka french toast for breakfast, but from here on out it's detox time!  At least until I break down and we start raiding the huge stash of bunnies and jelly beans I stashed out of sight yesterday hoping for a little candy break.  That whole out of mind part, though, doesn't seem to be happening yet so the raid may not be as far off as I'd planned.

As always, our visit north was a busy one.  Both sides of the family live close enough to one another that a single trip can usually cover everybody, but far enough apart that doing so takes extremely careful time management, a lot of energy, and a dash of luck to get the stars (and schedules) in perfect alignment.  We managed it this time, though!

Arrival was as scheduled, late Thursday afternoon after an uneventful and traffic-free drive.  That night, Big and Little helped dye and decorate eggs at my in-law's house.

Friday included a trip to Carlo's Bakery's new Morristown location.  All of the yummies I remember from my visits to the Hoboken flagship store, but a much more manageable crowd.  I recommend it if you're ever in the area.  In fact, the whole area makes for a nice visit since it's very walkable with lots of cute gift shops, specialty stores, and various choices for a quick snack or full meal depending on your preference.

On Saturday, we spent the day with my family.  Tops on the agenda was a trip to the baseball field where arrived in time to catch my youngest nephew in his first at-bat of the season.  Check out that swing!  

Back at my sister's house, we hung out for a while so the adults could chat and the cousins could play.  Then it was time for my sister's family to head back to the field for round 2 (both of my nephews play so they have multiple games each weekend), so my parents, the girls, and I said goodbye and started back to Mom and Dad's house.  On the way we made a stop for dinner at a diner we all love.  I think my veggie omelet was the biggest one I've ever seen!  Big and Little, of course, had pancakes.  Any excuse to eat breakfast for dinner, and where better than a New Jersey diner?  One of the many things I miss about not living there any more.

We spent the night at my parents' so that we could head back to my in-laws house well rested and ready for the Easter festivities on Sunday.  There's always a huge crowd, amazing food, and the guest of honor -

Yep, a lamb on a spit right there in the yard. You get used to seeing it as the years pass and I do have to admit that it's tasty.  But it's sort of like the dentist...once (or twice) a year because it's the thing to do, and that's enough for me.  While it was cooking, I spent some time chatting with my sister-in-law about my next major jewelry project.  I'm making charms that will be part of her wedding favors.  Specific details are, of course, hush-hush right now, but I can say that I'm excited about it!  I'll be sure to share pictures after the wedding.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Well, that's another great Easter/Passover finished (or will be come sundown).  Hope you enjoyed whatever you celebrated!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Break

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go...

I woke up at 6:15 this morning.  On the first school day of Spring Break, when hopefully Big and Little will sleep in.  What was I thinking?  Obviously, I *wasn't* thinking.  Or maybe I was thinking too much since my to-do-list for today is way too long and seems to keep growing every minute.  Writing this blog post wasn't on that list, by the way.

Something that is high on the list is packing for a short visit to the grandparents'.  Fortunately, both sets live within 90 minutes of each other so knocking them both off with a single trip North is totally doable.  Big and Little are excited.  Little already started the process, as you can see -

We drive a minivan, but let's be realistic.  I managed to help her whittle things down to what she can fit in the backpack, plus the pillow pet in the bottom right hand corner (the purple blob...if you turn it over, it's actually a light up unicorn, a must have for any over night trip!).  She was surprisingly agreeable about it.  Oh, did you notice that there aren't actually any clothes in that pile?  At least not for a human-sized child, since there are a couple of cute doll outfits included.  My kids have their priorities.  Clothes, toiletries, basically useful stuff, are Mom's problem.

I'm ready on that front, though.  In anticipation of the trip, I spent a good part of the weekend hauling up the boxes of spring/summer clothes from the basement closet, unpacking them, and sorting the stuff into the girls' dresser drawers and closets.  You know this means we'll have snow next week.  That's ok, since  I left the boxes that I repacked with the fall/winter stuff upstairs for easy access.  I'll wait until July to bring them down two flights and force them into the closet.  And all the while I'll remind myself that's not laziness, it's being prepared.

Speaking of weather related things, did you have a lot of snow days in your school district?  We missed 11 this year.  Just found out last Friday that the school board has voted to extend the year one more day to account for all of them.  We now get out of school on Wednesday, June 25.  Crazy, if you ask me.  Since the original school calendar had the final day as Friday 6/20, everybody has vacation and camp and other plans that next week.  School is going to be a ghost town.  Big and Little can be the Sheriff and Deputy, because we're here so they're going.  Another entry on my long list of "Mother of the Year" qualities.

It's going to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood today.  I plan to try and spend some of it outdoors, exhausting...I mean entertaining!...the kids.  Maybe knock a few things off my to-do-list in the process since a big one is all new photographs of the jewelry and I'm doing that outside.  Big was an amazing photographers helper yesterday when I got started.  Here's a sample, using the pendant she designed for me -

But if I don't get much done, though, that's ok, too.  It'll all still be there later but Big and Little won't always be home for Spring Break wanting to hang out with me.  I'm going to grab onto that while I still can.

Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life.

I took my life in my hands today.  Well, maybe not literally, but still...I braved the mall on a Sunday afternoon and that's pretty close.

Although, I must have earned some good behavior points because things went pretty smoothly.  The goal was new shoes for all of the ladies in the family.  I didn't end up getting anything because I know what I want, and the best store for buying them doesn't have a location in this particular mall.  The girls were successful and two out of three isn't bad.  Plus I'll probably enjoy shopping for my own shoes more when I don't have an entourage.  I got the part done that requires other bodies, since I can't take their feet shopping without having the rest of them along for the ride.

We walked right into the store, immediately found something both Big and Little agreed on (which is near to impossible most of the time), and barely had to wait for an associate to be available to help us.  Miracle of miracles, they had both girls' sizes in stock!  I am NEVER this lucky when shoe shopping with the Misses Picky.  Not ten minutes after arriving, we're out the door with these -

LOVE THEM and can't believe how easy and perfect that was!  Especially since there were requirements here...these sandals are for the girls to wear in their aunt's wedding this summer.  They have gorgeous flower girl dresses, ivory with a colored sash of their choice, pale blue for Little and pale pink for Big.  On a side note, it turned out to be very appropriate that Big gave herself and her sister stealth pedis this morning.  I only had to clean up one spot of polish off the floor once I found out about the goings on.

Shoes purchased, we stopped for sustenance in the form of a Mocha Frappuccino, then hit the Lego store where we'd agreed earlier to meet their dad. For reasons that boggle the mind, he chose to forgo the shoe buying experience and spend his time in the Tesla store ogling cars.  Anyway...whenever we go there we make a beeline directly to the back corner of the store where the Lego Friends are displayed.  If you aren't familiar with them, they're a line of Legos specifically for girls, basically a bunch of structures that together form a place called Heartlake City.  In another bonus for today, we entered the store to find out that if you bought any product in the Lego Friends line, you got a free product which turned out to be a small snack bar.  We bought.  Who can turn down free Legos?  I mean, I always need more small pieces buried in my carpets to step on, right?

This is Big once we arrived home, putting together the Turtle's Little Oasis set she chose -

Construction done, it was time to find a place for it in Heartlake City.  Did I forget to mention that we actually *have* a Heartlake City in our house (aka a corner of Big's bedroom...please forgive the unmade bed, that's a battle I've chosen not to fight on a regular basis)?

Yeah, you see correctly.  Those Lego Friends have their own private CRUISE SHIP, people.  With dolphins.  And a sundeck.  Plus a high school and riding camp.  And a house, camper, sports car, hedgehog hideaway, outdoor bakery, and various other places to visit.

And that's not all.  I have to share that we also have a Heartlake Town, which is our version of Heartlake City's younger, smaller, sister.  In this corner of Little's room you'll find the neighborhood pool, tree house, speed boat, bakery, pet salon, bunny hutch, roadside picnic area and there's a pony in there somewhere, too.

But not a shoe store to be found in either location.  Somebody needs to write to those Lego people and get that situation rectified.  :-)

Hope you enjoyed whatever it is you did today!