Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Most Inappropriate Birthday Card Ever

I don't tend to buy many birthday cards. Kid birthday cards always seem so trite to me, so instead the wee ones make them - and they love doing it. They know now that when we have a party, they get to take a piece of paper, fold it in half and create something that is meaningful to the child whose birthday they're attending.

This past Sunday, we had a birthday party, and each of the wee ones created a card. They've been doing this for long enough that I don't check the cards, especially when we're in a hurry. They know how to make them, and they generally do a pretty good job - once I remind them to write who the card is from, that is.

Little Miss created this card. I didn't see it until after the present was opened. I will be revising my policy going forward to include mandatory review by Mommy prior to "completion" of the cards.

Spelling/grammatical corrections have been made for my sanity.
"Dear X,
Happy birthday. Hey I've got a joke for you. How do you tell when when a moth farts? He flies straight for a second. I've got another one: What smells like banana noses(?) and is yellow? Monkey vomit. What would you (do) if you charged you? Pay him cash. (little balloon) I'm out of cash; will you take a credit card?"

Ok, so it's a little funny. But where my sweet little six year old girl came up with those jokes.... Oh I'm not looking forward to the teenage years. Any suggestions for me?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thank Goodness My Life Isn't *This* Nightmare

I don't consider myself to be a paranoid person. Generally. But there are some things that I have to do a certain way ... for luck. There was a time when I was afraid to let my husband get a v@sectomy, not because I thought there was even the remotest chance that I might want a third child - my two wee ones keep me hopping enough as it is, and I know my personal limits - but because if we made it so that we couldn't have another child, that was inviting something bad to happen to one of our current children. We could never replace a child were something horrible to happen, but the possibility of procreating somehow in my sleep-addled mind kept away the bogey man.

It's silly, isn't it?

But two nights ago I had a nightmare that woke me up at 4:30am and kept me from sleeping the rest of the night. In my dream, I had to euthanize my dad. He was sick and wasn't doing well, and my mom wasn't up to doing it herself. We were all in our "house" (which of course wasn't my actual house, not only because it was spotless) talking about how to do it and how it had to be me. My dad said good-bye to the wee ones, and the plan was for me to drive my parents back to their house for the actual euthanasia. Trying to explain to the wee ones that Grandpa was going to die. And he was going to die tonight was beyond heartbreaking.

When we got to my parents' house, my dad called the wee ones one last time to say good-bye, although I have no idea how we got through any of that. I was the one who had to load the syringe, and I was going to be the one who had to actually do the injection. I was a mess and shaking in my dream. I am grateful only that I woke up before I actually pushed the plunger - and that two days later, this is all the detail of the dream I remember, because I remembered every second of my long and intense dream when I woke up.

As soon as it was decently possible, I called my parents to ensure that my dad was ok. He was. I didn't tell them about my dream. How could I?

That nightmare got me thinking, though. I have no idea how I will someday - and I hope very far away someday - get through the loss of my parents. And more importantly, how will the wee ones? They absolutely adore my parents and they see them and spend time with them constantly. They are so much more a part of their lives than typical grandparents are. They take them to gymnastics and tae kwon do and to laser tag and have them spend the night, not because they have to but because they genuinely want to.

My dad had pneumonia last week that amazingly didn't linger forever and turn into anything worse, as it tends to do with him at least once a year now. Mister Man came home from school last week and announced to me once he'd heard that Grandpa was on the mend, "Of course he is. I prayed for him at church on Wednesday, that's why he got better so fast." That melted my heart, but I know someday all the prayers in the world won't help him get better at all, let alone "so fast" as he did this time.

I have no magic amulets. I have no secret code to keep my parents here and healthy and alive forever. I don't know how I'll survive without them, and I'm eternally grateful that I haven't had to try. My fingers are crossed that I don't have to try for many many many years.

Have you lost your parents? How have you coped with that type of grief and loss?

In the interest of full disclosure, this was part of the From Left To Write book club where we don't write traditional book reviews but instead write posts inspired by the books we read. I received a copy of "Signs of Life" by Natalie Taylor for review purposes only. I received no compensation, and all opinions remain my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BlogHer Book Club: The Fault In Our Stars

I love connecting with the characters in books. I've always been a huge reader, and yes, I've been known to cry more than once when reading. The Fault In Our Stars had me going through more than one Kleenex. You'd expect that from a book that details the life of a teenager with terminal cancer.

This book though? It's not a cancer book. It's not a sad, depressing, cry through your coffee kind of book. Hazel may be dying, but the book isn't about death. It's about living and finding delight in the moments for a girl who lives with an oxygen tank and has just her parents for company. When she meets Augustus Waters at the Cancer Kid Support Group, she finds another similar soul and connects with him.

The Fault In Our Stars is written by John Green and is billed as Young Adult Fiction, both of which are factors that ordinarily would have my shy away from reading the book. For some reason, I tend to prefer the writing of women, as I can connect with their characters more. John Green does a fantastic job making the characters and their situations real, and the dialogue is incredible and moving without being trite. I also wouldn't necessarily characterize this as a Young Adult book either. While it contains teenage main characters with Hazel and Gus, it is so much more, and the issues they face are not light fluffy topics that I associate with Young Adult Fiction.

So go. Read The Fault In Our Stars. And be prepared with some Kleenex, but know that there is so much more to this book than just that.

As always, the BlogHer Book Club will be having great discussions about this book for the next several weeks. This week, we're chatting about our favorite books, as Hazel's favorite book plays a role in this book - a very interesting parallel. Come join our book discussion!

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green for review purposes only. This was a compensated review, but all opinions remain my own.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm Right. No, I'm Right.

Education is important to my husband and I, and we try to impart that to the wee ones. For us, it isn't about the grades. While I want to know that the wee ones have given their best effort, I'm ok if that means they didn't get straight As. That said, I want to make sure that they understand the material - especially in the younger grades where what they learn is truly the foundation for everything else that's to come.

In that vein, we go over all the assignments and work and tests that come home. We go through what they did well - where they remembered some of the lessons they're being taught or where they did their best handwriting or where I can see that they checked their work and erased a wrong answer. And then we go through the parts that the teacher marked wrong to ensure that the wee ones understood what was done incorrectly.

I have to be extra careful with Mister Man, however. Not only does his Asperger's mean that he's extra sensitive, but his teacher isn't the best at grading. She'll miss problems that are clearly wrong, and sometimes she'll incorrectly mark a problem wrong that isn't. That drives me batty, but I do my best not to let it show.

When the wee ones do a problem wrong, I have them redo it, especially if it's something that they've gotten wrong on a regular basis or where they clearly haven't used their best efforts.

I came across this paper the other day where Mister Man had to measure an object and report its length to the nearest half centimeter. Apparently, Mister Man also has a very strict sense of right and wrong.

But I have to give him credit. When I went back and measured it myself, it is definitely 8 1/2 centimeters. And you know, it's not such a bad thing to teach him to stick to his guns, too.

How do you handle it when your child's teacher doesn't grade things correctly?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Cheesy Breadsticks

I've mentioned before that I'm part of a babysitting co-op. One of the nice things about this group of ladies (as well as with some of the other groups I'm involved with) is that when someone has a major life event, people step in to help out. One of our members just had another baby, so we're bringing her meals for a few weeks. Last night, I signed up to bring sides and a dessert.

With very ripe bananas in the house, choosing banana bread for the dessert was a no brainer. The harder idea was something fun and creative to go with the spaghetti another friend was making. Finally, I had a brilliant idea. And no, it didn't have anything to do with the pizza dough I had sitting in my fridge from the pizza I'd had to make Little Miss on Friday. Ok, so maybe it did.

Now? I'm regretting only making six for her. I could really use one of these now - especially after looking at the photos again!

Cheesy Breadsticks

One recipe pizza dough
2 oz mozzarella cheese

Make the pizza dough as you normally would - or use the stuff you bought at the store - and let it go through its first rise as needed.

Grab a chunk of dough, about the size of a meatball or small ice cream scoop. Use a little extra flour to keep it from sticking to your fingers and flatten the dough into a rectangle about six by two inches.

Scoop up a bit of the mozzarella and place it in a line through the middle of the dough. Pinch the edges of the dough together. I use my pointer finger to press down the dough in the middle then lift it quickly and use my middle finger and thumb to press them together. Carefully roll the breadstick on the counter to ensure the dough seam will stay sealed.

Place a little extra cheese on the tops of the breadsticks, and place them on your cooking surface - either silpat on a cookie sheet or on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Start preheating your oven to 450 degrees, and let the dough rise while your oven preheats. Bake the breadsticks for ten minutes, shoving them from the pizza peel onto your pizza stone or simply placing your cookie sheet in the oven.

When the are done, remove them and serve them immediately. These do not stay fresh for the next day well, so try to eat them immediately - as if that would be difficult!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why One Cat Is Fat. And The Other... Is Not

You know that we have cats, right? We've had Meow and Roar since Mister Man was three. He was the one who named them, actually, back when he wanted a lion instead of a cat. Meow and Roar were older kittens at the time. They were strays, maybe 10 months old, and Meow was the smaller of the two kittens.

Oh how times have changed.

Roar - the all orange one - is now the smaller cat, by a lot. The cats are brothers, so who knew they'd become such different cats as they grew. The other day, my husband called me over to show me that he'd figured out the issue.

Things I've Learned

1. Meow likes to eat.
2. Roar is sort of dainty.
3. Meow is a pig.
4. Meow needs to learn manners.
5. Meow is a rude pig.
6. Roar always expects that there will be a little more.
7. Meow has an insatiable appetite and won't let anyone or anything get in his way.
8. If you want to poison my cats, Meow will happily scarf down anything and everything. You might have to sweeten the pot for Roar.
9. Meow is a huge, rude pig.
10. There's a good reason Meow is fatter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

This Girl Is a Problem Solver

The wee ones are ... special. They make me giggle. Sometimes it's intentional, and sometimes, it's definitely not. We have a small issue with the wee ones forgetting to change their und*rgarments. They used to. And I swear I've taught them to do so every single day, but somehow it's not sticking.

I discovered that there was an issue when doing laundry. While I had a plethora of socks from the wee ones (more socks than I thought possible given how many days it had been since I'd done laundry, actually), the same didn't hold true for all items of their clothing. The next time I did laundry, I found the same problem. At that point, I had a discussion with the wee ones who simply looked at me blankly and stated that they didn't understand the need to change their und*rgarments every day. I looked blankly at them, considering they insist I watch their pjs every single day and they put clean clothes into the laundry basket on a regular basis.


We have a new routine in the mornings where I knock on their doors to ensure that und*ergarments are being changed. I'd say about 80% of the time, they have forgotten. Sometimes they tell me they have changed, but fortunately, I can tell when they're not quite telling the truth. This morning, Little Miss assured me that she had had clean und*ergarments. After having just busted Mister Man, I was a little suspicious.

Me: Can you show me your dirty und*rgarments in your laundry basket? (knowing that I'd just done laundry)
Little Miss: Well, no. Last night, I didn't wear any und*rgarments so I'd definitely remember to put on clean ones when I woke up in the morning.

Well. Of course. In case you're wondering, I currently have another load of laundry running, and it does include the pjs she wore last night.

What's your best creative solution?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Were You Planning To Name Me?

Names are powerful things. They define us even before someone meets us. A name should fit the person it's assigned to, which makes it really hard sometimes to name a baby properly. When I was naming the wee ones (and by "I," I do mean my husband and I since he had a say in it), I wanted a name that wasn't outlandish where people would look at me and wonder where I came up with it (thus Siobhan was out, much as I love that name) yet wasn't common enough where there would be three Jennifers or Michaels in their classes. If I were to go back in time, I would change Little Miss's name, as I failed miserably there - besides, knowing her personality now, she would make an awesome Evelyn or Eleanor. I'm still debating legally changing her name. In my head.

Talking about names and what we could have been named, the below conversation has me still cracking up:

Me: When I was born, Grandma was going to name me Freddie Dougie if I had been a boy (true story, I'm not making it up, and she was actually going to call me Freddie Dougie - thank goodness I was born a girl).
Mister Man: Really?
Me: Yep, and if your auntie had been born a boy, she was going to be Dougie Freddie (also a true story, and had we both been boys, we would have been Freddie Dougie and Dougie Freddie. Someone was looking out for us).
Mister Man: Cool!
My Husband: And if I had been born a girl, I would have been named Kimberly (at least his mom was reasonable in the name choice).
Little Miss: You don't look like Kimberly, Daddy.
My Husband: Nope.
Me: Thankfully, Daddy doesn't look like a Kimberly. I might not have married him if he did.
My Husband: Mister Man, do you know what we would have named you if you'd been a girl?
Mister Man: Huh?
My Husband: Had you been born a girl, you would have been named Kiersten Anabel (ok, so maybe it's a good thing he was born a boy although I still love the name Kiersten).
Mister Man: Kristen?
Me: No, Sweetie. Kieeeeerrrrrsten. And had Little Miss been born a boy, she was going to be James Spencer, and we were going to call her Jamie.
My Husband: Really? I thought we didn't have a name picked out it if had been a boy.
Me: (rolling my eyes) Ummm nope. We had a conversation on the way to the hospital. We had James picked out already but hadn't chosen a middle name but decided on Spencer as we were driving. Of course it didn't matter in the end anyway.
My Husband: Oh. Yeah. I remember that now.
Mister Man: Cool! So what were you going to name me if I had been born a boy?

I'm still not quite sure how to answer that question.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap - Mastering Your Angles and Compositions

Yes, this is the last of my Blissdom 2012 conference recap posts (unless you want to see some photos of Rascal Flatts and Joe Jonas). I attended all six informational sessions, and I feel like I got so much out of them. I'm glad I attended and will definitely be there again next year. Here's hoping you've learned something useful, too.

This is another photography session, Mastering Your Angles and Compositions, provided by Kristin Luna of Camels and Chocolates: Tales from a Travel Addict.

Did you miss the earlier recaps?
Capturing the Moment: No Matter What Subjects You Like to Shoot
Shoot Like a Woman
Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Grow Your Facebook Fan Page
Blogging With Legal Confidence
Why Less Is More When It Comes to Your Writing

What you can do to make your photos more visually appealing to your readers:

Some things not to do
Some of the most common mistakes are overexposure. This means your shots are blown out, the shutter speed is letting in too much light, or the ISO is too high. You'll lose a lot of color quality and focus. It becomes drab. A basic rule of thumb for ISO - generally she keeps hers at 400. If you're outside and it’s really light, put your ISO at 200 and maybe 100. Inside, you can bring it to 800. Over that, your photos will start to get grainy. If you look through the viewfinder and see the little red dot, you can fix the exposure. If you're shooting with auto ISO, you can point at a lighter area, hold the shutter down halfway and then move to the subject to take the photo.

The opposite of underexposure is also a problem, which is too low of ISO. Sometimes, you're too far away. The photos end up too dark and you can't really see the subject.

Blur is also a big problem. If you stabilize your camera, you can fix it. This is something you can do with just a little effort. First, move into an area with natural light. The more light you have, the less likely you are to have shake and blur. You can also bump up the exposure and increase the shutter speed. You can also balance your camera on a stable service or use the auto-timer. This can also happen when the subject is moving too fast.

Over editing is also a problem . You don't have to edit your photos. It's great if you know how to use Light Room or Photoshop or the like. It's tempting to take the saturation meter and move it all the way to the right. Don't make it something that doesn't occur in nature. A lot of times, it's better just to leave the photo alone.

Basic rules of composition
The rule of thirds will soon be second nature to always shoot your photos like this. Take a scene and visually break it up into three horizontal and three vertical blocks so there are four intersection points. Those points are where you want to have your subject. It makes it more visually interesting and doesn't break the photo in half. She wants to discourage you from always centering your subject in the scene. Get your subject in the center, then move your camera to one side. You can always crop this later if you forget. You also don't want the horizon in the center breaking the photo in half, put it either in the top or bottom third instead. When shooting vertically, you also want to keep the rule of thirds in mind. This isn't just for shooting horizontally.

Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the out of focus area of the photograph. This requires nice glass and lenses to achieve. It requires more knowledge of aperture and depth of field - and nicer lenses. You can use the portrait mode in your camera, and that will start to get the Bokeh effect. Focus on the subject rather than the noisy background. Having the noisy background out of focus puts the focus on the subject instead.

Finding patterns - the human eye is naturally drawn to symmetry and patterns. Finding these will add to the aesthetics of a photo. You can find them in boats, houses, markets, natural landscapes, shadows, kids' crayons, a bag of M&Ms. You can then find pictures with multiple patterns - bottom line has the arch pattern, then the V of the arches and then the people.

Visually, using reflections is pleasing to the eye. You can find them in storefronts or store windows, not just puddles. Her favorite is the polarized sunglasses of her husband in really bright light. It makes it more interesting than shooting straight on.

Framing makes it more interesting. You can shoot through windows or doorways or other objects. Or you can use other objects like a camel to frame a donkey. Think outside the box a bit when you're thinking about doing these things.

Angles sometimes require having different and expensive cameras. A lot of people have DSLRs but don't know how to use them or just have factory lenses. If you invest in the DSLR, you should invest in the lens, too. Amy Giese talked about renting lenses to see what you like. Her favorite is the wide angle lens. Using angles lets you take the standard picture from a different perspective. Get down low on the ground, prop on the lens cap, put on long exposure which conveys the motion of the people. It's a way of showing a really old common monument in a different light.

What she loves about wide angles is that it gives you a lot of room to play with. You can take the whole city, you can take interior shots - it does cause distortion though, so if you're taking a photo of a person make sure they're in the center of the photo so they aren't stretched like taffy. Generally she uses it for landscapes and cities, not for people. Wide angles also let you get in really close into a tight space. Where there isn't much room to get in the whole scene, the wide angle lens allows you to get a lot of people and buildings in the same frame. It's also really good for interiors, giving you the full feeling of a lobby, for example. It also allows you to get a lot of a city. It lets you have multiple layers of the detail around the subject.

The opposite of wide angles is getting up close and personal with your subject. She likes to get in as tight as possible with the subject. You get more of the emotion and detail. You don't have so much of the background distraction and noise.

Try to take photos from a different point of view. Everyone sees the Taj Mahal taken from eye level. You want to see it taken from the ground or from above - show the image in a different light. Take a shot from hip level when you are out and about when you want to take a photo that is a bit more candid. If it's flung around your neck casually and taking shots discreetly, you get a lot less of the staged pose or people trying to get out of your shot.

Have fun with it! Every other photography speaker has told you this. It isn't a serious business - if you're working as a portrait or bridal photographer, maybe - most of you are using it to better your blog or for personal use. She really thinks having a fun, lighthearted edge to your photography makes people see you as a more interesting person and it adds a level of fun to your blog.

How do you incorporate kids into photos. Do you want pictures of kids or your kids with the scenes in the background?
You don't want kids in a wide angle at the edge, but you could do them in the center - it won't be exactly as you see it. She likes it more for travel or landscape photography. For kids, she uses a 25-104mm a lot. She also uses a 17-85mm. The wide angle lens is a 10-20. there are lenses that go superwide, but this offers enough versatility for her.

Metering v focusing
Do metering when you're doing it on autofocus. Take a sample then move to the photograph you want to take. It will take your subject into account (I don't get this – more proof I need to take some classes!)

A photo demonstrating the rule of thirds
A photo featuring patterns and/or reflections
A photo taken from a different perspective/POV

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Roasted Brussel Sprouts

I like my green veggies. I know not everyone does, but I would happily take asparagus or spinach or kale every day. And then there's brussel sprouts. This is one of those veggies that everyone loves to hate, and I have to admit that I'd never even tried them for decades because of their reputation.

Then I ate them. And I fell in love. Brussel sprouts are my favorite vegetable now, and when they're in season, I eat them all the time. My favorite way? Roasting them with bacon. Because bacon makes everything better.

Trust me, it's worth a try this way. This is not my mama's brussel sprout.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

1 pound fresh brussel sprouts (Seriously. Don't ever buy frozen ones. Yuck.)
4 oz bacon
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Wash and trim your brussel sprouts. Remove the outer leaves that aren't held tightly to the sprouts. Cut off the bottom root, then slice the sprouts in half. If they're extra large, quarter them.

Toss the brussel sprouts in a bowl with the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place your brussel sprouts on a cookie sheet covered with a sil pat, cut side up. Slice your bacon into matchsticks and lay on the cookie sheet between the brussel sprouts.

Place your brussel sprouts in the 425 degree oven. You will bake these for a total over a little over 30 minutes. About halfway through, turn your brussel sprouts over so that the cut sides face down. With about five minutes left, use tongs to separate the bacon into individual pieces so it crisps up at the end of the cooking. The brussel sprouts should be almost crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Yuuuuuum.

Place into a bowl, and serve immediately. Try not to pick up the pieces with your fingers to pop them in your mouth like cherries before everyone's sitting down to dinner. I'll be honest; I've never succeeded in this.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap: Capturing The Moment: No Matter What Subjects You Like To Shoot

I've been down and out with migraines, but there are more Blissdom recaps to come. I have a photography session today, and one last one tomorrow. Today's focuses (ha! I'm punny!) on capturing the moment in photography to help you capture and save the moments that mean something to you. Aimee Giese presented a ton of tips, and I need to go back and read this again myself!

Did you miss the earlier recaps?
Shoot Like a Woman
Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Grow Your Facebook Fan Page
Blogging With Legal Confidence
Why Less Is More When It Comes to Your Writing

Aimee Giese, otherwise known as GreebleMonkey:

As a photographer, think about how you are. Are you a mom? A professional photographer? A combination of the above? Think about who or what you shoot. Is it people, your kids, landscapes, light? What do you shoot with? Do you need to get a better lens, upgrade your camera, get better apps for your phone? It's your eye and creativity that makes you a photographer, so work with the tools you have. That's what's important.

The first thing that anyone needs to do is to practice. Make time outside your busy lives to practice. Take 20 minutes to play around with something to see how you can make it work. If you're shooting with a DSLR, she's a big proponent of getting into manual mode. You have a better opportunity to carve out what you're trying to create. This is what you need to practice so you can capture the moments later.

Play with your camera. Think about different ways you can shoot things. You may not always want to shoot playful photographs, but push yourself to try different things within your photography.

Find your style. Figure out what you love to do and that you do well. Also, you want to redefine your style when you're ready to change. It's ok to move across styles.

You need to anticipate what will happen in the photo. And that means you need to figure out where you're going to be in the room and move there. Think: ”Where would I get interesting angles? What would I do to get the most benefit?” Then, turn around and shoot photos and you can catch accidents. Just keep shooting because your favorite photograph may end up being something you catch accidentally. If you get one good photo out of 30 pictures, you're doing well. Congratulate yourself when you do that. Don't be afraid. It's digital - it's just space, so delete it later.

Think about what you do. What are your activities? Do you travel, do you play sports? What do you do? Really think about what the things in your day to day life that you'd like to photograph. If you like to be in nature, would you like to photograph nature a lot. If you live downtown, are you interested in taking pictures of the amazing architecture around you. There are people who are turning the mundane into beautiful. That's the first place to start. Where you are and what you do may turn into what you like to photograph.

Once you start thinking about what's going to happen next, you can start to capture the moment. Anticipation is key. Once you start to think about what's going to happen, where do I need to be, what do I need to do with my camera - that's when you start to get the photographs you want. Once you start thinking about it, these things get easy. Once you figure out where the pinnacle of the moment that's happening, you can catch them.

Follow the action. Kids or whoever you're with are doing things. Capture the moment of what they're doing rather than when they're sitting and smiling at you. Those are when you can get the good moments. It's in the details when you can get away with some of the depth of field changes. You can also do this with your point and shoot with the portrait setting. You can force it later with editing, too. When you start to anticipate, you will take better photos.

How do you get cooperation?
People look a million times better when they want to have their pictures taken. You will all develop your own style of how to do this. Aimee will have conversations with her subjects to get them relaxed. Explain what you're going to do. She'll get down on a kids' level. She’ll explain: This is what we're going to do, this is what to expect from me, this is what you need to do. The other big thing she does is that she's a total goofball and she's willing to do is have them do their silly faces or mad faces and get whole series of them laughing or otherwise capturing natural emotions more than telling them to simply smile. Find out what they like to do and get pictures that capture what they're doing rather than just capturing a smile in a pose.

You can also make your own luck. If you want a snowy photo - have someone throw snow if it isn't snowing. Talk to your subject and let them know what you're doing so that it isn't a surprise. This can create some truly fun photos. Tell kids to reach out at you because it creates an interesting photo when they interact with you. It will show exactly what's going on with you - have them hold leaves towards you, show how the superhero eats with chopsticks, etc.

You can also sneak around. Shoot from far away with a long lens. You can stand far away and capture moments from people when they have no idea that you're photographing them. You can get the best pictures of people when they don't know that you're taking them. Go into stealth mode. Catch moments through windows. Capture times when people are way into something and focused there.

What else makes your photography interesting?
Find the details. She'll take lots of pictures of macro nature. Whenever you're covering anything, you want some close photos, some middle, and some pulled back. You want a variety of those photos. When Aimee is taking those photos somewhere, she's constantly stepping forward and back to capture details and other portions of the scene. This is how you'll remember places you've been and things you've done.

Turn the camera and move it around up and down and around. Shoot at crazy angles. Get down on the floor - that will capture something different. Do what you need to do to capture the angle that makes the photo. Lay on your back if you need to. Sometimes you don't even have to look through the camera; you're just trying to get interesting angles. When you create these angles, it makes for more action in the photo because it throws people off kilter.

It's important to look for light. You want to try to capture during the golden hour. It will move throughout the year, as it's best during the hour before sunset. In the morning and in the afternoon, the sun is more diagonal - when it's more above us, it creates long shadows. If you shoot mid-day try to reflect the light. Have a building blocking you, but watch how light will hit on people's faces. Looking for light doesn't necessarily mean sunshine. You'll look for the light that's available and look for interesting ways to use the light that's available. You can use a piece of foam core to reflect light back on people.

So many people say don't shoot into the light, but put people in front of the light and let it come through their hair. Think about moving yourself through the scene to figure out where it's reflecting best and where you can see the colors and the details and more. One of the most important things you can learn in photography is learning how you can use the light. Use to your advantage whatever light you have. Windows are awesome for this because they frequently aren't harsh light.

People often don't think about where they can position themselves for where they can get a photo where something in front is in focus and everything else is blurry. You can still see the background, but it's creating a sort of lost feeling sometimes. When things are blurred in your depth of field and they create a pattern that is interesting, it's called bokeh. Generally this happens with the bokeh in the background but it can be used in the foreground instead. Use depth of field and get into the mode of the subject you're photographing.

People think that in the olden days, photographers didn't edit photos, but they did. They would change things during the processing. This is something you can bring out the emotion or change it to black and white. If color isn't adding to the feeling of the photo, change it to black and white. If you have emotion and the color is detracting from it, change it to black and white. How your editing is going to enhance the photo is key. Good editing can't necessarily save a photo, but it can enhance it. Because you edit your photos doesn't mean you aren't photographers.

Other Tips
What are your pitfalls? Are you frazzled, are you hungry, are your kids hungry? Figure out what didn't work in your photo and then remember it for next time and do something different. Recognize that something may not be good and then move on from that.

Focus on their eyes, but that's not the only thing. It's also in their toes and in the surprises. That's part of what is magical in photography. Sometimes it's all just luck, and other times it takes your skill. Remember your frame - you can go big. A photo of someone riding across the mountains would never work if you zoom in on the rider. You need to see the whole scene. Sometimes it's the small details where you really need to get in close and capture just part of a subject because the details are key. Sometimes you need to have patience. You know something is going to happen, and you just need to sit and wait for it because it may not come for awhile.

She doesn't use a tripod when doing nature photography. She considers it a breathing exercise and holds her breath. She will wait and capture it. It may take 50 shots before you catch it, but keep at it. At the same time, breathe. You'll then think about all the things you're doing. And then all the things you're doing and all the practice will come to you.

Most important, emotion trumps everything. If you're in a terrible light situation and just have whatever camera, shoot it anyway. Get it. Even if it's grainy and you can hardly see anything. If you see the expression on your child's face or something that will remind you of the moment, you will have a photo and you got it. You may not put it in your portfolio, but they are the memories. Even if they're terrible, you have that moment. It isn't just sad emotions, but happiness, too. Whatever emotion is there, it's what you want to capture. Get what's happening in their emotional state. Life isn't always happy. She wants to capture everything. At the same time, you won't capture everything. Sometimes you'll miss the moment and you'll be sad that you didn't get the photograph, but that's ok. You can get the next one.

Photography is fun. Don't get bogged down in what you don't know. Stick with what you know and what you have fun with until you're ready to move on. Photography needs to be about having fun.

What lens do you use when you shoot far away?
Aimee has a 70-200mm. She uses a 15-70mm close up. She does buy the ones with the lower f-stop though. She recommends renting a lens to try out before buying. There are a lot of places that will do that. If you don't like it, you aren't stuck with something you don't like or that is really hard to focus.

If someone is in the market and new to photography, where do you start?
Go back to thinking about who you are and what you want to shoot. Aimee does portraits, so her close up lens is the most important. If you want to do sports, the far away lens is more important. There are great websites for camera reviews - which has exhaustive information about cameras. Having said that, the other site that is really great for lessons is that has amazing tutorials about just about every topic.

When people are thinking about getting a new camera, the kit lenses are garbage. If you can, try to buy the body only. Buy the lowest acceptable body you can afford and then spend your money on the lens. Aimee had a Rebel for years and probably would be fine still using it today. When you spend your money on the lenses, that's where you get the bang for your buck. Anything you can buy now is fine. Anything over 5mp you can make into an 8x10 photo with no problem.

When is golden hour?
It depends on where you live. It's the hour before sunset. It will vary based on daylight saving, etc. It's longer in the summer - closer to an hour and a half. it also may be a bit greyer, too, depending on where you live. Watch it every day to see how it looks.

When you follow the action, do you pan or hold it steady?
Aimee doesn't pan, but you can. In cameras, there is a setting that when someone is coming at you, it will continually focus when you have them coming towards you. When you have someone going side to side, you have to wait for them to come back into the frame. She will focus by pressing halfway down, then wait for him to come back into the frame and shoot.

For someone who is an amateur, you get lost in the picture and not living the experience at the moment. How do you enjoy what you're doing and still photograph it?
There are certain places where you won't get photographs that satisfy you and that the experience is worth more than taking the perfect picture. You need to find the balance with this and decide when you take the photograph and when you enjoy the experience. Learn to also trust yourself and know you've gotten that photograph, and it's time to put the camera away. That's part of the evolution as a photographer.

Do you have any tips on low light photography?
The lens - the lens she uses goes down to 2.8. The camera opens up at a lower f-stop and lets in the most light possible. Some of them are also one good photo and 50 bad ones. She also shoots at a high ISO - start at the lowest ISO and keep bumping it up during the day as you need it. At night, you're at 1600 or 3200. The ISO changes with the light you're dealing with, and adjust everything else to accommodate that. That said, you will start to get grain in the photograph when it's low light. Anything 1600 or above will start to show grain. She sometimes also will edit afterwards to hide some of that and add the color saturation.

What do you use to edit?
Aimee uses Photoshop because she's a graphic designer. She spends a lot of time editing them. She's quick, but she edits every photo, too. If you're just stepping up away from the free tools, she suggests using Light Room to edit photos. You will also shoot in RAW and need a RAW processor. Photoshop Elements is a great add on. When you put an image into Light Room, images will go grey. You can put in settings from your camera into Light Room so they don't have that happen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap: Shoot Like A Woman

We're back to Blissdom recaps! I talked already about how to grow your Facebook fan page, how to edit your writing, and blogging with legal confidence. The next few days will be a focus on photography sessions.

The first photography session I attended was "Shoot Like A Woman" with Me Ra Koh. This is part 2 of the sessions, as I somehow missed that there was a difference between session 1 and session 2 since the descriptions were identical. Oops! Fortunately, the content stands on its own, and there were so many great tips Me Ra (and her husband Brian) shared.

Filling the frame
For some of us, composition comes really naturally and easy and some of us, it's not so straightforward and easy.

Brian and Me Ra both take eclectic photos, but they're very different. When they started doing photography, Brian would take his pictures they would flip right through them. They would stop and look at Me Ra's. He knew how to get the exposure right, but she knew how to make them interesting. He would look at the photos he took that brides like and then find photos that he liked from wedding magazines that were similar to what he took already. He chose to be good at what he was good at already rather than trying to be good at everything.

He would first take the photo - the people would be in the center of the photo with white space around it. It's more interesting when they're off center. It's more interesting to capture something when it's happening, even if it's a minimal part of it - not capturing all the faces or the bodies or the "traditional" image but something that still captures the passion and emotion in the moment.

He has great photos of his kids playing in the sand and beach but you can't tell what beach it is - in California or in the backyard, etc. When in Thailand, he needed to take photos that show somehow that they were taken in Thailand. You can learn to be creative, which is something he figured out. He tries to do scene setting shots when things are being set up (before the people are there - he's a wedding photographer).

When he first started taking photos, he would be driving home and looking at photos they both like and finding settings they liked so they could take the same photograph. Then there was a shift - especially late at night - when he was looking at websites of other people's photos and shifted to “I want to take that photo.” He found a couple photographers whose work he liked and wanted to figure out what that photographer was feeling when he took the photo. How did they know it was going to be one that when people were flipping through photos, they'd stop on that one? He would remember those photos and try to capture that same kind of stuff until it was a muscle memory. He eventually started growing into it.

When he was in Thailand, he would back up and take a photo that would show that they were in Thailand. He would take the photos he was good at, then he'd practice with the things he wasn't so good at. He wanted to capture their experience in Thailand, but it didn't come naturally. They had to force themselves to see the wider picture. He noticed that as he started copying the work of photographers he admired and doing what they did, he would start to feel that this would make for a good photograph (or not).

It's not just talent; it's skill that goes with photography. Every year they choose something to work on. One year, it was color, and they focused on taking photos that showed color well because there is just so much color out there that we see. He did wide angle one year. To encourage you that you naturally shoot one way, don't limit yourself.

Rule of Thirds
One thing that she's thinking of a lot of times is the rule of thirds. Basically, it’s splitting your frame into thirds. Every third has to accentuate the story you're trying to tell. If it doesn't, frame it out and get tighter. There is a photo showing thirds going vertically - everything in the frame points to the woman in the upper left corner. Having kids off centered to the low right, everything else in the photo leads to those children and draws your eyes there. In that, what is the setting that is around people and how does this add to the story and the wonder and the curiosity that is created by the setting.

Me Ra really wants to see the emotions that children were thinking and feeling at the time to show that they got through things once - that they were scared and nervous and worried, and they made it. Sometimes, she'll have a big wide setting around the kids that helps show how small they are in the world. How can you fill the frame to show how small and innocent you were at this time in your life. When you're taking photos, think about how your eye travels when you're looking at photos. We read left to right. When looking at photos, we sort of swirl around and bring ourselves to a central point. Take that obvious shot of your photo with the subject in the center. Once you take that shot, you can take a look at what else you can do.

When thinking about shooting like a woman, thinking about the story is so key. Never say cheese. Photos capture the story, and it's crazy that we don't tell a story by making them pose. As women, we intuitively know the story even when we don't consciously focus on it. When you take the natural shot that tells the story, it's much more powerful. It's something that you'll look back on more than the posed photos. What is the story that your subject wants you to have them tell you? The camera is so stinking powerful.

Universally, every time you hold that camera and point it at them. People always believe that you are going to capture the worst of them. Look at where your weight is in photos - it's on the back foot. When your weight is on your front foot, it slenderizes you and makes your neck look good. When they think you're only going to show the worst and your photos show them that their spirit is the best and that you want to capture it, it's powerful.

For example, think about the time when babies' legs are chunkiest and cutest. They aren't standing, so you have someone hold them up - mom wears a black dress on a black backdrop. Baby is held under the armpits on a random table. Frame the photo when you take it so you don't have to frame it and crop it later - take the baby feet and up to his waist. That’s a story.

Lots of times, male colleagues come in with shot lists, but we are so good as women at pulling out the bits and pieces that are about the people. Me Ra looks at how the woman looks at her husband and how she covers her mouth when she laughs and more. Those are the photos to take. Ask what the mom loves to do most with the baby - this is the story of their life right now, and for her they loved being in the bath and she started singing to the baby, and that's the story that she captured. The husband was crying because this is his family – and it wasn’t in his shot list.

How do we piece together the story that we're capturing, not just an object that we're trying to capture. Don't need people looking at the camera - it's about the connection between the people.

Ask a three year old where they should sit for the photo. Their parents will never like it. And that's going to make a photo telling the story of the family. Tell the parents to just go with it because this is hilarious and tells the story of where they are. As the children grow up, they will become more socially aware and part of the family lives, but this is where they are as a family right now. Capturing real life is what makes the story.

This camera gives me the opportunity to give a child a voice. In this digital age, we're taking so many photos of our kids, and they feel somewhat invisible in that process. How can we give the children a voice and a platform to tell them that we see that they have a story and a voice and that we don't want to be anywhere else right now but there with them?

When we're done shooting, we want to hold them and love them and show them that we aren't just trying to take from them. We want them to feel like we're serving them and giving them a space in this world where people see them and they aren't invisible.

Choosing Our Shots
As women, we get to play and be random. We don't compartmentalize really well. If we've had a bad day, we'll bring that into a shoot. We can get ideas that we wouldn't necessarily otherwise. It's ok to go through that process with people. Showing scale of kids to their parents or their life is a great way to shoot. Again, using the thirds principle helps - there isn't excess background, just what tells the story.

There is an obvious photo - the father and daughter cheek to cheek smiling at the camera. Take that photo, then see how they interact with their children afterwards. Use that interaction to figure out how to tell that story. The obvious one is cute, but there's no story. The one where the dad is serious and looking into the distance and she's leaning on him and comfortable with him looking into the camera, that's what tells the story about their relationship and how he's the rock for her. That's the picture that she'll take to college.

The closer you are to a subject, the less of the subject will be in focus - it brings the background fuzzed and changes the photo. It can be a really powerful use of focus to tell a story.

Tips On Shooting Photos of Kids
When you're taking photos, kids won't always give you the photo you want right away. Always start pairing them with the person they're most comfortable with - usually Mom - and take those photos. After that, play with them to get them. If your face is behind the camera, you lose the child. Get your shot set, then move your face to the side and keep that engagement with them.

As a tip when you're taking photos with your children, use a timer. Tell them that in 30 minutes they'll be done. They know that there is an endpoint. You can't break the promise to them, but it helps free them and builds some trust.

When doing the blurry backgrounds, still ensure you use the rule of thirds. Focus on the subject in the center, hold the button down halfway, then move the camera off center to get the rule of thirds and take the photo.

Improving Your Photography
She isn't for herself personally, she isn't shooting for the print judges; she isn't shooting for the online forums. She's shooting for the kids and the babies who feel like they don't have anyone listening to or focusing on their stories.

Can the camera become an extension of you instead of an awkward piece of technology. The camera is a vehicle. It brought healing to her life and healing to others and it's amazing how that multiplies. It's an incredible vehicle to women who are on their way there. Photography is not about how much you can learn. The camera wants you to use it as a vehicle, and she isn't sure where it's going to take her, but what a powerful vehicle that can do it.

Professional portrait photographer who had a intense mom and dad who screamed at their kids the entire shoot. When she managed to push them to the side, she got great joyful moments. By the end of the shoot, she was traumatized. How do you manage parents like that?
If there is a high strung mom, have her bring multiple changes of clothes. When they get out of the car, send dad with the kids to go breathe. Go through the clothes with the mom. It gives her a chance to give to the mom and compliment her without the camera there that's just taking from her because the camera is so intimidating. Then say to her, I've done this a lot and I need your help. She wants Mom to be the helper and will tell her when she needs her help so the kids know to only look at the photographer for directions and that she's the safe one to follow. It also helps put Mom at ease.

Do you shoot in RAW or .jpg?
She shoots in RAW. To keep it simple, the RAW is much larger than .jpg, but in post process, she can click brighter or darker 6 times one way or the other with RAW without doing anything destructive to the photo. For .jpg photos, you can only click one time one way or the other before the photo starts disintegrating.

How do you do successful self-portraits?
They are so important. Everyone always asks how she gets her subjects to relax in front of the camera, and it's because she puts herself in front of the camera so she can stay in touch with how awkward this feels. If you don't know if you should smile with teeth or without teeth or whether you need to move your angle a little more, it's key to help others feel relaxed because you know how much direction the subject needs.

She rarely does a self-portrait where it sits on a tripod but does it with someone else. Collaborate with a friend. Don't look at the first 20 photos they take. Let your friend get into a groove. After that, you get into a groove and it gets better.

What is your favorite F-stop to shoot with? What's your favorite shots? Favorite f-stop for landscape?
With a 70 lens, the 2.4. If she uses a fixed lens, she shoots at a 1.6 or 1.8. It's about the depth of field and not about getting everything in focus or take a few steps back and get them in focus. With landscapes she still shoots low like that because she forgets to move the f-stop.

How can you improve without a DSLR?
Point and shoots have come so far. Put it in the shooting mode with the head because it helps make the background blurrier. Or use the tulip (macro setting) - what it really does is make the background blurrier and close up items more in focus.

What are some tips for florescent lighting?
Keep camera in auto white balance and correct it afterwards. You can either get caught up in trying to finesse the lighting the whole time or stay dialed into the story. You'll never get the lighting right in florescent lights, but it's so easy to fix in post processing. The first thing she does is open up curtains to let as much natural light in as possible. Bring the subjects as close to that light as possible, but you can still fix it. Have your back at the window and shoot at them facing the window. As much as you can, don't get hung up on "photographer" label because she doesn't even know what that is. It's really not so much about "is it ok to call myself a photographer" - and there's also a big difference between being a photographer and being paid to take photos as a pro. There's a lot of room to play around those labels, so don't get hung up.

What do you do with all the great photos you take? How do you pick and choose what goes in the house?
She looks at photos that really tell the story - detail shots, shots that tell the story of what they're doing, and a shot that shows the setting of what they were. Details and action or conflict and setting are the keys. That's how she puts together the stories of the photos on the wall. She also loves mixing up the media - canvas and metals. She also likes to go really big like 4'x5' with accent pieces around them. She'll have to change it up as you grow as a family.

What is your tip about external flash and the corners of the walls?
Point the external flash anywhere but at the people. We aren't trying to emulate natural light, but we want to have enough light to illuminate the person. You want to think about where you could throw a super ball against a wall and have it hit her in the face. That's where you aim the flash. Point up at corners or behind you because she loves the light bouncing off the wall and how it illuminates with no shadow. You can't bounce off a window because the light there keeps going. The problem with pointing it straight up is that it bounces straight down, which isn't good light.

Any good tips for photographing whole rooms in a home?
Unless you want to set up lighting, you have to work around the time of day when that room has the best light. The more you have to set up lights, the more overwhelming it gets unless you're doing that kind of photography all the time. Even when the kids were little, she knew that 10:30am, the light was best through the sliding glass doors, and she would set out special toys for them to play with at that time. Photographers do that all the time. They constantly set themselves up for success. Wait for the best light or set up external lights.

What is your process to curate the memories to pass them to your children so the photos don't just live on your computer?
She has tried first to be on top of how you organize the photos when they come in. It doesn't matter what your organization is, but whatever you do, stick with it. In that, she'll have a photo of the favorites. Towards the end of the year, she'll create some kind of a book from all those photos. She's sort of sad that we don't touch photos anymore. It's just a different way of interacting with them today. Even if it's just throwing images together in a book, kids love flipping through the books - copies for the memory boxes for when they're adults and a copy to keep around the house to flip through regularly.


Note: the photos in this post are some of the well over 300 photos I took at Blissdom (286 of which I haven't yet deleted). They are ones that I felt - hoped? - demonstrated some of the principles Me Ra and Brian were discussing.

I loved these tips. Some of them I knew already, but I need the reminder. My camera actually has a grid that shows the thirds, and I try to use it. It does make a huge difference. And some of my favorite photos are the goofy ones of the wee ones - never the posed ones! Which of these tips is most relevant to your photography?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Pumpkin Waffles

Yes, I've been in a bit of a Blissdom haze lately. That hasn't been my entire focus, happy as the wee ones are to know that. As part of Little Miss's school's reading program, the school earned a pancake breakfast day. The teachers cooked pancakes for every student in the school who had achieved the reading incentive for the past week.

It's awfully sweet. I love all the extras that her principal and teachers do to go above and beyond. Unfortunately, some of the treats - including the pizza for the entire school this Friday - don't work for us. Little Miss has a dairy allergy and can't eat the pancakes. (Or so I hope - a local restaurant has told us multiple times that their pancakes and waffles contain no dairy!) The last two years, I've made special waffles for her instead of the pancakes.

Why waffles? It's really obvious with waffles instead of pancakes - to her and to the teacher - that she's eating what she's supposed to. Plus, I have a waffle maker, and I figure I should use it when I can. Unfortunately I don't like waffles, so this is purely for the wee ones. And my husband, who always sneaks some.

This time? I went with pumpkin. And they were good. Or so I was told....

Pumpkin Waffles

1 1/2 T baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1 t allspice
1 t nutmeg, grated
1/2 t salt
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c canned pumpkin
1 t fresh ginger, grated
2 c milk (dairy free for us - I love coconut milk or at least rice milk for it)
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter substitute, melted

Preheat your waffle iron. These will take a little longer to bake, so if yours has an adjustable temperature, turn it up higher than you normally would. If it doesn't (mine doesn't), just know you'll need to bake these longer than normal waffles.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt until they're well-mixed. In a separate bowl (ok, so I use a large liquid measuring cup so I don't have to dirty another bowl - I'm lazy), mix together the pumpkin, milk, ginger, and egg yolks until completely blended (save those whites!). Slowly add the butter (substitute) so that it doesn't cook the eggs or turn into a solid lump. Make sure you're whisking as you add the melted butter. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Take the egg whites and put in a clean metal or glass bowl. Whip until medium peaks form. They will look like this:

Fold the egg whites into the waffle batter. That means you'll want to add about a third of the egg whites to the batter and sacrifice their fluffiness. Incorporate them as gently as you can. Don't stir them like you normally would. Instead scrape underneath the batter with the spatula and turn the batter over on itself. This will help keep the egg whites aerated and your waffles fluffy. After you get the first third incorporated, go ahead and add the rest of the eggs, folding as gently as possible and using as few motions as possible. Once you have very few or small white streaks remaining, your batter is done.

Pour batter into your waffle maker. Mine takes almost a cup per waffle, but all waffle makers are different. Let the waffles cook until no more steam come from the sides before removing, using a fork to gently pry the waffles out, if needed. Remember that these will take longer than normal waffles, so don't go by the "done" timer on your waffle iron.

These store well in a sealed container for a few days, or feel free to freeze them. When I want to serve them after the first day, I pop them in the toaster for a bit, and they turn out great. I have a happy family!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap: 3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Grow Your Facebook Fan Page

I'm still reeling from all the information I gleaned at Blissdom a week ago. I've posted so far on blogging with legal confidence and improving your writing. Today, the focus is on the Facebook fan page session.

The Facebook session focused on three things to do right now to grow your Facebook fan page. All of them were fairly easy, and I have to admit that I need to work on my Facebook page. (You do all at least like my page, right?) And no, I haven't implemented anything since I got back from Blissdom, much to my chagrin. Unfortunately, I've been under the weather since I got back, so I'm lucky just to start getting caught up on laundry!

The Facebook session was run by Melanie Nelson from Blogging Basics 101.

Ask questions on your fan page - not big philosophical ones that will get lost in the newsfeeds but concrete ones. Then follow up and keep the conversation going. Start with a yes/no question and then ask another question to drive the conversation further.

Ask fans to share their links. It introduces members to members, lets me know what they like, and lets me know what they're interested in. My goal is for you to find each other. That way, I encourage them to leave comments, and you'll get a lot of engagement on the page. Then it's mining that page for data on what you want to talk about next time.

Analytics - tracking your success. If you're doing this well, you need to know what's working, how to do it again, and how to change it just enough that it's new but it still works. The first things you want to look at is your talking about link - how many people like it and how many people are talking about it. Two percent is the baseline; most major companies have 2% that are talking about it. Most major brands aren't getting as high a rate as they'd like. To figure out your percentage, divide talking about number by followers and multiply by 100 to get the percentage.

Check your insights page. You can change the order of the topics. Date and post are self-explanatory. The other topics are less obvious. Reach is FB's version of uniques - how many unique visitors engaged with your post. You can click on that and see the different kinds of reach - organic is people who saw in news feed, or clicked directly to it, was it paid from an ad or sponsored post, or was it viral. FB uses weird vocabulary, it means that a friend of a friend did something - they saw through that friend's actions. Engaged users are the ones who clicked on your content. Clicked link is when someone clicked on part of it to see what's going on - comments or likes – to see who did it. Stories generated is when people did something - answered your polls or commented, etc.

You can now track who is clicking through your links, including the links – just not through Facebook. The links on FB are not real time, but if you go to, then it is real time and you can see how many people clicked through. Did you ask them to comment on your Facebook post? When you send people away, they aren't going to come back - so keep that in mind when you post.

Create an editorial calendar for your FB. Figure out the best time of day and week to see when people are most engaged and likely to take action based on the data that you have mined.

You can geotarget your posts, as well, either by state or down to the city. It's an option in the drop down box under public. You can get a huge increase in fans when you do a promotion. How do you keep them engaged after that ends until the next one comes around?

To get better shares, instead of typing a post, upload a picture and write a comment on the photo with the link. Having a great photo increases the shares much better. Anytime you can get the focus off the text and onto the photo instead, you're much better off.

A lot of PR people will say you only have 50 likes or 2 people talking, don't think you have a good base. Your job is to tell them that when you request an action, the percent of people who do that is very high. I look at the topics they're engaged in and when they're engaged and use those stats to your advantage.

If you get multiple similar questions on your page, you may want to write a general status update that addresses it, link to where you posted about it on your blog rather than going to each individual question. You don't want audience to feel like you aren't paying attention to them, so answer it one way or the other.

For those who’ve been on FB since before fan pages, most blog readers are friends rather than liking the fan page. For someone in the audience, when she made the suggestion to like the page, they freaked out because feel like losing a friend. It's ok to ask and tell them that you're making FB a personal page just for family. You will lose people because they'll be hurt, but if you want to move them and keep your FB personal page personal, that's ok.

Whenever you ask people to leave their own stuff, ask them to leave their own link to the most trafficked article from the past year. It takes a lot of time to go through, but it's worth it and fascinating to learn about your readers.


When people hide status updates/unlike page, is there a way to see what caused people to do it/what post?
Go into insights, click on engaged users, if someone unliked page or hid it, you will be able to see that as "negative feedback" so you can see what you did to cause that, too.

What can you tell me about the difference between the newest update where they can like your blog now instead of just the fan page?
Put widget in sidebar to like the page - link to your FB page. There is also a widget to like the article; that likes the article and shares on their page. It doesn’t like your FB fan page.

Are the analytics stored permanently, exportable?
Usually it's the last 28 days and you can export it all the time, like you back up your database.

How do you get people engaged?
Using polls and survey questions - those count as engagement or stories. It's an option for a status update, e.g., what blogging platform do you use? When they click the answer, it counts as engagement on your page and doesn't interrupt the flow of your page at all. It's a good way to get people interacting.

Is there a way to keep FB from sending things to the hidden posts page for your fans?
The more you take things out of hidden, the less stuff goes there.

How do you manage FB time versus other social media time spent?
It's really hard. When your job is to document FB, it's hard to stay off FB. Sometimes, you have to say for 5 minutes, I'm going to put blinders on and just going to do this. It's the discipline.

How do you know what will show in someone’s feed?
FB has Edgerank that decides what's important to you. If someone engages with you frequently, you show up more on their pages. If you don't engage, then you don't show up. It's based on the kind of content you're sharing. A text update doesn't count as much as a photo or video. The more visual content you share, the higher you'll be aware. Anything you post has a 2 hour window, then it's gone. If you post too often (more than that), you'll get noted as spam and put into the hidden folder.

If you figure out what gets readers engaged, then you can post more often. If the Edgerank is low, you have to network to get it higher. Start talking about really great posts in networking groups you're a part of. Only share the really good ones, not all of them. Ask them to share your FB posts with their community and vice versa. There's a fine line between cheating and not, networking where it makes sense it not cheating but gets people aware of your page.

Can you talk about affinity?
It's about how fans are interacting with your page.

How do you engage fans with your blog and not lose them from Facebook?
Tabs are great because they add functionality that you had before. People don't come back to your fan page unless you directed them there. You can keep them on FB by using a tab to have them sign up for your newsletter or feed and then they can go back to their newsfeed on FB, which is where they want to be.

The first 500 fans you may have lost because you didn't interact with them. Do you lose them because you didn't post a lot and fell off the radar? They are probably friends. If they were already reading your blog, remind them there to go back to like your FB page.

FB used to punish people who updated via Networked Blogs - they don't want people to set it and forget it. They took it back and weren't punishing anymore. Now they kind of went back to that a little where everyone who was talking about the same kind of thing get stacked and only the most recent post on that topic (Networked Blogs is a "topic"), so be careful how and when you're posting.

Ads are an amazing way to increase engagement, they can be incredibly targeted and useful.


Obviously, I have a lot of work in front of me to grow my Facebook page - which I do want to do. I found some of the insights that Facebook can provide to be fascinating. What tip are you most likely to implement?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap: Legal Confidence

I am in the process of recapping my learnings from the 2012 Blissdom conference. It's good for me because it helps me process what I heard - and hopefully absorb some of it! - and also gives me a chance to share some of my learnings. I have several photography sessions coming, but today, we're all about the legal aspects of blogging.

Read yesterday's post on editing your writing to improve it.

Sara Hawkins from Saving For Someday, an experienced lawyer led a session on Saturday focused on a range from blogging topics from copyright to giveaway issues to protecting your photographs and more. I've sat through legal sessions before, and this one had a lot of information I hadn't heard before, all of which I found fascinating.

She started with:

I have a very different perspective on law. I think law should be fun. I love it so much, and I really try to make it understandable. I like to talk in English and write in English. This presentation is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer, but I am your friend.

We are all different people; we are all different types of bloggers. Don't compare yourself to somebody else and where they are in their process. We all have different levels of education and experience in blogging. Those who produce content that is very relevant to tech have content stolen. There are reviewers and frugal bloggers who want questions answered. Here's the thing: Ground rule 1 - if you don't know what she's saying, don't freak out. If you walk out the doors and think that you can't be a blogger because you're not doing something she said, talk to her. Don't think you can't be an awesome blogger and still be compliant with the rules and regulations presented. Don't think this is not possible anymore.

This is to empower you to be a better blogger and a more efficient blogger and to protect what you have created.

Number 1 question: Do I need to form a company?
Yes, if you plan to or now are or anticipate making money on your blog, then yes, create that level of limited liability and shield your assets. We don't want people to take our homes or cars or money. Some people don't write about things that create liability. If you're a new blogger, you may not have the money to do it and may not be ready.

People do sue bloggers. She has represented several companies who have sued bloggers, primarily professional tech type bloggers. If you're doing something that a company is unhappy with and you aren't working with them to solve this, then they may sue you. Sometimes bloggers sue other bloggers. to her that is very unfortunate, and the most important thing is to be professional with one another. If you want to protect what you're doing, then form a company. It's not for everyone. You may need to talk to your accountant or a lawyer and spend the money to figure it out.

An LLC does not work for everybody. Please do not go online and go to a company that has legal in their name and pay $55 to form an LLC. If you have a partner, it may be great to have an LLC or you may want to be a partnership, too. You can have a 1 person LLC. You cannot have a single person corporation in some states.

In some states - California, for example - it may be cost prohibitive where there is a minimum $800 fee. Affiliate income is important to you, then don't incorporate in a state that Amazon doesn't work with. If you are looking to get a great deal of income through Amazon and you can't get income because Amazon doesn't work with those states, then form a company in a state that does work with Amazon. it may be worth it to do so. There is so much misinformation about law out there, so don't just google it. Talk to someone about it to figure out what you want.

On Saving For Someday, go to upper right hand navigation bar that says blog law and go into that where there are a bunch of different articles to drive you through different topics, including what type of company to form. If you want to minimize the amount of money you spend with a lawyer, this is a good place to do some research so you don't have to ask a lawyer these questions.

Who Owns the Words?
If you write for a third party site, do you have an agreement with them on who owns the content, where you can repost it, etc. So many people are doing these, but nobody really knows who owns the content and what can be done with it. When your writing appears elsewhere, then there are questions over whether you should be paid for that. You may be willing to write for a certain amount of money if it is able to be posted elsewhere or another amount if it's only posted on one site and you can repost it later. If someone wants you to write a book or post elsewhere one day, then you could be stuck and not able to use your own words and you lose out on an opportunity because you don't realize what you agreed to.

If you curate or have guest posters, she suggests you lay out an agreement over who owns the content and where it can be reproduced. This isn't just an ownership or money issue, but it's also an SEO issue. If they are providing images that are being provided on your site, you need to know where their image was taken from and that it is usable on your site. If they are a photographer and providing it for you, it's a little different. If they found it on the internet, then you need to know where. If there's a problem and someone comes to you about it, you need to know.

A couple years ago the FTC realized - nothing to do with bloggers - people were putting content out there and stacking the deck. They're writing about things they're being paid to write about and consumers were unhappy because they didn't know if the content was biased. If people are being paid or compensated as a reviewer, they may not be writing the truth. We talk about authenticity, but there are sites where no review is ever negative or even neutral. If you truly don't like something and are afraid to say you don't like it, your readers will appreciate it - just like you do when you say that this is great for someone else. “I have something awesome, but it doesn't work for my lifestyle. If you have a lifestyle like *this* then it may work.” If I don't know that you're being paid, that’s where the issue comes in.

Material relationship - there is no legal consensus on what this means. It means significant. If you are being paid in any way, it is a material relationship. They are not coming after bloggers. What they're doing is looking at big picture things. If you're part of a group and went to something and received swag or gift cards or transportation, then you need to disclose that you received lunch or a gift card, etc. On the bottom, she has a very long disclaimer and specifically codes this to a section that leads to the FTC rules that talk about this subject. She puts it at the bottom as a disclosure, and the FTC wants you to be natural about it.

There's nothing wrong with saying, "I was invited to the Martha Stewart offices, so cool I got to meet her, we got lunch, I got glitter and glue and we made crafts." It can be in your post and that is disclosure. It doesn't have to be at the bottom. Your readers kind of block that out, but you need to authentic with them. If you're trying out a new piece of tech because you're a tech reviewer, of course you're going to get the tech, but you need to say that you were provided with it. Embrace the fact that it's not fancy language and not a huge disclaimer but something in your content that flows naturally - just like "I got these new shoes - on sale" or "I love this new printer; HP sent it to me."

Whatever your style is, incorporate it. Set the standard, set the bar high. Don't not do it just because other people don't do it. Most of us came from professional backgrounds though we are now mom bloggers. We can each elevate this profession by having this ethical and honest relationship with our readers.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube & Pinterest
Twitter really has no rules - 140 characters. When you have long twitter handle, you are down to 110 after your handle and 10 characters for RT. You've seen the hashtags #spon and #ad. The FTC doesn't have a standard, nor does Twitter. As you have things retweeted, people cut and paste and you can lose that “disclosure.” The FTC isn't trolling and patrolling. Always lead them to your site instead. "Check out my new printer - link" instead of "I love my new printer #spon." It's a little longer to do it, but it's a little better to have it go directly to your site where it has that disclaimer.

She is not a fan of stock disclosure policies. If your disclosure policy is under legal or another tab, go check out what you say. Especially if you went somewhere to generate a disclosure policy, she urges you to read what you have on there. If you went to a site and had it generated, it may say things that you are unwittingly violating. It may say that you don't collect cookies, but you may and not know it. Consumers are getting frustrated and starting to go to FTC. If you sent me an email, I will get your email and IP address. I don't sell it. If you do give it to brands, don't tell them you aren't going to sell it. Say you may sell it. If you do not have a disclosure policy, create one. Think about what you would disclose. if you don't understand what the disclosure policy says, rewrite it. Tell people what you are going to do with your information. She strongly urges you not to sell your contacts - it's not worth it.

Do you realize that by vlogging and posting it to YouTube, anybody who is a member of YouTube can take your content and repost it if you leave the enabled setting there. If you write about food, you may have found that there are trolls out there. They will take your video and slash it, make fun of you and your brand, and you can't do anything about it other than disable the enable button, which disables it on your site, too. If you blog about anything controversial in any manner, you may want to disable that. If not, you have no recourse to someone who takes your URL and uses it on their site, even if they monetize it. If you do a lot of reviews and get a lot of hits, people may then use it to sell through their affiliate brand.

Facebook is a little more protective of things. But what you put on Facebook is pretty much available to anyone. There is a whole issue with images and copyright online with violation issues.

Pinterest. She thinks Pinterest is an awesome content. She has been on it for a long time. She doesn't pin anything because she has issues with the content that is provided. If you are a photographer, she highly recommends that you watermark your images. If you're going to load your photo on Pinterest, add a white box that states that this photo is copyrighted and not to be posted anywhere else, my URL, if you see it anywhere else, contact me. It seems convoluted to do this, but if you have a nice high res image, people are going to Pinterest for their stock photos now. She didn't used to watermark photos because it looks ugly, but because of Pinterest, you have to. Beautiful photos are being taken constantly.

Copyright and Trademark
Copyright is automatic, you don't have to put the circle c and year on the website. Copyright protects original work of authorship that is published. This can mean hitting publish or sending an email to a third party content provider. It doesn't have to be on a big website or magazine. There are probably a hundred exceptions - recipes, basic instructions, lists, etc. If you do basic things, 1-2-3, anybody can do that. If you have to explain to someone in words how to wash their hands, it's a thirty minute discussion. The more you are fluid in your language, the more you will have copyright protection.

As soon as you take an image, it is protected by copyright. You can take a photo of a copyrighted photo. Your photo will be copyrighted, but you cannot distribute it. You cannot take a photo of a piece of art in a museum, you cannot then sell it.

She is a cut and paster. She likes to quote other people on her site. If you disable right click, she won't promote you. There are other ways to protect your photo.

Trademark. You can trademark your blog name, but that doesn't mean that you own all the .com, .net, etc. Cyber squatting means buying alternative spellings or useful sites near another site and directing traffic to you. She doesn't recommend it. If you are going to write a book, a physical book on the topic, you can do $285 protection for the content plus legal fees. If you want to make t-shirts or make journals, that's a different category of trademark. If you don't know what you're going to trademark it for in the future, it can get really expensive fast. If it's an ebook or physical copy book, you may want to think about it. You have to find someone who knows what they are doing to protect exactly what you want to protect, so you don't have to spend more money than necessary.

If your name is similar to something else, you may want to look into what you're going to do longer term with your blog and the cost of it. If you aren't making any money now, it's hard to tell you to spend $750 on a lawyer, $300 on each class of trademark, etc. It's hard to do this flat.

Facebook Promotions
Facebook is very good at defining promotions on their social platform. She has written about it, and people may disagree with her over how you can run these. If you have an opportunity, read what she has said over what you can and cannot do on promotions involving FB. She answers all questions in the FB, so check those. If you are running a contest on FB, you must use a third party app. You cannot use FB mechanisms for your promotion - liking a picture or liking a comment. It is not illegal, they cannot take you to jail and they will not sue you, but they will take your site down. That's probably worse because you lose thousands of fans or likes. There are rules for FB interaction with promotions laws.

Sweepstakes versus Giveaways versus Lotteries
There are sweepstakes, giveaways, and lotteries. Lotteries are regulated by state law - so much legal mumbo jumbo, so skip this entirely. Contests require skill, which is required in Canada to have a giveaway. By having a skill, it takes away the luck part of it. In the US, have to have a prize, a randomness, and rules. You have to comply with rules for sweepstakes. She breaks down rules on her site, won't go into all it requires.

There are professional people who enter giveaways all the time. Bloggers are getting awesome things to give away, and the better the prize, it more likely it is that they will enter and will beat you down at the end. What are the rules, the list of winners, how they were chosen, etc. Apprise yourself of the rules when you do giveaways. This is about empowering you and elevating you to do a better service for our profession. As someone who has done a giveaway where the brand has not sent out what they need to send out, if you don't have rules that set out who sponsors the giveaway, it's really hard to say that they are responsible and you won't get a prize. Sometimes the brands or PR people will not realize that there is a commitment to a prize. The more expensive it is, the harder for you to come up with a replacement.

If you are giving up something worth $600 or more, talk to a lawyer over what your liabilities are. It's the retail value of the product or service. Lately seeing bloggers banding together to mass prizes where aggregate prize is over $600 even if no single item is, there are disclosure and liability issues in NY and FL. You have to buy a bond if you are giving away over $5000 - not just you but other bloggers together. If you are giving away with others, lay out the groundwork of who is responsible for doing what. No one will care that it's another blogger, they're going to come after you.

Taxes are not a four letter word. She talked to a woman recently - thattaxgirl - and is one of the foremost tax authorities when dealing with bloggers. This is not something people want to hear, but what we have to claim as our income is a lot more than we think. We have to claim product we receive as income even when we receive no cash. Income and compensation are different things. You may get something as income and think of it as money. Compensation is "stuff" so all those brand and PR people can't pay you in money but can send you a truckload of Twinkies. You agree to do it, but it has a high value, and you have agreed to engage with them and have an agreement with them and now you can potentially be liable for a financial obligation on something that is not money to you.

You have to think about these things when you are talking to brands and PR people - what is the potential impact. If they are sending you on a trip, you are entering an agreement with them. They have an expectation from you, not that you're simply getting something for free. They expect things in return, and now many are actually asking for your SSN so they can then send you a 1099 at the end of the year that you will be expected to pay taxes on because they reported it to the IRS. It is not unreasonable to ask them upfront for some cash or what the value of the trip is so you can set aside cash for it.

Gifts and swag. Brands do not gift you things. Here, we get stuff. There is an expectation that we are going to write, tweet, blog, FB, Pinterest, etc . We are unlike other conferences - at legal conferences, you get nothing cool. The type of swag other conferences get is nothing. The entertainment industry has been targeted for this, and we are no longer under the radar. There are some conferences where you get some really cool things, and the price is on the box. You can get a sense of how much your swag bag is worth. Is the IRS going to come after you and audit you? She doesn't know. You have to decide how much you're going to push the envelope.

There are other bloggers who want to complain about you, so you have to decide what your level of comfort it. You hit send to the IRS, and if they come after you, you have to be able to justify what you put down on your taxes. Things you have been sent for review: if you enter into a relationship, this is going to be compensation. It may be offset by some expenses, but you have to be able to justify it and be comfortable with it. You are not a charity. You cannot donate things to your friends and write it off. You cannot donate it to son, daughter, friend, etc. Donations are for IRS recognized charities only. If you are going to donate something, highly recommend that it is a recognized 501(c)3 - they are recognized tax deductible organizations. There are charities that are not tax deductible charitable organizations. There are many nonprofits and other organizations that do not have the money to do this, so you won't get the writeoff.

If you donate something and did not declare it as income, you cannot write it off. If you get something new and donate it new, you put the same value. If you used something, the value is reduced - e.g., a vacuum you tried and used. If you don't take swag from a conference, you're fine because you didn't further that relationship.

Other Tidbits
Some troll sites will sue if you say anything about them. The problem is that anyone can sue anyone, and it isn't expensive as it used to be. The threshold has been raised for what can go into the small courts. It isn't very prevalent in our community, but if you are going to write things that may hurt other people's feelings, you have to be prepared. You can also start to see cease and desist letters. If you aren't sure what it means, they are very scary, but they aren't things she advocates. Spend the money and cover your paper trail if you're thinking of suing or cease and desist.

You have to tell your readers that you have a relationship with the brand you're talking about. There aren't specific requirements, but you have to put it out there. They are giving my readers X. Hope that it is not over $600. If it is, negotiate how to handle this so that they ensure the legal side is covered. If you're working with a larger brand, they have a legal team and they can provide you with their expertise. Ask them for rules because they are sponsoring - you want them on the hook for this and responsible.

You must include no purchase necessary - if someone has to purchase Tupperware, etc, please do not do this ever again. If you donate to my cause, that enters you into giveaway - please do not do this. It's against the law and doesn't do anything for our profession. It moves you into a lottery component, and they are monitored by states and state lottery commissions have no sense of humor at all when it comes to that. Official rules do not have to be complicated, but there are things that have to be included. If you do a lot, talk to a lawyer to craft a template for what you can do. Official rules need to be for every giveaway. They have to be posted on your site. She puts hers on a static page that isn't visible on her site but is clickable on her site. It takes to the rules for that particular giveaway.

A lot of people will do the “if you sign up for my list, I'll give you a free ebook,” and that's fine. If you're offering medical or financial advice, etc., get advice from a lawyer on how to do this because there are certain categories that are regulated. To sell the book, you have to be prepared to figure out how to make it so people can't just copy it. A lot of them are .pdfs so they can share with everyone. If you're using images in your book, make sure they are safe for commercial use. Include the copyright information - it's not required, but it will stop the people who don't know that it isn't required. If your book is starting to become successful, go through the US copyright office because if there is an issue, you can take them to federal court. If you don't, then the damages you can collect is limited and not worth suing over. There aren't a lot of lawyers who do copyright, but it's worth the few dollars to do that if you get to that point.

Bloggers are more and more getting together to give away things. She highly suggests you talk to someone about getting the official rules to all the bloggers have the same rules and everyone has the same things. Protect yourself, not just from the outside world, but if you work in a group, someone may end up being unhappy.


See, I told you there was lots of information. Me, I had no idea that giveaways over a certain value required bonds and such. I'm very glad I don't do those! What tidbit what your biggest surprise?

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