Photography

Capture Blog-Worthy iPhone Photos of Your Children: 12 Tips

July 12, 2018
iPhone photography tips kids
 
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Most of us snap many many photos of our little ones each week from our phones and our cameras. The ease of capturing a moment digitally is tantalizing – and a little deceptive. Just because we can snap a photo doesn’t mean that it’s going to capture the emotions or action or story of the moment – or that the photo is going to be any good.
 
Social media makes the disappointment of bad pictures all the more acute. We’re all bombarded by those GORGEOUS perfect professional images of blogger-children (is that a thing?) and our snaps of our family look mediocre by comparison. It’s frustrating at best. 
 
I could kick myself for some of the sloppy captures I’ve taken over the years – failing to pay attention to light or simply HOLDING THE CAMERA STEADY would have saved many precious pictures that I snapped during a sweet moment but that are blurry or poorly lit. Poor Miles is especially victim to this – an old iPhone, a beige apartment that boasted terrible lighting and a generous three windows (one per room) . . . some of his sweetest moments as a newborn are memorialized by photos that are less than ideal. 
 
The good news? You can fix this! Now! Today! You don’t need fancy equipment (although good equipment helps) or expensive software. Just a few basic steps can save 99% of parents’ everyday shots from the blurry/sloppy/orange-y/cheesy/not-what-I-was-trying-to-capture pile. 
 
Ready to take better pictures of your children? Ready to trade out blurry disappointing pictures for clearer, sharper pictures that captured the emotion you felt when you took the shot?
 
1.Clean your lens.
 
This is the first thing I check on my camera and my phone and the first thing I suggest when someone is frustrated with their shots. This is especially an issue because our cell phones get DIRTY – the dust and grease and makeup that they pickup while we carry them around doesn’t disappear when we reach for them to take a picture.
 
At least once a week, clean the lens on your phone with a mild cleaner and a lint-free cloth. Then establish the habit of briefly checking your lens before you snap a shot to eliminate any really obvious smudges. A tip-off? If what you see through the camera lens when you’re preparing to take the shot is effected by weird lighting or a glow or blurrier than what you actually see with your eyes, then your lens is probably dirty. 
 
2. Hold the phone steady.
 
Every shot may not give you time to set up a tripod, but at lease focus on your subject, hold the phone steady with both hands, and hold your body still. If you try to snap a shot with one hand while talking or looking at someone else, the shot is guaranteed to be blurry. Furthermore, SLOW DOWN. Take your time to take a deep breath, tap the “focus” spot on the screen and hold it while you’re snapping the shot. Take a few just in case. These simple steps will eliminate the majority of blur in your shots.
 
3. Check the lighting.
 
This is another basic step – you don’t have to be a professional to check this one! Take photos in natural light (near windows and in well-lit rooms) whenever possible. Take photos with the light source (window, sun, etc.) *behind* you or to the side. Although it’s not always possible to move little ones around when the cute moment comes, it helps to be aware of which rooms in your house have the best lighting and where to stand in order to ensure that your subjects are well-lit. Simple taking some time to observe your home and the lighting as it changes during the day can help you be aware when the right moment and the lighting line up.
 
When taking photos outdoors, try to avoid those times of day when the sun is directly overhead. If the light is very bright and severe, try to take your pictures in a partially shaded area like a porch or under a tree. Cloudy days will give you your best yard pictures, so if your children love playing with a particular toy and you are trying to get the best shot, catch them on a day with some clouds rather than on a clear sunny day.
 
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4. Pay attention to clothing. 
 
Again, this is not something that you can always fix in the moment, but it helps to be aware of how the clothing in the picture is affecting the overall shot. Most of my children’s clothing is fairly simple – bright bold classic or whimsical patterns and neutral shades make up most of their wardrobe. Most of the clothes mix and match pretty easily and and I try to buy things that generally coordinate (for basic children’s pieces that are sturdy, ethically made, and have that classic look, I love Primary.com). Miles and Violet don’t really own clothes with characters or distracting colors or patterns. So when we take pictures, their clothes often work well together or at least don’t distract from the action.
 
Again, though, curating a child’s entire wardrobe just for pictures is sort of beside the point. If children’s clothes clash or are super busy in a photo, just be aware of it. Try to pick an angle that plays down the distracting element, or use a black-and-white filter or one that fades the saturation a bit to play down the distracting element. If you know ahead of time you’ll be in a setting or situation where you’ll be taking a lot of pictures, try to choose clothes or encourage your children to choose clothes that coordinate a bit. 
 
5. Roll with the mood.
 
If you want pictures that show happy children, try to take the photos when your kiddos actually are happy and in a good mood. When moods around here are foul, Miles and Violet do NOT like to cooperate for pictures and trying to force it just frustrates everyone.  If you’re trying to capture some funny grouchy shots for posterity, at least be aware that your grumpy child is probably just going to get grumpier with your camera in his face. Take the pictures without them knowing if possible or at least take them quickly and move on to connecting with the child.
 
In our house, memory-making and keeping is something we like to do together as a fun family activity and way to connect – if everyone isn’t having a good time, I don’t like to force it. I don’t want my children to grow up hating cameras because I made them sit for too long trying to get the perfect shot. 
 
Ideally, I love to capture my kids while they are independently engaged and *don’t* know that I’m taking pictures. I know some prefer a shot of little ones smiling perfectly at the camera, but the pictures that evoke some of the best memories for me are the ones of my little ones playing or laughing and being themselves. 
 
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6. Focus on the story you want to tell.
 
Have an idea in advance of your shot what story you’re trying to capture. Is it the child’s activity? The mood? The relationship portrayed in the picture? This will help direct your focus. Having a clear sense of story will give your picture a better focus than just snapping pictures at random – furthermore, taking a second to think about your focus will force you to slow down and encourage you to HOLD STILL (See Step #2) and take the time to take a good shot. 
 
7. Look for simple backdrops.
 
When possible, take pictures against simple backdrops. Green space, wide-open areas, the sides of buildings, fences, doors, large walls without a lot of decor – all of these are example of backdrops with great potential. If you have an area around your house that provides a great simple backdrop (a fence, a patio area, the side of a house) use it often! 
 
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8. Eliminate background clutter.
 
This is sort of a Part B to #7 – the less clutter in the background of a picture, the less distraction in the shot and the clearer the focus on your subjects. When you are taking pictures, especially inside, look at the area behind your subject through the lens. Are there a lot of toys out? Is the room behind them messy or unappealing? Take a few seconds to move the clutter and clean up the space behind the subject. If cleaning up isn’t a possibility due to time or other constraints, try different angles that minimize the background clutter.
 
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9. Tell just one piece of a story.
 
Don’t try to force every piece of the story or room into the frame. Pick a few select pieces to “tell”. Take a picture of little hands playing with a beloved toy; take a closeup of their happy, engaged face; capture a smile shared between siblings. You don’t have to document every single item all at once to effectively tell a story and, in fact, less is often more in this case.
 
10. Use a tripod or remote (or both!).
 
Using a tripod and/or remote can serve two purposes. Tripods and remotes allow you to take a photo without worrying about the camera moving around and creating extra blur. (For an iPhone and Android remote, this one is my FAVORITE. I’m pretty sure it’s nearly indestructible, since mine went through the washer several times without any damage.)
 
Furthermore, these tools will help you take pictures of your kiddos without them noticing – avoiding self-conscious children in photos is GOLD. If they are paying attention to you while the camera sits elsewhere or each other instead of a mama holding a camera in their face, you’ll capture much more candid, natural shots. These tools will also allow you to get into the frame with your little ones and be a part of their memories on the lens-side of the camera. 
 
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11. Keep practicing!
 
The good thing about the digital era of photos? The more the merrier. Photos on a phone are free and you can always delete poor photos – so take lots and lots. Take shots at different times of day, in different settings, with different groupings of people. Refuse to fall prey to that voice that says “Don’t be that mom.” As I’ve said before, DO be that mom with the camera – help your little ones get used to you snapping shots of your everyday and soon they won’t even notice you or your lens. 
 
Practice and take note of what you like and don’t like in your shots. The more you take, the more your shots will improve and the happier you’ll be with your pictures of your little ones. 
 
12. Enjoy the Process.
 
Photography should be fun and LIFE with your little ones should be fun. Don’t be so wrapped in creating and capturing the perfect moment that you miss out on the story in front of you. Spend more time simply absorbing the memory and experience with your little ones and use your phone camera as a tool to help you treasure the real memories you’re making with the real little people and your real, wonderful life. 

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Live creatively,

~Emily~

p.s. If you love social media (it’s ok! I love it too! Sooo much inspiration, right?), you should totally follow me on Instagram or Pinterest. And because I blog to connect, anytime that you have ideas, questions, or just want to connect about food, books, parenting, time management, working from home – WHATEVER,send an email to emily AT theorangeslate DOT com. 

p.p.s. I try post varied content 1-2 times a week; I am in the middle of re-hashing some older parts of this blog and creating subscriber-exclusive printables, guides, and templates, so be sure to sign up and get all the posts and updates, straight in your inbox! 

 

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2018 Bluebonnet Pictures.

April 12, 2018

Bluebonnet 2018 Dallas

   

We were supposed to travel down to Austin last weekend for a quick family getaway, but some work commitments and unseasonably cool weather put a damper on those plans.

Instead, we did a little stay-cationing. We tried out a new breakfast place that opened up just down the street from our house (we’re working our way through this list), managed to squeeze in a lunch date, and checked off that Texas rite-of-passage bucket list, the spring bluebonnet pictures.

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We haven’t taken bluebonnet photos since Miles was a squishy 10-month-old and we took this gem so Mark and I were determined to get some this year. Armed with our camera, phones, a tripod, and our picnic quilt, we set out in search of a field despite the chilly weather.

 

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If you’re in the DFW area and are searching for a photo location, there are lots of sources, like this great list, that can help you find bluebonnets – we found our field at the northeast corner of Custer and Spring Creek Parkway in Plano, just behind the 7-11. The small hills made a nice backdrop and blocked the urban scene and the power lines.  (If you go, watch out for fire-ants! They were almost as bountiful as the flowers.)

Miles and Violet loved running around in the field that we discovered and we managed to get everyone to sit still long enough to get two good family shots (despite the best efforts of a certain 3-year-old who was uncharacteristically sulky and determined to photo-bomb every shot).

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Balloons and Pom-Poms.

April 26, 2017

If you are not the kind of person who likes cupcakes, baloons with confetti INSIDE, the happy spring colors of green and pink, adorable babies, and snap-happy mothers, skip to the next post. You’ll want to skip this one. 

In the randomest of trivia, both of my children’s birthdays fall on holidays in 2017. Violet’s first birthday fell on Easter and during a trip to Michigan so we celebrated with the sweetest family-and-friends-like-family party the day before Easter, on a day that magically turned into a freakishly sunny, warm day.  (leading to a birthday present in the form of a first sunburn, no less). 

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I love first birthdays (and baby birthdays) around here for many reaons. Probably part of this has to do with the fact that we tend to invite very few actual other children (part of this has evolved naturally from the timing of my children’s birthdays, which have historically made it hard to track down available little friends) and instead, we turn it into a fun mostly-adult party – win all around. 

Miles’ birthdays, which he shares with America, have always been so fun to plan and decorate for, but there is just something about a spring birthday for a baby girl. I may have gone a litte overboard shoppig Amazon’s party section, but the result was just as dreamy and blossom-y as I could have hoped.

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My mom had these little cup-cake topper ladies tucked away for an appropriately festive occassion and what is possibly more fairy-like than a little girl’s flower party? I tried a new cupcake recipe and my mom applied her frosting magic.

I don’t love the present-opening scene at childrens’ parties and we are attempting to only bring toys into our home very intentionally, so we requested that guests just bring their merry selves (a request with which people mostly happily complied). My parents gave her a special gift, her very first real doll; Mark’s parents sent flowers; Mark and I and a few family members had a few special little gifts for her that we gave her at different times during the week, but it was honestly so relieving to not add frantic present-shopping and wrapping to my to-do list and to be able to focus on the event and the food and the people.

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(Probably important to note that I was just snapping pictures of people mingling on the deck and Violet spontaneously began practicing her princess wave. It was equal part hilarious and concerning.)

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My poor children. We’re totally doing this for all of the rest of the birthday parties forever. 

Violet, who hates all headbands and hats, refused to cooperate and wear her pink polka-dot party hat. 

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Miles and Violet look they are plotting an escape here. “Just keep smiling, girl. We’ll sneak out the back door in about 14 second here when they blink.”

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I’ve listed most of the sources and/or similar items below in case you want some party inspiration to show up at your door. Bonus tip: if you want to keep a baby or toddler occupied for hours, just order a few of those fluffy pom poms and toss them around. Need a birthday present? Show up bearing a dozen. You’ll be the favorite parent at the party. Violet would have been perfectly content to chase them all day.

Sources:

*Pom-poms

*Balloons with confetti (similar)

*Streamers (similar)

*Party hats

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Simple Album Title Pages: A Tutorial

September 11, 2016

Photo Pages with Canva

One of my favorite aspects of this year’s family story album is the title pages I created for each month. I just love the way these capture our month’s activities at a quick glance.

 

In fact, I’m almost tempted to make an album using just these sheets. If you are searching for a way to quickly and efficiently capture your family’s year, 12 of these would definitely do the trick. Another option is to make sheets that capture each individual family member’s month of the year and then combine them for a low-stress large family year album.

I’ve been creating these album title pages using Canva, the VSCO app, and Becky Higgins’ Project Life app.

First, to maximize the time I spend on our albums, I created a style guide to use while I work. I pick a few fonts and a general layout pattern and stick to this almost entirely throughout the album.

For our 2016 album title pages, I’m using Pinyon Script and Aileron Regular. (Right now, I’m satisfied with the fonts offered through Canva, but there is an option to upload you’re own if that’s how you roll.)


First, I created the title blocks.

I created a new design in Canva by clicking “Use Custom Dimensions” and designing a 500 x 500 px canvas.

I created two new text boxes – one for the name of the month and one for the year – and arranged them within the new design.

Here are a couple of other ideas for creating a month/year tile:

Once you’re happy with your template, download it from Canva (as a .png). I normally make all 12 months at once to save time – to do this, just change the name of the month and continue saving until you’ve created and stored all 12.


Next, I selected 15 photos from the month. First, I scrolled through the folder of my Instagram photos for the highlights. If I found 15 that I liked, then I was done with this step. If I need a few more, I then open the month’s photo folder and select additional photos. (You can see a little peek of my filing process for my photo files below, if you look carefully.)

I don’t spend a ton of time agonizing over this process. Because it’s a title page, I focus more on unique shots or photos that capture emotions or special moments and memories rather than pictures that are perfectly composed. I also pay attention to white space to prevent the sheet from appearing too busy.


Next is the editing. I normally leave any photos pulled from my Instagram file alone, since these are usually already edited.

If you are cool and professional and use a desktop editing program, this next step will be quick for you. Simply edit the photos and save.

If you’re like me and you depend largely on your phone apps for quick post-processing, this will take a bit more time. Here are my editing steps:

  1. Email or Airdrop the unprocessed photos to your phone.
  2. I like to use VSCO, so I upload all of them at once.
  3. I try to use the same filter for the majority of the pictures and, for this group, I minimize how much I play with the photos. A quick touch-up or filter and I’m done. (I normally use the filter B5 for any black and white and the filter A5 turned down a few notches for color. Check out this tutorial for some tips on using the app.)
  4. Save the photos to your phone and then email or Airdrop them back to the computer.

Create a new template in Canva using the custom dimensions of 5000 px. x 5000 px. Upload the 15 selected photos and the month’s title tile. At this point, I normally rely on the 4 x 4 layout grid in Canva. It allows me to simply drag and drop each photo into a square slot.

(Note: you can edit the exact placement of your photo within the layout square by double-clicking on the photo once you have dropped it into the layout, shifting the photo, and then clicking the checkmark.)

Again, I play around with the exact layout of my grid to maximize the overall look without sacrificing too much time or thought on it. I always reserve one of the most central four spaces for the month’s title tile, although I change its exact location.

Once I’m satisfied, I save the file (Note: always save the highest resolution .png version possible to your computer).

At this point, you can upload the file to your favorite printing source. I normally send it to the Project Life app because I order a printed batch of 12 x 12 sheets at once and I include these title pages with  other pages I’ve created within the app.

Once I’ve ordered the physical pages, I cover them with page protectors like these and snap them into an album.

Easy, right? Do some story-telling about this year in just a few minutes, then include a link to a quick Instagram post of your project in the comments below to share!


Products used:

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Live creatively,

~Emily~

p.s. If you love social media (it’s ok! I love it too! Sooo much inspiration, right?), you should totally follow me on Instagram or Pinterest. And because I blog to connect, anytime that you have ideas, questions, or just want to connect about food, books, parenting, time management, working from home – WHATEVER,send an email to emily AT theorangeslate DOT com. 

p.p.s. I try post varied content 1-2 times a week; I am in the middle of re-hashing some older parts of this blog and creating subscriber-exclusive printables, guides, and templates, so be sure to sign up and get all the posts and updates, straight in your inbox! 

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Photo Challenge: Preserve Years of Treasured Instagram Photos.

April 6, 2016

Save your Instagram pictures

I love the way Instagram has inspired so many people to more intentionally capture the little moments of everyday. It’s like a mini-scrapbook, available at your fingertips at a moment’s notice. I’m reminded by my Instagram of so many fun and precious memories that I would have failed to capture or forgotten about otherwise.

The only downside to this method of quickly preserving little daily moments is that ultimately, so many precious memories are seemingly trapped in an app, hard to access except from a phone, impossible to access without excessive scrolling, and difficult to preserve through photo books, traditional scrapbooking, or backup systems.

But this weekend, I found a solution! Within just a couple of hours, I had downloaded and organized YEARS of Instagram photos. Now the photos are organized on my hard drive in a way that allows me to quickly find them, sync them with other photos I’ve taken, complete projects, upload them to my backup drives, whatever. Hooray!

Here’s how you can quickly do the same:

  1. Sign into your Instagram account on Instaport.
  2. Choose an export option. I chose “all”, but if you have really a really enormous quantity, you may want to set date limits and download in batches.
  3. Let Instaport do its downloading work.
  4. Make your files. This is where the real fun starts. I organize my photos by year, then month. In each month file, I created a file specifically for the Instagram shots. So, for example, my file for March 2016 Instagram photos is called 2016_Mar_Insta. Incorporate whatever system you are already using for the rest of your photos. I highly recommend keeping the Instagram photos near other date-related photos for simplicity.
  5. Working backwards, starting with the most recent Instagrams, copy and past the photos from a given month from the download file into the appropriate chronological file. For example, highlight and copy all of the March 2016 photos from the download file and then paste them into the 2016_Mar_Insta file.
  6. Once you’ve copied and pasted the photos over into the correct file, DELETE them from the download file for simplicity.
  7. Continue working backwards until you reach the beginning of your Instagram history. The most painful part of this is the scrolling. Thanks to Instagram’s new format, figuring out the upload date of a picture is easy.

Voila! Now your Instagrams are available, in organized fashion, at your fingertips as .jpgs.

Now what? Whip out a quick Artifact Uprising photo book or Chatbook with your favorite shots or order a bunch of square prints and fill a physical scrapbook using Becky Higgins’ Design I or Design J pages or these 12″ x 12″ square pocket pages.

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Miles’ Birth Story.

January 5, 2016

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It’s 4:15 a.m. and I am wide awake with only the crackling ashes in the wood stove for company, because that is what happens when your 18-month-old conveniently forgets everything he learned about sleep-training during family Christmas vacation.

We played the yell-at-Mom-from-across-the-room game for about 30 minutes at which point Mom threw in the towel on the sleeping battle. Miles happily nestled up against me in the warm bed and fell into a deep toddler-snoring sleep within seconds, while I stared into the darkness.

And now I am up typing because this is obviously the ideal time to chronicle Miles’ birth story along with the other 19.4 million other birth stories on the Internet. I’ve tried to write this down so many times and each time, I have been paralyzed. I think this is mostly because the story of a baby, and especially a first-born, is never just a birth story. It’s a parenting story, a marriage story, a what-the-heck-happened story. It’s a story about sleeping and not sleeping and long nights and nursing and laundry and laughing uncontrollably and hysterically crying.

But now I’m 22 weeks into the story of our next baby and Miles’ story needs to be captured – less for him, probably, and more for me, because what 18-year-old boy really cares about his birth story? But stories explain how we got to where we are, and I never want to forget how this little boy utterly unmade and remade me and Mark and our world.

My pregnancy was blessedly, boring-ly normal. Nothing of any merit or interest really happened at all. Except for the first really earth-shattering preliminary appointment at 10 weeks (“You mean that’s a baby in there???” “You think it’s a boy????)  the majority of my appointments were 2.3 minutes long. Whatever random fears I had concocted since the last appointment would be soothed by the gentle swish of the baby’s heartbeat and the cheery outlook of whatever nurse practitioner happened to be on the schedule at Walter Reed that day.

At 8 months pregnant, Mark officially separated from active duty and, in the blank space in our calendar between employment and business school in Texas, we moved to my parents’ vacation home in Northern Michigan to wait out Miles’ arrival.

He was due on July 11. On Thursday, July 3, after Mark played an early-morning round of golf, Mark and I went in for a second-to-last checkup. I was sent home with a warning – first babies inevitably come late, don’t stress, be patient, walk a lot. My dad’s medically informed and optimistic outlook predicted that the baby would arrive around July 20. I sighed in resignation and met my family at the beach, letting the July colors of Grand Traverse bay soothe my irritation.

One piece of advice that is generously passed around during pregnancy is this: sleep as much as you possibly can in the few weeks leading up to the baby’s birth, since you’ll be awake forever afterwards. We absorbed this advice into our normal stride, staying up until nearly midnight on July 3, soaking up every second of another one of Michigan’s gorgeous summer days.

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And then, about 14 minutes after my 39-weeks pregnant self rolled wearily into bed around midnight, I became totally convinced that my water had broken. Nothing cool and dramatic happened like it does in all of the baby movies, but I was suspicious enough to call the OBGYN. She was calm and consoling and told me to wait it out for a couple of hours to be sure before making the long trek to the hospital, since we were 50 minutes away.

Mark and the rest of the house slept peacefully and I waited. The waves hitting my back quickly became painful enough to render sleep impossible, so I wander into the living room to try everything that they had taught me in the birthing class. I kneeled by the couch. I bent over. I stretched. I resented Mark’s peaceful sleep. I gritted my teeth.

I called the OBGYN back at around 2:00 a.m., still convinced that I was in labor. She told me to check myself in. I dashed into the bedroom to rouse Mark, whom I could only imagine would leap out of bed in glorious enthusiasm (like they do in the movies). He rolled over groggily with an encouraging “Are you sure? Can I sleep a few more minutes?”.

I woke up my mom and sister and ate a handful of grapes (“because the birthing instructor said they won’t let me eat when I get there!!!!”). I gritted my teeth and breathed deeply some more in between applying makeup (#priorities) and strategizing with Mark and Mom. By 3:00 a.m., four of us were driving the dark backroads to the hospital.

By the time we pulled into the L&D parking lot, the pain during each wave was  lot worse. By the time the night nurses ushered me into a room to check me, I was entering panic mode. “Are you going to send me back home?” I practically cried, as a whooooosh of fluid (much more movie-like, thank you very much) suddenly made itself known. Um, no, their faces told me. Get into a wheelchair.

The next three hours were both torturously boring and blurringly dramatic. I did everything the book and class said to do. I yelled at Mark, who was diligently paging through his book on birth and fatherhood in the corner. We paced the halls. He rubbed my back. I cried. I vomited. I remembered vaguely something the birthing instructor had mentioned about back labor.

My sister, an ICU nurse, hovered over every move my nurses made. My mom sat in the corner, as straight and quietly as a steel beam, with that “I might need to fly this plane any second” expression. I curled up into a fetal position on the hospital bed and despaired of every feeling comfortable again.

And then at 7:30 a.m. the nurse warned me that if I wanted an epidural, I needed to order it an hour ahead of time. By this time, I was completely exhausted and totally convinced that I was at 8 centimeters and almost ready to push. “I want one! Find the anesthesiologist! Put me on the waiting list! I’m done with this breathing nonsense!”

The anesthesiologist showed up around 8:30 a.m.. He let Mark stay in the room and hold my hand. I felt a bee sting in my back and the next contraction that made itself known two minutes later felt immeasurably more manageable. I wanted to weep. When the nurse checked me, she reported a whopping 3 centimeters. I wanted to weep again, or swear, or both. All of that work for 3 CENTIMETERS?!

The epidural worked like a dream and my contractions became mere lights on the screen. The nurse reported 4, then 5, then 6 centimeters. I vomited some more. My sister left for her shift. Mark and I finally were both able to fall asleep. Mom texted reports to Dad and siblings and inlaws and relatives.

At lunchtime, I woke up. Mark and Mom went out in search of lunch. We played the Name Voting Game with each new nurse that appeared. My brother showed up bearing cookies made by my younger sister for the nurses. My centimeters crept along.

And suddenly, around 2:00 p.m., two things happened. Two nurses appeared and started moving rails on the bed around and starting giving me pushing instructions. And my epidural started feeling suspiciously absent. Suddenly, there was nothing between me and crashing waves of pain – not aching pain like the kind I’d felt in the darkness. OH NO.

This was sharp, awful, get-it-away-from-me-I’m-being-ripped-apart kind of pain. Mark and Mom coached and held my legs and made up soothing lies about my progress. The nurses were both comfortingly confident and annoyingly bossy.

The nurses began to play irritating games of Bad Cop, Good Cop at this point. The doctor at one point assured me that “the first one is the worst” while one of the nurses seemed almost personally offended at my refusal to “lean into” my pushing.

I pushed for two hours. It HURT. My epidural had covered my contractions up high, but once the pain moved down, it was missing the mark. Completely. Honestly, I don’t think I ever really got on top of my pain or my pushing. I felt panicky and breathless and completely out of control for the entire two hours.

But suddenly, Mark could see the baby’s hair. And the coaching of the nurses and Mom became more intense. And I STILL HURT. And then his head appeared. “Do you want to pull him the rest of the way out?” Dr. Enthusiastic brightly asked. “NO!” I screamed responded. “GET IT OUT.”

And then a few minutes later everything was quiet and Mark was helping to cut the umbilical cord and I was staring into the calm, quiet eyes of my little boy.

Miles Freedom was born at 4:23 p.m. on July 4, 2014. He was 6 lbs., 6 oz..

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I tend to be an immensely practical person. True magical Disney-and-fireworks moments in my life are rare – my admission that such moments exist rarer still. And I know that births and deliveries and post-birth bonding can vary radically. But those first few moments, while Miles stared intensely into my eyes, was some of the purest, most intense magic I’ve ever known.

And then Mark held him. My husband is a youngest and has never spent much time around small children and so I’d always wondered what kind of parent he would be at first. Would he know what to do? Would he be nervous?

All of my wondering washed away immediately as I watched Mark hold our baby for the first time. In the pictures we have from those first few moments, the tenderness and confidence with which Mark cuddled Miles in those first couple of minutes is still palpable.

Sometimes that people that work the hardest go unnoticed, but really, this story would be incomplete without a word about the amazing doctors and nurses that we had during birth. In a world where so many people lack basic access to healthcare or where a lot of suspicion and cynicism about medicine exists, it was such an amazing blessing to be able to have Miles in such a warm, caring, knowledgeable environment.

The difficult parts of birth were made easier by doctors and nurses who were genuinely concerned about Miles’ and my safety, comfort, and peace of mind and the really good things that I remember about that day are closely tied to the sweet spirits, good attitudes, and skill of the medical professionals on duty.

So that first night, we rested and stared at Miles and worked on nursing (more to come on that…). Outside our window, the Blue Angels flew by over Grand Traverse Bay. After the sun set and everyone had left Mark and Miles and me to our own quiet devices, we watched the fireworks exploding through the window off in the distance, marking Miles’ first Fourth.

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Our 2015 Christmas Photos.

December 26, 2015

Christmas 2015

By now, I’ve mailed out more than half of our Christmas cards to friends and loved ones, because I’m on top of schedules like that.

But I wanted to be sure to share our family’s Christmas wishes with those of you readers who share in our life through this blog.

So from our little family to you and yours, many many Christmas blessings and wishes for a wonderful New Year. And thank you for reading!

These are the snapshots we sent out this year:

2015 Family Christmas Picture.

Baby #2 Announcement.

The first shot was taken back in April on the A&M campus when the bluebonnets were exploding. It’s not formal or fancy or model-ish but I love it because it captures our family at a precious and fleeting stage.

And no, that’s not a very large weird typo in the second shot. We are elated about our little girl joining us in April 2016 or thereabouts!

For those of you who enjoy math, I am 23 weeks along. True to rumor, this second pregnancy has FLOWN by. I am so grateful to be through the first trimester, which was every bit as nauseating and miserable as it was the first time around, except with the added challenge of a very active toddler. I am also so so so grateful that, unlike the last time around, we’ll be (hopefully! Please??) well-settled into Mark’s new job and a house and our new-permanent routine by the time the little lady arrives.

Meanwhile, any mocktail suggestions for New Year’s Eve?

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Fourteen Months: A Snapshot.

October 15, 2015

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I chronicled most of Miles’ first year through (in part) a series of letters that I’m sharing on this blog. It’s important to me to document his little adventures, his growth, and our memories of him.

I’m hoping to continue doing it throughout his second year. This post is (again) overdue but I sort of don’t care (sorry, world!). For me, the important thing is to have these memories recorded and this blog is my own system of “making it happen”.

I’m pretty sure that in ten years I won’t care which week I posted this – late or not, we’ll be glad to have the memories down the road!

So, here, post-fifteen-month birthday, are a few notes about Miles at 14 months.

I want to know, meanwhile – how do you track your baby’s milestones (or your own memories?)

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DEAR MILES.

Fourteen months. How did we ever get here? You will always be my baby, but you aren’t really a baby anymore. You’re a little guy with lots of ideas and opinions and SO MUCH ENERGY.

You make your Dad and me laugh endlessly. Some parts of parenting are hard, but your smile and your hilarious antics make it all worth it.

Here a few things that I really want to remember about you at this age.

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I want to remember your sweet voice calling us at 6:50 a.m. every single morning. “Dada? Dada!” We bring you into our bed to try to snag 15 extra minutes of sleep but you are normally far too excited to start the day.

I want to remember how excited Daddy and you both were when you learned to pick up and throw a ball with one hand. You wanted to practice it over and over and over.

I want to remember how you excitedly bounce up and down on your knees when you are excited.

I want to remember how you fetch your beloved elephants from the crib all by yourself.

I want to remember how eagerly you sit in your room by your book basket, offering books to read to your Daddy and I as we walk by.

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I want to remember the things you are doing and loving and learning too. I want to remember that you are

refusing games or books or food that you don’t like. You energetically shake your head and protest – and you do it frequently!

drinking out of a straw. It’s so cute to watch you drink some of my ice-water out of a big grownup tumbler!

playing with whatever buttons you can find. Too often, I find that you managed to reach the button on my computer’s power cord while it was supposed to be charging!

coloring with the extra-large egg-shaped crayons that are just perfect for your baby hands. You like to pound the crayons, but you’re quickly learning the back-and-forth scribbling motion.

waving frantically whenever someone says “bye-bye”or leaves the room – or even when you sense your bedtime cues!

Happy fourteen months (and more), my baby! Every minute with you is a gift.

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Thirteen Months: A Snapshot.

September 3, 2015

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I chronicled most of Miles’ first year through (in part) a series of letters that I’m sharing on this blog. It’s important to me to document his little adventures, his growth, and our memories of him.

I’m hoping to continue doing it throughout his second year. This post is particularly overdue and I wobbled about whether I should post it at all. But one of my ultimate goals for these posts is to print them in some kind of photo book and I don’t like the idea of always seeing the missing 13-month note. (OCD much?)

So, here, so close to his fourteen-month birthday, are a few notes about Miles at 13 months. (Take it or leave it.;-) If this bores you, jump to this post instead.)

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DEAR MILES.

Thirteen months was a crazy couple of weeks, wasn’t it? You and Daddy and I were all over the place this summer, spending time in Dallas for Daddy’s internship, visiting family, taking fun trips, and pretending like you slept just as well in a porta-crib as in your own bed. (You don’t.)

You are a great little traveler though, and you act like switching time-zones and houses and beds doesn’t faze you even a bit as long as you can still cuddle with Mommy and Daddy early in the morning.

So here a few things that I really want to remember about you at this age.

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I want to remember that you are ALWAYS ON THE MOVE. You never seem to stop wiggling. Even when you are cuddling or quietly listening to Mommy read to you, you are always wriggling.

I want to remember how much you love your books. You would sit and listen to me read for hours. You will even sit by yourself and flip back and forth through the pages by yourself, fascinated with the pictures.

I want to remember the look on your face as you watched airplanes from the front yard of your great-grandparents’ house. Once you put the quiet buzz and the movement together, you would drop whatever you were doing, wherever we were, to trace the path of the plane with your finger and make a little “buzzzzz” of your own.

I want to remember how cuddly you are. You love to snuggle with Mommy and Daddy – you love to be held and tickled and hugged and kissed.

I want to remember how excited you were when you finally met a dog that would let you pet her (instead of a cat). You frantically pet Sophie while we bribed her to sit still with peanut-butter pretzels.

I want to remember your strong little over-hand pitch when you enthusiastically hurl a ball.

I want to remember the sheer delight on your face when you empty suitcases or drawers or baskets of laundry, dumping piece after piece on your head and arms and face.

I want to remember your sheer delight when you discovered cold water flowing out of the hose on a hot morning.

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I want to remember the things you are doing and loving and learning too. I want to remember that you are

cruising everywhere. As long as you have a hand on a piece of furniture, you can move with the speed of light around a room.

trying grownup food like spaghetti, oatmeal, and eggs.

climbing down the stairs. You terrified everyone for a few weeks by hovering dangerously at the top of the stairs until you let your grandmother teach you how to climb backwards. Now you can go up and down by yourself all day long!

singing along to nursery rhymes and baby praise music. You sing very gently and rock your head back and forth to the music and it is THE SWEETEST.

playing  with wheels, wherever you can find them – your stroller, your tractors, other children’s toy cars.

using words – or at least trying out new sounds and assuming Mommy knows exactly what you mean.

I love watching you grow, sweet boy! Never stop.:-)

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Rescuing My Photos From Digital Oblivion – the #PreserveProject.

August 13, 2015

  Preserving Photos | The Orange Slate

Preserving Photos | The Orange Slate

When it comes to procrastinating, I am the worst. Seriously. When it comes to photos, photo storage, and appropriate archiving techniques, my bad habits hit epic levels.

I have always taken a lot of pictures, though arguably of varying quality. I had a little automatic digital camera in college that I used to record a lot of undergrad adventures.

In early 2012, I entered the 21st century and got an iPhone. That’s when my pictures really began to add up in quantity. I always had my phone on me and could constantly record the minute details of every meal, coffee cup, and cliche tourist jaunt around D.C.

(This is a fascinating tale, yes? Exactly what you set out to read today?)

Nothing turns perfectly sane individuals into flash-happy paparazzi like having a baby. Although I haven’t run the numbers, I am pretty sure that my photo records doubled in total size between Miles’ birthday and 6th month. Maybe they tripled.

In addition to all of this, I have all of the RAW photos from my wedding. All 3500 of them. I have baby pictures to turn into a baby book, travel pictures, honeymoon pictures, shower pictures, family pictures – on and on and on.

What is the point of all of this endless trivia? The point is: I have a lot of photos on my hard drive. A lot. And actually, they aren’t all on one hard drive. There are at least 5 computers and two Snapfish accounts holding pictures of ours. I estimated that I have close to 50,000 pictures that I need to archive or organize or *something*.

So really, the point is that 1)I take a lot of photos. 2) My photos from the last _[pick a number, any number]___ years are a royal tangled confusing unusable HOT MESS.

And I’ve had it. I’m tired of my computer being bogged down by thousands of photos that are duplicated and unorganized and undated and unjournaled and living in multiple places. I’m tired of not being able to find images when I want them. I’m SO OVER dreading taking the necessary steps to organize my photos so that I can finally turn them into well-curated, nicely preserved memories.

So I snapped and I did what every well-meaning goal-oriented woman does in a time of crisis: I found an available Instagram hashtag and set to work.

Preserving Photos | The Orange Slate

But seriously, I’ve been diving deep into my archives and am systematically organizing everything. The happy surprise? It’s taking far less time than I thought it would and the deeper I dive, the more relieved I feel. I can now honestly saw that I am SO EXCITED about this project. I’m excited about our photos again. I’m excited about preserving our stories. I’m excited to use my Project Life supplies.

And….lucky you. I’m going to publish a series on here sharing every single step of the process so that you too can rescue all of your lovely photos from digital oblivion. Because, really, don’t you want to enjoy those lovely shots, stories, and memories? They aren’t mean to wither on a hard drive. And there’s a path out of the mess.

Want to follow along as I organize and preserve our memories in a usable, meaningful way? Subscribe to the email updates using that little box on the right.

Or maybe you’re a million steps ahead of me and already have organized all of your photos into beautiful albums? I’m going to be using the #preserveproject hashtag – and I’d love to learn from you!

*Some links are affiliate. Thank you for supporting The Orange Slate!

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