5 Blogs You Should Visit

Hi there!  With summer flying by, I'm in the middle of a lot of things and enjoying some little treats. Like the saltwater taffy I got on the little getaway I took with my husband a couple of weeks ago.  Lots of it. From a little place in Southwest Missouri, right off the highway, called The Candy Factory. The Bubble Gum flavor is good, the Frosted Cupcake is even better, and the Apple Pie flavor is amazing. Maple Bacon-no. There are many, many more. (Can you tell how much I love the taffy? Enough to walk around with my phone and take pictures of it...)

But I'm digressing again. I've been thinking a lot about changing things up at my blog lately. So I've been thinking about the blogs I love and why I love them.

There are some blogs that have that "something" that could be described as heart, substance,or soul.

There are some that contain so much useful information in an entertaining way.

And there are some that inspire me to create.

Here are 5 fun blogs to visit:

If you are a fan of bloggers who write from the heart and are incredibly creative and talented in both writing and photography, don't miss Tamara Camera. I often get teary and then laugh hysterically in the same post.

You will find an art teacher turned blogger who creates beautiful things at Grow Creative. Great tutorials, and you can buy her artwork too.

I learn so much about blog design and blog fixes at Carrie Loves.  It's my go to place for techie tips. Don't miss it if you need some blog design help.

Katherine's Corner is a really friendly place, and I pick up so many tips about so many things. I was a co-host for one of her link parties a few years ago, and she's as nice as can be.

If you love crafts and want some inspiration, visit Gluesticks Brandy has a lot of projects, recipes, and some free printables.  Parents, even if you don't adore crafts, check out the Kids Crafts section for some fun things to make with your kids.

Those are just a few of my favorite blogs. I'd love for you to share some of yours.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!


I didn't try the Chicken & Waffles taffy but kind of wish I had...
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Mini-Book/Photo Book from Flip-Flops

Today, I want to show you a little book I made for a friend's daughter.  Yes, these are real flip-flops. (Think dollar store!)  Little girl size, so they make a cute little book. Do you know a girl who might like to fill one of these with little summer pictures?

Here's how I made it:

To begin, I folded a piece of the scrapbook paper in half. I then  traced the flip-flop onto the paper, and cut it out, being careful to leave part of it connected at the fold.  I did this twice, and then taped them together to make 4 foot shaped pages. (See the picture below.)  Before I glued the first and last pages to the book, I adhered a strip of ribbon to each flip-flop, so that it could all be tied shut after the pages went in.

There are other methods to make the pages. Next time, I think I'll punch holes in the side of the flip-flops, and then tie them all together with ribbon. It would open like a typical book, rather than an accordion type.

The really fun part of this project, for me, was decorating the "cover."  I knotted coordinating ribbons around the straps, added a fabric flower (that I personalized), and a rhinestone for some bling.

Rachel was delighted with her little book, and that made me happy.

Let me know if you give this a try!

Linking to:

Inspire Me Monday 
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Puppet Theaters, Pools, and Playtime

I've been trying to digitize as many of my old film photos as I can, and as I do that, I find so many fun ideas for blog posts!

As I go through the photos, I'm re-living the fun we had at home, simply playing,  when my kids were little. They loved puppets, (maybe because I loved puppets so much?), and we had a few different ways to get a puppet theater up fast. This picture shows one of the simplest--a big piece of cardboard to hide behind!  

My favorite quick puppet theater, though, was the curtain rod across the door or hallway version. (Wish I had a picture!)  Simply get a tension rod (the kind with the rubber caps on the ends), and place one end on each side of a doorway or a hallway wall. Drape a sheet or blanket over the rod for the puppeteers to hide behind. Adjust the height, so that your kids can either kneel or stand. Voila, instant puppet theater! You can, of course,  make an elaborate one if you like, with colorful fabric and a square window cut out, etc.) The great thing about this, though, is that if you have a tension rod and a blanket, you can throw a simple one of these up in just a few minutes.  My kids loved this. They would write plays and act them out with the puppets or re-enact their favorite scenes from movies. (Don't even worry if you don't have puppets. Just use stuffed toys, home-made paper puppets, etc.)

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, isn't it? What would we do without photos?  So, here are some other playtime pictures I came across,  (My"kids" are now 21 and 24 years old!)

Popping in and out of my blog seems to be the norm for me over the last months, and, rather than feeling guilty, I'm instead choosing to feel happy that I'm getting a blog post up today!  Focusing on the positives, you know?

How is your summer going?

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Instagram, Real Photo Style

It's been a hectic and eventful few weeks. We have a lot going on, but that just means I have more to share with you. IF I can catch my breath long enough to sit down and write. (One thing, I was the second photographer at a wedding last weekend. Fun, exhilarating, stressful...and I'll do it again for sure.)

Also, during my daughter's spring break from college, she spent the whole week at home. (Her college is local, but she lives in a dorm there, so to have her home for so many days is a treat.) Sunny was overjoyed to see her girl.  (For those new to my blog, Sunny is our sweet, quirky, Yorkie. She's technically my daughter's dog, (but pets often seem to figure out who the mama is, don't they?)

So we had some old pictures out, and in between the laughter at my teen clothes and the amazement that my 12 year old self looked pretty much exactly like my daughter's 12 year old self, she asked why some of the pictures were square.

"Those are from an old instamatic camera,"  I told her. Terrible, fuzzy photos, but the square shape and the hues are trendy and digital now, in the form of Instagram.

So here, in all of their trendy glory is my version of Instagram, "real photos" style.

(Clockwise, from top left)  Picture One-with two friends in VA Beach,  Picture 2-My kitten named Friday,  Picture 3- Me with my baby niece (She now has a teenage son!),  Picture 4-With the same two friends in front of the White House,  Picture 5-My seventh grade slumber party (I'm holding the stuffed dog),  Picture 6- With a friend at Disney World,  Picture 7- Ditto,  Picture 8- My softball trophy (I was so proud. We were the last place team, but in the playoffs we beat all of the other last placed teams!)

 And, a reminder to please, please print out some of your pictures, so that your kids can laugh with you years from now!

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Photo Editing vs. "Photoshopping"

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is obsessed with photography.  So when someone says, "Is that picture "photoshopped?" it throws me a little, because I recently realized that to some people (especially non-photographers), the term "photo editing" has a negative connotation, as if "photoshopping" always means altering a photo in a "fake" or unrealistic way.  Not true.

Although that kind of extreme alteration of a photo can be a creative, artistic expression, and I'll sometimes do that for fun, it's not what I mean when I use the term "photo editing."   I take pictures of families, babies, pets, events, and places, so using Lightroom (or Photoshop, or PicMonkey, etc.) to edit a photo simply  means making that photo look its best.  Often, DSLR images need some post processing. Point-and-shoot cameras usually have better straight out of camera images than  DSLRs because point-and shoot cameras are already internally adjusted and don't have the versatility of  DSLRs in terms of settings.  It's more expected that DSLR images will be polished in "post."  Plus, a quick edit can save an otherwise unusable image.

See how subtle the differences are in the before and after shot of Sunny above?  (Recognize this shot from my last post?)  I edited it in Lightroom, with just a few simple adjustments with sliders. I can choose to punch it up even more if I want to, but these quick adjustments are all that are necessary to me for this photo.

As you can tell, I edit simply. Most often, I adjust the exposure, usually add some contrast, crop if needed, and sharpen a bit.  I don't make people look thinner or airbrushed or such things. (Well, if a client asked me to, I would!)  Occasionally I'll whiten someone's teeth a tad, but only an adult's teeth and only slightly. No glowing teeth here. I might add a little vibrance to the color, if needed. Even this kind of simple editing is subjective. Some people like a bright, "contrasty" image, while some prefer a softer, less vivid image. That is individual taste and art.

Picture Style and Picture Control
Do you hate to edit photos at all, or just want a head start?   No worries, if you have a DSLR, there are some adjustments that can be made within even the most basic DSLR that change the way a JPEG image looks straight out of camera (SOOC).  In Nikon,  this is called Picture Control, and in Canon it's called Picture Style. There are several basic settings from which to choose: Neutral, Standard, etc, and within those, some fine tuning of Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, etc. These are fun to play around with, and the fine tuning can help you achieve the look you want, without a lot of editing later. (P.S.If you shoot RAW,  none of this applies, as a RAW image is completely unprocessed and needs more editing.  RAW will give you the most control and will help recover badly exposed photos much better.)

Free Editing Programs
In the past, I used some free photo editing software that occasionally made changes that I didn't want (like changing the haircolor or skintones), when I was simply trying to brighten the photo. But even the free editing programs have improved a lot since then.  I really like PicMonkey. The basic version is great, and they also offer a Royale version with more effects and fonts. Picasa is another free program I've used. It's more basic, but is useful for very simple adjustments.

The duck photo below was one of the first photos I ever edited with Lightroom 5, and I was able to pull the shadows out  and make a dramatic difference very quickly. (Love those sliders!)

So, photo editing is simply adjusting photos to look their best, in much the same way that back in my film photography days I chose a company to develop my photos. (For instance, the film processing at our neighborhood drugstore  was always a bit off in color and exposure, vs. the processing at the camera shop nearby, who took the time to color correct and brighten the dark ones.)

Enjoy the process, and choose how much, or how little editing you want to do.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. As always, I only recommend products or services I love!

Linking to:
Wordless Wednesday at Create with Joy
Sugar and Spice
Wordless Wednesday at Mama to 5 Blessings
Wordless Wednesday at Crafty Spices
Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings
Make My Saturdays Sweet at Amanda's Books
Made By You Mondays at Skip to My Lou
The SITS Sharefest

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Birthdays, An "Ink Book," and Sunny

My birthday came and went earlier this month.  It was a sweet, simple birthday (as my birthdays tend to be these days. I love that.)  My husband and I went out to dinner (gluten free pasta. It's funny how much more the restaurants charge for a gluten free pasta dish, but it's completely worth it. Also, why don't they offer some gluten free rolls along with it?  I've got to write that email...)

These days, my birthday is a guilt-free day of relaxing a bit and a few little surprises from family. This year, I couldn't come up with any gift ideas in time for my husband, so I went online and found a calligraphy book I wanted. (Husband calls it my "ink book."  "Did your "ink book" come yet?)  A couple of new nibs, some red ink (which is great for Christmas, so the description said), and I'm a happy birthday girl, ready to start some calligraphy projects. (Yes, maybe some projects for next Christmas.)

Which brings me to my next random thought, in my series of random thoughts today. I want to say that I'm so glad calligraphy has loosened up.  As in, when I first started learning calligraphy, there was so much emphasis on doing it "correctly."  A sort of highbrow exclusion of any letter forms that didn't follow the rules. That was always a little intimidating, because, after all, it's supposed to be a form of creative expression. So I'm really happy to see the recent acceptance of "modern calligraphy" that allows tweaking the letterforms to suit your own vision.

And, if you all are curious, the book I got for my birthday is called Modern Calligraphy, by Molly Suber Thorpe, and you can get it from BiggerBooks.com.  It's full of examples of pointed pen calligraphy, and it includes lots of projects.  I especially appreciate all of the variations shown for different letters. I love the book. My new favorite "ink book."  I actually have two books entitled Modern Calligraphy, and I love both of them. (The other one is by Lisa Engelbrecht and is wonderful too.)

My daughter's birthday was just a couple of weeks before mine. She's twenty-one. Twenty-one. That is a surreal feeling, and it's hasn't quite sunk in just yet.  I like her so much better than I liked myself at twenty-one.

Final random thought (question)--Do your dogs go a little crazy in the snow?  Our Sunny runs back and forth, in a tail wagging, bottom wiggling, crazed running sort of way.  We had our first significant snow a few days ago, and Sunny is loving it. Of course, her favorite spot is on a "softie." She's "not spoiled, just loved."

May we all appreciate the comfort of a warm softie on a cold day as much as Sunny does.

This post contains an affiliate link.

Linking to:
Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings
Good Random Fun
Sweet Shot Tuesday
Think and Make Thursdays
You're Gonna Love It Tuesdays
Creative Inspirations
Wordless Wednesday at Create with Joy
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Where Your Picture Says it All
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Wordless Wednesday at Crafty Spices
Wordless Wednesday at Mama to 5 Blessings
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Easy Chicken and Dumplings (with a Gluten Free Option)

See this cute recipe box?  It was my mom's.  I love that most of  the recipes in the box are in her own handwriting.  The dumpling recipe I'm sharing with you came from that little box and is a very simple one. It's a staple at our house. Sometimes I just want some comfort food (don't you?), and it's definitely that.
First, place some chicken breasts in a large stockpot with enough water to cover them, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and simmer until the inside is no longer pink (165 degrees internal temperature. I go by color.)  Cooking  time will vary. For chicken breasts with skin and bones, it's roughly 30 minutes. For skinless, boneless chicken breasts, it's about 20-25 minutes, and for chicken breasts cut in half, it's about 15-20 minutes.   Hint--If you're in a hurry, using boneless chicken breasts eliminates the tedious process of pulling the meat from the bones.

When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pot, remove the bones, cut it into bite sized pieces, and return it to the pot.

Next, add a can of chicken broth  or a half container of Trader Joe's Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth and season it to taste with salt and pepper. (No firm measurements here;  I usually do everything to taste.)

Now, mix up the dumplings.
*I substitute gluten free flour for regular flour, butter or Earth Balance for the shortening, and I use almond milk in place of the milk, but the following is my mom's original recipe.  (My dumplings are usually not as fluffy as my mom's used to be, probably because of some of the substitutions. But they taste good!)

1 1/2 cups flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons shortening*
3/4 cup milk*

Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into bowl. Cut in the shortening thoroughly until the mixture looks like meal.  Stir in the milk.  Drop dough by spoonfuls onto the hot meat. ( I also sprinkle a little flour in, to make it a bit thicker.)  Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover and cook a few minutes longer.

That's it! See, I told you it was easy.  Even the picky eater at our house likes this, and I hope you enjoy it too.  It's dumping snow outside, so I'm feeling the need for some warm comfort food today!  (Are you getting the snow too?)

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Narnia? Why Yes, Behind the Feather Boas

The magic of a little child's brain is one of the most exciting things on this earth, isn't it?  The thoughts hidden inside those cute little heads, behind those big eyes are amazing.

My kids had really vivid imaginations when they were small. (They still do.)  My daughter, now 21 (!), lived in a preschool world with very fuzzy boundaries between what was real and what was imagined. (She would plant beads in the ground and wait patiently for the "bead tree" to come sprouting through the soil. Things like that.) 

We were at Hobby Lobby recently, and, as she always does when we pass by the feather boas, my daughter told me that when she was little she knew there was a Narnia world behind those boas.  Despite the fact that every time she parted the boas and found only the display wall instead of a magical world, her little mind still believed that if she found just the right moment to part those boas, she would be able to enter that world.

I don't remember how I responded to her when she did that.  In my hurried "mom rush,"  I probably responded with some "how fun" response or something similar. She says she vaguely remembers me gently explaining that Narnia wasn't actually behind those boas. I'm sure I was trying to soften the blow of her finding only a white metal wall.  But, she tells me now, that she remained undaunted by the wall. She was still very sure that the magical world behind those feather boas truly existed.

Thinking about that makes me happy. 

Do you have some magical memories too, even your own?

Linking to:
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Photography Tips for New DSLR Owners-Modes and ISO

Maybe some of you are where I was when I got that first DSLR in 2007, afraid to take it off automatic, for fear you will break something if too many dials are turned or the wrong buttons pushed.  (Can anyone relate to that, or was I simply paranoid?)  The feelings of the brand new DSLR owner--both ecstasy and fear!

I'm a bit obsessed with photography.  (I've talked about the genetic quality of my photography obsession before...)  Although I am a reading tutor by profession, (and I love it), last year I did some newborn photo shoots and would love to make room in my life for more professional photography. But the day I got my first DSLR was a scary one.

I've had this post partially written for months, and my drafts of it have been way too long, trying to talk about everything a new DSLR owner might want to know.  So, for now, I thought I'd just talk about modes and ISO.


I recommend moving away completely from full automatic as soon as you feel comfortable,  but if you are not wanting to veer too much from automatic just yet, at least switch from full automatic to Program mode (P-mode, which is still an automatic mode, don't worry.)  Program mode will give you more versatility, while still choosing proper exposure settings automatically.  For instance, it will allow you to choose the focus setting so that the focus will be exactly where you want it, whereas full automatic often just focuses on the closest thing. THAT is a big deal.  NOTE, though, I am not  saying you must switch to manual focus. No matter which mode you are in, you can still use autofocus. I do occasionally use manual focus, but not typically.

Aperture Priority  mode (abbreviated A on Nikon, AV on Canon)  is one of my favorites, because if I use a wide aperture (small f-stop number) it allows me to get a nice blurred background.  With aperture priority mode, you set the aperture, and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed. A wide aperture (small f-stop number) will give you a more shallow depth of field. That just means that less of the picture will be in focus, and you can get the subject (the part you focus on)  to "pop" out from the background.  (If your camera has a Portrait mode, that basically does the same thing.)  A narrow aperture (bigger f-stop number) allows you to get more of the scene in focus.  Aperture Priority mode works best for subjects that stay still!  For children, I tend to use Shutter Priority instead.

Shutter Priority  mode (abbreviated S on Nikon, TV on Canon) is a great mode to use, especially when taking pics of children. With Shutter Priority, you can freeze motion (fast shutter speed) or blur it (slow shutter speed.) You set the shutter speed, while the camera automatically sets the aperture.  For moving subjects, if you set your shutter speed to 1/200th of a second, or even 1/500th of a second if kids are moving quickly, you will be able to eliminate a lot of the potentially blurry shots. (Or, if your camera has a Sports Mode, that works too.)

Manual  mode (abbreviated M) will give you the most control over your camera.  Don't be afraid to learn it!  It's actually very simple.  I tend to get the best exposures when I use manual. With full manual mode, you set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO yourself, and keep an eye on the exposure meter (seen through the viewfinder)  to determine if your photo is exposed correctly. There are many great videos online and instructions on Pinterest that demonstrate manual mode. (Again,  I am talking about manual MODE here--not manual FOCUS.  I still use autofocus in manual mode.)

Don't feel pressure, though, to learn different modes until you are ready. I shot on Program mode for quite a while after I got my first DSLR.


Generally, the lower the ISO, the less "grain" in the shot, so I generally shoot around 200 ISO outside, or 100 ISO if it's really sunny. On a cloudy day, I'll use 400 ISO.   Inside, without the flash, I can go up to, or even over 3200 ISO, with my Nikon D5100, and still get good images, even in pretty low light. When you use a flash, you don't need higher ISOs. (I use an external flash and bounce it. I'll talk more about that in a future post.)

Cameras these days really vary in their ISO abilities. My Nikon D200 (an older, "semi-pro" DSLR which I love), for example, is very "noisy" (grainy) if I go much over 800 ISO, while my newer Nikon D5100 (a basic DSLR, great for bloggers, now discontinued with a successor available), gets clean shots at even 3200 ISO.  I've also shot with a D7000, which has more features than the D5100, but if you aren't needing a professional camera body, the D5100 will give you quite the same image quality for much less money. (The two cameras have the same sensor.)  Many of the pictures on my blog were shot with the D5100.  The newer version is the Nikon D5300, with more megapixels and features.  I purchased my D5100 for a great price at Adorama, a wonderful online source. They have both new and used equipment, and I highly recommend them.

The D5100 allows me to get clean images inside, without a flash.

A good book that explains the relationships between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture (the "exposure triangle"), is Understanding Exposure.  Once you have a clear understanding of the exposure triangle, things will fall into place with practice. The best way to learn is to pick up the camera and shoot, because, honestly, you could read about this stuff all day, but practicing it (as with all skills), is the quickest way to learn.

This past year I got out and played tourist in my own city.  I do tend to complain about my city sometimes--the distance from any ocean, the humidity in the summer, the cold in the winter, etc., etc. BUT, St. Louis has an incredible zoo, art museum, botanical garden, ballpark (go Cardinals!), restaurants, theaters, children's museums, and many, many other fun places to explore and photograph.  Here are a few shots from around our city this past year. (And it never hurts to have a daughter who is a fellow photographer and loves to edit photos!)

The art museum is amazing.

The  herpetarium at the zoo is gorgeous.

I'm so glad to be back, writing at my blog again. It just feels like home.  I'm hoping my voice won't go off into echoes, since I've been gone a while. Thank you for spending time here today. Maybe one day I'll talk about some of the reasons I've been gone, but for now,  I'm looking forward to re-connecting with old blog friends and making new ones!
This post contains affiliate links, from companies I love and recommend.

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A Day in July (and a Tire)

Our pool is full and sparkling, (unlike last year when we couldn't keep the pool clear at all, because we didn't realize the filter needed new sand!), the garden is thriving, and my glorious gladioli are blooming again (just a little late. I was beginning to think we had lost them to the horrible winter, along with the hydrangeas.) These good things take my mind off of our continuing house disaster.

AND, we've been out and about taking pictures (even if they are just pictures from the phone. Not the best resolution, but it does capture memories. And often, that's most important.)  So I thought I'd do a little phone picture dump today.

When my sister moved to Florida a couple of years ago, I adopted some of her pretty daylilies, and
they're beautiful.  (When I planted them, I had them all labeled nicely, but the labels are long gone, so I don't know the names of each one. I should probably ask her...)  They are wonderful perennials--I recommend them!  She gave me several colors, and this is one of the more pastel varieties.

We have a sculpture park near our house, so my daughter and I had a walk there yesterday.  Here and there among the sculptures are some fun things for kids. Like this....pod? My daughter called it "the pear." Whatever you call it, it's amazing, and several little girls were having fun climbing the ladder to play inside.  (My daughter was a tiny bit jealous because it wasn't there when she was little.)

There's also a huge red sculpture that's made from salvaged oil tanks.

We happened upon this huge tire, thinking it was another fun thing for kids to climb on, but no, it's one of the "sculptures."  See the sign?  A sculpture?  It's a tire.  I'm pretty opened minded about art, but hey, it's a tire.  

A fun place for some photos though. (And no, we didn't climb it!)

Do you have any unusual parks near you?

(P.S.  Is there a Blogger guru out there who can help me figure out why my vertical photos are posting so HUGE all of a sudden?  I've had this blog for almost 3 years and have never had this problem before.)

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