Tag Archives: Life

Why my failed 365 Project was really a success

Last year aside from my standing resolution to eat healthier and lose weight (pfft), I resolved to take at least one photo every day. This is known as the 365 Project, and people all over the Internetz and Flickr participate in it every year.

My motivation lasted longer than pretty much any other resolution I’ve ever made. I took a daily photo (skipping a few days here and there) until the middle of July. Even though I only made it halfway through the year, I learned so much. Here are a few things I took away from the project, and why I believe everyone with an interest in photography should attempt to do it.

It made me a better photographer.

When I look at the photos I took at the beginning of the year and the photos I take now, I am blown away at how much better my photos have gotten. At the beginning of the year, I used the terrible built-in flash on my camera for indoor photos, which washed everything out. Now I shoot in RAW, color correct photos in Photoshop, and I’ve learned better angles and techniques for getting the shots I want.

I learned that special occasions aren’t the only moments worth capturing.

I had two goals when I started the project: I wanted to take better pictures, and I wanted to take more pictures. Judah was 5 weeks old when I started the project. I felt like he was growing so quickly, and I wanted to create a permanent time capsule to remember him at each stage. Because I was always on the lookout for a daily photo, I learned to view everyday moments as photo-worthy. Some of my favorite pictures were taken on some of our most boring days around the house. But those are the moments that we most easily forget, I think. That’s why it’s so important to photograph them.

I learned not to force it.

Some of my least favorite photos were taken at the last minute when I said, “Oh, crap. I never took a photo today!” When you’re trying to take a photo each day, there will inevitably be days when nothing photo-worthy happens, or when you don’t feel well, or you’re just too busy to remember to pick up your camera. I don’t regret taking these last minute photos, because it doesn’t hurt to have them, but I learned not to waste my time forcing photo shoots if I’m not feeling inspired.

I learned the importance of editing, deleting, and organizing photos.

I already had a pretty good process in place for editing and organizing photos before I began the project, but when you’re processing 100-200 photos a week like I was at the beginning of the project, you realize just how important it is to delete the doubles and bad photos, edit the good ones, save them in an organized way, and back them up in multiple places.

If you’re dumping every photo you take into a folder on your hard drive, I urge you to resolve to stop doing that in the new year! You are killing your storage space with photos that aren’t worth keeping, making it harder to find the good photos, and the more time passes before organizing them, the harder it becomes to delete even bad photos. Every photographer takes five or ten or even twenty bad photos for every good one. Delete the photos that aren’t worth saving, and organize the ones that are!

I learned that the secret of taking good photos is taking a lot of photos.

I am the first to admit that I’m not a great photographer, especially when it comes to my wiggly baby who refuses to sit still. Most of my favorite photos were taken by holding down the button, and taking 10 photos in a row while Judah runs wild. At the end of many photo shoots, I was convinced that I didn’t have a single good photo. But when I went through and edited them, I was surprised to find a lot of good ones. If I hadn’t taken a million photos, I wouldn’t have gotten those good shots. I am not ashamed to admit that many of my best photos are taken totally by accident. My New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to take more good photos on purpose. For now, I’m just happy to have some of the shots that I took accidentally.

If you’ve never tried the 365 Project, you want to improve your photography skills, or just force yourself to take more photos, I definitely thing you should do it! You will be amazed at how much you learn, even if you end up quitting halfway through the year like me.

You can see all the photos I took this year here. I’ll also have my yearly slideshow ready sometime after the 1st. :)

Have you ever tried the 365 Project? What did you learn?

Fun holiday tradition: 12 days of Christmas

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to a fun tradition. For the twelve days leading up to Christmas, my mom would wrap small gifts for my sisters and me. Every day before school, there were gifts on the kitchen table for us to open.

The gifts started out extremely small — a pack of gum or a candy bar. As we got closer to Christmas, they would get a little fancier, but still small — the biggest gift on Christmas Eve would maybe be a CD or a DVD. The gifts were essentially stocking stuffers that we opened in the days leading up to Christmas instead of Christmas morning, but it was so much fun!

This year, Tony and I decided to do our own 12 days of Christmas. Every day until Christmas, we’re exchanging very small but thoughtful gifts. It’s a fun tradition, and a great way to show that we’re really paying attention to each other.

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money or any money at all to show your kids or your spouse how much you love them through small gifts. I considered making a “pizza night” certificate for Tony. Since he does the cooking, I thought he’d like to have a pass to skip cooking and order pizza any night he wants. I ultimately decided that was sort of lame, since he already has that power anyway, but I thought it was a fun idea anyway. I also joked that he should give me a gift certificate for a free outing by myself while he keeps Judah at home. We’ll see if he takes my suggestion, but I doubt it since he said I can already do that whenever I want. (I’ll have to remember that from now on!)

I can’t reveal what I did get for him for the remaining days, but for days 1 and 2, he received a bag of M&Ms and a 6-pack of Coke in glass bottles — two of his favorite treats that he rarely indulges in. He gave me a mug for drinking tea or coffee and a package of Starbucks hot cocoa.

I apologize for not sharing this idea with you early enough that you could do your own version, but I literally decided to do it Monday, and we exchanged our first gifts Tuesday. So it was last minute for us, too.

Judah is too young to receive gifts like candy, and he really doesn’t need more toys. But I can’t wait until he’s a little older, and I can carry on this fun tradition for him.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Working mom

I have some news today that I’m so excited to share. For the past few months, Tony and I have been discussing the possibility of me finding a part-time job after Judah turns 1 at the end of this month. Now that we’ve bought a house, we really want to ramp up our efforts to pay down our remaining student loan debt, and the easiest way to do that is to increase our income.

However, the idea of me working even part-time was complicated for a number of reasons. It wouldn’t make sense to pay the high cost of daycare for me to work part-time, but I’m still not ready to look for full-time work at this point. Most part-time jobs also require late evening and weekend hours and hectic holiday schedules, which didn’t seem like it would work well for our family. Tony’s schedule is one of the things I love most about his job. He’s lucky to get a lot of paid time off and a schedule that has him home more than the average full-time worker. We didn’t want to give up that time together as a family.

But yesterday I was offered an amazing opportunity that will allow me to increase our income without dealing with all of those complications. Beginning in January, I’ll be an adjunct professor at the college where my husband teaches.

I’ll be teaching a personal finance course through the college’s life skills department. Usually they prefer to hire people with business or accounting degrees to teach this course, but they agreed to interview me despite my Journalism degree because of my experience writing this blog. I met with them yesterday for an interview and a brief teaching demonstration, and they seem to think I’ll be a good fit, because they offered me the job!

They’re scheduling my classes around Tony’s schedule so childcare won’t be an issue, and I’ll have all the same time off that he does. I’ll only be out of the house a few hours a week in the afternoons. I’ll also have the option to teach additional classes online in future semesters, which means I’d be able to work from home. And I’ll get to talk about one of my very favorite subjects — money. It’s perfect.

I started this blog three years ago as a way to share my experiences with other people and hopefully make a little money at the same time. I never knew it would lead to such an incredible opportunity. And there’s no way I would have stuck with it for this long without such an amazing community of readers cheering me on, so thank you. Your continued support means the world to me.

Things I have seriously considered since my baby started crawling

This new stage of development does not agree with me. I much preferred the days when Judah would sit still, snuggled safely in my arms out of harm’s way.

It’s not that I wanted to keep him that way forever. I’m really looking forward to the fun stuff that comes along with having an older kid — the increased freedom, the family vacations, the conversations with my little person. But I am struggling with this in between time when he wants to go go go, but he’s not yet old enough to understand caution or danger or reason of any kind.

For a while, he was content to crawl around in the playpen if I needed a few minutes to get something done around the house, or you know, use the bathroom. But now he’s suddenly rebelling, and even the playpen is too much containment for his taste. He no longer plays contentedly in there. Now when I put him down, he stands up and screams at me until I take him out again and let him wander the house on all fours.

I realize this stage is crucial to his development, so I baby proof the house as best I can, do my very best to keep him safe, and chase him all day to prevent him from hurting himself. But on days like today when I’m exhausted and longing for the time when he snuggled safely with me, I start thinking crazy thoughts.

What if we converted the spare bedroom into a padded room so I could let him bounce around in there while I fold laundry?

What if we just padded the entire HOUSE? Then he could crawl around bonking into things to his heart’s content, and I wouldn’t have to worry.

Do they make rock climbing helmets and knee and elbow pads in size 6-9 months? They really should consider that for daredevil babies with absolutely no sense of self-preservation or caution.

Why on Earth don’t human babies learn to walk proficiently within hours of birth like colts and deer? Wait. That actually sounds worse. Scratch that. The LAST thing I want is a 1-week-old bonking his head on the coffee table.

I’m trying my hardest to relax and accept that I’m not always going to be able to protect him. The best I can do is prevent serious injury and hope that he’s designed well to withstand a few bumps along the way as he learns to get around. My dad always says, “They’re built low to the ground so they don’t have far to fall,” and I think he’s right. Mobile babies really are built tougher than we think and designed to handle the normal bumps and bruises that go along with learning to walk.

While this attitude helps my fear a little, it does nothing to help the exhaustion that comes with chasing him all day. Pfft. Slow down, baby! Mama needs a break.

Three years of blogging

Early in August, this blog passed a milestone, and it didn’t even occur to me until a few days ago that I missed it. As of August 3, this blog is three years old.

Normally when a birthday passes, people marvel, “Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday.” In this case, I don’t feel that way AT ALL. Instead, I’m all, “Seriously? It’s only been three years?! It feels like AT LEAST ten!”

My life is so drastically different now, it’s amazing to me that it was only three short years ago that I wrote the first post. For starters, just look at how skinny I was in the picture on the right — taken the night before my wedding a little over a month before I started blogging. Pfft.

  • My husband and I were newlyweds and child-free.
  • I was working full time while my husband was in grad school.
  • We lived in North Carolina.
  • We carried a large enough balance on our credit cards that we couldn’t pay it off in a month (though we were already well on our way to paying it off, and we’d drastically reduced our credit card debt in the year before I started blogging).
  • We were renters with no plans to buy a home for the foreseeable future.
  • We had no savings, no budget, and no financial plan.
  • The idea of saving money for an emergency fund, a down payment on a home, and our future was so overwhelming that I remember feeling like it was impossible.

I don’t feel like the same person I was when I started this blog. Probably because I’m really not!

  • I’m a mama now, which I suppose is the biggest change.
  • My husband and I have swapped roles, as I’m a stay-at-home mom while he brings home the bacon.
  • We live in Indiana again (and we couldn’t be happier about it!)
  • We no longer carry a balance on our credit cards.
  • We’re homeowners.
  • We have a healthy emergency fund.

Most importantly, the past three years have taught me that no financial goal is impossible. Sure, it can be overwhelming, but if we’ve been able to make it work on our income, you can, too!

We’re a single-income household earning pretty close to the median income for our area. And yet careful budgeting, prioritizing, and planning allow us to live comfortably — even afford some little luxuries — without living paycheck-to-paycheck.

It’s amazing how much can change in three years. I wonder what the next three years have in store for us! I have a few new goals:

  • Now that we’re homeowners, our focus is shifting to finally paying off our student loan debt.
  • We’d like to increase our emergency fund savings to provide extra protection now that we have a mortgage to pay.
  • We also have a list of home improvement projects we’d like to undertake once we’ve saved the cash.
  • Totally unrelated to our finances, I’d like to be that skinny again. Whether that’s possible remains to be seen. Oof.

I hope you’ll stick around to find out what the next three years brings. I plan to keep writing as long as you keep reading. Actually, for the first 6 months or so, no one was reading, and I kept writing anyway. So I guess I’ll be around as long as I’ve got something to say, whether anyone wants to read it or not. :)

Reverse seasonal affective disorder

Regular blogging will now be interrupted for whining.

You know how a lot of people get depressed in the middle of winter when it’s cold and dark? I have the opposite problem. I get depressed every year around this time when I realize we have two more months of unbearable heat and humidity and misery. Ugh.

Fall is my favorite time of year, probably because it comes after months of torturous heat. I was much more suited to the cooler temperatures and shorter summers in northern Indiana, but my husband found a job in southern Indiana, and the heat will probably stick around until October here. I’m not happy about it.

I write this now, because I feel like I can’t be alone in this, despite the fact that people have disagreed with me my whole life. But here it is: I’d rather be cold than hot. I would absolutely 100% take sub-zero temperatures and snow and ice over heat and humidity. Don’t get me wrong, the cold season isn’t my favorite. I much prefer when the sun is warm, but there’s a slight chill in the air — when it’s cool enough for a sweater but warm enough that you don’t need a coat. But I’d still take the coldest day of the year over the hottest. I agree that it can be a downer when it’s freezing outside and it gets dark so early, but at least I’m cozy and comfortable inside. Our air conditioner is struggling to keep up in this heat wave, so when it gets above 95 degrees outside, even our house is insufferable.

In the winter I can bundle up in layers — shirts and sweaters and coats and scarves and mittens. When it’s hot, you can only undress so much before you risk being arrested. And when it’s this hot, you could walk around wearing nothing and still feel miserable.

I miss hearty comfort foods. I miss good food in general, because I’m sick of eating non-meals that don’t require an oven.

At night, even if it’s chilly inside, I can bundle up in a giant down comforter to keep warm and sleep soundly all night. When it’s hot, I don’t sleep well even when I kick off the covers and turn the fan on full blast.

So am I alone in this? Who’s with me? Anyone have a time share in Antarctica that I can buy for the summer months?

Photo credit

Happy Father’s Day

Since our son can’t talk (yet), I’ll speak for him.

Thanks for making him laugh harder than anyone else can.

Thanks for getting up early with him on the weekends so his mom can get some extra sleep.

Thanks for being so patient with him, no matter how unreasonable can be.

Thanks for providing the roof over his head, the clothes on his back, and the million other little luxuries he’s lucky to enjoy because of your hard work.

And thanks for giving him your pretty blue eyes — and the rest of your features while you were at it, because let’s face it, he’s basically your mini-me.

Happy Father’s Day!


Judah and the oatmeal

We started introducing Judah to some solid foods this week, which has been exciting for everyone. His first food — mashed bananas — was a big hit. The oatmeal we tried today? Not so much.

What I learned about parenting from my own mom

For new moms, today is pretty much like every other day. Wake up earlier than you’d like, change diapers, feed the baby, step over the boxes in your living room, pack your entire house, deal with your husband’s wounded hand after he sliced it on a broken glass. What’s that? That’s not what you’re doing today? Well, that’s what I’m doing. And it sort of stinks. The parts about the moving and the flesh wound, that is. I don’t mind the baby stuff.

But it’s okay, because today is a day for reflection, too. As much as today feels like any other day, it’s the first Mother’s Day since I became a mother myself. My own baby is too young to express his gratitude (though he did sleep for 7 hours straight last night for the second night in a row!), I can be grateful for my own mother and reflect on what she taught me about motherhood.

This is my mom, Peggy.

And here are a few things she’s taught me about being a mom:

Don’t feel intimidated. My mom has four children, and we’re all about two years apart. She was pregnant or caring for an infant for about a decade. And it only got crazier as we got older. I can see how it would have been easy for her to hide out at home until we were old enough that we wouldn’t make her crazy in public. She didn’t, though. She got up, got us dressed, and got us out of the house. She carted all four of us to the grocery store while my dad was at work. We went on fun outings in the summertime. She was counting heads constantly to make sure she hadn’t lost anyone, but she never let herself feel too intimidated to live life with four children.

Play. We were always doing arts and crafts, playing games, and having fun. It helped that there were enough of us — including the neighborhood kids — that our house felt like a small daycare. It was never boring, and she was always right there with us playing and having fun.

Foster independence and individuality. None of us ever had an interest or hobby that my mom didn’t encourage. But she never pushed us. She gave us space to figure things out for ourselves.

Understand. Looking back, I realize that my mom never forgot what it was like to be a kid (or a teenager), and she tried her hardest to relate. She understood that we were going to make mistakes and get into trouble, and while there was discipline, she didn’t overreact.

Respect. My mom never talked down to us, even when we were small. She’s always said that you should talk to children like little adults, and it stuck with me. She never used baby talk, which is part of the reason we all ended up with an above average vocabulary, I’m sure. There was no idea or concept that we were “too young” to understand. If we had a question, she had an answer.

Trust your kids. My mom recognized that I was a good kid, and she gave me a lot of freedom and privileges because of that.

You don’t have to be irresponsible to be a “cool” mom. We’re all familiar with the cool mom stereotype. The immature, irresponsible mother who flirts with her daughter’s boyfriends, serves alcohol to minors at parties, and thinks being an irresponsible parent is a good way to hang on to youth. That was definitely not my mom. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t cool.

She remembered what it was like to be young, and I could always depend on her for understanding even when it came to things that most other parents wouldn’t get. There were rules, and she didn’t make it easy for us to break them, but she did know that we probably would. She gave us room to make our own decisions and mistakes. When we made the wrong choices, she taught us about real world consequences without being overbearing or unyielding. She understood that breaking the rules is part of growing up, and she gave us room to make those mistakes, but she always held us responsible for our own choices. Most importantly, she knew how to have fun.

Let your kids grow up. Now that we’re adults, my mom still offers advice and guidance, but she really is more of a friend than an authority. This seems like a simple obvious thing, but I know there are parents out there who can’t let go of their authority role over their adult children. Now that we’re grown, she doesn’t admonish or judge or push her advice. She recognizes that we’re adults who are free to make our own choices without her interference. She let our relationship grow as we did, and I’m thankful for that.

Happy Mother’s Day!