Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shutterbug Sunday: Night Flash

I know it automatically pops up everytime you press down on the button to take a night photo.  But you don't always HAVE to have your flash activated for every picture.  Learn how to turn it off.  Why?  Because even if it is late at night, particularly if it is getting dark...your flash may be doing you more harm than good.  Take these pictures as an example.  The one above shows the lovely burning coals.  The colors are vibrant and glow.  But, the one below is washed out by a bright flash from my camera.
The challenge with many cameras is that you have to be very still when the flash is off.  The smallest movement can cause streaking in the photo.  But, the difference is obvious.  Try a tripod.  At night, if you are taking a picture of something that provides it's own source of light, capture more color and turn that flash off.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book of Love

It is that time of year...Valentine's Day is approaching.  You all know gifts from the heart are the best.  But, time seems to escape us.  I'll admit right away that this idea is time-consuming.  It takes careful thought and consideration.  But, anyone would love to get this.

Write a book of poems.  You aren't a writer?  Who cares. Just write what you feel.  Grab a couple pieces of cardboard...cover them with a fabric or textured paper.  These will be your front and back cover.

Connect them with small hinges at the top, middle, and bottom.  Use brads with cute shapes to hold the hinges on each cover.  Now, you have to connect your pages to the book.  Cut several long sheets of paper to size so they can be folded in the middle.

In the center, connect the pages with strategically placed eyelets.

Two vertical eyelets at the top about an inch apart...same deal in the middle...same at the bottom.  These should correspond with your hinges.

Then feed a thin piece of wire through each section and wrap the wire around the hinge, holding the pages in place.  You can cover the pages inside the book with cute backgrounds.  Then, embellish each page, matching the theme of your poem.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ruffled Flower Collar

I came across this cute little how-to for these sweet little ruffled flower collars and thought I'd love to create some for my kiddos- or even myself! They seem fairly time consuming but also pretty easy to do. If you'd like to see the how-to click here! Do you have a crafty how-to? Drop us a line- we are always looking to feature great work!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Organize It!: Closet Makeover

The above picture is part of the final--- final makeover of my closet! I'm so excited to tell you about it! Yes, I'm a little goofy. I do love to even make my clothes color coded and pretty!

We'll start out with the ugly- because the pretty is oh so worth the wait.  FACT: I have a lot-- I mean A LOT of clothes. But- can you believe- I pared it down from 3 closets to 1 1/2? Yep. I decided to stop collecting clothes from all sizes in the summer of 2009 when I had a very successful garage sale. At that time, I got rid of my "big" clothes. I had not liked how I felt at that size and I resolved myself to not return to it and the only way I was going to ensure that was to purge the clothes of that size. You see, I'm-- uh, frugal and I wasn't going to spend all that money again! LOL That's when my closet went from the above mess to the picture below. I felt so good at the time that at least my closet was clean and organized.


But I admit- I've never loved my closet because- even with that purge and putting my nice dresses in another closet- it was too small and cramped. Fast forward to 2 weekends ago-- I decided to purge 50 more things from my closet. This time as I pulled each item out of the closet- the desire for a complete reorganization took hold of me. The next thing I know- I had every stitch of clothing and shoes located in three rooms! It looked like a scene out of Twister. I'll spare you a picture of the debris field- suffice it to say I've already given you one embarrassing photo!

Next thing you know- I have a hammer in my hand and I'm removing the bar and the wood holding up the bar! There was no turning back- I was getting a new closet!
I was feeling empowered and grunting my inner handyman grunts- when Chef Donavan showed up and looked at me with pity- and stripped the hammer from my hand. In that moment I went from construction worker to designer and supervisor.

As much as I was enjoying the whole demolition- I was not disillusioned one bit- I knew he could get it done in a fraction of the time it was going to take me! Next thing you know- he had the shelves up! Although I still have many clothes- the re-org was a huge success. I feel like the closet is bigger- even if it isn't. Pictures don't do it justice- so here's a video tour!

What's your latest organizational project? Link it up here!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tasty Tuesday: Hello Dollies

Crafty Girl here! Right now I'm trying to recuperate from all the holiday eating I did and I can't have one of my all time favorite sweet treats so I thought I'd at least share the recipe with you- in hopes that someone will take an extra bite in my honor!LOL Hope you enjoy!

- nonstick spray
-1 stick of butter
-1 cup graham cracker crumbs
-1 cup shredded coconut  
-1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
-1 cup chocolate chips
-1 can condensed milk

Spray the bottom of your 13x9 glass cake pan. Melt the butter and evenly spread over the bottom of your pan. Then press the graham cracker crumbs into the butter to make a delicious crust. Then layer the items in order. Cook at 375 till golden brown- that may be about 15 minutes. Let them sit up a bit before you take them out and eat them with a nice cold cup of milk! Enjoy!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Little Boxes

You know the old saying...get a child a nice, big, expensive present in an oversized box...and they'll play with the box more than what came inside.

 Next time you see your little ones having a blast with box play, get out your trusty camera and snap away.  You can make a splendid layout for your scrapbook.

My niece kept peaking through the opening and it gave me an idea.  I envisioned a page where you could actually open a box and see her face peaking through.

I bought some paper at the craft store that was designed specifically to look like a cardboard box.

I used one piece as the background and one piece to make two sides of my "box".  I reinforced the paper with a matching tan/brown card stock so it stays firm as you fold and unfold it.

Attach the back of the box to the background and score each side so they fold easily.  The right and left flaps can be smaller than the top and bottom so they fit together when folded.

I put the peek-a-boo picture right in the center, so it is the first thing you see inside.

You can add pictures inside each flap as well.  Fold it closed when done and embellish the page with whatever you like.  You will have a unique, interactive scrapbook layout and you won't be able to stop playing with that box, just like the kids.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shutterbug Sunday: Photo Editing

We are so happy to have Photographer Ashley Sisk provide us with an amazing guest blog about photo editing today. She's a master at it. Please visit her website- and don't forget to leave her a sweet comment!

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to share some simple editing tricks. I love to edit (in fact, I may love editing more than photography itself), so I was happy to accept. Although I operate primarily out of Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop (as well as Photoshop Elements), I wanted to offer some tips that could be applied in any program.  

First, let's start with a SOOC shot (straight out of the camera). If you follow my blog, I mentioned that I've been having an ongoing battle with the lighting in my inlaws' home. You might never know it if you only looked at my edited shots, but here is one of the originals: 
How ya like that white balance? Or lack there of. I mentioned before, I wanted to start, I started this edit in Adobe Camera Raw. Regardless of what editing program you're working in, you should have some of the basic functionality that Adobe Camera Raw offers. If you are using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you already have ACR (and although I shoot in RAW, you can open  JPG files in ACR by opening PS or PSE - go to File > Open As> Select open as Camera Raw file and select your image). Below, I've copied my SOOC data and the revisions I made in Adobe Camera Raw. Here's what I did:
  • Used AUTO to correct my white balance.
  • Pulled the recovery slider up. 
  • Dropped my blacks a bit.
  • Decreased my brightness.
  • Increased my contrast.
  • Decreased my clarity.
  • Decreased my saturation.
ACR Adjustments
Just making those few adjustments creates a nice clean edit. I've included my edit below. If you're new to editing, I encourage you to try adjusting the exposure, brightness and contrast within your editing program.
IMG_1268 ACR 
I should warn you that most editing programs offer an "Auto" option. Sometimes selecting auto works perfectly but more often than not, you'll need to make some manual adjustments.

So that was my very basic edit only using Adobe Camera Raw. If you're interested in an advanced edit...keep reading. 
Beyond my edit in Adobe Camera Raw, I brought my photo over to Adobe CS5 (also known as Photoshop). Most of my steps can also be performed in Photoshop Elements. Here are my steps:
  • Created a duplicate of my background. I applied a high pass filter (found under FILTER at the top of the screen). I then applied a soft light blending mode to the layer. This is my #1 favorite trick to make the details of your image pop. You can lower the opacity if needed and/or use a layer mask to erase part of the effect. 
  • Created an adjustment layer - CURVES. In PSE, if you don't have an action curves adjustment, you can download one here (it also includes a mask layer that I use often).
  • Created a new adjustment layer - LEVELS. I pulled the left side (shadows) of the graph to a 11 - this makes my blacks just a tad bit darker. I pulled the middle bar  (mid-tones) up to a 1.11 I often pull the midtones up to a 1.38 to brighten up an image, but that was not necessary here. 
  • Created a new adjustment layer - BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST. I decreased brightness to -10 and added a contrast of 8. 
  • Created a new adjustment layer - HUE/SATURATION. I find with my computer that I always have to pull back on my yellows and reds (if I want to avoid creating oompa loopmas). 
IMG_1268 Basic Edit

Beyond this point, I felt like my shot looked a little too much like a snapshot (nothing wrong with that, I mean, it is a snapshot), so I decided it needed to be cropped.  I used the same photo ratio to crop the photo. I then made a few more adjustments and created two photo options (I wanted to share both a color and black/white). With my color shot:
  • Created an adjustment layer: BLACK AND WHITE (in Photoshop Elements, you'll want to use a background copy then go to Enhance>Convert to Black and White). I created a custom black and white by playing with the sliders and adding a tint. I also lowered the opacity to 15%.
  • Adjusted my brightness/contrast and levels adjustment layers for a little more drama.
  • Finally, I applied Totally Rad's Lux action at 50%. For a similar can create a new fill layer - fill it with a shade of cream or light pink, set the blending mode to screen and lower the opacity.
IMG_1268 lux
For my black and white edit, I simply increased my black and white adjustment layer back to 100%.
IMG_1268 BW
So, hopefully that all made sense and you've learned a trick or two. 

If you want to see more editing techniques, I have recently started a new photo challenge called Shoot and Edit with Jill at Forever'n Ever'n Always Photography. Every Monday morning Jill will post a SOOC (straight out of the camera) shot and then have a link up for all of you to share your SOOC too. You will have until Wednesday to link up. 

Then, on Thursday morning I will have my SOOC shot fully edited with a tutorial for everyone to follow to enhance their photos as well.

Well I gotta run back over to Scavenger Hunt Sunday! If you have a chance, come see me and have an awesome day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cupcake Anyone?

Our girlfriend Chris made this sweet little cupcake gift for all her daughter's teachers for the holidays. My son thought it was real and he was very upset when he thought I had such a wonderful treat without him! I thought I'd pass the idea along to you because Valentines day is fast approaching. The little cup was made with her Cricut cutter cartridge "Cupcake Wrappers". She rolled up a pair of colorful, comfy socks and she topped it off with a cherry pom pom! I just love it! Don't you???

Meet Ashley Sisk

Some people are just destined for greatness. Ashley Sisk is one of those people who has a very bright future in the photography world. Ashley decided to pick up her camera after her October 2009 wedding. She always enjoyed taking pictures before, so she thought it would be a good hobby to nurture. In a very short year and a half she's started a blog,  rediscovered her creative spirit, enhanced her photography and editing skills and made some incredible friends along the way!

I'm a big fan of hers and I just love the creative pictures she takes. They POP off the page! Ashley is going to be our guest blogger for tomorrow's Shutterbug Sunday! Please come back tomorrow and show her some love!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scrapbook Flip Photos

We've all been there....too many beautiful photos and not enough room on your scrapbooking page to fit all of them.  It is so hard to eliminate any pictures of your great vacation or your little bundle of joy.  You don't always have to pick and choose.  When I run into that problem, I create a secret flip page in my book.

Here's what you can do:

Pick out your different photo borders.  One border can be attached right to the layout.  Place your photo on it, off-center, leaving extra room to the left.

Now, pick your top photo border.    Place your photo off-center again.  Score the left side to create a crease, so you can lift the top page with ease.  Hold it in place over the bottom page with brads or eyelets.

You can use the underside of the top page for another photo, turning that space for one photo on your layout into a space for three or more photos.  Plus, you could certainly do more than one on a layout.

It is wonderful to be able to use all of your photos, but the best part is it so exciting to make your scrapbook interactive.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Organize It!: 50 Things

So, I was watching the 4th hour of the Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda Kotbe. Don't judge- but I love it- they have so much fun- it would be my ideal show to host. They had the most interesting concept for an organizing segment based on a new book by Gail Blanke Author of “Throw Out 50 Things: Clear The Clutter, Find Your Life”.

While standing in front of a closet full of junk Gail said get rid of 50 things- not 49 but 50 things to start a new life. She said whether that's 50 pieces of clothing, old medicine or old relationships that aren't working- you can start anew and find your true self by getting rid of what's weighing you down.

That statement inspired me- and I want to invite you along for the ride. I went straight to my closet and began removing old items. I have an extensive supply of clothing for my day job- but let's face it, I don't wear all of my clothes. So, I set out to purge 50 pieces of clothing and some shoes from my supply.

I quickly started to count up the number scale- then when I got to around 30-35 it started to slow down. Now I had to choose to get rid of my "very skinny clothes". I always held out hope I'd get back into them- and still think it may be a possibility. But, the fact of the matter is- I am happier and healthier in 1 size up. I texted Crafty Cat and she said "Get rid of them! If you get that skinny again you'll want to buy new stuff". It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders and I thought she was RIGHT! I purged them. Believe it or not- I don't miss them. I do feel lighter! In fact- I purged MORE THAN 50 items!  Some items went to a friend who will enjoy the very expensive suits I've passed along to her and the rest of the other nice items will go to charity. Hopefully some women will put them to good use!

My goal each week will be to show you my efforts to organize something in my life. This pile above is now out of my house and I'm so happy. It also led to a bigger closet organization makeover I will share at a later date! I won't be purging 50 things each week. That may be a little off the deep end but the projects may be big or small. Hopefully you will get in on the fun and share your organizing projects. If you have a great photo please contact me because we can share our projects with the world. If you have a great blog about an organizing project- Link it up below!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tasty Tuesday: Beef and Broccoli

Classic Asian Dish!!

2 lbs thin Sliced Beef (if your knife skills are not sharp, have your butcher slice it for you)
1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
1/4 cup Canola Oil
3 cloves Fresh Garlic (minced)
1/2 tsp Sesame Oil
1 lg Onion  (chopped or sliced)
2 lg Carrots (chopped or sliced and blanched)
3 heads of Broccoli (cut from stalk and in bit size pieces and blanched)
1 cup beef stock
1/4 cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce (use Low Sodium because the Hoisin will add salt as well)
1/4 cup Corn Starch
1/2 cup Cold Water

I suggest using a Wok to make this dish, if you do not have one use a saute pan. A Wok is a must if you plan on cooking a lot of Asian style dishes.
Place canola oil in Wok and get it hot (when you look at the oil you should see ripples in the oil)
Add beef and cook until browned on all sides but still undercooked. Remove beef from pan and add onion, carrots, garlic, sautee until onions are translucent.
Add soy sauce and hoisin sauce to vegetable mixture, bring to a boil and then add par cooked beef back to pan.
Add beef stock and bring to a boil.
ix corn starch and cold water and add to boiling mixture about 1 Tbsp at a time to reach the desired thickness.
Add broccoli and toss until coated and warmed through, about 3-4 minutes. If sauce is to thick add a little cold water to thin out sauce.

Serve over Rice or Lo Mien Noodles
Xiangshou (enjoy in Chinese)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sticker Stampede

No this isn't a store, this is just my collection of stickers.  There are more on the other side of this display.

Don't act like you don't own just as many embellishments.  It's just easier to live in denial about our out-of-control craft addictions when everything is packed away.  But, I want my stuff open, visible, and easy to grab.

I've found solutions for all sorts of crafting needs over the years.  Now I create my own embellishments.  But, for a long time, I was sticker crazy.  I had piles and bags and boxes everywhere.  I had stickers for birthdays, sports, vacations, and hobbies.  I had hundreds of stickers.

My biggest frustration was wasting the little bit of crafting time I get to search and search for a specific sticker I seemed to remember buying six months ago.  Half the time I couldn't even find what I wanted...until it randomly appeared six months later.

Here's how I conquered that problem.  Next time you see a store liquidation...EVERYTHING MUST GO....price the display units.  They are worth every penny.  While you are sorting through all the sale products they have marked down on clearance, look at the display those products are propped up on.  I got this from a clothing store, where it was used to display jewelry.  I put all of my baby girl stickers on one hook, all of my travel stickers on another.  All of my holiday stickers have their own hook, as do all of my gardening stickers.  Now, when I work on a layout for my niece's latest report card, I go right to the school hook.  I spend 80% less time searching and that much more time creating.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Shutterbug Sunday: The Perfect Prop

The balloons in this pic are from Wegmans. I always grab a bunch for my photo
 shoots where the babies are turning 1 to celebrate the big event!

Who’s ready to talk props? At the end of this post I would love to hear some feedback from some of you other prop enthused savvy individuals!

So for me, a good prop should have 2 key ingredients. The first? It needs to be cost effective. I go prop shopping with a limited budget so I like to find things that are inexpensive, yet photo worthy. The second? I need to be able to multi-task with it. In other words, I want the prop to work for more than just one photo shoot. If it doesn't, I feel it was a waste. When choosing a prop to use with babies for example, I like something that has enough room for them to sit comfortably in all their different stages, that will also play well in different settings. For instance, the bucket you see in these pictures was used for a tiny newborn, a one year old, and some other ages in between. It also worked well for multiple looks and locations. With babies, first and foremost, always remember to keep safety in mind when choosing your props. For this bucket, I used blankets to provide comfort and support which also added a little more visual interest.

 When finding a good prop, a couple of things to keep in mind are...know what you are looking for and give yourself time. As my fall season was approaching this past year I knew I wanted something I could use for babies that had some fall flare to it. I wanted to be able to somewhat contain them considering the ground is not always great that time of year. I also knew I would have a variety of ages that it would need to be good for. I started looking in August and came across this great little apple tub at the Christmas Tree Shop. I had seen other things similar to it at some craft stores, but they were all coming in at around $50.00. To my surprise when I checked the price on this one it was only $12.99! You can imagine I was ecstatic! It was exactly what I was looking for and the grand total was less than half of my budget!

Those funky oversized ornaments that you see were also
from the Christmas Tree Shop. They were an inexpensive way to
add some Christmas flare. 

Not all of my prop endeavors have been as successful as this one was. It takes a good amount of patience, and experimenting but eventually you will find your nook and the process of finding something great gets a lot easier. Some places that have had great finds for me are EBay, the Christmas Tree Shop, Hobby Lobby, and other craft stores. A lot of times the craft stores will have their 50% off sales which will usually lend a good opportunity. Also keep an eye out for their coupons for additional savings. I do also recommend doing some browsing through Esty. They have some incredibly unique things that can be very reasonable! Lastly, if there is some hard-to-find item that you just can’t seem to get your fingers on, make a Facebook post about it. I just inherited an old vintage chair that worked out amazingly for kids' Christmas pictures and it cost me absolutely nothing! A very nice person had it sitting in storage and they didn’t want it anymore!

So whether your just a hobbyist that enjoys photographing babies and kids or more of a pro, a little patience and perseverance can go a long way to help to find the perfect prop! Happy prop hunting everyone!

Thank You Crafty Life and Style for having me as your guest blogger today! :)

The floor/background you see in this was is a piece of fadeless paper that I ordered from Mardel. It cost $7.99 and has worked great so far!

Thank you Mary.  See more of Mary's lovely work on her website:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meet Mary

I became a fan of the photography of Mary Nichols after she took some pictures for a friend who was grieving the terminal illness of a close family member.  It was a sensitive situation and Mary took extra time, used extra patience, and captured extra special memories.  Because her approach was less about business and more about showing some humanity...I thought she would be the perfect fit for our little blog family, which is full of a bunch of ladies from different backgrounds, sharing pieces of themselves.  We hope you enjoy her posts once a month on our Shutterbug Sundays.  Here is Mary, in her own words:

About Me: I was your typical stay at home Mom with a little hobby called photography. After having my son I very quickly became obsessed with learning how to improve my skills. I wanted to be able to take better photos of him which is what spiraled me into starting my own business. I love all things photography especially black and white photographs. To describe myself in a nut shell? I am madly in love with my husband and son, addicted to latte’s, a writer, art lover, dog lover, procrastinator, ditsy at times, inspired by vintage, wearer of pearls, hobbyist of interior design, and I love and I crave simplicity in life.

Welcome Mary!  You can find more of Mary's beautiful work on her website:

I'm A Proud Mama

My son's artwork was selected to be a part of  a special exhibition at Siena College in Loudonville NY. He participated in an enrichment program at his elementary school in which they were encouraged to create a piece of art that answers the question "What would Martin Luther King do to heal the earth?"

His answer was work together in harmony. So sweet.

Tonight was the reception and my first chance to see his artwork. I loved it.

I am such a proud mama. I love my children's artwork and truly try to help them develop their talents. He has also had his artwork on display in an area library and he has written 3 books. Pretty accomplished little boy for the ripe old age of 8.