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Priceless Treasure: Tips for Great Family Photos

By Karen Hendricks

Photographs are some of our most treasured possessions as parents, right? From sweet baby pictures to fun vacations photos; photos of Christmas celebrations and special holidays, to treasured photos of loved ones who have passed away… Photographs can instantly transport us to another place, another time, directly into a precious moment.

I feel extremely blessed that photography, one of my favorite hobbies, also intersects with my job. Over the years, between photography classes in college and practical “on the job” training, lots of tips picked up along the way translate better-composed, more meaningful family photos as well.

I’m happy to pass along a few of my favorite tips, but first let me dispel a myth. Okay, it’s probably more of a pet peeve! People often say, “Wow, your camera takes great pictures!” So let’s set the record straight: People take great pictures; not cameras. Yes, a good quality camera certainly helps… but training the eye behind the camera is even more important! Glad I got that off my chest… Now for four fab photography tips:

1. Look them in the eye. In other words, get on the same level as your child(ren). This is especially important when photographing young children. Yes, it means crouching down or getting on the floor and risking not being able to get up gracefully (I’m speaking from experience)… but if you remain standing and shoot downwards at children, they will appear out of proportion or distorted. Getting down on their level allows you to capture their sweet features in a more natural way.

Looking in my children's eyes: Can you see the sparkle and excitement in their eyes?!

Think of how different this photo would look, had I remained standing, shooting downward… Instead, it’s a fun picture focused directly on my children.

Being in the splash zone of the Slip 'n Slide made for another exciting water shot!

Being in the splash zone of the Slip ‘n Slide made for another exciting water shot!

2. Use natural lighting as much as possible. Skin tones, especially for children, look absolutely radiant when natural light is used as opposed to harsh lighting and the camera’s flash. Experiment and try turning your camera’s flash off if you feel there is enough natural light present. Your subjects will also thank you for not blinding them!

This was a spontaneous moment, as my son peeked through the blueberry bushes. I opted for natural sunlight as it filtered through; the flash would have filled in the shadows but probably washed out my son a bit too much. Leaving the flash off helps preserve the feeling and memory of how he peeked through the bushes!

This was a spontaneous moment, as my son peeked through the blueberry bushes. I opted for natural sunlight as it filtered through the leaves; the flash would have filled in the shadows but probably washed out my son a bit too much. Leaving the flash off helps preserve the feeling and memory of how he peeked through the bushes!

3. Try the “rule of thirds” whenever possible. Ok, this may take some training and getting used to if you’ve never used it before… but basically the rule of thirds divides your photo into nine imaginary blocks. The points of intersection are the places where your eyes naturally gravitate when looking at a photo. So, taking Photography 101 and applying it to your photos: Try to place your subjects (aka your family) at those intersections whenever possible for better-composed photos.

Instead of filling the entire shot with my daughter, I opted to place her in the upper right-hand third of the photo, exactly where she was placed on the tennis court.

Instead of filling the entire shot with my daughter (zooming in with the lens), I opted to place her in the upper right-hand third of the photo, exactly where she was placed on the tennis court.

Here, my son is in the lower left-hand third of the photo with a mountain vista behind him.

Here, my son is in the lower left-hand third of the photo with a mountain vista framing the shot behind him.

4. Candids are king. Keep your camera handy and capture spontaneous fun as it happens. Your photos do not always need to be staged (aka: “Look here and smile!”). Feel free to snap candid shots of your family in action, even if they are not looking directly at you. Sometimes these are the most priceless photos because your family’s expressions and emotions are genuine.

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A rare moment: All three of my children were laughing uncontrollably, translating into a photo of pure joy.

Cousins say "cheese:" This photo combines two tips, the rule of thirds and the idea of being on level and eye-to-eye (at least with the bottom portion of the slide!).

Cousins say “cheese:” This photo combines two tips, the rule of thirds and the idea of being on level and eye-to-eye (at least with the bottom portion of the slide!).

I hope these tips inspire you next time you are clicking with your camera! Feel free to share some of your tips and tricks, below, as well. 

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Recycling Christmas Cards

Popcorn tins make great storage containers for treasured Christmas cards

Popcorn tins make great storage containers for treasured Christmas cards

By Karen Hendricks

Sending and receiving Christmas cards is one of my favorite things about the holiday season. From glossy, glittery greeting cards to customized family photos, and even a few handmade cards created with stamps and inks, I cherish them all. And for many years, I’ve collected each holiday season’s cards and saved them in giant tins and baskets. But the collection is getting a bit unwieldy at this point…

So thanks to two projects, my son and I have found new ways to reuse these beautiful cards.

Last year in school, my son learned how to make a Christmas card ball, using principles of math and geometry–how cool! He has become slightly obsessed with creating these gorgeous decorations, so he made them as gifts for just about every family member between last year and this year, and he received plenty of hugs in appreciation. Aren’t handmade gifts a million times more valuable than store-bought ones?

Each ball requires 20 circular images cut from Christmas cards, so you can imagine the number of cards he recycled! You can make a circular template, about two inches in diameter, or use scrapbook tools such as a circle cutter.

Here are two of his creations:

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Even though it’s January, he’s still creating… so I took inspiration and joined him the other day. I was anxious to try a new “toy” I recently purchased–the Creative Memories Tag Maker. It’s a “punch” that creates a perfectly-shaped gift tag–how handy! I used portions of the Christmas cards, my son’s scraps, to create colorful gift tags. I feel like I have a head start on next year’s Christmas preparations, now that I have gift tags made. (I don’t usually work this far in advance!)

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Sorting through the cards brought back many fond memories of family and friends as we admired illustrations, set aside personal photos for safekeeping, and read the messages and signatures. Between my son and I, we discovered new life for quite a few old Christmas cards.

For information on the Creative Memories Tag Maker, click here.

For a YouTube video explaining how to make Christmas card balls, click here. Please note: the video instruct you to use glue sticks but we used staples instead.

How do you display, enjoy or reuse Christmas cards? Feel free to share your ideas, below by clicking “comment.”

Taking a Leap of Faith into 2013

By Karen Hendricks

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

“The fiscal cliff” is the hot topic in the news today, and it makes me think about the expression “jumping off a cliff.” Blogging is a bit like jumping off a cliff or taking a leap of faith. You dream up a concept, create a website (blog), post your opinions and topics for the world to see, hope you’re adding some good to the world, and making connections to readers and a community. Many thanks to YOU, our readers, for finding us, subscribing to our posts and sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! We appreciate your support as we launched in 2012.

Jumping off a cliff, taking a leap of faith, or in our case, “jumping off the merry-go-round,” takes some courage. But it’s been an extremely rewarding experience on many levels. Personally, this was the first Christmas season that I spent 100% with my family (ok, honestly, I did a tiny bit of work… but only about 5% of the time!). Past holiday seasons, I spent the majority of my time working, but wishing I could devote more time to my family. I truly feel for parents who don’t have a choice but to work through the holiday season–medical and emergency personnel come to mind. For me, making the decision to leave a full time, 60-70 hour-per-week job in 2012 and concentrate on my own business during a more manageable 30-40 hour-per-week workload… was the best decision for both my family and myself, personally and professionally.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know other bloggers and parents through Off the Merry-Go-Round. I invite you to comment or email us (OfftheMGR at gmail.com) with your ideas for future topics in 2013. Let us know about parenting issues you struggle with, phases or stages your kids are going through or career issues. Likewise, send us your tips, comments and words of wisdom! Tell us how you solved a parenting problem, share your best penny-pinching tips or share a fabulous craft idea or recipe. We’ll compile and share your ideas in future upcoming posts.

Our bloggers–Jennifer, Jen, Mary Ann, Ruth and myself–have been brainstorming and developing future blog topics for 2013. They are a joy to work with! Here are some of the topics you can look forward to (in the news business, this is called a “tease!”):

  • Training for a 5K
  • How to Journal
  • Life: It’s the Little Things that Matter
  • Small Changes You Can Make to Help Improve and Save Our Environment
  • A Craft Project for an Icy Day
  • Adoption Issues
  • The College Search Process
  • Living with Lyme Disease
  • Tips for Family Fun on Skis
  • Pinterest “Picks”
  • How to Lose the Boob Tube
  • A Fabulous Recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels
  • And so much more!

Happy New Year! We look forward to sharing 2013 with you. If you’ve enjoyed “Off the Merry-Go-Round” thus far, please share this website with your network of friends and widen our community! Many thanks! 🙂

Picture-Perfect Gift Ideas

By Ruth Topper

Think for a moment about the best gift that you ever received. Most likely, it was something personal; a gift given from the heart.   One of the best gifts I ever received was a baby gift for my daughter (who is almost 15 now).   My best friend from high school, Gloria, sent me a baby album where she had personally pre-designed all the pages.  The album didn’t have any photos in it—just places designated for them.  The album had been put together so thoughtfully.  At first I was afraid to do anything with it—it was just too beautiful!  I finally “got brave” and started filling the pages with photos and writing stories.  As the pages came together, it sparked excitement—over my pictures and my baby girl.

One of the pages from my daughter’s baby album… a project that ignited my career with Creative Memories.

After a conversation with Gloria, who lived in Minnesota while I was in Pennsylvania, I learned that she was a Creative Memories Consultant and this was called “scrapbooking” (not a household term at that time!).  As a consultant she sold products and helped people celebrate their photos and families by teaching them how to make albums.  This struck a chord with me and within a matter of a few months I became a Creative Memories Consultant too!  I had no idea where this path would lead me at the time since I recently had gotten “Off the Merry Go Round” with the birth of my second child and wasn’t really looking for a job or home-based business.  Would I be able to do this?  Well, if longevity has anything to do with it—then yes, I can.  I recently celebrated my 14th anniversary as a consultant.  After all these years I still enjoy helping people “love their photos” and celebrate them in meaningful ways.  Although there have been financial benefits over the years I always tell customers that they are the biggest blessing I have received.  I have gotten to know people in a very personal way as they share their family photos and stories with me.

As we approach the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions) we often are looking for thoughtful gift ideas.  I would put albums on the top of the list.  Albums have a “wow” factor about them.  In fact, grown men have been known to shed tears!  This idea may scare you a little bit because you envision hours of hard work to create this “masterpiece.”  I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think.  Albums are a gift of “heart” not “art.”  Pair your photos with your words or the words of a pre-designed album and you will deliver a gift with impact.

Here are a few album ideas:

The Simply Said Book from Creative Memories

1. Simply Said Book from Creative Memories (hey it’s something I know after 14 years as a consultant) – This is an amazing little gift for under $20.  It’s quicker than an album but more than a card.  There are a variety of themes to choose from: Hope, Joy, Dream Big, Teacher, Love and Grandparent.  Each book has 24 pages that are pre-designed with word prompts.  You just fill in the blanks and add 6-10 photos to complete.  You should be able to complete this magical gift in one to two hours.

2.  Album Kits – Album kits are available in a variety of themes such as baby, wedding, vacation, Christmas, etc. at many retail and all craft stores.  You should only need to provide photos, adhesive & pens to finish your album.  One of my current favorite ideas for a theme-oriented album is a recipe album.  You can either photo copy or write recipes onto cards, add some photos of the cook, recipe provider or the final yummy product and insert into an album.  This is sure to be a treasured gift for graduates, newlyweds or family members.

3.  Digital Albums – Digital albums have become very popular in recent years.  To create a digital album you just need a computer, digital images and album making software available through various photo websites and retailers.  Most of these sites have pre-designed pages available to make creating pages simple and fast.   One of the greatest advantages of digital albums is making multiple copies is a snap.  A few years ago at Christmas I decided to make a digital album of childhood photos for my two sisters.   I had to scan almost all the photos for this project.  I used pre-designed pages that allowed me to “drag and drop” my photos onto pages, added some stories and “sister” quotes.  The final product was a priceless memory of our bond as sisters.

Celebrating sisters!

4.  Traditional Scrapbooking Albums – For those who may want to express creativity in their own way there always is the traditional scrapbook album that comes with blank pages so that you can truly transform the pages into your very own.  Although this option may take more time it certainly is always well worth it.   The year my mother celebrated her 80th birthday I spent several months working on an album of her life.   It included pictures of her and her siblings growing up, the story of meeting my dad and getting married, the addition of her three “girls,” her worldly travels, births of her grandchildren and letters/photos that I solicited from her family and friends.  It truly was a masterpiece—if I must say so myself!  She revisited it a few years after I gave it to her and it took her more than three hours to read cover to cover!

People want to know they are loved.  Albums featuring photos and stories are proof of that love.  Give a gift of love to someone—your grandmother, dad, children, friend, etc…  We would love to hear your stories so please tell us about an album that you gave or received that was thoughtful and special to you.

Congrats!

By Karen Hendricks

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

Our Mission: To provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children and families. Re-prioritizing, we are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.

We look forward to sharing tips, ideas and conversations about:

  • Daily family life, staying organized
  • Family fun, activities, games
  • Parenting – the agony and the joy
  • Recipes, healthy tips from the kitchen
  • Balancing work with family life
  • Penny-pinching tips
  • Family photography, scrapbooking
  • Travel, day trips, vacations
  • Arts & crafts projects

We are open to your suggestions and topic ideas!  Email us at:  OffTheMGR (at) gmail.com