Last year, I joined Cool Mom Picks as a contributor, writing posts ranging from tassels to taxidermy. I took a few weeks off this summer as we were settling in after the big move to DC, but I’m excited to announce that I’m officially back — and I have a new weekly round-up column that launched last week!… READ MORE!
Throwing a last-minute birthday party with Seedling
Don’t tell Levi, but his birthday party this past Sunday was a very last-minute affair… READ MORE!
Parenthood is . . . a 4th of July parade
The trouble with being a second child is that your daily schedule usually revolves around your older sibling’s.
Big brother has a midday 4th of July parade at camp? Sorry, baby. Nap time’s over… READ MORE!
How to survive a road trip with kids
Last month marked the third time my family, my sister’s family, and my parents all vacationed together on Hilton Head Island. The week we spend in South Carolina is always relaxing, but getting there and back can be a little bit crazy… READ MORE!
How to take monthly baby photos
I never expected the monthly baby photos I took of the boys to be among the most popular posts on the blog. Just last week, Levi’s monthly photos were featured on Red Tricycle, and the series continues to bring new visitors looking for ways to photograph their babies’ first years.
Since I started taking Levi’s monthly photos almost four years ago (crazy!), I’ve received a ton of questions about the process. Although I do my best to answer each of them as they roll in, I thought it might be helpful to share the most frequently asked questions — and answers — in one spot.
If I’ve missed anything, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I’ll update the post as necessary!
FAQ: Monthly Baby Photos
1. Where did you get that chair?
We bought our white Eames molded plastic rocker from Design Within Reach. It was our first anniversary present to ourselves!
Horne sells a fiberglass rocker shell chair that’s nearly identical but a little less expensive, and Amazon offers molded plastic armchair rocker for less than $100. Fair warning: I can’t vouch for either since I haven’t seen them in person, but their reviews look pretty good.
2. What camera do you use?
I shoot manually with a Canon EOS 60D camera and a Tamron 28-75mm lens.
3. How did you set up your photos?
First, I always turned off the overhead light and any lamps. Natural light is key! I positioned the rocking chair next to a window (always in the same spot) when the room was nice and bright. However, you don’t want strong direct sunlight streaming through the window because that’ll produce harsh shadows in your pictures.
The problem with using a rocking chair is that, well, they rock. It’s not such a big deal with newborns, but older babies are more wiggly, as I’m sure you can imagine! I always had somebody — Jordan, my mom, the nanny — standing next to the rocker just out of frame in case Levi or Asa decided to crawl over the edge of the chair. It happens.
When taking the photos, I’d sit on a pouf about 5-6 feet away from the chair to shoot at eye level. This also helped me guarantee that the angle I shot from remained consistent each month.
4. Where did you get the numbered onesies?
I made them! When I couldn’t find any pre-made monthly baby onesies or monthly stickers I liked, I bought these iron-on numbers from Michaels. Each month, Jordan or I would apply them to a white bodysuit we already had.
5. How did you edit your photos?
I used Photoshop to crop, straighten, and resize the photos as necessary for the blog. Using the previous month’s photo as a guide, I’d also make slight adjustments to the brightness, levels, and color balance.
But if you look closely at my pictures, you’ll see that they aren’t all exactly the same. I’m not an expert at photo retouching!
6. I’d like to create a collage with all 12 my baby’s monthly photos. How did you make this one?
I used Photoshop to create that collage, but there are other collage makers you could try, including PicMonkey and Fotor, if you simply want to share your image online.
However, I used Pinhole Press to print and frame a collage of Levi’s monthly photos. They offer a 12-photo framed collage that was basically designed for displaying monthly baby photos. You simply choose your frame (white, black, or pine) and then drag and drop your pictures into the template. The hardest part will be deciding where to put the collage once it arrives framed and ready to hang!
Everything Pinhole Press creates is so beautiful and well made. I’ve actually been meaning to make the boys some photo books of names & faces and a photo memory game for some time now!
If you’re interested in trying Pinhole Press, they’re graciously offering 15% off all products with the code agirlnamedpj through Sunday, May 10th. (Psst… That’s Mother’s Day! Buy your mom a framed print of your kids!)
Thanks to Pinhole Press for sponsoring today’s conversation! And thank you for supporting the brands that help make this blog possible.
Talking to kids about hard stuff
Levi and I have most of our heart-to-hearts while he’s sitting on the toilet.
He’ll be four in July, so our conversations mostly have to do with events that occurred earlier that day (or sometimes earlier that week) at nursery school. For example, he had to be a bad guy instead of a good guy when playing superheroes with his friends. Or a classmate wouldn’t share the pretend tools and he really wanted to play with them.
I listen to his stream of consciousness, offering the occasional “Oh, really?” and “How did that make you feel?” and “How do you think that made so-and-so feel?” But every so often, Levi asks direct question that stumps me.
This past weekend, while he was going potty, Levi wanted to know about the pharaoh from the story of Passover. Where did he live? Was he still there? Could we see him?
Sitting on the ledge of the tub, I explained to Levi that Pharaoh lived in a far, far away place called Egypt a long, long time ago. It was the long, long ago part that he just couldn’t grasp.
“So is Pharaoh still there?”
“No, that happened many, many, many years ago and there isn’t a Pharaoh anymore.”
“Why? Where did he go?”
“Uh, he went away.”
“Well, where did go?”
“Umm, he died.”
“What does died mean?”
“Stop playing with those pieces of toilet paper, and wipe your tushy if you’re done going potty.”
Perhaps that wasn’t my finest parenting moment. But I find relief in knowing I’m not the only mom who isn’t sure how to talk to my kid about the really hard stuff.
My friend Alyssa, in a fantastic parenting interview on Mommy Shorts, recalls the time her daughter asked how babies come out of mommies’ tummies. Her reply was that the doctor does “some special magic.” In retrospect, she wasn’t proud of her answer. In fairness, I’m not sure how I’d explain the miracle of birth to my preschooler, either.
Do you have any tips on how to explain big concepts like birth and death to little kids? Have you ever been asked any cringe-worthy questions by a preschooler? If so, how did you respond?
(photo from my Instagram)
A quick guide to maple sugaring
My mom reads the paper from cover to cover every day, regularly scanning for health-related breakthroughs and kid-friendly activities. When she finds an article or calendar listing that seems interesting, she’ll tear it out of the newspaper and leave it on the kitchen table for us to browse.
That’s how we ended up at the Maple Sugar Festival in Chatham last Saturday. Originally, my mom stumbled upon a listing in February for maple sugaring demonstrations at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, but a bit of online research revealed an entire afternoon’s worth of activities in March. Since Chatham is almost 45 minutes away, we decided to wait for the festival.
Attending an event all about collecting sap from trees and turning it into maple syrup falls under the category of “Things I’d Never Do If I Didn’t Have Kids.” However, since one of the Dr. Seuss stories we’ve been reading (over and over again) is about making maple syrup, we thought Levi would get a kick out of seeing the process in person.
And — hooray! — he did.
In fact, as we exited the festival, Levi turned to me and said, “Mommy, I had so much fun today!” Apparently (and thankfully), he had quickly forgotten his reluctance to make a maple leaf craft, his bashfulness during the tree tapping demo, and his near-breakdown when it was time to toss his mostly-eaten maple snow cone.
His favorite part, I think, besides sharing a maple sugar donut, was walking though the muddy trail (it rained the whole time we were there) and peeking inside the sap-collecting buckets hanging from maple trees. They were all empty, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
Plus, he was thrilled to have a reason to wear his red firefighter rain boots.
The Maple Sugar Festival was more interesting than I had anticipated, and I actually learned a few things about maple syrup. Curious?
Here are a few fun facts about maple sugaring:
- First of all, did you have any idea that New Jersey produces maple syrup? I didn’t — and I grew up here!
- Maple sugaring season takes place between February and March but only lasts about 4-6 weeks.
- For sap to flow, temperatures need to be below freezing at night and in the 40-50s during the day.
- Maple sap that comes out of the tree is clear and not very sweet. It’s actually mostly water and needs to be boiled at 219 degrees for the water to evaporate.
- It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
- The difference between Fancy, Grade A and Grade B maple syrup is not the quality but the color (and therefore the taste). Fancy, the lightest in color, has the most mild flavor, while Grade B, the darkest, has the strongest flavor.
PS: Another favorite kid-friendly activity that we do every year.
St. Patrick’s Day activity: A leprechaun gingerbread house
Back in December, my mom bought Levi a Chanukah-themed gingerbread house that he built and decorated with our help, meticulously gluing colorful candy balls to cookie walls with sticky sweet icing. Levi was so proud of his handiwork that he cried when we broke the house apart to taste it.
So when my mom spotted another gingerbread house on sale after the holidays, she picked it up for a rainy day activity. Or, as it turned out, a snow day activity.
Earlier this week, I ran to the supermarket for gingerbread house decorations. With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, I thought it’d be fun to make leprechaun house using an assortment of green and rainbow candy and gold foil chocolate coins.
I also thought we could use the occasion to talk to Levi about St. Patrick’s Day traditions like shamrocks and leprechauns. (“Leprechauns do magic? Like brushing your teeth for you?”)
To Levi’s disappointment (and Jordan’s relief), this particular house came pre-built. We let him spend about 30 minutes after school on two days decorating his house while finishing up his leftover milk from lunch (and sneaking bites of mint M&Ms). By the way, the new Munchkin Miracle cup that he takes to school is truly amazing. It doesn’t leak in his lunchbox or spill when he holds it upside down, plus now we don’t have to spend money on milk boxes.
The boys finished up the gingerbread house yesterday morning after we learned that Levi’s school was canceled for the 78th time this winter because of snow. We’d been storing the candy in our Love-a-Bowls (they have lids! genius!) so everything was still fresh. I’m not sure it really mattered, though, because I doubt Levi will let us chow down on this house. Not after his meltdown last time!
I’m actually surprised by how festive his little leprechaun house turned out. If you’re looking for a St. Patrick’s Day activity to do with your kids, it looks like Amazon is still selling a few gingerbread houses. Of course, you can always make gingerbread from scratch if you’re feeling ambitious. Has anybody ever baked homemade gingerbread? Is it terribly complicated?
We’ve had such fun building two gingerbread houses this winter that I’ll be stocking up on kits next December to use for future snow days. And can you believe that neither Jordan nor I had ever made one before? It’s true! So if you have any tips on building or decorating gingerbread houses, I’d love to hear them.
PS – It’s officially Shamrock Shake season! Here’s a copycat recipe you can make at home, perfect if you’re snowed in like we are!
This post was sponsored by Munchkin, one of our favorite brands, and all words and opinions are my own. Munchkin rids the world of the mundane by developing clever, innovative solutions that make family life safe, easier, and more fun. You can find their products at Munchkin.com, Target, Babie
s’R’Us, Walmart, and Amazon. It’s the little things!
Asa’s birth story (and newborn baby hospital pictures)
I can’t believe that my sweet Asa turned one last Thursday! I spent the morning of his birthday looking at photos we took in the hospital a year ago, flooding my mind with memories of his birth.
Although I posted a few newborn photos on the blog when I announced Asa’s name (it took us two days to decide!), I never actually shared his birth story. However, I alluded to the fact that something crazy happened that prevented me from having the epidural I wanted, so here’s the full story (minus most of the gory details) for those who are interested.
And if you’re not interested in a story about platelets and contractions and super-size babies, there are lots of adorable newborn baby hospital pictures for you to enjoy instead… READ MORE!