Showing posts with label Tips And How-To's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips And How-To's. Show all posts

My Tips For Taking Your Own Family Photos

(Photos in today's post are from last year - I haven't been able to bring myself to sort through yesterday's disastrous photo attempts yet!)


Photos play a huge part in memory-keeping for me.  As I mentioned before, I am not great at remembering the smaller events of my life, but if I have a photo, I am able to immediately remember details that would otherwise be lost to me.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I realized how critical photos would be for me in my memory-keeping.  My babies all have grown too fast, and I am so glad I made sure we got some really good photos together to mark the passing of each year.  

For really big events, like maternity or newborn pictures, I've always outsourced and got my amazing photographer and dear friend to do some photos for me!  But for regular, run-of-the-mill family photos, I usually do them myself.

(Proof that I can sometimes take a good family photo with the tripod!)

Despite yesterday's photo struggles, I usually am able to get some pretty good photos each year, and I thought I would give you my best tips for taking your own family photos - or basically just tell you how I manage it.  I am still really just an amateur, hobby photographer, so your mileage may vary with these suggestions, but this is how I take our family photos.

(If you want tips for taking photos of yourself with a tripod - I can't help you, ha!  That's one tripod skill I've never mastered.  If I'm the lone adult in the picture, then it's most likely one I had Derek take for me!)

What I use:

My DSLR (I have a Nikon D5200 and a 50mm f/1.5 lens)
A tripod (this one)
A remote shutter release (this one)
My iPhone 7+



1. Scout out a spot to take photos ahead of time.  

Every time I've taken photos that have gone smoothly, it's been because I found a spot I liked ahead of time and started putting the photo together in my head.  I think about where I'll put the tripod, how I'll arrange the family, where I'll run in to join, etc.  I try to think about light and shadows and whether morning or evening would be the best.  The couple hours right after sunrise or right before sunset are best, and try to stay out of direct or dappled sunlight!  Good lighting is everything.


2. Pack an emergency photo bag.  

I usually pack a bag with things like a blanket to sit on, extra memory cards and camera batteries, candy to keep the kids happy, hairbrush, makeup, extra diapers, etc.  I've been burned before when I didn't think things through, so I try to plan ahead for problems that might arise so I'm prepared.


3. Be meticulous about getting set up.  

When we arrive at the spot I've (hopefully) scouted out, I take a couple test shots first to make sure my settings are proper and the light is good (I didn't pay enough attention to this yesterday, hence why a lot of our photos are junk).  I get my camera and tripod set up and fidget with it until it's directed right where I want the family to stand, then I have my husband go stand where I want him.  My husband is usually my focus point, because he is the only one in the family I can trust to stand still!  I get the kids arranged around him, and keep in mind to leave a space for me to stand.  

Once everyone is arranged, I go back to my camera, set the focus point on my husband, and ask him not to move his head.  Then I switch the shutter setting to the remote, go over and rearrange children if necessary, stand in my spot, and start clicking with the remote!


4. Check the photos!  

I usually have to repeat this process a few times to make sure everyone is looking good in the actual photos and everything is in focus.  I'm always sorry later when I don't take breaks and double-check the photos in the back of my camera!  I've taken a whole group of photos before, only to realize later they were all out of focus.

5.  Take a lot of shots.  

Most likely most of the shots you take with a remote are going to be just okay, but if you take a ton, you are more likely to get one that might work.

6. Be a little silly.  

In the photos where everyone is smiling, it's usually because we all just got finished yelling "chocolate cake!".  Seriously, instead of telling my kids to say "cheese", I tell them to say other foods they like.  Usually there is more giggling and general enthusiasm that way, which translates well in photos!  This is my favorite strategy for when I'm trying to get a good shot of just the kids too.  My best trick is to be a goofball, balance a pinecone on my head and then let it fall off, throw some leaves, peek out from behind a tree and make a funny face...all with my camera at the ready to catch the laughs!  It helps that my kids are quick-laughers too.


7. Tell everyone to look at one person.  

I really like a good "candid" shot, so after we try a few smiling at the camera, I usually pick a person and tell everyone else to look at them!  It turns out well when everyone is looking at one of the parents, but you have to make sure you are not just smiling blankly at the camera.  Look at everyone else as they are looking at you, or laugh a little, and it turns into a great fake-candid shot!



8.  Try tickling someone.  

When we have a child (especially a baby or toddler) who is crying, we tickle that kid.  We could be really obvious about the tickling and get more of those fake-candid shots while the kid is being tickled, like I talked about above.  Or sometimes we are really subtle about the tickling, so it doesn't cause a ruckus but leads to some good smiles.  There is a blurry line between crying and laughing, especially in photos, and sometimes tickling is the best way to save the photo session!

9.  Take it slow, and bring candy.  

When a photo session is devolving, I try to let the kids have a break to explore a little.  Often if they have time to get some energy out, they are ready to try taking another photo.   I try to take a breaks too so that we can also enjoy the experience, instead of being stressed about getting the photos done!  (Note: It's best if you start earlier than you think you need to so time is allowed for this sort of thing before you lose the light - another mistake I made yesterday.)  This can also be a good time to get more casual shots, or wider-angle shots of your kids exploring nature (I use my iPhone for this - maybe someday I'll get a better lens for scenery shots).




I have also been known to break out the candy to improve moods.  This is not normal parenting...this is parenting while trying to take photos.  Normal rules surrounding bribery do not apply.

10.  Know when to let it go.  

As I shared yesterday, sometimes photos just don't work.  I've been known to break our family photo sessions up into two shorter attempts, because little kids only last so long before they are ready to be done.  I've tried before to persevere when I could tell everyone was losing focus, and it's never gone well.  If everyone is crying and miserable, it's better just to call it quits.  You can always try again another day.  

Or you can do what I'm doing this year, and resort to getting your photographer friend to help, ha!  Some stages are just hard (ex: when you have an almost two year old), and reinforcements may be in order.  But don't let a bad attempt make you think you can't take your own family photos - it happens.  Just try again another day.


Have you ever tried to take your own family photos?  How did it go?






Should You Visit Kennedy Space Center With Young Kids?



We almost didn't go to Kennedy Space Center on our trip to Florida.  This was a special (ie. expensive) trip for us, and we barely had enough budget to cover everything we wanted to do.  We considered skipping Cape Canaveral to save a little money, but I'm so glad we didn't!

I did not expect us all to enjoy Kennedy Space Center as much as we did, but my excitement spilled over onto Instagram, and I got a few questions about whether it is worth it to go with young kids.  My short answer is yes, depending on ages!  But I wanted to give a few more details on what we enjoyed about our visit there.

(Rockets in the rocket garden.)

1. I could tell they really want to inspire kids.

The first thing we did when we arrived was to get on the bus to visit the Saturn V rocket, which is the rocket that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins to the moon.  They played a video on the bus, and I could see right there that one of the goals of the Center is to inspire kids to be interested in space.  They showed interviews with kids, the video was really friendly, and they talked about an "astronaut in training" program for kids to give them an idea about what it's like to be a part of the space program.  I was inspired myself!

When we arrived at the Center, my kids were genuinely interested in seeing the rocket and the moon capsule.  It's honestly hard not to be interested in the rocket, because it is so huge!  You can't help but be impressed.  We also got to look at the moon capsule, and I explained a little bit about the thickness of the walls.  It was cool for them to see it and have that tucked away in their memories for when we learn about space in school this year.

They also had a show about the history of the moon landing, and once again, my kids were way more fascinated than I thought they would be!  It was a gripping show (there was alot of drama with the moon landing!), and you could see the goal of it was to not only inspire adults but kids too.  Afterward we exited into a room that showed artifacts from that period of space exploration, and my kids loved seeing the space suit with moon dust still on it!


(Outside the Kennedy Space Center.)


(The Saturn V rocket.  These pictures do not do it justice!)

 (We couldn't even get the whole circumference of the bottom of the rocket, it was so huge!)
(My girls, looking at the moon capsule.)

2.  There are many activities specifically for kids.

Aside from all the history at the Center, they also have alot of activities that are specifically for kids. After we visited the Saturn V, we came back and checked out the Atlantis exhibit.  We watched a short movie about the development of the space shuttle, and it was incredibly well done.  We exited from the movie right into into the room that holds the Atlantis space shuttle!  The whole production was really well done and inspiring, and on top of that the sheer size of the shuttle is absolutely amazing!

I was also surprised at how many activities they had for kids in this area specifically, but at the Center in general:

-They have fun green-screen photo booths where kids can pretend to be astronauts in a photo. 

-At The Kennedy Space Center they had a kids' play area.  

-At the Atlantis exhibit they had a very fun slide that coincided with the angle/curve the space shuttle uses to land  (you can watch the video on my Instagram highlights!).

-At Atlantis, they have a faux International Space Station tunnel play area for kids.  My kids did not want to leave!

-They have a shuttle launch simulator.  My biggest three (5 years old and up) were all able to go on the shuttle launch experience with me, and it was really cool!  They had a fun educational video to explain what was happening, and the simulator experience itself was fun and wild!

-They have "astronaut training simulators" for moving a robotic arm, docking a space shuttle, etc.

Keep in mind that this was only at the areas of Kennedy Space Center that were able to visit.  There are two or three other areas that we missed, including a section called "Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted", the new Mars rover vehicle, and various shows and IMAX movies that I think my kids would have also enjoyed.

 (My kids by the rocket that launches the space shuttle into space.  I couldn't even get a picture of the whole thing, it was massive!  That orange bit is the very bottom of the fuel tank.)
 (Derek under the space shuttle rockets.)

 (The space shuttle.  I can't even explain to you how huge it actually was!)

(My kids playing inside the International Space Section playplace!)

(A slide that simulated the angle the space shuttle uses on re-entry!)

3. I can't think of a better place to spark an interest in space and STEM topics.

As I said in my first point, I think there is an active effort to inspire an interest in space in children at the center.  NASA and companies that have an interest in space extortion know that they need bright young people to continue the effort to explore space, and they do everything they can to interest over kids in the program through their "astronauts in training" camps, and just fun exhibits.  If you want your kids to learn a little more about space, or if you want to share a love for space science and engineering, this is the place you need to go.

As far as ages, I think my big three really enjoyed it, so I would say 5 and up is a good age to shoot for.  My 3 year old liked the slide and space station play areas, but I don't think she understood as much of what was going on.  And obviously my 1 year old didn't either.

As an adult, I wouldn't classify myself as a space nerd.  I have developed a little bit of interest in the history of the space race over this past summer, and that's been the extent of my interest in space during my life.  However, by the time we left Cape Canaveral, I was seriously regretting not buying myself a NASA t-shirt, and I immediately downloaded more space-related books to read on my phone.  You do not have to try very hard to be inspired at this place.



(The kids in the rocket garden on the way out, holding the astronaut teddy bears we got them for a souvenir.  Those bears have gotten some good playtime since then!)

If I were to go again, I would absolutely spend a whole day there, instead of just half a day.  I was regretting that we didn't get to check out the Mars exhibits or other areas.  Overall, the Kennedy Space Center was a fun and relaxing visit for us, and my only regret is that we didn't have more time!  Maybe we'll just have to go again one year!

Have you been to the Kennedy Space Center, ever or recently?

They have added so much, and we loved it!

How We Homeschool On The Go

(Picture from our nature hike the other day.)

Today I had a dental appointment, and it got me thinking about homeschool on the go. 

Ideally we could be home every day until we finished our school work, but that is not always how it works our. Sometimes we need to schedule appointments or errands in the morning. For our family, this particularly complicates our homeschool day, because we live in a rural area and it typically takes us 30-45 minutes to get to town. Factoring in drive time, whenever we have a morning appointment we end up being out of the house for at least half the day.

However, that doesn’t mean the day needs to be a wash as far as school goes. When I was a homeschool student (4th grade through high school), I would just grab all my homeschool books and do my school work in the car. While its best to work at home, a nice thing about homeschooling is that you can do your work anywhere! For the younger grades, when kids are less independent, school on the go is a little trickier, but still doable. Here is how we make those days work.

1. Make it a light day.

I’ve come to accept that appointment days are going to end up being lighter days for our homeschool - and that’s okay. Homeschool days do not all have to look identical. If I know we’re going to be out and about, I’ll try to plan for a lighter day, and save more difficult subjects for another day. It all evens out by the end of the year.

2. Bring worksheets.

Before we leave I’ll look through our lessons for the day and see if there are any worksheets we can bring. Worksheets are one thing my kids can do independently!

3. Audio resources.

Because we live in a rural area, we usually have to drive 30-40 minutes to get wherever we’re going. Sometimes (if I'm thinking ahead), I'll see if I can find any audio that goes along with whatever we are studying in history or science, and we can listen to that in the car.  This might be the audio version of one of our read-aloud, historical dramatizations or stories, or even podcasts!  There are some great Adventure In Odyssey history stories that are free online, and a lot of fun educational kid podcasts if I take a minute to look before we leave!

4. Games on iPad.

I try to limit my kids' screen time when we are home, but when we are on the go, it's a great time to let them play with some educational apps.  These apps don't replace curriculum, but they can be fun for review or light learning on the go!  A couple that we've used are Teach Your Monster To Read (one-time cost) or ABC Mouse (monthly subscription for which we occasionally splurge).


5. Educational stops.

Because of where we live, a quick appointment can turn into a half-day event, so I try to consolidate trips and think of any educational places to stop while we are out and about.  If I know we will be going somewhere, I almost always squeeze in a library trip, which absolutely is included in school time.  I might turn the day into a mini field trip by stopping at a museum or historic park, or doing a nature hike on the way home.  You could even get a little creative and use somewhere like the grocery store for math practice (I have my oldest add up the prices for me while we shop).  There are all kinds of ways to incorporate learning opportunities and real-life experiences if you keep your eye out, especially for younger kids!




(Just a few more pictures from our nature hike.)

Homeschool moms (especially with non-independent kids), how do you get school work done while you are on the go?  Any other tips you want to add to mine?

How I'd Do Disney Differently With Five Young Kids


The story is out - our trip to Disney World was less than I had hoped it would be.  And honestly, my expectations were rather low in the first place.




(The photo opportunities were gold though!)

I've told a little bit of our experience on Instagram and in this post, but today I just wanted to share a few of the things I would do differently were we to visit Magic Kingdom again with young kids.  These "tips" are coming from a non-Disney person who does not like to plan excessively for trips, so these are basic suggestions in case you are like me and just want to keep your Disney experience relatively simple!  If you are not like me and like to plan your Disney trip within an inch of it's life, I'm hoping that some of you will comment your favorite in-depth Disney planning resources below!

Here are my very basic ideas on how I'd improve our Disney experience next time.

Skip Disney World And Just Get A Character To Come To Your Kids' Birthday Party

I kid, I kid.  Kind of.  But honestly, some of my kids' favorite moments of the Disney trip were when they got to meet the princesses.  They burst out laughing when Pooh Bear found a water puddle right in front of us and splashed in it.  I didn't expect my kids to love the characters so much, because they acted so shy, but it was definitely a highlight. If we went there again, I'd try to meet a couple more characters.  Or save the $750 it cost for us to all get in there, and just hire a character to come to their birthday.  Kidding!  Sort of.  It would be cheaper.




Have A Plan For Navigating The Crowds

A huge reason why we didn't enjoy Disney as much as I expected was the massive amount of people there.  Unfortunately that can't be helped.  However, I had not been to Disney, or anywhere with that many people, in so long that I did not really think through how we were going to get from one place to another with five small children, and only four hands between Derek and me.   We just walked together like we normally would, but I forgot how people cut in front and between groups when it is so crowded. We ended up briefly losing various kids THREE different times while we were there!  Losing my child once in their childhood would be quite enough for me, so feeling that panicky I-don't-know-where-my-kid-is feeling three times in one day was a little much.  If we went back, especially with so many kids, I'd make everyone hold onto backpack straps, shirt hems, or the stroller at all times when we are walking.





Figure Out The Fast Pass Thing Before We Go

As I've already established, I am not a planner.  When I go on vacation, I like to just show up and have fun.  I heard about Fast Passes, but I thought it was a special perk that you paid extra for.  When we bought our tickets, I found out that you actually get three free Fast Passes with each ticket.  However, since I had done zero research, I did not realize that you still have to go to a special Disney Kiosk and pick your Fast Pass time slots for specific rides, or that you could even do it online before you even show up.  By the time I figured this out, there were hardly any Fast Passes left for the day.  So if you want to make use of your free Fast Passes at all, I'd recommend reserving them before your trip, or at the very least at the beginning of the day when you visit Disney.  Unless you want to waste it on the teacups, which never have much of a line anyway.




Only Go On Rides We Could Do All Together 

We picked a pretty difficult age to bring our kids to Disney.  We only have one kid who could ride on the bigger rides by himself.  We had three kids who could ride, but they each needed an adult to ride with them because of their ages.  And of course we have one baby who can't ride the bigger rides at all.  If you are doing the math, that means we'd have to go through the line for each ride twice, while taking turns waiting and holding the baby, in order for everyone to get a turn.  We did this with one roller coaster, and getting everyone a turn, even with Fast Passes, took over an hour.  If I were to do it again, I'd just skip the big rides, except maybe a really special one that we didn't get to go on at all (ahem, Splash Mountain), and I'd just focus on all the rides we could all ride together.  There were plenty of them, and I think we all would have had more fun that way.




Focus On The Movie Themed Rides

Our favorite rides in the park were the really simple ones that basically take you through the stories of Disney movies.  We could all ride them together, and the kids (8 years old and younger) were at the best age to enjoy those rides.  We did a couple of them (Little Mermaid, and Winnie The Pooh), but there were a few we missed because we ran out of time.  If we went with the kids at this age again, I'd do all the movie themed rides first!




Leave During The Fireworks

We had grand plans to sneak over to Splash Mountain and try to ride it when everyone was leaving after the fireworks.  To which plan I can only now say...ha!  The line for Splash Mountain was still quite long, and we decided that we didn't want to keep the little ones up another hour while we waited.  So instead we rode the Magic Carpets, and then headed out of the park.  I expected we'd be back at the hotel in time for a late-night swim in the hotel pool, but...no.  We waited for over an hour just in the line to get out of the park.  There was a lot of complaining about sore feet, alot of asking how much longer, and a danger of developing claustrophobia.  And that was just me.  If we did this again with young kids, I'd probably try to beat the crowds to the ferry and leave while the fireworks were still going.  (Of course, I can say this because we ended up missing the fireworks anyway - that whole lost kid thing.)




---

Despite a few of the rough patches and lessons learned, I am really glad we did visit Disney!  I think the kids had fun overall, and it'll be fun for them to be able to talk with their little friends who have already visited Disney.  It is just naturally a fun thing to experience in childhood, and I'm glad we got that chance.  It wasn't all bad.  We made plenty of fun memories at Disney too, so I'm tacking on a few things I'm glad we did...

Using The App

The Disney World app tells you all the wait times for the rides, meeting the characters, etc.  I'm so glad we had that, because we were able to get on a few rides when the lines were shorter!

Packing Snacks And Eating At Casey's Corner

We got out of Disney World only spending about $50 on food.  I think that's pretty good for a family of seven!  We packed a ton of snacks in a backpack, and we snacked straight through lunch.  Then when they shut some of the rides down for rain in the evening, we took that opportunity for dinner.  We got two corn dog nugget meals for the kids to split, and Derek and I each got a hotdog.  I think we accidentally found the cheapest restaurant to eat at in Disney, and I'm glad we didn't have to spend an extra $100 on food like I thought we would!



Watching Movies Beforehand And Enjoying The Atmosphere 

Alot of you have seen every single Disney movie, but my poor kids have not.  Alot of them are too scary yet for my particular kids, and we are not as into Disney as alot of people are.  However, I did try to pull out a couple new Disney movies before we went, and I'm glad I did!  One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.  I bought the movie for our kids to watch on this trip, so when we visited the treehouse at Magic Kingdom my kids were fascinated!  It was also a slower area of the park - so many people are focused on the rides, but alot of the atmospheric elements were just as fun to us!






I don't think we'll be visiting Disney World again in the near future, just because of the distance and expense.  But if we did, I know what to do now!



Disney Experts, now is your chance!  Give me all your additional tips, especially for making the most of Disney with young kids!  

You never know, maybe we'll end up going back sooner than expected!

What I Learned In Our First (Real) Year Of Homeschooling




This past week we finished up our homeschool year.  I have to say, I was a homeschooled student, but coming from the mom side is a whole different thing.  There are a lot of advantages I have as a homeschool mom from being a homeschool student myself, but there are also a lot of things that you can't learn until you are on the teaching side of it.  I thought I'd take a little time today to reflect on what I've learned over this first year of homeschooling (first real year anyway - in my book, kindergarten doesn't count).


Homeschooling Is Great For Developing Patience

I would in no way consider myself a patient person.  Patience is something that I've struggled with over the years - I get impatient when things don't go smoothly, when I have to repeat myself, when things don't go my way.  Getting married cured me of some of that.  Having kids has grown me even more.  But having my kids with me 24/7 and teaching them myself at home is a whole other ball game when it comes to patience.

When I mention that I am homeschooling my kids, I've had lots of moms say to me "Oh, I wouldn't have the patience for that."  This year I learned that I don't have the patience for homeschooling either.  The secret is, a lot of moms who choose to homeschool don't have the patience for it.  But homeschooling is an excellent facilitator for sanctification.

I know you've heard it said that if you ask God for more patience, He'll give you opportunities to practice it, and that's exactly what homeschooling has done for me.  It hasn't always been pretty, and my deep-seated impatience has never been more obvious to me, but I can honestly say that at the end of this year that I am more patient then I was at the beginning of the year.  And that's purely through God enabling me and giving me practice at developing patience through this thing called homeschooling.  It's hard, but I know this is exactly why I should be doing it.

It's Okay To Change Curricula In The Middle Of The Year

I mentioned in a recent post that we ended up changing curricula in the middle of the year.  A lot of homeschool posts will advise you against switching your curriculum, will tell you to give it a really good chance before you drop it.  And there's some wisdom in that.  You obviously can't be switching curricula constantly - it would waste a lot of money and stunt your child's learning.  But this year I learned that when something just isn't working, you should find something else that will.  I'm so glad we didn't muddle through the whole year with the curriculum I had originally bought for reading - finding a curriculum that fit was so life-giving to our homeschool days!  Switching curricula mid-year does not mean you are a failure for starting with the wrong one.  When you are in the early homeschooling years with any kid, it's going to take a little trial and error to figure out what will work best with your unique blend of personalities.  I imagine we might have to switch curricula mid-year again at some point since I have five different kids with unique learning needs, and that's okay!

You Will Be Miserable If You Don't Learn To Stop Comparing

I remember seven years ago, as a brand-new mom, I struggled constantly with comparing my baby to all my friends' babies.  I doubted myself whenever another child started rolling over, walking, talking before my own baby.  Every new mom has to learn not to compare her baby to others, because every child learns and develops at their own pace.  I eventually became secure as a mom as I learned those things.  What I didn't expect was for all those insecurities to come roaring back as soon as my oldest hit school age.  This year I had to re-learn all over again that kids' learn and grow at their own pace, and that this will necessarily affect the way we homeschool.  While kids' need to be challenged to grow, there are also times when they are just not ready for a certain academic skill and you have to sit back and wait until they are.  Learning when to challenge your child with a new skill and when to wait a bit - and learning to stop comparing your child to other children - is part of becoming a good homeschool teacher.  



You Actually Can Have A Baby In The Middle Of A Homeschool Year

I have to admit, I was nervous about how having a new baby in the house would affect our homeschool year.  This is the first year we have had a legal requirement on the amount of days we needed to do school, and I was really worried that having a baby would make it hard to hit our target. But I learned that having a baby in the middle of a school year is not really a big deal.  The great part of homeschooling is that it is so flexible!

I tried to get ahead a bit by schooling a few days here and there over last summer, but we only accumulated 20 extra days.  When Georgie was born at the end of October, I took the entire months of November and December off, and we didn't do a single thing (aside from some field trips).  But we still finished up our school year before June!  Our school days after Georgie arrived were laid-back and simple - we did practically no school work in the mornings.  When the little ones were down for a nap in the afternoon, then we would work on our reading, language arts, and math.  When the younger ones got up, we'd read our history and science books together.

I was surprised and encouraged to see that homeschooling fit easily into our new life stage - and the key was letting our days be flexible.  I'm actually glad I didn't have to deal with getting my kids out the door in the morning and picking them up by a certain time every day, not to mention all the extra preparation for lunches and school events - it might actually be easier to have a baby without sending my kids' to a school building!

Learn To Love What Must Be Done

I am admittedly an academia-loving person.  I get excited by school supplies.  I love studying and learning new things myself.  I actually love the idea of teaching my kids history and science!  But there are some areas of being a homeschool teacher that I was not as excited about.  I've had multiple friends make comments to me too about not looking forward to homeschooling, not feeling excited or passionate about it.  However, through this first year of homeschooling I've learned that it is possible to learn to love what must be done.

I can't remember where I first heard this phrase, but it has become a constant refrain for me this year, as we pushed through our lessons on days when I was just not feeling it.  It's impossible to be passionate and excited about something all the time, and I think to be successful at homeschooling you have to realize that. You can push through and learn to love what you are doing anyway.

It's the difference between the newly-married, heart-pounding love, and the steady deeper love that you have when you've been married for years.  As the fresh excitement of the school year faded, and the seeming drudgery of daily work took over, I learned that there is a deeper satisfaction and passion that develops when you push through, as you find the meaningful in the midst of the everyday, as you learn to shake things up and give yourself a fresh perspective throughout the journey.

That's how you learn to love what must be done, by sticking with a commitment even when you don't feel a superficial excitement about it - there's a deeper accomplishment, and yes, even a love, that comes with the commitment.

Next year is my first year homeschooling two kids in two different grades, so the learning has just begun!  Stay tuned.

Homeschool friends, what was the biggest thing you learned in your first year of homeschooling?


How To Start A Casual Blog



A few people have asked me in recent months how to start a blog. 

As a result of the professional blogging spike in the past five years, you can find a ton of posts about how should start a blog if you want to be a professional about it. However, I don't know that everyone who has considered starting a blog necessarily wants to make blogging their profession. 

Some people just want to have a place to write about whatever they feel like writing. Some people want to document a specific journey or adventure on which they are embarking. Some people just want to give it a go and see if it sticks. 

Unfortunately, there's not that many posts out there anymore telling you how to start blogging casually. So I thought I would just write my own so that the next time someone asks me about starting a blog, I have a post ready to go with the bare minimum of what they need to know and do to get started.

1. Set up your blog page. 

Before you can start to write you need to have a place to write, so you need to choose a blogging platform. There are two approaches to this:

A.  Start as if your blog will earn you money one day. 

Many bloggers who have monetized their blogs will advise you to start right off the bat with WordPress.org and hire someone to build an amazing website for you. If you you want to start a blog with the intent of earning money with it, and you are fully committed to that and have a plan, listen to those people. I have many blog friends who recommend the resources on Just A Girl And Her Blog for a professional approach to starting a blog.

However, I am not going to tell you to do that.

B. Just start. 

Personally, I don't think there's any sense in investing a ton of money until you really figure out if blogging is for you. You may absolutely love blogging, or you may write for a couple months and decide it's not your thing. Especially if you are more interested in personal reasons for blogging (documenting your life, connecting with other people, having your own platform to just write), I would recommend that you start on Blogger.com.  I've been on Blogger since the beginning, and I am still happy with it. The interface is very intuitive (you can just start!), they have a great designing dashboard that is easy to use (you can make it look how you want it to look), and it's FREE! You can sign up with Blogger and set up a basic blog in about ten minutes, so go do that. I'll wait.

 A Note About Designing

If you want to fiddle around with the design template on Blogger you probably will figure out how to make it look the way you want it to look you all by yourself. You may also consider creating or commissioning a graphic designer for a header image, because that is the first impression of your blog page (nice, but not strictly necessary). You can also search on Etsy for blog templates; some sellers will even install it for you. This is the template designer I used when I wanted to update my template to be mobile-responsive (i.e. so my blog would adjust to screen on your phone), and I'd recommend her - she was very helpful!

2. Start writing.

The next thing you need to do to get going with your blog is just to write. 

The professional blogging community will also tell you to create several posts before you launch your site so that you have content already waiting for your potential readers. I don't think this is a bad idea at all.  When you have posts already published and ready to promote, it makes it look like you've been writing for more than a day.  This is nice, but I'd like to emphasize that it is in no way necessary.  It's more important to just start, so if pre-creating content is going to slow you down, I say just skip it.

Just go ahead and write whatever you want to for your first post and publish it. In the long run, what makes most bloggers successful is just writing, and being consistent about it. 

The more you write, the more you think of to write, and the more creative you force yourself to be, the more creativity comes to you. So just get started. Try to make a goal of writing x-amount of times per week.  If you stick to it for a while, you're going to come up with some good content, and it's going to get easier and easier to come up with good content.


3. Start reading blogs.

You may want to do this before you actually start creating your blog, but after you start writing I think it's especially helpful to read other blogs. There are two reasons for this.

A. To spark your own ideas. 

First, reading other blogs will often spark ideas for posts for your own blog. Seeing how other bloggers write will also give you a better idea of how to format posts on your blog, and the kind of feeling you want your blog and writing to have.

B. To become a reciprocal blogger.  

The second reason I recommend reading other blogs is not only to get ideas, but also to start creating your network. Blogging is way way more fun if you have people actually reading your blog and interacting with it, and a good way to encourage that is to become a reciprocal blogger - meaning you leave comments on other blogs, and return comments when you receive them on your blog. 

This used to be the norm in the blogging world, but unfortunately blogging has gotten a lot more self-focused over the last five years, with an emphasis on pageviews rather than relationships.  If you want to have a casual blog and make it fun, focus on building relationships. The good news is that I sense a shift back to building a sense of community among bloggers, and I hope this continues. 

If you are just starting out with a casual blog, I recommend commenting frequently and widely on blogs that look similar to yours, and I almost guarantee a few of those bloggers will end up coming back and reading your blog too.

4. Get your posts out there. 

By this I mean to go ahead and share your posts on social media.  In the blogging world today, commenting, while important for casual bloggers, is not as effective as it used to be in getting people to visit your blog.  You need a way to let people know that you have some new content.  There are several ways to do this:

A. Instagram.  

I highly recommend joining Instagram, even for a casual blog these days.  Not only will this help you get your blog out there to people who might be interested in reading what you have to say, the (sort of sad) truth is you will most likely get more responses to your content on Instagram than on your actual blog.  I've found it's almost easier to find blog friends this way, because it's so quick and easy to comment back!

B. Facebook. 

There are a few ways to use Facebook - you can create a page for your blog so you can share new content, or you can just share new content right on your personal Facebook if you don't mind everyone in your friend list potentially reading your blog. You may also consider joining a Facebook group for bloggers.  I don't use my blogging Facebook groups that much because they are typically geared more toward the business side of blogging, but sometimes they can be fun.  The Peony Project is a one for women bloggers. 

C. Linkups.  

A lot of people have great luck finding blog readers through participating in linkups.  A linkup is a collection of blog links surrounding a specific theme, and it is hosted on someone else's blog.  You would typically write a post that would fit with the theme of the linkup, and then go to the host blog and add your link.  If you are going to participate in a linkup to find blog friends/readers, do not just drop your link and run.  You have to comment on other people's posts too.  I don't do that many linkups, personally, but if you are interested I'd check A Joy Filled Life and/or Girl On The Move for their link party lists.


Frequently Asked Questions

What should I write about? 

There are typically two kinds of blogs out there: niche blogs, and lifestyle blogs.  Niche blogs are focused on one particular topic, such as cooking blogs, fashion blogs, homeschooling blogs, etc.  If you want to create a niche blog, I think it's important to really be focused and only write things that relate in some way to your topic.  My blog is not a niche blog.  I would classify it as a lifestyle or personal blog.  I just write about whatever in the world I feel like writing. You can make a blog work either way, you don't necessarily have to have a niche.  It's also totally okay to change your focus, especially when you are just blogging casually (which is what this post is all about) - you can try niche writing for a while, and if it doesn't work, change it up.

How do I get people to send me items to review? 

A lot of blogs, as they grow, can become a weird hybrid of a casual personal blog, and a money-making blog.  My blog might be a good example of this - I mostly write what I please, but I also accept products to review and sponsored posts occasionally - either for fun or to help my family.  Because of these occasional sponsored posts, I frequently have friends asking me how they can get free products or compensation through blogging.  

In order to get items to review or be offered compensation for writing a post, you have to build something of a readership first.  Companies want to make sure their investment of money or a product is going to yield some sort of return, so you just aren't going to get these kinds of offers until you start getting a certain amount of monthly pageviews.  Gaining pageviews does take a lot of work, and if this is going to be your focus from the start I would say you are probably not wanting to be a casual blogger - you are hoping to make money with your blog, so I'd check out more of the resources for professional blogging at the link near the top of this post.

How did you start getting sponsored content or products to review?

If you don't necessarily want to start with the goal of making money, but are just kind of curious on how that works, here's my story.  

I wrote on my blog consistently for several years, made blog friends, and generally just had fun with it.  I gained some like-minded followers.  Pinterest came out, and I had a moderate amount of success with some of my party-related posts, which afforded me even more regular pageviews.  Once my pageviews reached a certain level, I had companies occasionally contact me to see if I'd like to receive a product to review - of course I said yes (when it was something I would be interested in)!  Then I went through a brief phase when I decided to try to gain more sponsored post opportunities through sponsored content networks, and I had some success with that because I had a certain amount of pageviews and an audience that those companies were looking for.  

Product reviews and sponsored posts can be a lot of fun, but they only come once in a while, and I don't think they should be your only reason for blogging.  Most people aren't that interested in a blog that only puts out sponsored content and product reviews.  After trying to earn more money with my blog for a year or two there, I decided I was becoming exhausted with the whole thing and had more fun with blogging when I focused more on friendships with other bloggers, so I shifted back to a more casual/personal approach.  I still do occasional sponsored content, but I'm more particular and don't accept those posts as often anymore.

But what about your book reviews?

Okay, if you are wanting to know how to get books to review, that's a whole other ball game!  I love reviewing books on my blog, and I think it fits in nicely with a more casual approach to blogging.  Let me know if you are interested in more on that, and maybe I'll put together another post on how I receive free books in exchange for reviews!

Blog buddies, what do you think?  Would you add anything to this post for people who may be interested in starting to blog casually?


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