scaling back and suiting up. (sponsored by hallmark.)

It’s only been a week. I could have sworn she’s been out of school for at least three.”

Cody gave me a look of concern and we discussed ways to make it to August in one functioning family unit.

A lot has changed since last summer. I essentially work 20-30 hours a week, Vivi is mobile yet not quite ready to spend entire days in the pool or at the zoo, and Addie, well Addie is still used to being the center of attention. I’ve looked forward to May 31st for awhile now, knowing that June 1st would bring some new opportunities, fresh perspectives and a little bit more free time.  I’ve loved being busy and I’m so happy I was able to write myself through a bit of an emotional funk last month. Organization has never been my strong suit. I can imagine that if Addie were to ever write an autobiography it would have a chapter wholly dedicated to her mother who was capable of pulling off masterful surprises and spur of the moment adventures, but that planning was certainly not her strong suit.

And it’s not. I’m not a planner and I’m only beginning to figure out how to organize myself. If you were to give me more kids with hectic schedules I’d probably just fall into a weeping heap on the floor. I’m very good at spontaneous, I’ve rarely been good at responsible. However I’ve made it this far in life and I seem to be doing okay. Tomorrow my responsibilities drop by more than 40 articles a month. FORTY. I’ll still have plenty to keep me busy but I suspect the constant lump of “MUST BE WRITING” in my throat will dull to a whispery breeze. I want to spend days at the zoo and in the mist of splash parks. I want to take Vivi to the Children’s Museum and Addie to an outdoor concert. I knew I had to scale back everything I was doing to be present this summer. The past week only proved that I would have never made it out alive had I not learned how to say “too much, no more.

It’s funny how we can so easily forget what life was like before this happened or that ended. I don’t remember what it was like living in a crummy apartment on the Southwest side of Indy. I don’t remember what I did with all my spare time before I had that baby over there and I really don’t remember what I did with myself before I began working so much. Don’t even get me started on what I did when Addie was a baby, I must have been a wildly boring person.

I’ll put on swimsuits this summer and not criticize myself because I’m doing it for them.

I’ll layer and lather and go through sunscreen like we’re visiting the sun for them.

I’ll pack snacks, make lunches to-go and work in potty breaks for them.

I’ll get out of my comfort zone, leave my air conditioning and try something new for them.

I’ll put my phone down (and my camera, let’s be honest) so I can discover new things right along with them.

I’ll make play dates, lunch dates, movie dates and lady dates with each of them.

I will appreciate this summer than I have them, so little yet so grown up. I won’t wish it away or spend it telling them to go away. I’ll do my best to be present, teach them new things and enjoy their smallness while it lasts.

Oudoor WaterBed

(curious about what’s going on here? read here.)

And when I get overwhelmed and end up eating cheeseburgers alone in my car in an abandoned parking lot? I’ll know I’m doing my best, tomorrow is a new day and that they’ll love me no matter how many times I actually take them to the zoo.

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I’m so grateful to partner with Hallmark in 2012 on their “Life is a Special Occasion” campaign again and I thank them tremendously for their patience with me, supporting me in all that I do and for sponsoring this post.

dancing, andretti and the greatest specatacle in racing (again)

Last year I found out that my friend Heather had “attend the Indy 500″ on her 40 x 40 list. I remember looking at her and saying “I’ll get you there, I know people.” I have a feeling she dismissed my claim in her head thinking “Yeah, of course you’ll get me to the Indy 500.”

Oh I got her there alright.

Let me back up.

Early last week I got an email asking me if I’d like to get a group of friends together and take them to meet Mario Andretti at a local Macy’s on Friday night, they said they’d compensate me for my time in organizing everyone and give me money to take them out to dinner afterwards. I was just excited to be able to hang out with my friends, I never imagined it would end up as one of the craziest and coolest experiences of my life.

Eleven of us ended up meeting at Macy’s and as we waited in line to meet Mario, a dance off for four suite tickets to the Indy 500 on Sunday was announced.

This is where the fact that I have very little shame and a whole lot of experience with Dance Central comes in handy. I turned to Heather and said “When I win, you’re going with me.”

Not if, when.

Y’all, I danced like I have never danced in my life. I’m not even sure one could call what I was doing dancing, it was more like organized flailing using every body part I owned. I could barely breathe, as I saw the judges tapping out people one by one I knew I had to keep going, it was getting too close to the end.

I couldn’t see anyone or anything else around me, I was in the dance off zone. I thought I heard the word “WINNER!” but wasn’t about to risk slowing down and being tapped out, that’s when I looked at my friends and they were all shouting “YOU WON!”

Then this happened:

They handed me my four suite passes and said “PUT THEM IN YOUR PURSE, ZIP IT UP AND RUN.”

Y’all, I couldn’t breathe properly for about an hour.

Two minutes later I was up on a little stage with Mario Andretti and 10 of my most treasured people from the Internet, tickets in hand.

I wheezed a “Hello” and a “Thank you for meeting with us” to Mr. Andretti before I crawled off the stage to collapse again. I texted Cody “I just won four suite passes to the Indy 500″ to which he responded “Of course you did.

I took my friends out to dinner and felt really important when I did that fancy “Check please” wave to our server. When he asked “Will these all be separate?” I said “Nope, just on one please.” Took all I had not to throw a bunch of dollar bills in the air. We had a fantastic night, but the fun wasn’t over yet.

Early Sunday morning we set out with Heather and Cody’s friend Steve to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We parked at least two miles away but once we made it to those top bleachers and “Drivers to your cars!” was announced? I forgot all about the sweltering heat and ridiculous walk. The sound of an Indy Car is one of the greatest sounds in existence and it only gets better when they drop that green flag for the first time and they take off on their 200 lap race to the finish.

Our suite tickets allowed us access to the IZOD suite that was almost too chilly compared to the hottest race day ever out on the track. Putting our first world problems aside we drank water, watched the leader board change with almost every lap and filled up on tacos and peanut butter cups. I can see why people do this every year. I can even see why people sit out on metal bleachers for 3 hours to watch cars go around a track 200 times in direct sun (although my alabaster skin was wildly grateful for the shade and air conditioning.)

It took all I had not to pester the other people in the suite about how they had gotten their tickets. I’ll bet none of them danced to get in, that’s for sure.

It was a completely different experience than when I went in 2010, aside from Dario Franchitti winning again and the endless goosebumps I would get every time the cars drove past. I don’t think it matters how you experience the race, it just matters that you do. And you should. It’s indescribable and amazing.

Just like I said two years ago, “Go once, you’ll get it.

***************

Thanks to IZOD for letting me dance my brains out to win seats in their suite, thanks to Mario Andretti and Macy’s for letting me sweat all over both of them and a special thanks to Be Everywhere PR for allowing me this opportunity that turned into an absolute experience.

big babble, baby babble and my headline news mullet.

She's a very aggressive eater

Baby Babble:

  • Hey, want to see some cute baby pictures? Specifically of my baby? Well here you go! (See also: Gosh, I sure do like Instagram.)

Big Babble:

I’m basically a television mullet, business up top, party down below.

 

changing of the almost everything.

When I make Vivi and Addie’s beds I put a waterproof mattress cover on, a fitted sheet, then another waterproof mattress cover, and then another fitted sheet. That way if any bodily fluids go leak in the night I’m not stripping and making a tiny bed in the wee hours of the morning.

I kind of think that’s perhaps the most clever thing I do as a parent, perhaps the idea is all over Pinterest now or old news to everyone else, but when it finally dawned on me to do such a thing? I was pretty proud of myself, it has served me well on several different occasions. You’re very welcome if this is your first time hearing such advice.

We had missionaries over for dinner last night and in true Vivi fashion, she began swallowing her food like an alligator (whole.) She gagged a bit on a stewed tomato, I patted her on the back and she coughed it up. One missionary looked across the table at me wide eyed and asked “How do you not panic about stuff like that?” Cody said we still panic, but after awhile you know when to really panic, and when to just give your kid a firm smack on the back.

She's a very aggressive eater

As I fed Vivi lunch today I realized the only times I’ve really needed to panic as a parent is when there was lots of blood, a loss of consciousness or a hospital involved. Or when it goes quiet. You’d think after hundreds of years of evolution babies would figure out their parents are TOTALLY ON TO THEM when they go quiet. Quiet babies (unless asleep) are not to be trusted. There was a time I was absolutely sure I was going to be swaddling Addie into her teens and Vivi well into her 20′s. Just recently I fretted that Vivi would never be able to give up the bottle or manage to eat enough real food to keep her full and happy.

Not only is Vivi completely ‘meh‘ towards the existence of bottle and its milk contents, she eats more food than Addie, and possibly me, combined.

Addie’s last day of first grade is tomorrow and then we’re on our own for 10 weeks to take over the world, eat as much produce from the Farmer’s Market possible and spend as much time in cool water as needed. This year we get to take Vivi a long with us on all of our adventures, we’ve never had a sidekick before. Last year she was just too little and high maintenance to really enjoy anything summer had to offer and Addie and I are really excited to show this baby so many new things in the coming months. (Like tutus as headdresses!)

Learning to Walk

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

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As with the changing of the seasons, my responsibilities and obligations will be changing as well and I’m really excited about some new opportunities (this one!) and bummed about saying goodbye to others (Baby’s First Year (my baby’s too old!) and Babble Kids (I just can’t keep up!)) This post is sponsored by Disney Baby. I’ll be joining the Disney Baby blogging team next month (such a lovely group!), and look forward to sharing these kinds of stories and experiences with you here several more times over the next month before beginning over there full time at the end of June.

the chosen one.

bunny snooze

His fur is starting to mat in a few places, his ears are getting floppier, and he even has a few crusty bits.

He smells of sweaty baby, sleepy Vivi and freshly bathed mozzi. It’s magical.

Bunny has been inducted by Vivi as her lovey and there’s never been a luckier bunny in the entire world.

(baby babble) cloth, cranky, crying and chow.

Vivi

(It’s my last month on Baby’s First Year, sad right?)

the one about my marriage nearly ending

When my marriage almost ended two and half years ago, the fact that neither of us placed blame on the other or used our shortcomings as weapons to hurt the other in the aftermath was one of the greatest keys to our recovery.

We had both done things on our own to screw up our relationship and all of those things acted as wedges that pushed us farther and farther apart until we barely even recognized each other despite the fact that we slept in the same bed every night. We could go days without speaking to each other and being sent away for weeks at a time with Addie while he studied for finals seemed perfectly normal. Once we moved to Indiana I learned not to rely on him, school was his first priority and we had agreed to simply stick it out until the end, after all, it was only three years.

Addie and I did everything together. I don’t remember doing many things with Cody that didn’t involve mundane errands on Saturday or church on Sunday. The truth is he was gone all. the. time. so I pushed my way through the loneliness knowing that he was doing it for us and for our future, but I felt abandoned. “He was working hard for us. He was putting in his time now to give us a better future later. This is how he shows his love, he could be a complete deadbeat.” Is what I would tell myself.

I did everything for and with Addie. She was my entire world and I was hers for those three years. She never really expected her dad to be around which was good, because he wasn’t. Cody and Addie have always loved each other fiercely, but he missed out on a grand majority of her life because of school and work. It becomes more and more evident how much he missed as he sees Vivi grow and change.

I can tell it hurts parts of him he doesn’t want to talk about that he missed so much of Addie’s baby and childhood.

I took care of everything because that was my job. His job was to get good grades and get through school, I did everything in my power to make school as easy as possible for him. I wanted more kids, but more than anything I wanted a husband, my husband. I wanted him to notice me and everything I did, I did desperately seeking his approval. When it came to a point where I couldn’t get his attention I became more and more entrenched in the online world. I had friends that lived in the computer that understood me. They liked me. They said nice things to me. They said I looked pretty and they offered words of comfort and condolence when I was down. I was never alone as long as I had a computer and an Internet connection nearby. I began to ignore Cody more and more, our lives became even more distant from the marriage we had once had until finally I decided I could do just fine without him. If he wasn’t going to tell me the things I needed and wanted to hear, I was going to go out and find someone who would.

I had been alone for three years, alone was familiar, being ignored hurt.

He kept promising me that one day things would get better. After this semester, things will get better. After this year, things will get better. Once law review is over, things will get better. After I graduate, things will get better. Once I’m done with the bar, things will get better.

Things never got better, and I kept waiting for that magical day when things would, in fact, get better. We wasted three years of our lives together waiting on things to get better, they never did until I decided to leave. I had a plan. I had an escape route. I pulled him aside one Sunday and said “I’m leaving you.” I could tell it hit him from out of nowhere. He truly believed we were fine.

He didn’t get angry. He didn’t beg. He didn’t try to reason with me.

He saw that I had been beaten weary by the last three years of waiting and that I couldn’t stand to be alone and ignored anymore. I had every right to leave, he had every right to tell me to.

But he didn’t. He promised me that from that moment forward I would never go a day without knowing how much he loved me.

We spent much of the next three months in silent recovery. Both scared that one or the other of us would change our minds and leave. We talked about everything, about what a disappointment I must be to him that I couldn’t give him the big family he wanted. He talked about how that didn’t matter, that Addie and I mattered and that more kids wasn’t something I needed to worry about, we needed to worry about saving us and doing everything possible to make that happen.

We moved from our apartment into a hotel for a month as our home was being finished. We decided we’d hash it all out in the hotel, leave it all there and start new in our first home together. We got in a fight one night, shortly after moving in, or perhaps when I was pregnant. I realized that this isn’t  what we do or who we are. I can remember looking up at him screaming “WE DON’T DO THIS HERE! THIS HOME IS OUR SAFE PLACE! WE DON’T FIGHT HERE!” It ended then and we haven’t fought here (or anywhere) since.

I got my husband back in late 2009 and he got his wife back around the same time. We had made it. We had survived the horrible ugly that is the near end of a relationship built on love. We started over. Things are equal now. Things are discussed. Family comes first and as soon as Vivi came into our lives it’s as though she sealed all the cracks shut between the three of us who had been wandering through life without her for the last decade.

I have a good life. I have the best husband I could have ever asked for, I thought I was in love on June 16, 2001. But as I sit here today I am more in love with him and us together than I ever have been in my entire life. We are so good together. We still have our stumbles here and there, he’s learning to be the dad he wasn’t for the first 6 years and I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin and reveling in how far we’ve come.

If there’s someone or something worth fighting for, fight with all you have. Believe that you are worth fighting for as well. You deserve all the happiness life can give you despite the horrible pains and disappointments that will be handed to you along the way. Without the dark we wouldn’t have light. Without the bitter we wouldn’t have the sweet. Without pain we wouldn’t have the relief of eventually collapsing into love and finally, for the first time, feeling like we can catch our breath and be ourselves.

the epic one about buying cameras and lenses.

I think the one email/message/question I get the most that I don’t already have a post dedicated to is “WHAT KIND OF CAMERA SHOULD I GET!?” I’ve never written it because I’m still not entirely sure I know what I’m talking about and I’m certainly not the best photographer in the world, I just really like doing it and learning more about it every chance I get.

So after six years, here it is. What kind of camera you should get (according to me.) I add the according to me part because I am only fluent in Canon (I don’t speak a lick of Nikon) and because my mama raised me that you invest in equipment if you’re serious, which I am. Of course I can hand out advice for those who are not as serious, but know that I am a bit of a camera snob. I’m also a flip flop snob. I would rather get a pair of $40 Born flip flops that will be comfortable and last me for several years than a $1 pair from Old Navy that will give me shin splints and only last for one summer. (No offense Old Navy flip flops, I still like you for the gym and the pool!)

Super Bowl XLVI
by Shireen

Photography is not a cheap hobby if you really want to take it seriously. Expensive equipment won’t make you better, but learning how to use what you have properly and upgrading from there will help. Just like a super fancy stove won’t instantly make you a good cook, it can make cooking easier once you know how to cook. Make sense? I’m all about the analogies lately.

POINT AND SHOOTS

So you just need a camera that’s slightly better than your phone but not a huge investment? Deal, however my advice on this is kind of lame. I’m going to ask you to go to a store and mess with the three dozen different options. If you know what’s most important to you and you are able to go to a legit camera store, they’ll be able to help you with your decision. (Most important for me with a point and shoot is fast start up and having it actually take the picture right when I click the shutter. I also like a good macro (close up) setting.) Currently I use a $160 Kodak Easy Share that does well enough, in the past I’ve really liked Casios. I’ve found that with Canon point and shoots they attempt to make a little camera do too much. In my mind a point and shoot should do just that, point and shoot – leaving you with the best photo possible in whatever situation you happen to be in.

he's so patient with me

If you’re looking for something a little fancier but not quite ready for a DSLR I would suggest a Canon PowerShot SX20IS camera. Bigger than a point and shoot but smaller (and much cheaper) than a DLSR, these cameras have almost all the capabilities of a DSLR without the need to change lenses. My mother in law has one and I would own one if I could justify such a thing. It can take amazing macros, take good wide angles and has a really good zoom. The f/stop is a 2.8, which to get a DSLR lens an f/stop of 2.8 you’ll have to pay at least $1K (except for the 50mm.) At under $500 the Canon SX20IS will let you take really good photos (it has good ‘dummy buttons’ as my step mom calls them) and have the ability to control the settings when you’re ready to learn more, all without making a huge investment.

MICRO DSLR (Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Cameras)

These are kind of new. Maybe. They’re they size of point and shoots with interchangeable lenses. Some people like them, I am not one of them. The lenses can cost as much as DSLR lenses and don’t really have that great of range. The most popular is the Olympus PEN camera, I borrowed one for a month and was never satisfied with it. Very clunky and not nearly as convenient as it was marketed to be. That being said, some people really do love the things, if you’re interested see if you can borrow one first or make sure wherever you buy it from has a good return policy, just in case.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)

So you think you’re ready to make the jump into a DSLR? Good for you! Please remember I only speak Canon, so before you go taking my advice go to a reputable camera store and hold both a Canon and Nikon in your hands. Which one feels better to you? There are other brands of DSLRs available but for convenience, let’s just keep it to Canon and Nikon for now. Thankfully almost everything Canon has, Nikon has a comparable equivalent, I just don’t know the Nikon lingo.

Self Portrait Chicago '08

I need to work on fitting back into those jeans.

The most current and basic DSLR (at the time that I write this) is the Canon t3i, the body alone is around $600 depending on where you buy it. You can get kits that come with a kit lens and this is where my camera/flip flop snobbery comes in. Yes. The kit lens is only about $150 more, but it’s not going to take you very far and you’re going to get very frustrated with it if you intend on taking this photo thing seriously. If you do get better and someday want to upgrade that kit lens is going to be $15o of dead weight that you’ll never be able to unload. IF IT WERE ME, I would get just the t3i body and the 50mm f/1.4 ($370.) I would practice and practice and learn what I like THEN add another lens depending on what I wanted. Wider angle? More macro ability? Better zoom? I’d also rent or borrow the lens I was considering for a week before really making the leap (especially if it was a super expensive one.) I have a $500 zoom lens and a $1,700 wide angle zoom and I swear to you I use my 50mm 90% of the time. (I also wish I would have gotten the 15-35 f/2.8L instead of the 24-70 f/2.8L, FYI.) It’s worth it to save up for a few extra months to get something that will last that you really want.

The next level of Canon camera bodies are-

  • 60D – $899 (body only) Faster shutter speed and faster continuous shooting than t3i (the new 60Da has an infrared sensor…which is cool, but not really worth the extra $600 unless you dig infrared photography.)
  • 7D – $1,549 (body only) Faster shutter speed and faster continuous shooting than 60D
  • 5D – $3,499 (body only) Higher megapixels and full format (meaning it actually takes 4 x 6 photos rather than having to do an awkward crop.)

I had a 40D before which served me well for five years until I outgrew the ISO and bought a 7D in January. I could really care less about the video capabilities, but that seems to be the norm on most cameras these days.

LENSES

Kit lenses (the ones that come in the box or with a “kit” or “set” on Amazon or in the store) don’t bother with them if you can avoid it (see above.) I know this is the not possible for everyone starting out (what do you mean money doesn’t grow on trees?) but it is my advice to everyone. Just something to keep in mind.

Merry Shootsac Christmas, yo.
My 40D and 17-85 f/4-5.6 IS, the good ol’ days.

The smaller the number the more stuff you’ll be able to get in one frame. The bigger the number the farther it can/does/will zoom. The widest lens I have is 24mm. The longest one I have is 300mm. This post shows the focal lengths of Canon lenses. (See the red bands on all of her lenses? That means they’re L-series, which means they’re made of really good glass and that they’re really expensive. Here’s a post about L-Series lenses.) If you like shooting people, here’s a visual on using different focal lengths when shooting people.

Check out the difference between these two photos:

This one was taken with my 24-70, I was using an off camera flash (another thing for another day) but see how the bushes behind her aren’t very out of focus?

This one was taken with my 70-300, I was standing so far from her I had to practically yell at her to move the way I wanted her to, but see how much better the background blurred even though the f/stop is so much higher? Standing back and zooming in let me get a lovely blurred background without having to use a thousand dollar low f/stop lens. It’s a great way to “game” the lens you have to get the effect you want.

Before I had my 50mm f/1.4 I had a 50mm f/1.8 ($100) and before my 28-70mm f/2.8 I had a 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS ($599) and I’ve always had a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS ($450.) I miss the wide angle of my 17-85mm sometimes. The next lens I’d like to get is either a 60mm f/2.8 Macro ($429) or the 85mm f/1.2L  ($2,049) I feel as though I have all my basic bases covered with the lenses I do have, anything else would really just be a luxury. One lens is never going to do everything you could dream, want or desire, so you have to figure out what’s most important to you and how much you want to spend.

FLASH

You don’t need a really fancy flash. You just need something that shoots out light and can be set to a manual setting. I have the 430EXII ($279) which is probably a little more flash than I need but I bought it before I knew that more money doesn’t make a better flash. If you want to go off camera there’s several different ways to do it (I use a Pocket Wizard.) A lot of people poo poo flash which is what I used to do, but natural light isn’t always available or pretty so sometimes you’re going to have to use flash. Even though you may hate it, you may as well learn how to use a flash so you can use it right when the situation arises unless you have the power to control natural light which is something I certainly don’t have.

Dana
A flash used properly.

EXTRAS

I got a battery grip for my 7D ($58.95) and LOVE IT. It allows me to have 2 batteries to power my camera (had to purchase an extra battery separately, I just got a generic) and it gives me a second vertical shutter release. I’ve had to charge my camera three times since buying it (Including the very first charge.)

Macro adapter ($50) let’s me take macro photos with my 50mm. It’s not AS NICE as a real macro lens but it’s much easier to use than an extension tube and far cheaper.

(without)
50mm Without Macro Adapter
(with)
50mm w/ Macro Adapter

Lens filters. In case you missed it…THIS IS WHY WE USE LENS FILTERS.

tragedy. kind of.

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Holy crap that was a lot, and it took a really long time. I hope it helped you. If you still have more specific questions, please ask so I know what else you’d like for me to cover. If someone would like to translate this into Nikon, be my guest. xo (Also, all links to Amazon are affiliate so you can further fund my habit by enabling yours.)