Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Turn it on, turn it on again

I need more of this
I'm thinking of breaking up with Facebook, blogs and crafty message boards.  Not "I'd like to see other people, too" or even "I just want to be friends", more like "I never want to see you again."  It's making me complacent, lazy and tired.

It's so much easier to *read* about crafting while I veg in front of the computer than actually sit down in the craft room and work actively on a project.  I can pretend like I'm informed about current events and social injustices by reading links friends have shared on Facebook, without actually *doing* anything to right wrongs in the world, in whatever small way I might be able to help.

I can claim I'm "keeping in touch" with friends as I passively read their updates about new babies, parenting challenges and cool jobs, without actually seeing them in person, chatting with them on the phone or exchanging a detailed personal email.  Or (gasp!) a handwritten letter.

I'm starting to feel like Facebook is like an adult version of preschool, where a bunch of kids are all together in a room and learning how to interact with each other.  We're all shouting things out about ourselves, without really taking turns like you would in a one on one conversation, or just shutting up and listening quietly while someone tells their whole story.  It's loud and chaotic.  Everyone is only listening with half an ear, while they talk themselves.

Sure, I have made and strengthened friendships on Facebook as I've written before.  I've gotten some great parenting advice there.  But right now it's just overwhelming.  How many different articles do I need to read about the Boston bombers or gender inequality?  Do I really need 17 affirmations every day about how awesome I am, in fonts and colors that make my eyes hurt?

I'm starting to feel the same way about blogging. I do love reading posts that are useful to me, especially time management and parenting topics. But I'm finding myself in that same rut, where I'm desperately reading every new time management book or post I can get my hands on in an attempt to structure and control this new stay-home life I'm in.  

My new genre is apparently "mommy time management" books and blogs. And I know, they're probably meant for dads too, but most dads I know don't spend time reading about this stuff, they just jump in and do whatever they think is right.  I need more of that kind of action right now.

The irony of posting this on my personal blog is not lost on me.  How many people really need to see my scrapbook pages?  Or the photos I post on Instagram?  I can say proudly that we don't have TV in our house, but we have more than 12 Internet-enabled devices (seriously).  If I'm sitting in front of those all day, is that really any better?!

I'm saturated by all this media, social and otherwise.  I need to figure out my path through it.  I think for now it might involve turning a lot of it OFF. This is different from our "tech sabbath" where we did the "no screen" thing for 24 hours (and didn't quite make it).  This is more of a selective process, trying to decide what I need and want from the chaos. Email obviously will stay, since I'm job hunting.  But the rest of the "infotainment"? I think it has to go.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Project Life 2013: Big Outings and Pink Kits

I got my mojo back and finally felt like working on Project Life.  The nice thing about doing a layout every 2 weeks is that it allows me a little time and space to NOT work on it, without that nagging feeling of "getting behind". I'm not sure there's anything I hate more than guilt induced by crafty stuff that's supposed to be FUN.

I didn't have a strong color scheme or materials in mind for this layout, so I thought I'd let my April Citrus Twist kit guide me.  There was a lot of bright pink in it, and even though it didn't exactly match the colors in the photos I took, I charged ahead anyway.

Am I the only scrapbooker who doesn't care about matching photo colors to paper? I just think it makes it less fun that way.  Given how often T's jackets appear in photos, I'd always be using the same colors, and I'd get ridiculously bored.

We had some Big, scrapbook-worthy stuff in these couple of weeks.  I gathered up the kids and we went to the Tulip Festival, BabyM had her first solid food (avocado!), and we went to the Olympic Sculpture Park in downtown Seattle.  (Click for larger images.)

April 8-21: Tulip Festival, first solid food for BabyM
April 8-21: Sculpture Park, Starbucks demographics, Uwajimaya

April Project Life Studio Calico Calendar close-up

I keep my PL pages pretty flat and free of bulky embellishments so I can fit all the year's pages in one 3 ring binder. But when I finished this spread, I thought it looked *too* flat. Fortunately, there were some cute embellishments in the Citrus Twist kit to fix this problem - four little circle "gems" with patterns and bright pink floss. I like how they added just a bit of dimension and shine to the page.

My handy-dandy Tiny Attacher stapler is awesome for keeping the floss in place.  I still love those tiny staples.  I'm also in love with the crazy triangle stamp from a recent Studio Calico kit. I'm looking for excuses to use it everywhere.  It's especially cool stamped in metallic ink.

I'm still having challenges printing my photos from Lightroom so they're nice and bright.  I found a video from Scott Kelby that may help, so I'll hopefully get that sorted out before the next spread.

Here's a slide show of my 2013 pages, including close-ups.  If you can't see it, click here to view my entire 2013 Project Life gallery.

Project Life @ The Mom Creative

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Some nights I call it a draw

One of my challenges for nearly my entire adult life has been cooking and eating at home.  I love eating out, but more than that, it's *easy* to eat out and fairly cheap.  Not as cheap as cooking at home, but when you come home to a fridge with soy milk, ketchup, and one shriveled up apple, cooking at home isn't going to happen without a giant grocery run and by then I'm so hungry I'm going to eat the next person who looks at me sideways.

So the real problem for me has been planning. Not coincidentally, this is where I go off the rails with any healthy eating plan, too. The first week after a grocery run is great.  Then I run out of stuff and start eating dry cereal out of the box and the leftover chocolate chips, because all the healthy snacks are gone. You feelin' me?

Now that we've essentially cut our income in half, it's not prudent to just grab takeout, or hit up the Claim Jumper when the fridge is empty.  Also, we have a 6 month old, who has not yet mastered the concept of "restaurant behavior" since she's JUSTABABY.  So eating out is often a *stressful* exercise, and one parent usually ends up eating their meal quickly with one hand while holding a fussy baby.  NOFUN.

So, meal planning.  It's been one of my goals this year to master this skill that eludes me. Luckily I know my way around the kitchen. I love to cook.  But for me, cooking is a multi-hour, multi-course *project*, something I did for fun once a month or so on a weekend day with no other obligations.  Not the daily grind of getting a meal on the table.

I found SimpleMom's brilliant meal planning technique using Google Calendar.  She advocates planning 2 weeks of dinners at a time, then repeating them, so you have a month done at once.

I made this even easier by picking a "theme" for each day of the week, and made the "theme" an All-Day appointment, recurring, on the Google Calendar.  I'll change it up when we get tired of this rotation, but it's general enough that it'll be a while before that happens.

Monday = Breakfast for Dinner
Tuesday = Dinner Out (since T has dance class in the late afternoon)
Wednesday = Dinner in Asia
Thursday = Beef. It's What's for Dinner
Friday = Chicken.Chicken.Chicken (based on this brilliant paper)
Saturday = Dinner in MexicItaly
Sunday = Dinner with Friends 

Here's the process I use.  Maybe it'll help someone out in Internet-land who finds meal-planning incredibly annoying/hard/exhausting.  (Click for a larger view of the calendar.)

1. I do a quick check of the fridge, freezer and pantry to see if there's anything I'd like to use up - meat, veggies, etc.

2. I grab 2 cookbooks and find main dish recipes that use those items, matching them to one of the themes above.

3.  For 2 weeks, I fill in the main dishes and sides on the Google Calendar in an appointment at 5pm (which is when I have to start cooking).  Sides are *extremely* simple, like steamed veggies, cut fruit, a baked potato, etc. unless the main dish is heat-and-serve.  I also put down the cookbook and page number so I can find the recipes easily when I'm ready to cook.  Each "appointment" is repeated in 2 weeks on the same day.  At least once a week we eat something very easy to "cook", like a frozen or pre-made item from Trader Joe's.

4. On Saturdays, I look at the coming week and write up a grocery list for these meals (plus anything else we need for breakfast and lunch).  If this is a "repeat" week, I remove anything we didn't like the first time and replace it with something else (and repeat it in 2 weeks to make planning easier).  I also check for other evening commitments in case things need to be moved.  For example, when I have a dinner with friends, I feed T something simple before I go, and TJ can fend for himself.

5. I'm keeping a running list of the things that were easy to make and well-liked so I can build up our own list of what we like to eat regularly instead of always picking out new things. 

I started this a month ago with skepticism. I've gone down this OMGBRILLIANT path before and fizzled out. But seriously, this just worked.  We've followed the plan most days of the month, and have reduced the random items languishing in our freezer.  Most nights we are all eating the same thing (except for BabyM, of course), which is brilliant.  No more kid meal + adult-fend-for-yourself.  We're definitely spending less money eating out, and are more organized about our grocery shopping since I have an actual list.

We're luckily not in a position where I have to clip coupons or figure out what meat is on sale before I buy it, so I don't stress too much about what to choose.  I do try to avoid the $18/lb filet mignon at Whole Foods unless it's a special occasion. Since we don't buy a ton of processed foods and snacky items, spending a little more on meat doesn't affect the grocery bill much. 

The nice thing about this plan is that I can tackle health at the same time.  I've mostly eliminated simple starches from our dinners, though we do love our potatoes. (TJ and T are definitely not into sweet potatoes as a substitute, yet.)  We were already dairy-free, and now I can make sure we're getting enough vegetables in too.  

Another awesome result of this is reducing my mental load.  I don't have to make decisions each night about what to do for dinner, then throw up my hands and decide we should just go to Five Guys and get burgers.  Now I just look at the calendar, make sure we have everything we need, and get to work at 5pm, usually with my 3yo helper.  My routine-oriented self LOVES this part.

So now maybe I can earn one of my SAHM merit badges. :)  My next goal is to tackle lunch, as we don't have as many leftovers as I thought, and then I skip lunch and then THECRANKY.

What about you?  Do you plan meals ahead?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I ain't workin' here no more

Microsoft sign
Photo by JASELabs on Flickr
I sent out my "goodbye email" today at work.  I sent the email to about 75 people I've worked with over 10 years.  10 years! I can't believe that I'm even old enough to have worked somewhere for 10 years.  Sigh.   

It was emotionally harder than I thought, considering I haven't actually been AT work since mid-September.  I've been in limbo for so long with my job - maternity leave, my extended vacation/internal job search, and before that, the never-ending reorganization in my group.

But now it seems real and final, and the checks will stop coming. That's the scary part for me right now, even though I have some good leads on part-time consulting work.  I've been earning at least spending money since I was 15. I've been supporting myself since grad school in 1996 (with a few noteworthy exceptions when I got into some crazy credit card debt in college).

My identity is not tied up in my job. But I do love saying I work for Microsoft.  It's instantly recognizable (good or bad, you decide). It's got prestige. People dig Bill Gates.

I quit because I want more space in my life to do things - work a little, spend lots of unstructured time with the kids, craft a little (ok, a lot), keep our household running, exercise again.

So now I've got to work on my elevator/cocktail party speech. What is it that I do, exactly?  How do I avoid saying "I used to be..." or dismissing what I do - "I'm home with the kids, for now". 

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Project Life 2013: A Riot of Color

I don't usually comment on current events, but if you and/or yours were in Boston today, hope everyone is safe.

This Project Life layout was a bit uninspired. I was excited to have time and space to work on it, but couldn't settle on a color scheme. I was underwhelmed by the Kelly Purkey kit I bought for Project Life, and also not that thrilled with the April Studio Calico kit. Not a good month for new supplies, I guess. 

I knew I wanted to use the yellow "Springtime" card since we've finally had some decent weather! So I built the color scheme around it, which is not my favorite, but at least it's bright and fun. I used cards from the April SC kit, my new Jade Project Life kit, and the new Me and My Big Ideas line at Michael's, along with some of that fabulous American Crafts glitter tape.

I also used a lot of sequins, and after some experimentation, found that Scotch 2-way scrapbooking glue is the best for adhering individual ones, because it has a nice small tip on the bottle.

This isn't one of my favorite layouts - it just ended up being a bit too eclectic and not cohesive enough.  But with 52+ pages in the year, I can't expect to love all of them. Imperfection is acceptable, and what's important to me is that I have photos I love and wrote down the highlights of our weeks.

(Click each photo to see a bigger version.)

Mar 25 - Apr 7: Favorite restaurant, friends, activities ;)

Mar 25 - Apr 7: Food & sleep!

Glitter tape, sequins and SC kit cards, oh my!
One really cool thing I learned this week was how to use Lightroom to simplify my photo selection and printing process.  I used their 'Smart Collections' feature to filter on the date range for this spread, which quickly gave me the set of photos from which to choose.  I then used a color label to mark the ones I wanted to print, which made it easy to review my selections and swap things in/out.

I then used Lightroom itself to print (instead of the Canon EZ Print app), and taught myself how to save templates to get multiple photos on a page. Now I've got a few standard templates for my PL photos, which will really streamline the process for me. The only thing I haven't figured out is how to fix the fact that my photos print much darker from Lightroom than from the Canon app.  I'm sure it's some horribly complex issue about screen brightness and ICC color profiles, neither of which I care to understand in great depth.  I'll be searching online for a quick and easy solution.

And in good news, I've commandeered BabyM's bedroom to be my temporary craft room until we figure out a solution for the leak. Since she sleeps in our room and will until she's no longer eating at night, we've been using her room for miscellaneous storage and the occasional guest. I'm so excited to have a dedicated space again.

Here's a slide show of my 2013 pages, including close-ups.  If you can't see it, click here to view my entire 2013 Project Life gallery.

Project Life @ The Mom Creative

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shake it off

I am so tired.  All the time.  Not because I'm not getting enough sleep - nights are decent around here - the baby is (mostly) sleeping in her crib now, with a few wakings at night, but better than the all night nurse-fest we had going on a few weeks ago.

But this staying-at-home-with-2-kids thing?  Freakin' exhausting. Even on the good days. By the time everyone is in bed, which thankfully is no later than 7pm around here, I'M ready to turn in for the night.  My brain and my whole body is just DONE.

I've felt pretty crappy the past few days so I think I've got a virus or a cold threatening to break, or maybe it's just the crazy pollen thing going on here. I'm also getting NO exercise. T is on Spring Break, and even when she wasn't, it was mostly too rainy to walk, or we all just got up too damn late to take the 20 min walk to school. (It's less than a 2 minute drive, I think.)

I know, you just read 3 paragraphs about how tired I am. That wasn't much fun, was it?

T at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Oh Say Can You See?

On the bright side, we had An Outing on Wednesday. Since it's Spring Break, my Big Girl is home all day, which is lovely. So I suggested the Tulip Festival about an hour north of Seattle, and being game for most adventures, she readily agreed. I love that kind of enthusiasm - great for my ego. I'll have to store that up to get me through ages 13-17, I suppose.

Despite the crazy traffic and the ridiculously cold, windy, rainy weather, we had a good time.  T got her face painted with a remarkably detailed set of tulips, M napped in the car both ways (timed carefully by yours truly), and no one melted down during lunch at the yummy Skagit Brewery.

I also remembered to take the Big Camera and got some good shots of the girls, and even a few tulip shots, though the "nifty fifty" prime lens I use isn't great for sweeping landscape tulip field shots.

If I had thought about the outing too much before we left, I likely would have decided it was "too hard" to get everyone together and go by myself. So I didn't think, I just decided. And it worked out great.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Getting rid of the F word in kids' books

And now you're thinking, "what kind of books is she reading to her kids?!"

One of the common themes in kids' books is words that are opposites. We have at least 3 books that tackle this topic: Boynton's Opposites, the most excellent Hippo Opposites by Janik Coat, and parts of I'll Teach My Dog A Lot of Words by Frith.

In I'll Teach My Dog A Lot of Words, there's a comparison that bugs the crap out of me. Fat and Thin. The illustration is with animals and it's not making a value judgment, but it still bothers me. First, as anyone with a toddler or preschooler knows, they are way into classifying things in their environment.

They also have no filter, especially when in public. Like the time T pointed out "Mama, look at that brown baby eating a banana!" very loudly while we were in Trader Joe's.  Not offensive, of course, just a little uncomfortable when everyone can hear.

So back to the books. I don't really need "fat" in my preschooler's vocabulary. I can't think of one situation where it's ok to apply that word to a person and I sure as heck DO NOT want them using it to describe themselves.

There are plenty of other words to describe *things* that weigh a lot or look big - heavy, fluffy, large, etc.  Boynton and Coat both get it - they use heavy/light and show animals on a see-saw or in a hot air balloon/under water to illustrate this.

And no doubt, preschoolers raised on these books will likely find some other way to comment on people's size, like big or heavy, and they still need to learn that it's not appropriate to comment on strangers' appearances (unless directly giving them a compliment, of course).

But I think getting rid of "fat" would go a long way. Language matters.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Tuesday Lovin': Adobe Lightroom

Starting Project Life in 2012 changed my photography process significantly:

  • I took many more photos, deliberately, because I knew I needed stuff for the album
  • I went through those photos EVERY WEEK, because I need to print them
  • I used my phone camera a lot more, because it's handy. So I needed to coordinate two sources of photos - phone and the "big" camera.

Prior to Sept 2009, I only took photos at special occasions and on trips when I remembered to bring the camera. When T was born, I was excited to capture her rapid changes, so I ramped up, even remembering to get a photo of her on most days of her first year. 

In 2010 and 2011, I just dumped all those photos onto our hard drive. I went through some of them to make photo books for the grandparents, but still have loads of unprocessed photos from those years.

2012 and Project Life made me realize that my current process or "workflow" as fancy photographers call it, was really cumbersome. It worked, but it was a PAIN:

1. Dump photos from phone and camera into a folder called "import"
2. Sort those photos manually into folders based on subject matter - crafts, family/date, house, etc
3. Using the painfully slow Windows Photo Viewer, go through and delete unusable shots
4. Open the remaining photos in a photo editor like Photoscape or Adobe Photoshop Elements and go through each one to make edits: crop, adjust exposure/white balance, apply filters and actions as desired.
5. Save copies of the photos to their "final homes" on our server.
6. Upload those photos to our Smugmug site.

After several months of this, I was ready for a change.  Someone suggested that Adobe Lightroom might help. I was skeptical that another expensive software package was going to HELP matters, but bit the bullet during the Black Friday sale on Amazon.

I'm not a "click it and see what happens" kind of person, so I did a lot of reading online and watched some videos on the Adobe site to learn the software before using it.  (More on those resources in another post.)

At first it seemed overly complicated. But then I realized I don't need to use *all* the features of the software and I can grow into it over time. 

A few editing sessions later I fell in love, because it made my biweekly photo sorting process *much* easier and faster:

1. Dump photos from phone and DSLR memory card into monthly folder via Lightroom .(Settings saved so all I need to do is choose a different folder each month)
2. Quickly review imported photos and mark the rejects. One click deletes the rejects forever.
3. Crop and edit photos, still in Lightroom. Easily do more extensive editing in external programs, without leaving Lightroom.
4. With just a few clicks, save the final JPGs to our monthly/category folders *and* send to Smugmug *and* Facebook as desired, all at once.

Lightroom is really fast at displaying photos and moving to the next one. There are lots of options for flagging and marking images as you go through them, but I just mark the ones I'm not keeping because there's a beautiful menu option called "Delete Rejected Photos". 

It also can process multiple jobs at once, as in my Step 4 above - I can start all of those items and still work in Lightroom while those are being completed. Much faster than uploading at each site, or manually copying files to the hard drive.

The one thing I needed to get used to is that Lightroom doesn't actually edit the original files. It's a nondestructive editor, so it just saves those edits separately from the photos. If you want an edited version, you have to "export" a JPG file with those edits. But this way I don't shoot myself in the foot by irreversibly editing a file beyond repair. 

Lightroom is also superfantastic at cataloging large numbers of photos.  We have 16000+ and growing, and I haven't yet tackled the aspect of sorting through and categorizing all of them, but I know that Lightroom will be able to handle it, as many professional photographers use it for their hundreds of thousands of photos.

I'm making my way through Scott Kelby's excellent Lightroom 4 book (slowly).  I love that I can pick and choose what features I need, and slowly get better at processing photos and storing them in a way that makes sense for us.

So if you're serious about taking pictures and keeping them organized, even if you never intend to do it professionally, I highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom. You can get by without it, but it makes life so much easier.

I love, love, love it. (And no one is paying me to write this. Though if you buy something on Amazon after clicking through my links, I may get a few cents to spend on chai.)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Project Life 2013: It Ain't Easy Being Green

I am inspired by color. On the too-rare occasions when I get a pedicure, I always have a strong feeling for what color I want, and it's all over the board. It depends on my mood and the season.

This also happens when I'm making beaded jewelry - I nearly always have an idea for color combinations first, and then I search through my bead stash to make it happen. This is why I sort my beads by color. I also sort all my paper scraps and embellishments by color for the same reason.

For my last Project Life layout, I took inspiration from a few bright green and white cards I got in the Studio Calico Project Life grab bags I bought a few weeks ago. It was perfect for the 2 week period encompassing St. Patrick's Day, even though we didn't really celebrate it. TJ and I tried to remember what we did that day, and all we came up with was "we wore green" and "we ate out somewhere". Sometimes I'm not so good at documenting these things.

What I also love about this layout is that I mixed super-old and new products. The "THIS WEEK", "LUCKY", "this is my beautiful life", speech bubbles, and "FAVORITE" cards and the white letter stickers are from recent Studio Calico Project Life kits. But the photorealistic grass paper, which matches the color scheme perfectly, is ancient in scrapbook years - mid 2000s? So are the kelly green number stickers on the calendar and hello card, and the vinyl bracket border on the week card.

Mar 11-24: Mostly @ home, daily routine stuff

Mar 11-24: Daddy Day at preschool, dinner with friends, deep thoughts

The calendar thingy.
I'm still working at our kitchen table, since the hole in my craft room ceiling is still open, which means I've got limited embellishments to use - some sequins, wood veneers, Thickers, miscellaneous stickers and die cuts. The upside is that my layouts are coming together faster without the decision paralysis of having a whole roomful of stuff from which to choose.

Here's a slide show of my 2013 pages, including close-ups.  If you can't see it, click here to view my entire 2013 Project Life gallery.

Project Life @ The Mom Creative

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