07 September 2016

tip time: dressing your family for portraits you won't hate

Of all the things that can make getting family portraits stressful for people, ranking high on the list is coordinating everyone’s clothes. When I was little, it seems that all a mom had to do was stop in to Sears and pick up each kid what amounted to a fall version of an Easter outfit, and you were good to go. Dad wore a suit from his closet, and mom splurged on a nice new top. Done and done. Now it seems so much more complicated and mysterious, time consuming and expensive. Let me see if I can reassure, and maybe even help you.

Here are a few simple tips for dressing your family for portraits.

1. It’s okay to buy some new things, but don’t underestimate the power of a favorite. People look best when they are comfortable and confident. You probably know which of your clothes make you feel like a million bucks. It’s okay to build from there.

2. Dressing everyone like twinsies is the worst. Trust me on this one. Do not tell everyone to wear jeans and a plain white tee shirt. Just: no. Coordinating outfits makes sense- but matching everyone is not cool anymore.

3. You may hear people recommending you plan “pops of color”. That can be great. Also great? Neutrals. And- tons of colors. Don’t stress yourself out trying to force an elaborate color scheme. Just lay out what you have and take a look. Chances are, if the outfits look good next to each other on a bed, they are going to look good together in your pictures. As my son's baseball coach says when a kid can decide themselves whether to bunt or swing at a pitch, "You do you." Save yourself an extra therapy session, and decide now that your goal is not to impress a vague crowd of "other people" with your clothes.

4. Part of what sets great portrait looks apart can be summed up in two words. No, it’s not “Crew Cuts”. It’s LAYERS and ACCESSORIES. It doesn’t matter if your clothes are from Walmart or Anthro, if you layer t-shirts and button downs and a vest for boys and use tights and belts, cardigans and headbands for girls, you are getting somewhere. Maybe your boys would sooner die than wear a vest- that’s not the point- but if you are conscious about planning some layers and accessories you will be happier with how complete your look seems.

5. Someone once told me that it’s easier to start with the girls’ outfits, and once you have those, build the boys’ clothes off of that. And they were right. I’m not sure why that’s easier, but it has always been that way for me. So I’m passing that bit of wisdom on to you, in case it helps.

6. Fit. It’s gotta be there. Your little one swimming in a ginormous shirt that’s too big but you lovvvve it? You, wearing the pants that kiiiinda fit? You will regret both those moves. Remember, when people are comfortable and confident, that shows in their body language. Which definitely shows in pictures.

7. When wondering how formally to dress your people, go with what you like. Casual and sophisticated outfits both yield charming results. With one caveat, however. Do I need to say it? I know you will always treasure the memories of your little guy in his Lightning McQueen shirt and your princess twirling in the Frozen logo dress she asks to wear 5 days a week. So take a couple dozen snapshots tomorrow. Today you say no. Out-rank them, bribe them, what ever you have to do to get them into some timeless clothing for your professional portraits. You, and probably your in-laws, will thank you for it.

I hope this helps you as you plan for your portraits. Maybe I’ll write another blog post soon about how to get your kids to actually wear the clothes you have carefully selected, without everyone losing their chill. Are there other questions you have about getting your crew ready for pictures? Or do you have any funny experiences getting your family ready for pictures? Post them in the comments below. We’ve all been there and can use both laughs and wisdom.

All photos in this post found on www.awkwardfamilyphotos.com.

22 October 2015

embrace the camera

Messy hair? Don't care.

It's about to get emotional up in here. Listen, are you afraid to get in front of a camera? Are the only pics you have of yourself poorly lit duckface selfies or shots of your feet below a steaming latte? I want you to consider, for 60 hot seconds, what photo you want your family- especially kids, if you have them- to have of you years from now. And then make that photo happen. Whether it's you in your gardening gloves pulling weeds, or stirring your famous chili on the stove, or sitting in the sunshine with your favorite sunglasses on- think of what a treasure that picture will be someday to your people. 

What double chin?! #winning
I don't have it in front of me, but somewhere there is a rare photo of my mom from when I was little that I used to stare at for long moments. In it, she is about to leave on a date with my dad. Her hair is sleek and styled, she has on lipstick, and she’s wearing a fabulous red outfit. I must have been seven years old maybe?, putting this at 1982-ish. I can still see that picture in my mind, how relaxed and happy her smile was. When I was a teenager, I would marvel at how young she looked in the picture- and how much of myself I could see in her face. Needless to say, I love that pic.

Look!  I was there, in my own life! Also, Go Cubs.
Now, back to you and I. About a year ago, I read about an “embrace the camera” challenge. Since then, I try to at least take a phone selfie with the kids every once in a while. I want them to be able to see my smile and study my eyes and search for clues about who I was, one day when I’m gone. Even better would be to plan out a picture that captures some element of our life together- me cheering at a soccer game, or being cheesy dancing to music in the van at school pick-up- or the above ideas related to hobbies and favorites. Of course the best, the piece-de-resistance, would be not only getting a picture with myself in it, but printing it out so that my kids can easily access it. I may never reach that level of organization, follow-through, and comfort with seeing my face in print, but I can dream.  

Teaching my mom the art of the selfie.
Those of you who have lost a parent or someone else close to you, you get this. You’d give a lot to get a couple more pics of them from the past, and you wouldn’t give a rip about whether they had a beach body or glam hair.

At any rate, my encouragement to you today is to hand your hubby, friend, or kid some camera device and say cheese. Or pay a professional to get you a photo you feel good about.  You may regret it when you first glance at the picture and that mean voice in your head points out your one gray hair or your blah-blah number of extra pounds. But you just tell that voice where to go, and think instead of the voice of your family 15 years from now thanking you for embracing the camera, for them. 

A "real" camera can take a better quality picture, but the
best camera is always the one you have with you.

16 July 2015

i wanna start swinging

You know the list you have of the things your parents were right about? Like, for me- my dad was right that my red tights, red skirt, and red sweater from Benetton in eighth grade did make me look like a tomato. Well, I am finding out that God has been right all along, too. I mean, I have always agreed in my head that God is right, and that his ways are best. But after nodding along during sermons, I often turn around and live very differently from the truth I just affirmed.

I get paralyzed by perfectionism.  I suffered from that pressure long before Pinterest raised the bar.  So the gospel- the idea that God loves me BEFORE I am perfect, just-as-I-am, not for what I do but for who I am- that news frees me like nothing else. But sometimes I get stuck there, and miss a big chunk of God's plans for my joy. Like, I read Bible verses like, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters" (Colossians 3:23) and "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). And I don't see how that meshes in a live-it-out way with the gospel of freedom, so I kinda ignore those ideas. 

Well, at my mom group the other week, we were talking about whether Christians are called to excellence in different areas of their life. And during the discussion, an idea that had tickled my mind in the past took root. Like many Biblical concepts people mistake for burdens, God's call to excellence is a gift! I have told my kids (students in my classroom, and biological children both) that trying hard is a present to yourself. I've asked kids, can you imagine playing on a baseball team where no one is really trying? The pitches make it halfway to the plate? People shuffle instead of run? No one gets out because throws are lazy tosses, and half-hearted swings never make contact with the ball?  Everyone on the team would be bored and miserable.  It would be worse than trying hard and losing. I'm preaching to myself here when I repeat: it would be worse than trying hard and losing. It would be boring. It would suck the life out of the players and they would hate the game.  Well, that's how I approach my tasks as a wife and mom more often than I care to admit. I resent the pressure to be perfect, and I am aware that God's love does not depend on me dazzling the world with my skills. So, I shlep through my days halfheartedly. I do what I have to do, but don't push myself to do more.

What a recipe for depression and disillusionment!  Kids constantly in front of the TV, kitchen in a shambles, time wasted online. I have so much more fun on days when we swing for the stands (to keep the baseball metaphor going). Moving from a "have to" to a "get to" mindset has been a game changer.  God doesn't ask us for our best efforts because he is some school marm from 1853 with a ruler in His hand, ready to smack our knuckles when we fail! He is like Willy Wonka, with a twinkle in his eye, pulling back the curtain to a land of color and joy that comes when we go for it! 

Now this is long post, I know, but there is another part I can't detach from this. Effort takes energy, and trying hard to engage with my kids and keep up with my housework and also share life with my husband takes a lot out of me. I feel like I am pouring out for much of the day. But my half-hearted days don't leave me more energized either. Instead of wandering through my days on autopilot, which leaves me discouraged, if I run through my days as "on" as I can be, I reach a time where I must stop and truly rest.  The Bible, of course, calls it Sabbath. True life and true rest leaves me so much more satisfied than disengaged life, never truly off and never truly on. In a nutshell, I am learning that my best efforts at an excellent life paired with Sabbath leads to amazing peace and joy, whereas trying to muddle through with as little effort as possible leaves me drained, tired, and stuck. 

There is so much more I could say, about how a life of excellence (while still free from the pressure to be perfect) is what I want for my kids to know, so I'd better model it. About how our witness to the world as believers is so hurt when we muddle through life, detached and vaguely bored. About how God's rhythms are beautiful and life-giving, and we are silly to think they are only "rules" that we "must" follow. That this idea of laying your life down so you can find it, giving up our way of seeing things because God's is better- this works out to be true in how we eat, physical exercise, friendships, marriage, parenting, career dreams... 

Some of you have been operating this way for a long time. You "got this" long ago. Bless your heart. Be patient with those of us slow learners. At any rate, I'd better go. I need to go pick up my bat, get my eye on the ball, and start swinging. #rainyday #gameon #sendmorelegos

02 July 2015

hashtag summer

It is 9:30 am. I am huddled in front of my computer, reading the 4 free Jen Hatmaker essays that are bonus pieces from her new book coming out in April. I am also eating the crumbs at the bottom of a bag of Baked Ruffles.

The children are in the other room playing some game that involves a whacking sound that should make me nervous.  One of them is dressed in fresh clothes for the day.  One of them is in the same clothes they wore yesterday. One of them is in... a diaper.

Sesame Street is playing, ignored, in the background.

 Is this the best I can do?  I don't know. Give me a minute. After Jen Hatmaker makes me sigh and chuckle, I will get my act together and maybe we will craft something, and I will attempt to make sorting laundry seem like a cool game. #summer

29 June 2015

can i just say?

Tonight was my son's penultimate baseball game of the season. Side note: I have been waiting for a chance to use the word "penultimate" in a fitting circumstance since Ann Furlong taught it to me years ago in her first grade classroom.  No, I was not a first grader at the time.  I was a colleague.  Never underestimate the power of a primary grade teacher. And for those of you who, like me, did not learn that word in high school, it means, "second-to-last." You're welcome.

Anyhoo, I digress. At my son's games there is a concession stand. It sells the stuff that kids' dreams are made of.  Ring pops. Airheads. Walking tacos, and nachos with delectable unnatural cheese sauce. Something like the pixie sticks of my youth, but like ten times bigger and in a plastic straw. (Forget the internet and cell phones- what this generation should celebrate is never having your flavored sugar get stuck in a gooey mess on your disintegrating paper pixie stick straw!)  And my three year old loves the Icee Pops, and often asks if he can get one at the "confession stand" as he pronounces it.  It may be my favorite of his mispronunciations.  I purposely steer conversations around to get him to talk about the "confession stand" and its Icee Pops.  So cute.

As I chuckled about his confession stand faux pas, I got to thinking.  I need a confession stand.  Not in quite the same way as the confessionals of my Catholic upbringing (although, maybe that too. That's a topic for another time.)  More like- a safe place to gently let fly some of the vulnerable thoughts and feelings I've been having.  I mean I technically have those places- my marriage, my weekly mom "support group".  My friends, my parents.  But I am in a new place. We moved a couple months ago, to a new town. New church, new schools, new grocery store, new neighbors, new, new, new. And I have not been quite brave enough to say out loud to new or old friends:

Can I confess that I am afraid of repeating patterns from my past, that sabotaged my friendships?

Can I confess that I only got part way done organizing and unpacking, and I really don't want to do the rest of it?

Can I confess that some days this moving transition is embarrassingly easy, and others days it is really hard and lonely?

Can I confess that I have overdue library books already?

Can I confess that I fear that people are just being nice to me because I am new and they feel like they should?

Can I confess that I don't want to shop at Aldi even though everyone says it is cheaper and amazing, etc., because I am a creature of habit and ease, and I love Hy Vee?

Can I confess that in this season I keep getting mixed up feelings that God is more pleased with my clean kitchen than he is with my broken prayers?  So I keep the buzz of life turned up so loud that I forget how much I miss him, until when I do remember, it makes me cry? All this, even though I know that in my past I have gone through at least three Bible studies that cover the story of Mary and Martha in detail?

And lastly, can I confess that it's hard to be on the trapeze between places, between friends even, so that I have so many people who care about me and are nice to me, but no one I can talk to long enough to get to these deep places in conversation.  Where I can process out loud until I say my vulnerable thoughts, and hear theirs, and laugh and cry in the same conversation.  I. miss. that.

I could end this blog post with a neat little statement about how in the meantime, Jesus is my best friend anyway, and He will listen and He never fails.  Or I could say that it is growing my faith to go through lonely times. Or that he will answer my prayers for deeper friendships in His time (or he will, once I get around to praying them.) All these things are true, but those are not my take-aways tonight. Tonight I am just going to breath, and feel these yucky feelings. It has been a long stretch of being "fine" because I think I'm supposed to be.  And I don't think it makes God happy when we pretend to be fine, and find ways to numb our uncomfortable feelings.  (Hello, facebook, sugar, and caffeine!) So here I am, owning these "confessions." If faith is moving forward (and I believe it is) then I don't think I can move forward until I say aloud where I am.  I am hanging onto the bar of a trapeze- with one toe on the new platform.

Okay, one last confession.  I confess that I cannot imagine actually posting this on my blog. But I'm going to!  Take that, fear of vulnerability!

28 January 2015

compulsive much?

In the category of things that make me gently, forgivingly rueful about myself, is my recently noted addiction to Pinterest, directly related to our moving.  There is very little I can control about our move.  The only tangible thing I could control in the entire process is how clean our house was when it was time for showings... and I really don't get "into" cleaning anyway.  Now our house is sold, and that part is over.  Our closing date is penciled in on my calendar. Cue the "William Tell Overture" music as we now have more pressure to pick a house in our new town, and buy it.  And that isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

And this is, understandably, stressful.  Each time a house listed online seems like a possibility, there is a process I can't speed up.  We have to wait- wait to see the inside, wait to get an expert friend look at the roof, wait to get an estimate about renovation costs, wait to decide if the floor plan will work for us.  I have two ways of coping- first, staring at houses for ages on zillow.com in an ever widening circle around our future town, and secondly, trolling Pinterest for ideas on how to fix up and decorate a given housing candidate.  We looked at a house with an 4 season porch with dark wood paneling.  So I pinned ideas for painting paneling.
from Southern Living House Plans
We were hopeful about a Tudor revival English cottage style house, with garishly red painted trim.  So I pinned modern paint color palettes for Tudors.
from Country Living
When the inside of that house turned out to be a money pit fit for a sitcom episode, we heard about a possible ranch coming on the market.  Within a couple hours I was pinning pics of ways to improve the curb appeal of plain jane 1960s ranches.
found on Houzz.com
While these hours were fun, and gave the illusion of being (mildly) helpful, they were in fact a lovely distraction and a waste of time.

I am very conscious of the ways this move is stretching my faith.  I have had to ask myself some hard questions.  Do I really trust God with this move?  Can I let go of trying to control the details and timing of this?  Am I really listening, I mean, REALLY paying attention to what he is calling our family to invest in?  Can I wait for a while, not knowing everything in advance and not scrambling with regards to our next home?

Here are some things I know.  We will move.  We may buy a house in time, we may need to rent.  It could go smoothly; it could be a stressful transition.  But our problems are small in the grand scheme of things; any homelessness we face will be temporary.  We have loving friends on both ends of our move.  We have been supported and cheered on.  And I also know deep, deep down, in that almost wordless place inside, that we don't have money for Pinterest ideas anyways.  Praise God that he is so gentle and forgiving of my (sometimes) silly worries and preoccupations.  He keeps taking them out of my hands, so that they are free and open to receive the better plans He's had all along.  It may cause me stress to fill out mortgage paperwork and have nothing to put in the "forwarding address" blank (especially as a rule-following firstborn- I can't leave a question blank!) but whatever our address, we will be the same goofy people living out the same kingdom life Jesus called us to before I knew how to spell mortgage. And so maybe tomorrow I can spend more time in prayer, service, and friendship, than I spend on zillow.com and Pinterest.  A-men.

04 December 2014

deck the screens

For no particular reason other than the fact that I like to share, here are some of our family's favorite holiday youtube clips.  Some are funny, some may well draw a tear to your eye.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy them.

1. The Christmas story as told by precious children from New Zealand in funky costumes.

2. From Slugs & Blugs (which  makes the best music for kids) a song about a shepherd dad and his son on Christmas.

3. A look at modern shepherds in Bethlehem and what they understand of the story of Christmas.

4. Mariah Carey, the Roots, classroom instruments, and children.  And Christmas.  Yes, please.

5. Last but not least: Rend Collective's "You Are My Joy" Christmas video.

One more? Okay, here it is.  Kid Snippets takes kid's voices telling stories, and their adults lip sync to it. This particular one is the kids telling an old family story of a Christmas from when their parents were young.  I love the rambling way kids tell stories.  And the lip sync skills are prodigious.  

So what makes the cut for Christmas screen time, for your family?  We love the classics: the Grinch (animated, duh), Charlie Brown and his friends crooning at the sky, and this year we will introduce the kids to "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!" You? Any recommendations?