Silver Lining

January 17, 2017

the greatest surprise of my life

I'm a planner. Big decisions in our house are always thought out, discussed at length, usually a pro-con list is involved, and then my poor husband has to wait while I go back and forth about our choice a million times, and then I finally decide and we move forward.

Choosing to marry Sam was a decision that took forever to make (actually, Sam was 100% on board two weeks after we started dating, and it was me who needed much more time). Choosing to start a family was another choice that took months to make, and literally hundreds of late-night discussions and prayers and seeking guidance from people whose opinion we value most. Quitting teaching for now - same process. Choosing my husband's grad school program. Choosing to move our family to Arizona. To raise my husband's little brother for two and a half years. All these big choices in our life took months and months and months to decide.

Which is why I keep thinking about what happened a little over a year ago. The day we had the biggest surprise of our lives and learned we were having twins.

It's one of those moments I think I'll always remember. I knew I was pregnant - and had been SUPER sick. This pregnancy felt SO different (read: harder in every way) from my last, so I thought it must be a boy instead of a girl this time? I also started showing at 10 weeks, which in hindsight was another fairly obvious clue.

The ultrasound technician was just so casual when she broke the news at my first ultrasound. Within five seconds, when everything on the screen was still grainy and blurry and grey to me, she said in an offhand manner, "You're having twins."

I laughed at her. "No I'm not," I assured her.

One second passed in silence while I stared dumbly at the screen. Then another one. Then another one. Then my brain caught up.

"Are you serious?! I'm actually having twins??! There are two babies in there?!?!?!? You're serious?" This went on for at least 10 minutes. I was crying and laughing and half sure it was some sort of elaborate trick.

More of the same absolute disbelief and shock and happiness continued when Sam and I called and Skyped our parents that night with the big news. And then we were up until midnight thinking about how crazy our lives were about to be. And then we both ended up awake again at 3:30am, lying in bed thinking about it more.

Because twins? They were NEVER on the radar. Nobody in my family has twins. We weren't using fertility drugs that increase the chance of twins. I thought about having twins the same amount of times I thought about the quadratic equation or how often luxury cars should be serviced or political elections in Indonesia. NEVER! I never think about any of those things, and I never ever seriously considered having twins.

For a major planner like me, it was a big scary thing. An incredibly exciting and happy thing, and something we didn't take for granted, but a big and scary thing nonetheless. Nothing had been accounted for. It was not in the plan, and all the implications were new and scary and huge.

Everything changed.

We had to move. We really liked our two-bedroom apartment with the tall ceilings and the huge patio, but the thought of three small children on different sleep schedules sharing the same bedroom was just too much. So we moved to a place with a third bedroom.

We had to buy another car. We literally could not fit three carseats in the back of our Corolla (you should have seen us out in the 107-degree heat with three carseats trying all possible configurations though - it was a valiant effort), so we bought a van.

Sam changed his internship. He was looking at some really alluring out-of-state summer internships for his graduate program, but when we learned that we were having twins right in the middle of the summer (with insurance that only worked in-state) he dropped those leads and found a local internship instead.

And that's how the rest of my pregnancy went. It was a whirlwind of prepping everything, changing everything, and surviving modified bedrest. I couldn't wrap my mind around how to hold two infants at the same time, let alone how I was supposed to care for them (plus a toddler who would be barely two years old) while my husband was gone all day.

In short, a lot of time was spent stressing and planning for the worst and just trying to get through a terrible pregnancy. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed with love and excitement for the miraculous blessings that babies are, but to be quite honest my feelings were usually more practical, preparatory and pessimistic.

And then the twins came, and I got the biggest surprise of all.

I love it.

I love having twins.

Like, I really really love it.

I had forgotten how sweet the newborn smell is. I had forgotten how sweet the squishy, warm, cuddly newborn stage is. I had forgotten how much babies sleep when they're brand new.

Discovering the tiny, strong, amazing, different personalities that my twins had from day one was nothing short of amazing.

I also had so much more help than I had planned for, and that made all the difference. With my first, nobody ever came for more than an hour to help (we only had one child then and lived in the same state as our family so we saw them more often overall). With the twins, I had family staying with me around the clock and helping for the entire month of July, almost all of August, and a good chunk of September too. It was so fantastic. I got more sleep with newborn twins and a toddler than I ever had with my first simply because of all the great help I had.

It was also crazy how much more confident Sam and I felt as parents. We worried so much less about the tiny things. We already knew each other's parenting strengths and weaknesses and philosophies. Things like figuring out how to use a breast pump or how to bathe a tiny human with no muscle strength weren't huge deals because I had done it all before.

I had no postpartum depression this time around, and that right there has made the biggest difference of all in how I perceived and handled and felt about everything.

Was it still hard? YES. Very hard. Everything that's hard about having a baby is twice as hard when you have twins. Trying to plan our schedule around their naps (or else powering through naptime and dealing with two very fussy babies), trying to get a toddler to adjust to two babies who constantly need mom, trying to get the twins on the same schedule, trying to get one twin to sleep through it when the other twin fusses, and dealing with double the diapers and bottles and messes and spit up and sleep deprivation are all very real struggles.

But even so, even in the hardest of moments -- when all three children are crying, the floor is littered with spit-up rags, Sam won't be home for hours and hours, and I would sell my soul for one twenty-minute nap -- even then, I surprise myself with how much I love my twinners.

I can't imagine life without them. I can't even imagine them coming as singleton children, a few years apart. I can't imagine them not having their other half, their built-in best friend, their snuggle buddy, and the only constant they've ever known.

I love that they still hold hands all the time. I love that strangers are way more friendly and kind and talkative when you're out with twins. I love how different my twins are. I love that they balance each other out completely. I love that Claire has a brother and a sister. I love their tiny perfect little bodies and gummy grins and budding personalities.

So I guess the biggest surprises can also be the best ones. That or I should constantly brace myself for the worst so I'll be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better. ;)

Happy almost-six-months to my darling Lincoln and Addison. You are my greatest and happiest surprise.

January 13, 2017

The Memories Captured Project: 30-Second Editing for Beautiful Pictures

I am so excited to share this post today. I've been working on this new project for a long time, and I can't wait to tell you about it!

Two of the things I'm most passionate about are education and photography.

I was trying to think of a way I could combine these two passions when I started paying attention to the pictures I was seeing on Facebook. Lots of my friends are having children and posting pictures of their cute babies (and their cute fur babies too). It's a time when many people, who previously didn't really care about the quality of their pictures, start wanting a good snapshot or two to frame in their house and share with their friends.

And that's how the Memories Captured Project began.

I want to teach people to take beautiful at-home photos of their children.

I want to provide simple, practical tips that anyone can do to achieve authentic high-quality snapshots. This project has been in the works for months, and has taken lots of analyzing, research, late nights, early mornings, and prepping posts while bouncing a twin on my lap (even less effective than it sounds).

Do NOT keep reading if:

You have $8,000+ lying around to invest in a high-end camera and lens

You like the over-edited, unrealistically smoothed Photoshop style of professional portraits.

You want to devote 60 or 70 hours a week to taking and editing pictures of your children.

Keep reading if:

You want to take beautiful pictures of your children.

You want your snapshots to be a little more clear, bright & focused.

You want to capture the authentic moments and emotions of your crazy, wonderful, always-changing children.

Maybe it's your New Year's Resolution to learn to take better pictures. Maybe you have a new camera but aren't quite sure how to use it. Maybe you see other people's phone pictures and want to recreate the same quality and emotion from your own phone. Maybe you just need a current picture to fill that outdated frame on the mantel.

Whatever the reason, I'm so happy you're here, and I'm so excited to teach you practical, simple steps to improve your home photography. (Many of these posts will be child-focused, but lots will be about photography in general, so you can use them to improve your pet photos, food photos, and more!)

Let's kick things off with a simple how-to post. Up first: 30-Second Editing for Beautiful Pictures!

_____________________________



Here are the three easy edits I do with every single picture. They take a simple snapshot from 'meh' to 'wow!' in only 30 seconds.

1. CROP THE PICTURE SO ONLY THE IMPORTANT PARTS REMAIN

Take this example. I wanted lots of background to show a little toddler exploring a big world, but the sidewalk in the foreground that's covered with leaves? Distracting. And that big grey building in the upper right? Not doing anything for me. So I cropped that part out. Now, I still have the big background I wanted, but my crop is closer, more focused, and framed by pretty greenery on two sides.

If it doesn't add to your picture, crop it out.

Ask yourself, "What's important about this picture?" If the answer is your baby's cute face, 90% of the picture should be your baby's cute face, not the blanket they're lying on. If you're trying to capture grandma and grandson at his piano recital, does it make sense for the dessert table and three random people eating cookies to be in the picture? Figure out what's important and crop the rest out.

2. ADJUST BRIGHTNESS

99% of the time, this means make the picture more bright! It's amazing how a little extra brightness can totally change a photo. Slide the exposure (brightness) bar up very slowly until your picture is bright, but not blown out. My personal preference is that I like very bright, alllllmost overexposed pictures, so I slide that bar up until it's flirting with the line between bright and blown out. Play with the exposure bar until you find what works for you.

*A blown out picture = too bright and exposed. Light colored things such as light skin and white shirts start to glow white when a picture is too exposed.  If that happens, slide the exposure bar down until colors return to normal.

3. ADJUST SATURATION

This means make the colors pop in your picture. This is a tricky one, especially when you're photographing children, because it's easy to oversaturate and then realize your child's skin has turned the precise shade of a carrot. Slide the saturation bar up - just a bit - until the colors are bright and make a statement. Then double check the details again to make sure everything is the color it's supposed to be (again, check your child's skin, and make sure red and pink colors aren't overblown). You can also adjust the contrast at this point to help with the color balance.

And that's it! Three easy, quick edits I make to almost every single picture I post.

Crop
Exposure
Saturation


Best way to edit pictures on my computer?

You don't have to buy a fancy program to do a decent edit on a picture. There are a lot of awesome and free ways to do it.

At the very least, both Macs and PCs have a basic editing function built in to the computer. It can't do much, but if you just need a few simple edits you can use that.

I also love picmonkey.com and canva.com. Both sites have a paid option, but I just use the free versions and have been totally happy with them.

If you take and edit a ton of pictures (like I do!), you might want to invest in an editing program. I have both Photoshop Elements and Lightroom, but use Lightroom almost exclusively. Seriously, I love Lightroom. It's a bit of an investment, but SO easy to edit multiple pictures at a time and save your favorite presets and settings.

Best way to edit pictures on my phone?

More good news - there are lots of good options to edit phone snapshots right on your phone! Both Androids and iPhones have a photo editing function automatically built in. I kind of hate the Android version, but the iPhone version is okay. You can always use your built-in editor in a pinch if you need to - and it's free!

I used the Afterlight app to edit phone pictures for years, but recently switched to Photo Editor by Aviary and totally love it. It's free and does everything I need, plus there are fun built-in filters you can try. Other cheap and seriously awesome apps are Repix, Snapseed, and VSCO. It might be worth your time and one or two dollars to find a good editing app.

Thank you so much for joining me in this fun new project!
I have lots of ideas in the works 
(email lists! free downloads! ebooks! workshops!)
 but I'm starting simple with weekly posts like this one 
to help you take beautiful pictures of your children.
Same time next week? ;)

January 11, 2017

when Arizona babies get a white Christmas

I absolutely love the snow - for two weeks of the year, and when I don't have to stress about icy commutes or spend 15 minutes scraping my car windows in sub-zero temperatures, that is. Visiting my family for Christmas was such a treat because we got to experience how absolutely gorgeous snow is, and then escape to our sunny state just when shoveling the driveway became a daily chore. Talk about the best of both worlds!

It's also fun for my Arizona babies to experience such a drastically different climate. The twins are way too young to care, but Claire was in heaven.
 ^^Belly laughs all around when she figured out what a snowball fight was.


Matching cousins under the Christmas tree (thank you Aunt Kathy for their darling matching pajamas!)


And speaking of cute matching pajamas, a few more snapshots from a cozy winter night with everyone playing Jackbox games by the tree:

 ^^bubbles with grandma!

^^I love seeing my babies doted on all day every day.

When we do Christmas cookies, we really do Christmas cookies. It's a huge + crazy + fun process of making everything from scratch in one big marathon day, and then we eat ourselves sick and spend the next week finding people to give plates of cookies to. This year I totally copped out (read: had two sick twins) and only did the chocolate dipped cinnamon bears, but I'm still thinking about the Oreo cookies and the peppermint white chocolate bark.


Winter break, you were so good to us. We played, we ate way too much, we experienced snow, and we got to see both sides of the family. And then we came home and remembered how nice it is to not share your room with children. We can, like, cough in the middle of the night without living in mortal fear of waking the babies. It's nice. ;)

Same time next year? :)
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