Silver Lining

May 31, 2016

Beat the Heat: Fun and Free Indoor Toddler Destinations

Here in Arizona, summer time is hibernation time! When it gets above 100 or 105, my will to spend hours outdoors at parks and zoos totally disappears. I'll do anything for an indoor toddler play date!

Even if you don't live somewhere as warm as I do, chances are you'll have days where you just don't want to lather sun screen on all the kids, bring a million water bottles, and spend the entire day on a stifling playground while your children burn their skin on the slides.

Here are my favorite free, indoor, fun toddler destinations! Grab a mom friend and her kiddos and head to one of these indoor locations for a day of air-conditioned toddler fun.

I've yet to find a city library that doesn't have a fun toddler program. Whether it's story time, singing time, or puppet time, there's always something fun happening, and it's always free. And even if there's not a class currently being taught, it's fun for toddlers to hang out in the kids corner with all the books, toys, kids computers, and beanbags. Most libraries have a summer reading program to keep your older children engaged as well.

Shopping Centers
Load up the kids and take them to the mall! Let's face it: some mall play areas are really sketchy, but some are great. They're always free, and sometimes all you need is 30 minutes of your kids running around screaming in an approved run-around-and-scream location. Extra points if you sip a nice cold drink while you watch them get their energy out.

Free Days at Music Centers and Gymnasiums
Almost all music and gymnastics venues will offer free classes or free days to try and get you interested in their programs. Google what's in your area and take advantage! I've taken my toddler to a few of these, and it's fun to watch her explore something new and different. It's also a great way to get a feel for good classes you may want to invest in when your toddler gets a little older.

Local Sports Games
No matter the time of year, you're not going to get into professional sports games for free. But I'm always surprised at how many previews, practices, scrimmages or high-school level matches are indoors and open to the general public. Who cares how good the team is? Your sports-loving toddler will be enthralled (and younger toddlers will just love playing in all the empty seats). And if nap time arrives halfway through, you can leave early without the pressure of getting your money's worth.

Recreation Centers
The rec center in my old city was fantastic, and well worth paying $350/year for a family pass. The one in my current city isn't worth a membership to us, but there are still fun things to do there for free. Whether it's free swim days, a big indoor playground, or a free kids sports day, look up what your city has to offer.

I'm always surprised by the number of lesser-known museums that have really great kids sections. There's a free city museum in my neighborhood that is pretty blah overall, but the toddler play place is gigantic and super fun. In fact, we paid to get into a children's museum last weekend, and my toddler didn't like it nearly as much as she loves the little free one down the street. Ask around with other parents in your area to find the free museums with great kids corners. If you have your heart set on a designated children's museum, look online for free days.

What am I missing?
Favorite indoor toddler destinations?
I'd love to hear yours (+ I might even add it to this list!)

May 27, 2016

the long distance thing

The other day, I came across a blog post that was talking about husbands. The post asked, "What's your favorite thing to see your husband do?" At first, I wondered if it was in bad taste to answer "the dishes." What can I say, I love a clean kitchen, and I love it when I'm not the one who cleans it. ;)

Then I thought about the past few weeks. Sam and I spent them apart, doing the long distance thing. I was in Utah, house sitting and baby sitting, and he was here starting his new internship. (Did I mention he got a good internship after the last one fell through at the last minute? Hooray!) I gained a new level of appreciation for couples who regularly do long distance. It's hard! And not for the faint of heart! And here we were separated for only a few weeks, with regular access to FaceTime and phone calls and texts.

During the time we were apart, I missed a lot of things about Sam. But you know what I might have missed most? The belly laugh Claire was doing within three minutes of being back with her daddy. I mean, my toddler is a generally happy person, and she definitely laughed a lot while she was in Utah with me. But she has this huge deep belly laugh, and there's only one person in the world who can make her do it: her daddy.

I often look up to Sam because he's so great at making parenting decisions without questioning whether he's doing the right thing or not. He just has this knack for knowing when Claire needs to be thrown in the air for a good belly laugh, when she needs to calm down and have a quiet snuggle with him, and when she needs a little bit of firm parenting.

Is it any wonder Claire runs out to the porch every morning when Sam leaves for work? She climbs up on her little chair so her eyes can barely peek over the balcony and she can say a second goodbye to daddy. Their love, and watching him be a dad, is such a wonder to me.

Basically this video sums up their relationship (and isn't that such a sweet clip? I've watched it several times already). I can't wait to watch my husband be a dad to the twins as well. He's such a natural father, and I love him for it.

^^I customized this picture here. If you're looking for a cute overlay for all those Father's Day Instagram posts coming up, this site has a lot of options!
Thank you to Johnson’s® for sponsoring today's #LittleWonders post. As a blogger, it's a dream come true when your favorite brands develop a partnership with you, and we've been using Johnson’s® products for a long time around here. If you have a second to connect with Johnson’s® social channels, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

So now I'm curious. For all my married friends:
What are your favorite things to see your husband do?
And what's the best thing about watching your husband become a dad?

May 24, 2016

Food Photography Lighting 101

When it comes to food photography, there's a lot to learn (and a lot I'm still learning!). There are lighting techniques, camera settings, and food styling guidelines. Today I wanted to talk about the first of those: the best type of lighting for food or other "still life" photography. These are guidelines I use every day to get bright, crisp, clear images with lots of white light.

These pictures were taken by myself for the amazing Fearless Confections. All credit for these mouthwatering desserts goes to her!

1. Find the brightest spot in the house

Seriously, spend a day figuring out when and where you get the best light in your house. Is it in the morning on the back porch? In the evening in the kids room? I use these two examples because 99% of my food photography happens in the morning on the back porch, or in the evening in my daughter's nursery. I almost never photograph in the actual kitchen because it doesn't get enough natural light. You're looking for lots and lots of sunlight, and that beautiful glow.

2. Work that indirect sunlight

You do NOT want direct sunlight or harsh shadows on your food photography pics. If sunlight is flooding a room, set up your photography station just barely out of reach of the direct light. Or, place it right next to a bright, large window when no direct sunlight is coming in. North- and south- facing windows are great for this.

3. Soften the light

If you have direct sunlight, diffuse it by hanging a semi-sheer white curtain or a white bed sheet from the window. If you want to get fancy, you can buy a scrim, which does the same thing. Anything that turns direct sunlight into soft white light will do the trick.

4. Use white backdrops and backgrounds

I have several cheap white posters that I use for the backdrops and backgrounds a lot. I also love my white faux-marble backdrop (tutorial here) and use it all the time. If you have a brightly-colored wall, you'll want to cover it with something white so the color of the wall doesn't reflect onto your food. Plus, these white posters will bounce more light onto your subject.

5. Turn off the lights and close the flash!

Once I took an entire set of pictures, and then discovered they all had a gross yellow tinge. Why? I forgot to turn off the overhead lights. You want all your light to be coming from the window, which provides a pure white light, and not from the manufactured bulb above your head. And I promise you do NOT want your flash on! Flashes create harsh shadows and uneven lighting. Unless you're going for a very specific type of artistic food photography, keep that flash off.

You may also like: 5 Shots to Take When Photographing Absolutely Anything

And there you have it! I'm planning on posting soon about the best camera settings for food photography, and maybe a post about food styling as well. What would you add? Anything that I'm missing? Favorite tips and tricks for great food photography lighting?
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