Quarterly Top 5 Photos of Wyatt

With my photography business booming, I realized that I haven't taken nearly as many photos of Wyatt this quarter.  Whoops.  He is probably a little relieved to get a break from my camera in his face, though.  Even still, he will always be my favorite subject!

Here are my favorite five since January.

This may be one of my alltime favorite photos, ever.  Days before his fifth birthday, I needed a quick invite, and this idea had been swimming in my mind for months.  It turned out exactly as planned!

Currently my computer wallpaper because it makes me burst into laughter every time I see it.  What luck that we got a red mustache from the vending machine! 

Another funny one.  He accompanied me on a photo shoot, and I was playing around while we were waiting on the birthday girl to change outfits.  This is sooooo Wyatt. 

I promise I take photos of him making sweet, normal faces, too, but I love all of the expressions he makes.  And he makes more funny faces than normal ones, so hey, can you blame me for loving these? 

Such a goober.  This one makes me chuckle.  The boy was going to town, acting like a total lunatic.  See that mammoth sticker on his chest?  He had just gotten two immunizations, and I think it made him extra loopy. 


Cake Batter Cookies

I'd like to apologize in advance for your future addiction to these cookies.  They're insanely delicious, and you can easily transform them into so many varieties, it's not even funny.  I got the original recipe from Jason's aunt Cember, and they've quickly become our little family's favorite.

Here's what you'll need:
1 stick butter, softened
1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

1 box cake mix (any flavor you choose! This time, I used Funfetti)
1/4-1/2 cup powdered sugar

Here's what you do:
1.  In a bowl, use a hand mixer to beat egg, cream cheese and butter until blended well.
2.  With a spoon, stir in cake mix.  Sometimes I've needed to hit it with the mixer to break up lumps, but don't overdo it.
3.  Refridgerate dough for about an hour, or until stiffened up a bit.
4.  Preheat oven to 350.
5.  Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll balls in bowl of powdered sugar to heavily coat.  Place sugared balls onto cookie sheet (I use parchment paper rather than grease).  Very slightly flatten balls with thumb or spoon...they spread out a tad when they bake.
6.  Bake for 12-14 minutes until they begin to set.
7.  Cool completely, then store covered in the fridge...if any survive the first few minutes out of the oven.
Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

The Funfetti ones seriously taste like raw cake batter...they are my absolute favorite!  Other variations include red velvet, carrot cake, chocolate, yellow cake...you name it!


Counting Change

You do not realize the everyday skills you take completely for granted until you have to teach someone else how to do them.  My Wyatt has no concept of money at five years old.  I mean, he gets that a penny is one cent, a nickel five, and so on, but that the coins can be added together to make a larger amount, not so much.  Thanks to garage sales and vending machines, he does understand that two quarters equal 50 cents, but that's as far as it goes.

After a little brainstorming, I came up with this concept for counting change.  On a plain ol' piece of paper, I wrote out the numbers 1-110 in sets of 10.  To pound into his head the values of each coin, we put a nickel on every fifth number, a dime on every tenth, and a quarter on every twenty-fifth...we skipped the monotonous task of a penny on every number because he thankfully understood the gist of it.

After we played that "game" for awhile, I chose small, random fistfuls of coins to add up.  We started with the largest value and worked down to the smallest, but it will work any which way you choose.  We counted out the 25 cents for the quarter and placed it on its spot.  From there, we counted 10 spots for each of the two dimes and placed them on their corresponding numbers.  Then we did the same for the nickel and pennies.  The final penny landed on 52, therefore we have 52 cents. 

I know this really works best for small quantities, but I think it reinforces the general idea so that the munchkin can get the hang of it before moving up to bigger numbers.  Hey, it worked for Pooky!


Monkey on the Loose!

The past couple of weeks have been pretty hectic.  Wyatt and I have been running all kinds of random errands and our days seem to be filled from dawn 'til dusk with activities.  Yesterday was no exception:  bible study, lunch, shopping for a birthday gift, doctor's office for immunizations, photo shoot at the park, and picking Daddy up from work. 

We arrived at the park about 20 minutes early, so I decided to use my little muse for my test shots while prepping for the photo session.  I don't know if it was the shots or what, but Wyatt was in a particularly hilarious state.  I seriously love this kid.

Note to my photog pals:  these are SOOC...I have plenty of editing on my plate today!

Here he is, taunting me by sending handfuls of sand down the slide.  Where I was standing, it was filling my shoes and sandblasting my shins as it exited the slide.  Ornery.

 His impersonation of a crab walking down the slide.  I am not making this stuff up.

One of the many, many tiny flowers he picked for me.  

 Taming a wild dolphin.

Scaling the giant slide.

I'm not sure I'm ready for him to look so grown up!  How is this my tiny baby?!  

His favorite:  the swings!

Easy Chicken Tacos

So, the other day we were running way behind...what a surprise...and as dinnertime neared, I realized that all of the meals I had planned for the week required at least an hour of prep + cooking/baking time.  No bueno. 

Being the resourceful nut that I am, and being way too hungry for a pb & j, I rummaged through our fridge and came up with this quick little dinner.  I know nothing about this is ground-breaking, but the hubby and I gobbled it up and decided that it would be added to the regular rotation, so I thought it was at least worth passing along!  Bonus:  it's low-carb (if you use low-carb tortillas)!

Olive oil
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 8-oz bag of pre-cooked fajita chicken striped, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 cup frozen corn (you can use more, but we needed to keep the carbs low)
*1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained (not pictured, but I would normally add them)
*Cilantro (I didnt' have any this day, but oooo, it would be yummy in this dish!)
1 tomato, diced
Salt & pepper
*Sour cream

* denotes optional ingredients

1.  In a skillet on medium heat, cook onions and peppers in olive oil (about a tbsp or so) until the onions start to get clear.  Add chicken, corn, and beans if you're using them.
2.  Once heated through, add cilantro, tomato, and about a tbsp of cumin...more or less to taste.  Also add any salt & pepper if you think it needs it.  Cook on medium heat until tomatoes start to fall apart.
3.  Spread sour cream onto center of tortilla, then scoop chicken mixture onto tortilla by heapful.  Enjoy!

Just a thought:  I imagine this would be delicious served over spanish rice.  Or wrapped up in a big ol' burrito flour tortilla with rice.  Or on a pizza crust with taco sauce as the sauce and fiesta cheese.  Oh my goodness.

I know this isn't the most appetizing of photos...and forgive the paper plate...it had been a long day. 
Trust me, they taste divine.


Piano Lessons

Over the past couple of years, Wyatt's friends have all joined T-ball and soccer teams...or gymnastics...or dance.  The hubby and I play golf, and while Wyatt happily accompanies us, he is more interested (and capable) of exploring the course for bits of nature than swinging a club.  I struggled to come up with something that could be "just his." 

Then, last Christmas, he received a toy keyboard as a gift.  The boy played with it incessantly, but not just by slapping the keys...he would sit very poised and oh so gingerly press each key deliberately.  Around that time, I noticed that he has an affinity for classical music as well.  I knew that my praise and worship pastor's wonderful wife teaches piano in her home, so the day after Wyatt's fifth birthday, I signed him up.

I don't have to ask him to practice...he asks me.  Sometimes I will be in another room and hear him practicing whichever version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" that he's been assigned for the week.  He loves the Italian vocabulary for all of the notes and styles.  I honestly couldn't be prouder of my Punkin.

Here are some photos from today's lesson:
Warming up

His cute little feet

Reading his lesson...under the piano.

Reading music!

Tutorial Tuesday: Silhouettes

Some things are just meant to be captured in silhouette, don't ya think?  My longtime, sweet friend Jessica's ample preggo belly is just one of those things!

I know it may not look like it in this shot, but the doorway was flooding in TONS of sunlight on that morning.  I used my 50mm 1.8 to take this shot.  I stood way back...about 15 feet away.
I set the aperture to 2.8, which probably was a bit too open, but I really wanted her to be very defined, and when I raised the f/stop any higher, the outside backdrop got too dark.
I set my ISO to 400, and my shutter speed to 1/3200....so that the exposure wasn't blown out too bright.  I literally fiddled with the settings for three or four shots until I got the formula just right...I'm sure there's a much better way to do this, but I think I finally got the results I wanted, even if I did do it the hard way.
To edit this shot, literally all I did was convert it to black and white...the painted yellow bricks of the porch, a flag, and the greenery distracted from her figure a bit much for me...and I cloned out a horizontal bar that was in the storm door. 

Lionel Richie's "Isn't she lovely?" comes to mind.  LOL!

Tutorial Tuesday


Cream of Chicken Soup...from scratch!

I wish I had thought to take a picture last night before we completely devoured the entire pot of soup, but necessity forced me to invent something for dinner last night.  You see, it's grocery-shopping time again, and I find myself procrastinating as usual.  Six months ago, I would've had a huge repertoire of one-pot dinners that I could throw together in a jiffy from the randomness in our pantry, but Jason's diabetes eliminates almost everything we used to eat because of the carb counts.

Thankfully, I always have a fridge full of produce, and I keep frozen chicken breasts on hand at all times.  Here's the recipe for the homemade cream of chicken soup that I came up with...I highly recommend it as it is unbelievably simple, and so delicious!

I can tell you it's very low carb, and you can reduce the fat by using low-fat sour cream (and less of it). 

1 tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breasts
1 onion, diced
1 tsp chicken seasoning (optional)
1 can chicken broth  (I also added two chicken buillon cubes for extra flavor)
1 cup water
3-4 ribs celery, sliced
2-3 carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 to 1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb sour cream
parsley (fresh or dried, to taste)
salt & pepper

1.  In a large skillet on medium heat, cook chicken in olive oil with onions until chicken is cooked through.  Season with chicken seasoning if desired.  Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks or shred.
2.  Meanwhile, in large pot over medium heat, add broth, water, celery, carrots, peas and garlic.  Bring to boil until veggies start to tender, then reduce to a simmer.  Add cooked, cut chicken and onions.
3.  Add sour cream and parsley.   Stir well to blend sour cream into broth.  Let simmer until heated through again.  Salt and pepper to taste.


Tutorial Tuesday: Dragan Effect

I have been eagerly anticipating this tutorial from Ramblings and Photographs which demonstrates how to create the Dragan effect on your photographs.  I don't know why, but I love the gritty, 3-dimensional quality of this effect SO MUCH, especially for portraits of rugged men.

My time has been stretched pretty thin lately, so please forgive the fact that I'm using an archived photo, and also that for my first attempt, I literally rushed through the editing process and didn't really fiddle around too much.  I literally just applied the suggested settings, and I know for certain that this photo's potential was not met, but hey, there's always tomorrow.

Here's the original.  My dear, sweet friend and neighbor, Clifford.  He truly is as soft and adorable as he seems in this portrait, but he is probably the hardest worker I know. 

 Here's my color edit.  I don't know that I love it in color...his skin still seems pretty ruddy even after desaturating.  But in any event, you can see much more definition and grit.  At the bottom of this post, I'll run through my adjusted steps I used to get here.

And here's my black and white.  I'm starting to think I should find a photo of someone who doesn't have such lovely skin.  This precious man is 82 years old, and I'm pretty sure I have more wrinkles.  Oooo, maybe I'll do a hideous self-portrait next!

So, here's what I did...basically following Ashley's steps, but tweaked slightly:

1.  Created a new layer and adjusted shadows/highlights.  Enhance>adjust lighting>shadows/highlights>sliders to 10% shadows, 40% highlights
2.  I didn't make my layer a Smart Object as suggested because, ironically, I was not smart enough to figure it out.  I think maybe PSE 9 doesn't give that option..?
3.  Performed an Unsharp Mask.  Enhance>unsharp mask.  60% with 2.0 radius and 0 threshold
4.  Created new layer to adjust colors.  Again, this step differed because I have PSE.  Enhance>Adjust color>hue/saturation.  For Cyan, I changed the drop down from "master" to "cyan" and adjusted to -45.  For Yellow, I changed the drop down to "yellow" and adjusted to -20.  I didn't have the option to preserve luminosity as far as I could tell...so I didn't.
5.  Next, I used a dodge/burn action that I have in a new layer to lighten the highlighted areas and darken the shadowed areas.
6.  Created new layer to adjust curves.  Enhance>adjust color>move highlights slider way up, midtones slightly up, and shadows way down.
7.  Create new adjustment layer for hue/saturation.  Desaturate big time.  Poor Clifford doesn't really have lips, or I would've brushed this layer off of them to keep them rosy.
8.  For the black and white, I just went to Enhance>convert to black and white> and adjusted the red/blue sliders.

Tutorial Tuesday