Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Problem with Kids Today...

Last year I discussed with my photo class the FOMO culture they don't even know they're an active part of, and how it's messing with their happiness.

We talked about how when their friends go on vacation, they jump on Facebook/Instagram/Whathaveyou post amazing photos of sunsets on the beach, but they don't post the huge fight they got into with their mom about how slow the hotel wifi connection, which is why stormed out of the room and ended up on the beach at sunset in the first place.

We talked about how when their friends post super hot new photos of themselves online, they don't post the 100's of other photos they sifted through, edited and cropped before they got to that one.

I was pleased to find that the majority of my classes "got it," even if just for a few minutes.

I share that classroom with the other photo teacher, a professional photographer, who, later in life, decided to become a teacher.  He's flown all over the world and taken portraits of all types of famous people, from Vera Wang to former President George W. Bush.  When the kids get on his nerves, he'll often rant about how they're part of the "Barney Generation" where they were/are repeatedly told by society, their families, and the media about how unique, and special they are.  No wonder they have such a sense of entitlement! he yells.

A third co-worker of mine sent me a link to this article by Tim Urban, and while it made me laugh out loud, it also really made me think about the kids I teach.

If you have a few minutes, give it a read.  I'm debating making the article a homework assignment for my kids, but would they "get it"?  I think kids today have a pretty big problem, and this article hits the nail on the head.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What I Learned about Newborn Photography

I love taking photos, and I love babies, so naturally, when a family member or friend has a baby, the first thing I want to do is get over there and stick my camera in its face.

When my nephew was born in July of '13, I got to try newborn photography for the very first time.  For these shots I was going on whatever I'd learned bout photography from my high school and college days- basic lighting techniques and posing rules.  I hadn't researched 'newborn photography' specifically, and even though the pictures came out okay, I think it's pretty obvious I was a newbie at this:

When Indy's best buddy and his wife had their beautiful little girl last week, they asked me about taking photos for them.  Of course I was super excited to do it, but this time I did my research.  I pinned about 50 different photos/websites on pinterest and watched a ton of videos on youtube. Turns out there is a whole secret (or, not so secret) society of amateur baby photographers out there, and they have amazing tips and tricks for the nervous newbie newborn photographer. (Say that 5x fast!)

Even though I felt much more prepared for this shoot than last one, I was still a little nervous.  This baby was only a week old, and I wasn't related to her, so I felt a little less confident about moving her around and changing up my scenes.  And even though these good (non-artsy) friends of ours would be happy with anything I got out of the shoot, I really wanted to do my best- not just for them, but for me!  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and have it be better than last time.

We did everything right- the room was warm, the set-up was baby-safe and ready to go, the baby was being fed as we arrived so she'd sleep soundly and allow me to pose her however I wanted, but she didn't sleep.  In fact, she never slept.  She wasn't a diva by any means- never cried once- but she wouldn't shut her eyes!  The big thing I kept reading about shooting newborns is that you wanted to do it within the first 20 days of their birth, because when they sleep, they become little Gumby dolls and you can pretty much do whatever you want with them. But not this one.

So we rolled with the punches, and even though I brought a few thousand dollars worth of photo equipment I borrowed from school (backdrops, poles, rods, stands, lenses, cameras, etc.) the majority of shots I got were of the baby and her mom on the couch by the window, as mom tirelessly tried to lull her baby to sleep.

I did the best I could with what I had, and here are a few of the best shots I ended up with:

Some of these photos look like she's sleeping, but she'd just blink for a good, long 10 seconds, then snap her eyes open as if to say, "GOTCHA!"

I think I shot over 500 photos and ended up with about 15-20 workable ones.  While they aren't what I was hoping for, I'm still glad we got a few nice ones.  What's great is the parents were over-the-moon! I think the mix of them not being art-people (they'r engineers) and the fact that all parents love any photo of their newborn baby worked in my favor, for sure. 

So, here is what I learned about Newborn Photography the second time around:

1. Have a plan, but be prepared for that plan to go out the window.

I'd put hours of research and planning into this shoot, but ultimately, the baby runs the show, and the best you can do is keep your cool, go with the flow, and work with what you've got.

2. Take every opportunity to shoot.

The majority of the photos that worked out from this session were the ones taken when the mother rocked the baby in an effort to get her to sleep.  She wasn't in the fancy set-up I'd prepared, but on their couch.  With a few small tweaks (asking Mom to scoot over so the window was on her right, and cleaning up the immediate area a little bit) I was able to still get some really nice photos of both Mom and the baby.  If I'd only shot when she was in my fancy set-up, I'd have maybe 5 to work with.

3. A little Photoshop goes a long way.

A lot of the newborn photos I'd seen online were heavily photoshopped with all kinds of layers and effects and composites.  If you can do all of that right, they look amazing, but it takes a lot of practice to do all of that right.  I relied on what I knew- adjusting brightness and contrast, adjusting levels and color balance, working with a few gradients and lighting effects, but that's about it.  The fanciest thing I did was look up a way to brighten the baby's eyes, which I learned from this super simple tutorial.  Here's a before and after so you can see what a difference it makes:



4. Practice makes perfect!

In order to get better at this, I just need to keep doing it!  I need my sister and all my friends to keep having adorably smushy-faced babies that I can take pictures of!

And of course, this morning I wake up to this text from the Mom:

"Now she's ready to be posed- little stinker!"

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salem &The Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball

Halloween is Indy's favorite holiday.  If you ask him, it's the only "real" holiday.  Forget Thanksgiving, forget Christmas, you could even forget his own birthday- he would give all of them up for Halloween.

Six years ago, back before we were even living together, Indy and I took a weekend trip up to Salem, Massachusetts.  But it wasn't just any weekend, it was the weekend of Halloween!  We explored all the narrow, cobble stone roads, visited the many Witch and Wax museums, went on walking tours, even shopped a bit in stores owned by modern-day practicing witches!  On Halloween night the streets filled with all sorts of crazy characters- costumed and non-costumed alike.  I've never been to Mardi Gras, but from what I've heard, this was pretty close.  We didn't partake in much of the partying, but just observing was crazy enough.  The streets were overflowing (as were the glasses) and the music was played loud and long into the night. Salem was one of our favorite local trips, and ever since we left, we've been looking for a reason to go back.

In what has become a year of celebration of Indy getting his teaching job, we decided that Salem had to happen this year!

As Halloween is on a week day (this coming Friday), and Salem is a good 4 and a half hour drive from where we live and, we opted to visit Salem the weekend before Halloween.  When we visited six years ago on Halloween, the place was pretty crowded- so we figured the weekend before Halloween would be less hectic.

We were way wrong.

We left on Friday afternoon, a bit later than anticipated due to some cat drama (not ours, our friends...don't worry, all the kitties are good now) and we decided to drive straight into Salem.  We found parking relatively easy and grabbed dinner no problem- but it was near 11PM.  Everyone was in bed.

The next day we slept in and planned to be in Salem to see the sights by 11.  We left at 10:30AM from our hotel and didn't find a parking spot until 1PM!  The traffic was killer, and parking was incredibly hard to find.  In a lot of was Salem is laid out much like Philly- small, one-way, cobbles stone roads with hundreds of pedestrians everywhere you turn.  We did totally luck out though!  All of the lots and parking garages near the center of town were jam-packed, but we drove just a tiny bit past the center of town (like, three blocks) and crossed the Congress Street bridge to pay $20 for all day parking at the Shetland Self Park Storage facility.  Even better, we planned on leaving town around 5 to go back to the hotel, rest up a bit, and get dressed for the party, then return to town and fight for another parking spot, we explained this to the ticket guy at Shetland, and he signed our ticket so that we could use the same space later in the day!  He totally could've been a total jerk about it and told us, "Too bad, no re-entry!" but he didn't!  Score for us! (And for you- use our trick and save yourself the money/frustration of finding a spot in the town center!)

Unfortunately we did't plan very well and due to the overwhelming crowds spent most of our afternoon in Salem milling around.  It was beautiful out, though so we were happy to just explore the town and talk about how great it was just to be there.  The energy was crazy!

We paid a quick visit to the Salem Wax Museum, because the friends we were with had never been there.  Honestly, it's just okay.  The Salem Witch Museum (also a wax museum) is much more informative/entertaining/worth the money, so if you find yourself having to chose between the two, the choice is pretty clear.

We walked around the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which is quite small, but really well-done.  At night it's beautiful and much less crowded, and there is a beautiful 100's year old graveyard just behind it you're able to explore, respectfully of course.

At night there are tons of small haunted houses, which are relatively expensive and very short (about 15-20 minutes in length).  If you're into that kind of thing, you can check those out, but I never found them to be worth the money.  There are tons of mini plays/reenactments to check out too, and if you ever find yourself in the area around Halloween, there is a whole webpage dedicated to planning your stay!  Visit the Haunted Happenings site and plan away!  Just make sure you get there early and plan to stay for the majority of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

While Salem was fun, our main reason for the trip was to attend the annual Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball!  Indy and I have hosted our fair share of Halloween parties, but he always ends up feeling a little disappointed because most of our friends aren't as into it as he is- he's always saying, "I wish we could find a huge party to go to, even if we didn't know anyone!" And this year, we did!

I stumbled upon the Hawthorne Hotel Hallween Ball webpage by accident, and that's what solidified our plans to even go to Salem this year.  It was pricey- $90 ticket per person, but it's a 4-hour party with a live band, tons of food, cash bars, psychic readings and costume contest.  And since it's in Halloweentown, USA, the party-goers are SERIOUS about their costumes!  Each year there is a theme, and this year's was Mardi Gras Masquerade.  As an art teacher, I was completely floored with the attention to detail, effort and craziness of the costumes.  Indy and I thought we had pretty good costumes, but we quickly realized we were WAY out of our league.  Next year, we will definitely be in attendance, and we will be READY!

Enjoy some party pics and videos below, and maybe Indy and I will see you there next year!

Our Party Shot!  They had three photo stations upon entry, and they take your photo for their webstite.

A shot of the main room- there were three floors and three different rooms to dance in, but this was the main one with the live band.  We spent most of the night here.  Look how crowded it is!

A shot of the back of that same room- beautiful, right?!

The view from up on the second floor.

Indy catching me off-guard!

A little blurry, but Indy and someone dressed as Hobgoblin.

You can check out more awesome shots of the Hawthorne Hotel and the costumed party-goers taken by the staff at the hotel here.  If you're looking for something to do next Halloween season and find yourself on the North East coast, you will not be disappointed!  Next year is the 25th anniversary, so you can bet Indy and I will be there!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

To Do: Be Grateful

If my lack of posts hasn't made it clear enough, this month has been a stressful one.

Indy is still getting used to his life as a first-year teacher, and we're both still getting used to a two-teacher household. (Let's just say, we've been eating out and ordering in way too much!)  There has been a lot of stress at my school over a new lesson planning system, S.G.O's, changes in attendance policies and observations.  During this last week all the work for the fall play is starting up, so I'll be putting in more and more hours as the performance dates rapidly approach.  Additionally, I haven't been able to run in nearly a MONTH due to some knee pain, which I'm taking a day off from work next week to see a specialist about.  It's so upsetting not being able to continue with my progress, and I'm realizing now how therapeutic it was to just go run it out!

I feel like I'm all over the place.  I want to do everything and nothing, all at once.  I want to cross off everything on my to-do list, but also crumple it up, light it on fire, and throw it out the window of a moving car.

But I was reminded this month that while there's always something to stress over, there's also always something to be grateful for.  In my case, so many things to be grateful for:

This month we were told that Indy's mom is officially in remission, which is just incredible.  She's been receiving regular chemotherapy treatments for over a year, and she beat cancer.  Again.

Indy's aunt has been suffering from a long time with vertigo and balance issues, and recently she hasn't been able to walk at all.  She kept saying that her legs felt like stone.  Turns out, she had "fluid on the brain" and it required major surgery to fix.  Just last week she had that surgery, and we were all scared.  She's in her 70's, and so frail that a gust of wind could knock her right over.  But the surgery went exceptionally well, and she's literally walking on air.  I've never seen anyone so free and happy.

Two days ago, Indy's best friend and his wife, who has become a very close friend of mine, welcomed their first child into the world.  A week and a half past her due date, they had a beautiful baby girl.  Lots of friends of mine are starting to have children, but we're so close to these two that I actually got emotional when I heard she was finally here!

I feel like this year, more than any other, I need to keep reminding myself to find the little bit in every day that I am grateful for.  I'm hoping this will help me keep everything in perspective.

In what might be the best timing ever, Indy and I will be headed up to Salem, Massachusetts this weekend to celebrate the Halloween season.  We're planning on visiting some museums, seeing the sites and we're going to a costumed masquerade ball!  I am so excited to get away from my to-do list for the weekend.  It will be here when I get back, and I'll deal with it then.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Technologyyy...

I came across this article by NYT writer Judith Newman yesterday by chance, and got a little teary-eyed!

If you know any child who falls anywhere on the Autism spectrum, I think it'll tug at your heartstrings.

At times I wonder if we're getting ahead of ourselves with all the innovation that goes on in the technology world- we've got cars that practically drive themselves, for goodness sake!  But then I read about things like this, where the technology someone invented is helping people in ways the creator probably never even fathomed it could, and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.


Monday, October 13, 2014


If I were still a student in high school, this is the date I would write all over my paper-bag book cover in pink and red pen, with bubbly hearts all around it.

Today marks SEVEN YEARS that Indy and I have been together!

Seven years ago today was a Saturday.  Indy and I had begun speaking to one another via Facebook and on the phone after a friend of mine, and a friend of his, who were friends with each other, recommended we get in touch.  After about two weeks of communication, we went on our first date.

I remember, as I was still living at my mother's house, waiting in the dining room, looking out the window every five seconds, waiting for him to pull up.  The Inuits have a word for this: Iktsurarpok
Indy was running late.  My mom, ever the time-freak, started wondering out loud from the kitchen if maybe I had been stood-up, and just about the time I thought maybe she's right... he pulled up in his black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and we were on our way.

As he grew up in New York City, that's where we went- to Battery Park, specifically, where they were having some kind of food festival.  We got some tacos from a truck, and Indy was pretty surprised I'd never had tacos before. (This was back when my diet consisted of the same five things it did since I was a child: Pizza, Chicken, Pasta, Peanut Butter and Chocolate...)  I had also never been to Battery Park before.  During our time at the park, Indy had mentioned the Central Park Zoo.  I mentioned that I'd also never been there (literally, my life didn't start until I met the guy), and we jumped in the Jeep.

The zoo was amazing.  It was one of those wacky zoo trips where all the animals are going bananas.  The polar bears were swimming in the water, getting all up close to the glass so you could take pictures.  The seals in the main entry way were jumping and splashing all the bystanders.  All of the animals were hooting and hollering.  It was fantastic.

When we got in the car to leave for home, I gave Indy a CD I had burned for him- it was a Scottish rock band I liked at the time called Biffy Clyro.  Before we left on our date I had noticed they were playing in the smaller room at Madison Square Garden that night, and mentioned this to Indy when I gave him the CD.  "Tonight? They're playing tonight?!" He asked, excitedly. Then he said, "Let's go!"  And he drove us to Madison Square Garden, where he bought us two tickets to see the show!

I was not used to all this spontaneity!  At MSG I used the bathroom and called my mom to let her know that I was still alive and would be home later than I thought.

Before the show we got pizza at one of the zillions of places near MSG that sell pizza by the slice. The show itself was pretty great- Biffy Clyro was opening for Queens of the Stoneage, who I'd listened to before, but developed a new appreciation for having seen them live.  After the show, we walked to a small diner, called "The Victory Diner" and had some dessert and tea before heading home.

Our first date lasted approximately 12 hours.

We got married in July, but always refer to October 13th as our "anniversary."  He even had the date engraved on the inner band of my engagement ring.  Since our first date Indy has opened up my world to more than just the Central Park Zoo and tacos.  The man has taken me to places I'd never dreamed of going- all across the U.S. and to countries near and far.  He's expanded my extremely picky palette to reaches my parents are still surprised at- I've eaten fried rattle snake for Pete's sake!  Over the last seven years Indy has helped me grow and realize I'm capable of so much more than I ever knew I was.  He is absolutely the best friend I've ever had, and today will always be the best day, ever!